Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 33

     In spite of their desire to remain low tech, the Millers had set up a line of lamps along the perimeter of the woods which lit up the beach in a dim glow. It lit the tips of the waves that slowly rolled towards the shore. Jack walked towards the water and found the edge of the waterline, moving back fifteen feet he dug a hole. Into that hole, he placed the tub. Enthusiastic goblins would knock it over in an instant. Under most circumstances, pouring out bottles of liquor all together would be a horrible idea but goblins lacked the discerning palate that Mr. Miller possessed.

     Jack took a sip from each bottle before upending it into the metal pot. He hated to admit it, but he better understood the dilemma that Mr. Miller underwent when he handed over the bottles. Since Jack could hardly erase his presence, his scent would have given him away for miles on a beach with no cover, the booze would help. That heady aroma of aged liquor would wipe his scent away. It really didn’t take too long for the goblins to sniff it out. They appeared from the grass like shy mice popping their heads out from a nest before darting back into the woods.

     Jack tugged on Stan’s coveralls, pulling him back along the beach slowly until they were a respectable distance away. The goblins crept out from the woods and as they did Jack felt the urge to rub the bridge of his nose. The number of goblins gradually increased until around fifty of them were on the beach, crowded around the hole and jostling to get at the booze. Jack had dug a hole with maybe twenty at most in mind and the hole wasn’t large enough for them. It didn’t take long for one or two to get greedy and start taking pot shots at the other goblins. Goblins with little malice and no brains were hardly a threat, even to each other, and Jack didn’t feel like getting in the middle of a bunch of goblins ineffectually attempting to punch each other and vomiting into each other’s faces.

     Jack sat down on the beach and leaned back onto the sand, “Go ahead and light up a cigar, Stanley. We’ll be here for the rest of the night.”

     Stan sat on the ground and lay back next to Jack, tugging a cigar out of his pocket and lighting it up, “Them goblins are gonna be at this all night, huh?”

     Jack took his glasses off and tucked them into his vest pocket, “Feral goblins couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag. No tools, no smarts and no upper body strength. To top that off, some of them are completely hammered right now. This is going to take time.” Unfortunately, the trail hadn’t stopped and now there was around seventy of them on the beach. The booze in liquid form had long ago been drunken but the main attraction was now the fight that had actually managed to drag in the newcomers who hadn’t even had any booze.

     It soon became clear that the goblins weren’t going anywhere and Jack could allow himself to lay back and watch the stars. They spread out into the distance in their glorious majesty. In the distance, Jack could see the glittering veil that was the Milky Way, stars beyond count that he could barely detect or even see with his bare eyes creating a veil that crossed the sky. The waves lapped up against the shore, coming closer and passing back into the ocean. Each wave brushing against the shore took countless grains of sand with it, pulling them into the ocean to follow the current as far as they could.

     By the end of the night, the final number of goblins was around ninety. Jack rose to his feet and kicked his legs back and forth to get the sleep out of his legs, “I think we should consider this our vacation for time being. I’m going to hold the bag and you go ahead and toss.” Getting up, Jack snatched the bag, holding it wide in both his arms.

     Stan rose to his feet and cracked his fingers, “Should be done soon, boss.”

     The sky had just started to grey as the brawl came to an end. Some of the more active goblins were still stumbling around looking for sand that had some booze left in it. Most of them were bruised. In many cases, they were lost to a deep sleep. Stan grabbed one by the leg and tossed it over his shoulder. Jack caught it in the Bag, and thus the game began. Stan reached out in front of him with both arms, tossing them over his shoulder with reckless abandon while Jack dodged back and forth catching them in the Bag. The each vanished with no trace, except for the few that managed to get stuck on the edge of the Bag. One of them was aware enough to cling to the top of the bag and start to drag itself back up until the next few goblins landed on its head and pushed it down.

     Getting all of them into the bag took about an hour, which included Stan chasing after the few goblins that could actually stumble around and the last couple of goblins that Jack had to cram down into the bag until they vanished. When Jack pulled his hand out it was cold.

     With the job down, and with luck much sooner than they had expected it to, they headed back to the main building. The path to the ocean was lined with stones, “This resort would actually be pretty nice if it weren’t for all the goblins.”

     Stan pulled another cigar out and bit the end off, “Them goblins did liven the place up no end, though.”

     Jack swung the bag back and forth as he strolled along with Stan, “You’re missing the point, Stanley. This is a place to get away from your troubles. You don’t normally bring your work with you on vacation unless you make more money than God or if you’re emotionally dead inside.”

     Stan considered this for a moment, “So it’s like that safehouse we got?”

     “Well, I guess it’s possible that some people here are on the run from someone like the law, but that’s not how it works for most people.”

     The main building had finally quieted down by the time Jack and Stan got back. Mr. and Mrs. Miller had passed out leaning into each other on the front steps, apparently attempting to merge into each other for real. Jack tapped Mr. Miller’s shoe, jarring him awake. He sat up, causing his wife to tumble away from him, waking her up as well.

    To Jack’s annoyance, they went from unconscious to incredibly happy too soon for any normal person, “You did it? They’re really gone this time!?”

    Jack shook the bag and nodded, “I know the bag looks empty, but they’re all in here. There were a lot more of them than we were told, so it is possible that there will be a need for us to return. We’ll stick around in town for a few days to be sure, but we got all the ones we could get our hands on.”

     Mrs. Miller snagged one of Stan’s enormous hands, “Oh, I bet you did.” Stan shifted awkwardly.

    Jack whipped a small notebook out of his pocket and wrote down a fee for the removal. It wasn’t exactly generous, but given the nature of the job and how long it had taken, he could have charged far more. Moving fast, he grabbed her hand and crammed the piece of paper into her sweaty palm. The sputtering the couple did when they saw the number would have been entertaining had it not been directly connected to a paycheck.

     “This number is outrageous, we’re not going to pay it.” Mr. Miller looked as resolute as a man who jiggled like a sponge when he walked could.

