“Loosen your grip! You’re swinging that sword like it’s a club!”
“If the Maitresse had left me a silver-plated club, I’d be using that instead!”
Sal would have found it hilarious that Liam of all people was critiquing her sword-fighting technique if it hadn’t been so damned annoying. It wasn’t like he’d had any training beyond the YouTube videos she’d caught him watching in the middle of the night, and the shambling heaps of moldering produce emerging from the dumpster behind the local Tesco hardly demanded the fencing skills of the Dread Pirate Roberts.
“A sword is a tool of finesse, not butchery.”
“These are plants. It’s not butchery.” Well, they had started out as plants. Really, they should have brought machetes. Sal lopped off a protruding lobe and watched a dark substance ooze out in a steady flow. Ichor? Was that what ichor was? Regardless, the sliced-off bit fell to the pavement and lay there, inert and stinking.
“Hey, Liam? Are these all connected?”
Liam paused his attempt to batter a blob of moldy cabbages and pulled a knife out of his pocket. He scraped the blade across the stringy tendrils that trailed back to the dumpster. The pile of cabbages collapsed. “Looks like it.” He paused. “This means someone’s going to have to go into the dumpster and slice through whatever’s at the center of this, doesn’t it?”
“Technically, this is your op,” said Sal. The call had come in through Liam’s Ghostbusting business. “You should claim the glory of the final kill for yourself by right of seniority.”
“Or I could use my seniority to appoint you dumpster-slayer-in-chief.”
“You could. But know that if you do, I will take all possible glory. There will be none left for you. None.”
“Keep talking like that, and I won’t dive in after you when you need someone to save your arse.”
Sal hacked herself a path to the edge of the dumpster and climbed up to stand on one half of the lid. Something banged beneath her feet, trying to throw her off. She looked into the open side and kind of wished she hadn’t. “You won’t let me die,” she told Liam.
“Yeah? Why not?”
“Because Grace would kill you in your sleep.”
“True. Now quit stalling and jump.”
Sal rolled her eyes, held her sword with one hand, pinched her nose with the other, and jumped.
The trigger for this particular London hotspot was—to Sal’s mild surprise—a book. Namely, a paperback copy of Animal Farm with so many notes and underlines that Sal guessed it must have been thrown into the nearest rubbish heap as soon as its owner had completed the exam on it. Maybe the imperfect vegetables had started reading it as they rotted in the dumpster and decided to try their hand at collective living. It made as much sense as anything else these days in London. When shutting the book didn’t make a dent in the vigor of the local flora, Sal stabbed it through the cover with the tip of her sword. It shuddered until she gave blade a vicious twist, at which point the book exploded in a burst of light and a truly horrifying amount of slimy vegetable matter.
By the time Sal climbed out of the mess, a small crowd had gathered. Maybe not as large as it would have been a few weeks ago. Certainly not as large as it would have been before “the Incident,” as people now called it inside the city. A few Tesco employees were already putting up cones and wondering aloud if decontamination meant that they wouldn’t have to come in for work the next day. The city had hastily assembled divisions to clean up after particularly nasty magical hotspots. Bleach might not be proof against magic, but it could definitely help with the residue it left behind. Sal sniffed her hair as she boosted herself up to the lip of the dumpster; it was grown out so it was just long enough to fall in her face, but not quite long enough to be able to pull back. She would have to decide soon if she was going to grit her teeth through the annoying in-between stages until she had long hair again, or find a hairdresser she liked in London and keep it short. In three years, she’d never found one in Rome.
Sal banished hair worries to the status of secondary concern as she spotted Grace slicing through the crowd. She reached her side just as Sal slid to the ground. Grace leaned in for a kiss, and just as quickly withdrew. “God, you stink.”
“Liam pushed me into a dumpster full of animated rotting vegetables.”
From somewhere behind Sal, Liam shouted back, “I did not!”
“Do you want me to kill him in his sleep?” Grace asked.
“No. Father Menchú would give you his ‘I am very disappointed’ look.”