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The next day, Iris had a house to clean, so she gathered her supplies, put on her cleaning outfit, and caught the bus to the other side of town. She didn't find cleaning particularly moving. It wasn't her life's passion, but she liked it okay. It was flexible, she could set her own hours, and it didn't require intense concentration or heavy thought. She usually wore headphones and listened to heavy metal tapes while she straightened up and scrubbed bathtubs.
That day, she brought a Mischief tape. She had always really liked Mischief, ever since their debut album had come out a few years ago. Today, she brought their sophomore effort, "Bent on Destruction," to listen to. She'd always thought Mischief was a solid band. They had good, hard rhythms, catchy melodies, and loud, screaming guitar solos. Also, there was a technical undercurrent she admired. The songs seemed simple on the surface, but the band wove complicated harmonies and hidden countermelodies into their music. Mischief appealed to the musician in her as well as the part of her that just wanted solid entertainment. They were a damned good band.
Listening to them that morning confirmed all her earlier impressions. She liked Mischief. But were they too good to be true? They weren't out-of-this-world good, although their sales had broken records. They were very popular, especially for a metal band. The fact that they were a metal band was one of the things that didn't make sense to her if she took Billy Jordan at his word. If Mischief really was made up of pixies who wanted to destroy the world, why had they decided to make a metal band? Why not pop or dance or soft rock? Heavy metal bands were popular, but only to a segment of the population. Other styles had universal appeal. What kind of influence did they hope to have?
And anyway, if they were going to raise an ancient evil to devour the human race, why bother with impersonating a band at all? The whole thing was ridiculous. Billy hadn't even seemed that upset about it. Maybe he really was pixie police. Of course, if that were true, why hadn't he killed her already? Maybe he was an honest cop and was waiting for a court order. Except that didn't make sense. He'd had plenty of time to get a court order. And she wasn't dead yet. So he probably wasn't a cop then.
Hadn't he said something about a sacrifice? Maybe all of Mischief's albums contained a hidden magical directive that would make all their fans commit suicide on a certain day. But then, still, why bother with the damned band? They could just as easily make random phone calls containing the same message. She didn't know if magic worked over a distance. She didn't think it did. PSAs always said to get as far away as possible if you suspected someone was using magic against you. Her magic only worked when she was up close and personal. On top of that, she didn't think that pixies were even strong enough magically to make people kill themselves.
So . . . not in the albums, then. What was this sacrifice? Billy had said it was huge. Was it a human sacrifice? A bunch of people? Like at a concert? That kind of made sense. A huge concert. Tons of people would be there for the monster thing to eat. And the biggest concert of Mischief's tour would be at the stadium outside the city. Shit. That was in a little over two weeks. If they were planning to do the sacrifice at the concert . . .
This was silly. Mischief wasn't made up of pixies. No way, no how. She didn't believe it. On the other hand, if it were true, and she knew about it, and she did nothing to stop it . . .
Not that she could stop pixies anyway. Billy was right about that. The pixies were far too powerful for her to be able to even annoy them. But there had to be somebody strong enough to do it, and she had to tell him or her about it. At the very least, she should do that. On her way back from cleaning, she got off the bus a few stops early and found a pay phone. She didn't want to call too close to her house. This was close enough to walk home, but not so close that they would be able to find her home. She hoped. Picking up the phone, she dialed the number she'd heard countless times on PSAs. "If you suspect you or someone you know is a victim of magic use, call the Magic Management Hotline."
Someone picked up immediately. "Magic Management, is this an emergency call?"
"Um . . ." Iris thought. "I don't know."
"Is there immediate danger to you or surrounding persons?"
Saxophones played the latest Michael Bolton song. Iris gritted her teeth. Why was hold music always so horrible? Finally another operator picked up.
"Magic Management. How may I help you?"
"I'd like to report . . . um . . ." How should she word this?
"Have you or has someone you know been a recent victim of magic?"
"Do you suspect magic or magical creatures are in a position to victimize someone in the future?"
"Yes." These operators were good. They knew just the right questions to ask. "The members of the rock band Mischief might be pixies."
