Six Hours Earlier Across Town
I found the perfect woman, thought Martin Moore. She’s gorgeous, smart, and sexy.
He ran his fingers through the blonde tendrils brushing across his bare chest.
The woman dragged a pink tongue over her lips and smiled. “You’re amazing. Do it again.”
Martin flexed a bicep.
“Perfection,” she said.
Martin took pride in his physique. He had gone from ho-hum to hottie in a year thanks to weight lifting, daily workouts, and a strict protein and vegetable diet. Between his promotion at work and grueling fitness routine, Martin had finally reaped the benefits of his hard work. Money and babes.
Women crawled out of the woodwork. They were suckers for abs and pecs. And his Beemer. Got their panties wet. Martin banged the hell out of all of them. ’Bout time. He never scored in high school and only got lucky with the girls high on booze and pills in college.
A year after bulking up, Martin realized women were more interested in his bank account than his sperm count. He had found one bitch on his computer perusing his statements when she thought he was taking a post coital snooze. Hot as she was, he kicked her out of his condo. Another gold digger had faked her orgasms. A third kept asking for a loan.
Martin’s coworker told him about a new dating site where sex—dirty, nasty, kinky, no-limits sex—was the name of the game.
Find yourself a fuck-buddy, his co-worker said. Women on this site aren’t interested in relationships or nabbing a guy for his stock portfolio. Got me three now. Monday and Wednesday, I give it to Lorna when her husband ain’t home. Tuesday and Saturday it’s nasty time with a hot little redhead who goes by the name of Rouge. Friday and Sunday are with—well, never mind, she wouldn’t want you knowing.
Martin Moore went back to his office to check out the site. He had his first date the next day. She called herself Lolita and he gave it to her all night long. She waved goodbye in the morning. Didn’t even want breakfast.
Martin lost count of the women after two months. Didn’t matter though, the thrill of a different one almost every night satisfied his needs.
But this one—the babe riding him tonight—she was different. A keeper. With eyes as green as grapes, lips like cherries, and tits like melons, she was fast becoming a favorite.
Martin grabbed her ass. He wanted to tell her she was special. He hoped the feeling was mutual. He chuckled, imagined his response when people asked how he met his wife—because for once in Martin’s life he believed he had found The One.
“Baby, you wear me out. No more jism juice after the third time.”
The love of Martin Moore’s life arched her back and stretched her arms high in the air. “Puleeze. I can’t get enough of you.”
He felt her pelvic muscles tighten around him. Kegel might just be the greatest man in the world, he thought.
“Baby, I can’t.”
The woman pouted. “I brought Enhancinator.”
Martin laughed. The woman was insatiable.
Ten minutes later they were back at it again. Martin felt invincible—the drug was amazing. Not only was his dick as hard as a rock, he felt spectacular.
Martin didn’t recall when his mind began to drift, when his brain detached from his body, and he felt only a glorious pulling-tugging-sucking on his member.
He tried speaking but the sensation overpowered him, lifted him upwards, carried him to the furthest realms of pleasure.
Death by orgasm. If he had been able, he might have burst out laughing. But he didn’t.
Martin Moore was dead.
“I refuse to be the other woman.”
“Maybe you misunderstood. You did have a crazy week in Ecuador, Daphne.”
“There was no misunderstanding. Zahra said I remind SJ of his wife.” I took a sip of sugar-infused coffee.
Serik Jalani—SJ for short—was my mentor and protector. He’s a nephilim. Half human, half fallen angel. Which was a friendlier sounding word for demon.
“I can’t believe he’s married.” Rose, sitting on the porch steps next to me, gave my shoulder a sisterly pat.
“How much for the dog?” Swathed in double knit polyester, a woman considered the white fluff ball at my feet.
“My dog is not for sale.” I gestured to the furniture scattered about, the assorted knick-knacks spread on two folding tables in the front yard. “All the other stuff is.”
Polyester Lady wrapped her hand around a tall vase. “I’ll give you five bucks.”
“That’s a cloisonné vase from Posh & Plenty. I paid a hundred dollars for it.”
The vase wasn’t authentic, but it was a convincing knockoff.
Polyester Lady and I dickered until agreeing on fifteen dollars. I’m terrible at haggling.
