The Hometown Network hadn’t played its cards very well at all.
By the time they got around to trying to set up a special Halloween investigation for their flagship ghost hunting series, Ghost U, all the best witch hunt-related locations were taken. Rockafellas, Proctor’s Ledge, the Joshua Ward House, the Witch House… all of them had been reserved for months by other shows.
The network, when it learned of its mistake, tried to interest one of those other programs in a guest investigator from the Ghost U team. Due to legalities and competition between networks, those cameos never came to pass, all of which left Ghost U on the outside looking in on what was essentially ghost hunters’ Christmas.
Emma Ray didn’t mind. She was tired from the rigors of the team’s investigation of the Henry Ross Murray House, a museum dedicated to one of the country’s lesser Founding Fathers, and she was more than ready to stay home in the apartment she and her roommates had recently reclaimed, handing out candy and watching the other shows’ live broadcasts.
Quinn Riley, on the other hand, one of her roommates and the putative leader of their little band, was irritated with the network, and when the news of their failure to book a proper venue for investigation was announced to them, he’d been furious. He’d wanted to give their producers a piece of his mind, but for once he decided that discretion was the better part of valor.
Emma was glad he’d put a cork in it.
Tyler Sullivan and Brent Hill, the other members of their foursome, were just as relieved as Emma was that they had dodged the bullet of an intense holiday investigation. The network might not be able to pull in high ratings for the special live event that they had hoped for, but it gave the four of them the chance to actually enjoy the holiday for a change instead of working.
The day before Halloween, Tyler came into the apartment with a handful of parchment envelopes. They were addressed with beautiful calligraphy, and he handed one to each of his roommates.
“My dad’s firm is throwing a Halloween party at the Salem Convention Center,” he said. “We’re all invited.”
Quinn accepted the envelope with a look of shock on his face. “Wait… what? I thought they were mortified that you were on the show, and they can’t be taking your change in major very well.”
“They don’t know I dropped out of pre-law yet. I’m hoping to avoid that conversation until after the holidays. As for the party… I believe we’re being invited at the request of his biggest client.”
Brent took his envelope and gave it the stink-eye. “Someone who wants to poke fun at us, or someone who wants to believe?”
Tyler sat down beside Emma and handed her an envelope of her own. His green eyes looked sad and almost embarrassed as he pushed his glasses back up his nose. “I think they’re believers, and they’re looking for a performance.”
“Is this convention center haunted?” she asked, looping her leg over his. He put his hand on her knee and shrugged.
“It’s Salem. I think everything is haunted there.”
She opened the envelope and read the invitation. “Costumes required. Uh-oh, boys. Guess we’re going to have to get busy.”
“RSVP,” Quinn shrugged. “We can always say no.”
“I already said yes,” Tyler admitted, chagrined. “My dad is a hard negotiator.”
Brent laughed uneasily, but Quinn just rolled his eyes.
“Should we all dress up in the same theme, so it’s obvious we came together?” Emma asked. “I mean, I can be Black Widow, Quinn can be Iron Man - the ego’s about right - and Brent, you can be Star Man from Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Who should I be?” Tyler asked, smiling.
“Um… Vision, maybe?”
“No way. Spandex is out of the question.”
“I don’t know,” she grinned. “You’ve got the ass for it.”
He blushed. “Well… thank you.”
Quinn wiggled his eyebrows at him. “I concur.”
Tyler’s face flushed darker.
Brent hedged, “I don’t know. I mean, I for one would love to see you in a leather catsuit, Em, but… I’m thinking something more dignified. Historical, even.”
“Like what?” she asked, making a mental note to buy a leather catsuit for fun and games.
“What do you think about going as characters from Hamilton?”
Quinn laughed. “Man, you are obsessed with that show.”
“It’s awesome,” he defended. “And it wouldn’t hurt you to get a little culture.”
“Who even are you?”
“Didn’t you get enough of colonial America with our last gig?” Tyler asked.
“Well… kind of. Not really. I just thought it might be cool.”
“I know,” Quinn said, putting his envelope aside and wandering into the kitchen. He came back with a bottle of beer. “Let’s go as a ghost hunting team that can’t get a decent gig on Halloween night.”
“Ooh, pouty,” Emma teased.
“Yes, I am.”
Tyler put his arm around her and considered their options. “You know, I kind of like the idea of something historical, but maybe not colonial.”
“Civil War?” Brent suggested.
Emma smiled. “I could totally go in for a big ol’ 1860’s ball gown, hoop skirt and all. And you fine gentlemen in blue uniforms… sexy.”
The three guys looked at one another, and finally Quinn shrugged. “You heard the lady. Looks like the Union just recruited three more soldiers.”
Emma did some research, including asking around the theater department at the college they attended, and she finally tracked down the appropriate costumes. She managed to get the guys to come in and try on the uniforms, and after a few removable fitting changes, they were ready for the party.
“I still can’t believe we have to go to your father’s company party,” Quinn complained as they got into Brent’s car, which was chosen because it offered more room for Emma’s exorbitant skirt. She’d gone for crinolines instead of a hoop skirt, but it still occupied more metric space than any garment had a right to do.
“I still can’t believe he invited us.”
“Well, let’s just go and take advantage of the free food and free drinks,” Emma suggested. “I mean, we’re college students. We should be all about the food, right?”
Quinn laughed. “We’re college students getting paid to make a TV show that’s broadcast internationally. I don’t think we need to go around scrounging for freebies.”
Brent shrugged and started to drive. “I like free food.”
“See? One honest man in the car. Thank you.”
He beamed at her.
They drove for forty minutes to get to the parking lot of the convention center, and at least ten of those minutes were spent waiting for throngs of costume-wearing people of all ages, including at least one full coven of witches, to get out of the road.
“Good luck finding a parking space,” Quinn said.
