Wednesday, 9:47 am . . .
We’re all sitting around on our white leather furniture, talking about what Uriel had told me last night. We’re trying to figure out where our new business fits in with the whole ‘save the world from evil’ thing.
“Like I said before,” Ricky explained to us, “it’s our cover. It lets us snoop around at things that would normally send up flags and alarms. But if people see us as paranormal investigators, detectives even, then we’ll just be those idiot ghost hunters. People will laugh at us. We’ll be a novelty. But we’ll have autonomy, too.”
Ms. Josephine, up to this point, has been relatively quiet on the subject of ALG. She and Ricky have discussed it before, but never have the three of us been together. “We could do some good for da living and da dead.”
I need to back-up a bit. Ms. Josephine, for the last several weeks, has been giving Ricky everything she can find for him to read on the ways of medicine. And by ways I mean, her ways.
The Zande people of the Congo.
The indigenous Mapuche people of Chile.
Tsau among the West African, Tiv and itonga among the East African Safwa.
He’s learning all of it. The epitome of illegitimate antisocial activity, as well as the righteous wrath of established authority, employed to curse wrongdoers and shaman alike. And he’s picking it up, too. Ricky seems to have a knack for all things medicine. Like he understands bodies better than the rest of us.
So, Ms. Josephine is teaching him in the ways she was taught. She thinks he had an aptitude for spiritual medicine. So he’s got that going for him. It’s not anything you’d put on a resume, but it’s good to have in your back pocket when you’re hunting the most evil 23 people on earth.
Anyway, this business, the After Life Group, it seems like an idea that sits well with all of us. Ricky’s using it for a cover to do our research. Ms. Josephine’s hoping we can help some spirits get across to the other side, or whatever.
And me, I’m just hoping I figure all of this out before spooks start bouncing around me. Whether they work with me or not, the little bastards still give me the heebie-jeebies.
And the gatherers, well, they’re just another part of the equation I’d rather not think about. There’s just something about having long armed monsters wielding sharp knives, digging into your chest and extricating your soul that leaves me wishing I’d kept my eyes shut.
“It would be cool to find some real ghosts, though,” Ricky says taking a sip of soda. I think he’s on his fourth or fifth Dr. Pepper, and it’s not even ten, yet. He may have a problem.
“Dere’s real ghosts everywhere,” Ms. Josephine said as she sat forward. “Dey’re like souls dat flutter back and forth. Not knowing where dey should be. ‘oldin’ on to somethin’ dat’s long gone. And we can ’elp dem.” She’s wearing a thin summer dress that’s dark green, covered in different colored blue and silver dots. Like something Jackson Pollock did—20th century Abstract Expressionism clashing with our white furniture.
“This furniture didn’t look like this last night,” I tell them. I’m changing the subject because I don’t believe in ghosts. Sure, I’ve seen them. Talked to them. Even kissed one. But that’s different. Regular ghosts, like in the movies, that’s all a load. I’m more like Ricky in my cynicism.
Swamp gas and bad plumbing, that about sums it up.
“What do you mean?” Ricky asked, looking down to make sure there weren’t any marks on the leather.
I took a deep breath, my cheeks puffing out like a trumpet player. “Well,” I say, “they looked like that house in the movie Bettlejuice. Messed-up to the point where insurance wouldn’t cover it.”
“I’m glad it’s you seeing that shit and not me,” Ricky said, instantly realizing that Ms. Josephine was boring a hole in him with her eyes. He lowered his head, “Sorry, Ms. Josephine. That stuff, I mean.”
Ms. Josephine, she’s like our second mom. And since I don’t remember my parents, for me, she’s like my only mom. She does everything. She makes sure the refrigerator is full, and that we have food other than Dr. Pepper and pizza. She makes us wash our clothes, reminding us that it’s important to do some things yourself, even if you can afford to have others do them.
She grew up in extreme poverty, and she doesn’t want us turning in to colossal dicks because we have money to spend. I poisoned the earth with evil, so I’m probably stuck, no matter how many times I move my laundry from the washer to the dryer.
“Well,” I say, nodding, “I guess—”
And then we hear the ambulance approaching, right out front, near the entrance to the building. Ricky and Ms. Josephine get up and walk to the kitchen, and out onto the balcony to look, but I already know what’s going on.
Ricky’s outside looking down, and then he turns and looks through the glass at me and I shrug. I decide that it would be in poor taste to bring up the five-dollar bet that we made yesterday about the attorney. The fact that I can see the spooks fitting people for their death suits gives me an obviously unfair advantage. Especially when gambling.
They walk back in and stare at me.
“Sorry,” I say. “It was his time.”
Ricky hisses to himself and heads towards the stairs. He’s still just wearing his board shorts, and we have an appointment. Ms. Josephine is going to the ALG office to rid it of evil spirits or something. And Ricky and I are heading out to meet one of his buddies at a tattoo parlor off of Beltline.
Since I’m going to be traveling back and forth among the living and dead, and every time I need to paint my chest and arms with protective runes and symbols and markings, Ricky suggested, and Ms. Josephine agreed, that I should get them put permanently on my skin.
As in, tattoo.
As in, forever.
This idea didn’t sit too well with me. I argued, What happens when I go for some job interview and people see the tattoos? They’ll think I’m some ex-con who just hit the street after years of hardcore prison violence and gang activity. You know what they do to each other in prison.
They literally laughed at me when I said that. And then Ricky said, “Jack, don’t be ridiculous about this. These tattoos will save your life. Quit being a whinny little nancy, and get the work done. Man up,” he said, quoting Detective Todd Steele.
The bastard knows just where to hit me. Appeal to my manliness by alluding to my fictional hero. He’s good, that Ricky.
And that’s basically that. Some time after 11-o’clock we have an appointment at Cat Tattoo.
“Just think,” Ricky says as he comes down the stairs two-at-a-time, “ . . . in a few hours, you will have spiritual badass tattooed all over your body.” He shrugged, “I might even get a few myself.”
I haven’t told them, yet, about what Uriel was saying about my being different than human. It’s one of those things I’ll get around to sooner or later.