“Hello, yes, may I speak to Detective McLaughlin, please?” I asked the woman on the phone.
My ward, Mordecai, was on the mend, healing at incredible rates now that his human body was no longer rejecting his shifter magic, so I had a little time to look after my obligations. When I told a spirit I’d do a certain thing, I followed through. Which was why I was currently speaking to someone at a police station in New York City. I was making good on the final request of the uptight ghost I’d encountered at the magical showcase in the non-magical zone. A detective in life, the poor sod had hoped to use me to resolve his final case.
“Whom may I ask is calling?” the woman asked.
“Jane. Fon…tain.” I grimaced. I should’ve practiced giving the fake name. I hated lying—I was no good at it. “Jane Fontain. I have some information Detective McLaughlin is looking for. Probably. Should be looking for, at any rate.”
I drummed my fingers on my beat-up, round table straddling the line between my tiny kitchen and small living room. It was as close as we had to a dining room.
Daisy, my other ward, a fourteen-year-old going on fifty, sauntered into the kitchen with threadbare sweats and brown hair snarled at the back of her head.
“‘Mornin’,” she mumbled, her sleepy eyes barely open. Bright light streamed through the kitchen window, cutting across her face as she passed it. She reeled back like she’d been slapped before putting up her palm to shield her eyes. “What’s up with the weather?”
Near the ocean in San Francisco, late August was usually a hovering fog bank. The air was so thick with moisture that the street glistened. Curly-haired people walked around like they’d just stuck a fork in an electric socket. But every so often, Mother Nature gave us a treat, and cleared away the dull gray muck for a day or two of lovely blue skies and warm sun. This was weather we could expect in October. It was a little early.
The music coming through the phone switched from one cool jazz song to the next.
Daisy yanked open the freezer door. “What time are you starting again?” she asked, staring into the icy depths. I really needed to defrost it one of these days.
I sighed and scrubbed my hand across my face. I needed to do a lot of things. But they’d have to wait, because I’d gone and said I’d work for Demigod Kieran, Valens’s possessive and dangerous son, who wanted to help his deceased mother cross over from the land of the living. All signs pointed to Valens holding her spirit hostage somehow. I needed to find out how, and fix the problem.
All without ending up dead myself.
This was what I got for my stick-to-itiveness when it came to helping spirits: I got myself in trouble. Because if there was one certainty in life, it was that you didn’t want to mess with Valens. He was one of the most ruthless and cunning Demigods in the world, and he ran magical San Francisco like a despot. Not even the best spies could get away with visiting the city undetected. People who had been contract killing for decades were brought up short after one trip into Valens’s territory. Everyone knew it. Everyone (rightfully) feared him.
And somehow I thought I could get one over on him? Me. The twenty-five-year-old nincompoop whose magic mostly worked on dead people?
I was about to join them.
I rubbed my eyes. “Twelve. Someone is supposed to meet me here and escort me to Kieran’s office.”
Daisy pulled out a beat-up ice cream carton before slamming the freezer door shut. “I thought it was in the government building.” She sidled over to the utensil drawer. “Why would they need to escort you?”
“Why do they hide in my bushes? Why do they follow me around? They’ve been misguided into thinking I’m important.”
I grimaced with the lie, and then grimaced with outing myself by grimacing. Thankfully Daisy’s back was still turned.
I wasn’t sure if I was important, but I knew exactly why Kieran’s guys were hiding in my bushes, watching me. Protecting me.
I wasn’t the Ghost Whisperer I’d always thought I was—the lowly peon who couldn’t find a decent job with the mostly useless skill of seeing and hearing ghosts.
It took Kieran muscling me into a proper magical assessment for me to learn that almost no one could see and hear ghosts like I could. And that I wasn’t actually a Ghost Whisperer at all. Instead, I was something much more dangerous: the heretofore unknown daughter of an unbalanced Demigod of Hades, who’d saddled me with one of the most feared types of magic in history. I was a Spirit Walker, the rarest form of Necromancer.
Ghost Whispering no longer seemed that bad. Which was why I planned on letting the kids think it was still my jam.
Daisy extracted a spoon before setting the ice cream carton on the counter. She didn’t open the cabinet for a bowl.
“Daisy, that ice cream carton isn’t your personal trough. You need to use a bowl.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Which is beside the point, because you can’t have ice cream for breakfast.”
She huffed in annoyance before reaching up to the cupboard and extracting a chipped blue bowl.
“Can’t have ice cream for breakfast,” I repeated. “As in, cannot.”
“It’s okay. I’m going running with Mordie later. I’ll burn the calories right off.”
“No, that’s not why—”
The cool jazz cut off, replaced by a gruff voice. “Hello, Mr. Hamshaw?”
