The shadowy girl always stood on the curb at the corner of Short and Main Street. Her fuzzy frame flickered as she watched the passing cars and people through dark, curious eyes. I approached her once when I was ten, but she acted like she couldn’t see me. I knew she could. I’d seen her kill a crow; she is aware of her surroundings. I’d been crossing the street to avoid her since I could remember. Gran said that it was a bad idea to look at her or even think of her. I have no idea what possessed me to try and speak to her. One second, we made eye contact and the next I was standing in front of her watching my breath move her dark hair. Rather than appearing human, like the other spirits I’d encountered, she looked like she was lifted from a black and white film. I knew she was still there even though I didn’t look at her. I could feel her waiting in the back of my mind. Had she slowly made the chink in my mental armour that Nora Rowe had tried to exploit? I closed my eyes as I passed her on my way to The Diner. The urge to look at her was intoxicating.
I was about to drive home when my phone rang. I stopped my car and pulled it out of my jean pocket. “Hello.”
“Dexter? This is Jonah Wit, I was calling to see if you’d like to meet for lunch in Tallow. I work for the Tallow City Council, and I have a professional proposition for you.”
My hand shook, I hadn’t seen Jonah in years. I wasn’t sure how to act around him. Did he still feel the same way about Tara’s death? He’d been my sexual awakening as far as men were concerned. The pedestal I’d held him on shattered with the way he treated my friends and me after the death of his sister, Tara. I let out a shaky breath. “Okay. Where do you want to have lunch?”
“Tomorrow at one. I’ll be at The De La Cade Lodge’s Bistro. It’s on the outskirts of town right on the coast.”
“I’ll look it up.”
“I thought the in-laws would have taken you there by now. I’ve seen them have dinner there a few times. At least the waitstaff won’t know who you are. I’m surprised you didn’t get married there. It seems like the perfect place for a Lacy wedding. My invite must have gotten lost in the mail.”
“We were friends for a while in high school while you tutored me. Is this really the time to get huffy about not being invited to my wedding? This trip better be worth my time.”
“Sounds like little Dexter grew a backbone. I remember that awkward fourteen-year-old who could barely speak to his peers and teachers. No chance of being able to do public speaking. I feel like I helped turn you into the man you are today.”
“Okay.” I forced myself to stay on the line.
“It will be worth our time. Please hear me out.”
“Did my grandfather hire you as my tutor with political aspirations in mind?”
“It hardly matters these days. A little birdy told me that you promised to never run for mayor if you were able to marry, Elijah Lacy.”
“It was hardly a sacrifice. My Grandfather’s desires aren’t mine.”
“Don’t tell anyone you’re meeting me. It’s lunch with an old unnamed friend from high school.”
“Got it.” I hung up and saved the number in my phone under ‘J’.
The business card was in my wallet.
The business card Mayor Chesterfield had taken with him after he’d caught me trying to throw it away. I found it while hunting for the Diner’s coffee loyalty card. It’s creases were smoothed and it had been placed in the same slot as the loyalty card. I walked back to the office in a daze. Had he put it there? The thought hit me like a wrecking ball. This was a magic thing. The worst-case scenario would be Eli’s family having magic, but I’d know. I had married into it. Gran said that was one of the prerequisites for a mortal to learn about the magical community. They had to be magic adjacent at the most. In Dunn and similar towns, magic was basically an open secret. People out here had at most two degrees of separation from magic. Maybe this wasn’t a prank. Mayor Chesterfield would have to know about magic as the mayor.
I twisted the white business card between my fingers. The cream card stock was beautiful, like something the Lacys’ would use for formal invitations. The green ink had shimmered when it reflected the harsh light from the fluorescent bulbs that lit The Diner.
Who would use this kind of card stock for something like a business card? Were Gran and Pop right about other magic users being a danger to a Medium?
