Section I-Bad Witch; Chapter 1-Carlsbad (Vanta Earth)
[[[ AUTHOR’S NOTE: Have you read “Dark Water & the Maiden” (Book I) AND “Riverwood: Remembrance (Book II) AND “She Was the Sun” (Book III)? If NO, then STOP. You should not read this novel without first having read these novels in this series. ]]]
Alice, the waitress with the long, stringy blond hair, shuffled to the bar to place a drink order. “Vodka Gimlet, straight up, and a Blue Moon, draft.”
“Those two gonna’ order any time soon?” queried Harry the bartender, who eyed the young couple in the booth by the window as he mixed the Gimlet. Harry the bartender, simultaneously going grey and balding from the back of his head forward, was a Carlsbad, Californian, born and raised. In his prime he’d even served on the Carlsbad firefighting squad. Now semi-retired, Harry tended bar part time at the Karl Strauss Brewing Company restaurant. “I mean, do they think this is a bus station?” He paused, again glancing at the couple. “I’ll tell you what, though, they are an attractive couple. I mean, look at that young lady. She is an absolute stunner.”
Alice wrinkled her nose and lashed out in a hushed voice at Harry. “Shhh, you! That girl’s just a baby. She’s probably younger than your daughter. Probably not even out of high school or college. You dirty old man!”
“What? What did I say? Don’t be ridiculous. I’m just saying she’s a lovely girl. Am I lying? OK, her boyfriend’s a good-looking kid too, but he’s not my type. I’m just saying, they look like they stepped out of People Magazine or something. They’re fresh.” Harry shook his head. “These drinks aren’t for them, are they? You probably need to card them.”
“Uh, no. These drinks are not for them. I wish they would order anything.” Alice sighed, shook her head side to side, and she marched off in the other direction. She set the drinks in front of two middle-aged businessmen in wrinkled white shirts and matching, gold power ties. Four thirty in the afternoon, early to start drinking, but, as the cliché goes, the businessmen were certain it must be five o’clock somewhere.
At the table, the young woman stopped speaking for a moment, eyeing her friend, Jake. “Why are you looking at me like that, Jake?” Belinda’s brow crease deepened.
“Uh, looking at you like what?” Jake had been staring, as if hypnotized, at Belinda’s hands. His thoughts had drifted to a story about how, two nights ago, his new friend, Belinda had killed a half-bird, half-human creature on the rooftop of the Azteca Hotel in Las Vegas. “Actually, I was thinking about something. According to your best friend, Sara, when we were in Vegas you ripped a bird man’s heart from its chest. Then you threw the heart over the balcony.” Jake shuddered inwardly, focused on Belinda’s large dark, brown eyes.
Belinda’s cheek near her left eye twitched and she wrinkled her nose. “You haven’t been listening to a word I’ve been saying, have you? All you can think of is that bird man story. You need to listen to me, Jake. We don’t have a lot of time. I have to get back to La Jolla soon or my folks’ll notice I’m gone.”
“I’m sorry. It’s horrifying, is all.” He noticed Belinda had not denied the veracity of the story.
Thick, almost jet-black hair, which was pulled back by clips and hung slightly below her shoulders, framed Belinda’s elegant face. Now her expression had grown blank. Her eyelids hung halfway down, displaying her irritation with Jake.
“I don’t understand the big deal, Jake.”
“Well, OK, you know I got in a fight with one of those bird man things in Vegas too. But, come on, ripping the heart out of something? That’s scary. I’m sorry. I don’t ever want to be on your bad side.”
Belinda shrugged her left shoulder and then her right shoulder up and down in a harsh, wave-like motion, as if trying to relax her body. Then she crossed her arms and leaned back. “That fight bothers you more than the High Magi making me send your brother away?” She regretted the words the instant they escaped her lips.
Jake dropped his eyes to the table. “How could you say that to me?” he whispered.
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” Belinda slipped her hand across the table and into Jake’s hand, the fair complexion of her delicate hand sharply contrasting with his olive skin. At the bar, Harry, who had been minding the young couple’s business for some time, thought to himself, ‘Ah, isn’t that nice? They’re so sweet.’
Belinda maintained steady contact, her hand clasped over Jake’s. She closed her eyes, as if daydreaming of some far-off place. Jake gazed up at her face in shock as the warmth from Belinda’s hand rushed into his arm and spread through his body. It was as if thousands of tiny warm spheres had raced through his skin, deposited their heat along his periphery, and then sank deeply into his veins and organs. The flow of energy made him feel like a firework about to burst. Jake’s now-dilated pupils reflected her face. “Good God! How did you do that?”
Belinda opened her eyes. “Do you feel better now? Less frightened?”
Her hand still covered his. She smiled. “Jake, there’s never going to be a time I’m not going to be on your side. You don’t have to be afraid of me. I’m here to make things OK. Don’t you know? Good witches make everything better? I love you, Jake…like a brother.” She said this last part even though she knew Jake belonged to another woman. Jake stared down at the table again, embarrassed. Belinda felt a fleeting sense of unease at Jake’s reaction, but she let it pass.
Belinda had whispered these last words. Jake, still eyeballing the tabletop, nodded in agreement just as a hunched, elderly woman in cat-eye glasses, her white hair tied in a bun, slid into the booth behind them. The elderly woman turned around and shot Belinda a tight-lipped glare.
“Maybe we should take this from the top, go through the whole story again outside by the flower fields or something,” Jake said. “It’s crowded in here. And I’m not really hungry.”
The little old lady turned around again to peer at them, an irritated look on her face.
“Boo!” shouted Belinda, spreading her eyes wide at the elderly bloodhound.
The woman sharply turned around. “Well, I never,” the elderly woman chirped under her breath.
“Yeah, me neither,” muttered Belinda. “And my boyfriend is a gazillion miles away, so probably no time soon either.” Then Belinda murmured in a hoarse whisper only Jake could hear: “Nosey!”
Belinda sighed loudly.
Jake shot his hand into the air, flagging the waitress to let her know they were going to leave. “Let’s get out of here,” he whispered to Belinda. He stared at a speaker in the upper corner of the restaurant, from which Strange Magic, by Electric Light Orchestra had begun to play.
Jake glanced at the table next to them, where an older gentleman, eating alone, cut into a thick steak. Dark red juice squirted from the meat. All Jake could think of were bird men hearts spurting blood.
Belinda noticed the old man ripping into his steak, and she grinned, as if guessing Jake’s thoughts. “Time to go already?”