Mr. Nekomata

Bang. Bang.



Bang. Bang. Bang.

Monday morning. Someone was knocking on my front door. I opened one eye and groaned. My alarm clock said it was just after eight. I'd worked all day Sunday and then Rick and I had patrolled into the wee hours of the night, trying our best to keep up with the influx of supernatural activity. I'd clocked approximately three hours of sleep. Who the hell had come-a-callin' at this hour?

The metal on metal sound of a key turning in a lock had me bolt upright in bed. What the heck? The only other person with a key to my house was my dad and he...Oh crap.

"Please, come in Mr. Nekomata," my father's voice boomed from below me. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap.

I bound out of bed and dressed like the house was on fire, not even bothering to brush my hair. Instead, I ran my fingers through it and tucked it behind my ears on the way down the stairs. In my foyer, an elderly Japanese man in an expensive looking camel hair coat smiled at me from my father's side.

"Um, Dad? What's going on?" I said through a forced smile.

He cleared his throat and adjusted his briefcase in his hands. "We knocked, Grateful."

"I was sleeping."

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With the professional demeanor worthy of a top real estate agent, Dad addressed his client. "Mr. Nekomata, will you excuse me for just a moment?" He grabbed my elbow and nudged me through the kitchen to the semi-private nook that led to the garage.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

He leaned in close and whispered, "Grateful, I know you wanted to buy this place, and I turned aside Mr. Helleborine just as you asked, but it's been over six weeks and you haven't made an offer."

Helleborine was the name of the herb used to kill me during my last lifetime. I'd called in a favor from my dad when a "Mr. Helleborine" wanted to buy my house, sure that it was actually Julius threatening my seat of magic. At least this guy was human. There was a protective enchantment around the house that kept anything preternatural from entering without an invitation. "Why didn't you call?"

"Nekomata is a big spender. He's been snatching up property all over the state, paying above market price. I told him I'd taken the place off the market temporarily. He showed up at my office today and paid me to show it anyway."

"He paid you to show him the house?" That was highly irregular.

"Two hundred dollars, Grateful. I'm showing it. If you'd like us to wait a moment for you to leave, we will."

"Leave? No, I'm not leaving."

"Okay then. Awkward or not, carrying on." He straightened his suit jacket.

What could I do? I swallowed hard and marched back up the stairs. As my father began explaining the amenities in the kitchen, I cruised into the attic and roused Poe.

"Yes, My Supreme Witchiness," he said dryly.

"There's someone here, looking at the house, like to buy it. We can't let that happen."

"I agree that would be unfortunate," the raven said.

"You've got to do something." I poked his black, feathered chest.

"I've got to do something? Seems like you've got to do something."

"Hey, you're my familiar. You're supposed to help me."

Poe sighed and ruffled his feathers. He yawned and his beak clacked a few times like he was trying to wake up. "Okay. What do you want me to do?"

"Maybe you could fly down the chimney and like, flap your wings in his face or something."

The raven tilted his head and closed one eye as if to say the idea was pathetic. "How about if I transform into a rat and scurry down into your kitchen?"

"You can do that?"

"Honestly, woman, read the damn book." Promptly, he fluttered down to the floor, transformed into a huge black sewer rat, and scurried out the door. A few moments later I heard Dad scream like a girl and then the sound of the broom being smacked against the floor.

"Sorry, Poe," I whispered under my breath.

"Robert, do not worry. Where I come from, a rat in the kitchen is a sign of good fortune."

"Oh? Is that a Japanese thing?"

"No, a Nekomata family thing. Rat in the kitchen means there must be food in the kitchen." The men laughed. I heard my father lead the way into the basement.

"You've got to be kidding me," I said to Poe as he returned, transforming into his feathered self.

"Gave it my best shot," he said, returning to the spot next to the Book of Light where I'd found him sleeping.

"Noooo, we are not giving up that easily." I opened the book, forcing him to move from his perch to make room. "What can I do during the day?" I asked Poe. But it was the book that answered. Frantically, its pages flipped until they settled open near the middle.

"Damn! Did you know it could do that?"

The raven gave a rhythmic caw that sounded a lot like a laugh.

I peeked at the open page. "Connecting to the Earth," I read. Poe stretched his neck to see the spell. "Although Hecate draws her power from the night air, it can be useful for her to connect to the Earth during the day. This is possible by drawing on her connection to her caretaker and his earthly bond. To do so, she need only concentrate on the bond and direct the resulting energy into the form she requires."

Poe fluffed his wings. "Sounds easy enough, even for you."

"Hey! Aren't you supposed to be more supportive?"

He shrugged.

I plopped down on the floor, opening my connection with Rick. Poe flapped down from his perch and crawled into my lap. "What're you doing?" I asked him.

"I'm your familiar; I'm amplifying your power," he drawled.

I sank my fingers into his feathers, reflexively massaging the muscles around his neck. Eyes closed, I pictured Rick and took a deep breath. Our connection opened. I saw him in the shower, rinsing his hair. He paused and looked directly at me, as if he could actually see me. Was my mind creating this or was it real? Mentally, I shifted my attention to the house. I needed something to happen to scare my father and Mr. Nekomata out. Focusing on the basement where they were, I channeled my will.

With a violent start, the house began to shake, foundation rumbling until the windows rattled. Three floors below, my dad cursed. Uh oh. I forgot about the wine cellar. My eyes popped open. I hoped I hadn't cracked a bottle of Shiraz with the earthquake I caused.

The house gradually stopped shaking. "That should do it," I said to Poe.

