Midlife Bounty Hunter – Shannon Mayer

The saying goes that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results was the definition of insanity. I wasn’t sure that was entirely true. I suspected that doing something completely out of the norm, something no sane person would ever consider doing, fell a bit closer to the mark. I stood, résumé in hand, in front of a massive wrought iron gate that led into a decommissioned graveyard that was apparently so old, no one cared there were bodies in it. Of course, maybe that wasn’t so unusual given there were bodies buried under every part of Savannah. Having grown up here, though, I had been surprised to see a graveyard I’d not known about. A quick glance at the paper in my hand, my name in bold at the top—Breena O’Rylee —my grandmother’s maiden name, thank you very much. The last thing I wanted right then was to be connected to Himself—also known as my a-hole of an ex-husband, may he rot in pieces after suffering through a case of testicular shrinkage that would take his voice into soprano octaves. See how he liked that when arguing a case in court. “Hello?” I tapped the tip of my shoe on the gates, rattling them soundly. “Is this 696 Old Hollows Road?” I grimaced as my voice drifted over the early night air. Really, it was kind of a dumb question seeing as the address was hung clearly on the left gate. I was at the right place, but where were the interviewers? Gawd almighty, this was .

insane. Insane. I checked my watch. Eammon, the friend of a friend who’d invited me for the group interview, had said to be here at 6:00 p.m. It was 6:15, and I’d shown up five minutes early. No other interviewees that I’d seen. So, either I’d gotten my time wrong, or I was the only one applying for the job. If I was the only one, maybe that would guarantee me the job. Not a bad thing if it paid as well as Eammon had hinted. I sighed to myself. Here I was, being crazy, impetuous, and unsafe, or so Himself would say, but I’d still shown up early.

At least I hadn’t lost all grasp of my adult responsibilities. Himself would probably disagree. He tended to disagree with anything I did. My mouth tipped downward into a tired grimace thinking of Himself. Slick-as-snot divorce lawyer that he was, I should have seen it coming a mile and a half off. Well, that’s not entirely true, I’d seen it coming. What I hadn’t seen was how he’d hung me out to dry. But there you go, that’s what I got for being trusting. A high-speed chase and some assorted hijinks later, here I was back in Savannah, a place I’d spent my childhood loving, a place my grandmother had lived her whole life. A place where bogeymen were real, ghosts could talk to you if you listened closely, and black magic could catch you if you weren’t careful.

Or so she’d always said. I leaned my head against the wrought iron, the coolness of it offsetting the heat of the air, only a little. “Gran, I wish you were here.” She died six months ago, and the guilt of not being there for her threatened daily to undo me. I’d left at eighteen, told her that I didn’t believe in a shadow world that didn’t exist, and ran as far away as I could. Because that’s what Himself had said, that it was crazy. She’d told me I was welcome home whenever I needed a safe place to land. She’d loved me unconditionally, and it had taken me years to grow up and realize that. Because, fool that I was, I’d let Himself convince me that my life had been a lie, his love would save me, and the world was a place governed by unshakeable truths. The first of which was that magic was a lie, and if I believed in it, then I was nothing more than a child.

Someone who needed protecting from herself. Desperate to be normal, I’d . I shook my head at the memories. “I knew better,” I whispered to myself. I damn well knew better. I’d followed Himself to Seattle and tried to forget it all, tried to forget everything Gran ever taught me. To pretend it wasn’t real. But that’s not how the shadow world worked. There were shadows everywhere the light touched, and the creatures that hid in them —while not so numerous in Seattle—recognized that I could see them. My jaw tightened over what he’d done when I’d woken screaming that there was a bogeyman standing over our bed.

A bogeyman who laughed at me, chased me onto the street, and through early morning traffic. Naked. Screaming. Someone had taken pictures and I’d made the paper. Himself had not taken it lightly, his reputation being attached to me. To be fair, I was startled, and the bogeyman was one of the worst monsters out there, creating fear in a way that not many others could. I’d not reacted the way I’d been taught, and for it, Himself had put me in a mental institute. Gran had come to me, of course, even though Himself hadn’t visited me once. I should have seen the light then, but I still believed he loved me. I closed my eyes, the moment with Gran as poignant now as it had been then.

The smell of her perfume whispered across my senses and I’d woken to see her leaning over me. Soft green eyes, long silver hair braided back from her face rather than the usual wild mess it was, pale skin with the hint of the freckles that had once been there, long before I arrived on her doorstep. Her gnarled fingers brushed across my still-young cheeks. “Honey girl . what have they done to you? You are no crazier than I am. Seeing the shadows is more normal than not.” My arms and legs were strapped down as if I were a danger to myself. Bindings bit into my flesh, indenting it. I suppose seeing as I’d run into traffic, the doctors might think I was trying to kill myself, even if that hadn’t been the case. “Take it away, Gran.

