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Cassandra Palmer 1

By:Touch the Dark

dn't see a thing.

As strange as it sounds, a lot of people in the supernatural community don't believe in ghosts. Oh, some will agree that there is the occasional troubled spirit who hangs around its grave for awhile before accepting the inevitable, but few would accept it if I told them just how many spirits stick around after death, how many different types there are, and how active some of them can be. Spirits like Portia and Billy Joe are, for the supernatural community, like vamps are to the human—old stories and legends that are dismissed without proof. What can I tell you? It's a weird world.

I arrived at the club a few minutes later, out of breath and with aching arches, but intact. Showing up was, of course, a really bad idea. Even if nobody had followed me, a dozen people at the agency and my apartment building knew I worked there part-time. It was also only a block from Peachtree, which was not a coincidence I liked. If it ended up getting me killed, I planned to come back and haunt Tony. But I couldn't leave without warning my roommate and making some kind of arrangement for him. I had enough guilt without adding another messed-up life to my total.

The club, with its high ceiling of exposed steel joints, graffiti-covered concrete walls and massive dance floor, was larger than most, but that night, there were enough gyrating figures under the hanging disco lights to make it almost claustrophobic. I was grateful for the crush, since it made it less likely that anyone would notice me. I slipped in the back way and didn't encounter any problems—at least, not of the gun-waving, homicidal variety.

One of the bartenders had called in sick, so they were shorthanded, and Mike tried to talk me into subbing as soon' as he saw me. Normally I wouldn't have minded, since my usual job as one of his novelty acts didn't provide much in tips. I read tarot three nights a week, although I've never liked the cards. I used them because it's expected, but I don't need to squint at archaic images to know what's about to happen. My visions come in Technicolor and surround sound, and are a lot more complete. But most people would have preferred a standard reading to what I gave out. Like I said, I'm better at Seeing the bad stuff. Tonight, though, I declined the chance to make a few bucks. I didn't think bartending was the way I wanted to spend my last hour.

«What's the word?» Mike yelled at me cheerfully, doing a Tom Cruise with the liquor bottles to the rowdy appreciation of the crowd.

I sighed and dug in my purse. My fingers clenched around the greasy tarot deck that had been a tenth-birthday gift from my old governess, Eugenie. She'd had a charm put on the cards by some witch with a sense of humor, and I kept it with me because it was good for entertaining customers. But the predictions—which acted like a kind of karmic mood ring—had an eerie habit of being right on the money. I held it up and a card popped out. It wasn't one I wanted to see. «The Tower,» a booming voice began, before I shoved it back in the pack and deep into my purse.

«Is that good?» Mike asked, before getting distracted by a pretty blonde's cleavage. I merely nodded and hurried off, losing myself in the crowd before he could hear anything else. The voice was only a muffled croak from my overcrowded bag, but I didn't need to hear it to know what it said. The Tower signifies a huge, cataclysmic change, the kind that leaves a life completely altered. I tried to tell myself that it could have been worse—it could have been Death—but it wasn't much comfort. The Tower is probably the most feared card in the deck. Death can have many meanings, most not the literal one, but the Tower always indicates trouble for anyone who wants a quiet life. I sighed—what else was new?

I finally located Tomas in the Dungeon—Mike's nick-name for the basement room—wading through a sea of black-clad bodies with a tray of used glasses. He looked edible, as usual, if your thing is slender muscles, skin like honey over cream and sable hair that brushes his waist when he doesn't keep it pulled back. His face should look too rugged to be handsome, all high cheekbones and strong angles, but the delicacy of some of the features make up for it. His hair was off his face in a thick braid, a sure sign he was working, since he prefers it loose, but a few pieces had worked free and billowed about his head in fine strands. Mike had picked out the outfit: a black silk shirt knitted in a cobweb design that revealed more than it covered, sleek black jeans that fit him like a second skin and black leather boots that climbed halfway up his thighs. He looked like he ought to be headlining at a strip club instead of waiting tables, but the exotic, melt-in-your-mouth sex appeal pushed a lot of buttons for the Goths. I didn't exactly find it hard on the eyes, either.

Mike had decided about a year ago that Atlanta had enough country-and-western bars, so he turned the family drinking hole into a progressive haven upstairs and a Goth dream in the basement. Some locals had grumbled, but the younger crowd loved it. Tomas looked like he'd been designed for the place right along with the decor, and he brought in a lot of business, but it worried me that he spent half of every night fending off propositions. At least, I assumed he fended them off, since he never brought anyone back to the apartment. But I sometimes wondered, given his background, if getting him that particular job hadn't been one of my dumber moves.

Tomas looked a lot better than when I first saw him, hanging out at the local shelter with the kind of dead eyes that I was familiar with from my own street days. Lisa Porter, the manager and self-designated mother hen of the place, introduced us when I stopped by for one of my erratic volunteer sessions. We got to talking while sorting the newest donated clothes into piles of the usable, the need-repair and the g