He bobbed his head. "Well done, Spell-Casting Queen. My pleasure to have assisted you." His words carried more than a tinge of sarcasm. He flew up to his perch next to the book and tucked his head back under his wing.

That was all the help I was getting from Poe. "Thanks," I said impassively. I jogged down two flights of stairs and met the two men as they came up from the basement. Dad was whiter than the ghosts that used to live in my attic, but Mr. Nekomata seemed even more elated with the place.

"I guess you noticed the rumbling. It's been happening sporadically since I moved in. The residents of Red Grove tell me the house is built over a sinkhole. Could go at any time." There, that should do it.

Mr. Nekomata nodded and walked toward the door. Good, he was going. Only, he didn't. He turned at the stairs. "Show me upstairs, Mr. Knight," he said.

"But...but, aren't you worried about the sinkhole?" I stammered.

"No. My company plans to demolish the place anyway. This town needs a modern bed and breakfast." He started up the stairs.

Holy mother of all clients who would not leave! This guy was killing me. I chased after my father who still looked like he might vomit but was forcing himself up the stairs. I still had one ace up my sleeve, and I was about to play it. I rushed past them to the curtains I kept drawn on the second floor landing.

"I'm so sorry to have wasted your time, Mr. Nekomata, but this property is all wrong for a bed and breakfast. No one would ever pay money to stay here."

My father gave me stink-eye, but I didn't quit.

"Why do you think so, young lady?" Mr. Nekomata asked.

Dramatically, I threw back the curtains and pointed at the backyard. "The house backs right up to a graveyard. It will scare away the customers."

The old man approached the window, wrinkled hands moving gracefully to couple behind his back, gaze falling softly across the rows of snow-covered headstones. Seconds ticked by. Dad looked like his head might explode, he was so mad at me. His face was bright red, and he kept doing this clenching thing with his jaw. The bottom eyelid of his right eye twitched.

"I don't think so," client from hell said. "No backyard neighbors means no noise. Plus, paranormal investigations are very popular these days. We might be able to capitalize on the trend."

My jaw hinged open. Dad's face split into a told-you-he-was-serious smile. He raised eyebrows in my direction. I was speechless and completely out of magic.

"Robert, I will be in touch with my offer. Thank you for accommodating me on such short notice."

"You're welcome!" my dad said. "No problem whatsoever."

He didn't even bother with the bedrooms. The two men descended and Dad opened the door for his client. They exchanged a firm handshake and then Mr. Nekomata was gone.

With a slow thud, Dad closed the door and pivoted toward me. The look he gave me was one I hadn't seen since my teen years, a quiet anger that told me I was in big trouble.

"Don't you have to drive him back to your office?" I mumbled.

"Nope. He met me here."

"You promised me you'd let me buy this place."

He blinked slowly and shook his head. "Grateful..."

"You promised me."

He shook a finger at me. "There is no way you are going to raise $250,000! I said I'd give you six weeks; I gave you eight. Now, get over it."

"All I have to do is qualify for a loan. I'm making good money now. If I pay off my debt, it could happen."

Dad put his hands on his hips and lowered his head. After a few moments, he gave an exasperated sigh. "I'm sorry, Grateful, but if Nekomata offers me above market price for this house, I'm selling."


He placed his hands on my shoulders and rubbed. With a sigh, he met my eyes. I thought he'd cave, give me a month or something. But I was wrong. "You'll thank me someday. Your attachment to this place is unnatural. You belong in the city where you can have fun, meet people. We never intended this to be permanent, and frankly, with the way this house shook today, I'm not comfortable with you staying here much longer. It might not even be safe."

"But, Dad..." Crap. In hindsight, the earthquake was a bad idea.

Before I could say another word he pulled me into his embrace. "You'll see. It'll be for the best."

At this point, what could I say? Yes, I want to live in a house that will soon be swallowed by a sinkhole? I was so stupid. My ruse had been a double-edged sword. After the rat and the earthquake, there was no way Dad was going to do anything to help me stay here. I was lucky he hadn't insisted I move out immediately.

For the second time since I'd moved in, I thought about telling Dad the truth. Coming clean about the nature of the house and my role as the witch might solve the problem. But just like before, my conscience wouldn't let me. For me, learning about the supernatural was like waking up to find myself living in a nightmare. Before I'd accepted my role as witch, I'd been overwhelmed with helplessness. At least now, I could defend myself. Dad would have no such luxury. In this case, ignorance truly was bliss.

I reassured myself that I could fix this without ruining my dad's life with the truth. Nekomata was only a man after all, and I had a book of magic on my side. Maybe I was getting ahead of myself, anyway. Mr. Nekomata might change his mind and not make an offer. Even if he did, buying a house took time. Likely, I'd have months before the closing to do what I needed to botch the sale. Perhaps his financing wouldn't go through or some other misfortunate event would render the sale impossible.

With a deep sigh, I took a step back. "What do you want to do about Thanksgiving?"

He glanced around my foyer as if he expected it to crumble around us at any moment. "I don't think we should have it here."

Stupid. Stupid. Why had I made this house seem dangerous? I offered an olive branch. "Your place?"

"One o'clock?"

"Sure. A late lunch would be fine with me."

He shook his head. "Oh no. We'll be having dinner. I need you there at one to help me cook the bird. We're not ordering out this year. We're going to do this the traditional way or not at all."

I tried to remember the last time my father and I cooked together. Nothing. The part of my brain compartmentalized for cooking was empty and cobweb filled. "It's your stomach," I said cynically.

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