Part 9 – Freeze

Some animals have this mechanism in their brain that tells them how close a predator has to be before it can get them.  How far away they are calculated by how fast they are and so on.  The reason for this (they think) is so that the animal can keep eating until the last very second before running away.  Is it really worth the risk for an extra half a second of food access?  It must so because it’s a thing.  They think.

It’s speculated that this instinct is why animals freeze when you drive at them real fast.  A wolf runs about thirty miles an hour.  The speediest wolf around who’s really putting his paws to the dirt could maybe go forty miles an hour.  That’s pretty fast.  But, and I don’t mean to shock you, cars can go much faster than forty miles an hour.  For instance former wrestler and noteworthy asshole Lex Luger was once pulled over for going one hundred and sixty seven miles an hour because he was late for a tanning appointment.  Suck on that wolves.

The idea is that when you coming flying down the road as sixty plus miles per hour at a possum that brain mechanism tries to figure out when it’s danger time and instead it freezes up and crashes like Windows Vista because the speed of the car is beyond what the programming can handle, it’s not a speed that exists in nature.  The car is going faster than even a superfast wolf so the possum just sits there and dies because its brain is throwing an input error message. 

Does that mean that a Thompson’s gazelle, the primary prey species of the pretty fast cheetah animal, would not freeze when an SUV comes barreling at it going sixty mphs?  There’s only one way to find out, and the government denied my grant on the grounds that driving cars at high rates of speed at imported antelopes was illegal and immoral and stupid. 

This fun fact is preamble this question – when Grace tells Andrea to come with her why does she freeze?  Is it because bullets are even faster than cars?

Grace walks past Barry Bonds, mostly confident that her prediction is correct and he won’t shoot her, but also wishing that Huddie hadn’t stolen her car so she could have thrown on her bulletproof serial killer raincoat before heading out on this mission.  Kid Greasy finally manages to get to his feet and stands gawking behind her as she pushes open the door to the backroom of Black Hole Doughnuts. The first back room I mean.  The one that just has bulk coffee cups and cardboard boxes with those little plastic window and cleaning supplies and stuff that should be in the back room of a doughnut joint. 

It’s when she passes through that, which is too small to really work well as a storage area, into the larger room behind it that things get interesting.  This room has several boxes of iPhones in a stack on top of larger boxes of smart TVs, which is odd for a doughnut place.  There’s a small skid loader which would be very much out of place in even the largest of doughnut shacks – nobody is moving that many doughnuts.  Is that weirder than the hockey bag filled with firearms, burner phones, and banned Argentine health supplements?  You be the judge of that.

In the room also is a woman named Andrea who’s scared out of her mind.  She looks more than little like Katherine LaNasa, the woman who played Will Ferrell’s character Cam Brady’s wife in The Campaign – which was pretty close to being a good movie.  She’s scared for a plethora of reasons, but chief amongst them is that she’s not alone.  There’s too men with her dressed in police costumes.

Once she sees them up close Grace is disappointed in herself that she didn’t realize they were fake before, one of them didn’t even bother to take the “Officer Nasty” nametag off.  In her mind Grace really gives it to the real cops for not noticing these buffoons, but what she doesn’t realize is that they used some of that old black magic as well – it’s much easier to enspell someone to think a cheap cop stripper outfit is a real uniform that it is something that looks nothing like it, let’s say orange hot pants and a half tank.

There’s a third man as well.  Grace has met him twice before but she never caught his name.  You know him as “Baby”, the skinny dude who looks like a model they used in videos to warn people about the dangers of drugs or rock music or D&D back in the 1980s.  I’ll call his look swamp trash Marilyn Manson.  Or some other more current reference.  Who’s the current freaky fake-Satanist music act that’s hot with the group at school of two kids that like to burn shit and the girl that needs attention? 

Baby is actually more scared than Andrea is when he sees Grace.  He was already on edge because they grabbed Andrea with no plan and he doesn’t know what to do.  And when Grace walks in?  Of all people?  He’s scared because he thinks she knows more than she does, why else would she be there?  But he’s more scared on account of that time she knocked him out cold, an attack which caused not only muscle damage but cervical dislocation.  Damage that hasn’t been treated (actually that’s not true, Jack Daniels and unsubscribed pain pills are a treatment of a sort) because violent criminal assholes aren’t great at going to the doctor and black magic isn’t great at healing. 

Despite this fear Baby manages to keep his cool.  In fact he’s going to say something “cool” about Grace being a bad penny but she beats him to the punch.

Grace points at Baby “Shut up you.” She extends her other hand to beckon Andrea “Come on, come with me, let’s get out of here.  These men are cowards Andrea, they won’t shoot you.”

Andrea doesn’t move.  Probably not because of predator attack radius brain calculations though, probably because of human brain stuff.

Part 8 – Prudence overturns a dustbin and faces stern consequences

Eventually Grace and Cassie head back to Andrea’s apartment.  You can’t just hang around at a coffee shop forever after all.  This isn’t Friends.  Zoom!  Take that Marta Kaufman and David Crane.  You may have hundreds of millions of dollars but I burned you good.   

The plan, such as it is, consists of speaking to Andrea.  Grace assumes that if Dale causes trouble she’ll just smack him around.  Actually probably what she would do is just stomp on the foot he was dumb enough to shoot himself in.  Cassie hopes that Dale is there and that he does try something because she wants to see Grace kick his ass.  But like with magic you know, like Grace does some Infinity Gauntlet shit and turns him to dust because she also wants to see some magic.  At this point she doesn’t know what Grace generally just busts people up the old-fashioned way.

It’s not a great plan by any means but the good news is that when they get back to Cassie’s block the plan never swings into action because there are several police cruisers there with the police officers that came in them milling around.  That will happen when there’s a big pillar of flame in the middle of the street and then a car accident.  And shouting, and gunshots.  There are neighborhoods where that might go by under the notice of the authorities but this isn’t one of them.   

“Fucking Huddie” Grace remarks as she and Cassie stand at the end of the street intermittently bathed in blue and red lights from the squad car’s flashing lights. 

“Who’s Huddie?” Cassie asks as she pulls at her torn leggings. 

“A two-hundred-year-old moron.” Grace glances into the intersection where her car is smashed up real nice “Who stole my car and then crashed it.” 

Cassie’s snaps her head around in awe “Two hundred years?  Do witches live forever?” 

“Yes.  Maybe.  No.  I don’t know.  He’s not a witch, that’s . . . something else.  I think only women can be  witches maybe.  Look, I need to get out of here, what . . . “ 

Cassie points to Andrea, who’s being bundled into a car by two officers “Those guys aren’t cops.” 

