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Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)

Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)
The Hollows series
I stood in the shadows of a deserted shop front across from The Blood and Brew Pub, trying not to be obvious as I tugged my black leather pants back up where they belonged. This is pathetic, I thought, eyeing the rain-emptied street. I was way too good for this.
Apprehending unlicensed and black-art witches was my usual line of work, as it takes a witch to catch a witch. But the streets were quieter than usual this week. Everyone who could make it was at the West Coast for our yearly convention, leaving me with this gem of a run. A simple snag and drag. It was just the luck of the Turn that had put me here in the dark and rain.
"Who am I kidding?" I whispered, pulling the strap of my bag farther up my shoulder. I hadn't been sent to tag a witch in a month: unlicensed, white, dark, or otherwise. Bringing the mayor's son in for Wereing outside of a full moon probably hadn't been the best idea.
A sleek car turned the corner, looking black in the buzz of the mercury street lamp. This was its third time around the block. A grimace tightened my face as it approached, slowing. "Damn it," I whispered. "I need a darker door front."
"He thinks you're a hooker, Rachel," my backup snickered into my ear. "I told you the red halter was slutty."
"Anyone ever tell you that you smell like a drunk bat, Jenks?" I muttered, my lips barely moving. Backup was unsettlingly close tonight, having perched himself on my earring. Big dangling thing—the earring, not the pixy. I'd found Jenks to be a pretentious snot with a bad attitude and a temper to match. But he knew what side of the garden his nectar came from. And apparently pixies were the best they'd let me take out since the frog incident. I would have sworn fairies were too big to fit into a frog's mouth.
I eased forward to the curb as the car squished to a wet-asphalt halt. There was the whine of an automatic window as the tinted glass dropped. I leaned down, smiling my prettiest as I flashed my work ID. Mr. One Eyebrow's leer vanished and his face went ashen. The car lurched into motion with a tiny squeak of tires. "Day-tripper," I said in disdain. No, I thought in a flash of chastisement. He was a norm, a human. Even if they were accurate, the terms day-tripper, domestic, squish, off-the-rack, and my personal favorite, snack, were politically frowned upon. But if he was picking strays up off the sidewalk in the Hollows, one might call him dead.
The car never slowed as it went through a red light, and I turned at the catcalls from the hookers I had displaced about sunset. They weren't happy, standing brazenly on the corner across from me. I gave them a little wave, and the tallest flipped me off before spinning to show me her tiny, spell-enhanced rear. The hooker and her distinctly husky-looking "friend" talked loudly as they tried to hide the cigarette they were passing between each other. It didn't smell like your usual tobacco. Not my problem, tonight, I thought, moving back into my shadow. 
I leaned against the cold stone of the building, my gaze lingering on the red taillights of the car as it braked. Brow furrowed, I glanced at myself. I was tall for a woman— about five-eight—but not nearly as leggy as the hooker in the next puddle of light over. I wasn't wearing as much makeup as she was, either. Narrow hips and a chest that was almost flat didn't exactly make me streetwalker material.
Before I found the leprechaun outlets, I had shopped in the "your first bra" aisle. It's hard finding something without hearts and unicorns on it there.
My ancestors had immigrated to the good old U.S. of A. in the 1800s. Somehow through the generations, the women all managed to retain the distinct red hair and green eyes of our Irish homeland. My freckles, though, are hidden under a spell my dad bought me for my thirteenth birthday. He had the tiny amulet put into a pinky ring. I never leave home without it.
A sigh slipped from me as I tugged my bag back up onto my shoulder. The leather pants, red ankle boots, and the spaghetti strap halter weren't too far from what I usually wore on casual Fridays to tick off my boss, but put them on a street corner at night… "Crap," I muttered to Jenks. "I look like a hooker."
His only response was a snort. I forced myself not to react as I turned back to the bar. It was too rainy for the early crowd, and apart from my backup and the "ladies" down the way, the street was empty. I'd been standing out here nearly an hour with no sign of my mark. I might as well go in and wait. Besides, if I were inside, I might look like a solicitee rather than a solicitor.