Rose scooted close. She held a half-eaten donut in one hand and a lukewarm coffee in the other. “Have you spoken to him since you got back?”
“No. He called a few times, but I didn’t answer.”
My relationship with SJ was complicated. At least for me. I had been inexplicably drawn to my protector the first time we met. His good looks, strength, and intelligence might be the reason. And maybe his muscular physique. I certainly did not intend to fall in-love with him. I almost did. That was until Zahra—another nephilim—told me he was married.
“Why not?” Rose nibbled on the donut.
“I didn’t want to listen to his excuses.”
“You don’t want to hear the classic my-wife-doesn’t-understand-me or the we’ve-grown-apart lies?” Rose nudged me with her elbow. “Can’t say I blame you, but what I don’t understand is why you’re getting rid of this stuff. Your house is practically empty now. I don’t get it. You loved it all when you bought it.”
“I’m only selling the items with negative energy.”
I’m an empath, which means I reacted to the subtle energies and emotions of people. And, it seemed, objects. Seventy-five percent of my furniture and most of my antique store bargains oozed bad vibes.
“Oh look, they’re in a buying mood,” Rose said after a customized pick-up stopped in front of the Yard Salesign.
The young couple made a beeline for the beryl-wood bombay chest. Giggling and whispering, they circled the antique three times. The woman opened and closed the drawers.
It was obvious the couple was still in the throes of that gushy in-love stage. I remembered the feeling. A giddy rush, the need to look into your beloved eyes, to stay by their side, to—ahem. That feeling dissolved like acetone on nail polish when you discovered the guy you’re falling in love with was m-a-r-r-i-e-d.
I glanced at my bare nails, currently free from the shiny varnish of infatuation.
“Looks like I have a buyer for the bombay,” I said.
Rose exhaled loudly. “What happened in Ecuador? Why did you really quit?”
I saw dark matter. Or, more specifically, I sensed life forms from the netherworld. SJ recruited me as the newest (and youngest) member whose responsibility was ridding earth of hostile aliens. Working with him the last few weeks had been a surreal ride on a cosmic rollercoaster. But now I wanted off.
“The job just isn’t me.” Vague girl struck again.
I had been attacked by mosquito-people, assaulted by goons, hit by a poison dart, burned down a mansion, and served as a snack to a mutant. Not fun. And not something I would ever tell my sisters.
But that’s not why I quit. It was because SJ had a wife. One he never bothered mentioning.
“Is that why you don’t wear the merkabah necklace anymore?” Rose asked.
The merkabah was a cosmic technology that opened a wormhole in the universe. The Egress Portal Device vacuumed up dangerous entities. Only a chosen few were able to operate the cosmic critter catcher—something to do with empathic abilities and a weird brain anomaly. Of which I have both.
My body amplified the earth’s electrical and magnetic forces, then channeled and activated the merkabah. I was a kind of cosmic crime fighter but without the super powers, super strength, or super ego. The job was frightening, dangerous, and I’ve ruined plenty of perfectly good shoes.
“I gave it back to Zahra when we landed in Los Angeles,” I said.
Threw it at her was the more accurate description.
Rose made an I-don’t-believe-you face before shouting to the lovebirds circling the bombay. “Marble top and beryl. Cost my sister a thousand dollars. It’s yours for a hundred.” She poked me in the ribs. “What’s wrong with it?”
“I told you, I’m getting rid of everything that feels bad. I sense anger from the bombay.”
Rose grimaced. “The wood is angry?”
“Explain.” Rose pushed the last of the donut in her mouth.
“The wood soaked up the previous owner’s anger. Or whatever she kept inside made her furious.”
Rose wrinkled her nose. “You know a woman owned it?” Her mouth was still full.
I shrugged. “That’s the feeling I get.”
“You’re weird,” Rose licked donut sugar off her fingers.
“Thanks, just what I needed to hear.”
“Is getting vibes from furniture and stuff new? Seems like your weird feelings have increased in the past few weeks. Is this the merkabah’s doing or SJ’s?”
The twenty-million-dollar question…
“Both.” I think. Maybe. Possibly. “The day I got back from Ecuador my empathy abilities skyrocketed. And then the next day they decreased. A little each day.” Like they were leaking.