Grace peers into the misty night “What?” 

Cassie gestures more urgently “Those aren’t police uniforms, they’re dressed as cops but those aren’t real uniforms.” 

Grace frowns “How can you tell, I can barely see them.” 

“I work at a costume store, I’m telling you those are fake uniforms!  That’s not even a cop car, that’s a Corolla!” 

Grace thinks to herself, police detectives drive unmarked cars don’t they?  A detective could drive w Corolla.  And maybe the guys in uniforms are just putting Andrea into a detective’s car?  She thinks that there are probably plenty of other explanations other than a fake cop abduction.  But there’s no harm in finding out right?  Okay, there’s potentially a lot of harm but since when does that stop Grace? 

“What am I supposed to do?” Cassie yells after Grace as she cuts around the corner. 

“Call the real cops!” 

“They’re already here!” Cassie protests are Grace disappears into the night.   

Tailing a Corolla, even through city streets, on foot is not a winning proposition generally.  Good thing Grace is magic huh?  A finding spell means she knows where the car is even when she can’t see it.  She’s gotten pretty good at that.  A spell she learned from 42561 makes her quick as a cat and strong as a bigger cat, meaning that she can Run Lola Run herself all across the land.  Technically she doesn’t need to keep up with the Corolla because of the other spell I just mentioned but since a woman may have been abducted by two fake police officers she deems itprudent to keep them where she can see them.   

Prudence pays off (is that a show on the BBC?  Prudence Pays Off?  If not, it should be) when the Corolla turns, not into a police station, but into Black Hole Doughnuts. Setting aside any jokes about cops and doughnuts, what really changes the narrative is when one of the guys in maybe fake uniforms pulls Andrea out of the backseat by the arm and is clearly giving her instructions on the fine art of shutting the hell up.   

At this point Grace considers doing what she told Cassie to do, calling the real cops, but she worries that in that case she probably won’t figure out what’s going on.  And Grace is sick of magic stuff going down and then never finding out what the hell it was about.  So she doesn’t call.  Does that make her decision selfish and by extension make her a horrible person for potentially endangering Andrea’s life in the pursuit of this knowledge? Perhaps.   

Instead, Grace walks up to Black Hole Doughnuts just as the greasy pony-tailed teenager in the Black Hole Doughnuts apron turns the sign to CLOSED and locks the door.  Grace tries her malfunction spell on the lock but it doesn’t work because that spell is actually much more effective on complex machines and not so much on a simple deadbolt.  What can malfunction on a deadbolt?  Not much.  She solves that problem by hurling a rock a the glass door like Ken Patera at a McDonald’s restaurant in Waukesha.   Rock > Wizard > Muggle

The hurled rock and shattered glass flying through the air send Greasy Apron ducking and coveringlike a frightened lemur, but the guy behind the counter – who is not wearing an apron but rather an ill-fitting suit jacket over a stained white-collar shirt – reaches under the counter for a shotgun without missing a beat.  His hands look tiny as the points it at Grace, but she’s not sure if that’s because he really has small hands or because his giant melon of a head makes them seem smaller than they really are.  He growls at her to get out. 

Grace glances at the cowering kid on the floor “Yeah, I don’t think so.  You can shoot me right now without causing yourself some problems.  You can’t just shoot people.  This isn’t Arizona.” 

The man with the Barry Bonds Steroid head seems perplexed by this reaction, as well he might since people don’t generally stare down a gun like it’s no big deal, but after a moment a dim glimmer of recognition comes across his billboard of a face.   

“Hey . . . it’s you.  You’re her aren’t you?  You’re that bitch we stomped at the club.” 

Grace nods “Yes, it’s me, that bitch, in the flesh.  I’ve decided I want to join your group after all.  That’s why I’m here.  Where do I sign up?” 

Part 7 – Smile through your fear and sorrow (j/k that’s a terrible idea)

What Cassie can tell Grace about the ring is that it’s the wedding ring of Andrea’s sister.  You guys remember her right?  She was a police detective and she found out about magic and her husband died and she got transfer to work for a fake FBI division to keep her quiet and she had a hard time with that and eventually she killed herself as a sacrifice for a blood magic revenge ritual.  You remember?  It’s one of the three things (any by things I mean horrible deaths) that Grace feels responsible for that will end up destroying her if she doesn’t learn to live with them.  Guess what the other two are and win a free water pick! 

Grace never said the name of the detective because names are a weird thing in magic sometimes and she never knows who might be reading her blog.  But I don’t need to worry about that.  Her name was Mary Warner and what you may not remember (or maybe you do, how would I know?) is that that her downward slide got kicked off when her husband did some undercover work with a cult and found out about magic.   

Oh, I see, the female character can’t have her own arc, it’s all related to her husband, nice writing you patriarchal jerkass!  I think it’s okay, a male character with a dead wife as a motivator is a literature staple so flipping it the other way around is feminism?  Recreating the exact plots that have already been carried out by men is derivative, unoriginal, and lazy, if you want to be a feminist how about an original creative idea?  Can we just move on please? 

Mary’s husband Giulio got a more involved with magic than she realized.  Aside from stealing a magic rock that ultimately drove him insane he also enchanted her wedding ring to warn him/locate her if she was ever badly injured.  And all he had to do to make that happen was kill several horses.  Blood magic, ain’t it grand?  The magic in her ring was keyed to his own wedding ring and when he died (Mary implied to Grace that the Swede had him killed but actually he also took his own life) Mary started wearing his ring as well.  When she died both rings passed to Andrea and she took to wearing them on a necklace from time to time.   

One of those times Dale spotted it and decided that he needed to steal it to gain status with his black magic asshole pals, but here’s a little magic side effect, it can’t be taken and retain its powers, it must be freely given, so he couldn’t just snatch it.  Murder might work but Dale doesn’t have the cajones to find out for sure.  So Instead he’s putting the moves on Andrea.  Normally Andrea wouldn’t be receptive to the attention of a dirtbag like Dale but she’s having a hard time on account of her sister dying horribly and suddenly being in charge of an angry emotionally traumatized teenager.  Dale offered a shoulder to cry on and methamphetamine too.  It’s hard to say which will be more damaging to her in the long term.   

This seems like a lot of trouble for a pair of rings that are basically the world’s worst Apple Watch doesn’t it?  Well, here’s the thing about that.   Giulio didn’t know what he was doing.  Without someone to teach you magic is hard to get even mostly right.  In the olden days when there was enough loose magic in the world that people could occasionally pick it up on their own most of those people died in magical accidents six or seven spells in.  The margin for error is very slender.   