Silence. Then, "Young lady, this hotline is used for a very serious purpose. People are in real danger, and you are tying up the line with your prank."
"It's not a prank—"
But the connection had been severed. Iris took the phone away from her ear and glared at it. She hung it up. Well, that hadn't gone very well.
She left the phone booth and trudged home. If the pixie police wouldn't help, then who would? Certainly, the magical world had to have some way of keeping its own in line. Billy had said that only a few pixies wanted humans dead, so that must mean that most of them wanted humans to stay alive. Why hadn't Billy gone to other pixies in the first place? She wanted to talk to him, but, annoyingly, she'd only given him her number. She hadn't gotten his. She'd just have to wait. He'd call her.
Billy Jordan was drunk. He'd been sitting in the corner of Finnegan's for hours, watching wave after wave of bar goers come and leave. He'd been there for the afternoon crowd, the happy hour crowd, for the relatively slow period between happy hour and the evening crowd, and now some of the evening crowd was on its way out. He'd been drinking the entire time, and now, emboldened by glass after glass of alcohol, he was thinking about calling Iris Tanner. Not so much because he wanted to talk to her about pixies and destruction. More because he wanted to ask Iris out. She was fucking gorgeous. There was no getting around that. And she'd given him her phone number, which would have been an excellent sign, except she hadn't given it to him under the right circumstances. Still, she might say yes if he did. He didn't think ghouls got much in the way of dates.
But if he asked her out, she'd probably go back to her previous assumption that he was an obsessed stalker type. He wasn't. Billy didn't go after girls. He pursued them briefly, evaluated them, and, when they generally weren't up to his standards, he broke it off. He'd had one serious relationship in his life—five years with a fellow witch. That hadn't worked out because of Kei.
Billy had been what was referred to as a "pet witch." That meant he got his power from one daion only. Some witches, like his ex-girlfriend Jaq, were "gatherer witches" which meant they drew their power by gathering leftover magic from daions. Because daions were magical creatures, their very existence created magic. Some of it they used, but some of it was released—kind of a magical surplus. If one knew the right places and times, there were ways to collect the leftover power for use. That was what Jaq did.
Billy, on the other hand, was imbued with power by Kei. He got not only her leftover power, but power she gave him intentionally. Pet witches were far more powerful than gatherers. More witches didn't become pets because of the loss of freedom and inextricable connection to one's master daion. Billy had managed to sidestep the disadvantages for the most part. He'd never quite bonded with Kei the way most pet witches did. He didn't know if it was because he was so independent or if it was because Kei was so cold. Maybe it was a little of both. Now that he didn't have the power of Kei, he'd considered studying to be a gatherer witch, but with the imminent destruction of the human race looming, there didn't seem much point.
Besides, he didn't know any other gatherer witches besides Jaq, and he didn't suppose Jaq would speak to him ever again. Not after what Kei had done to her.
Kei had never liked humans. The only reason she'd ever taken Billy as a pet was to save her own life. Billy had tried to turn Kei into pixie dust. Barely post-adolescent and brimming with entrepreneurial fervor, Billy figured that selling pixie dust was a great business idea. For one thing, there were next to no start-up costs. He didn't have to buy pixies, just catch them. Sure pixies would try their damnedest to make him stop killing them, using all kinds of illusions, but he just had to remember that they were just illusions and to keep at it. So that was what Billy did. If the pixie made it look like his house was burning down, Billy ignored it and kept stabbing the pixie. If the pixie made herself look like she was really a defenseless old woman, Billy approximated where the pixie's body should be and kept stabbing there.
He had real trouble with Kei, who was only his third catch ever. She made him see himself slitting his own wrists. It hurt, and it felt like he was bleeding to death. But he kept stabbing at Kei as best he could. Seeing he was determined to kill her and would not be dissuaded from doing so, she offered to make him a witch in exchange for her life. Billy didn't agree right away, but he did stop trying to stab Kei so that he could discuss it with her. She was pretty convincing. In the end, he agreed. He wouldn't be Kei's lap dog, but endless amounts of magic sounded pretty cool.