Tyler smiled. “My father paid for valet parking.”
“Of course he did.”
They surrendered Brent’s battered Ford to the tender mercies of the valet company and made their way into the convention center. A woman in a Vampirella costume that left nothing to the imagination strolled by and winked at Quinn.
“Looks like the Army’s in town.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Quinn responded with a smile, turning on all of his considerable charm. He saluted her, and she kept walking.
Emma shook her head. “You are such a slut.”
“What? I was playing along.”
“Right.” She gave him a side-eyed smirk. “You can’t kid a kidder, Quinn.”
Brent laughed. “You know she’s right. Might as well own it.”
“Well… but did you see her boobs? They were awesome.”
“And here I thought I was wearing this low-cut dress with this corset so you’d look at mine,” Emma commented, smiling. “Keep talking. You’re digging yourself a nice little hole you’ll get to sleep in, alone.”
“I was just being friendly.”
“Oh, is that what they’re calling it these days?”
Their jovial conversation led them down the long foyer, with its massive grandfather clock and fake cobwebs, to the fourth ballroom, where the Law Offices of Sullivan and Shumer were holding their party. Tyler straightened his uniform jacket and looked at his companions.
“Here we go.”
Emma linked her arm with his and smiled at him. “Lead on, Colonel.”
They walked into the ballroom, and Tyler’s father, Donald Sullivan, turned to face them, a drink in his hand. He was dressed in an elegant Dracula costume, and it looked so natural on him that for a moment, Emma thought he had forgotten to dress up.
“Well,” he said with a smile that never reached his eyes, “Tyler. I’m so glad you could make it. Please introduce me to your friends.”
“Dad, you know Quinn and Brent. We graduated high school together and they were always over at the house.” Tyler looked at the young woman by his side. “And this is Emma Ray. Emma, this is my father, Donald Sullivan.”
“Ah. Miss Ray.” He said her name as if it tasted sour. “The psychic, I presume.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you for inviting us to your party.” She curtsied gracefully, playing up her costume. When she looked up at him, she caught him looking down at her décolletage, which seemed pretty on-brand for him. She wondered how long he’d been sleeping with his secretary. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
His opinion of her seemed to have changed along with his view. He smiled, and this time it looked genuine. “Likewise.”
Quinn muttered, “Pig.”
Oh, the irony, she thought.
Penelope, one of her spirit guides, laughed. -Pretty rich, him getting outraged over some other man’s sexist behavior.-
-Well, the boys have a little growing up to do, but that doesn’t mean he can’t call it like he sees it.-
Mr. Sullivan asked drily, “Tell me, Miss Ray. Are there any ghosts among us tonight?”
She smiled. There were several, but she didn’t want to get into it. “Maybe, but it’s my night off, so I’m trying not to look.”
“I see.” He looked at Tyler, and his eyes went cold. “I’m disappointed. I had hoped that you might provide some entertainment for my guests.”
“Like cold readings, or do you want me to drift around and tell them what their wives and husbands are really up to?” she asked sweetly. “Or maybe you’d like me to tell the man in the corner that he has three murder victims following him. Should I introduce them? Oh, wait. He probably knows them. I think he killed them, actually.”
Even though she hadn’t pointed it out, the lawyer knew exactly which direction to look in. He turned back to her. “Nothing too upsetting. Just general, I don’t know, parlor tricks.”
She folded her hands in front of her waist, holding back the urge to say things she would regret. “Mr. Sullivan, I don’t think you understand the nature of my gift.”
“I don’t think you understand why you were invited here.”
Tyler looked like he wanted to fall through the floor. Emma felt horrible for him. “Mr. Sullivan, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live with a parent like you. Tyler is a remarkable man to have such kindness after coming from such bitter stock.”
The attorney looked as offended as he should have been. “You weren’t asked to come here to judge me. I might have a few interesting things to say about you and your boyfriends, too, but I’d like to keep this evening civil. I’ve invited another medium here tonight, as well. It was my hope that you and she would conduct a seance at midnight.”
“Midnight’s actually not…” Brent began. Quinn stomped on his foot.
“What medium? I might know her.” She looked at Tyler with a smile. “Small community.”
“Her name is Trinket Mallory.”
Emma had heard the name before, but she knew almost nothing about the woman that a casual TV viewer wouldn’t know. “She’s from New Orleans, isn’t she?”
“She is. And she doesn’t come cheap.”
“Well, then, if you’re expecting entertainment and you’re willing to pay Miss Mallory for her time, I think I deserve more than free food and drink.”
“You mean I should pay you?”
Emma looked him in the eye. “If you want me to keep my ghosts and my information polite, yes. Maybe you could introduce me to Angela.”
He flushed but smiled tightly. “Of course. Tyler, text me the necessary arrangements and I’ll see to it that you’re paid after the party.”
Emma tilted her head, smiling up at him as sweetly as she could. “No pay, no play, Mr. Sullivan. Surely you of all people can understand that fees must be paid.”
He sighed deeply. “How much?”
“Five hundred for an entire evening.”
She shrugged. “If you say so. Angela is the one in the Vampirella costume, right? I guess I could see why you pay her so much and have to work so late, so often.”
The lawyer’s face darkened. “I don’t have my checkbook.”
“Do you have your phone? I accept PayPal.”
Brent snickered, and Mr. Sullivan gave him an evil glare. “And how is your grandmother, Brent? Still an alcoholic?”
“She died four years ago. But you knew that.”
Quinn looked as ready to deck the man as Emma was. Brent just looked hurt, which made Emma even angrier.
“Dad, I’ll send the payment for you from the office’s petty cash. I have the account information.”
He sighed. “Fine. Do it.” He looked at Emma sternly. “But you had better be worth the money.”
He walked away, putting on his friendly face again so he could talk to clients. Quinn told Tyler, “Man, it’s a miracle nobody’s shot him yet.”