Giulio imbued the rings with way more magic than needed for a simple call/locate spell.  Way way more.  Not because of the horse slaughter but because of the magic rock he stole that drove him insane.  It’s like hooking up a nightlight to a nuclear reactor, it’s not doing much but it’s not because there isn’t a lot of juice there, it’s because it’s a stupid use of the power available.   I think that’s a good analogy.   

Anyway, Cassie doesn’t know all that, she just knows that Dale is after the ring, but now you do! 

Since the ring conversation is a short one Cassie shifts to another topic, namely her life being ruined, a favorite of teens the world over.  Grace’s response of “You’re only seventeen, your life hasn’t even started yet” falls on deaf ears, not because Grace is wrong and Cassie is 18, but because teenagers are notoriously short sighted.  I mean I guess also because Cassie magic murdered several people because she thought God told her to and gave her the means of so doing.  That’s going to take more to work through than a “things get better video”.   

When Cassie asks reasonably/unfairly how she’s supposed to be normal after having her faith destroyed and being a multiple times over murderer all Grace can think to say is “Uh . . . therapy?”  To which Cassie retorts that she used to go to therapy but he therapist wanted to have sex with her so she quit.  That’s not actually true but Cassie has trust issues, especially when it comes to men.  You know, for some reason.  Grace does think to herself that if you want guys not to have sex with you maybe don’t wear fishnets and a boob shirt, but she doesn’t say anything because she knows that’s not cool even though she thought it.   

If you asked Grace she would say that this little heart-to-heart at the Coffee Machine was an unmitigated disaster.  But as usual she’s selling herself short.  Getting a chance to talk about it was helpful for Cassie.  But that’s not all.  Grace thinks she failed because she has no answers, but the point is that she tries, she cares.  Often time there aren’t any answers, what matters is that someone shows up and tries.

When you think of a positive person you think of someone who’s kind of annoying.  Someone with a Dr. Seuss t-shirt and dumb catchphrases and inane aphorisms that don’t help jack shit.   People who say things like –  

  1. Just stay positive
  2. Don’t worry, everything will work out
  3. It’s all part of a bigger plan
  4. Look on the bright side
  5. Only good vibes allowed

Words that are about as helpful to a person struggling as picture of water is to someone on fire.  The people saying those things mean well but they usually cause the person they’re talking to feel more aliened and more disconnected.   

Grace positive person in a different way.  She doesn’t give up.  She keeps going.  She keeps trying.  She doesn’t say anything that magically makes Cassie “better” because there’s nothing you can say that’s going to fix everything.  But she’s there.  She’s showing that she cares.  That she wants Cassie to stop feeling horrible all the time.  Grace will never be a motivational speaker but she does a lot more than she realizes.   

And that’s not nothing.   

Part 6 – It’s a coffee break time

There’s no denying Grace is, at worst, a very good pro wrestler.  Actually I guess you can deny it since wrestling is a performance art so it’s objectively subjective, but if you ask me in being a good wrestler rests on three legs, much like a milking stool.  First leg of the stool you have the look.  How convincing are you just based on seeing you?  Are you memorable?  Or do people forget about you as soon as you’re gone?  Part of it is just the luck of the draw, genetics and so forth.   But you have to make an effort.  There’s a reason wrestlers have long hair and spray tans and big spiked shoulder pads.  Take Gangrel for instance.  Put that dude in a casual sweater and he looks like a middle school art teacher. Same dude with vampire teeth a puffy shirt and a goblet of fake blood?  That’s a wrestler.   

Grace has a good look.  She’s tall, which helps, being tall draws people’s eyes to you right off the bat.

Plus she’s lean and mean and not too far in-between if you catch my drift.  But that’s not all!  Grace doesn’t move like a normal person, she doesn’t stand like a normal person, she has a whole vibe that makes people think “whoa, what’s going on there?”  She sticks out in a crowd which is not great for her generally since she doesn’t like people gawking at her, but it’s what you want in a Look.   

Leg two we have mic work/charisma.  This is the most subjective of the three stool legs.  Does the Rock have a ton of charisma or is he an unbearable catch-phrase spouting chore?  Most people would say the first, others would say the second.  Subjectivity aside, the core of “wrestling charisma” is, can you get your point across, can you tell your story, and can you get a reaction?  If you asked Grace she would tell you she sucks at this but it’s actually the lever she’s best at pulling as a wrestler.   

She has physical charisma which overlaps some with the Look but it’s different for sure.  The Look draws the eye, but then what?  When she’s in the ring Grace is smooth as a hot buttered hammer buddy, you want to see what she’s going to do.  Grace learned early on that half the battle is just walking down to the ring.  When she comes out you get her entire deal right away – her disdain for the fans and for the whole event.  Grace isn’t a cool heel, she’s the heel that your grandma tried to hit with her walker at the Sportatorium back in the sixties.  You don’t just want Grace to lose, you want to see her get her ass kicked.   

As for Charisma-Charisma her crowd work is good to great, although she does tend to lean a little too hard on shock value/vicious mockery/snarky dickery.  There’s heeling and then there’s just being an asshole and sometimes Grace crosses that Dudley Boys threshold.  Probably because she more or less does hate the fans for really real and isn’t acting so much.  Her mic skills are good for the indy scene, and if given time and opportunity she could develop into an all-time great heel promo, but for now she does what she needs to do in the small scale.   

And the last milking stool leg – ringwork.  Pros, Grace is a safe worker.  I mean sure, she busted up two people bad enough they went to the emergency room but that wasn’t a work you know?  If there was another category for not getting pissed and shooting on someone she wouldn’t have a good ranking there, but Grace never hurts anyone she’s not trying to hurt.  She can bump and sell like nobody’s business and she’s good at making her shit look devastating with a light touch.  She’s great at getting heat and keeping the crowd involved.   

Cons – she’s not good at playing the monster heel.  Most women are smaller than Grace so she should work on top, but her instinct is to take a beating and sell the hell out of it.  This drives the old timers crazy.  Even worse is when she wrestles men that are bigger than her, because that really only works – in the sense of not making people feel icky – when the woman takes on the sympathetic babyface underdog role.  Grace has a hard time garnering sympathy because she doesn’t want sympathy.  There are wrestling fans out there who do want to see a woman get wailed on by a “hero” but we don’t want them at our shows.  Or on the planet.  And the final con is that Grace hasn’t gotten the hang of working with a partner, she gets lost in tag matches.   