In the beginning, it had worked out well. Kei had taught him lots of nifty stuff, like how to make illusory pixie dust pills, which he could sell. This was cooler than actually killing the pixies because he didn't have to do any work for the pills at all. Of course, they didn't really work, so he didn't get any repeat business. But Kei taught him how to alter his appearance so he could scam the same guys over and over. The money got to be good. Drug dealing was a lucrative business. A little more magic allowed him to legitimize the money. Some illusory documents saying it was an inheritance. Some signatures. Suddenly he had legitimate money to invest. And he was soon well on his way to his dream of having enough money that no one told him what to do.
He liked his new lifestyle, but to keep it up, he had to keep Kei happy. He soon began to see that Kei was mentally unbalanced. She was paranoid. Kei covered up her daion existence by pretending to be human. One of the best places to hide from the pixie police was in plain sight, so Kei had a social security number and driver's license and a bank account. The fake identity should have given her security, but it didn't. She was sure that someone was going to see through it and have her executed. So, she had Billy marry her alter ego, hoping that tying herself to a real human, with an honest (for the most part) paper trail, would offer further security.
At the time, Billy didn't mind. He thought that the marriage would make Kei happy and that she'd be a little less insane. It did make her happy, but there was no cure for her insanity. Further proof of the marriage was required. Billy had to remember anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine's Day and make purchases accordingly. Receipts had to kept and filed. They had to buy a house together. And in the middle of all this nonsense, Billy met Jaq.
He and Jaq were perfect for each other. They met at a rock concert. She spilled beer on him, felt horrible, and tried to buy him another beer and a Van Halen shirt so he wouldn't have to wear the wet one. He was charmed. They began dating. At first, they were cautious with each other, trying to conceal their involvements with magic. But that came out eventually. What a regular person might not know about witches, a fellow witch certainly did. They became inseparable. Billy fell in love with her. At first, Kei seemed happy for him, regarding his relationship in the amused way that adults regard kindergartners kissing. But when Billy decided he wanted to marry Jaq, Kei objected. Kei did not want him to divorce her alter ego.
Kei began behaving erratically, almost as if she were jealous of Jaq. She started going to concerts with Billy and developing an "interest" in the music he liked. That was the beginning of the end of his relationship with Jaq. At first, Kei accompanied him as his wife. This persona was named Kay (to avoid confusion), and was a tall, leggy blonde with elegant features. Two concerts later, Kei realized that Kay was totally out of place at AC/DC shows. So she developed another persona for the rock concerts. This persona was male, which freaked Billy out. The persona's name was Snake. He had long greasy hair, wore leather pants, and swore a lot. Snake later became the lead guitarist for Mischief.
Whatever effect this chumminess was supposed to have on Billy, he didn't suppose it was the gradual disgust he began to feel for Kei. She just seemed so desperate. And the Snake persona wasn't someone Billy wanted to be friends with, let alone be married to. He eventually told her that he was going to divorce Kay and marry Jaq, and that Kei should deal with it. Kei's response was to kill off her Kay persona and implicate Jaq in the process. Jaq was arrested. Billy was on his way to post bail for her when Kei stopped him with a newspaper article saying that Jaq had been released. Apparently, the lack of a body or any other evidence had caused the case to be dropped. Billy tried to contact Jaq, but her phone number was disconnected, and someone else moved into her apartment. He hadn't had contact with her since. He could only assume that she'd been so angry about the whole thing that she never wanted to see him again. Billy couldn't really blame her.
With Jaq out of the picture, he stayed with Kei for the next two years, although they weren't married, since Kay was technically dead. Kei decided to put her Snake alter-ego to work. She and several other pixies formed Mischief. Mischief recorded albums and went on tour. Billy didn't see a lot of her. The time away was good for him. He was able to get his head straight and loosen the hold she had on him. When she'd spat her story in his face—she was going to wipe humanity off the planet—he'd finally gotten away from her for good.
