"Still nothing, remember?"Tricia emerged from her office around five in the evening, the first time since she got in that morning. Fiona looked up from her computer. "Yes, Ms Meadows?" she asked.
"Mom was teaching you, remember?"
"Two more bodies were found at the Zoo yesterday."
"For purely selfish reasons, I vote for coming back here."
"No sense you staying here any later, Fiona," Tricia said. "I'm going to be here for some time working on the Nielsen account. I'll leave details on your desk for the morning."
"Thank you." Fiona started to shut down her computer. "Do you want me to order dinner in for you?"
"I can handle it. You go on home and rest."
Fiona got up and grabbed her purse. "Thank you, Ms Meadows."
Tricia returned to her office and sat in her office chair. She waited to hear the front door close. Once she was sure her secretary was gone, she turned her monitor back on. The ashen man had a window of his own in the middle of the screen, blocking several open documents and programs. "Just getting rid of the witness."
"The power is at hand. Why do you delay?"
"I need the time to prepare and to make sure that your next gift has a sweet taste."
"Your choice had better be worth the extra time."
Tricia smiled using her most reassuring expression. "We've come too far now. I am well ahead of schedule. Everything will work out to our mutual advantage."
"You do remember what happens if your renege on your part?"
"In your words, 'eternal damnation'. I know what I'm doing. You said it yourself, I am the most powerful mage in San Diego. I have the most to lose if I fail. Trust me, this will be a win-win situation for us both."
"I need the last sacrifice."
"You will have it. You will just have to wait patiently. The police are getting a little close. The first two bodies were finally found."
"I will be patient."
"Good." Tricia's smile faded. "You'll soon see my approach pay off."
Brenna snuck out of the house using the back door, trying to escape Grace. Her younger sister went on a cleaning spree, thrusting a mop and cleaning supplies at her in the kitchen. Even the arrival of their father with Amy didn't dissuade the blonde Halliday girl. As Grace tried to get Gary and Amy to help, Brenna took the opportunity to escape.
The roar of the van's diesel engine was probably heard inside, but Brenna thought it would be too late for Grace to do anything. Brenna eased the van away from the curb. In the rear view mirrors, she saw Grace running out the front door. The young brunette eased off the accelerator after turning the corner.
Brenna drove aimlessly, more happy to be out of the house than anything else. She followed the flow of traffic, turning at intersections more on whim than desire to go somewhere. After an hour of meandering, Brenna found herself downtown, driving past darkened office towers that had at most a handful of lights on.
Hearing her cell phone ring, Brenna pulled over to the side. She checked the call display; her home number showed up. Figuring it was most likely Grace calling, Brenna ignored the call. She turned off the ringer, not wanting any more interruptions from home. Brenna turned off the van. Silence seeped in once the engine was off. The only noise came from the few cars still around downtown passing her.
A loud scream grabbed Brenna's attention. She climbed out of her van, trying to find the source. The scream repeated, sounding like a young woman in trouble. Brenna locked up her van, then started walking around. No one else on the street seemed to even react to the cries; not even looking around. Brenna hoped it was a ghost from the lack of reaction.
A third scream, different from the previous two, came from an alleyway. A teenager bolted from the alley, stumbling as she tried to stand up. Brenna changed her vision in a blink. The teenager was scared, though Brenna didn't need her special sight to tell that. She walked over to the girl, her hands out to her sides. "Excuse me, miss?"
"Don't go down there!" The teen pointed down the alley. "There's something freaky in there."
"It'll be okay," Brenna soothed. "What did you see?"
"I didn't see nothing!" Still ready to run, the girl turned to Brenna. "What are you, a cop?"
Brenna shook her head. "I'm just here to help." She cringed as another scream, the same as the first, echoed from the alley.
The teenager shivered. "Did you feel that?"
"I heard it. I'm going to need your help."
"I'm not going back in there. Fuck that!"
"You don't have to go in. I am. I just want you to watch and to call for help if something happens to me, okay?"
"Don't." The girl reached out to Brenna. "Don't go in there. You don't know what's down there."
"I have to." Brenna turned to the alleyway.
"No!" The teenager grabbed Brenna's arm. "Please, don't go there."
Brenna smiled at the girl. "It's okay, really. I know what I'm doing and there's no one else here who can make the alley safe."
"Are . . . are you sure?"
The teenager let go of Brenna's arm. "Okay." She took a deep breath to try to calm down. "What do you want me to do?"
"Stay at the entrance of the alley and keep an eye on me. If something happens to me, go get help. Got it?"
