Out on the street, she waited at the end of the gold-lettered canopy in her dark suit, short skirt fluttering against her legs in the wind while William pulled up beside her. Across the road the strangers kicked open the doors of their sedan, revealing a police radio glowing in the dashboard as its rear sagged audibly upon deflating tyres. She turned her head away as they drove past.
“Fuck.” she hissed. “I knew it!”
“Relax, I handicapped their shitbox.” he assured her.
“You don’t get it... they’re not cop cops, they’re fucking Vice OGs. Orb never made the drop and now they're after my ass. Are you holding, because right now I will blow you for opiates.” she sighed. He drove them into the waterfront, pulling up in the reboant darkness outside a fire-gutted warehouse.
“I’m out. But I’ll swap you the vodka under the seat for a southpaw handparty.”
She struck the glove compartment impatiently and began delving for narcotics amongst the contents that spilled onto her legs, pausing as she glanced up with a frown.
“What's that smell?” she demanded, looking back through the car, then at William. “Pick up a date?”
“Didn’t they warn you about questions like that in hoe school? And you shanked your dirty pimp in the same place Christabel makes her bready things so climb down off the hygiene horse.”
"Sandwiches." Lilian hissed. "They're called sandwiches! How many fucking times?"
"Okay..." he exclaimed, wide-eyed. "Fils de pute..."
"Your fucking brother told you, didn't he?"
"About Orb? Not really... it just smelled like a pimp died in there and I guessed the rest."
"He was breathing when I left." she asserted grimly.
He watched her drink from the bottle while hulking ship rats frolicked through the fast food wrappers and soggy, carpeting newsprint scattered outside. Lilian was classically endowed in profile, a quality subtly echoed in her wardrobe and comportment, a narrow superficiality upon which she was heavily reliant. That he had known it for so much longer than he had known her was both a comfort and a bane to him, ghostly in the purest sense and beyond all partiality.
“Have you heard from Ed?” he sighed.
“He only leaves voicemails.”
“Well... I have said all along..." They sat in a silence thick with misgivings and abjuration, and he considered handing over the stash of pharmaceuticals in his coat. “And just for the record... the longer you know him, the worse it gets.”
“Why do I have to explain this shit to you?" she murmured. He shrugged; Lilian shook her head, shifting her gaze to the pink graffiti sprayed over the brick before them. "When I was a kid, with my crazy fucking mom and all her drunk-ass pedobear tricks, I always felt like fuck, is this the world? I fucking hated being alive most of my life...” William leant his head against the window and looked back at her. “So here comes your brother, and he’s the fucking evil Jesus. He’s fucked up, and his shit is bad, but...” A spectral version of her smile returned. “He owns forests, in Europe. He speaks languages... he fucking knows everything.”
“Frost, if you’re happy... I’m happy. I just want to hear that you are.”
“Happy's bullshit." Her smile widened slowly. "I love the way he’s so fucking dry all the time, how he just comes in and says like, three words, and half an hour later you get that it was funny. And he’s always right about the weather... which is creepy and hot. That and he never gives a single fuck about what I do. Do you know how great it is to come in at fucking dawn and not even get a look? Nothing matters to him and that’s... I don’t even know what that is. Whatever it is, I like it. I love it.”
Despite her confession, her eyes held a strange, cureless sorrow. William caught the pale ponytail on her shoulder and pulled her across the gap between their seats, planting a kiss upon her forehead. She slumped back when he released her, staring at him, then fished out her compact and examined her brow in the glass.
“What?” he demanded.
“Hazmat sweep.” They sat in their own thoughts for a while. "Fuck her yet?" she added. He let his head fall to the wheel and lay against it. "Oh jesus... what?"
"Don't laugh, you heartless strumpet. She makes me feel like a pillowhumping virgin."
"When you have a god-given talent you know damn well it’s your responsibility to share it with the fucking community.”
“Have you ever tried that on the judge?"
"No, but I will.”
“If you’re not going to give me complimentary executive relief, you’re just part of the problem.”
“Jesus, get her drunk already. Don’t flop it out at the fucking table and you'll be fine. She's already looking to get on it." Lilian sighed. "Crazy bitch."
He scowled at her advice and put the car back in gear.
“I’ve got to swing by the Half Moon on the way home. Would you..." She shook her head as he spoke and tossed her mirror back into her bag.
“I'm not going in, and those diesel bitches will beat the shit out of you for flipping their twinkettes.” Lilian predicted.
“I care nothing for twinkettes.”
“Oh that’s right... Susan’s back home, keeping it hot for you.”
“As much as I’d like to think so, I’m one hundred percent sure Miss Christabel the Absolut princess is unfit for active duty.” William lamented.
Sharing the elderly precinct alongside Avalon with the Black Moth, the Half Moon Bar was situated in a street so dense with ply-boarded bays and alcove doorways that it remained obscure until he was directly upon its unpromising facade. A white veve extended from the doorstep across the footpath, both inviting notation and notice of hostile intent. William skirted round it, stepped into the black space beyond the door and was brushed by a beaded curtain that dusted a glittering deposit on his head and shoulders in a baptismal gesture. He passed a tall shape that had begun life as an oak sapling; the branches had almost disappeared beneath a smothering cowl of gris gris, little effigies of straw and cloth, hex-sewn rags, knotted bones and broken teeth and stiff, bloodsoaked ribbons tied in bows. The saturnine, rubbed-over Deco masculinity of the interior beyond had suffered no refurbishment since its installation, expressed in scuffed black paneling and stepped veneers and the silvered metal trim that bound its tables. Its formality satisfied a clientele diversely feminine and united by the direst dralna practises; through the cigar smoke the cold, unblenching stares of resident bulls and dark-garbed senior femmes, encircled by noviciates and thralls, regarded him unfavourably.