I can’t live a life and deal with the shadow world. I know you can take it away.” My voice was sluggish from the sedation, but I remembered her face. “I don’t want it anymore.” The tears that slid down her wrinkled cheeks cut into me, but I didn’t draw back from what I wanted. From what I thought was best for me and Himself. Her hands cupped my face and she swept her thumbs over my eyes first, closing them. “Sight bind thee from the shadows,” then her hands covered my ears, “ears whisper nothing,” then slid to my hands, “touch be gone, let the shadows fall no more to thee.” The spell was simple, and then I was released from the institute. Gran stayed only a few days; Himself didn’t like her.

With that simple spell from Gran on her first visit to me in my new town, I’d finally stopped seeing the strange, dark things of my childhood. I’d almost stopped believing in them too. “I WAS WRONG, Gran. I was so wrong,” I whispered now. Erasing all of that hadn’t been worth it. If I’d learned anything at the ripe old age of forty-one, it was that no dream could last forever, and no man can save you from yourself. Despair is a funny thing, and it has the tendency to bring out the believer in anyone. The logical part of my head said I was being crazy, but that logical side sounded a lot like Himself. Anger snapped through me and I muttered under my breath. If I’d been texting, the typo would have looked something like “Duck off.

” Coming home to Savannah, I was ready to face the past. To see what I had to see. And maybe, just maybe I could figure out who I was. Yeah, I know. You’d think I should’ve known that by my age. Wrapping my fingers around the wrought iron, I whispered a prayer my gran taught me, oh so long ago. A prayer for help. Though maybe not the kind of prayer the normal populace would whisper at the edge of a graveyard. “Sky above me, earth below me, fire within me, let my spirit see thee and the shadows that walk at my side.” The metal under my hand trembled suddenly, and I lifted my head off the gate.

“That’s lovely.” I spun around, my back against the gate, to see one of the tallest men I’d ever come across in my life. Well over seven feet tall, he was slim as a stick and moved carefully as if he knew he was a big guy who could scare people if he moved too fast. He wore big thick glasses that made his eyes seem larger than they probably were. Owl-like was my first thought. He wore tan pants and a white button-down shirt with a dark green bow tie, of all things, which all only added to the look of a nutty professor. He touched the middle of his glasses, adjusting them on his face with fingers that looked way too long even for a big guy like him. “I’m sorry, are you here for the interviews?” I arched a brow or made my best attempt at it. I couldn’t raise them independently no matter how hard I tried. He shook his head.

“No, no, I’m here to hire Hollows Group. But they aren’t answering my emails.” He made a typing motion with both hands as if I wouldn’t otherwise understand what an email was. “I thought I’d come and speak to them in person. They can be a bit difficult to track down.” “Sounds like a bad business practice to me,” I said. He clasped both hands in front of him and rocked on his heels. “I’m not high on their priority list.” Staring at him, I knew he wasn’t quite human. There was a sense of other about him.

I didn’t have a better word for it, but it felt undeniable, and the realization that he was part of the shadow world did something funny to my heart. Had the prayer worked that quickly? Was it so simple that just wanting to see would open my eyes? I wasn’t sure. I’d been too long away from Savannah. I couldn’t deny what I felt rolling off this tall fellow. All those years away from here, and a part of me had started to believe Himself was right, that my childish mind had been influenced by my grandmother and her friends and their training. I cleared my throat and pulled my purse around in front of me. “Why don’t you write down your information, and I’ll give it to them. I’m interviewing with them tonight.” His eyebrows climbed all the way up to his too-long bangs. “You? Aren’t you .

” He trailed off. I paused in pulling out a scratch piece of paper. “You want them to get the message, or you want me to throw it in the first trash can I find, leggy?” He took the paper, his skin flushing pink even in the dusky light, wrote on the scrap, folded it three times, and handed it back to me. “Thank you.” With a quick nod, I stuffed the note into my purse. Looked up, and he was gone. I peered down the road that led up to the gates, and there was no lanky figure walking along. Nothing. Like a ghost. I dug the paper out of my purse and flipped it open, half expecting it to be blank.

But his name was there. Eric, with a phone number and a request to be called ASAP. So maybe not a ghost? But he’d disappeared like one, and I had muttered Gran’s prayer of seeing. It couldn’t be that easy, could it? I touched a hand to my head, wondering. She’d always said part of the reason so many people didn’t see the shadow world was because they didn’t believe in it. That lack of belief kept their minds and eyes closed. Gran had said even those who wanted to believe often didn’t see because there was another part to the shadow world. Well, I was embracing it now, even if it was about twenty years later than she’d hoped. I wished she could see me here and now; she’d be clapping her hands and cheering me on. A smile flitted across my lips.

Gone a split second later. I needed this job, and if I took it, I suspected I’d be plunging myself directly into the world I’d spent so many years denying. Although, Eammon had refused to tell me much about the company and the fact the business card had led me to this side of the river to a n unnamed, uncharted cemetery across from Bonaventure Cemetery, had presented rather strong evidence. I’d told myself it might be some gimmicky tour company, but I damn well knew the job was going to be related to the shadow world. I put a hand on the gate and gave it a rattle, irritation flowing faster now. “Hello? I’m here for the interview. Hollows Group? Eammon gave me his card, said I’d be a good fit.” If this wasn’t the weirdest interview I’d ever been to, I’d eat my purse and everything in it. Then again, if Eammon had been truthful, the pay was better than anything out there. He’d told me I could make upward of twenty thousand a month—more than enough to buy Gran’s house.