But overall she’s good at wrestling.  Another thing she’s good at is magic.  But we’ve covered that in a post before and this has already gone on way too long.  This was all just to set up to say that one thing Grace is NOT good at is trying to connect with an angry teenage girl on a personal level.  Or connect with anyone really.  She needs to work on her soft skills. 

Grace and Cassie are not far from Andrea’s apartment at one of those coffee places that doesn’t look like it’s even a business.  It’s a huge old house with over-stacked bookshelves everywhere and little alcoves with giant overstuffed chairs where you can sit and gaze incomprehensibly at the rain-spattered window with a copy of Wuthering Heights open before you.  There’s an abundance of feelings and soft talking in this place.  This is not some wifi-hot spot bullshit where people sit at laptops to work on shitty short stories and crappy screenplays, this is where overwrought poetry is spoken and interpretive dance routines that challenge your idea of gender identity are bespoken.   

Until Cassie ordered a chai latte Grace thought they were in a library.  And where did that person she gave her order to come from?  Out of a secret door?  They were suddenly just there.   I mean there’s a cat lazing on a windowsill, is that even allowed in a place of business?  Where’s the health inspector?  Grace can’t get comfortable in her chair because she never stops feeling like she’s sinking further in – that sensation should last like a second tops, and that’s for a new chair.  Hence, she’s shifting around like she’s sitting on a cloud.   

“So uh . . . right . . . . uh . . . yeah . . . that guy with your mom . . .” 

Cassie glares at her with the threat/fragility/desperation possible only in your teen years “She’s not my mom.” 

Grace nods quickly “Yeah, right, your uh . . . what do I call her?  Your guardian?” 

Cassie snarks as only a teen can snark “You mean the woman that kidnapped me?  Her name is Andrea.” 

Grace clears her throat “Uh yeah, I suppose . . . that’s . . . uh . . . anyway . . . that guy with Andrea, he’s bad news . . . he . . . uh . . .” 

Cassie takes a drink of her tea and favors Grace with a level gaze “Dale is a fucking asshole.  He’s pretending to be interested in Andrea so he can steal her ring.  I’m sure it’s magic so that means that he’s magic too.” 

Grace thinks for a moment “Right.  He’s part of a group that my . . . associate and I were looking for . . . and . . . uh . . . well you see . . .” 

Cassie bites at the air angrily with her words “What do you want from me?  What the fuck are you doing here?” 

Grace shakes her head “I had no idea you were here, your, Andrea didn’t want me to talk to you.  I wanted to, after . . . what happened, but her sister told her . . .” 

“What happened that night?  Who are you?!” 

“I was protecting you.  I saved your life didn’t I?  Andrea’s sister asked me to help find you because . . . of what you were doing . . . I mean before that night, and I did that and you know what happened then . . . with you and Andrea.  But then Andrea’s sister got killed and she had told Andrea that if you were ever in trouble to contact me so when you were taken by that boy’s father she called me.” 

Cassie leans back sulkily “And so what, you’re like a witch or something?” 

“I can cast spells, real spells.  That’s how I found you for Andrea’s sister the detective and that’s how I sent a version of myself to help you that night.” 

“You mean astral projection?” 

“Not exactly.” 

“So do you have my book then?” 

Grace is wary “Yes.” 

Cassie glares at her resolutely “I want it back.” 

For the first time in this conversation Grace looks sure of herself “No.” 

They stare at each other for a moment, Cassie trying to look as hard as a teenage girl can – which isn’t going to faze Grace one iota.   

“So if you’re not here for me what are you here for?  Something to do with the ring?” 

“It’s . . . I have history with the people Dale is . . . with.  I was looking for them for something else, I don’t know about a ring, I didn’t know that you and Andrea were involved with them.  Maybe there’s more going on here than I know.  What I know is that every time I’ve been around an object with magic power really bad shit happens.  What can you tell me about this ring?” 

Part 5 – Amazed and confused

Grace grabs Huddie’s arm to prevent more fire-throwing even though she knows that’s not how magic works (although kind of it is) and is heard to remark “Jesus Christ, what the hell are you doing?!”

Huddie tries to pull free of her grasp but is surprised by how strong Grace is, also that she doesn’t just let go.  That’s never happened to Huddie before.  He’s lived a long while and in his experience usually when people grab you it’s just for show, they let go as soon as you resist.  The fact that Grace holds on confuses him more than anything. 

Cassie for her part is confused about how she ended up on the ground, the wet hard ground.  She knows about magic so she’s not confused about the fireball, and she knows that her fake mom’s boyfriend is an asshole so she’s not confused why someone would try to kill him.  But how did she end up on the ground?  Did she flinch away from the fire and get tangled up in her artfully dangling suspenders and fall?  Did someone knock her down?  Who was close enough to do that?  And why?  Were they trying to protect her?

Andrea for her part is confused by everything.  She was already confused, just generally, because she’s dealing with some stuff you know?  And then she goes outside and everyone is yelling and there’s people she doesn’t know talking to her “daughter” and Dale is mad and everyone is mad and she can’t follow the conversation and then there’s a big wall of fire coming her way like in an action movie?  How’s she supposed to deal with that?  You know, without help.  You know, help.  Why can’t Dale give her any more today?  That’s what she’s most confused about.

Dale is confused too but more than that he’s afraid.  He doesn’t like the look of Grace at all.  And he certainly does like the way she’s not afraid of him.  At first he was afraid that Huddie was in the car but then he decided that it couldn’t be Huddie because why would Huddie be at his girlfriend’s (well not girlfriend really, woman he’s gaslighting is more accurate) apartment?  And why would he be with some weird woman? 

But then the man got out of the car and Dale changed his mind and thought that it was Huddie.  And he’s afraid of Huddie but he’s more afraid of UBM because if Huddie is here then there must be something going on right?  Did UBM tell Dale to kill Huddie and he forgot somehow or missed the message?  And if he did what does that mean?  They only send wannabies and chumps to kill Huddie because he always kills them instead.  Did he do something to piss off UBM?  He is out of the circle?

Huddie starts to cast another spell and Grace grapples him with him to break his concentration, once again asking her unanswered question “What the hell are you doing?”

Huddie gestures furiously “He has a piece!”

“A piece of what?” Grace thinks as her window on her car explodes and Huddie ducks for cover because he thinks that Dale is shooting at them.  Grace doesn’t flinch, not because she’s so cool under fire that bullets don’t scare her but because she saw a chunk of loose asphalt hit the window, thrown up by the panicky driver of the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse 4X4 that’s been waiting for room to get by and out of all this craziness.  The driver’s name is Dionisia, which sounds like a better Black Magic name than UBM, who is just as confused by what’s going on as everyone else.  When she gets home and tells her husband about this he’ll speculate that a gas main exploded and ask when she’s going to make dinner even though he’s been home for an hour.