     Jack shrugged noncommittally and reached into the bag, “I can put them back into the woods if you’d like, I’ll have to charge you for that as well. I would also have to charge you again for removing them, and they will need to be removed quickly since most of them will wake up with nasty hangovers. They could set the whole property on fire and then the lawsuits will begin…”      Jack trailed off, fishing his hand around in the bag. The goblins would do none of those things. If Jack actually managed to find a drunken goblin from his bag, it would spend the rest of the day trying not let any natural light touch its eyes. Even odds it ran into a tree within five minutes and knocked itself out.

    Mr. Miller waved his hands in front of Jack frantically, “That won’t be necessary, I promise!” With a speed that Jack would have found admirable in other circumstances, he whipped out his checkbook and replicated the number which Jack had given him on a check. Jack checked it over and folded it in half, tucking it into his vest pocket.

     “Thank you for the business, please let me know if they come back. We’ll do the stragglers for free, it’s the least we can do.”

     “It’s the most that you’ll do.”

     “What was that?” Jack fished his hand back into the bag again.

     “Nothing, nothing! Thank you for your hard work.”

     With that, they left the resort in their rearview mirrors and headed into the nearest town. Even though Jack had said they would be nearby in case they needed him the nearest town was about an hour away. Once they arrived, Jack reserved a room for both him and Stan. They needed to lay low a few more days anyhow, before Jack would even bother heading back up to the office. By the end of the day, Jack was wiping down the same table in their hotel room over and over.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 3

     Out of the many valuable life lessons Liam had learned over his long and oft’ tarnished career, several stuck out in his mind. Never bet on horses, grey hounds or loose women, because you will always lose your money. Never mix cheap whiskey with expensive vodka. Most importantly, never attempt to rig sporting events that are nationally televised. They were such valuable life lessons that Liam indulged in all these pursuits as often and vigorously as possible to make sure he thoroughly learned the lessons and could pass them on to others. While waiting for Jenny, he learned that even if the woman happens to be an assassin, you can’t rush perfection. Fortunately, Liam had company while he waited for his partner in espionage. Unfortunately, that company happened to be gigantic teacup Yorkies, who surrounded him and shivered threateningly.

     As soon as she returned, all the dogs scurried to her side. Jenny’s transformation stunned Liam and left him speechless for a long moment. In place of her errant curls, her auburn hair now surrounded her face in elegant flowing locks. Her shocking pink mask had been swapped out for a pair of dark, reflective sunglasses and she wore a dark red shade of lipstick to accentuate the paleness of her skin. Her outfit, while subdued, was classy and would fit in perfectly while wandering crowds accustomed to good taste. She wore a white blouse with a navy blue blazer and a matching short navy blue skirt. What struck Liam most was her change in demeanor. Her normal, frantic energy had vanished and in its place he saw cool, confidence and calm.

    Standing up, Liam offered his arm to Jenny, who took it with a slight giggle that sounded more like that Jenny he had come to know so well over the week he had been casing her cousin’s house to rob him. For the first few steps, Liam felt like he was leading, until he tried to pull her away from the front gate. Resolutely, she walked right up to the gate controls and keyed in her code to open it. From there, it would be a long trip to the beating heart of the financial world; Wall Street.

     When Liam first thought about the current job, he wanted to hire Charlotte and her limo company to ferry them around. Careful consideration left Liam with an increasing desire to work out transportation on his own, at least at first. The man Liam was tracking, himself, was not dangerous. The same couldn’t be said for the people he worked for. Using a limo service as a short-hand visual for wealth and power would work for a neighborhood where nobody asked questions, ever. If he used Charlotte to ferry him to and from this job, people would start to ask questions. Dangerous people who would look up license plate numbers, locate addresses and send other burly, unpleasant people with metal bats to ask inconvenient questions. Liam knew from experience that when that happened, Charlotte would fold like a bad poker hand in a high stakes game, and it wouldn’t even be anything personal. It’s hard to drive a car if you’re missing a hand.

     Liam wanted to start, therefore, by dipping their toes in the water and getting a feel for what sort of crowd they had stumbled into. Matthew Bergson, their mark, worked with a financial group that did things with money. Liam’s view on money was remarkably narrow, as one would expect of a thief. Either you had your money or Liam did. The miracle of Wall Street, and other such financial institutions, was that your money vanished, but you still felt like it was safe. That left people like Matthew ample time to invest your invisible money in whatever way they wanted, and yet somehow you still had all your money. It was like a magic trick Liam wished he could learn.

     Having looked at the packet of papers Simon handed over to him when he took the job, Matthew Bergson liked to invest in quasi-governmental bodies solely dedicated to murdering anything not human. The real question was whether or not the rest of the group he worked with knew that’s what he was supporting, or if they would even believe Liam if he told them. His picture gave the impression of someone more at home dealing with money than people. He had stringy brown hair and thin lips. His face drooped slightly, as though the weight of the world were slowly pushing him to the ground. His dull eyes hardly had any color at all in the picture, a strange grey which revealed nothing of the man in the image. Matthew Bergson was also a creature of habit. He went to his office in the morning. In the afternoon, he went out for lunch at a different place every day, in the same cycle every week.

    Having Jenny with him gave Liam an amazing opportunity to vanish in plain sight. Nobody paid attention to a dopey looking guy like Liam when a stunner like Jenny walked by. She looked so calm and collected, though she did spoil the look a bit by bouncing around when Liam announced his plan. She would find Matthew Bergson and get to know him. Liam would stay in the background for now, watching and waiting for his opportunity to insert himself. That wouldn’t come today, nor the next day and likely not for the first four or five days, unless they were very lucky. She was going to play the part of his rich wife, looking for some cause to invest in, preferably against his wishes. Men never give information faster than when they give it to rich, naughty women.

    Following someone in a crowd takes a sharp pair of eyes, because it’s like dropping a pebble into a river and trying to watch the ripples while the stream carries them away. Thankfully, for an old hand like Liam, this had already become routine. When you’re robbing someone, it’s best to play a longer game. You could be quite successful at the smash and grab technique, but eventually that haste and impatience will always catch up to you.

