Last time on Jane Crow, Jane caught her boyfriend in bed with her stepsister, magically disguised as her. After ripping the illusion spell away and kicking her stepsister’s ass, Jane found herself summoned by none other than the Witch Queen herself.
It’s not like Macbeth, where we meet upon the heath or some crap like that. We met at a Starbucks in Arlington. It was a cold but rainy February and I had gotten a train ticket and an invitation to talk to the Witch Queen, the head of the Invisible Coven. Now that’s weird, because nobody gets to meet the Witch Queen. Usually you only get to talk to the Council chairperson, who is sort of like the Metatron or the Mouth of Sauron. But no, me, I get a handwritten note from the grand poobah of all witchery telling me to come meet her and not to tell anyone.
Seriously, how can you not take a meeting like that?
I told my teachers that my mom was going in for surgery and I needed a few days off, hopped on the Amtrak and cranked my Mastercard to its student max getting a room at the Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City. Okay, it’s totally true that I was kind of high on self-importance. I mean, between resolving years of childhood issues with my fists, finding out I had a kind of magic no one had ever seen before and getting a clandestine meet-up with the most important witch in America? Serious ego problems. I’m better now. But I digress.
Oh crap, did I really just say “but I digress?” Shoot me now.
Anyway, after two days and one night of lavish room service and spa massages, I bundled myself up that rainy February afternoon and went out the the Starbucks to meet the Witch Queen.
The place was surprisingly busy, considering this was supposed to be a private meeting. Still, I got in line and ordered myself a venti hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and stood by the counter waiting. The note had only specified the time and place, so I didn’t know if I was looking for a man or woman, wearing a blue carnation or one red shoe.
“Jane,” said a voice from behind me. I turned around to see a thirty-something woman with short brunette hair and wire-rimmed glasses. She was in a black collared blouse and a pair of jeans that Goldilocks would have said fit her just right. She looked far more like the Soccer Mom Queen.
“Y-yeah,” I stammered, surprised at how surprised I was to meet someone I was expecting to meet here. I’m not usually caught off guard, especially by someone who looks entirely normal. (Actually, I’m caught off guard a lot. I just handle it really really well.)
“I’m Eleanor. Eleanor Erwin. So good to meet you.” She held out one perfectly manicured hand. I shook it. “Your cocoa’s ready,” she said.
“Venti hot chocolate?” the barrista shouted, looking around because obviously the customer waiting at the counter couldn’t possibly be the one the drink was for. I took a cardboard heat sink and put the cup in it.
“Come on,” Eleanor said. “Let’s sit.”
I followed without the slightest sarcastic commentary.
Schlumphing into an overstuffed paisley armchair, I finally got it together enough to introduce myself.
“Jane Crow. But you knew that, I guess.”
“I know a lot less about you than you might think, sweetie,” she said. There was a coffee in her hand now that I swear hadn’t been there before.
“So what’s this about, Eleanor?” I was already embarrassed by my initial awkwardness.
“It’s true about you,” she said like she was impressed with something. “I can’t see a trace of witchery on you.”
“That’s what they say.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m older than the country, Jane. You really are something new.”
“I want to try something,” she said, reaching into her purse. She took out a small spool of golden thread and unwound about a foot of it. She snapped the thread off and wound one end around my finger. Her smile never faltered.
“Do you know who Charles Moulton was?” she asked me. I shook my head. “He was the creator of the lie detector,” she continued. “He also created Wonder Woman and lived with both his wife and his mistress.”
I looked down at the golden thread lassoed about my finger.
“You’re going to Wonder Woman me?”
“It’s a simple spell. Like a lie detector, it tells me if there’s any change in your heartbeat, respiration, perspiration, that sort of thing.”
“You don’t trust me?” I asked.
“I don’t trust anyone, sweetie,” Eleanor said. “But I’m actually more interested in seeing if you’re as good at lying as I hear you are.”
I frowned. “Where did you hear that?”
Eleanor ignored the question.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Jane. Jane Crow.”
“Are you a witch?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Have you ever killed anyone?”
“No!” I said, maybe a little louder than I should have. The barrista who couldn’t see me when he had my order looked over.
“It’s not the Spanish Inquisition, Jane,” Eleanor said, patting my lassoed hand. “I’m going to ask three personal questions. I’d like you to lie when you answer one of them.”
“Are you a virgin?”
“No,” I said. There are some lies that are way to obvious to even try.
“Have you ever stolen anything?”
“Yes,” I lied.
“Do you miss your mother?”
“Are you lying to me right now?”
My mouth opened before I realized she was messing around with me.
“Sorry,” she said. “I couldn’t resist. You’re a good sport, Jane.”
“I’m actually a terrible sport,” I admitted.
“Well, you’ve passed all my tests,” she said. “What would you think about working for me?” The smile was still there, but suddenly I got a small sense of menace behind it. The question wasn’t a threat, exactly, but it was a lot more serious than she was making it sound.
“I’m still in college,” I said. “I want to get my degree.” It was an evasion, but not a lie. I still had her golden thread around my finger. I pulled my hand back slightly, hoping to get it taken off.
The thread unwound by itself, but the Witch Queen kept her eyes on mine.
“The job I have in mind would require it, sweetie. I want you to join the FBI.”
“Who the what now?” I asked.
“Do you know anything about witch-finders, Jane?”
“What, like back in Salem and stuff?”
Eleanor took a breath, the way people do before they’re about to talk for a long time.
“Almost as long as there have been witches, there have been witch-finders,” she started. “Some say it’s part of human nature to fear that which they don’t understand, and that’s just what magic is. It’s a power that breaks the rules of the world, something that can never be understood by man because it puts pay to their beliefs by its very nature. The code of Hammurabi even prohibits the unjust casting of spells, punishable by being drowned in the river.
“You grew up in a witching home. You know that we keep a low profile to avoid conflict. We handle our own problems and take care of our own. But even today, there are people with nothing better to do than to try to seek us out and exterminate us. The worst going on today is in Africa, but even here in the United States there are forces dedicated to our destruction.
The smile wavered. She was coming to the crux of her offer, the truth behind the rhetoric.
“There is a department of the FBI called the Yellow Center. My understanding is that it was originally commissioned to deal with cases outside of the Bureau’s normal experience. Supernatural threats. Until ten years ago, it was a small, mostly dilettante operation. However, after the passage of the Patriot Act, a man named Ian Hills was appointed as its director. He has spent the last decade using its resources to find and persecute witches.”
There was an obvious question here that I sensed she didn’t really want me to ask. So I did.
“Good witches or bad witches?”
“Mostly bad,” she confessed without breaking stride. “Obviously the FBI isn’t going to go around arresting people just for being witches. They can really only interfere if there’s a federal case to be made. That said, the Yellow Center hasn’t been very concerned with collateral damage in their interference with our people.”
“So why not let them? I mean, if it’s only apprehending people who are breaking the law anyway. Isn’t that their job?”
“It’s my job to keep our people from getting that far in trouble. It’s also my job to keep our existence secret. If we lose the curtain of disbelief, you’re going to see a return to the witch hunts of old. You’re going to see fear override rationality. Replace the word ‘witch’ with the term ‘terrorist’ and picture our world then.” The Witch Queen’s face had lost its smile and there was a hardness in her blue eyes.
Honestly, I couldn’t really argue.
“And you want someone on the inside.”
“I want you on the inside.”
I put about no minutes of thought into it.
“Sure,” I said. “What the hell.”
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.