Velt pulled her coat tightly around her. It was bright purple and came down to her calves, made of heavy wool that seemed to get wet even without a drop of moisture in the air. It was impractical in nearly every sense of fashion and function. Naturally it was the one piece of clothing Velt truly adored. The weather was in a flip-flopping mode, dancing between winter and spring every other week, so Velt had taken to keeping her coat with her whenever she went out on a job. Today the gamble had paid off, as the cold had snuck upon her city once more, leaving her breath hanging in the air as she plowed through the crowded streets.
She drew a few looks, a striking girl will do that, let alone one in a garish coat, but the gaze she returned to them left no doubt in the viewer’s eyes where her foot would end up if they dared to make contact. Velt was not what most would refer to as a “people person.”
She walked into her apartment’s lobby and gave a curt nod to the doorman. He was quite adept at his job, having learned the names of every resident years ago. He also knew that Mr. Danfry liked cabs from a specific company, the Jenkins couple would tip well when asked about their children, and Velt appreciated quiet familiarity over small talk. Thus, he returned the nod with fleeting eye contact and went back to his work.
Velt quickly unlocked her own door and sauntered in. Most people in the city had several layers of protection on their doors and windows, Velt preferred an alternative security system to lifeless locks. Her nose was greeted with the smell of sweating onions and simmering tomato. Dylan was making pasta tonight.
“How’d it go?” called a male voice from her kitchen, the barest traces of an Irish accent fluttering through it.
“Same ole, same ole,” Velt replied, shrugging off her coat and hanging it on the rack by the door. The apartment wasn’t all that big, a simple one bedroom with a view of another building, but the design was nice and the maintenance team kept everything looking current. Plus they were willing to rent to a woman with unorthodox systems of income.
She headed down the short hallway and entered her own kitchen. It was far less modern than the one she had fought in today, but at the moment it was filled with a flurry of activity. There were three pans on the stove, all at different temperatures. A large pot occupied her fourth burner, struggling vainly to obtain the necessary boil for the impending pasta. A cutting board was littered with the scraps from a series of vegetables, and in the center of it all, directing like a maestro of chaos, was her roommate Dylan.
Dylan was a geist, a ghost who had been around long enough to obtain levels of control and energy that separated him from the generic spirit population. He could interact easily with the physical world, not needing the running start like the ghast today. Beyond that, he could travel freely and quickly, appear in any form that suited him, and even step into dreams. Mostly he just enjoyed cooking though. He’d had quite the flair back when he was alive, so now he honed his art by cooking for the living he associated with, which in recent years consisted only of Velt.
“So, no trouble?” Dylan asked as he stirred the sauce and shook in some pepper.
“Just an old asshole who went ghast,” Velt assured him. “He barely had the energy to throw a slap, let alone be a challenge.” Velt reached into the fridge and produced a bottle of red wine. She unscrewed the top and poured herself a glass. Dylan winced involuntarily. He’d explained to her many times that red wine was meant to kept at room temperature, or at least bought in varieties that didn’t come in jugs. His arguments had fallen on purposely deaf ears.
“It sounded like he was pulling out all the stops on tormenting his tenants,” Dylan said. “I didn’t want you to get taken off guard.”
“Please, that jerk would have dissipated on his own after a few years. No way he was making poltergeist.” Poltergeists were the ghast corollary to geists, spirits of hate that had existed long enough to marshal a new level of power. There were rumors of a level beyond poltergeist, one only reached by the most hatefully determined wandering souls. Velt had never lent much credence to hearsay though.
“Just be careful,” Dylan told her. “There are wolves in this world.”
“Wolves are easy. Good gun, good aim, good meal. Done.”
Dylan laughed. “Well we aren’t having wolf tonight.”
“That’s okay, I prefer penne anyway,” Velt said. “How long till the food is ready?”
“Another hour or so,” Dylan said, glancing at the clock. “The key to flavor is the simmer.”