     When it came time for lunch, their dance began. Jenny silently pursued Matthew. Liam followed Jenny. What he saw, he did not like. Matthew was being shadowed by at least two pairs of eyes. They belonged to men with hard faces wearing dark suits who failed to blend into the crowd entirely, at least to Liam’s trained eyes. That first day Liam and Jenny followed Matthew, he met nobody and only returned to his office before leaving work to go home at the end of the day. Liam split up from Jenny at that point, when she decided to leave as well. Waiting in the plaza where Jenny had walked, Liam watched as the crowds slowly dispersed, only to be replaced by a new one.

     He waited until he was sure they had lost any lingering mutual friends before meeting up with Jenny in the park near where she lived. He found her sitting on a park bench tapping her foot impatiently. He sat down next to her and leaned back into the bench, “This is going to take longer than a week.”

     “Yup,” Jenny confirmed with her characteristic bubbly nature returning to the surface, “I’m not sure we can get all the information we need just by following him around either.”

    Liam stared off into space, “I saw two pairs of sharp dressed men following our fella around. Before I attempt any kind of breaking and entering, I want to make sure I won’t be interrupted.”

    Jenny giggled, “And you missed a couple more that were staking out the path ahead of him. Whoever Simon sent you to follow around has a lot of friends. This might be easier if I just killed them.”

     There was something about the casual way she said that which chilled Liam to his core, “That won’t help. If you kill a few flunkies, they’ll just send more and then they’ll know we’re targeting the fella. On top of that, if he really is working for the Society, technically his bodyguards are government agents and that sounds like an excuse to start a war to me.”

     Jenny blew a raspberry at him, which he ignored. No, even though Jenny was willing to ply her trade to help, the best course of action would be to take the slow and steady approach. When they knew his schedule outside the office as best they could, it would be time to put the second and third phases of their plan into action.

Second-Hand Rumors~ chapter 1

    The greatest single attribute you can possibly possess is to know yourself. That’s why Liam felt that most people were just hopeless dreamers with their heads stuck in the clouds. That might seem incredibly harsh, but if you know you’re a rabbit, pretending to be a hawk will only get you hurt. Liam Boggan believed himself to be something akin to a mouthy toadstool, one of those ones with purple spots that give you gas. Firmly rooting himself into the dirty underside of society, Liam had long ago resolved to stay there, robbing small time investment clerks to save up for his eventual retirement to either a non-extraditable country or a state penitentiary. The problem with being effectively immortal is that retirement could potentially last for a very long time.

     Recently, another flaw in Liam’s master plan had taken form around a man named Simon Nair, who Liam had failed spectacularly to pickpocket. Since that day, Liam carried a choice with him all the time. Work off the debt for Simon or go to jail. Since Liam preferred to be working, even if he wasn’t working on his own account, Liam chose to work for Simon. Until recently, that work consisted almost entirely of thieving for him. The only difference in Liam’s life to this point, lay in an increased difficulty of work and the items no longer went towards lining Liam’s pockets with “insurance” money. That had changed when Liam took a job from Simon Nair to spy on guests in his own home. Liam had certainly followed people around for nefarious purposes before, but that usually began and ended with the contents of their pants pockets and not their mouth pockets. Stealing information was the scummiest thing a thief could do. Liam would never have done so on his own account.

     Somehow, despite his distaste, he performed so well that Liam was given a very long break, and he had used it to its fullest. Some of it was spent moving his storage apartment to a higher floor, since his current one had been let out and Liam didn’t want people going through his belongings any more than the owners of the apartment building wanted people knowing that Liam existed in the first place. Once that was done, he engaged in his normal past time, attempting to drill past rock bottom. He went on the bender to end all benders. Once that was done, he stagnated in his apartment surrounded by the Dirt Gremlins which infested the place, who appeared to have entered an artistic slump of their own.

    While in this daze, watching a Dirt Gremlin half-heartedly splatter a strange mixture of mud and dried insects onto the wall, he realized his life was due to change. That change began the way it always did these days, with a note from Simon Nair. They never arrived by post, always fluttering into his room in the form of paper butterflies which would endlessly hunt him down until he read the message. This one must have found its way in via the kitchen window, looking around with it’s little paper antennae until it found him slumped in his chair. Landing on his nose, it fluttered it’s dainty wings in his face until Liam slapped it.

    With the net result of a slap to his own face, he opened the note and found a message he needed more than he wanted to admit, “Time to stop drinking. Get over here at once, I have work.”

     Crumpling the paper butterfly into a ball and tossing it at the Dirt Gremlin struggling with his art, Liam rose, slowly shaking the stupor out of his brain.

     The piece of paper hit the Dirt Gremlin square in the back of his head. Turning to glare at him, it picked up the note and unfolded it, looking critically at the writing Liam knew it couldn’t possibly comprehend. It closed one eye and then the other, looking at the writing and gazing upward with suspicion at Liam before returning to the piece of paper. Evidently, this was the inspiration the Dirt Gremlin had sought.

     “Dirty!” It cried, before returning it’s attention to the wall with renewed gusto and vigor. Soon, it had attracted a small crowd of Dirt Gremlins, which clapped politely with each new brush stroke.

     Liam watched in rapt fascination for a long time before finally leaving. Any thief worth his stolen road salt never wanted to have his stash on a higher floor than the one he lived on. If Liam had to bolt suddenly, he wanted to grab his things on the way out. Now he would have to run up three flights before trying to get out.

    In spite of himself, Liam did feel a sense of excitement. Smart thieves steal smart, which means less excitement and more time spent out of jail. In his secret moments when he lay in bed, however, even Liam dreamt of robbing rich oil barons of all their wealth. The closest he would ever get to doing that in this lifetime would be doing it for Simon, but that was closer than most people got.

    What exactly this next job would be kept running through his mind as he showered and changed. His apartment had a peculiar odor, thanks to the resident Dirt Gremlins. It was an acquired taste, in the same way that one acquired the smell of dumpsters when one lives next to one for too long. Having changed, he made his way downstairs to the front of the apartment complex he lived in. Surprisingly, for once, the mysterious yellow taxi that doubled as Simon’s personal car was nowhere to be found. Mysterious indeed, because normally Liam could expect a ride to work, at least for the first go.