The counter was darkly marbled beneath a garnish of candle-laden horse skulls draped in sable wax. William sought the attention of the tall, rangy girl in a frayed denim cutoff shirt and sheriff’s badge behind it. Her short, dark hair was slicked down from a neat part; she propped her hands on her own side of the bar and assessed him with a gaze framed by a generous constellation of freckles.
“I’m looking for Lydia and Cybelle...” he began. She turned to a girl with a swan-white crop seated on the glass-fronted beer refrigerator, her crimped black tutu stuffed up against the wall behind her; she blew the dust from the silvered nails she had been filing into points. The spiderweb tattoos spanning her neck were in turn encircled by a collar of steel-pronged leather. Her legs swung slowly against the weight of massive platform boots.
“I’m Cybelle, she’s Lydia.” she assured him. “How’d you dodge the ávnr?"
Looking from one to the other, William noticed for the first time that both women wore the same narrow, tattooed insignia on their foreheads, and he blinked past the failing charm that had concealed it. He glanced back toward the door and it's softly clattering curtain.
“Er... yeah, that stuff doesn’t work on me sometimes, it’s...”
“Who sent you?” the blonde demanded, looking to her partner incredulously. He recalled Frederica’s injunction and smiled.
“Tilde said you might be able to help me.”
The women chuckled darkly at his falsehood. Two rows of little black ducks had been inked into the skin of both their forearms; he counted seventeen before the total disappeared beneath Lydia’s sleeve. Cybelle slid down and leant over the bar beside him, lighting a chocolate-papered cigarette from the candles. William placed a roll of bills on the counter.
“I need some practical advice. I...”
“What are you?” the white-haired witch inquired. She eased herself up onto the marble and leant forward on her hands and knees, staring into his eyes with a gaze that darkened as though infused with a staining agent. “Holy freaking crap, you’re threefold...”
“No way.” Lydia avowed, inspecting him more closely. Their exclamations attracted the attention of the senior practitioners at the tables behind him, halting their conversations.
"Damn, you're a threefold fam." Cybelle looked toward Lydia. "A threefold familiar this big, opposable thumbs, verbal fidelity...” she continued, describing his gifts as they occurred to both herself and her proximate colleagues. With eyes like the shadowed orbits of the skull beside her, she lay back on her elbows, blowing a slow chestfull of smoke at the ceiling, the other witches sliding up against the bar on either side to assay him in an eerily similar manner. "I know who he is..." she smirked. "You're Edward Lamb's brother."
“Do you have any Latin?” a newcomer inquired.
“You know he does." another assured her. William sucked in his lower lip.
“Okay, so... I want to banish someone...” he confided.
"Half-inch chain would hold him...” Cybelle suggested, as though arguing with herself against such an expedient. He felt hands sliding along his arms as the figures massing about him sampled the texture of his skin. Lydia squinted critically at him and took a shot of liquor already swaying in its silvery little vessel from beneath the bar, shucking it across the counter at him. The candle flame writhed in its crystalline belly as she butted the glass against his knuckles.
“Beast, you sure you don’t need a job, because to me you look underemployed.” she told him.
“Be all you can be.” her partner agreed, laying one leg over the other and swinging her boot by his ear, its toe lifting the hair from his neck. "Lyddy's solid gold, but I'll let you fill my position."
He shrugged slightly against the intensity of the interest coiling about him, and glanced down at the glass, easing it back toward its purveyor.
“I’ve er, I’ve seen banishing done but I need help with the details..."
The two witches regarded one another with an expression laden with arid sentiment, and Cybelle returned to the beer fridge, shuffling her frilled derriére back against the wall.
“Align the head to the south, run through the whole text, if you fluff a line, repeat it... keep the head south when you put it in the ground. And peg a net over the hole once you’ve patted it down. Don't use lime... it cooks the grass. Too much decomp signature.” Lydia told him.
“Chicken wire.” Cybelle smiled blackly. “Eight by eight foot, stake it down hard. Stops the raccoons. And dogs. That way your neighbours don’t get chunks on their kitchen floor.” The women shared a look that glittered with some private reference.
“It’s all about affinity.” Lydia told him, sucking her stomach in as she poked the cash down into the front of her jeans. “Like commands like.”
“You got like, right?” asked Cybelle, lifting her chin and stroking an itch on the side of her neck. He expressed a curse in his own tongue, throwing the silvery curtain aside and striding out into the street.
William scowled at Lilian from behind the wheel.
“It’s a dead body, alright? I had a ritual in mind, but it turns out I need a female corpse and that's against my religion so I’m back to square one.” he sighed.
“You’re such an asshole.” she told him, bringing her phone to her ear. He overheard his brother’s voice and watched a smile spread across her lips, her lashes falling with the gaze toward the darkness at her feet; for a moment he chided his own revilement of their bond in the face of the private, esoteric happiness it brought her. “He’s back.” she murmured.
William found that Susan had fallen asleep across the end of his bed, snoring irregularly beside the photo album she had pulled from underneath the mattress. She lay slackly on her side with a little stream of drool at the corner of her mouth. In the bathroom he washed the smell of death from his hands and arms before returning to her, sitting down on the edge of the bed to draw her feet into his lap and unbuckle her silver shoes.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce