So pleased — Melange Books also said yes to “A Living Specimen”! Woo-hoo! Maybe I should treat the kids to a nice dinner out, to celebrate?
Trisha donned the white cotton gloves Bill passed her, and held up each item as he described it. She walked around the room, gritting her teeth when first one person, then another gave her a knowing smile.
Never be late for meetings.
“This jar of holy water has the seal of the Pope himself,” Bill continued. His baritone filled the room. Myrtle leaned forward as Trisha passed. Pausing to allow the little old lady to have a good long look, Trisha glanced back at Mitch. He waggled his fingers at her.
Rolling her eyes, Trisha moved on.
“Each item has its own resting place in the chest, which is lined with silk.” Bill was clearly very proud of his latest acquisition. “The stake, made of ash, has a leather-bound hilt for a firm grip, and was cut by hand.”
Now Trisha reversed direction, the stake laid across her palms. She resisted the urge to brandish it at Mitch, who grinned at her with a mouthful of brownie.
“Excuse me, Bill?”
A hand popped up at the back of the room. Bill acknowledged the speaker.
Trisha managed to control her expression this time. As much as Jasmine Mehta got on her nerves, it wouldn’t do to reveal that fact. It was okay to bitch about the petite East Indian when Trisha was alone with Mitch, but woe betide anyone who publicly complained about the woman.
As Trisha circulated back toward the fireplace, she wondered what it was that irked her so much about her peer.
Was it her beauty? Trisha herself felt reasonably attractive most days, but Jasmine was exotic. Her perfectly shaped eyebrows, big brown eyes and long black lashes, clear skin, white teeth and lush lips were complimented by a spill of silky black hair. Trisha couldn’t ever remember seeing Jasmine’s hair styled the same way twice. Her clothing was as posh and impeccable as her makeup.
Plus, Mitch had once been Jasmine’s boyfriend. Trisha didn’t even like to think about the implications there.
Maybe it was knowing that Jasmine was smarter than Trisha. It hurt to admit that her intelligence was not the highest in this room, unlike some of her college classes. Jasmine clearly had more expertise and experience in her little finger than Trisha had in her whole brain, and yet she was only two years older. Mitch had reassured her on more than one occasion that Jasmine did make mistakes and wasn’t always right, but it didn’t seem that way to Trisha.
For example, Jasmine used words like “economy” and “conservation”, tossing them off like they were nothing. Trisha could barely follow her comments much of the time. Her vocabulary was off the charts, as was her understanding of politics and money.
“Therefore, in light of our budgetary concerns, the treasure department must caution against further spending of this nature.” Jasmine’s voice was as delicate as her looks. Trisha wished that her nemesis at least had an accent, a guilty thought that belied her unconscious prejudices. It simply wasn’t right how inferior Trisha felt when Jasmine was around.
Bill nodded as Jasmine sat back down. “You’re quite correct, we don’t have the room in our finances for a purchase like this. I would like to supplement the cost out of my own pocket, though my wife will probably kill me.”
A few of the senior members laughed appreciatively at the back of the room. Jasmine appeared mollified.
“But this kit is complete — it’s extremely rare. And it was never used, also rare. You can understand the historical importance of the find, and how it will add to our educational services.” Bill accepted the stake from Trisha, placing it reverently back in the case. “You may sit down, now, Trisha.”
Smiling stiffly, Trisha turned away, hoping she wouldn’t trip over her own feet. She made it back to the couch, turning aside as the unknown tech guy brought up a folding screen for the next part of the meeting. Mitch patted the seat next to him, and with a grateful sigh, Trisha plopped down.
A horrible stink reminiscent of dead and rotting flesh immediately rose from the cushion beneath her.
“Geez, no wonder you’re sitting here alone,” she whispered to Mitch, her erstwhile brownie completely forgotten as her eyes watered. She tried to take shallow breaths, not wanting to attract anymore attention. “What did you do, take your shoes off?”
“Hey, my feet aren’t that bad anymore.” He put an arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “The thing was stinky when I sat down, too.”
“So why did you stay here?” Trisha leaned away from his chocolate-breath, which was not helping her lurching stomach.
“Everywhere else was taken.”
“Sh!” The lights had dimmed.
It was the monthly report on investigations and hunts. Bill explained each data chart as it appeared on the screen. “Spectral apparitions are down in number, but the intensity of each report is increasing. Rachel, you may want to look into the astronomical factor — maybe a conjunction of planets is providing strength.
“You got it.” Trisha craned her neck for a glimpse of the curvaceous blonde.
“We had five encounters with zombies, all successfully contained and put down. Possible relation to government testing facilities. Mitch, that’s your department — see what you can find out about the latest germ warfare experiments, would you?”
“Will do.” Mitch, caught in the disrespectful act of trying to nibble Trisha’s ear in the semi-dark, held up a thumb.
“There were twenty-six UFO sightings called in, of which nine were explainable, four were first-kind, seven were second-kind, and six were abductions.”