Rose sidled close. “Did you drink some funky jungle juice?”
“Something like that.” I glanced away.
The Watchers—the secret organization SJ and I worked for—forbid us from having a sexual relationship because it messed with my brain chemistry. The Watchers were a hundred percent correct. It heightened both my empathic and sensory perceptions. At least temporarily. But danger and near-death experiences were powerful aphrodisiacs and SJ and I broke the rule. Again.
Rose smacked my thigh. “You love him.”
“I do not.” My voice was so sharp it could have cut a hole in the universe.
“You’re a bad liar.”
I gave Rose the stink eye, then turned to the looky-loos feeling up my antique. “There’s nothing wrong with the bombay.”
“My wife says the drawers don’t slide well,” said Young Hubby.
He obviously knew nothing about antiques.
“It’s over a hundred years old and wood swells in humidity,” I said. “Do you live around here?”
“Across town in the new development.” Young Hubby wrapped his arms around wifey-poo. “You’ve got a sweet little place so close to the beach. Why are you selling all this great stuff? Are you moving?”
The day after I got back from Ecuador, I had a minor empath epiphany. My second-hand furniture and thrift store treasures oozed their past owners’ emotional baggage. The negative energy pervaded my little house. My once peaceful home had transformed into an emotional traffic jam, the vibes causing a truckload of anxiety.
I, of course, blamed myself. The nephilim sensitivity spike—courtesy of SJ—was the reason behind my heightened abilities. But it’s damn near impossible to resist a nephilim. Even though the super sensitivity faded after a few days, I decided a spiritual house cleaning was in order.
Young Hubby scratched his head. “Fifty bucks.”
Sheesh, I really hated bartering. Empathic feelings swamped me. I sensed the buyers desire to get the best deal, felt their need to save a buck, and intuited their want to have fun at my expense. I should have let Rose handle this.
“Hey, you look familiar,” said Young Hubby. “Ah, now I remember.” He tapped his temple. “I had you for one day.”
Rose spat out her coffee.
“You did?” I smiled. I knew exactly what he referred to.
“Three years ago. Freshman comp. I had a scheduling conflict, so I dropped your class.”
“Did you graduate?”
“Yeah, transferred to State a year later. Graduated in computer engineering and got a job at Global Technologies.”
Wrong answer. Computer engineers make oodles more than adjunct professors.
“A hundred dollars. Take it or leave it.”
Sweet Wifey whispered in his ear.
“Sold.” He pulled out his wallet.
I asked Rose to handle the monetary transactions while I brewed more coffee. While I waited, I went into the bedroom to gaze at the source of all my confusion. The merkabah.
Evidently, one doesn’t just up and quit working for The Watchers, because the day after throwing the merkabah at Zahra I found it on my kitchen table.
I mailed it first-class to Casa de Playa—the hotel SJ calls home—thought that would be the last of it. But noooo. The merkabah was hanging from the peg on my bathroom door two days later.
I hand delivered it to the hotel’s front desk next. Wrote I quit on the package and asked the clerk to deliver it to Mr. Jalani. A few hours later, the merkabah was back in my house. This time my dog Foo was wearing it around her neck.
Was the merkabah equipped with a homing device? Or was it The Watchers way of telling me quitting was not an option?
I gave up trying to return it.
I joined Rose outside five minutes later to find a middle-aged housewife in fuchsia sweat pants fondling my knick-knacks.
Rose took the proffered coffee. “Just admit you fell in-love with SJ, okay?”
My sister wanted to see me squirm.
I frowned. “Drop it.”
“Fine, we won’t talk about him anymore. But honestly, I can’t believe you’re shirking your responsibilities. That’s not like you. How can you give up this cool job of ridding the world of evil crypti-killers?”
“Whatever. You’re mad and hurt. SJ lied to you. I understand how you’re feeling but that’s no reason to—”
“He’s my mentor and protector. I’m supposed to trust him with my life.”
Rose poked me in the side with her elbow. “You’re still alive.”
“He used me!”
“Guys suck.” Fuchsia Pants lifted up a gilded bookend. “My ex is self-employed. Hid all his money from the IRS. Now he’s shacked up with a yoga instructor half his age. He buys her diamonds and a Mercedes, I get to find a job and live in a one-bedroom apartment.” She waved a five-dollar bill in the air. “I’ll give you two dollars.”