I threw the card on my desk. Gran’s Dad saw his father murdered because he was a Medium. Could I trust these people even if I needed them? Would they use me, take advantage and throw me away like a piece of trash if they found out about my ability? Maybe I could call the number and see who picked up the phone.
I picked up the receiver of my desk phone. I found myself halfway through dialling Aunt Myrtle’s number before my brain caught up to my fingers.
I’d worry about the heat over calling a foreign number at work later. The number rang out, and I heard Myrtle’s voice, “Hello, you’ve reached Myrtle, Jorge and Evelyn. We are currently on holiday, if you’d like to reach us, please send an email.”
I hung up without leaving a message. Where the hell had they taken Gran? I looked over at Julie, who was typing something on her computer.
“I’m going to deal with a case.” I put the card in my pocket.
I gave the staff my birth name so word of the lunch wouldn’t get back to the Lacys’. Jonah must have expected it as I was brought to his table before I could tell the host who I was meeting.
Jonah only looked up from his teacup once the waiter left me the menu and a tea set of my own. “Dunn and three other small towns will be forced to amalgamate with Tallow Council before the next state election. We would like this process to be as smooth as possible.”
“There’s been talk about it for years.” I took a sip of tea.
“Which is why I accepted this job. I want to help bring Dunn into the modern world.”
“What do you do?”
“I work for a political PR firm. I’m currently working with Tallow City Council and the state government to help people accept the change with minimal fuss.”
“Hasn’t the state government already made the decision?
“The other towns are being cooperative, but Dunn has some powerful people at the helm.”
“You mean the Lacys’ and Chesterfields’.”
“And your paternal family. Do you think they’re keen to let go of the town they fostered for so long? I’ve also heard that Norma Dominguez is thinking of a tree change.”
I’d been tapping the tea off my spoon when he said the name, Dominguez. I brought the spoon down on the cup so hard it chipped the rim. It was a Dominguez who had murdered Gran’s Grandfather.
“Are you okay?” Jonah’s blue eyes were fixed on the broken cup.
“Do you know about the history between my Gran’s family and the Dominguezs’?”
“Vaguely. I heard about it during a school tour of the Historical Society’s museum. One person being a murderer at the turn of the last century doesn’t mean their family’s tainted forever.”
“It wasn’t ancient history for Gran’s father.”
Jonah gave me a forced smile. “How about we stay on topic? I have another appointment in an hour.”
I looked him straight in the eyes. “What do you want from me?”
“I’m currently meeting with people who I think can have an influence on the opinions of the local residents.” Jonah poured himself a new cup of tea. “I want you to use your position and family connections to push people towards supporting the amalgamation. We’d rather it happen smoothly. If it somehow comes to a vote, we’ll have the numbers.”
I took another sip of tea. “The thing is, Joe, my job depends on this amalgamation happening as slowly as possible. Why would I be for a smooth process?”
“If you work with me, I guarantee you the position of Head Librarian for the Dunn branch of the Tallow Library. I bet you’re dying to overthrow the old witch.”
“If I had any power she’d be long gone.”
“I know how much you want that position.”
Jonah knew my price; anyone would, I wore it on my sleeve.
I stretched my hand out towards him. “I’ll do it.”
“Pleasure doing business with you.” Jonah smiled as he took my hand. “No more business talk. Let’s catch up. You’ll have to meet my wife and son.”
“Looks like my invitation to your wedding got lost in the mail, too.”
“I’m a hypocrite.”
I smiled despite myself as I was transported back to those moments between us a decade ago. When he’d made me believe I could stand before a crowd of people and hold power over them with just my words.
Back in Dunn, I stopped in front of an old weatherboard house. I put my headphones in and grabbed my list. Three books. I let myself in with the key the daughter gave us. The house had been on the market for almost a year, and she hadn’t cleaned it out.
The smell made my stomach roll.
I resisted the urge to shut the door and leave. It was probably just a feral cat or possum that slipped into the house and couldn’t get out.