Grace takes a few steps towards Dale and he does at this point go for the piece in his waistband that he flashed at Huddie when he trying to scare him.  But Dale’s in such a damn hurry to get the gun that he manages to Plaxico Burress himself, which is not bad considering where he had his gun and the good possibility of shooting his own nuts off.  Dale grunts, jerks back like someone threw a cup of hot coffee in his face and then drags Andrea backwards into the apartment building by the arm.

Grace turns back to see her Rav4 pulling away with both doors flopping shut and Huddie behind the wheel.  She glances at the keys in her hand, remembers that Huddie is magic too and casts her malfunction spell at the rapidly accelerating car.  Since the poor Rav4 is already woven with Grace’s sustained spell to keep it running, and is also under the influence of Huddie’s spell to make it start up without the key adding a third spell into the mix causes a real problem.  The car starts to die and then Huddie throws some more juice into another spell to counteract Grace’s spell and it revs wildly before the entire engine seizes up and bricks like an iPhone with the date sent to January 1, 1970.

The Rav4 mournfully rolls through a stop-sign at the end of the block where it gets rammed by a 2012 Audi Q5 3.2 Premium Plus that may be going as much as 12 MPHs.  Huddie parkours out the passenger side window and runs off into the dreary night as the driver of the other vehicle looks up from their cellphone telephone and does the universal gesture that often happens in car accidents for “What the heck?!” at no one. 

As police sirens approach from the south and west Grace walks over to Cassie, who hasn’t managed to get off the ground yet, and holds out a helping hand. 

“Uh, yeah . . . . so . . . uh . . . like I said . . . before . . . my name is Grace.  We haven’t actually met before . . . you did . . . um . . . see me once . . . but uh . . . is there someplace we can talk?”

Interlude – A little night music

Imagine that it’s dusk and a light rain is falling.  You’re in your nice apartment that you kind of can’t afford but you’re making it work.  You’ve had a hard day at your job – most likely as a cashier or food prepper or janitor or bartender or server, which are the five most common jobs in America.  But you had some nice stir-fry with your partner and you two have been getting along lately and you have an hour to watch some Netflix before you have to go to bed so you can wake up so you can cashier or food prep or janitor or bartender or server all over again.  And it’s almost Friday and you have to go to a thing on Saturday you don’t really want to do but it’s better than work.  And at least you have Sunday free.

Then while you’re trying to remember what happened on the last episode of 3% you watched and fiddling with the remote you hear a kerfuffle outside!  Someone is shouting.  And then more someones are shouting.  You sigh hope that it stops on its own in the next five minutes because, come on man I just want to watch my show.  But it doesn’t stop in the next five minutes.  Or the five minutes after that.  So finally you sigh again and you head to the window and look out.

That weird girl that dresses like a zombie hooker is standing by an old crappy car across the street and she’s yelling at someone in the car.  That douchey out of work roadie looking guy that’s been hanging around lately is on your side of the street yelling at zombie girl to come back inside.  And the lady from the next building over that used to look like she had her shit together and went jogging every morning but now wears a hoodie all the time and looks like she doesn’t shower is trying to calm the guy down.  But she’s doing it in that way that makes you feel uncomfortable because she’s being super careful in that way that women do who get hit.

And then there’s another guy on the other side of the car you can’t even figure out what he looks like – maybe like a TV sitcom writer’s idea of a cool hipster – who’s smiling in a shitty way and sometimes yelling stuff back at the first guy.  And now you’re afraid because this looks like it’s not going to let up any time soon and you’re worried not only that you won’t get to watch Netflix but that you’re not going to able to get to sleep on time with all that racket. 

And you have a hard enough time falling asleep as it is!  And you really need a good night’s sleep tonight because you were up late on Monday night and then your mom called on Wednesday and so you didn’t sleep good that night and you have a big day tomorrow at the place where you cashier or food prep or janitor or your bartender or server because of whatever thing happens at that job once a month that makes it really suck instead of mostly being okay.  Inventory maybe. 

So you think “I’m going to call the cops” because you pay taxes and you live in a nice neighborhood where the cops will come if you call and tell them people are shouting out on the street.  They’ll come pretty fast too, top notch response time where you live.  You’re not sure how to call them exactly because you don’t want to be one of those people who calls 911 emergency for a non-emergency but you’ll Google it once you find your phone. 

You could have sworn that you plugged your phone in to charge but you partner’s phone is there charging instead.  You think about asking your partner where your phone is because you’re pretty sure that they unplugged your phone even though you know they know that you hate when they do that but you don’t because you know that if ask that’s going to be a “thing” and you guys are getting along pretty well right now so you don’t want a “thing”.  You’re getting along so well right now that you’re wondering if you should get married maybe, even though you also thinking about breaking up with them. 

So you’re looking for your phone when glance back out the window and now there’s another woman out there who reminds you of like your high school gym teacher and track coach, only even more severe looking and bitchy and everyone else is out in the middle of the street now and there’s a car with the headlights on trying to get by them and lighting them up like they’re on stage.  And then you see fire!  Not fire like a lighter, but a big plume of flame like you’ve never seen before.  Actually you have once, in that Saving Private Ryan movie when the guy used a flamethrower on the Nazi bunker. 

It’s so bright that you see stars for a second.  You wonder “where did that come from?”  What the hell happened?  But weirdly you don’t think about calling the cops anymore.   When it was just some people shouting you were fine getting the cops down there.  But if someone has a flamethrower?  That’s not anything you want to get involved with.  You wonder why you don’t want to call the police now that you know something really bad is happening down there when you were going to call them when there wasn’t anything going on but shouting.  But you don’t.

Your partner comes in wearing an old baggy t-shirt that you’ve never seen before but it’s not a new t-shirt and you’ve been together a while so why haven’t you ever seen it before?  You live together.  How could you not have not ever seen that shirt before?  In the laundry if nothing else.  And your partner asks you what’s going on.  And you tell them “nothing, just some people yelling”.  You don’t say anything about seeing a spout of flame like the dragon on House of the Dragon. 

And then before they can say anything else you say “Hey, are you in the mood for sex?”  And they give you a weird look and say “tonight?” because you just had sex on Tuesday because Tuesday  night is the night you usually have sex because that’s the night that usually neither of you have to work late and there’s nothing else regular on the schedule.   And you say “Yeah, I’m just kind of in the mood for sex, but if you don’t want to that’s fine.” 