Trisha tried to hold her attention on Bill; he was a decent man, and the information was important. Her job was data analysis and vampire hunting. She felt that there might be a link between the phases of the moon and vampire attacks, and wanted to do more research — besides that of her interminable master’s thesis.
Unfortunately, sitting on a horrible smell while her good-looking boyfriend tried to creep his hand up her skirt did little for her focus.
“…vampire hits are down, and I think we’ve done a good job on that.” Bill nodded in Trisha’s direction; Mitch’s hand vanished like air from her thigh. “Thanks to Trisha’s skills, that is.”
Trisha realized that people were applauding her. Taken a little by surprise, she nodded in appreciation.
“Just try to remember, we would like an undead specimen at some point,” someone called out. “We can’t learn a whole lot from those little piles of ash you keep bringing back.”
“I can’t help it if that’s what they do,” Trisha retorted, smiling sheepishly. “You want a live specimen, come out with me some time and bring a net! Made of titanium!”
Laughter roared out of the darkness. Trisha could feel herself blush.
She had done something right.
By time the meeting was over, Trisha had nearly gotten used to the smell. She stood up and stretched, feeling Mitch’s eyes on her long legs.
“My god, what is that incredible stench?” Jasmine had come up to the fireplace to warm her hands. Trisha saw her nose wrinkle and quickly pointed down at the couch.
Mitch saw the look Trisha passed him. “Yeah, I noticed it before, but I didn’t have time to do anything about it.”
He got up and tilted the couch back. “No leftover food.”
“I should say not!” Myrtle had materialized suddenly at Trisha’s side. “This room may be old, cold, and ugly, but it’s clean. I check it myself, every night.” She pushed her round spectacles further up on her nose to glare at Mitch.
“You’re right, Miss Gray, I’m just trying to find the source of the smell.” Trisha loved how his tone went automatically to fear and respect whenever the little woman came around. Mitch let the couch back down and crouched to lift the faded yellow cushions. “And I think I just uncovered our bad boy.”
He flipped the cushion up. Trisha shrieked and jumped back.
Jasmine snorted in disgust. “You kill vampires as a hobby, and a little dead mouse freaks you out?”
Trisha became conscious that she was using Myrtle as a human shield. She let go of the older woman’s shoulders and stepped away. “That’s entirely different. Vampires are a threat, and once you kill them, they’re just ash. That is — it’s just — I mean, look at it! I was sitting on that!”
A crowd was gathering.
Bill poked his head in between Mitch and Jasmine to examine the tiny corpse stuck to the underside of the cushion. “Looks to me like it got squished to death,” he remarked.
Trisha felt her bile rise.
“Maybe within the last twenty-four hours or so.” Bill had taken a fireplace match and was poking at the remains of the mouse, still firmly attached to the couch fabric. “It would have to take a pretty heavy person to do that kind of damage. Or two people. Who knows, it could have been any of us.”
Oh no. Trisha stared at Mitch. They had snuck into the library the night before. The formerly sexy memory of falling onto the couch in his arms, the weight of his body pressing onto hers, turned to mulch in her brain. She went to him and clutched his arm, eyes frantic. “Mitch! Do you think that we — I think I might be sick.”
He kissed the top of her head and patted her hand. “Well, it’s a helluva way to go.”
Trisha decided it might be time to break up with him.
“We’ll never get the smell out,” Myrtle stated. She surveyed the room. “Any volunteers to find us something new? Preferably cheap?” She nodded to Jasmine, who had already produced an accounting book.
Trisha’s hand shot up.
“If you go to Sally Ann’s New and Used,” Jasmine told her, holding out a card, “they’ll probably have something halfway decent. Try not to spend more than fifty, if you can.”
The adhesive tape pulled out a few more of the tiny hairs on Trisha’s arm. She hissed in reaction, making the woman in the lab coat jump slightly.
“It’s all right, she’s just changing your dressing.” Bill soothed her. He was sitting now, on the opposite end of the table. The lights had been lowered out of deference for Trisha’s raging migraine. “For some reason, it won’t stop bleeding.”
“I know.” Trisha watched as the medic — or doctor, did the Society actually have a certified doctor on staff? — pulled away the last of the gauze. For such a little scratch, it hadn’t stopped oozing since…it happened. The dark red on white made Trisha feel sick again. She felt sweat break out on her forehead, even though she was still cold. “Do you have any aspirin? Or maybe a tea? I think I’m coming down with something.” Her voice sounded so pathetic, even in the small room.
Bill gestured at the wall behind him. For the first time, Trisha noticed the dark mirror set into the drywall.
“So that was where you went, then? Sally Ann’s?”
Trisha stood on the sidewalk for a moment, looking at the window display. An old, chipped mannequin in a tie-dyed shirt and a red feather fascinator posed coquettishly next to a formica table with two matching chairs. The table was covered in cheap romance novels, old National Geographic magazines, cookie jars, and a cake stand dripping with junk jewelry. Everything, including the mannequin, had a hand-numbered price tag.