Brenna walked into the alley, ignoring the garbage and debris that lined the walls on either side. She kept her sight going, the better to find the ghost involved. At the end of the alley, she saw a figure floating above the ground, its aura also reading as fright, albeit mixed with anger. "Hello?" Brenna called softly. "Can you speak to me?"
The figure floated closer to the ground. In Spanish, it said, "Who are you?"
"My name is Brenna," the young brunette answered, also in Spanish. "Why are you here?"
"I don't know."
Brenna held her arms out. "Are you lost?"
"No." The apparition rose up. "I . . . I was chased here. Chased by two men. Both Anglos. They . . . you!"
"Me?" Brenna stopped in her tracks.
"You're with them!"
"I'm not with anyone. I just want to help you find your way."
"You sent them!"
"Can you tell me your name?" Brenna watched as the apparition's aura flooded with anger. "Do you know what year it is?"
"You sent them! It's your fault I'm dead!"
From behind her, Brenna heard a squeak of fear. She switched back to her normal vision. The ghost hovered over a trash bin, her face distorted from anger. "I'm sorry, but I can't let you attack anyone else." Brenna took off the glove from her right hand.
The ghost swooped down inches about the alley. Its hands grew into talons as she held them out towards Brenna. The young brunette took a step back and called out the Soul Blade. "I don't want to hurt you, but I will defend myself." The apparition pulled up out of Brenna's reach and looped back to the end of the alleyway.
"What is that?" the teenaged girl asked.
"Stay back!" Brenna took a few steps forward. "You don't want to do this," she said to the apparition. "I can help you move on peacefully."
The ghost dove down again, straight towards Brenna. The young brunette held the Soul Blade in front of her, ready. The apparition held its talons out, wanting to scratch out the interloper's eyes. Brenna swept the Blade up, cutting the air in front of the ghost. Unable to stop, it ran through the Blade. Anger burned off on contact. The ghost's face reformed into a young woman's before the apparition disappeared.
"What is that?" the teen breathed.
Brenna dismissed the Soul Blade and put on her glove. She turned around. "It's a long story. It's safe now."
"What did you do to it?"
"I helped her find her way." Brenna smiled. "My name's Brenna. What's yours?"
Brenna walked out of the alley. "Did you need a ride anywhere, Carly?"
Carly kept an eye on Brenna's hands. "It's okay."
"Are you sure?" Brenna took in what the teen was wearing; a red sweatshirt with all sorts of stains on it, a pair of jeans with holes in both knees, and a pair of shoes that had seen far better days. "You look a little lost yourself."
"You don't mind?"
"Not at all. If you don't mind being in a van with me. Do you want a lift home?"
"Do you have somewhere to stay? A friend's place, maybe?"
Carly shrugged. "Not really."
Brenna looked at her watch. "Do you have anyone you want to call?"
Brenna walked to her van and opened the passenger door. "Get in. I'll take you for a burger or something and let you make your call." She walked around to the driver's side and climbed in.
Carly dashed inside and closed the door. She looked into the back of the Savana. "You're not going to try anything, are you?"
"I promise, not a thing." Brenna started the van's engine.
Once the Savana was in motion, Carly asked, "Why are you doing this?"
"You needed help. She needed help." Brenna shrugged. "And I didn't want you to end up like her."
"But, wasn't she a ghost? As in already dead?"
"She was, yes. Dead and angry about it. I don't know how long she was there. Maybe I couldn't have talked her into moving on. But, angry ghosts just don't happen, Carly. They have to be angry already. Extreme emotions will prevent a spirit from leaving a place important to it."
"And I could have become like her?"
"It's possible. Still is, really, but it doesn't have to be." Brenna glanced over at her passenger. "Carly, I don't know why you're on the streets."
Carly bristled. "Who said I lived on the streets?"
"When was the last time you ate or bathed? Carly, I was your age not that long ago. Don't treat me like I'm a complete idiot."
"Okay, fine." Carly settled in her seat. "I left home several weeks ago. I ran out of money Monday last week getting bread." Her stomach growled. "I haven't eaten since Sunday."
"I can't let you go back on the streets."
"I'm not going home. No cops, either."
Brenna guided the oversized van through a left turn. "What about a shelter? Or, you said you might have someone you can call."
"Maybe, but I don't even have the cash to use a payphone."
Brenna spotted a McDonald's ahead on the road. She signaled her upcoming turn. "You can use my cell phone while you eat."
"You trust me that much?"
"Do you trust me?"
Carly smiled. "Yeah, I do. You're going to find this weird."