    When he arrived at the Nair mansion, something felt off. Even though he had been invited by Simon, Liam spent a long time on the first floor, watching the various creatures come and go. The Nair family stood amongst the Five Families that led all the Mythic people in North America. If you could imagine a creature of fantasy or myth, they were real and they all had to come to the Nair mansion in order to function. The first floor served as a city hall of sorts. If you had something official to file, this is where you went. A small pack of fairies chittered by him, fluttering around gently, and they gave Liam some much needed perspective. It was the time of the great migration, but more than cold was chasing these creatures south. The middle of the summer had come, but the tone of their conversation was chillier than the weather gradually incoming.

     Deciding he needed more information before taking on the next job, Liam crossed the main floor, careful to keep his ears open on the way, and ask about the current climate from the man himself. When he reached Simon’s office, he found him buried in paperwork, almost invisible behind stacks of reports. Coughing slightly, Liam shuffled and waited for Simon to notice he had arrived. It was the privilege of great men to ignore their lesser friends until they were ready. It was Liam’s misfortune to have to put up with that sort of attitude.

    This time, however, it didn’t take long for Simon to acknowledge his presence. He rose to his feet and peered over the stack of paperwork with both eyes to get a good look at Liam. His face lit up with a genuine smile when he saw him, “Liam! I’m so glad you made it unharmed. It’s a madhouse out there today. Do you need anything to drink.”

    “I could use a stiff one, if you join me. I spent some time downstairs listening to the scuttlebutt. Word going around seems to be that getting out of town is in fashion right now.”

    Simon crossed the room and pulled out an expensive bottle of liquor from a cabinet that looked older than Liam. When he pulled the cork, the smell filled the room instantly. It smelled more expensive than Liam as well, “Well, we’re encouraging our people to get their paperwork for the migration done early this year. Dad is a bit paranoid about a repeat of last year, I doubt we need to worry about it since we’ve hired more staff.”

    “I get the impression they were worried about more than the cold weather.”

    Simon paused before pouring a glass for himself and for Liam, “When a quasi-governmental body called the Society for the Protection of Humankind declares a holy purge on all non-humans, that’s the sort of effect it has on folks.”

    Handing Liam his glass, Simon waited for Liam to join him. Raising his glass in a toast, Liam downed his first sip in quick gulp. The heat was intense and Liam vowed not to make that mistake again. Simon chuckled as Liam coughed a few times, “Elvish sipping whiskey. I wouldn’t drink it too fast, it’s smooth in small doses, but too much can overwhelm the system.”

    Once Liam had gotten his coughing under control, he managed to ask the question that had been on his mind since he left his apartment, “What did you need me for?”

     “Well, with all this talk of a holy war going on, I thought it would be a good idea to send someone out into the world and find out what the hell is going on.”

     “If you need a spy, why don’t you ask one of the Neelan family to do it? They’re one of the Five Families and that’s literally why they exist.”

    Simon put his glass down and stared at his feet for a long time before responding, “When you came to me and told me that someone in the Neelan family was working for the Society for the Preservation of Humankind, I was terrified. It’s even scarier that the Neelan family has no idea who it is. With that in mind, I can’t trust any of them until this mess is sorted out. That means I need you.”

    Now it was Liam’s turn to pause for a long time, “Ok, I’ll bite. Why me? I’m not important, I’m not special and I have no idea what the hell is going on.”

    Simon threw up his hands in frustration, “That’s why, Liam. Your only tie to this mess is me and Samantha Goodbody. You’re also blessed with a body that can’t die. I have someone that I want you to follow. Become his shadow, go where he goes and come back in two weeks and tell me everything about what he does.”

     “What kind of man am I going to be spending time with?”

    Putting his glass down, Simon rose and paced back to his desk, rummaging around until he found a file. Returning with it, he gave it to Liam to inspect, “His name is Matthew Bergson, he’s a banker with heavy ties to the Society. He’s got a hand in almost all their finances. I want to hit the Society hard, but dad won’t give me permission to do anything. If I come to him with some good info then maybe we can at least cut their cash flow.”

     “And you think they’re just going to let you do this?”

    Chuckling, Simon leaned back into his seat and shook his head, “I doubt they would, if they knew we were going to do this. That’s why I’m sending you. That packet has his address, some notes on his daily habits, restaurants he frequents, the works. Don’t worry about a deadline, take as long as you need. I’ll have my hands full getting everyone prepped to leave if they need to get out of the area quickly.”

    Without another word, Liam got up. His ears twitched slightly. Simon told him to get information, and that was all well and good. He would get the information and then he would steal every single thing that wasn’t bolted to the floor and would fit into a big sack. Robbing from bad people made him a sort of hero, right? He wasn’t exactly a Robin Hood, because he was keeping all the stuff for himself, but then, who was? This was going to be a very long and expensive task. It would work off some serious time on his debt, earn some brownie points and end with a net profit for him, if everything went according to plan. He even knew who to ask for help, to make sure that everything went the way Liam wanted it to. All he had to do was ask her.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 28

     Job satisfaction is never guaranteed, no matter what job you perform. Jack Goodbody chose to work as a cleaner because he enjoyed the simplicity and purity of it. Work was supposed to be uncomplicated. You go in, clean, kill all the bad things, and then leave. You don’t have to deal with bizarre vomiting pink unicorns. Jack found himself jerked completely awake at the realization of how similar to his father he sounded. “We’re taking a few days off, Stanley.”

     Stan tossed the remnants of his cigar out the window, “I’ll unpack them supplies and get the van ready.” Jack nodded and headed up to the office to lay down. Going on a vacation, for Jack, only meant one thing. They were going to meet the family oracle. Technically speaking, seeing the future is impossible. Tomorrow alone is a thousand criss-crossing roads all with unique destinations and with drivers who have minds of their own. On top of that, the roads could suddenly change direction at any moment or intersect with another road unexpectedly. That didn’t mean there were no signposts, however, and the job of the family oracle was to read the signposts and point out a variety of ways forward.