“Uh huh. I’m going to go grab a shower then,” Velt said, polishing off her glass and pouring another. She began heading toward her bedroom, but her trip was interrupted by a thud from the door. Velt’s whole body tensed. It had been too muffled to be a knock and too loud to be from across the hall. That limited options, the top of her list being someone leaning against the door as they picked the lock. Dylan had done a good job of leaving any would be burglars with a pants-shitting level of terror when they entered the apartment, but there was always some dumb son-of-a-bitch in this city ready to learn the same lesson. Velt set her wine down on her tiny dining table and pulled a metal baseball bat from behind the chair. She kept weapons of the like stashed all over the apartment, ensuring she had a home field advantage if an altercation should ever occur.
Velt jerked open the door with bat at the ready, poised to deliver an aluminum lobotomy to the dumbass trying to break into her home. What greeted her instead was a billow of scarves and a flowing dress, frantically pacing around the hallway and seemingly oblivious to her.
“Adrienne?” Velt said uncertainly.
The whirlwind of fabric settled and revealed a pleasant looking woman a few years and kids past her prime.
“Velt!” Adrienne declared happily. “Thank goodness, I was trying to figure out how to knock on your door and I thought I had it for a moment but then my hand went right through and well I know I could have walked in but it seemed terribly rude so I was debating whether keep trying or step through but here you are! So, problem solved.”
Velt set her jaw. Adrienne was a caring, lovely woman, but she had a tendency to blather when upset. A tendency that led Velt to avoid her in such circumstances. All things considered though, Velt could hardly blame her for being a bit on edge at the moment.
“When did you die?”
“Oh this?” Adrienne gestured to her form, which was noticeably cloudy with the occasional swirl of blue energy. “Happened about half an hour ago. Traffic accident uptown. I always said those cabs would be the death of me.”
“I’m…sorry,” Velt said uncertainly. “You’re taking this pretty well.”
“Pish posh, those of us who dabble in the spirit world have no need to fret about such things as our mortality. After all, we’re some of the few privy to the certainty that something lies beyond the final sunset.”
“Right,” Velt said. Another apartment two doors down opened its door, reveal a large man in a puffy raincoat heading into the world. It was only now that Velt realized she was, as far as anyone else could see, having a conversation with an empty hallway. She hurriedly motioned Adrienne in, which she complied too, and shut the door behind her.
“Right,” Velt repeated. “So then, not to be crass, but why are you a ghost at all? Why didn’t you just move on?”
“I fully intend to dear, I just had a few minor matters to attend to. I’ll need to visit my oldest to give her our bank account information and tell her where the will is, she’s got the gift so that will be nice and easy. I’ll also want to go visit a few friends in the business and say goodbye. But as to the reason I am here, I need your help. You see, I was on my way to do a séance when my accident occurred. It’s a family home, recently lost a grandmother, sure they feel her presence and wanting to make certain she is at peace.
“Ohhhh no,” Velt said, understanding beginning to dawn. “No can do Adrienne. I’m don’t handle the fuzzy warm cases. That’s what you guys are great at. What about Carol, or Molly, or Shel?”
“All booked, it is a Saturday night after all. Aside from which, we were all so close, I daresay learning of my passing will render them unfit for work, at least for a couple of days,” Adrienne explained.
“You didn’t think maybe I’d be too upset to be productive?”
“To be honest, no. You’re a lovely girl, but you tend to be more… pragmatic with your emotions. You always put the job first. That’s why I knew I could ask you for help.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Velt said.
“Please dear, in all my years as a medium I never broke an appointment. I’d very much like to keep that record, especially if it has come down to my final job,” Adrienne pleaded. “Think of it as a friend’s dying wish.”
Velt sighed. “Damnit.” She walked back over to her table and tossed down the bat. She scooped up the wine, downed it in one gulp, and then headed back to the entrance. She snatched her coat and began buttoning its cumbersome front.
“Keep dinner warm,” she called to Dylan. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Take your time,” Dylan yelled back. “The longer it simmers, the better it tastes.”
Velt tried to take some comfort in that as she allowed herself to be guilted out the door.