A VIRGA MYSTERY
Borderline: Case 3a
I can only assume by now that you know I am James Conway, roommate and chronicler for supernatural detective Melissa Virga. If you are not aware of this, you should perhaps read the previous two cases I’ve published, because portions of this third story represent a bit of a departure from Melissa’s normal actions, and as such I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong idea about her.
Of course, she is still a second year university student living just off of campus, who is known by the nickname ‘Weird Gal’, primarily because of the agency she runs out of our apartment. (Similarly, I am still a somewhat naive freshman who moved into the place sight unseen.) But while Melissa kept what you might call a “professional distance” from the last two cases I’ve laid out, this one became rather more personal.
Allow me to begin at the start of my involvement, because to begin at the very beginning would necessitate tracking back a few years, and it’s best to let those events fill in as necessary. (Particularly given the need for me to keep Melissa’s true identity hidden.)
First, let me say that my participation was purely accidental. You may recall that, following the first case I witnessed, I became curious as to my roommate’s other cases – so I poked around in her papers, and talked with that one client, Annie. What followed from that was a dramatic demonstration of the dangers in pursing any sort of association with a witch.
This meant that, while I wasn’t exactly concerned about being possessed by an electrical entity, I wasn’t about to go looking for trouble. As such, I started to spend a number of evenings studying (okay, and partying) with my classmate Adam. Part of me was hoping that I might hook up with some other girl, to get me past the little “Melissa crush” which I’ve remarked on.
After all, if I’m not at home, not only am I staying clear of any dangerous cases, I’m also not liable to be tantalized by the way my roommate fills out a pair of jeans. Unfortunately, I never really clicked with anyone, and it was largely due to my absences that I rather missed the boat as far as Eric was concerned.
You see, Eric Hill (as I’ll call him) was a former classmate of Melissa’s back in high school. Their relationship was… well, for the moment, let me just say that they didn’t get along. All I knew on this particular Sunday morning in October though, was that Melissa’s phone kept ringing continuously for several minutes.
It wasn’t that Melissa hadn’t turned on her answering machine either – the phone would ring three times, stop before the machine had a chance to pick up, then resume ringing again. So, since Melissa was apparently out, and this person wasn’t about to leave a message, I decided to pick up. I actually made the decision to do so after the first minute of the caller’s persistence, but it took me some additional time to locate the phone inside of Melissa’s filing cabinet.
“Hello,” I said into the receiver, suddenly realizing I didn’t know how to refer to Melissa’s Agency. “Uh, can I help you?”
There was a response, but I completely missed it.
I became rather distracted by the sight of Melissa’s bedroom door being thrown open, and her jumping out and ordering me to “Hang up!”. I believe she was using that no-nonsense tone of voice too, the one that gets a person to obey without even thinking about it. Despite that, I didn’t respond immediately. She began to stalk towards me, repeating her command, but the problem – and the reason for my continuing hesitation – basically came down to the fact that she was wearing a nightgown.
Despite rooming together for over a month now, this was a sight I had never seen before.
As another brief digression, let me remind you that Melissa’s sleeping habits were highly irregular – you may recall that she’s been fully awake at 2am before. In fact, I had begun to believe that she simply slept in her clothes whenever she found herself in need of a recharge.
So, having her present herself to me in sleepwear, at 10am on a Sunday, caught me off guard to say the least. Add to my surprise the way that the material of her gown (which was a bright green) had a bit of a sheen to it, creating an overall effect that helped to bring out her green eyes, and the fact that her brown hair was rumpled in a rather fetching way, and you can (hopefully) understand why I simply stood dumbfounded, holding the phone receiver up to my ear.
But enough of that. The point is, it wasn’t until Melissa was two paces away from me that any words began to register, the first being those of the male voice on the other end of the line.
“Look, I’m coming right over,” he said, right before our connection was severed by Melissa punching the disconnect button.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” my roommate asked, angrier than I had ever seen her before. Which, admittedly, isn’t THAT angry, but it was a change from how unflappable she usually appeared. “I told you to hang up!”
“Oh, uh, sorry,” was my sheepish apology as I looked away. As much out of shame as to prevent further visual distraction. “I didn’t realize you were resting.”