And now, here he was. He'd fought for his freedom, and he was going to die. At least everyone else was dying with him. He wouldn't miss anything. He really should call Iris Tanner. He didn't have anything to lose. He had the napkin with her phone number written on it in his pocket. He looked around the bar. Did the bar have a pay phone? Didn't look like it. Maybe they'd let him use the one behind the counter. He wanted another drink anyway. He started to get up, but incredibly, Iris appeared at his table.
"You're here?" he said. "I was just gonna call you."
Iris stood over him. "You're drunk," she said.
"Yes," he said. "Yes, I am. Iris, would you like to go on a date?"
She raised her eyebrows. "Up," she said.
"Get up," she said. "We're going to get you some coffee."
"Does that mean no?"
"Up," she said firmly. "I've been looking for you, and I don't want to talk to you if you're wasted."
Billy stood up, then shook his head. "Can't we stay here? I'll buy you a shot."
"I don't want a shot."
"Sure you do. Why else would you come to a bar?"
"I told you, I was looking for you."
"Well you found me. We can talk. But you should have a shot."
"I'm never wrong about these things." Billy took her arm and led her to the bar. Iris protested the whole way. He was glad she'd showed up. It was fate. Kismet. Something.
"You're in no condition to talk," Iris said.
"On the contrary. . ." he said to Iris. To the bartender, "The lady needs a shot of vodka—"
"I hate vodka," said Iris. "Make it Jack Daniels."
Billy grinned. ". . . liquor loosens the tongue."
"One drink," said Iris. "That's it."
She was taking the drink. She couldn't hate him that much. Maybe she would go on a date with him. "I wouldn't have figured you for a whiskey drinker," said Billy.
"Are you kidding? I headed a hard rock band."
The bartender put the shot in front of Iris. She picked up the small glass and knocked it back. With her eyes on the ceiling, she grimaced, then slowly lowered her head and the glass. Girl could take a shot—that was for sure.
"Another?" asked Billy.
"No," said Iris. She closed her eyes. "Yes," she said. The bartender refilled the glass. She drained it and set it back down. She made another face. "No more of that. On the rocks with a splash of Coke, please."
"Make that two," said Billy.
"You," said Iris, "do not need anything else to drink."
"No," said Billy. "But I want something else."
The bartender brought them their drinks and they retreated to a table. Iris lit a cigarette. "Why did you ask me on a date?" she said.
Billy shrugged. He was drunk. What the heck did he care if he said something embarrassing? "I happen to think you're indescribably beautiful."
"Did you gloss over the part where I eat rotted flesh?"
"We're not going to be alive long enough to have a lasting relationship."
"Yeah, about that—"
"No," Billy said. He didn't want to talk about that. "Not about that. I'm sick of that. It's all I think about."
"Really, 'cause you don't seem real concerned."
Billy let out a bitter laugh. "Why do you think I'm drinking myself into oblivion?"
Iris was quiet for a moment. She took a sip of her drink. "There has to be a way—"
"There's no way," Billy said. There wasn't. Why had he told her about it anyway? He just wanted to pretend that the world wasn't going to be destroyed.
"I'm leaving," said Iris.
"Don't leave," said Billy.
"You want me to stay?"
Billy smirked. "Want? I don't want much of anything these days. I used to . . . But I guess you'd know about that, huh? You had a really big dream, and it got wrenched away from you. It kind of makes nothing worth much anymore, doesn't it?"
"What did you used to want?"
Billy took a drink. He looked away. "Never mind. If you want to go, you should go."
Iris was quiet for a moment. "I haven't been asked out in a really long time," she finally said softly.
Billy looked back at her. "That mean yes?"
Much later, the Iris tripped over her feet as Billy led her into his bedroom. She sat on the floor for a second, giggling and trying to figure out how she'd gotten there. Billy pulled her to her feet. They didn't bother with lights, just collapsed on the bed, kissing each other hungrily. Billy's breath tasted like liquor, and his hands were urgent. Iris got caught in her shirt, trying to take it off. She giggled again, but Billy didn't. He just yanked it over her head. He struggled with the clasp of her bra. She reached back and helped him. She tried to take his shirt off, but he stopped her hands and did it himself.