Tyler didn’t look up from his phone. “The night is still young. Whoops. Extra zero.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks, Ty.”
“No… thank you. He thinks he’s super sneaky and nobody knows that he’s having an affair. We all do, of course.”
“Even your mom?”
“Well… No. She’s too busy at the hospital. But she probably wouldn’t care.”
Quinn shook his head. “Man. And I thought my family life was fucked up.”
Brent was silent, still stinging from the lawyer’s words. Emma took his hand. “Come on. Let’s dance.”
He started to protest, but she pulled him onto the dancefloor with her. The DJ was playing some obscure 80s dance track, and Brent told her, “I don’t know how to dance to this.”
“Nobody does,” she assured him. “And I know your grandmother was never an alcoholic. I’ve spoken to her many times, and she’s a sweet old lady.”
He nodded. “She really was.”
“And don’t worry. I have plans for dear Mr. Sullivan.”
While Emma and Brent danced, Quinn and Tyler walked around the perimeter of the room. They were recognized by many of the invited guests, either because of the show or because Tyler had spent a few months as a clerk in his father’s office. Either way, they were stopped several times for inane small talk.
They finally found the hors d'oeuvres tables. Uniformed members of a formal catering staff stood at almost military attention behind each station, dressed in black vests and trousers and crisp white shirts.
“Well, I’ll say this for your dad,” Quinn said. “He knows how to buy a good spread.”
“That was probably Darlene, the office manager. She makes all the arrangements.”
They pointed out which morsels they would like to eat, and the catering employees loaded their plates for them. They accepted the food and sat down at one of the round tables in the room.
“Should we get plates for Brent and Emma?” Tyler asked.
“I suppose, but I’m not sure what they’d want.”
“Well, Brent would want everything, and Emma would want fruit and veggies.”
Quinn smiled. “You know us all pretty well.”
“I kind of live with you guys. It’s hard not to.”
A curvaceous woman in a witch’s dress and pointed hat strolled up to the table. “Why, Tyler. You look positively dashing.”
He stood up quickly, catching the orange table cloth with his foot. “Ms. Markady,” he greeted. “Happy Halloween.”
“Happy Halloween to you, as well. I would have thought that you’d be otherwise occupied tonight.”
“Our network failed to arrange a venue for us, so here we are.” Quinn stood and offered his hand. “I’m Quinn Riley.”
“Oh, I know.” She slipped her small hand into his grip. “Bianca Markady, junior partner at Sullivan and Shumer. Please, both of you. Sit.”
She slithered into one of the chairs, and Quinn and Tyler sat down again.
“Dad told me that he hired another medium at the request of one of his clients. Do you know which client that might be?”
Bianca leaned on her hand, but one slender finger pointed into the corner. “Aaron Pritchett,” she said. “He’s the COO of Bosworth Pharmaceuticals. He has an unhealthy fascination with the paranormal and pays your father hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep him on retainer.”
“Ah. Money,” Quinn said. “The ultimate ass-kiss inspiration.”
Bianca chuckled. “Crude, but accurate.”
Tyler shook his head, glancing subtly over at the man in question, who was dressed like Frankenstein’s monster. “I’d never seen him before. I handled some of the correspondence coming in on his account, but… I had no idea.”
“Mmm. I’m sure there’s a lot in that office you don’t know.”
“If you mean my dad and Angela…”
She waved her hand. “Not that. Everybody knows about that. Just… let’s just say that we’ll all be happy if nobody does an audit anytime soon.”
“If you’re a junior partner, you’re in it up to your neck,” Quinn observed. “Why not turn some people in and save yourself? Maybe cut a plea deal?”
She laughed. “I have ambition, Quinn, and ratting out a partnership like Sullivan and Shumer will not get me where I want to be.” She ran her long, black-painted fingernail over the tablecloth. “No… sometimes you can’t be a white hat and survive in this world.”
“I guess I’ll find out.”
Emma and Brent arrived at the table with their own laden plates in their hands. Brent put his plate down, along with three bottles of beer he had carried as well.
“Hello,” Emma greeted the stranger in their midst. She offered her hand. “I’m Emma.”
They shook hands. Quinn could see a strange look flicker through Emma’s eyes. For a moment, she looked startled.
“A pleasure,” she said.
“I’m Brent,” he said, offering Bianca a handshake of his own, which she accepted. “Nice to meet you.”
“Ms. Markady… Bianca… is a junior partner in my father’s firm,” Tyler explained.
She studied Emma closely. “I know Tyler and Quinn and Brent from the television show, but you… I’m not familiar with you.”
Emma smiled, and now instead of startled, she looked guarded. What was going on?
“I’m their roommate. I help out with the show.”
“A little behind the scenes stress relief, eh? I suppose TV producers really do look after all of their stars’ needs.”
“Now, hey,” Brent said, frowning. “It’s not like that. That was really rude.”
“It’s okay,” Emma said, putting her hand on his arm. She fixed Bianca with a steady glare. “Sometimes we can’t see beyond our own experiences.”
Bianca raised her perfectly-drawn-on eyebrow. “Touché.”
Quinn said, “Emma is a psychic. She’s been added to the cast for this season, but none of the episodes she’s in have aired yet. We’re still filming.”
“A psychic? After your drawn-out complaints about how fake they are? Whose idea was that?”
“Our producer’s. And Emma… Emma’s the real deal.” He sipped his beer. “And I can admit when I’m wrong.”
She laughed. “I see. And is that professor of yours coming to the party, too?”
“Not to my knowledge,” Tyler said.
“Too bad. He’s a silver fox, that one.”
Emma smiled. “Foxes bite.”
“I hope so.”