They ask you why and you say no reason but it creates kind of an uncomfortable vibe because you feel like they’re accusing you of something or that you did something wrong by asking, but then a few minutes later you’re having sex.  And it’s fine, but even though you suggested it you’re not really in the moment.  You’re not sure why you even suggested it in the first place. 

Image you’re that person.  How long after you’re done having sex do you wait to go back and check the window?

Part 4 – It’s hard to tell laughing and crying apart without sound

Grace and Huddie are in her Rav4 outside a much nicer apartment building.  Grace has a momentary flashback to being one a similar stake-out with Christie Lane – lurking outside an apartment building on a raining night.  Nothing much looks the same, and Huddie isn’t telling bad jokes, but it’s enough to evoke a sad feeling of regret.  Grace would consider this reminder an ill omen if she believed in that kind of thing.  Although she did save the world in end of that Christie Lane deal.  It just didn’t work out so good for Christie Lane.

After a long moment of awkward silence Grace is about to ask Huddie who they’re supposed to be watching for when she notices that someone is standing by her side of the car staring in at her through the rain-spotted window, someone who goes to the trouble of wiping at the rain with their sleeve to try and see better.  It doesn’t work very well but that’s how much they want to see inside.

Are goths still a thing?  Or did Portlandia and NCIS put an end to that sub-culture?  Is it still around and called something else now?  The window wiper is a young woman wearing a choker with a cluster of silver skull charms, a shiny black shirt with a mesh-boob window in the shape of a cross, a fake leather jacket, suspenders hanging by her knees, chunky metal jewelry.  She sports jet black hair hanging soddenly down past her short ribs.  If she’s not a goth what is she?  I suppose she could be a mime based on her make-up, although I’ve never seen a mime with runny mascara.  Then again I’ve never seen a mime in the rain, I’ve only seen one pantomime being in the rain.

It takes a moment for Grace to realize that the maybe Goth staring in at her is Cassie.  Partially that’s because Grace never clapped eyes on Cassie before in real life, only a few pictures from the social media.  She sort of saw her through the eyes of her fetch but she was dying at the time so it wasn’t a good look either.  That’s part of it.  But the bulk of the reason it takes her a moment to recognize Cassie is due to the fact that she used to be a blonde who dressed like the music director at a Christian youth camp, most likely because she was the music director at a Christian youth camp. 

You guys remember Cassie right?  She’s the one who was given a book of death spells by God Himself because He wanted her to keep the world safe for dedication and true love by killing her fuck boy ex and various Spring Break sluts that were running around tempting good Christian boys into . . . uh, temptation.  Oh, and also her parents.  And a handsy youth minister.  That’s a lot of murders now that I list them all out here.  I’m not sure she should be running around free even after Grace took away that magic book. 

Grace hasn’t been able to continue stalking her online because after the incident where the father of the ex-boyfriend that Cassie murdered kidnapped and was getting up the nerve to revenge murder her back because of said murder Cassie decided that she would stay off social media for a while.  Which is really something for a person of her age.  Most of them would rather just get murdered than quit social media. 

Anyway, that’s why Grace wasn’t aware of Cassie’s nu-Goth transformation, which is clearly a cry for attention.  In Cassie’s case right here I mean, I am not trying to imply in any way that the Goth subculture only exists as a symptom of childish impulses for attention.  I don’t want to demean the Goth subculture if it still exists.  

Cassie starts wiping at the window more frantically and uselessly with her fake leather sleeve “It’s you . . . you were there . . . you’re her!  You were there that night.  It’s you!”  She starts slamming her palms on the window awkwardly “You were there!  Who are you?!  What happened?!  What happened?!”

Huddie gives Grace a smarmy look “Friend of yours?”

Grace waves at him to shut up and rolls down the window, and I mean that literally, there’s a crank she turns.  If anyone reading this is younger that’s how windows used to work, there was no button, you had to turn a lever by hand to roll down the window.  Which is where the term “roll down” comes from in terms of windows.

Grace winces as a young raindrop comes in the window and hits her in the eye “Hey . . . Cassie right?  Uh. . . . we’ve never met actually . . . but . . . uh . . . I was there that night . . . sort of . . .”

Cassie gapes at her like someone who’s come across a crashed alien spacecraft “Who are you?  What were you doing there?  What are doing here?!  Where did you go?  What happened that night?  Who are you?!”

“Uh . . . your . . . uh . . . stepmom?  Didn’t tell you anything?”  Grace puts her hand out the window awkwardly for a shake which Cassie ignores “My name is Grace . . . and . . . uh . . . see . . . what happened . . . uh . . . you remember . . . uh . . .”

“Cassie who are you talking to?!”

This shout comes from a newcomer across the street coming out of the apartment building.  You know when there’s a “boy band” and one of five to eight dudes in the “band” looks like he’s a “boy” in his thirties?  The shouting guy looks like that guy fifteen years after the group breaks up.  He looks like the kind of guy that somehow manages to makes a living off owning a seasonal Halloween shop.  He looks like the kind of guy who never served in the military but kind of implies that he did.  He looks like the kind of guy who doesn’t sell meth to kids at the local community college but he knows the guy that does.  They’re in the same fantasy football league.  Is that even still a thing now that sports betting is legal? 

Cassie ignores this shout like she doesn’t hear it but Huddie nods at the newcomer “That’s the guy you’re looking for.  I guess the stake-out is blown.”

Part 3 – Remember when Obi-Won told Luke to give up and get a real job?

One thing about Grace is that she never lets anyone drive her anywhere if she can help it.  The key is to stay mobile.  If someone drives you somewhere then you’re at their mercy unless you steal their keys, which can be difficult to do quickly if you need to flee.  It’s not good for the environment to always take your own car but Grace figures old Mother Nature can take one more for the team at this point.

As she follows Huddie reflects on the fact that this may be the first time had a better car than anyone in this situation.  Huddie’s 2005 Ford Freestyle looks like if he parks it anywhere for too long the department of sanitation will haul it away.  It looks like it was in a junkyard Huddie bought it after it was crushed in the car-crusher and then he did his level best to straighted it out with one of this little hammers with a pink handle in tool kits for ladies.  She assumes that he must also use magic to keep his POS running.  She figures there’s no way that thing can run on its own.

The apartment building they drive to is nicer than his car, but it’s still the kind the kind of place that you expect to see cars like it parked.  When you see an old apartment building that has maybe a dozen units in it and you see more than 12 people hanging around outside, even when it’s not nice out, that’s when you know that it’s not a great place to live.  Because that indicates that being outside loitering is better than being in your apartment.  As they both approach the entrance Grace looks up at the speckled façade that was probably nice in the 1960s.

