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I’m Cleopatra O’Keefe, and I’m tired AF.
In the past year, I’ve managed to keep a pile of unappreciative gods and magicals on track, and now a rogue, full-on-jerk pixie king I didn’t know existed is determined to burn the world—and take me out with it. Normally, I’d see this as a shrug and slug back proposition, but the past year’s ginormous battles levied a heavy price.
I need a freaking miracle. The entire world is ready for a drink. And that pixie’s gotta go. So far, the cocktails are the only part I’ve got handled. My rock, my forever love, is on the other side of the globe working to help me, but the distance limits how he can help. We’re all in survival’s countdown, but I’m not down for the count. Yet.
The pixie king’s army just blew my safe harbor to smithereens, and everyone I love is at risk.
Time to pour a fat glass of payback.
The pseudo-blond woman, who’d perfected awful decades ago, wasn’t budging. Lips pooched into an angry pout, she stared at me, unblinking.
Honey, I hang with cyclops. Three of them. Take a seat.
“Ma’am, I am The Boogie’s owner. Despite my willingness, hell, extreme desire to send you elsewhere, there’s no one over me to express a complaint,” I let the faintest tone of sarcasm edge the word, “about your food.”
“It’s ridiculous that you won’t waive our bill!”
“The meal you ate? In its entirety, followed by three additional margaritas apiece? From where I’m standing, that means you’re happy. Customers who dislike their crab legs don’t wolf every morsel pre-complaint. I will not comp a thing for your party.”
“Wait until I ruin you on Yelp!”
Since I have a witch or seven who keeps The Boogie’s social reputation sailing along at a solid 4.8 stars, I smile.
“Do whatever you feel is fair. That’s how I’m handling it.”
Karen’s sunburnt nose, shading purple with frustration, wrinkled. “You are a total bitch. You think you’re so important, Keeper lady, but you just run a bar, and not well.”
“Speaking of that, I need to care for the rest of my delightful customers.” I handed her back the bill for her table and shifted my weight, arms crossed under my breasts.
No dine and dash tonight, Karen.
With an Oscar-worthy display of huffiness, she produced her credit card, an American Express Platinum. It drove me nuts when people winning the cash acquisition game were the cheapest. I mean, I sat on a pile that I pushed out to my employees, my community, and anywhere I saw a need. Tightwads made me tired.
“I’ll be right back.”
“If you think we’re tipping a damn thing, you’re wrong again,” Karen hissed.
With an internal eye roll, I glanced at the tab. Three hundred and twelve bucks for four orders of crab legs and sixteen jumbo margaritas. Karen and company could hold their tequila; I knew how Charlie, my bartender, poured. Jamming two fingers into my pocket, I pulled out a fat wad of green and peeled off four twenties.
“Oh look, you just tipped twenty-five percent cash. I take care of my people. In fact, as a Keeper, I watch out for you, too. You’re welcome.”
I slid behind the bar, catching Charlie’s smirk, and ran the card. Eureka, it worked. I returned, stood while she signed it, jammed the eighty bucks into the bill book with her receipt, and tapped a finger to my forehead.
“You aren’t more important than anyone else. Money is not power, not since we watched the world shift. Spend time thinking about others. I promise it won’t kill you. Change is here to stay and being a jerk doesn’t stop progress.”
Exhaustion curled foggy fingers around my heart. Humans, processing their new footing as a minor cog on an Earth containing magicals, Vapors, and gods, had turned, en masse, into total turds. The more time that passed, the less they liked it.
Which I expected, but the actuality of it was seldom esoteric and largely stuffed with shitty moves like Karen’s, a throwback to the days when she thought beating up a restaurant gave her a crumb of power. Now her world was full of people who operated beyond money’s realm.
The new magical construct frustrated human beings to no end. If a witch wanted something, she snapped and kept moving. Shifters had plenty of money, but only for dealing with humans. Their cultures were based on an intense system of power and ability. The mer did their thing under the sea, the fae ran the world’s forests unseen and liked it that way, and the dragons, now that they weren’t under arrest, were clanning it up, making baby dragons, and ignoring everyone.
Well, there’s a few issues left to sort with the inferno wunderkinds, but today’s pile was plenty high, thank you very much. As for the gods and the Vapors, they remained self-sufficient and silent. Unless they needed me for the dirty work. Or cocktails.
