As my old mother might have said, if I’d ever met her, “It’ll end in tears” and of course it usually did, along with a rain of other less disposable bodily fluids.
My high spirits may have had something to do with the fact that Ruby and Rory were giving me a lift to a job in Gracemount, a small but perfectly formed carbuncle on Edinburgh’s backside. Scratch it and you’d find it was only just within the city limits, but from what I’d heard, no other type applied.
“Hey Rose,” said Rory from the back of the car, “Must be great being such a Hell-spawn magnet. You must feel like the only booze at a Jakey street party every single day of your life.”
Glad of the distraction, I looked round at him sprawled over the back seat: eyes wide, mouth a cavernous o of horrified delight as though he had miraculously birthed a priceless pearl and wasn’t sure whether to get out the champagne or pay an urgent visit to the nearest Arse Emergency Department. My snappy come-back was a swine-like snort, triggering a vicious left hook somewhere behind the eyeballs – courtesy of the demon drink that had exorcised me good and proper last night. But that was okay, I was more than ready for a return bout tonight and then we’d see who was boss.
“Well at least that means someone loves her,” said Ruby wearily, having been dumped yet again the night before. She sighed and got back to concentrating on driving us out to the back of beyond and brooding over her latest rejection by a man almost twice as old as her, but with half her IQ: the most recent in a long, faecal string of serial shits.
Collectively, Ruby, Rory and I were the Fox-Garnet Agency, providing psychic services for the supernaturally challenged. What that really meant was we were mostly the clear up crew; psychic bin men for all manner of paranormal rubbish that no one else in their right minds would touch with top-of-the-line Haz Mat suits and a toxic waste facility the size of Brazil. Ruby and Rory were twins and the Fox part of the equation, I was the Garnet and business was out of this world.
Unbelievable as it was, there were people who touted Edinburgh’s toxic cess pit of a supernatural freak-fest to those foolish enough to dangle their nethers into it. And dangle they did, as though it was just another item on your ‘Scottish Holiday To Do List’, up alongside eating the contents of a live sheep’s stomach while being forced at gun point to listen to “Now That’s What I Call Bagpipes!” on a loop.
Given the unprecedented demand, the three of us had little choice but to go into business together because separately we just had too varied a work load and at least this way we could mostly pick the jobs best suited to our individual talents. The city was such a psychic hot spot, that if vengeful spirits and ancient grudges from beyond the grave were Olympic events, it would be prime contender for pure, spun gold. But make no mistake, the Fox-Garnet Agency got more than its share of the medals.
I had always thought that the secret to the city’s spirit-ridden success was because it had been built on seven hills; a volcanic plug spewed up as a dyspeptic offering from the belly of a bilious god, providing a vantage point more lofty than impregnable so the inhabitants got to see death coming. Instead of finding somewhere more amenable to sustaining their miserable lives, they focussed instead on the problem of how to make things worse. And they succeeded spectacularly. Edinburgh gave birth to the first slum high rises in the world ringed around by city walls just to make sure they built up instead of out. After all, no one loves a fat baby. Sheol was piled upon Gehenna as one hovel was built upon the next with the spaces in between serving as open sewers. These triumphs of human ingenuity were built so close to their neighbours, a flea couldn’t have passed in between them, but clearly some managed because the human population caught every plague and disease that fancied its chances. Whole streets were bricked up to try to contain the amorous attentions of whatever microbe that came courting. In this particular final solution, those who were about to die couldn’t even get a last hearty meal, never mind the space to salute.
And still they built up and up and up as though trying to clear the stench of the sewers from their nostrils or perhaps to get closer to a god that didn’t believe in them any more. When they had gone as high as they could go, banishing the light from the sky, they gouged at the soft sandstone ridge the godforsaken city sat precariously atop and burrowed downwards. Lo and behold, Hell on earth, above and below. The crush of the souls who had lived and died in what became a multi layered underground necropolis was like an albatross around the neck of anyone with the slightest sensitivity to such things. The weight of the world indeed.
But hey, why sweat the details of how we had come to this, because the proud proprietors of the Fox-Garnet Agency had never had it so good. So good in fact we were able to specialise. Ruby tended to do the clairvoyant work; Rory’s talents lay in exorcism and mine, well mine was communicating with the dead, but in truth all three overlapped. I was just glad that we were able to do something approaching constructive with the so-called ‘gift’. In ye olden days the church wouldn’t have rested until they had hunted us all down. And not just because they wanted to give us the usual full body massage, French-kiss and lingering pat on the backside.
But communicating with the dead was only one strand of what I did, what I was very, very good at and was yet another euphemism concealing something far worse. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t train to do it and at times I wondered whether I was going to survive it. I often thought that any other profession would have been better than this purgatory; you name it, it would have been a step up: traffic warden; sewer rat; maybe even social worker. I must confess here and now that the sad fact of the matter was that my speciality wasn’t. While it was true I could communicate with the dead, what made me unusual was that I had the sorry ability to kill them.