Unclean Spirits Part 26

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"She left just after you did," Ex said. "Called a cab. I figure she's probably in an airplane back to Chicago by now."

I looked from Ex to Chogyi Jake and back. There wasn't a reason to be surprised. She'd never said she was going to stay, or that she wanted to see Aubrey before she left. I had just made the assumption.

"I think she left a note or something in your room," Ex said.

He was right. The wide manila envelope was on the bed. My name was written on it in black marker. I lifted it gently. It felt heavy, like a thick catalog or a printed schedule of classes back at school. It wasn't sealed.

Jayne: I suppose it's a failure of nerve leaving like this. I hope you can forgive me. I've struggled with this more than you know.



I had dreamed of the day when I could come back to the life I left behind. Now that the obstacles that held me apart from Aubrey and Denver are gone, I find that there are more reasons to stay away than I had realized.

I care for Aubrey very deeply, but as I look back at the manner in which he and I fell away from each other, I can't in all honesty say I'm sure it would be different now. I know that if I stayed, if I saw him, I would be tempted to try. The rational part of my mind says that would be a mistake. And so I'm taking the coward's way out.

Tell him that I wish him well. Tell him that I blame him for nothing, and that I forgive him as I hope he will forgive me.

Take care of yourself.

She hadn't signed the note, but it was at the front of a packet of papers: close-set legal type with flat, low boxes to fill in. Divorce papers, completed with Kim's information and Aubrey's. Those, she'd signed. The only blank spot was where Aubrey would put his name and the date. Whatever relationship they'd had with each other, I was holding its end. Whatever combination of hope and lust, betrayal and blindness had led them here, it cooked down to these pages.

Except that she'd come when I called her. Not for me or for Eric, but for Aubrey. She'd risked her life for his. I flipped through the pages with my thumb, but not looking at them as much as the complexity they represented. Then I put them back in their envelope and slid it into my laptop bag.

Later. I could deal with it later.

I got online, sent an e-mail to my little brother letting him know that I was okay without going into any detail, checked some old blogs from people I used to know. Extojayne wasn't connected. I deleted him from my contact lists like I was dropping a dead mouse in the wastebasket. Then I did the same with Caryonandon.

I sat on the bed, legs crossed, laptop humming quietly to itself, and thought. My fingers ran across the plastic keyboard, Googling a phrase at random, and then doing it again in a kind of Internet-based electronic daydreaming.

I felt like the pressure was still on me, like there was something I needed to do. The idea that it was over hadn't really sunk in yet. Raw inertia kept me thinking about Coin, the Invisible College, how to keep Aubrey and Ex and Chogyi Jake safe, who I could go to for help. What I could do.

But it was over, and I could do anything.

I noticed the kinds of phrases I'd been putting into the search engines and realized I knew exactly what I wanted to have happen next. I found my cell phone, called my lawyer, and made an appointment for later that afternoon.

When I got there, still dressed in a Pink Martini T-shirt and blue jeans, and told her what I had in mind, she didn't miss a beat.

I BOOKED us a private room at the back of what my lawyer promised me was a very good restaurant. The maitre d' escorted us through the dim, well-appointed hall, real candles burning in wall sconces and live music playing in the background. The table was set for four. I'd debated inviting Aaron and Candace too, but until the investigation of Coin's death was completed, I decided it was better to keep social contact to a minimum. If Kim had stayed, I'd have brought her too.

As we ordered drinks, I considered the three of them. Chogyi Jake, with his freshly shaved scalp and constantly laughing eyes, asked for water. It arrived in a sculpted glass bottle, freshly opened. Ex ordered a gin and tonic. He was wearing all black again, the way he had the first time I'd met him. His hair was pulled back and tied with a length of leather. Aubrey sat across from me and ordered wine. I got the same thing he did.

I raised my glass.

"If not to a job well done, at least to a job done," I said.

"And to Jayne," Aubrey said. "Without whom I'd still be eating through a tube."

"To Eric," Ex said. Chogyi Jake didn't offer a toast, so we gave the silence a moment, then drank.

"I suppose you're all wondering why I asked you here," I said, trying to lighten the mood a little.

"To say good-bye?" Chogyi Jake suggested. Aubrey's head lifted as if he'd heard a strange sound. Ex saw the movement and coughed slightly in scorn.

"She's got an empire, Aubrey," he said. "Eric had places all over the country. All over the world. You can't expect her to curl up here in Denver and never poke her nose out."

"Besides which," I said, "the Invisible College is broken, but it's not dead. I was thinking it would be a good idea to get out of town for a while, even if I did decide to come back."

Aubrey went pale. It was good to see the reaction. It made me feel better about the part that came next.

"So," I continued, "that's why I'd like to hire you."

Now it was Ex's turn to look startled.

"I've got a lot of money," I said. "I can afford a decent yearly salary for all three of you. And Ex is right. It is an empire, and I'm still pretty much wet behind the ears. I need help cataloging things, but even more than that, I need to know what the hell it is once it's all cataloged. You guys know more than I do, and that's important-"

"We don't know near enough," Ex said. "Coin just about killed Aubrey. We were living with a vampire for days without any of us putting it together. You and Aubrey could have gotten slaughtered by the haugtrold before any of the rest of it even got off the ground!"

"That's important, but it's not the only issue," I said, staring Ex down. He scowled deeply, then softened and smiled a little. I went on. "The big thing is I know you guys. The world's still full of riders. Vampires, werewolves, demons. Whatever you want to call them. And if I'm going up against them, I want people I trust. I trust you. So there you have it. Come work for me, and we'll pick up where Eric left off, or enjoy the meal and I'll tell you how much I owe you for what you've already done and we'll call it quits. Your call."

I took a sip of the wine and waited while it sank in.

"I have a job," Aubrey said. "The lab..."

Chogyi Jake considered his water glass as if it were a piece of fine art. Ex leaned forward. No one spoke. They were going to do it. I could already smell it. They were in, all of them.

I'd come to Denver a little under a month before, knowing nothing about riders or the Invisible College, Eric's wealth, or my role as his heir. I hadn't had anyone. Now I had all of it. Sitting in the dim elegance around our table, I could see a future worth hoping for. I watched as each of them-Aubrey, Ex, Chogyi Jake-nodded. I grinned, delighted.

My uncle hadn't had the time to train me, but he'd meant for me to have all of this, to follow in his footsteps. With a little help, I would. I'd be the one who could help the Candaces and Aarons and stand against the Randolph Coins. And even better, I'd have my friends beside me. In that moment, I was as sure of myself, as confident, and as at peace as I had ever been.

I didn't have a clue.

end.

Unclean Spirits Part 26

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Unclean Spirits Part 26 summary

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