“My fault?” said Rose.
“Well of course. I’m a perfectly normal human being. It’s not like I could have summoned some otherworldly evil pipsqueak creature here. My job is to kill that sort of thing.”
“You thought that pixie was evil?” Rose snorted into her luminescent hand and ignored my remark about killing things. Dang it, I was kind of hoping that would’ve intimidate her even more than my mole had—but, then again, ghosts don’t have much fear of dying, do they?
I crossed my arms and leaned back on the headstone, glaring up at her. I thought about how, seeing as Rose was dead, she was officially the first creature I’d ever met that I had no chance of ever killing. Weird.
A sharp breeze jerked through the cemetery, biting at my cheeks and raising the hair along the back of my neck. I tried not to shiver, but failed. Rose stood floating, waiting for my answer.
“I have yet to meet anything other than a dog that doesn’t have at least a trace of bad in its blood. Including people. Including me. Therefore, I can guarantee you that your adorable little tripped-out friend there was evil.”
What a strange Christmas. First a snarky ghost dressed in an awful pirate costume shows up, and then a—what was that little flying creature called? I didn’t even know. It was just creepy, whatever it was.
“Plus,” I went on, “people who aren’t evil rarely come searching me out with, um, job requests.”
“What exactly do you do?” Rose asked, not sounding wary or curious in the least. More like she was just making polite conversation with the depressed living girl she happened to have come across.
“I’m a member of an elite secret organization that goes by the acronym PWNBEIBER. I’m an assassin. Of things like aliens and Dobby the House Elf or whatever it was that just sought us out.”
“House Elf? Don’t be foolish,” said Rose. “Those aren’t real. That was a pixie you just saw.”
“Yes. Because the existence of pixies is so much more plausible.”
A pixie. Gosh, what liars adults were. They had always taught me pixies were either haircuts or paper tubes of colored sugar. And now all of a sudden there was a freaking Real. Live. Pixie.floating around London, giving out quests and doomsday predictions and all that fun stuff, likethose were the sorts of presents people wanted to find in their stockings this Christmas.
“Well, in my personal opinion,” said Rose, “I believe we should help the poor fellow and figure out this whole business about the king.”
“No, no, no,” I said, getting to my feet and holding my hands out towards Rose, stepping away. “I’m not going anywhere near that little pixie freak again. I’m still suffering of menopause-like hot flashes at the moment, and I’m only eighteen. You’re on your own, sister.”
What I didn’t mention was that I already had one government on my tail, along with an imminent alien invasion to worry about—I didn’t need anything more on my plate. And I didn’t like the way the hallucination, or whatever that pixie’s presence had caused, had first sent me to a place I loved—the forest at the edge of my town, full of light and warmth and singing birds—and then dumped me in my grandmother’s closet with a heap-load of overflowing cardboard boxes ready to tumble down on me.
“Please, Mary,” Rose said from behind me as I walked away, my Converse scuffing over the frozen ground. “You cannot ignore a summons such as that. Imagine—we could help save an entire kingdom. There could be a reward.”
My greedy heart stumbled. I stopped midstep, one foot in the air, about to leap over a particularly sunken and poop-splattered grave.
“A reward?” I asked. “What sort of reward? Could it let me go home?” I laughed. “It really would take magic to get the U.S. government to let me back in after what I did, wouldn’t it?”
“Nothing.” I turned around and walked back to Rose. “If there’s a reward, I’m in.”
And that’s how Rose and I met, and she ended up working for me.
Okay, so obviously there’s a whole heck of a lot more to the story, but that isn’t important at the moment. What’s important right now is the way the subway operator is looking at me, clinging to the back of his train like a baby monkey to its mother’s back, with his eyes all wide and mouth dropped open in a look of surprise so comical, I would laugh if it weren’t for the constant flow of air getting choked down my throat by the speeding train. I knock on the door and he tentatively opens it, his surprise now turning to bewilderment.
“Pardon, miss, but how in the world did you manage to get yourself stuck to the back of my train?” he asks.
I say the first thing that comes to mind, which is, “Girl Scouts,” and then brush on past him to get out of the operator car. The first passenger car is crowded and rowdy, nobody paying any particular mind to the short American girl with the heart on her cheek, and I settle into a spot near the center.
A few stops later, I leap out of the car and hurry up the stairs into the strange, misty cool of a summer night in London. It’s two blocks to the apartment building PWNBEIBER has me hiding out in, and then seven flights of stairs to the apartment itself. The building used to have an elevator (or a “lift,” I guess—bloody English people, messing with their own language), but somebody broke it last May during a scuffle between a particularly inquisitive CIA agent and a girl whose face is plastered all over America’s Most Wanted. Not that I know anything about that (or at least that’s what I told the superintendent when he asked).
When I reach the apartment door, my legs are shaky and my lungs just about ready to collapse in on themselves. My mind is already full with thoughts of reality TV and a tub of mint chocolate chip ice cream waiting nice and cool in the freezer. But the moment I swing open the door, I know that a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon is not in my near future. Because right on the other side of the door is a pile of newspapers that reaches all the way to the ceiling, completely blocking my path.
“If this is Randy’s idea of a practical joke,” I mutter to myself, “I’m suggesting to Management to move him to the bomb sniffing team in place of the toy poodles.”
Crap. Randy’s behind me. I really need to stop saying things out loud to myself.
I whirl on him, throwing my thumb back at the wall of inky grey papers.
“Did you do this?” I ask.
“No, of course not. If I’m putting up with being your roommate, Mary, do you really think I could afford to buy that many newspapers?”
“You’re a professional thief, Randy,” I say. I cock a hip. “I wasn’t really implying that I thought you’d bought them.”
Randy has yanked a paper from the top of the stack—lucky tall person, being able to reach all the way up there—and is now scanning the headlines.
“That’s strange,” he says.
“What could be stranger than a wall of newspapers blocking the entrance to our apartment?” I ask. My legs feel like Jell-O—and I’m talking before it’s had a chance to solidify. I’m so not in the mood for this right now.
“This newspaper is dated for next Tuesday.”
“What?” I rip it from Randy’s hand and see that he’s right. It’s marked with the date for next Tuesday, five days from now. And the headline, stretching all the way across the front page, is about a body found floating in the Thames.