A female laugh rang out through the room, and they all glanced in that direction. Trinket Mallory, star of Bayou Medium, was standing in the doorway, her white-gloved hand hooked through Malcolm Shumer’s arm. She was dressed like Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or possibly like Madonna in the video for Material Girl, wearing a strapless pink gown with long gloves. Brilliant stones sparkled at her throat and on her wrists, and she looked like she was already having the time of her life. Quinn couldn’t imagine that dumpy, balding Shumer was that much fun to be around, so he decided that Trinket must be quite an actress.
“Oh,” Emma said simply. “They’re here.”
“Trinket Mallory and her invisible entourage.” Emma pursed her lips and studied the doors as the pink-clad medium was escorted further into the room. “Makes sense that she’s from New Orleans. Lots of voodoo with her.”
Bianca nodded and smiled, but the expression was tight with barely-hidden disdain. “How stereotypical.”
Across the room, Trinket turned and looked at Emma, and she briefly inclined her head. Emma nodded back.
Brent smiled uncertainly. “What was that? The medium secret handshake?”
Bianca laughed. “Something like that, I think.” She turned and looked at Emma, and Quinn saw something like a challenge in that look. “We have a way of finding our own, don’t we?’
“So it seems.”
“Well, I must mingle,” Bianca said, standing gracefully. “I do hope you boys will save a dance for me.”
“Of course.” Tyler’s smile was as false as the attorney’s.
Quinn answered, “Not likely.”
Bianca laughed. “You’re an interesting one, I must say, but I’ll bet I can find out what makes you tick by the end of the night.”
“I’ll bet you can’t.”
She walked around the table as she left, and she ran her hand along his shoulders as she passed. “Challenge accepted.”
Emma breathed a sigh of relief as soon as Markady walked away. The demonic taint the attorney carried was calling to her own, and she didn’t want that part of her awakened. Not tonight.
Quinn was studying Trinket. “I didn’t recognize her name, but I know her now. Isn’t she the chick from Bayou Medium?”
“Yes,” Emma confirmed.
-Wow. I don’t know how to protect you from that,- Craig Whitehorse, another of Emma’s spirit guides, muttered to her, eyeing the spirit that had come in with Trinket.
-You can’t. If it starts to get dicey for any of you, get out of here.-
-Do you know who it is that she’s got with her?- demanded Betsy Seeley, her third guide. -That’s no mere spirit guide. That’s…-
Emma interrupted grimly. -A god.-
“Shumer is really slobbering on her,” Tyler commented, annoyed.
“Better her than me. Excuse me.”
She left her men and walked over to the vision in pink who still hadn’t made it through the door. She stopped a few feet away, feeling almost physically unable to approach more closely. “Miss Mallory?”
The woman turned her bright smile and Cajun accent on her. “Why, Emma Ray! What a pleasure! I’ve heard about your work from that rat Begay, and I heard you’d joined a show.” She beamed at Shumer. “Won’t you excuse me, Mr. Shumer?”
He was utterly charmed. “Of course.”
Trinket minced her way over to Emma and embraced her. In her ear, she whispered, “Man’s a pervert.”
“I saw that.”
They stepped back, and Trinket looked at the three men hovering nearby. “My, I thought I was lucky, but cher, you’ve got a harem and a half. Introduce us.” She hesitated. “And don’t let my bodyguard phase you. Papa’s just keeping his favorite girl safe on the busiest night of the year.”
“Papa. As in Papa Legba?”
“Open the door,” she nodded. “He’s on holiday.”
Emma had never encountered him before, but being this close to where he was hovering around Trinket was making her third eye throb like she’d been shot. The other medium seemed to understand.
“Papa,” she said over her shoulder, “take a bod.”
The force vanished, and Emma could breathe a little easier. “Thank you.”
“It’s okay, cher. I keep forgetting how rude he is when you’re not used to him.”
Emma’s three men came closer. Quinn put a steadying hand on the small of Emma’s back. She leaned back into his touch ever so slightly, grateful he was there.
“Trinket Mallory, these are Quinn Riley, Tyler Sullivan and Brent Hill.”
The other medium smiled broadly. “Oh, I know your faces! Y’all are so cute on your little show. What’s it called again?”
“Ghost U.” Quinn was smiling, but his voice was cold.
“That’s right.” She leaned in, all perfume and charm, and put her white-gloved hand on his forearm. “Beating the snot out of my little show in the ratings. So sorry to hear your producer bit the big one. Little bit of witchcraft, don’t you think?”
-She seems nice,- Craig commented.
-You just think she’s hot.-
-Emma, I’m an ascended spirit. I don’t have those urges anymore. Don’t be jealous.-
Penelope piped up, -And don’t be jealous of your boys. She’s not interested, and they’re just distracted by the sparkly. They’re still all yours.-
-I wasn’t worried about them. I’m worried about her escort. If he’s on holiday on Halloween, that means the door is unguarded, and all Hell’s about to break loose.-
-We’ll keep watch,- Betsy assured her. -Just enjoy the party, if you can.-
Trinket looked at the three spirit guides. “Good evening, ladies and gentleman. I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Brent looked at her, then at Emma, confused. “Who is she talking to?”
“Why, the rest of the group, of course.”
Tyler explained. “Emma’s guides.”
The hot presence returned to the room, but this time it was personified in a tall black man in a black suit without a shirt. His face was painted with white makeup to look like a skull. He wore a tall black hat festooned with the tail feathers of a black rooster. Trinket beamed at him.
“Ah! My date.”
He joined them, smiling broadly. He went straight to Emma and bowed to her. She wasn’t certain if he was mocking her or not.
“An honor to meet such an esteemed person,” he said, his voice deep and rich. “Trinket didn’t tell me we would be meeting someone like you.”
“I don’t need to tell you anything,” the other medium shrugged. “You can figure it out for yourself.”