     Jack didn’t really care about the specifics. The road of the future always led forward no matter what you did, but he did want an interesting road to travel. The oracle lived a half a day’s drive from the Goodbody house. Sam liked to frequent her house when she was looking for fun. Trudging up the office steps, Jack took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. This summer was going nowhere fast. He and Stan needed something to really turn this next job around. Opening the door to their office, he staggered to his seat and sagged back into it, looking out the window into the small town they lived in. What really bothered him was the news about his family. Why on Earth had his father been sniffing around Sister Agnes’s orphanage of all places?  Every child deserves to grow up in a home where they won’t be exploited for their abilities or powers.

     Feeling the darkness of sleep closing in around him, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Normally, there would be a fight involved, but the sooner he got rested up the sooner he could go to see the oracle. Stan lumbered into the room and collapsed with a dull crash onto his couch, “Ain’t we gonna head for the oracle now?”

     “No, Stanley. We should leave for the oracle when the time is right. I’ll know when that is.” He stretched his arms over his head and pulled his suit jacket off to use as a makeshift blanket.

     They awoke the next morning to a day filled with promise. The rains of the previous few days gave way to an early dawn that rimmed the horizon with red. It promised a new heatwave, and hopefully a new adventure as well. It was time to visit the oracle. After getting cleaned up, they started their drive towards her house. When people pictured a person who served as an oracle, they had many different ideas about what she would look like. Jack had heard them all from various family members who had never seen her, possibly out of a desire Jack would never understand to live as boring a life as possible. They told him she was an old woman who lived in a modest, if run down, house with thirty seven cats and a mangy wolf named Hercules. Or maybe, the would further conjecture, she was a tiny woman with a penchant for kitsch and style from the seventies, which Jack always referred to as the linoleum decade. Truth be told, Jack had always found her to be sweetheart with a bit of an acidic tongue.

     That was slightly unfair, it would be more accurate to say that her understanding of human feelings varied greatly from moment to moment depending on a variety of circumstances that Jack had yet to have fully explained to him. She lived in a small green one story house in a neighborhood that seemed a little worn down, but it had a good school district according to her. She was married, though her husband was often gone for long periods of time. More than once, his sessions with her had been cut short by a phone call from said mystery hubby.

     Their drive to see her took an hour and a few wrong turns before they reached their destination. Jack stepped out of the van and took a quick look around. The normally neat front lawn was in clear need of a mowing. The bushes around the front bay windows were looking quite unruly and in just a few months someone was going to need to complete a paintjob or the house was in serious danger of going naked. It took Jack a few moments to realize that it had been a few years since the last time they have visited the oracle and things must have changed drastically in that time.

     Walking slowly to the steps leading up to the front door, Jack raised a hand to knock before the door suddenly opened. The oracle, Caroline, stood in front of him cradling a cat in one hand and a squirming baby in the other. She blew at a loose strand of dull brown hair that had wandered in front of her eye, “You’re late, get in and sit down.”

     Jack waved at his partner to stay with the van. That was the other thing about Caroline, she said exactly what she meant. If she didn’t invite you inside there was always a reason to find a sudden interest in her yard. Jack had refused to leave multiple times in the past till she had seen him. Stepping into her front room and gently tapped his shoes on a mat to get the dirt off the soles.

     The front door took Jack directly into the living room, and it certainly could have used a little tender loving care from a flame thrower. The wall to wall carpet, as well as the majority of the furniture, had once been a vibrant lime green color. Years of sun bleaching had left the entire room colored in varying shades of vomit, and the cats scattered around on various pieces of furniture gave the impression that the vomit was flecked with hairballs. A small table sat near the front windows between two large faded orange chairs. The table was made from a dark black wood. All along the top was a series of long metal pins that had been stuck deeply into the table. The row on the very edge of the table had a series of colored twine hanging from the pins that dangled on the ground. In a basket next to the table was a large pile of twines that looked like that had been put through the cat twine shredder.

     Choking back to urge to vomit himself, Jack attempted a more polite approach, “I see it’s been awhile, do you need any cleaning done?”

     “That’s a fine thing for you to be asking, I suppose I’ll have to pay for it will I?”

     “Consider it on the house, given that you’re about to provide a service for me.”

     Caroline trucked her loads into the living room and sat down in one of the two oversized chairs in the room. The cat escaped at this point, the baby quickly following suit crawling after the cat. Jack sat down in the chair across from her, “I know what you mean when you say “clean” Jack. You mean replace everything in my house with something more to your liking, but you don’t get to decide how to pay me for my service. I just haven’t decided how I want you to pay me back yet.”

     Caroline cracked her knuckles and got to work. Her fingers were a blur, moving over the board and wiring strings around pins until every string worked from one end of the board to the other. Then, impossibly quickly and surely she started to adjust them without removing even a single pin from the board. Jack looked up from her hands to realize that she was no longer even looking at the board. Her long hair had come undone and fallen in strands over her eyes which had rolled up, showing only whites. Her mouth was slightly open, making noiseless motions as though she was silently speaking to an occupant of the room that Jack couldn’t see. After fifteen minutes, she settled back in her chair and pushed her hair back out of her eyes.

     “Done. I need a drink of water. The cups are above the sink in the cupboard, we can look at the paths once I’ve had a sip.”

     Jack rose from his seat and went to grab the glass of water. The sink made a horrible squeaking noise when he used it, but the water was clear enough after the brown passed through the pipes. Returning, he handed her the water which she greedily gulped down.

    “So I take it you want the interesting route. The one that will lead you to something fun?”

     Jack nodded carefully, “Since I’m not really trying to achieve some goal like my father I’m more interested in the road than the destination.”

     Caroline slowly lowered her gaze to the tangle of wires and took a bright red string in her hand, “During the next job you receive you’ll have a choice to make. You can either help or hinder someone and while the choice may seem obvious, a less attractive option will yield more interesting results. The string frays past that point and I can’t tell you which way to take, but it will be messy no matter what you do.”