Himself had said he was going to sell it, and even though it was mine by rights, I didn’t have a choice. I had to buy it back and do it in a way that he didn’t know it was me, or no doubt he’d charge me double. Or not sell it at all. He’d manipulated the divorce paperwork in an outrageous manner, moving my signature from the papers I’d thought I’d signed to new divorce papers that gave him everything. I frowned, something tugging at my mind like a word on the tip of your tongue. I couldn’t quite pull the thought forward. Something to do with the paperwork. I shook my head. Nothing I could do about it right then. I had to keep my focus on point.

Which was why this opportunity sounded so tantalizing. Since arriving in Savannah, I’d had three phone calls from the debt collectors for a debt that was supposed to belong to Himself, and I’d been officially divorced less than a week. I was going to have to get a new number to avoid them. I worried at my bottom lip a moment before I shook it off. Forget waiting around; I needed this job, and if that meant I needed to be a bit more aggressive, then so be it. I took a look at the gate lock, gave it an experimental twist and then nodded to myself. Gran’s training had included some practical skills, useful in any world. Lock picking was one. A quick rummage in my purse produced a couple bobby pins that had been in there for God only knew how long. I bent them at different angles and slid them into the lock.

“A bit on the sticky side, but I’ll get you,” I muttered. The pressure on the pins from the tumblers in the lock gave me a moment of fear that I’d snap them off. A sudden click and the lock popped open. Grinning, I unlatched the chains holding the gates shut. Score one for the old broad. There was always more than one way to skin a cat, or pick a lock, so you could get into an interview in a graveyard. Gran would be proud of me, watching over me from wherever she was. I did a mock salute to the stars, just in case. The chains slithered across the wrought iron, clanging as they went. Not that I was trying to be quiet.

I let myself in, then shut the gate and slid the chain back into place, dummy locking it, so I’d be able to get out. Adjusting my bag on my shoulder, I started down the hardpacked dirt path. There were stones here and there that said it had been cobblestone at some point, but most of those rocks were gone. Eammon hadn’t said to bring a flashlight, but I’d snagged one from the entryway of the place I was staying until I could get a place of my own. My current living situation was not ideal, but at least I had a place to sleep and hadn’t ended up on the street. A definite possibility after I’d been evicted from my home in Seattle. Even if my temporary roommate was Himself’s black sheep of a cousin, Corb. Again, a bit of a story how it all happened. This one involved an elevator, an airplane, and an unintentional friend request. Joke was on him, though—I’d taken him up on his offer of giving me a place to live while I got back on my feet.

Through him I’d met Eammon. I flicked the flashlight on and swept the beam around. There was no obvious person waiting for me. I tucked my résumé into my bag and pulled out the card Eammon had given me. On one side was the name of the company “Hollows Group” and the address. On the other side was Eammon’s scrawl. Be bold. Show what you’ve got. We like brains. Brains, I had those, and one of Himself’s major complaints was that I was too loud and brassy.

Bold was an easy step to the left of that, and surely my lock picking qualified. I lengthened my stride as the sun dropped and the evening cooled, scaling back the humidity that never quite died this far south. My mind whirred through the events of the last twenty minutes. The locked gate, the absence of anyone waiting to greet me. Maybe this was some sort of test. As soon as I thought the question, I knew I was right. Which meant I needed to figure out just what it was they wanted me to figure out. How long had it been since I’d even thought about the shadow world? Too long, and I was going to be as rusty as that lock out front if I didn’t pull myself together. A slow circle with the flashlight and something danced off to my left, just out of sight, ducking behind one of the few gravestones that hadn’t given in to gravity. I froze, my gut clenching with that fear of the unknown that my grandmother had instilled in me.

All the Irish in me reared its very superstitious head. Bad enough that part of me thought Eammon was a leprechaun. Not just think, you know he is. I gritted my teeth and ignored that inner voice that sounded so much like my gran. Gran as she’d been in her prime, filled with love for the darker side of things, a love she’d instilled in me. It had all seemed so far away when I was on the West Coast. It had been easy to think Himself was right, that she was eccentric and maybe a little crazy. “Crazy old lady, before you know it, she’ll be overrun with cats and that house will be taken over by the city, ruining the value,” he’d said more than once. The value of the house always being the key point. What a ducking douche.

But here I was, stepping willingly into the same crazy waters that my gran had lived in. A part of me wondered if it wasn’t a mid-life crisis kind of thing. You know, suddenly you start dancing under the moonlight and chanting together as you burn incense and eat mushrooms that make your head spin. The other part of me knew I’d just opened the door I’d asked Gran to shut all those years ago with that simple prayer I’d whispered. Because seeing bogies in the dark of a graveyard wasn’t something I’d experienced in a long, long time. And that was exactly what I was seeing—a figure that wasn’t human. Maybe it had been, but it surely wasn’t now. What in the world was I getting myself into?

.

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