“Indeed.” He took Emma’s hand and kissed it, and when he did, she realized that the white wasn’t makeup at all.
She struggled to find her voice. “It… it must be… very difficult to break away from your work on a night like this.”
Papa Legba straightened and smiled broadly. “This is my easiest night of the year. The door’s always open on Halloween, so why should I stand around and watch everybody else have fun?”
“I owed him a favor, so I said he could come with me,” Trinket said. “Idiot forgot he needed a body to do it. Bête.”
Tyler offered his hand. “Tyler Sullivan. And you are…?”
“You can call me Papa.” He winked at Tyler. “That’s different from Daddy, of course, but I think you knew that.”
Tyler’s face turned beet red, and he backed away. Trinket laughed. “Aw, leave the boy alone, Papa.”
Mr. Sullivan joined them. “Miss Mallory, welcome. It was good of you to come.”
“Well, since you paid my ticket, the least I could do was let you punch it. And I mean that in the most platonic of ways, of course.”
He smiled thinly. “Of course. We’ve set up a table in the corner, as you directed.”
“That’ll do for me, but what about for ma soeur, here?” She looked at Emma. “Little sis’ll be working half the room. She needs a table, too.”
“That can be arranged.”
Emma shook her head. “I don’t do tables.”
“Oh? No traditional séances for you?”
“I prefer to walk.”
“Suit yourself.” She tucked her hand into the crook of Sullivan’s arm and winked at Emma. “Should be a fun night. ‘Scuse us, won’t you?”
She swanned away with Tyler’s father, and Papa Legba drifted off in her wake. As soon as they were out of earshot, Quinn asked, “What the hell just happened?”
Emma didn’t answer. Instead, she went to the punch bowl and waited while one of the people on the catering staff poured a drink for her. It was mildly alcoholic, which suited her fine. She drained the entire glass.
The boys had followed her, and Brent frowned. “Are you okay?”
“That woman is super powerful, and her friend… He’s a loa. I never thought I’d ever see a loa in person.”
“A loa,” Tyler echoed. “That’s really, honestly Papa Legba?”
“In the flesh. And it’s his own flesh, which is scary.”
Quinn stared across the room at the man in question, startled. “Wait. A real voodoo god?”
“Papa Legba, the voodoo god of the dead. He’s the one who guards the gateway between this world and the next.” She realized that she was trembling. “He’s the most powerful being I’ve ever encountered. Christ, my head hurts.”
“Do you want to leave?”
“Yes, but no. I want to see how this night is going to play out.”
They ate and drank and danced, enjoying themselves as much as they could with a voodoo god in attendance. The echo of his power filled the room, and it was impossible to avoid. Trinket was holding forth in the middle of the room, a glass of champagne in her hand that she wasn’t drinking, attracting middle-aged men like flies.
“It’s almost midnight,” Tyler said, handing Emma a bottle of water from the catering table. “I guess she’s going to start her séance.”
Quinn drained his glass. “Show time.”
They drifted toward the corner where Trinket had gotten set up. She was seated at a large round table ringed with chairs. Papa Legba stood behind her, nibbling on a plate of appetizers, and he winked at Emma as they approached.
“Hi, Princess,” he greeted. “You really should join us.”
“I think I’ll pass.”
Trinket pouted. “Aw, come on. You know you want to get in on this fun.” She looked up at the three men who surrounded Emma like an honor guard. “What about these Federals you got with you? Any of you boys game?”
“I’ll sit in,” Quinn said, pulling up a chair.
One of the junior partners at Sullivan & Shumer, dressed as a zombie for the evening, told them, “I’m not getting involved in this, but you’re all on that ghost hunting show. You should all sit in.”
“Yes,” Tyler’s father said, his eyes fixed on Emma. “You should.”
Papa Legba looked at the attorney’s zombie get up and laughed. “Right. There’s ten chairs here, and five seats taken. Who else is game?”
Emma and her men sat down at the table. She settled into the chair directly across from Trinket, who smiled at her as a group of onlookers gathered around the table.
“Just fun and games, cher.”
She wasn’t too certain about that. She took Quinn’s hand on the right and Brent’s on the left. Tyler sat down on Quinn’s other side. A dark-haired man in a black suit, his face marred by acne scars, took the seat between Tyler and Papa Legba. Three ghosts crowded in behind him, all of them still showing the bullet wounds that sent them to their graves. Emma and Trinket both looked at the spirits, then at one another.
“Table’s a little crowded, mister,” Trinket told the man.
“You’re being followed by three ghosts,” Emma advised him. “And they’re all murder victims. All men. One’s in his 30s, dark hair, dark eyes, wearing a Boston Bruins jersey. One’s in his 40s or 50s, balding, in a business suit. He says his name is Tommy.”
Tyler’s father looked horrified. “Stop!” He tried to cover his reaction with a false laugh. “My goodness, what a display!”
A woman in a black witch costume sat on Brent’s other side. She had piercing green eyes and a youthful face. “Continue. This is what I wanted to see tonight.”
“You must be the special client who wanted my services,” Trinket said. “Lucky for you, you’ve got a twofer. Emma, darlin’, keep going. Who’s the third ghost?”
“Francis. He’s in his 60s and feels very betrayed.”
Mr. Shumer, the other senior partner in the firm, shook his head. “Impossible.”
The man with the scarred face glowered fiercely. “I think that’s enough, ladies.”
Trinket smiled at Emma’s comment and leaned toward her escort. “Papa, be a dove and open the door for those three so they can go home, would you? They can’t be having any fun following a man who’s head blind. No use haunting when you can’t be seen.”
“I’m not being haunted,” the man insisted. “Never heard anything, never saw anything.”
Trinket’s smile turned into the grin of a canary-eating cat. “I’ll bet that’s what you said at trial, too, isn’t it?”
Tyler muttered, “He never went to trial.”
