Past Lives: 1947: Miss L. Barber

OK, I’m cheating being creative with the chapter numbers somewhat, but I think I’ve just realised how I’m going to write this story.

1.5 of 3 / Coffee for exorcists

The smell of coffee fills the room; Melinda has led the limping Mr. Barber to her office, and their voices are muffled by her closed  door.

The candle stubs are dumped on the front desk; List’s suit jacket and tie are folded over the chair next to it, possibly beyond hope of ever being wearable again. Their owner is in the kitchen; he’s been trying for the last quarter of an hour to clean up his arms and face, bent over the sink with rolled-up sleeves, but now seems to be attending to his usual duties. He looks up as Mary enters the kitchen, brown hair in need of a cut falling into his eyes, and she joins him at the sink. He shrugs. “Sounds like a straightforward demon case to me – weird voices and all. Could be a possession.”

Mary raises her eyebrows. “Since when have ‘straightforward’ and ‘demon’ ever been in the same sentence?”

He lets out  a small laugh, holds out a hand – she passes him a mug – and replies, “Um, since I started making coffee for an exorcist?”

She smiles. God, it’s good having him around sometimes – he might be the sane one in their little organisation. All she can think of by way of reply is a quiet, “Yeah, maybe.”

They grab a mug each, carrying them to the office and, with a knock, List gingerly opens the door; two heads turn sharply to see what’s going on, before Melinda relaxes, gives them both a small, reassuring smile. “Coffee?” Mary asks.

Barber, hands still anxiously clutching his hat, shakes his head, but Melinda says, “Please.” As List hands her the mug, she leans down and whispers something in his ear; he nods, darts a look at Mary, then exits the room, a hand to Mary’s shoulder.

“She says Barber’s lying,” he says eventually, when they’re out of earshot, voice low. “Some of the details don’t match up, and look at how the guy’s acting…” He shakes his head. “Believe him as far as you can throw him.” He takes a sip of what would’ve been Barber’s coffee, eyes on the frosted glass of Melinda’s office door.

~

When Steven J. Barber, a man who has – perhaps foolishly – always considered himself as honourable, limps into the cold New York night, an evil wind ripping at his heels, he looks over his shoulder, grimacing, hands shaking. The woman detective is smiling, gesturing as she speaks with her employees, oblivious.

Oh, he’s going to hell for this one.

~

Melinda laughs, shaking her head, black curls falling onto her shoulders, and sits on the chair at the front desk. Mary and List, not understanding the sudden humour of the situation, watch her with slightly nervous smiles.

She glances at the door, the irregular footsteps of their client fading from the stairs, and the smile falls from her face as quickly as it was forced there. She picks up a scrap of paper, holding it between two graceful fingers, and regards them steadily, eyes hard. “I don’t appreciate being crossed.” She unfolds the paper, and they see that an address is scribbled there in a spidery, barely-legible print, as well as… “And I’m sure he won’t appreciate having been pickpocketed.”

List gently extracts the note from her fingers, frowning at it, ignoring the ominous stain. “Boss…” he says, painfully aware he’s remarking upon the obvious, “this is an address.”

“It could simply be his mother’s house,” Mary chips in hopefully. “Or somewhere he’s staying…”

Melinda nods, her hand drifting to her hip; at first it seems like she’s reaching for her revolver, but the movement is all wrong – more like she’s reaching for a handle than a gun belt. She seems to notice, and removes her hand sharply. “It could be. But I’d be interested to know why there’s a significant amount of blood on it.”

“Papercut?” Mary suggests eventually, after a long silence.

Well, a girl can dream.

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