A tornado of anger swirled around Fuchsia Pants. Can’t say I blamed her.
“Take it,” I whispered to Rose.
“Sold.” Rose made change, oblivious to the woman’s maelstrom of rage.
“Daphne,” Rose said after Fuchsia Pants drove away, “you have this amazing gift. Use it. Ask for another mentor. But for the love of God, don’t reject your responsibility.”
A gift? The weird brain anomaly that allowed me to sense alien life didn’t feel like a gift. More like a curse. Although, there were a few perks.
“The Watchers can find someone else to activate the merkabah.” I sipped on the coffee.
“You’re being obstinate and stupid. Unless there’s some important reason you’re not telling me.”
“No. I told you everything.” I looked away. “The dean asked if I wanted to pick up a class during the summer. I start on Monday. I couldn’t fly off on a mission with SJ even if I wanted to.”
“Mmmph.” Rose peered into the mug. “It’s been two weeks, right?”
I nodded. Two weeks was an eternity in Heartbroken Time.
“Here’s my advice—”
“I don’t want any.”
“Too bad.” Rose grabbed my t-shirt. “That’s what sisters do. They give advice you don’t ask for.”
“And don’t need.”
“Oh, you need advice.” Rose let go. “And this is it: Embrace your power. Go wherever The Watchers send you. Do your merkabah twirly magic. Don’t allow fear or anger to destroy your destiny.”
“What about SJ?”
“Ice him. Be aloof. You do aloof well. Act like it doesn’t matter. It will hurt for a few weeks but after a while the pain of his betrayal will go away. I mean, after all, it’s not as if you two were a couple or had a real relationship. You just met him and barely know him.”
Her words stung. She was right.
“Easier said than done.” I smoothed out the winkles in my Rose-scrunched t-shirt.
“Just dishing it right back at you, sis.”
“Does the advice sound familiar?” Rose slurped her coffee. “You told me the exact same thing a year ago when I found out He-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named cheated on me with one of my employees.”
“Speaking of your love life, are you still dating Joe?”
Rose had hooked up with my vet while I was in Ecuador. Leave it to Rose to find a guy after pounding on his door after office hours and having him remove her nylon thong from my dog’s stomach.
“Yeah, we’re taking it slow.”
Slow as in not having sex? Or slow as in we don’t see each other that often? I didn’t ask.
“That’s smart.” I rubbed Foo’s belly, careful to avoid the scar. She was much happier now that the cone was off her head.
“It’s not by choice. Our work schedules are hectic. We see each other about twice a week. His practice keeps him busy, especially lately. There’s been a bunch of bird attacks the last few days.”
“What sort of attacks?”
“A giant bird with a weird scream—”
I had a hunch about the bird attacks.
“How exactly did the pet owners describe the bird scream?”
Since SJ had recruited me, my life had taken a bizarre turn. All my naïve ideas of reality had been forever destroyed by knowledge that three dimensional-dwelling humans lived in an unknowable multi-dimensional world. A frightening and often wicked world.
Rose grit her teeth. “An unearthly scream.”
“Did Joe mention how these birds attack?”
“Yeah, it was the same story with all of the pet owners. They said the bird attacks at night—just dive bombs for their dog. Joe called other vets in town. Same story.”
I searched the cloudless sky. Eagles, hawks, and owls were known to attack tiny dogs but the tightening in my stomach suggested another possibility.
My guess? A harpy. Possibly the same one that almost snatched my dog a few weeks ago.
Harpies were human-bird hybrids with an unquenchable appetite. The fierce scavengers’ infamy stemmed from their habit of stealing food from the hungry crew of Greek heroes Jason and Aeneas.
In the Cryptivita Directory—the Who’s Who of the netherworld—harpies received a domestic classification and a mild nuisance rating.
Rose narrowed her eyes. “You know something, don’t you? Is the bird a cryptivita?”
“It might be a harpy.”
“Can you get rid of it?”
“I think. Maybe…no. I’m not doing this anymore, remember? I quit.”