Emma looked at the two attorneys at the table. “Which one of you does criminal defense work?”
Shumer uncomfortably admitted, “Me.”
“You must be a hell of a lawyer.”
Tyler’s father spoke firmly. “He is. He’s my partner for a reason.”
Trinket clicked her tongue. “Okay, now. Papa…”
He shrugged and grinned at her. “My day off, babe.”
Emma looked at the three murder victims. -Do you even want to leave?-
The oldest of them turned a baleful glare onto the scarred man. -I want to see him burn in hell for what he did to me. If I can’t see him go to hell, I’ll see him go to prison.-
-Honestly, neither one is all that likely.-
-What do you mean?-
-I mean, unless you did something to earn the trip, you’re not going to see him in hell. You’ll be elsewhere. And I don’t think he’s going to be going to jail for as long as he has these two on his payroll… along with whomever else he’s paying off.-
The youngest ghost looked at the other two. -Maybe she’s right. Maybe we’re wasting our time.-
Emma nodded. She realized that Brent was staring at her, and she wondered what faces she made when she was talking to spirits this way. A glance across the table revealed that Trinket was watching her, too, her red-painted lips prinked into a smile. She sighed.
-You’re better off moving on to what’s next. Don’t let this fool keep you trapped. He’s already done enough damage.-
The three of them looked at one another, then back at Emma. -Thank you.-
-Don’t mention it.-
Papa Legba made a dismissing gesture, and all three disappeared in a flash of purple smoke. Emma was taken aback.
“Don’t worry, cher. They’re where they’re supposed to be. And look at you, doing God’s work, even though…”
She trailed off and shrugged.
“Even though what?”
Trinket only smiled.
“Looks like the table’s full,” Mr. Shumer said, eager to see the mediums in action. “Can we get started?”
“Just a minute,” Trinket answered.
Quinn leaned toward Emma. “What’s she waiting for?”
The clock in the foyer of the convention center struck twelve, its loud chiming filling the room. The DJ turned off the sound system, and someone else turned down the lights. A member of the catering staff brought over three tall candles, which she lit and put in the center of the table. Trinket nodded.
“Join hands, please.”
The people at the table did as they were asked. Emma felt bad for Tyler, who had to touch the scarred man, but he seemed to take it in stride.
Trinket closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She blew it out slowly, and as she did, Emma could see her aura turning gray around the edges.
“She’s a trance medium,” she whispered to Brent.
Another long, slow breath came and went, and then Trinket’s body language changed. All of her casual sexiness vanished as she bent over like an old woman with a dowager’s hump. She twisted slightly in her seat.
“I’m cold,” she said, in a voice not completely her own. “I’m so cold.”
Papa said, “Tell your name.”
“Elizabeth. My name… is Elizabeth.” She took a deep breath. “This is my land. Why are you on my land?”
“This land belongs to the city of Salem now. You don’t own it any longer.”
Trinket frowned in confusion. “Did the sheriff take it after all?”
Shumer leaned forward, excited. “Are you one of the witches from the Witch Trials?”
The medium began to wail. “I am innocent! God knows that I am innocent of anything in this nature!” She gasped. “They hanged me. But I am innocent!”
Emma couldn’t bear it any longer. “Elizabeth Howe, you do not need to stay here in this town. You earned your peace.”
-Want me to take her, if I can?- Betsy asked.
She watched as her guide went around the table, giving Papa Legba a wide berth. He watched Betsy, too, and when she had almost reached Trinket, he held up his hand.
The non-psychics at the table looked at him in confusion. He shook his head and flipped his hand, and Betsy vanished from sight.
Emma leaped to her feet without breaking the séance circle. “You can’t!”
“She’ll be back tomorrow,” he shrugged. “Or the next day. Or whenever I open the door for her. Meantime… sit back down. Show’s not over yet.”
Trinket shuddered, and her hunched body language relaxed. She sat up straighter, but she still had her eyes closed, rocking in her seat. “Hmm,” she hummed.
“Now what?” Quinn asked.
“I have no idea.”
One of the women in the group of onlookers commented to her male companion, “I can’t believe we heard from an actual Salem witch.”
“She wasn’t a witch,” Emma objected. “She was falsely accused.”
“Yeah. That happens,” the scarred man agreed.
Quinn glared at him. “I’ll just bet it does.”
Emma started to speak to him, but Trinket moaned again, and in the center of the table, the candles began to shake. She could feel dark gray energy gathering there, full of foreboding and malevolence. The more it gathered, the more she felt like there was a presence in the center of their circle, and it was glaring at her.
“I call you,” Trinket said, her voice impossibly deep for any woman. “I call you, Ashmodel.”
She had heard that name before, and apparently, so had Quinn. Her partner went pale.
The grey energy turned dark red in her psychic sight, and it began to take form. A horrible creature appeared, standing on the table and towering over them. It was an unholy winged amalgamation of man and goat, male and female, mammal and reptile. Its very presence made her feel coated with filth. It laughed, and its goat’s mouth was filled with long, needle-like teeth that gnashed together. It reminded her of the mouth of an angler fish, and she recoiled.
Trinket moaned, and the onlookers screamed and backed away. Shumer broke the circle and ran for the door, the scarred man right behind him. Quinn whipped an EMF meter out of his pocket, and the needle buried itself in the red.
“You called me,” it said, its voice deep and echoing like a dozen men speaking at once. “To what end?”
Papa Legba stood and faced it. “To ask you one question.”
The demon Ashmodel laughed in his face. “I was called here for you?”
The voodoo god stood tall. “You were.”
Ashmodel laughed again. “What are you willing to pay for the knowledge you seek?”
Trinket bent forward over the table, the effort of calling the demon into the world wracking her with pain. Emma could feel it from where she sat.
