“Casper, wake up!” Cormac yelled in a way that told me this wasn’t his first attempt.
“What’s up, ghosty?”
“Your wicked witch is on her way,” he said.
“What? How close is she?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I was texting the all-clear every hour, as you said. But then new people showed up to take over and found the couple you knocked out.”
“How many new people?”
“Two. Now all four of them are down there debating whether to wait for Holly or show initiative by coming up here themselves.” He caught me up as I headed for the door. I’d packed a bag with my essentials before going to bed. I scooped it up on my way out of my apartment. Taking the time to close, lock, and ward the door, I hoped I could sneak past the group of mundanes. With a new ward in place, Holly would waste time breaking in again while I got further away. I made it down two flights of stairs when I felt them breach the building’s front door ward. The stairwell was too tight a space to chance a confrontation, so I went into that floor’s hallway.
“I need you to check if they’re taking the stairs or the elevator,” I told Cormac. He dropped through the floor. With any luck, they wouldn’t be smart enough to split up and cover both options.
I considered calling Agent Boone for backup but wasn’t sure how that would go over with Cormac. Would Cal judge me for turning to the DPI to solve this problem? If they arrested Holly, he might view it as me selling out a fellow witch. I nearly dialed him anyway. My phone screen read 4:37 AM. I decided against it. I didn’t doubt that Boone would come to the rescue if I called, but I doubt he’d appreciate a wake-up call at this hour. Cormac reappeared, wearing a look of despair, as I put my phone back in my pocket.
“Two in the elevator and two waiting in the lobby,” he said.
“Okay, I can work around that,” I said, noticing the extravagant purple knocker on one of the apartment doors. I hadn’t realized it when I ducked onto this floor, but I’d been in that apartment before. I started walking toward the door.
“What are you doing?”
“The guy who lives here still popped up on Grindr last time I’d logged in. We’d hooked up when I first moved into the building. I remembered a lack of chemistry, but we still smiled at each other in the mailroom when our paths crossed,” I overshared.
“Is now really the time for illicit sex?”
“Quiet. I need to focus,” I said, knocking on the door and hoping he was up.
I was about to give up on the plan when I heard the deadbolt turn. My former hookup opened the door and asked, “What are you doing here so early?”
I cast a relaxation spell on him instead of answering. He stepped back and smiled at me. I must have caught him getting ready for the gym based on his outfit and sneakers. Maybe I should have had Cormac check on him first. If I’d waited for him to leave, I wouldn’t have needed to ruin his workout. I chalked it up to not being used to having a ghost around instead of my impulsivity. Once I was sure the spell took full effect, I asked, “Can I come in?”
“I’m really not clear on the plan here,” Cormac said.
“Sure,” the guy said, holding his apartment door open for me. I walked inside and headed to the window that let out onto the fire escape. He seemed utterly unconcerned as he closed the door. My anxiety must have cranked the spell up higher than I’d intended. He loped over to his couch and sat down. “How you been, man?”
“Not bad,” I said, not sure what to do about him at this point. I didn’t want to stick around in case the relaxation spell made him a bit too amorous. He wouldn’t be bothered in the least by me going out his window and down the fire escape. But what would he think once the spell wore off?
“Cool,” he said, content to chill on the couch and let me do as I pleased. I returned to his front door, made sure it was locked, and put the chain on for good measure. Then I cleansed my spell’s energy from the area. He’d be safe. I couldn’t worry about him judging me when the spell wore off. I’d find a new place after all this, anyway.
I went out the window and closed it gently behind me. My one-time hookup waved at me like it was a totally normal way for a guest to leave. I took my time going down the fire escape, trying to be as quiet as possible. When I made it to the ground, I reached out with my magic to seek Holly. She hadn’t arrived yet. I took off down the alley while keeping my senses as open as possible.
“That guy’s gonna think you’re a crazy person when that spell wears off,” Cormac said. To his credit, he’d waited until I’d gotten a few streets away before finally speaking up.
“I doubt he’ll do anything about it. Besides, I’m not going back again,” I said.
“You can really just abandon your whole life like that?” he asked.
“I’ve got all the important stuff right here,” I said, patting my duffle bag. He looked concerned. “It’s just stuff. Most of it was free or dirt cheap, anyway. I’m still breathing, and that’s what counts.”
The fact that I’d earned a ghost’s pity might have been more upsetting if this weren’t already such a terrible week. At this point, it barely phased me. I didn’t know where to go at first; more concerned with what I had left behind. But as I took in my surroundings, things looked familiar. My feet set me on an auto-piloted path for Lugh and Flynn’s place again. I stopped myself in my tracks. They’d already done so much for me. I couldn’t stomach waking Lugh up this early.
I corrected my course for Uptown Diner. I’d gotten enough sleep that it wouldn’t kill me to stay awake till I could meet up with Agent Boone. If I played things right, he’d help with my debt problems. I needed to make it known to my lenders that I worked with DPI now. Once that word spread, Holly should back off enough to let me pay people back. I got myself breakfast and started planning a trip to the market.