If the bird belonged in this world, I wasn’t certain whether wormhole extraction was possible. There was lots to learn about this cosmic commission. That. I. Quit.
“Daphne.” My neighbor’s sugar-sweet voice was an octave higher than usual. “I have fabulous news!”
I peered over my coffee cup to see Tiffany—bouncy boobs exploding from her crop top—sashay across my front yard.
“Hi Tiffany, sorry if all the bargain shoppers woke you this morning,” I said. “I didn’t realize people were going to show up at six in the morning.”
Tiffany flapped her hand, the rhinestones in her manicure sparkling in the sun. “Didn’t hear a thing,” she giggled. “Because someone keeps me up all night.”
That someone was my ex-husband Randy. He and my ditzy neighbor hooked up after her demon cat was run over by a drunk driver. Randy’s good at consoling women. He’s a serial consoler.
“You want anything? Take it.” I pointed to the yard sale leftovers.
Tiffany offered a pity smile. “No thanks. Um…” She stared at her pedicure-perfect feet. “I was excited to tell you but now…”
Hemming and hawing. Not a good way to get sympathy.
“Spit it out.” Rose spoke over her shoulder while rearranging the ugly whatnots.
Tiffany took a deep breath, “Randy and I are getting married.”
The world might have stopped for a fraction of a second. I was that…stunned.
“What?” It came out like a strangled squawk.
“I know we’ve only been dating a few weeks but well…something happened.” Tiffany moved her hand over her flat belly.
All the air in my longs kind of whooshed out of me. I struggled to smile.
No, not that. Please, not that.
Her strained smiled stretched from ear to ear. “I’m pregnant.”
Congratulations was the socially recommended comment for situations like this. But I was still in What The Bloody F mode. I did the math. It wasn’t difficult. Egg and sperm met while I was under attack in Ecuador.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “What are you, like four days late?”
Tiffany eyes widened. “Wow, you’re good. Five days. I’m never late.”
“Did you take a pregnancy test?” asked Rose.
Tiffany put her hands on her hips. “Two.”
Rose and I exchanged one of those We Need To Talk sister glances.
Tiffany pursed her collagen lips, which made for a very effective pout. “I thought you would be happy for me.”
My womanizing ex-husband knocks up my gold-digging neighbor and I’m supposed to be happy? Well, now that I thought about it, they did make the perfect couple. Tipsy and Dipsy.
I looked at her stomach. It was hard not to in the crop top. And then I knew. “It’s a girl.”
Tiffany’s eyes grew wide. “A girl? I always wanted a little girl. How do you know?”
“A gut feeling.” I felt it. Saw into her womb in a weird kind of way.
Rose did the right thing. She gave Tiffany a hug. “Congratulations.”
“Randy said he already had the big expensive wedding.” Tiffany arched a groomed eyebrow for my benefit. “But I’ve never been married before. I want it all, you know? The dress, the cake, the flowers, the party. And I want to look good in my wedding dress, so we’re getting married before I start showing. We’re looking at venues today.” She turned back to the house, waved at Randy. “Be there in a sec, Boo Bear.”
I slapped my hand over my mouth. Boo Bear? I looked across the yard and saw Randy. Even from this distance I sensed his embarrassment. And worry. But maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. I didn’t know if my empathic skills were accurate from this distance.
Randy waved then ducked into his corvette. He would have to trade the babe wheels for a baby mobile.
“Time to go. Talk to you later.” Tiffany headed back to her sperm donor.
Rose opened her mouth—a snarky comment about Tiffany on the tip of her tongue—
I knew that voice. He always appeared without warning. Usually from a tree. Not behind a tree. From a tree.
I looked over my shoulder. “Jack.”
Jack was the iconic Green Man. Part human, part nature—a one-with-nature being who helped The Watchers. He was Wisdom and Comfort all wrapped up in a wrinkled brown five-foot-six-inch package. Jack had taught me to harness my energy and control the merkabah. He was a little slice of heaven with a big scooping of Zen.
I lowered my head. Jack kissed me on the top. It stimulated the sahasrara, the crown chakra responsible for healing, spirituality, and divinity. Mine was currently sealed shut.
Jack’s gnarled fingers wound around my hand. “Enough moping, my dear. We have a dead body.”