Lucrezia Fanelli’s daughter got hysterical over the talk-pipe, telling me to please come right away because her mother’s soul was having a hissy fit.
Understand, I didn’t have much time before the boys in blue would start setting up roadblocks. (A foreign president was paying the Premier a visit, and not everyone in town agreed on the way the geezerbird handled human rights in her own country). I pulled on my patent-leather boots — make myself look a bit more presentable — and drove to Fanelli’s house like a madwoman. A bona neighborhood it was: acacia trees sprinkled with snow and Daphne shrubs that flowered in winter, all pink. Spoiled by the patrolling copsicles, though.
After leaping out of my Ford Anglia, I ran toward the Fanellis’ door, determined to talk the willful soul down, but the just-deceased Mamma was already mincing outside, a smirk on her ectoplasmic face. The nuisance fluttered past me just as the first armored truck passed by, and then a second, and a third, making a hellish din. She stopped, wide-eyed and shuddering. Before I could grab her, she ducked into the storm drain that yawned under the curb.
“Fanelli, old sow!” I yelled. Talk to my butt.
I bit my tongue. It doesn’t take much to frighten freshers, and the presidential racket wasn’t helping. “Nobody’s going to hurt you.”
She stayed where she was.
“I know it’s weird, being out of your bod, Mamma. We just need a minute.”
Yeah, clients are free to refuse what I have to offer, but I can’t let them scarper off without trying to weigh their soul, lest the ghosts remain here forever, never upgrading. The prospect of chasing her around, missing other jobs, sickened me. Picture me cursing.
“It’s always better to know your karmic value.” Ohhh, lame. “Think of your daughter. If you hang around, she’ll lose ecaf, and when the moment comes to take over my position–”
Right then, the biggest dog in the goddamn world came out of nowhere and flung itself at the drain, barking as if the One whose name is Legion was having a mass baby shower in the sewer.
“Leave that soul alone,” I cried.
The cur, a black-striped monster, thrust its head into the mouth of the drain.
A van screeched to a halt, and a dogcatcher got off, clutching one of those noose-like implements. The mutt skedaddled, catcher on its heels.
I slumped down on the snowy tarmac. “Now move it, Fanelli.”
Along came a couple of copsicles: a broad-shouldered mustachioed dish and a polone with eyes like coal — butch but dolly in her own way.
And here I was, sitting on the curb, apparently talking to the storm drain and urging it to move.
The polone went: “Whatcha doing?”
“Trying to get a cat out of the drain.”
The mustachio: “D’you live around here?”
“I was going to Mrs. Fanelli’s house.” (Pointing to a three-story lattie with Doric columns.)
The copsicles studied my drags. Oh, boy. Picture me dressed in Army kaffies, parka open on a purple sweatshirt with “COPPERS = SS” tarred across the chest in scrawling penmanship–not to mention the black balaclava. I was sweaty despite the cold. My unruly greying riah was surely sticking out of the hood in pitiful ringlets, and my parka sleeves were gutted from the elbow down. They couldn’t glimpse my shiny aura. Of course I work undercover.
I knew what they were thinking (the outfit and the witch-grey locks don’t match the house, and the cat is probably imaginary, too.)
The polone: “If you get your cat out–”
“It’s Mamma Fanelli’s.”
“Did the missus ask you to get her cat out of the drain?”
This question was weird because who wouldn’t want to help any imperiled cat?
Problem was, Fanelli (may her soul rot in Limbo) had no cat. Understand, in my line of work, I’m not supposed to lie.
All right, all right, I did lie about the kitten; the fib somehow spilled out. But, hey, picture me telling them about a spooked soul hiding in the gutter.
The mustachio: “So, you get the cat out. What then?”
“I put her in Fanelli’s house and go home.”
They ogled me like they didn’t believe a word. In their suspicious minds, I was either going to shush riches from the Doric-columned lattie or bomb the presidential entourage.
“D’you have any I.D., ma’am?”
Gums. I’d forgotten my driving license at home.
After some convincing (they disliked the idea of me putting hand in pocket to grab my talk-pipe), they let me call Fanelli’s daughter. She didn’t pick up. Minutes crawled by. A foreign president headed in our direction, and my copsicles had a meshigener (or an anarchist) on their hands.
They were going to arrest me. Disaster! My undercover blown. Fanelli’s soul arsing about with no upgrades.
More sweat plastered my riah to my skull.
But, holy cod, didn’t I jump when the blasted wraith stuck her head up through the drain cover, at the copsicles’ back… The rest of her followed, until Mamma Fanelli was standing there, shaking her cane.
She went: “Where the heck is my cat?”
The copsicles pivoted. “Ma’am.”
She was blurry at the edges but, as she cackled, the motorcade swept past. Our badged chums nodded and went ciao-ciao.
I let out the longest breath of all my lives.
The ghost, sheepishly: “I’m ready.”
(I put up with everything just for this moment, when a soul chooses to learn the truth.)
Mamma Fanelli extended a hand, a see-through heart spinning on her palm.
I fished the wee handheld scale out of my pocket, connected it wirelessly to my mobile pipe.
She positioned her ticker upon the tray. “That was a G.D. I just did, right?”
“A good deed, sure. After a major screw-up.”
I ogled the screen. Sighed.
She lowered her head.
I muttered, “Light enough.”
Picture Mamma Fanelli’s smile.
And off did we troll, for the stars.
Gio Clairval is an Italian-born writer and translator who has lived most of her life in Paris, France, and now commutes between Lake Como, Italy, and Edinburgh, Scotland, followed by her pet, a giant pike. Her fiction has appeared in magazines such as Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Galaxy’s Edge, and several anthologies, including punkPunk! (Dog Horn Publishing), The Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (HarperCollins), Caledonia Dreamin’ (Eibonvale Press), Darke Phantastique (Cicatrix Press), and Postscripts (PS Publishing). She blogs intermittently at KOSMOCHLOR and regularly haunts Twitter, where she is known as @gioclair.