The sign on the coffee shop community cork board read Help for Haunted Houses.
Vera Birch snapped a discreet picture with her phone, claimed her double latte, and settled into a booth. Before she could drop the phone into her voluminous purse, it jangled merrily. The screen displayed a playful picture of Wonder Woman with ebony skin and a gigantic seventies afro. It was her favorite picture of Emma and it never failed to lift Vera’s mood.
“Bloody hell!” Emma’s crisp, clipped, and thoroughly British voice exclaimed. “How do you find us?”
Vera’s lips curled into a smile. “Good morning, darling girl.”
“Don’t you darling me,” Emma snipped back. “How do you find us. Seriously.”
“I found this one on several community boards around the Short North neighborhood here in Columbus.”
“No joke,” Vera replied, unruffled. "I’ll text the picture to you. So, it’s the real thing then?”
“I’d bet ten quid she’s the real deal. And struggling with it.” Emma sputtered a string of vehement cursing. “On a community board you say? There’s no way she put that sign up. No way.”
Vera sipped the warm, caffeinated, creamy comfort from her cup. The coffee, as always, was sheer perfection. Just like the sweet-faced barista behind the counter. The girl looked over and tilted her head. Vera raised her cup in salute and winked, causing the girl to duck her head shyly and touch her fingertips to the purple hijab covering her hair. “I happen to know she didn’t put up the signs herself. A very sweet, very innocent good Samaritan put the signs up.”
“Well then. That fits.”
"You’re sure about this person’s qualifications?”
There was a dramatic pause. Vera felt the waves of silent disapproval rolling in from another time zone.
“I wouldn’t ask that question if it wasn’t important, Emma.”
“Talking to that creature was like kissing a cold fish. Until I mentioned the Unhaunted website. Then she lit right up.”
A twinge of alarm caused Vera to grip her mug tighter.
“You mentioned our website?”
“I needed to get some kind of reaction out of her. And I got one.” A heavy snort sounded through the connection. “She squealed like a ruddy teenager with a new mobile and asked how quickly we could debunk her.”
“Ah,” Vera smiled and relaxed, taking another sip of her coffee. "So, no doubt then. She’s definitely the real deal.”
“She’ll make an excellent addition to your cracked menagerie.” There was a twinge of bitterness in Emma’s tone.
“Emma, I wish you wouldn’t label yourself as cracked.”
“Save your buttery bits for this meeting. You’re going to need them. And I’m going to be extremely put out if you don’t secure this particular specimen. This one is real enough. In all the ways that matter. She’ll keep her appointment with you today. She needs you more than you need her. No matter how outrageous she acts, this cracked bird needs us. Remember that.”
“Right. Anything else I should know?”
Another dramatic snort. “She calls herself Lorelei, but her stage name is Allura Mystique.”
“Don’t dwell on it,” Emma snapped. “Just remember, whether she calls herself Lorelei or Allura, she is definitely a she.”
“Good grief! What on earth does that mean?”
“All will be clear soon enough. Call me after your little interview, Professor. You owe me an explanation.”
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