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Hex and the Single Girl

Chapter One

On a clear day, Emma Hutch, 33, could see forever—give or take a few yards. Technically, she had 20/10 vision in both eyes. If a normal-sighted person could spot a dog in the street from half-a-block away, Emma could read the license plate number on the truck that swerved to avoid hitting it. Emma’s hearing was also sharp. With the clarity of a diamond, she could eavesdrop on her neighbors talking, singing in the shower or going at it. At her will, having learned over the years to filter out extraneous noise, she ignored them. Sometimes, though, she listened. Even more dynamic, Emma’s sense of smell had both strength and acuity. She could detect a pinch of cilantro in a stew, or a waning blossom in the wind. Upon meeting new people, her nostrils could sniff out their essential goodness—or badness.
At six o’clock (on the nose), Emma opened the door of her apartment to Daphne Wittfield, a new client. Instantly, her nasal membranes sprang to attention.
Daphne Wittfield smelled like money. Great green piles of it.
“I am so glad to meet you,” said Emma, big smile, hopefully not too desperate. “Please, come in.”
The tall blonde gave Emma the once-over twice. “You don’t look like a witch,” said Daphne. Her eyes narrowed. Like every other part of her, they were narrow to begin with.
Emma was dressed in a black turtleneck, jeans, black high-heeled boots and blue-tinted sunglasses. She said, “We gave up the pointy hats back in 1567.”
“But you look harmless. Bloodless.” Daphne paused. “That concerns me. And this apartment. It’s all white.”
Emma said, “Makes it easier to find myself.” She waited for Daphne to laugh. Nothing. “Why don’t we sit? Get to know each other better.”
The two women walked across a white shag carpet to the plump white couch, piled with white fluffy pillows. The blonde shoved the pillows to the side and sat, crossing her long legs at the knee. Emma guessed Daphne was in her late twenties with skin as tight as an apple peel, puffy lips, a pert nose. Her buttery hair was expertly streaked. The client seemed custom designed from the top down. Then again, for all Emma knew, Daphne and her high, hard breasts were 100 percent authentic. Emma didn’t have EPSP (Extra Plastic Surgery Perception).
She sat next to her client on the couch, smiled brightly and rubbed her palms on her jeans. For some reason, Daphne made her nervous. Emma took a deep breath, inhaling the client’s odor of crisp bills. It calmed her down, but not enough.
“What’s with the sunglasses?” Daphne asked. “It’s been dark out for an hour.”
Emma instinctively touched her blue shades. “Most people find the color of my eyes to be a bit distracting.”
“Do they?” asked Daphne, amused (apparently, she was not most people). “Let’s see.”
Emma took off her glasses with a theatrical flourish. She almost said, “Ta da!”
The blonde gasped when her eyes set on Emma’s. She recovered quickly and said, “Yes, quite dramatic. Put the glasses back on now.”
Replacing them, Emma said, “Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I have to object about the pace you want. I prefer to go slow. Do the research. Observe from a distance, and then make contact.”
“On the phone, you said you’d start immediately.”
“Pressure makes me nervous, and, frankly, I’ve felt queasy from the moment you walked in the door. But then again,” Emma reflected, “it could be hunger.”
Daphne asked, “Are you trying to jack up the fee?”
Emma hadn’t thought of that. “What if I am?”
“I offered double your usual rate.”
“But that was before we met.”
“It’s been three minutes!” said Daphne. “Are you the Good Witch or a judgmental bitch?”
“Can’t I be both?” asked Emma.
Daphne checked her watch. Frowning impatiently, she reached into her black leather tote, extracting a manila envelope with the Crusher Advertising logo. From that, she removed a stack of $100 bills and fanned it like a deck of cards.
“That explains the smell,” said Emma.
With the authority and condescension of a Fortune 500 company vice president, which she was, Daphne said, “Five thousand now. Five thousand when the job is done. You will agree to work my case exclusively for two weeks. I want three hits a day, seven days a week. If you fail to secure me a first date in that time, you won’t get a second payment and I’ll trash your reputation all over town.”
Emma considered her options. She said, “I don’t work in Sundays.”