“No, this is…” My mind went blank trying to remember my fake name. “I’m waiting for Detective Miller,” I rushed to say, then clenched my jaw. Dang Daisy and her poor breakfast choices—I’d just said the spirit’s name! “Detective McLaughlin, I meant. I’m on hold for Detective McLaughlin.”
Silence filled the line.
“Hello?” I asked, watching Daisy peel off the top of the ice cream carton.
“Who is this?” the man asked, his voice guarded. Not a surprise since I’d just asked to speak with a murdered detective.
“Jane…” I wracked my memory. “Fonda. Fontain! Sorry, my ward is trying to eat ice cream for breakfast and—”
“Damn it, Mordecai!” Daisy yelled, startling me into silence. She stared down into the carton for a beat before her face screwed up in anger. She spun around and trudged out of the kitchen, carton in hand.
“What is it you need…Jane?” the man said slowly.
“I have a message for Detective McLaughlin. It’s from an old co-worker of his.”
“I’m Detective McLaughlin.”
“Oh right. Ah, look, this is going to sound crazy, but I said I would pass it along, so…Jim Miller said to tell you eight-seven-seven in terminal three. I don’t have anything other than that. Eight-seven-seven, terminal three. He thought that would mean something to you.”
Silence filled the line again and Daisy’s voice drifted down the hall.
“If you finish something off, put it in the garbage can. Don’t just close it back up and put it away. What is wrong with you? I only wanted ice cream because I saw the carton—don’t you turn over and go back to sleep. This is serious.” I heard a sound like skin slapping skin.
“Ow. I heard you,” Mordecai hollered. “Stop punching me!”
I put my hand over the bottom of the phone. “Daisy, stop hitting your brother,” I yelled. “We didn’t get him patched up so you could beat on him.”
“He deserves it,” Daisy yelled back. “Leaving empty cartons of ice cream in the freezer is bullshit.”
“We only have ice cream because of me,” Mordecai said. “Ow, would you stop?”
“We only went without ice cream for years because of you, too,” Daisy said. “Stop squirreling away. What, all those practice sessions and you can’t take a chick’s punch?”
“You’re in the practice sessions, too!” Mordecai yelled.
I leaned back in my chair so I could see around the wall and down the short hallway. “Stop fighting, you two. Take it out in practice.”
“He’s not in a vulnerable position in practice,” Daisy said, and another punch landed.
She had a point.
I pulled the phone from my head, checking to make sure there was still someone on the line.
“Hello?” I said.
“How is it you knew Detective Miller?” the man asked.
I squinted an eye when someone down the hall screeched. It was impossible to tell who it was.
“Well, that’s the crazy part I was talking about,” I said, leaning forward again. The kids would survive. “You remember that movie a long time ago where that kid reveals that he can see dead people? Well, I’m magical, and I can, in fact, see dead people. Kind of like the people you have on staff, but a lot more effective. Jim was haunting a criminal—Romaro or Romano or something, I try not to get names—and his last request was that I get this message to you. So there you go. Take it or leave it, it’s up to you, but that’s all I know.”
Daisy stomped back in the kitchen, empty-handed.
I put my hand over the bottom of the phone again. “Where’s the carton?” I asked her.
“Let that idiot throw it away. He should’ve done it in the first place.”
“Daisy—” I shook my head and returned to the call. I did not have the patience. “This was…about four weeks ago now,” I told the detective. “I was paid to send the ghosts across the Line—honestly, it doesn’t matter. You’ll just think I’m weird. Bottom line, Jim really wanted someone to get that message to you. Eight-seven-seven in terminal three. He didn’t elaborate and I didn’t ask. I’m just passing it on. My conscience is clear.” I leaned back with a farewell on my lips.
“How is it you know Romano?” the man asked before I could get away.
Daisy opened the refrigerator, leaned against the door, and stared into its depths.
“Daisy, you’re wasting electricity,” I admonished her. “Get in and get out.” I returned to the call. “Sorry, we’ve gotten some charity in the last few weeks and it has resulted in more than enough food to go around. It’s causing all sorts of unforeseen problems. Anyway, I don’t know Romano. He showed up at my booth at what they call a magical showcase, asking that I banish a few ghosts. Before I banish an entity, I let them speak for five minutes. Jim gave me that message to pass on. Eight-seven-seven—”
“How did Jim die?”
“I don’t know. I ignored him for most of his five minutes.”
Silence stretched across the line.
“I know how that sounds,” I rushed to say. “But I’m not in the habit of listening to descriptions of grisly violence. I try to tune that sort of thing out. But as I said, he got my attention at the end of his five minutes and made sure I heard that message and who to give it to. After that, Jim-the-spirit was okay to leave.”