Brenna laughed. "Can I point out that you're talking to someone who just fought a ghost? Weird isn't a problem."
"Good point. Okay, do you ever get, I don't know, vibes from other people? Like you can tell if they can be trusted or if they're about to fuck you over?"
"Sort of. Not quite like vibes, but I get the idea." Brenna pulled the Savana into the fast food restaurant's parking lot.
"Well, the vibes you're giving off are pleasant, like you're a nice person deep down. You also feel stressed, but you're hiding it really well."
"Stressed," Brenna repeated. "I suppose. Just something bugging me right now."
"It'll pass," Carly said. She opened the passenger door. "Shit always does. Life's a bitch, but it's not completely unfair."
Brenna climbed out of her side and locked the van up. "I hope it comes to nothing." She started towards the entrance. "So, I'm a nice person?"
"You are. You probably get told that all the time."
"Not the way you say it." Brenna walked up to the counter. She nodded at Carly.
"Big Mac combo, large fries and Coke," the teen ordered.
"And I'll have a garden salad with ranch dressing and a small iced tea."
The cashier gave Brenna the total. The young brunette dug through her purse to find the cash to pay for the order. Brenna then let Carly take the tray and find a seat. The ravenous teen tore into the hamburger, taking a huge bite from it. Brenna hid her smile with a sip of iced tea. She took out her cell phone and set it on the table. "Whenever you're ready to make the call," she said.
Carly swallowed the bite of food in her mouth. "Thanks." She kept at the Big Mac, devouring it until only half the burger remained. "Sorry. I didn't know how hungry I was."
Brenna waved off the apology. "Don't worry about it. Eat."
Carly set her burger down and took a drink of her cola. "I should phone someone." She picked up Brenna's cell phone and entered a phone number. The teen tapped her fingers on the table as she waited for someone to answer. "Hi, can I speak to Nathan? Thanks."
Brenna continued eating her salad, trying not to eavesdrop on the conversation. The salad was better than she expected and a way to take the edge off from the cleaning. Just being away from the house helped with the latter. Brenna understood why Grace wanted the house done; she didn't have to agree.
"Nathan, no! Don't!" Carly's voice grew louder. "Don't call them. I'll never talk to you again if you do. Yes, I fucking well do mean it." Carly rolled her eyes. "I don't want to talk about it. No, Nathan. I'm in a restaurant. I don't want to tell everyone in the fucking place about my problems." The teen pulled the phone away from her ear and covered the mouthpiece. "Can you believe some people?" she muttered to Brenna. Carly returned to the call. "Nathan, I just need a place to clean up and get a good night's sleep. I don't want to go home and I don't want to talk about it. Thanks. Hang on." Carly covered the mouthpiece again. "Um, where are we?" Brenna gave the teen the intersection, which Carly passed on to friend. "How long will you be?"
Brenna finished her salad, leaving Carly some privacy to finish her call. When the teen set the phone down, Brenna asked, "Everything okay?"
"I think so." Carly picked up a few fries. "Nathan's going to come get me." She popped the fries into her mouth.
"Do you want me to be around when he shows up?"
Carly shook her head. "I'll be okay. Thanks for the phone and for dinner."
"Any time. I do have a favour to ask you, though."
Brenna hunted for a pen and a scrap piece of paper in her purse. She scribbled down her name and phone number. "Call me if you ever feel anything strange."
"Sure." Carly grabbed the paper and shoved it into her pocket. "Anything else?"
"I hope things work out for you. Call me if you need help, okay?"
Brenna pocketed her phone and slung her purse over her shoulder. She gathered the garbage and took it to the trash bin as she left the restaurant. Once back in the van, she took a look at her phone. She had missed eight calls with three going to voice mail. The call display showed all the calls came from her home phone. With a sigh, Brenna checked her voice mail. The first message was from Grace, as the young brunette expected. Her sister was on a tirade and demanded to know how Brenna could just leave in the middle of a task. Brenna erased the message without a second thought. The second call was also from Grace, who was much more contrite this time around, apologizing for her behaviour. Brenna saved the message to listen to again when she was home. The third message surprised her; Amy had called to invite Brenna to join the family at a pub for a drink. The young brunette almost deleted the message, but her thumb paused. She couldn't remember the last time she had gone out with both her father and Grace. She just had to rush to pick up her prescription from the pharmacist; Brenna hoped the drug store was still open. Brenna hung up on her voice mail and started the van.
"Medical? Oh, Brenna, I didn't know."
"Grace is getting all worked up over her graduation."
"It belongs to a little old lady in Texas who died a week ago."