     Jack crossed his arms and examined the string carefully, “Essentially, if I want to have more fun I have to choose the option that makes no sense.”

     “Pretty much what the board seems to say. Given the string it will be a close choice too. There are other paths to take which have similar results so just move when you feel it’s right.”

     Jack scratched his head and raised a brow, looking up at Caroline with a puzzled expression, “So what’s the right answer?”

    “There isn’t a wrong answer. Whatever path you choose is fine so long as you’re fine with your choices.”

     Jack coughed and scratched his head again.

     She sighed, “Oh, get out and just pay attention. In the next few weeks you’re going to encounter some interesting choices and which way you decide to go to is all up to you.”

    Jack rose and turned to the door, “I’ll just take your word for it, then.”

    Caroline laughed and went to scoop up her baby, ignoring his struggles to free himself again, “You showed up, didn’t you? And when have I ever let you down?”

     Jack found himself heartened by this reminder and he opened the door to the front yard, “Well, we should get going…Stanley.” Jack trailed off as he took in the front yard. Stanley had taken the time to mow the lawn and trim the bushes. Jack smiled as he got into the passenger side of the van and tapped the side twice. Stan was waiting in the driver’s seat for his boss. He started the van. “Good news, boss?”

     Jack sighed and leaned out the window to look at the houses passing by, “Not really sure. We’ll be getting a good job offer soon, but that’s about all I know.” With that, they pulled out and headed home, both ready and unprepared for what the world had to offer them.

 

Empty days, empty mind~

     Hello, dear friends. I must confess, I found myself thinking of you all a lot this last week. As the second part of Paranormal Cleaners starts to come out, the two stories I have been writing will begin to connect in more meaningful ways. They share a world and some characters will be crossing over soon, but I wanted them to feel disconnected. What’s difficult about writing Paranormal Cleaners is the main character. It’s easy to introduce things in a fantastical setting when you have a fish out of water character, but Jack doesn’t really qualify as such. He grew up in what qualified as nobility, and thus many things don’t need to be explained to him that do need to be explained to you, the readers. Of course, he did leave home at the age of seventeen. The event that immediately preceded this has been referenced several times. It was a hunting trip out to California with Jack, his father and his younger brother named Joseph. Joseph passed away during the trip, the events of which Jack currently has no memory.

     Right now, I’m looking at chapter 24 of Second-Hand Goods with the increasing realization that I’m going to have trouble with Second-Hand Rumors. I’ve been working on an application to tutor and sub at a nearby school as well, so that’s been taking up a sizable chunk of my time. Recently, my wife decided to look up pictures of my forebear, a man named William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name, O’Henry. I look uncannily like him. Did I mention that I have no attention span to speak of? The first part of Paranormal Cleaners is being third time around edited, or at least it will be soon. It will contain some supplementary materials that you might like to read. One of the things I plan on including is a brief history of the Goodbody family and of the Five Families. I do not personally believe that they are completely needed to understand the story thus far, but they wouldn’t hurt either.

     Other than that, this week has mostly been devoted to job hunting and getting over a persistent long-term cold. I just wanted to write to you all, dear readers, and let you know how much I appreciate your company. I called this page the tale spinner’s hearth, because this is my little online inn where you can come and visit and spend a few hours reading the yarns that I spin. Please come back again soon. I will save a chair by the fireplace just for you.

Second-Hand Goods~ chapter 22

     Watching movies might give you the impression that spying on an assassin for information must be dangerous and thrilling. Liam’s profession as a thief meant his spying skills were limited to two things. Where do they keep the valuables and how do I take them? Spying on two assassins turned out to be the most stone cold boring job Liam had ever taken on. There were no thrilling cat and mouse games, no hushed whispers and furtive glances, and no exciting car chases. After they had eaten breakfast, they went to the records room on the second floor and remained there for the majority of the first day.

     The first two floors of the Nair mansion functioned in an almost public capacity. The ground floor maintained the clerks and their customers; creatures coming and going to get licenses and file spurious lawsuits. The second floor was split between guest rooms, servant’s quarters and the records room, which took up the majority of the space. The massive room smelled like old, musty paper and contained file cabinet upon file cabinet of detailed records. Spending the whole day skulking in corners and watching Jacob Rever pore over old volumes of public records while Jenny chased flies, left Liam with the smell of yellowed dusty books embedded in his brain.

     It was late in the day when Jacob Rever finally got up and gestured to Jenny, “We’re going to the third floor library. We have to meet with Isaac Neelan. He’s agreed to give us any information he has on printing presses for Old Bart’s Guide to the Black Market.”

    “Don’t wanna.”

    Jacob heaved a long sigh, one that any long-suffering parent would feel in their soul, “Why not?”

    Liam flinched. He had never been a father that he was aware of. He lacked the fortitude for it. Even he knew that reasoning with an eternal child, such as Jenny, was a time consuming fool’s errand. Jenny immediately proved him right.

    “Because he smells like funny meat and he’s rude.”

    “We’re going all the same,” Jacob grabbed a few books and headed for the door. Jenny followed glumly and Liam followed her at a safe distance. The Library on the third floor wasn’t technically off limits, but most people never made it up to the third floor. Liam had spent a sizable amount of time in the library, mostly because he kept an extensive hidden stash of alcohol behind a section of books for those days when he wanted to play hooky. The safest way to get into the library without being noticed would be to sneak through the special archives department and head to the back of the room, which had an entrance that led directly into the library for ease of access to researchers

     The special archives department definitely was off limits to most people. The records on the second floor came up from the clerks. It contained deeds, filed documents, birth and death certificates and so on. The special archives on the third floor contained information on those weapons and people that the Nair family tracked, which never sat right with Liam. When he had asked Simon about it, he had been told that it’s better to archive those sorts of things to make sure you know what dangers are out there. If there’s a dog collar that turns your average mutt into the Hound of the Baskervilles, you want to know about it. That’s the sort of nasty surprise you don’t want to find out about in the morning.