These days, everybody on the planet knew who I was, a disconcerting reality. For years I operated as a complete unknown to humans, busy living blithe yet blind lives alongside a magical community they neither saw nor believed existed. Now I couldn’t change my shirt without it being front page news, and my role, depending on the news outlet, careened from savior to villain, often in the same news story. Thanks to me, every beer got pissed in, and in the immediate, damned few heeded my pleas for unity. The future wasn’t much brighter.
My pier bar, The Boogie (or The Boogey as my magical patrons knew it), lay on one of the lines between the worlds. For centuries, magicals entered the human world on the new and full moons, either to party or stay and gawk. Now they crossed and set up lives alongside humans. Good from a business perspective, but weird from the Keeper’s.
Which was me. Keeper Cleopatra O’Keefe, chronicler of the line and forger of the Triune. To craft a three-way balance of coexistence between the entities was my current primary task. Well, when I wasn’t tending bar, arguing with Karens, or training my number two. That’s Parker. He arrived, exuding every iota of nineteen-year-old scrappy confidence, and when Zeus over-reached, became a permanent fixture at The Boogie. Which helped, because the problems landing in my lap weren’t losing weight. One of these times, they’d kill me, which was also part of the job. Yay. Plus, once the record chose a Keeper, you were it for life. No backsies. Whatever cropped up and threatened the line, it’s me, Parks, a decent library, and a modicum of luck who waded in to save the day, the planet, or any other damn thing sliding off kilter. It’s a weird existence.
So far, I’ve pulled off three wins. But lately, maudlin joking aside, tiredness owned my bones. And a dull Keeper had an excellent chance of becoming a dead one.
C’est la vie.
Behind Charlie’s bar was a transparent wall, visible only to me and the magicals. It let me see, in real time, both bars. I peeked into The Boogey. Witch Glenna’s gap-toothed grin flashed. She usually pours her own, but a finger crooked my way got my feet moving.
At a trot, I headed into my office, laid my palm on the secret door, and entered The Boogey.
“Bat Fizz?” Glenna’s favorite drink was fun to make, and I reached for the first bottle.
“No. I’m feeling nostalgic. This is a gift for you, Patra, complete with a refillable spell. Pour it when a human gains entry to The Boogey.”
Yeah, that’ll happen.
I contemplated the green bottle and pulled the stopper as the faint scent of anise filled the bar.
“Of course. Cut it with water for a human, though. Not a beverage for the timid.”
“It’s absinthe, isn’t it?”
“Very good! Yes, my original recipe. I was young, just twenty years into my coven and visiting Switzerland, when I started messing with wormwood. A French doctor, Pierre Ordinaire, sampled my brewing in the guise of wooing me, and the rascal stole the recipe. I worried he’d kill a passel of humans; they were all sots in the late 1700s. A few died, but overall, people tolerated it well.”
“Glenna, you invented absinthe?” I eyed the bottle, shrugged and poured a finger in a glass, topped it with an equal amount of water, and sipped. Interesting.
“It never bothered me that Pierre found money and fame, and I followed him to Paris. Oh, I loved everything about the city. Stayed over a hundred years. La Belle Époque was a fabulous period. The simple time of mills and farms, chickens everywhere, and horse-drawn carts and wagons gave way to brightly lit streets dotted with carriages and shiny motor cars, incredible art and dance, and a thirst for frivolity. It was my kind of town.”
“Is that when you met Apollo?”
“Oh, toward the end.” Glenna’s eyes twinkled. “His attention adjusted my timing, but he sure was fun.”
She swirled her drink, inhaling the fragrance before downing the entire thing. Magicals drank on a whole different level; I’m impressed on the regular. She pushed the glass in my direction and leaned forward as I refilled it.
“Do you have time? I’m in the mood to tell tales.”
“Um, I’m confident there’s another angry human waiting to rip me a new one. Lately, they’ve been lining up and taking a number.”
“That’s got to be getting old.”
“Yeah, considering it’s me against billions, Glenna. The media’s amplification isn’t helping. And changing minds on an expansive scale isn’t happening with any speed, plus it involves a ton of grousing.”
“If I were a Keeper, I’d stick a spanking spell on the jerks and let them figure it out.”
The vision of humanity trying to outrun an invisible hand slapping their collective asses meandered across my mind, and I started laughing, shaking in silence until endorphins on overdrive shook me loose and I guffawed, wiping tears before regaining control.
“Damn, I needed that.”
Glenna cocked her head to the right, then waved in a complicated gesture toward The Boogie.
“A merriment spell. Everybody’s having fun for a couple of hours. Sit, Keeper. You look beat.” She leaned forward and swirled the absinthe, a tiny green tornado. “Let me tell you the true history of the Moulin Rouge.”