Taking a resolute breath, I pulled a few strands of my shoulder-length curls from my topknot, took a moment to arrange it artfully to fall about my face, and finally spit out my gum. The click of my boots made a snappy counterpoint to the jangling of the handcuffs pinned to my hip as I strode across the wet street and into the bar. The steel rings looked like a tawdry prop, but they were real and very well-used. I winced. No wonder Mr. One Eyebrow had stopped. Used for work, thank you, and not the kind you're thinking of.
Still, I'd been sent to the Hollows in the rain to collar a leprechaun for tax evasion. How much lower, I wondered, could I sink? It must have been from tagging that Seeing
Eye dog last week. How was I supposed to know it wasn't a werewolf? It matched the description I'd been given.
As I stood in the narrow foyer shaking off the damp, I ran my gaze over the typical Irish bar crap: long-stemmed pipes stuck to the walls, green-beer signs, black vinyl seats, and a tiny stage where a wannabe-star was setting up his dulcimers and bagpipes amid a tower of amps. There was a whiff of contraband Brimstone. My predatory instincts stirred. It smelled three days old, not strong enough to track. If I could nail the supplier, I'd be off my boss's hit list. He might even give me something worth my talents.
"Hey," grunted a low voice. "You Tobby's replacement?"
Brimstone dismissed, I batted my eyes and turned, coming eye-to-chest with a bright green T-shirt. My eyes traveled up a huge bear of a man. Bouncer material. The name on the shirt said CLIFF. It fit. "Who?" I purred, blotting the rain from what I generously call my cleavage with the hem of his shirt. He was completely unaffected; it was depressing.
"Tobby. State-assigned hooker? She ever gonna show up again?"
From my earring came a tiny singsong voice. "I told you so."My smile grew forced. "I don't know," I said through my teeth. "I'm not a hooker."
He grunted again, eyeing my outfit. I pawed through my bag and handed him my work ID. Anyone watching would assume he was carding me. With readily available age-disguising spells, it was mandatory—as was the spell-check amulet he had around his neck. It glowed a faint red in response to my pinky ring. He wouldn't do a full check on me for that, which was why all the charms in my bag were currently uninvoked. Not that I'd need them tonight.
"Inderland Security," I said as he took the card. "I'm on a run to find someone, not harass your regular clientele. That's why the—uh—disguise."
"Rachel Morgan," he read aloud, his thick fingers almost enveloping the laminated card. "Inderland Security runner. You're an I.S. runner?" He looked from my card to me and back, his fat lips splitting in a grin. "What happened to your hair? Run into a blowtorch?"
My lips pressed together. The picture was three years old. It hadn't been a blowtorch, it had been a practical joke, an informal initiation into my full runner status. Real funny.
The pixy darted from my earring, setting it swinging with his momentum. "I'd watch your mouth," he said, tilting his head as he looked at my ID. "The last lunker who laughed at her picture spent the night in the emergency room with a drink umbrella jammed up his nose."
I warmed. "You know about that?" I said, snatching my card and shoving it away.
"Everybody in appropriations knows about that." The pixy laughed merrily. "And trying to tag that Were with an itch spell and losing him in the john."
"You try bringing in a Were that close to a full moon without getting bit," I said defensively. "It's not as easy as it sounds. I had to use a potion. Those things are expensive."
"And then Nairing an entire bus of people?" His dragonfly wings turned red as he laughed and his circulation increased. Dressed in black silk with a red bandanna, he looked like a miniature Peter Pan posing as an inner city gang member. Four inches of blond bothersome annoyance and quick temper.
"That wasn't my fault," I said. "The driver hit a bump." I frowned. Someone had switched my spells, too. I had been trying to tangle his feet, and ended up removing the hair from the driver and everyone in the first three rows. At least I had gotten my mark, though I wasted an entire paycheck on cabs the next three weeks, until the bus would pick me up again.
"And the frog?" Jenks darted away and back as the bouncer flicked a finger at him. "I'm the only one who'd go out with you tonight. I'm getting hazard pay." The pixy rose several inches, in what had to be pride. 
Cliff seemed unimpressed. I was appalled. "Look," I said. "All I want is to sit over there and have a drink, nice and quietlike." I nodded to the stage where the postadolescent was tangling the lines from his amps. "When does that start?"
The bouncer shrugged. "He's new. Looks like about an hour." There was a crash followed by cheers as an amp fell off the stage. "Maybe two."