She fully expected the store to smell like cat pee.
To Trisha’s pleasant surprise, it was only a little musty, and a bit like lilacs. As she had become accustomed to doing, she scanned the corners of the room for threats. Instead, she noted that the store owner had perched a number of reedy fragrance defusers on the shelves bordering the walls.
The store owner — Sally? — was sitting behind the counter, immersed in a battered Reader’s Digest. She was wearing a sweater with a cat printed on the front. Her black hair showed a fine line of white along the part.
Trisha walked slowly throughout the displays. It was a paradise for collectors. Figurines of shepherdesses and elves sat next to cookbooks and cake decorating supplies. She brushed by a rack of old clothes, shuddering at the thought of spiders lurking within. Jasmine was right; for a vampire hunter, Trisha was unusually squeamish.
The furniture was at the far end. An old dining room set crowded next to a glass-front cabinet from the eighties. Three couches nestled so close together that it was nearly impossible for Trisha to edge her way in between them.
She clenched her fists. “No spiders, no mice,” she intoned, before taking a breath and sitting on the first, a lovely plaid.
It smelled distinctively of cats.
Rising quickly, Trisha moved to the next one. It was puke green pleather. The price tag showed a cost higher than her budget, but Trisha was confident in her bargaining skills.
Unfortunately, as soon as she sat on it, her butt sank to the bottom of the frame. Staring at her knees, Trisha shook her head in disapproval. “Way overpriced, Sally,” she muttered.
Hoisting herself up, Trisha shuffled along to the last couch. Yellow brocade resembled the sofa that she knew Mitch was probably delivering to the town dump at this moment, his best friend Skyler in tow as extra muscle.
She lowered herself onto the corner using extreme caution.
She allowed her full weight to settle down.
The springs held.
Trisha leaned over and gingerly sniffed the fabric. Mothballs and dust. She sat back up, satisfied that there would be minimal insect or rodent invasion with that kind of protection. Just to be sure, she rose and lifted each of the cushions.
Still a bit high on the price, she noted, but given the options…
Trisha shuffled back out of the couch corner and went to try her hand at haggling.
It took all of her meagre budget, and a phone call to Mitch and Skyler to make sure the pick up would happen, but Trisha whistled as she left the shop. Take that, Jasmine Mehta! On the money, virtually the same colour as the last to match the decor of the Queen Anne library / meeting room, comfortable and mouse-free — Trisha allowed herself a few childish skips as she headed back for a workout in the Society’s makeshift gym.
No-one else was using the equipment in the bright former ball room. The grand old mansion boasted a few treats like this; Trisha stretched her legs out, and imagined once again what parties might have been like in the building’s heyday. Tall windows stretched from the polished floor along the length of the room; the floor was now scarred but still gleaming, and while some of the windows were boarded up, there was one pane which remained pristine and whole. Tarnished candle sconces and gas lamps lined the other three walls, between mirrors as tall and ill-used by time as the windows.
It was too bad that there was no money in this business. Trisha stepped onto the programmable treadmill and keyed in her workout. The things she could do with Queen Anne architecture. The gardens alone deserved to be brought back to their full glory. S.H.I.P. operated out of donations and gifts, with the occasional bequest. Everyone was truly volunteering their time, after careers and family obligations. Trisha sensed that there was muscle not being used in the organization. Why not show the government what they did? Wasn’t it possible to get a grant of some kind, to increase the facility’s profile and get them decent headquarters where every room had modern heating?
At least the old ballroom had some solar gain, even in winter. Under her baggy t-shirt and exercise leggings, Trisha’s goosebumps had vanished by the time the treadmill began its tilt for the running portion of her program. The puddle of sunlight she was enjoying would probably move before she was finished her run, but at the moment, she was basking in it.
The door behind her opened and closed softly.
“Oh. I thought I’d be alone.” Jasmine padded softly past, a towel thrown over one brown, sculpted shoulder. She was unashamedly clad in black clinging short-shorts and matching sports bra. Her hair swung freely from a high ponytail.
“Damn,” Trisha panted to herself. “If I were a lesbian, she’d totally be my type.”
“Thank you,” Jasmine replied. She settled onto her back to do some presses.
“It wasn’t my intention for you to hear that.” Trisha gritted her teeth. She didn’t know what was worse — the burn of embarrassment or the burn in her calves.
“My hearing is exceptionally good,” Jasmine remarked. Her voice echoed clearly throughout the space. “I’m not bothered. But I’m not gay, thanks anyway.”
“I’m not gay, either.”
“You could be bisexual. What is it they say now, that sexuality is on a spectrum?”
Trisha raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Everyone experiments. I’m all about boys.” She glanced back to Jasmine’s sculpted abdominal muscles. “You’re incredibly hot, and you know it.”