“Three hits a day, six days a week,” corrected Daphne. “I’ll get you access—invitations to parties and events, reservations at restaurants. It’s an aggressive approach. But I hate wasting time.”
Emma longed to grab the bills and rub them all over her naked body. Only an hour ago, just as the October sun set, she’d gone through her mail and found a third (“final”) foreclosure warning from Citibank. But Emma hesitated. She had rules about new clients. They had to (1) have good referrals, (2) seem deserving of her help, (3) be motivated purely by love. If Emma were to take the cash from Daphne, she’d be breaking at least two of her rules, and possibly three. Violating her principles would hurt Emma’s sense of ethics. But losing her beloved Greenwich Village one-bedroom would hurt much, much more.
She took the money, of course. Who wouldn’t? She took the money, and maybe she’d regret it later, but right now, Emma thought, holding the stack in her hand, she felt immense relief. And humble gratitude.
“Thank you, Daphne,” she gushed, squirreling the bills in her side table drawer. “I want you to know that this isn’t just a business transaction. We’re initiating a personal relationship, too. I provide my clients—my friends—with emotional services, as well. A hand to hold. A shoulder to cry on. We can talk every day, a few times a day, if you need emotional support. I’m available. I listen.”
“That’s nice,” said Daphne. “Can we move this along?”
“O-kay,” said Emma. “Tell me about the man in question.” She leaned forward, grinning. This was her favorite part of the interview, watching her clients’ faces light up when they spoke of love. Their excitement, the passion, the pure undiluted joy of mad attraction. Emma soaked it up with genuine empathy. She felt their excitement in her own blood. Vicarious thrill had been sustaining Emma for quite a while.
“I’ve compiled some information about him,” said Daphne. As she spoke, she pulled a blue plastic folder from her leather tote and passed it to Emma.
A plastic folder? This was the passion, the excitement? “Most women can’t shut up when I ask about the man.”
Daphne groaned. “I met him a month ago. He hired me to work on an advertising campaign for his new product. And that’s all I need to say. Five thousand dollars can do the talking for me.”
“It’s definitely speaking my language,” said Emma. “But, you see, I need to get a sense of the back story, the building of desire, the emotional longing.”
The client gave her a fishy look. “You get off on this, don’t you?”
Emma may have blushed. “What’s the big hurry? Why two weeks or nothing? What happens if you don’t get him by then? You’ll dry up and blow away?”
“I’m impatient. I don’t want to drag this out,” said Daphne (impatiently).
Emma knew she was striking her head against a brick house to argue with Daphne. And the blonde was a client, after all. Emma was in no position to piss off a paying customer. “All right. Enough chat,” she said. “Would you like to see a demonstration?”
Daphne said, “I didn’t come downtown because I like filth.”
“I have to touch you,” said Emma. “Most clients prefer to hold hands. While we’re doing that, try to clear your mind.”
“Do I have to close my eyes?” asked Daphne.
“You don’t, no.” But Emma would have to close hers to concentrate. She fizzled when she tried to do it with her eyes open.
“Will the picture come in slowly, like adjusting a camera lens?” asked Daphne.
“It’ll be sudden,” said Emma. “People describe it as a pop.”
Daphne offered her right hand. She wore three rings, all of them heavily jeweled and expensive.
Emma never wore rings. They could catch on clothing, and she needed fast hands. Plus, distinctive jewelry was identifiable and therefore reckless. Emma’s hid her memorable hair—bronze, long, wavy—under wigs. Her eyes were hidden behind tinted shades. Emma had tried colored contacts, tried desperately, prying her eyelid open, jabbing the lens in, blinking, tearing, cursing, sweating, and giving up in frustration. So glasses would have to do. Her amble breasts also drew unwanted attention. Since her job was to follow and surreptitiously fondle strange men in New York City, she often flattened her rack with Ace bandages.
Emma clasped Daphne’s hand and considered what image to send. Daphne was in advertising, so commercial and corporate images were out. The blonde probably wouldn’t be amused by Mona Lisa with a mustache or the David with a tube sock. A wildlife scene? Emma closed her eyes.
Daphne said, “Nothing’s happening.”
“Just wait.”
“Okay, yes. I got it,” said Daphne.
Emma released Daphne’s hand. She said, “Was the image black and white or in color?”