“Jeez, whoever you’re talking to sounds dense,” Daisy muttered.
“To leave?” the detective asked.
“To go across the Line. To rest in peace.”
“I see.” The man’s tone suggested he thought I was hiding something. “You’re magical, did you say?”
“Yes. So anyway, good luck. Hope you get your man. Bye.” I pulled the phone away from my head, ignoring the detective’s “Wait—”, and tapped the button to end the call. He seemed like the type who would call me in for questioning. That was not something I wanted any part of.
“Did he believe you?” Daisy asked as she pulled out a carton of milk.
“He was too busy being suspicious to believe me. He probably thinks it’s a trap, or maybe that I’m a criminal snitch, or…who knows.” I stood from the table and swiped my hands together. “No longer my problem. I did what I promised. End of story.”
She shook her head slowly. “You should’ve used that letterhead I stole from Denny’s dad. It couldn’t come back to bite you, that way.”
Denny was a guy Daisy had kept on the hook for a while—even after she stole shifter medicine from his dad’s vet shop and blackmailed him to stay silent about it. Mordecai and I had nagged her until she stopped seeing him.
“I didn’t leave my name,” I said. “How could they possibly find me?”
She rolled her eyes at me as she pulled a box of cereal out of the pantry. “You used your cell phone, dummy. They could trace it.”
“They don’t trace every call, give me a break. And besides, Kieran prepaid the phone service for a year. Given what I know about his obsessive need to control every situation, it’s probably in his name. If there’s a problem, they’ll go straight to him. Still not my problem.”
“Unless you two fall out. Then he could just turn you over to the cops.”
“He’s a Demigod, Daisy. A Demigod of Poseidon’s line—one of the Power Three.” She looked at me with a blank face. It occurred to me that she had some gaping holes in her education. “The Power Three gods are the original brothers. Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. Many believe they are the most powerful of the gods. Demigods of their line often have more power, though how much more, I couldn’t say.” She continued to stare at me with a blank expression, and I realized that it wasn’t a lack of knowledge, it was a lack of interest. “Right. Anyway, he might not be in charge of a specific territory yet, but he’s one of the most powerful people on the entire planet. If he wants me dead, he’ll kill me himself. He won’t even need to hide the body. The man could literally just say ‘oops’ and walk away. I’m a nobody living in the cracks between the magical and non-magical societies. No one would be bothered.”
“And you took a job working for him?” She clucked her tongue. “Suicide.”
I let my mouth drop open as I stared at her incredulously. “Have hormones clouded your brain, or something? You helped me set up that job. You got him to buy me a Burberry, and you negotiated a higher salary. You’re just as much at fault as I am.”
“I’m a good business manager. I don’t advocate which jobs my client should and should not take. That would be unethical.” The cereal pinged off the sides of the bowl.
I threw up my hands. “You’re talking gibberish. Look. He’s not going to kill me. We both know that. Not unless I piss him off or something—”
“He’s a ticking time bomb.”
“Besides, the cops aren’t going to come after me over this. It was a hazy message delivered by a magical lunatic. Chances are they’ll probably ignore it like people have ignored most of my other warnings. But if they do manage to decipher it, and then actually find something… Well, I doubt they’ll want to seek me out and share the glory. It’s over. My job as a Ghost Whisperer is behind me. Onward to bigger and better things.”
“Now who’s talking gibberish? You’re just about to start working for a possessive Demigod with daddy issues.”
I hated losing arguments to hormonal teenagers who thought they knew everything. But she did have a point.
“Touché,” I ground out. “Now go get Mordecai up. Your training starts in an hour. If you guys eat too late, you’ll throw up your breakfast again.”
“I’m not his mother,” she replied, adding milk to her bowl.
“I’m his mother…ish. And yours…kinda. And I’m telling you to go get him up.”
“Ugh!” She gestured at her bowl. “Why didn’t you tell me to do that before I filled my bowl? Now it’s going to be soggy.”
“Then give him that bowl as a punishment for getting up late, and make yourself a new one.”
She cocked her head at my bad parenting. Then nodded with a determined expression. “He deserves it.” She stalked off down the hall.
“And someone throw away that empty ice cream carton,” I hollered.
I eyed the clock. I had a few hours before my first real business meeting. More time than I’d ever taken to get ready for anything. But it felt important to create an impression today—something to set the tone for my business relationship with Kieran. I needed to look business savvy and experienced, as well as competent and confident. Most of all, I needed to look independent and aloof.
I didn’t need him for anything. I could survive on my own. I’d been doing it since my mother had died six years ago. And I certainly wasn’t hung up on his core tightening appearance, his incredible charm, and his awe-inspiring strength and power. I would show him that none of those things fazed me, and I was in it for the job. End of story.