Brent put an arm around her waist and pulled her away from the table. “We have to get you out of here. Quinn! Put that thing down and come on!”
The majority of the people in the room were stampeding for the exit. Sullivan was rooted in his seat, his mouth hanging open in shock. Tyler grabbed his father’s arm and tried to pull him away from the table, eager to get away from the creature that had appeared. Ashmodel turned and looked at Emma. It smiled, and she felt foul all the way down to her soul.
Something foul at the bottom of her soul stirred in answer.
Quinn stepped between the demon and Emma, breaking Ashmodel’s line of sight. It fixed him with an annoyed glare.
“You cannot keep her from me for long.”
“Hey!” Papa snapped. “Over here. Deal with them later.”
Ashmodel smiled more widely. “Oh, I will.” He turned back to Papa Legba. “What is your offer?”
“I can tell you who’s opening the demon portals and depleting your armies.”
Ashmodel laughed. “I already know that. What do I care how many demons they release, or how many they kill? I am one of the devils, the original fallen angels who fought at Lucifer’s side. Do you really think you could know anything that I do not?” It leaned down closer to him. “Do you think your power even comes close to rivalling mine?”
Papa Legba grinned. “I know it does. You need to be summoned. I can come out whenever I choose.”
An armed guard raced into the ballroom, accompanied by Shumer, who was in a panic. His terror had become contagious, and the guard already had his sidearm in his hand. He fired a wild shot, the bullet striking Ashmodel in the side.
It bounced off.
“Quit shooting, you idiot!” Quinn yelled, shoving Emma to the ground. Brent and Tyler dove, too, and Tyler’s father crawled under a nearby table. The guard stood in shock, staring and shaking.
Ashmodel laughed and turned back to Papa Legba, beating his wings like an infernal butterfly. “Pay me and ask me your question quickly. I’m getting bored.”
“One question. Payment is three drops of my own blood.”
Ashmodel looked impressed. “Accepted. Ask me.”
“Who watches the Watchers?”
Trinket sat up straight, her eyes rolled back in her head. Ashmodel snarled at the voodoo god. “Keep your blood.”
As suddenly as he had appeared, Ashmodel vanished. Trinket fell face first onto the table. Papa Legba crossed his arms in annoyance and disappeared, as well.
“What the absolute…” Quinn began.
Emma rushed to Trinket and pulled her back from the table, sitting her up again like she was righting a toppled doll. Her lipstick had left a red smear on the tablecloth, and tears were rolling down her cheeks. Tyler brought a bottle of water from the caterers’ cooler, and Emma wet a corner of the tablecloth. She used it to swab Trinket’s brown and the back of her neck.
“Come on,” she said. “Wake up.”
The medium moaned and her eyes fluttered. She gradually regained consciousness, and Emma stepped back.
“Oh… child, that’s hard on the head…”
“What the hell were you thinking?” Emma scolded.
“I owed Papa. Is he still here?”
“He’s gone. You agreed to summon a devil for the voodoo god of the dead?”
Trinket grabbed the water bottle and took a drink. She repeated, “I owed him. Did he get his answer?”
She slapped her hand on the table. “No? That rat…”
“The question was something that the fallen angel didn’t want to answer.”
Trinket narrowed her eyes. “What was the question?”
“You didn’t know what he was going to ask?”
“The Guardian of the Gates keeps his own counsel, honey.”
Quinn, Tyler and Brent stood in a tight arc around the two women, shielding them from the gaping onlookers. “Who watches the Watchers,” Quinn told her. “That’s what he asked.”
“And he didn’t answer?”
“What, did Papa not offer good payment?”
“He accepted the offer, but didn’t take the blood,” Emma told her. “So I guess the agreement was nullified.”
“What does that question even mean?” Brent asked.
Trinket stood up, and she swayed on her feet. “Oh, child. That’s a story too long to tell. Look up the Book of Enoch and get back to me.”
She started to totter toward the door, and Quinn and Tyler hurried to support her. As the five of them walked out, an onlooker spat, “Witch!”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Shove it.”
Trinket chuckled. “Girl, we need to work together more often.”
Emma glanced back at the table. The woman dressed as a witch was still sitting there. She was about to go and check on her, but then the woman rose and walked away, a thoughtful look on her face.
“Tyler,” she said. “Who is that?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. She’s not part of the firm, and I never saw her when I was clerking there.”
“Don’t sweat it, cher,” Trinket advised. “She’ll come around again. Bad pennies always do.”
“Where are you staying?” Brent asked. “I can drive you to your hotel.”
“I’ll call a cab. You go on home.” She looked at the clock in the lobby. “You gotta get into your own space before Dead Time. You keep in touch, girl, and call if you need me.”
Emma felt a chill of apprehension at the other medium’s words, and she could see that her men sensed it, too. They got a cab for Trinket, who gave them copies of her business card, and then piled back into Brent’s car.
“Dead Time,” Tyler said as he shut the car door. “That’s three a.m.”
“It’s barely twelve thirty,” Quinn nodded. “We’ve got time to get home.”
Emma spoke quietly. “We’re not going home.”
They looked at her quizzically.
“We’re going to Montcalm’s condo. Don’t ask. Just drive.”
Brent just drove.
“I don’t know if we should bring this to the professor,” Tyler fretted. “He might not even be at home.”
“He’s at home. And he can handle himself.”
Quinn asked, “Does anybody know anything about the Book of Enoch?”
“I’ll look it up.”
They waited while Tyler did some quick research on his phone. “The Book of Enoch is an apocryphal book of the Bible, where the prophet Enoch is told about angels who fell because they began sexual relationships with human women. The children of these unions were called nephilim, and they were cursed because of the sins of their fathers.”
Brent snorted. “Boy. That’s fair.”
“Right? It talks about the origin of demons and angels, and it also talks about the Great Flood and the future reign of the Messiah, which was to last 1000 years.”