“Is this where they store victims or does one of them live here?”

Huddie frowns “This is where I live.”

Grace raises her voice enough to startled an edgy pack of smokers nearby “Why the fuck are you taking me to your apartment?”

Huddie gestures tiredly “Just come on will you?”

“There’s a solid argument.”

Despite this she follows him into the little foyer anyway.  Its home to a corkboard covered with take-out menus and flyers for rest homes.  She follows him up the soggy wood stairs that have ragged 70’s carpet in a skunk-stripe down the middle leaving the sides nude, and through a hallway on the third floor that reminds her startlingly of the place that might be another dimension where the stand-up comedian was banishing his victims, to an apartment that somehow manages to be stark and bare yet messy at the same time. 

Huddie flops down in a worn La-Z-Boy and picks up the remnants of a warm beer “Whatever you’re doing Grace, give up, that’s my advice.”

Grace isn’t much of an eye roller or a sigher but she does look at him the way a dog owner looks at their pup when they find them digging in the trash with a Stouffer’s Family Size Lasagna box on their head.

“Could you please take the world weary act down twenty percent for me?  I am tired of every magic man I meet being a sour patch kid.  All the women seem to be fine, well not fine, they’re messed up in other ways, but they don’t act like being miraculously gifted the ability to able to reshape reality has made them clinically depressed.”

Huddie, being a champion sigher sighs a mighty sigh “You see that toilet paper tube on the table?  I cast a spell that so you can look through it and see a long way away.  It took me twenty years to learn how to cast that spell.  You know what takes five minutes?  Going to the dollar store and buying a little toy telescope.  Works better too.  Magic is unnecessary in the modern world Grace, happened sometime in the fifties sometime I think.  Not only that magic is also unseemly.  Which is bad enough, but it also makes people want to murder you, so yeah, my advice is to give up.”

Grace examines the cardboard tube gingerly “So what you’re saying is that you don’t want to be my mentor and teach me all you know?”

Huddie manages the ghost of a smile “I’ve had apprentices before, once or twice, long time ago, it was fine except the girls always ended up falling in love with me.  That gets very messy.”

Grace smiled back every slightly more brightly “No chance of that here I guarantee.”

Huddie sighs again “That’s what they said too.”

Grace drops the magic tube and shrugs “Oh well, I guess I’ll have to keep muddling through my magical journey on my own.  So are you going to tell me where the Havana people are or did you just want to show me your enchanted garbage?”

“That’s cardboard Grace, it’s not garbage, it goes in the recycling.  I feel like we may just go around in circles here.  Tell me why you want to know about them first and then maybe I’ll tell you where they are now.”

Grace gestures in a faux conciliatory manner “It’s like you said, I’m looking for someone they kidnapped.  A friend of mine.”

“What’s her name?  What does she look like?  I can probably help you with that.” Grace pauses for just a second, but long enough for Huddie to jump in “You’re a terrible liar Grace.”

“You didn’t even give me a chance to lie.”

“I know a thing or two about liars.  You live as long as I have and . . .”

Grace holds her hand up “I don’t need your sad life story with loves lost and mistakes made, I get it, you’ve been around the block.  I just need some information.  If you’re not going to give it to me quit wasting my time.”  For a moment no one spoke “This is the part where you give a world weary sigh and then tell me where they are and then say how I’m making a mistake whatever I’m doing.”

Huddie looks at the beer bottle for a moment and then drops it carelessly on the floor “You’re kind of a bitch you know that?”

“So they tell me on Twitter every day.”

Part 2 – It’s always sunny at Denny’s

Grace would be the first one to tell you that she’s no looker.  Actually, that’s not true, a lot of people would line up to tell you that before she would.  But she wouldn’t deny it is the point.  Actually she might deny it because people lining up to tell you you’re not very attractive is a dick move and Grace doesn’t mind popping off when people are being dicks.  You know what I mean.   

She’s too tall of course, women are meant to be tiny and elfin so men can feel like they can slap them down – even if they never would actually do, it still makes them feel better to know that they could slap them down.  Even though they never would.  She’s far too muscular, women are supposed to be soft and spongy so you can pile babies on them like a bean bag chair.  Why would a woman ever need muscles?   Her face is too sour (why don’t you smile sweetheart?) her hair too short and cut with kitchen scissors, her figure too severe, she can’t dress with a damn, etc.  And that’s before you get to the scars.  The burns.  The wounds.  The weird black skin blemishes you get from being touched by evil magic.

I forgot where I was going with that.  Oh, right, I was going to say that Grace is not looking her best right now and then I got into a whole thing about how her best isn’t . . . well anyway, we shouldn’t judge people based on how they look, but the point is that at the moment she looks like she was on the run from the sheriff and his posse for three days in the deserts of 1800s Arizona.  But it’s nothing that can’t be fixed up by a trip to Denny’s.   

After some chocolate chip cookie dough pancakes, a Grand Slamwich, a loaded veggie omelet, a couple potato bacon bombs, and a milkshake or three she’ll be right as rain.  Huddie for this part seems to be fine, as fine as he ever looks anyway.  He’s managed to find a shirt and this one even has sleeves on it.  As people often do when they watch Grace inhale breakfast foods he watches in a combination of horror and admiration.   

Grace eyes him suspiciously “All you’re having is coffee?” 

Huddie taps a knuckle on his coffee cup “I had a buffalo chicken salad last week so this should hold me for a while.” 

Grace rolls her eyes “Hilarious.” 

Huddie isn’t joking, he doesn’t eat much anymore, side effect of being an old wizened magic man but he doesn’t mention this “You can really pack it away huh?” 

Grace snorts “Fuck you.” 

Huddie raises and eyebrow “Is that any way to talk to someone who saved your life?  Well, not your life exactly, but saved you from fate worse . . . you know, saved you from magic stuff.” 

“Is that what you did?” Grace jabs her fork for emphasis “Are you trying to tell me that Lance or Kevin or whatever his name is just happened to contact a PI that’s also magic?” 

Huddie leans back in his booth with a squeeze of Denny’s pleather “I’m not a private investigator I just find people for money sometimes.” 

“That sounds like a PI to me.” 

“Yeah, but I don’t have a license or anything so keep it under your hat.  I don’t need the IRS coming after me.  I don’t know how to tail people or interrogate them or whatever a private investigator actually does for a job, I just cast a spell and find people that way.”  At this admission Grace chokes for a moment and almost spits food across the table, which Huddie seems to find vaguely amusing “You okay over there?” 