     The special archives department was therefore much smaller than the records room, and led into the back of the library in case the staff needed to do any research. Liam had cut through that room to reach his stash so often that the staff didn’t even blink an eye when he came waltzing through. Passing by his stash, Liam got as close to the front as he dared and lowered his eyes to peer through the books. Jackpot! At one of the tables towards the front of the room, Jacob Rever sat down in front of Isaac Neelan. Isaac’s expression had grown pretty sour, as though he had just sucked on a week old candy he’d found on the ground.

     “I know you possess complete records for publications sites of Old Bart’s Guide to the Black Market. After hours of searching through the archives we found no records of such sites, which implies you had one of your people comb through and remove any such records.”

    Isaac’s voice was steeped in the most insincere of apologetic tones as he responded, “I’m sorry, Jacob. We used to be friends and I can’t believe you would accuse me of such underhanded tactics.”

    “I don’t recall ever being friends and this literally wouldn’t be the first time you had records you thought of as “inconvenient” lost or waylaid somehow.”

     There was a long pause before Isaac responded, “Even if I did have the records removed, I think it was for the best. If Varnes Nair shuts that newspaper down, it’ll be bad news for everyone.”

     “What consequences could you possibly care about, except your profit margin going down?” When Jacob spoke, it was hard to detect any emotion much of time. That was, except for this last sentence in which even Liam could pick up on some wry humor.

    Isaac let out an exasperated sound that resembled a dying animal, “That newspaper functions as a centralized information hub for all the black market auction houses in the Tri-State area. They do my work for me. They tell me what’s up for sale, items soon to be on the market, locations, details and everything I could ever want to know. I don’t have to waste resources on it if they’re just going to conveniently tell me where and when to confiscate it. If that newspaper goes down, fifteen competitors will be up by the end of the week to fill the void. It won’t stop sales and I won’t be able to keep up with the really dangerous items.”

    “I checked the records for items brought into the Nair family vault by the Neelan family in the last decade. There wasn’t a single entry. Did you have those records removed as well or are you just lining your pockets?”

     Isaac’s smile remained plastered on his face while he spoke, “I’m sure I wouldn’t know what you mean.”

    “And I’m certain that Varnes Nair would be very interested to know where exactly those items went and why they were never reported.”

     Slumping forward in his chair, Isaac gave in, “Alright, Jacob, you win. We’ll do it the stupid way. I’ll have a complete list of publication sites to your house by the end of the day. It’ll take some time to get it compiled. It won’t change a thing either, might not even shut the paper down for good.”

    “I still want to try,” Jacob rose swiftly and left the room without another word, Jenny skipping along behind him.

    It was a safe bet to cross the Rever family off the list of potential spies. Jacob seemed driven and compelled to follow any Nair orders he received, so either he was a really good actor or he was just as loyal as he made himself out to be. That left him with the obvious decision to follow the head of the family dedicated to spying and see what he was up to. Really, the choice was so obvious that Liam was almost a little disappointed.

    Isaac stayed in the library for a long time after that meeting, hardly moving from the spot he sat in. He remained sitting at that same table until someone else entered the room. Liam was hardly surprised to see that it was John Neelan.

     John sat down across the table from the head of his family, still looking incredibly annoyed, “Alright, I’m here. What the hell are you interrupting my schedule for?”

    In spite of everything he had seen, Liam was still shocked by what happened next. Putting his handkerchief down, Isaac Neelan suddenly lost weight. The effect was instantaneous. His suit actually fit him, whereas before he had been bursting out at the seams. His sweating stopped and that oily tone of voice vanished as well.

    “We’re in a tight spot, John. I get the impression that someone in our family has been playing with fire.”

    John raised a brow, “Which fire exactly are you talking about?”

    “The Society, the reckless fools. Why is everyone so obsessed with killing when blackmail is so much more effective?”

     “I doubt the rest of the world would agree with you, uncle Isaac.”

     Isaac smiled ruefully, “I’ve made some tough choices, John. Some very tough choices. I’ve ruined people’s lives and reputations, but you know something? I’ve never killed a single person. When I fight, I use information and rumors and at the end of the day, everyone lives.”

     John opened his mouth as though he had something to say, but he shut it again after a moment’s thought. Liam couldn’t decide if that was self-delusion or self-congratulation.  In the context of the job, Liam didn’t care.

     “What do you want me to do? This whole mess is really outside my work.”

     “I’ll give you a team. Do an internal audit. Every piece of information, everybody who had access to it, where it went, the works. We may need to jump ship if this gets too ugly. The Five Families have had a good run, but every unsinkable ship springs a leak at some point.”

     Their conversation went on for a short while after that, but it was really more of the same. The fact that someone in the Neelan family was leaking information was hardly a revelation. The  fact that this was going on under the table and without consent was important information indeed.

    After they had finished their conversation, John rose and left with the curt excuse that his workload had been added to considerably and staying any longer was a waste of his time. Isaac waited until he was gone a few moments and then gave Liam another show when he gradually expanded to his former weight. Dabbing at fresh sweat, he rose and headed for the door with Liam in tow, unbeknownst to him.

    Isaac, as it turned out, was the consummate people person. He spent the rest of the evening wandering the building and chatting with whoever would sit down and speak with him. He talked with them about their personal troubles and their small triumphs and in return he got small pieces of information about the Nair household. No one piece of information was too damning, in and of itself, but taken as a whole even Liam could get a feel for how the household ran and when was the best time to sneak in and steal something.

    Towards the end of the night, Isaac ran into Samantha Goodbody, something he clearly didn’t want to happen. Samantha had a peculiar way of stopping people from avoiding her, however, and she cornered him before he could vanish down another hallway.

    “Isaac, I have a favor to ask you.” Samantha could always be counted on for getting to the point of a conversation.

    Isaac tried and failed to smile sincerely, “You and everyone else in this house, but I am not an endless font of generosity.”

    “I’ll make it worth your while, you old wind-bag. I’ll do one free hunt for you.”

    As disinterested as his face appeared, his eyes gleamed when he responded, “And what if I told you to hunt your brother?”

    Sam scoffed and turned away, “I thought the devil tempted people with things they wanted. That’s not how this deal works.”