“And the angelic language is called Enochian,” Emma said. “And there’s an alphabet to match. It’s used in a lot of medieval grimoires and rituals.”
“So who are the Watchers?” Brent asked.
“Those are the fallen angels who sired children with human women.”
Quinn squinted. “So why would a voodoo god care about fallen angels?”
Tyler shook his head. “I don’t know.Competition? Power struggle?”
Brent said, “Hey, look up Papa Legba. Who the hell is he and what can he do?”
“Okay. He’s a god who originated in Dahomey in Africa. He’s associated with crossroads, gates and doors, and he grants or denies permission for humans to speak to the spirits of the dead. Offerings to him are tobacco, alcohol and candy. He’s associated with the colors black and red. He’s a healer, a fertility god, protector of children, and someone who can grant you forgiveness if you’ve harmed someone else.” He shrugged. “Doesn’t sound like such a bad guy.”
“So far,” Quinn commented darkly.
Tyler continued. “He’s also supposed to be a great communicator, speaking all of the languages of humanity. Handy. He’s also supposed to be a warrior and a trickster, and he removes obstacles. I guess that makes sense, since a door is an obstacle, and he opens the way for his worshippers.”
“The way to what?” Brent asked.
“The Other Side.” Emma looked out the window pensively at the streetlights as they passed. “I wonder what sort of deal Trinket had with him, and why he’d want to know about the Watchers.”
“He said something about knowing who opened demon portals,” Quinn pointed out. “I’d like to know that, myself, so I could find them and kick their asses.”
“Assuming you could.” She shook her head. “We’ve just run into something that I don’t understand. I hope Montcalm has the answers.”
Tyler put his phone away. “The only question is whether he’ll share them.”
He’d better, Emma thought. I might have to share some answers of my own.
-Don’t try to blackmail him,- Penelope advised, suddenly making herself known. -That’ll be biting off more than you can chew.-
-Funny you should use the word ‘bite.’-
Penelope snorted. -Yeah. I know. Look, I found Betsy. She’s okay, just mad as a wet hen. She’ll be back in a few minutes. There’s more doors than Legba watches, so he’s not all-powerful. And that might be part of the problem.-
Tyler hypothesized, “Okay, let’s think about this. There’s been an uptick in demon activity in the world over the past few months or years. Apparently someone is opening portals to let them into this world, and that someone isn’t Papa Legba. He’s probably pissed that someone else is infringing on his territory and opening all these doors without permission. And since Montcalm said that the devils were the angels that fell, and the demons are their minions, then maybe the Watchers are a subset of devils who the other devils are in competition with. I mean, if you’re going to betray God, who’s to stop you from betraying your new bosses, right?”
“I’m with you so far,” Quinn said. “Keep going.”
“So Legba wants to shut down these people who are opening the portals, and those people are probably the Watchers. And by asking who’s watching them, maybe he’s indirectly blaming the devils like that thing tonight for not taking care of business?”
Emma closed her eyes. “No. I don’t think that’s why he was asking. And there’s a reason why a devil would turn down something as powerful as a god’s blood to keep the secret.” She looked over at Brent. “He was asking who’s in charge of the operation. That means that there’s one master devil in our world who’s directing all of this, and the Watchers and the other devils are just doing his bidding. The devil we just saw was protecting his boss.”
Quinn laughed derisively. “Right. From us?”
“Yes. From us. Humans are the owners of this world, and ultimately it’s up to us to decide who stays and who goes. With enough of us banding together, we can force these demons and Watchers and whatever else back out.” She nodded, warming to her own theory. “He was giving us a hint.”
Brent shook his head. “But why would he do that?”
“Tyler said he’s a trickster, and maybe he has an agenda of his own. Like Ty said, maybe he doesn’t appreciate the fact that someone else is opening gates when that’s his job.”
“And if he’s a protector, maybe he’s trying to stop the demons from flooding the world, too…” Quinn tapped his fingers on his knee. “I’ll bet he’s an ally in the Work, whatever that is. We really need to get Montcalm to cough up some information.”
“He will. I’m sure of it.” She thought, I’m just not sure how much we’ll have to pay.
1) Tell us about the stories you write/the story you have written for the event.
I write a little bit of everything, but I’ve primarily written paranormal romance and fantasy. Almost all of my books have an element of the magical or supernatural. Out of all the books I’ve written, my favorite is my retelling of the King Arthur legend. It’s ultimately going to be a nine-book series, and the first three books have already been published.
2) What do you plan on writing next?
I currently write for two pen names, and my other pen name (Tiegan Clyne) is very busy. As J. A. Cummings, the next book I want to write is book four in the “Arthur Rex” series.
3) Do you believe in ghosts?
I absolutely believe in ghosts. I was raised in a family where my maternal grandparents were Spiritualist ministers and mediums, so ghosts were always just part of the landscape. I’ve had numerous paranormal experiences, and almost everyone in my family is sensitive to a degree. My mother appeared to me one week after she died, showing me that she was okay. It was a very healing experience.
4) What is your favorite thing about Halloween?
My favorite thing about Halloween is the feeling in the air that night. It really does feel like spirits are walking on Halloween night, and the sensation of walking beside the invisible is energizing for me. I’m also very fond of the Wiccan approach to the holiday, where you make contact with the spirits of your loved ones who’ve gone before, and if you don’t contact them, you honor them. It keeps them alive in a way, and still with me.
5) How do you spend your Halloween?
I light candles and try to connect with my deceased relatives, especially with my mother, who was very psychic. Then I like to walk in the darkness a bit, even though it’s sometimes not safe because of the human element. After that, it’s eating pizza while watching ghost shows on TV!
About the Author:
S. K. Gregory is an author, editor and blogger. She currently resides in Northern Ireland.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”