Grace takes a pull off her strawberry breakfast shake and then a longer drink of water when she stops sputtering “Yeah, I’m just not used to anyone talking about magic freely.” 

Huddie shrugs “My theory is no one will believe me. And if they hear anyway they’ll just think I’m crazy.” 

Grace nods “I use that same method.” 

Huddie’s voice is somewhat smug “All those guys out there are taking such great pains to keep it a secret and I don’t think it matters.  No one is listening or paying attention.  And if they were they wouldn’t care” 

Grace nods again, absently this time as hacks at her pancake stack “Yeah, I mean except probably the FBI magic guys.” 

Huddie’s eyes widen in alarm “What’s that now?” 

Grace tries to sound casual “We can talk about that later.  So I’m looking for some black mages that had a club in Havana . . .” 

Huddie makes a very unmanly exasperated noise “We already talked about this.” 

Grace responds with an annoyed face to his noise “Yeah but I don’t remember talking about it, that’s why you had to hold me underwater and fingerbang me with your magic hand or whatever you did.” 

Huddie’s face goes radish red and he looks around in shock to see if anyone heard “That’s not what I did, I told you that I just . . .” 

Grace makes a hurry up motion with her non-fork hand “Whatever, get to the black mages.” 

Huddie frowns slightly “Can we not call them black mages, that makes it sound like we’re talking about people of color and I don’t want anyone to get the impression that . . .” 

Grace makes another exasperated noise “Fine, the Havana Social Club, what do you know about them?” 

“I know, as you do, that their magic is powered by breaking people down and getting off on their suffering.  That’s why they like people with drug problems, take the drugs away and they suffer, then give them more drugs before they dry out and keep the cycle going.”

“If we both know that why are you saying it?”

Because once in a while those people have loved ones that pay me to find them and bring them home.  I also know that some of the mages went out west for a quote unquote big project and once they came back said that someone who sounded like you fucked it up for them.  I know that occasionally they send some of their wannabies to try and grab me so they can steal my magic essence like Gargamel, I just killed two of them just last week.” Huddie claps his hands together “Whammo, fireball, and there’s too less assholes in the world.” 

This time its Grace’s turn to blanch and look around “Jesus, you’re worried about people thinking you’re a racist and you just boldly announce a double murder?” 

Huddie smiles “If you say something racist people believe you’re a racist, that’s believable.  You say you killed someone nobody thinks that you’re a killer, they think you’re joking around.  And it wasn’t murder, it was self-defense.” 

“Murder in self-defense is still murder, it’s just legally justified.” 

“Not legally.  Wait, what?” 

“Huh?” 

Huddie has a look of confusion “I thought you said . . . well . . . just . . . nevermind.  I have a history with them, I know a lot about them, what you never told me is why you’re interested in them.  That’s what we were going to talk about when I showed up and you were all fucked out on dark magic meth.  Are you looking for someone that they grabbed?” 

Grace shook her head “How many of them do you know individually, know their names and where they might be?” 

Huddie pauses for a moment “That’s a weird question.  How about you tell me what you’re after here.” 

Grace chews for a while before answering “Remains to be seen.” 

Part 1 – What you don’t know absolutely will hurt you. Bad.

Grace wakes up shivering.  Because she’s in cold water.  Because she’s in the bathtub in a motel room she doesn’t remember checking into in a city she doesn’t remember driving to.  This is not how she likes waking up.  She’s not alone in the bathroom.   Sprawled out sitting on the toilet like an old geezer who’s fallen sleep in a recliner watching Wheel of Fortune, was a not old man in skinny jeans and no shirt.

Grace doesn’t like this either, although she vaguely recalls asking him to be there.  She isn’t sure which feature of that bare chest she likes least, its scrawniness, the weird scattering of uneven hair patches, or the mish-mash of stupid tattoos; magic symbols, corny quotes, crude cave-painting style animals, and Chiquita banana doing obscene things with Colonel Sanders.   

Grace remembers that he said his name is Huddie, which is impossible because Huddie isn’t a name.  It’s not even a nickname.  What would that be a nickname for?  Hudbert?  That’s not a name either.  Grace splashes to her feet out of the chilly water and grabs a towel with one hand.  She starts doing just a terrible job of drying herself off because she grabbed an open beer out of the sink with the other hand and drying yourself off is normally a job for two hands.  Plus when you’re wearing a sopping wet Offspring t-shirt from the clearance rack at Wal-Mart you’re not going to make a lot of headway regardless of how many hands you employ.   

Huddie blinks himself awake “Oh, you’re up, how do you feel?” 

Grace drains the dregs of the beer before answering “What happened?” 

Huddie holds a hand up with a half-smirk “Don’t get your panties in a bunch, I just took my shirt off so it wouldn’t get wet.” 

Grace looks down at him “I’m not wearing panties chief.” 

Huddie raises an eyebrow “I noticed, Bulk Underpants Outlet?  What is that?” 

“It’s pretty obvious by name I’d say, I don’t give a shit about your shirt buddy, what happened to me?  Why am I in here?” 

Huddie reaches for a beer and sadly finds only empties left in the sink “Water is very symbolic, rebirth and cleansing and renewal and shit like that, even the Christians use it, you know for baptisms and other thing, it helps with stuff like this.” 

Grace steps out of the tub, dripping water everywhere, and twirls the now drenched towel into a rope-like shape just in case she needs something to choke Huddie with “Stuff like what?  I don’t remember shit, so how about you give me the whole story at once instead of puking it out in drips and drabs.” 

Huddie finally lurches to his feet and starts collecting empty beer bottles “The long and the short of it is that you got some black magic mojo on you and since you’re not a black magic person it was messing you up.” He pauses and looks at Grace seriously “You were very far away Grace.  I almost wasn’t able to yank you back.  You were almost out of reach.  You need to be more careful.” 

Grace prods him out of the bathroom and follows behind him, padding wetly over to the poorly made rattan chair.  It creaks as she sits, and squishes with her wet clothes.  I hate that wet clothing sound squish.  More than wet clothes maybe.   

“Why didn’t my wards protect me?” 

Huddie moves to sit on the bed and then stops and leans against the wall when Grace glares at him and flicks her hand back in a “stay away” gesture.

“Your wards are good.  But they’re for spells, curses, and ritual magics, they don’t offer protection against pollution like you experienced.” He cocked his head and frowned slightly “Surely you know that.” 

Grace looks at him for a moment and then kicks at the nightstand sourly, making the cheap lamp rattle “Buddy, what I don’t know could fill the Bible in there.”