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Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1)(2)


"Thanks." Ignoring Jenks's chiming laughter, I wove my way through the empty tables to a bank of darker booths. I chose the one under a moose head, sinking three inches more than I should have in the flaccid cushion. Soon as I found the little perp, I was out of there. This was insulting. I had been with the I.S. for three years—seven if you counted my four years of clinicals—and here I was, doing intern work.
It was the interns that did the nitty-gritty day-to-day policing of Cincinnati and its largest suburb across the river, affectionately known as the Hollows. We picked up the supernatural stuff that the human-run FIB—short for the Federal Inderland Bureau—couldn't handle. Minor spell disturbances and rescuing familiars out of trees were in the realm of an I.S. intern. But I was a full runner, damn it. I was better than this. I had done better than this.
It had been I who single-handedly tracked down and apprehended the circle of dark witches who were circumventing the Cincinnati Zoo's security spells to steal the monkeys, selling them to an underground biolab. But did I get any recognition for that? No.
It had been I who realized that the loon digging up bodies in one of the churchyards was linked to the spate of deaths in the organ replacement wing in one of the human-run hospitals. Everyone assumed he was gathering materials to make illegal spells, not charming the organs into temporary health, then selling them on the black market.
And the ATM thefts that plagued the city last Christmas? It had taken me six simultaneous charms to look like a man, but I nailed the witch. She had been using a love charm/forget spell combo to rob naive humans. That had been an especially satisfying tag. I'd chased her for three streets, and there had been no time for spell casting when she turned to hit me with what could have been a lethal charm, so I was completely justified in knocking her out cold with a roundhouse kick. Even better, the FIB had been after her for three months, and tagging her took me two days. I made them look like fools, but did I get a "Good job, Rachel?" Did I even get a ride back to the I.S. tower with my swollen foot? No.
And lately I was getting even less: sorority kids using charms to steal cable, familiar theft, prank spells, and I couldn't forget my favorite—chasing trolls out from under bridges and culverts before they ate all the mortar. A sigh shifted me as I glanced over the bar. Pathetic.
Jenks dodged my apathetic attempts to swat him as he resettled himself on my earring. That they had to pay him triple to go out with me did not bode well.
A green-clad waitress bounced over, frighteningly perky for this early. "Hi!" she said, showing teeth and dimples. "My name is Dottie. I'll be your server tonight." All smiles, she set three drinks before me: a Bloody Mary, an old-fashioned, and a Shirley Temple. How sweet.
"Thanks, hon," I said with a jaded sigh. "Who they from?"
She rolled her eyes toward the bar, trying to portray bored sophistication but coming off like a high schooler at the big dance. Peering around her thin, apron-tied waist, I glanced over the three stiffs, lust in their eyes, horses in their pockets. It was an old tradition. Accepting a drink meant I accepted the invitation behind it. One more thing for Ms. Rachel to take care of. They looked like norms, but one never knew.
Sensing no more conversation forthcoming, Dottie skipped away to do barmaid things. "Check them out, Jenks," I whispered, and the pixy flitted away, his wings pale pink in his excitement. No one saw him go. Pixy surveillance at its finest.The pub was quiet, but as there were two tenders behind the bar, an old man and a young woman, I guessed it would pick up soon. The Blood and Brew was a known hot spot where norms went to mix with Inderlanders before driving back across the river with their doors locked and the windows up tight, titillated and thinking they were hot stuff. And though a lone human sticks out among Inderlanders like a zit on a prom queen's face, an Inderlander can easily blend into humanity. It's a survival trait honed since before Pasteur. That's why the pixy. Fairies and pixies can literally sniff an Inderlander out quicker than I can say "Spit."
I halfheartedly scanned the nearly empty bar, my sour mood evaporating into a smile when I found a familiar face from the office. Ivy.
Ivy was a vamp, the star of the I.S. runner lineup. We had met several years ago during my last year of internship, paired up for a year of semi-independent runs. She had just hired on as a full runner, having taken six years of university credit instead of opting for the two years of college and four years of internship that I had. I think assigning us to each other had been someone's idea of a joke.