Both bare-chested, they crushed their bodies against each other. There was more kissing, and they shed the rest of their clothes. Billy thrust his hand between Iris' legs and she recoiled. "Ow," she said.
"Sorry," he muttered.
He moved his hand to her breast, kneaded it.
"Gently," she said.
He pulled his hand back.
They kissed more.
After a few moments, Iris slid her hand searchingly down his chest and belly. When her hand went lower, she found it. It was soft and small. That sometimes happened, she knew, when guys got drunk. Still, she wrapped her fingers around it and began to tug at it gently.
"Mmm," said Billy, redoubling his assault on her breasts.
An eternity later, she was still not wet, and Billy hadn't achieved an erection. Iris was getting kind of bored.
"Um," she said. "We don't have to . . . I mean, we're drunk, and I know sometimes . . ." She let go of his penis.
"No, no," murmured Billy. "It's okay." He took her hand and moved it back. "It'll be okay." He held her hand around him, covering her fingers with his own and guiding her to make long, slow strokes. When he removed his hand, she continued the motion, and he immediately began to stiffen.
He felt between her legs again, this time his touch more tentative, but she was still unexcited.
"What can I do?" he asked.
"Um . . ." Iris felt trapped, put on the spot, frozen. She put her hand to her mouth and transferred some saliva to the area. He rubbed her for a while, then seemingly satisfied, moved on to her. She guided him inside. They kissed.
At first, it felt nice, but whatever wetness Iris had soon dried up, and it hurt. She made him stop, rubbed more saliva on herself, and they started again. Now it felt like nothing. It didn't hurt again; she stayed wet enough for him to continue. And he continued. For a very, very long time.
Iris started to think about her cleaning job. She was thinking of raising her prices by the hour by about ten cents. She thought most of the customers would pay it, she wasn't sure how she should inform them. She mused over several different ideas, until Billy stopped abruptly.
"This isn't going to happen, is it?" he asked.
What? "It is happening isn't it?" she asked. "Oh. Oh, I don't think I'm gonna come. If you—you can. I mean, go ahead."
He pulled out, rolled away. "I can't."
"It's not your fault. I'm just wasted."
"I'm sorry I couldn't get you to—"
"Oh, no. I don't always anyway. I mean, you didn't . . . You were fine."
They lay in silence for a while.
"You know," said Iris. "Sometimes, the first time two people . . . I mean, we're not comfortable with—"
"It's okay," said Billy. "That was just bad."
"It wasn't bad."
She laughed. "Okay. It was pretty bad."
He laughed too. "We have no chemistry. It's never that bad unless you have no chemistry, or you're sixteen."
"Maybe we just aren't meant—"
"I think you're gorgeous, though."
"You're very attractive."
"But it just didn't work."
"Yeah. It's okay."
"It's totally okay."
"Yeah," said Iris. "Totally. I should, um, go."
"No, don't go. It's late. Sleep here. I'll go to a guest bedroom."
"You don't need to go to a guest bedroom. We already had sex. It's not gonna hurt anything if we sleep in the same bed."
"True," said Billy.
"I should just go. I'm imposing."
"Beautiful naked women can not impose. It's a rule."
They settled into the bed, straightened the covers, and got comfortable. They lay on their sides with their backs to each other. Iris closed her eyes. The room began to spin. She snapped them back open and slid one of her feet out to rest it on the floor.
"Billy?" she whispered. "Are you asleep?"
"No," he said.
"Isn't there someone who could stop Mischief? Someone more powerful than they are?"
"I don't think so."
"They're the most powerful beings alive?"
"No. When you put it that way, I guess not. I remember hearing something once about a daion queen."
"A queen? So we'll tell her."
"It's not that simple."
"Why isn't it?"
"It's a long story. I'm tired. Can we talk about this in the morning?"
"I have to go home first thing tomorrow. I'll be ravenous. I haven't eaten tonight."
"Then I'll call you. We'll meet somewhere."
"Do you promise?"