    “Alright, alright,” Isaac waved his chubby fingers offhandedly, “I was just testing you. What did you want to know?”

    “I want to know everything you know about that cult out in California.”

    “The one the Goodbody family supposedly didn’t have a run in with about a decade ago?”

    Sam let out a deep sigh from the depths of her soul, “Yeah, that one. What do you know about it?”

    Isaac stroked his chins thoughtfully, “I know they worship the Old Gods of the Field, great monstrosities that cause madness and good crops. I know they’ve been gaining members these last few years. The last time I sent someone out to learn more, they never came back and I never found out what happened to them. Other than that, not much.”

    Liam had never heard Sam laugh so bitterly, “You don’t know much more than I do. That information will earn you one very small hunt…like an annoying house fly or something. Catch you later, scum.”

    Liam decided this was the point where he would leave as well. He knew Samantha well enough to know she wasn’t involved with the Society for the Protection of Humankind. As disconnected as Sam was, even if she turned out to be a mole she wouldn’t have much useful information that they would want. That left one family left to check up on and that would be the Aliway family. Spying on them promised to be fantastically boring, but that would complete his work on the Five Families early and then he could spend some time just watching the house. There were enough secret passages honeycombed throughout the building that he could have hidden there forever, if he so desired.

Jack and Stan~ Paranormal Cleaners chapter 23

     In all the years the Goodbody family had lived in this place, the only time the main Goodbody house had been attacked was once when Jack’s grandfather still led the family. A migration of werewolves across the country had led them directly into the path of the Goodbody family, old hands at killing their kind. It hadn’t gone well for them. He could hardly believe someone else was trying it now. The smaller kitchen connected directly with the main kitchen. From the main kitchen, Sam took the lead again and they moved into the dining room. The dining room led into the downstairs foyer opposite the door and beside the stairs. From the dining room, Jack could see the shadows moving up the stairs. The smell of mothballs was briefly punctuated by the smell of stale sweat and whiskey. Their uninvited guests weren’t just fools, they were patient and drunk fools as well. That and they were headed up the stairs with confidence which made Jack feel like they knew where his father could be found.

     Racing through the dining room, Jack found himself thinking about his father upstairs alone in his room with his thoughts and his relics of a bygone age. Jack wasn’t entirely sure if it was fondness that injected a desperation into his steps. Even though he hated him, and he was sure he hated him, Jack had known no life but a life that contained his father. Madeline stood at the bottom of the steps, gently swaying back and forth. She held a cake server in her left had, which glistened red in the light along the side. One crimson droplet glistened on the edge of her cake server and hung suspended for a small eternity before it hit the ground. Her hair frayed out around the edges under her maids cap.

     “Master Jack, I’m so glad to see you and your sister unharmed.”

     Jack ground to a halt and looked up the stairs. He was shocked to realize he could now see the shadows moving, whereas before they would have been out of sight, “Madeline, how exactly did they get past you?”

     Madeline turned to look up the stairs, “I was in the kitchen when we were attacked. I just got here myself when I realize you might have been their target. It seems I was worried about nothing.” A shadowy attacker raced down the stairs and made a running leap for Madeline, blade outstretched, Madeline raised her cake server and parried the blog, raising her free hand and sending her attacker head over heels into the air, landing directly on Jack’s stolen knife. He left that knife embedded in his chest and snatched up the new blade before checking him for identifying marks. Again, the bade was the only note-worthy feature.

     Looking, Jack noticed the other shadows on the stairs, around for, had begun to descend the stairs towards Madeline, a little slower this time and more methodical. Now the real fight began. A fight against opponents that weren’t taking you seriously is no real fight at all. Jack paused considering the odds before stepping slowly to the left, Sam stalking out behind him to watch his back. Neither one of them had time to move very far before things got out of hand. Madeline stepped out onto the floor and turned to face her opponents. One of the attackers paced down the stairs, confident in his backup. The wall to the fight side of her attacker burst open and an enormous hand reached out and grabbed the man around the neck and smashed him back into the wall three or four times until he went motionless. Somehow, despite the confusion, the mysterious assailant managed to stab Stan’s arm a few times before he had been put down. Stan’s arm vanished through the hole it had made, wavering slightly before it vanished.

     Madeline sagged against the wall next to the stairwell and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at the blood slowly seeping out from a wound in her shoulder which Jack hadn’t noticed before. He dashed to her side, catching her before she could hit the ground and holding her upright.

    “Master Jack, so good to see…you’re alright. They…must have drugged the food…” Madeline trailed off and closed her eyes, sagging against Jack’s supporting arms.

     Jack handed her off to Sam and looked up the stairs, “Father’s still up there. I’m going to find out what the hell is going on here.”

     Sam nodded and gently pulled Madeline’s dress aside to reveal a small, but terribly deep, knife would. The remaining three invaders watched them intently. It seemed that their purpose was not to attack, but merely to keep them from reaching the upper floors.

     Jack slowly marched up the stairs, to watch judgement he did not know. That left three opponents on the stairs. Three road blocks between him and his father. Jack held no weapons except the knife that he had taken. Fair odds to them. The first opponent dove down the stairs. Jack swayed to the left side and rammed the blade into the side of his head. He had no time to celebrate his victory, because it quickly became apparent why he had jumped forward so eagerly. He was playing the sacrifice for his mates.

     The second attacker already had a blade aimed for Jack’s neck. His movements down the stairs were calm and sure. Jack swayed back to the right and swung the first assailant into his compatriot’s path. The blade aimed at Jack hit his former friend in the back with a hollow thud. Reaching around his makeshift shield, Jack snatched his collar and held him still and grabbed the knife from his first attacker, using it to calmly finish the second attacker as well. The third opponent, seeing his friends taken out so easily, turned and ran up the stairs with Jack following, stepping around the fallen. Two flights left, the stale air grew staler and the smell of whiskey grew stronger. At the top of the third flight of stairs, Jack looked down the hall and found his last attacker standing with another man, likely the one in charge of this suicide mission. They stood before the door that had so often been a major part of Jack’s nightmares. He turned his head when he heard Jack’s footsteps on the stairs.