Working with a vampire—living or not—had scared the peas out of me until I found out she wasn't a practicing vamp and had sworn off blood. We were as unalike as two people could be, but her strengths were my weakness. I wish I could say her weaknesses were my strengths, but Ivy didn't have any weaknesses—other than the tendency to plan the joy out of everything.
We hadn't worked together for years, and despite my grudgingly given promotion, Ivy still outranked me. She knew all the right things to say to all the right people at all the right times. It helped that she belonged to the Tamwood family, a name as old as Cincinnati itself. She was its last living member, in possession of a soul and as alive as me, having been infected with the vamp virus through her then still-living mother. The virus had molded Ivy even as she grew in her mother's womb, giving Ivy a little of both worlds, the living and the dead.
At my nod, she sauntered over. The men at the bar jostled elbows, all three turning to watch her in appreciation. She flicked them a dismissing glance, and I swear I heard one sigh. "How's it going, Ivy?" I said as she eased onto the bench opposite me.
Vinyl seat squeaking, she reclined in the booth with her back against the wall, the heels of her tall boots on the long bench, and her knees showing over the edge of the table. She stood half a head over me, but where I just looked tall, she pulled off a svelte elegance. Her slightly Oriental cast gave her an enigmatic look, upholding my belief that most models had to be vamps. She dressed like a model, too: modest leather skirt and silk blouse, top-of-the-line, all-vamp construction; black, of course. Her hair was a smooth dark wave, accenting her pale skin and oval-shaped face. No matter what she did with her hair, it made her look exotic. I could spend hours with mine and it always came out red and frizzy. Mr. One Eyebrow wouldn't have stopped for her; she was too classy. 
"Hey, Rachel," Ivy said. "Whatcha doing down in the Hollows?" Her voice was melodious and low, flowing with all the subtleties of gray silk. "I thought you'd be catching some skin cancer on the coast this week," she added. "Is Denon still ticked about the dog?"
I shrugged sheepishly. "Nah." Actually, the boss nearly blew a vein. I had been a step away from being promoted to office broom pusher.
"It was an honest mistake." Ivy let her head fall back in a languorous motion to expose the long length of her neck. There wasn't a scar on it. "Anyone could have made it."
Anyone but you, I thought sourly. "Yeah?" I said aloud, pushing the Bloody Mary toward her. "Well, let me know if you spot my take." I jingled the charms on my cuffs, touching the clover carved from olive wood.
Her thin fingers curved around the glass as if they were caressing it. Those same fingers could break my wrist if she put some effort into it. She'd have to wait until she was dead before she had enough strength to snap it without a thought, but she was still stronger than me. Half the red drink disappeared down her throat. "Since when is the I.S. interested in leprechauns?" she asked, eyeing the rest of the charms.
"Since the boss's last rainy day."
She shrugged, pulling her crucifix out from behind her shirt to run the metal loop through her teeth provocatively. Her canines were sharp, like a cat's, but no bigger than mine. She'd get the extended versions after she died. I forced my eyes from them, watching the metal cross instead. It was as long as my hand and made of a beautifully tooled silver. She had begun wearing it lately to irritate her mother. They weren't on the best of terms.
I fingered the tiny cross on my cuffs, thinking it must be difficult having your mother be undead. I had met only a handful of dead vampires. The really old ones kept to themselves, and the new ones tended to get staked unless they learned to keep to themselves.
Dead vamps were utterly without conscience, ruthless instinct incarnate. The only reason they followed society's rules was because it was a game to them. And dead vampires knew about rules. Their continued existence depended upon rules which, if challenged, meant death or pain, the biggest rule of course being no sun. They needed blood daily to keep sane. Anyone's would do, and taking it from the living was the only joy they found. And they were powerful, having incredible strength and endurance, and the ability to heal with an unearthly quickness. It was hard to destroy them except for the traditional beheading and staking through the heart.
In exchange for their soul, they had the chance for immortality. It came with a loss of conscience. The oldest vampires claimed that was the best part: the ability to fulfill every carnal need without guilt when someone died to give you pleasure and keep you sane one more day.
Ivy possessed both the vamp virus and a soul, caught in the middle ground until she died and became a true undead. Though not as powerful or dangerous as a dead vamp, the ability to walk under the sun and worship without pain made her envied by her dead brethren.