“Black and white and red all over,” said Daphne.
Emma laughed.
“Tell me what I saw,” said Daphne.
“A lion eating a zebra.”
“Incredible,” said Daphne. “Do it again.”
“What sort of image?” asked Emma. “Funny, historical, sexy?”
“Sexy,” said Daphne.
Once again, Emma took her client’s hand and closed her eyes.
“It’s cloudy,” said Daphne. “No, it’s steamy.”
“Shhh,” said Emma.
The two women sat holding hands on the couch, both with their eyes closed, breathing shallowly. After a minute, Emma released her client’s hand.
Daphne said, “Tell me.”
“A man and woman in the shower. Her breasts are pressed against the wet, slippery glass shower door. One of his arms is tight around her waist, his other hand is cupping her . . .”
“That’s enough,” interrupted Daphne. “I’m convinced.” She stood up, too excited by what she’d experienced to sit. She toured Emma’s living room/office. “Your power,” she asked. “What do you call it?”
“I don’t like the word ‘power,’” said Emma. “Makes me sound like a mutant.”
“You are a mutant,” said Daphne. “I’ve never seen orange eyes before. Except on a cat.”
“They’re amber,” corrected Emma. “And my skill is called telegraphopathy.”
“Like a telegraph?”
Emma nodded. “I transmit images over a short distance—the distance between my brain and yours. I can’t receive. And I can’t send thoughts or words or movies. Only still pictures. Images can be powerful, though. And dangerous. Which is why I use my skill to help people. For the greatest good.”
“Romantic love,” said Daphne.
“It’s all you need,” said Emma, although she managed to muddle through with it.
“Is that what you really believe, or the rap you give to clients?” Daphne asked. She paused in front of a framed diploma on the white wall behind Emma’s desk. “Certificate of authenticity from the Berkeley’s School of Extrasensory Perception.”
“According to my testers, I’m one of a kind,” said Emma. “The only confirmed telegraphopathist in the world.”
Daphne asked, “Do you ever send the wrong picture?”
Emma shook her head. “I have complete control over what I send, and when. Don’t worry about accidents. They never happen.”
“You mentioned a contract?” Daphne checked her watch again.
Emma went to her desk and found a standard contract printed on The Good Witch, Inc. stationery. She filled in the name, date, payment schedule, and handed the sheet to Daphne.
The blonde read the contract on the spot and signed. Most women took a day. But Daphne did so hate to waste time.
“Call me tomorrow after you’ve looked through the folder,” said Daphne. “I have meetings all morning with the SlimBurn people, but I can get to your photographer’s studio in the early afternoon.”
Emma’s jaw dropped. “You do the ads for SlimBurn diet pills?”
The blonde nodded. “You like them?”
“I’ve seen them.”
“We’re in the same kind of business, Emma,” said Daphne, smugly. “We both use the power of image. I do it to sell a product. You do it for the greater good.” She said the last two words with sirloin-thick sarcasm.
“The greatest good,” said Emma.
“If you say so,” mocked the blonde.
“I want you to swear right now that your intensions are honorable, and that you are genuinely, humbly, painfully in love with this man,” said Emma, pointing to the folder on the couch. “I won’t take the case otherwise.”
“I am. In love with him,” said Daphne.
Emma stared at her, wanting to believe. She inhaled deeply, looking for the odor of a lie, but could still only pick up the lingering scent of greenbacks. “The photographer’s studio is also on Waverly Place, right across the street,” she said. “He’s got racks of costumes and props there, so you don’t need to bring anything.” Emma handed Daphne a card with the address. “He’ll bill you separately.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Daphne. She picked up her tote and headed for the door. “One more question, before I go.”
“Do you use your power—skill, whatever—to make men fall in love with you?”
“Am I self-serving? Just the opposite, Daphne,” said Emma. “I put all my energy and concentration into my job. I’m devoted to my clients and work around the clock on their cases. The truth is, I simply don’t have time for a love life of my own. Besides, I derive huge satisfaction in helping other women find happiness.”
The blonde blinked. Then, with a loud snort, she started laughing and kept at it for way longer than necessary.
When she pulled herself together, Daphne asked, “Has that little speech fooled anyone? Ever?”