While I don't know what I was exactly expecting to see when I stumbled through into the kitchen, the plate of badly cooked food held in front of me like a prayer for departed, I know I wasn't expecting to see anyone I recognised. So when my eyes beheld Miss Sapphire leaning against a range, wearing a belt that was doing double duty as a skirt, holding a pint glass of something clear in one hand and a can-opener in the other, I was shocked. I staggered to a halt, my feet vibrating like violin strings at the opening of the concerto and my ankles complaining they were being abused.
"Mac," she said, her voice like spider-silk, all ethereal and barely there, but somehow still coating my ears and making them feel sticky.
"Miss Sapphire," I grunted back. She's always been a Miss to me, even though her legs were longer than lampposts and her stockings as sheer as the sides of a prison. "I didn't know you cooked."
"I don't," she said, dropping the can opener and lifting the glass to her lips. As she drank she tipped her head back, downing easily half the glass. She righted it again, set it on the range next to her, wiped her lips, and burped very delicately. "I just arrange things, whether its food on a plate, money in bank-accounts, or meetings in unlikely places. But you know this already Mac, how many times have we done this already?"
"Not enough, it seems," I said. "It keeps happening. I'm busy, Miss Sapphire. Mad Frankie will have to use someone else this time."
"Not Mad Frankie," she said. "He's busy too Mac, and he doesn't like using you anyway. People die around you, it's like a bad habit you have."
"Hardly my habit," I said. "It's not like I'm helping them on their way. You want a smother party, try Big Ben's disco on the first Monday of the month."
"I don't want a smother party, Mac. I don't even want to find out what one is."
"You're not missing out. So, you're moonlighting for someone else? Mad Frankie know about it?"
"Of course he knows, and it's not moonlighting. It's a secondary interest, and I'm looking after Mad Frankie's interest for a few seconds. But it's not Frankie who wants your services this time, Mac. It's someone with a much smaller budget."
"I don't come cheap." I do, that was a lie, but it felt good to say it.
"You do." Damn, did I have no secrets from this woman? "But that's not the point. The point is, that the job you're being hired for is to keep tabs on Natasha Monkeybutt."
"That's not how she likes it pronounced," I said, just a touch smugly. Miss Sapphire conjured cigarettes and a lighter from somewhere. Even though I was watching her hands I didn't see how she did it.
"How else could you pronounce it?" She sounded curious, and the problem was, I was too. Natasha had never told me how she liked her name pronounced, just that I was saying it wrong. I shrugged, and Miss Sapphire lit her cigarette. The end glowed red like a cyclopean eye peering from the cave, and a thin black line of smoke began to curl up to the ceiling.
"Keeping an eye on her is fine," said Miss Sapphire. "What we don't want happening though is what we think your hire is after. We don't want her falling foul of your little curse that means bad things happening to everyone around you. Keep an eye on her, Mac, but don't let her die."
"I'm not a nursemaid," I said.
"Few things in this world would make as unfit a parent as you," she said. "But that aside, keep an eye on her, don't let her die. Make her the subject of your investigation if that helps. But she's necessary, Mac. She can do things."
"Fine," I said, shrugging again. One of my shoulders refused to come back down. "She's looking for Blue, so am I. Seems like she'll be underfoot no matter what I do. Who's hiring me then? Where's the money?"
"He calls himself Jack Horner, but that's probably not his real name," said Miss Sapphire. She was looking up at the ceiling. "You'll get paid when I next see you. Tell me, Mac, what's the white thing up there?"
I looked up and saw the smoke detector, and the curl of jet-black smoke just reaching it. I looked down, and she'd vanished, leaving just the cigarette behind, floating in her half-full pint glass. I turned and lunged through the kitchen doors, just before the fire system set off and started raining fire retardant chemicals down all over the kitchen. The barman looked startled as I burst back through, and the bouncers all came to their feet and looked attentive.
"He's gone mad!" I shouted, pointing back into the kitchen. "He's chopping up the pot-washer!" The bouncers pushed past me, pounding heavily into the kitchen, and I ran for the hatch out to the street, knowing it was quicker than the stairs.
"She's quite a looker, Mac," said the barman as I threw myself through, hoping not to skid too far on my face.