My house blesser, Nick Fortunato, was asleep. His earbuds hung out of his ears and Sweet Dreams by the Eurhythmics escaped like little balloon squeaks from his collar.
"The topic today is…" Happy Hour's leader, Robert, stared around the room trying to decide if we were worthy. "Your higher power."
At that moment the coffee house door flew open. Wind and rain blew into the room, followed by a long-legged redhead in a blue dress. She hesitated in the doorway with damp leaves sweeping past her. Skinny. Four inch heels.
"Someone get the door," said Robert.
Happy Hour met at Palio Cafe after it had closed for the night. The hours were clearly posted. It was no accident that Beadie Watts just happened to wander off the street on this bitch of a night. The only question was why.
Well, hell. I stood up. "My name is Veronica and I'm an alcoholic."
A chorus of hi, Veronica.
"And all I want to say is that some of us don't have a higher power. I'm not a believer. I'm Veronica."
Someone in the back yelled, "He believes in you!"
I sat down.
"Nice, Ronnie." Beadie perched on the edge of my table and crossed a slithery leg. "I heard you were on the wagon."
"I heard you weren't," I said.
Beadie shrugged. "I could stop drinking this minute."
"Still in the biz?" The last I heard, she was into custom built homes. River rock, gold-plated faucets. When the market was hot, she moved a lot of bricks. But it had been two years since anything in this town had been hot, including the men. It was a down market.
Custom homes used to be like printing money. Everyone wanted a new house if they could afford it. No ghoulies or ghosties, cold spots or bad smells. In fact, a blessing certificate by a licensed and bonded house blesser wasn't even required.
It's a loophole in the law. Supposedly, new homes don't have bad spirits and evil presences. But anyone who's seen a plumber's ass knows that bad spirits arrive from just about anywhere.
Or so I've heard. I don't feel the spirits myself. But since my market is REO properties and foreclosures, my listings have that lived-in look. State law says each one has to be blessed by a guy like Nick. At my expense.
"Is that Fortunato?" asked Beadie, surprised. "My, my, my. You and him?"
"There's no me and him." Unfortunately. "We work together."
"Wish I'd known."
I glanced at Nick, slumped against the nearest wall in a doughnut coma. Dark, lean, pale and, so help me god, beautiful. He'd been sober a month. Because these sensitive types are always going into rehab or quitting the business, a good one can be hard to find. Nick was very good.
Beadie popped open her clutch, removed a business card and wrote something on the back. "Do me one for old times? Take Fortunato and go here. He'll know what to do, and you can have the listing when he's done."
I took the card. Ravensview Drive. "If it's new, why do you need a blesser?"
But she was headed for the door.
Fortunato woke up as the meeting ended. He looked at me and sighed. "Better give me the card."
I fished Beadie's card from my pocket and handed it over. I stopped asking how he knew these things. He just did.
The place on Ravensview was cherry. High end. Three million. My teeth ached as we pulled into the circular drive and parked. "Tennis courts. Riding stable. I'm going to kill that bitch."
"Underwater." Nick made a choking sound and climbed out of the car.
"Probably. Are you sick?"
"It's bad. I can't go in there." He disappeared into the shrubbery and began to retch. He did that around dead bodies.
"Could you not find a corpse for once?" I headed for the front entrance. "Third time this month. Fuck head."
"Master bath," he called after me. "Underwater."
That's where I found her. Beadie was a shadow of blue tinged flesh sunk deep in the marble tub. Her kit rested on the floor next to her purse—rubber tubing, a spoon, gold lighter and a used syringe. Her dress hung from a towel rack. Heated towel rack. Nice fixtures, except for the dead junkie real estate agent floating in the bath.
"Oh, Beadie." I'd never hated her that much. I took a seat on the brushed steel bidet and called 911.
Nick sat on the curb, a pile of mashed butts on the pavement between his boots. "You okay?"
The cops were loading the body bag into the van.
"She came to Happy Hour tonight. She looked good— I can't believe it. The detective said she'd been dead since yesterday."
"You had a ghostly visitation." Nick got to his feet. "Not being able to tell the quick from the dead is pretty bad, Ronnie. Maybe you should take a class or something."
"She used us."
"She was looking for something."
He headed into the house. Now that Beadie was gone, he felt fine. In the foyer, he struck a match off his boot, lit a cigarette, and pulled a fir branch from his back pocket. I made to follow him but he held up his hand.
"Let me do my job. That's how she wanted it."
It didn't take long. Never does. I felt a breeze scented with Opium (like that wasn't a clue) and all the windows in the great room rattled. She was gone.
Nick came down the hall, whistling. He'd lost the green tinge to his skin.
"What happened to you?"
"Nothing." He blushed. "Nice lady. Friendly."
"I can't believe it. You had sex with a ghost."
"Some of them want to use me." He shrugged and headed for the door. "She said to say thanks."
"Fuck head." I followed Nick outside.
Thanks to Pattie Abbott