“As if I could sleep with that incessant ringing,” Melissa snapped back at me. “James, I asked you several times NOT to answer the phone this weekend!”
I quickly searched my memory for such an event. I do have a semi-photographic memory (which is what helps me write these accounts), and had only been home for a short while the day before. I hadn’t seen Melissa then, and tracking back to before the weekend gave me no additional hints. When had she spoken to me about this?
Feeling even more chagrined, I realized I had no idea. “Uh, when was that?” I asked meekly.
Melissa let out a quick breath between her lips, then turned to her desk. She shuffled around a couple of sheets, plucking one from the mix and holding it out in front of my face. It read ‘James, seriously, do NOT answer the phone!!!’ and was signed ‘Virga’.
I blinked. It was about to dawn on me that her version of telling me had involved leaving me notices strewn around the apartment. “I… don’t make it a habit to search your desk,” I said.
She rolled her eyes. “There’s another note in the textbook you left in the kitchen. And in the freezer next to your ice cream.”
“Why not on my bedroom door?”
“I couldn’t find any tape, and adhesive spells don’t work very well with paper.”
“Why didn’t you take the phone completely off the hook?”
“Legitimate clients would find it hard to get hold of me then, wouldn’t they?” Melissa fired back. “I did put the phone away in the filing cabinet, or had you not noticed that as well?”
Truth be told, I’d given up on understanding her filing system, but by now, I saw Melissa’s arms were folded and she was giving me a rather exasperated glare. Sensing that this was all perfectly logical to her, I thought it might be wiser to move on.
“Well, sorry,” I apologized again. “The guy did say he was coming over though, so you might want to chan–”
She grabbed me by the shirt. “Eric said he was coming here?”
“Um, yeah,” I affirmed, making the logical leap to the fact that it had been Eric on the phone.
“I’m not home, and you haven’t seen me,” she concluded. “This is my weekend off.”
With that, she released me, spun around, and vanished back into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
At this point, I figured that she was simply taking a few days away from her business to handle schoolwork, thus deferring any cases to Monday. Which was wrong, given how she’d talked about legitimate clients reaching her. Moreover, the fact that she had known Eric’s name just from the way he phoned should have been my first hint of a connection between them.
Eric showed up some ten minutes later. I used that time to try and think of a polite way to get rid of him. I had toyed with the idea of simply not answering the door, but given how insistent he’d been with the phone, such a tactic wasn’t likely to work very well.
So when he knocked, I opened the door, barring the way inside while holding a pencil and notepaper. “Hi!” I greeted pleasantly. “Miss Virga’s not available right now, but if you leave me the case particulars I’ll–”
“Where is she?” Eric interrupted, trying to peer around behind me.
I guess this is a good enough time to describe him… he was about my height, seemed reasonably fit, and was probably university student age – though it was a bit hard to tell, given that he was bald. His choice of attire was a T-shirt and jeans, mostly hidden by an overcoat. (If it helps, perhaps you can picture a shorter Kojak without the lollypop?) Anyway, not especially imposing, but as I found out, very stubborn.
“She’s unavailable,” I repeated. “If you’ll just tell me–”
“Who are you?” he demanded, shifting his attention from the room to me, the person obstructing his passage. “Melissa’s latest boyfriend?”
That one brought me up short. The idea of Melissa dating anyone had never seriously occurred to me, let alone me being her ‘latest’ boyfriend. What didn’t help either was how the idea might have crossed my mind once or twice.
Eric capitalized on my moment of confusion, pushing past me to enter the main room. I slipped around, back into his path. “I’m her secretary,” I offered up, not wishing to get caught up in the details of our rooming situation. Then, to try and turn the tables on his questioning, I fired back, “Who are YOU?”
“I’m Eric. Melissa’s ex-boyfriend,” he stated.
This constant string of surprises really wasn’t fair to me at all.
He got as far as looking around behind her desk this time, and was making a move for her bedroom, before I could head him off again. He sure as heck wasn’t getting in THERE, not with Melissa in her green nightgown.
“Well, as you can see, Melissa’s not here,” I reiterated. “Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”
“I’m only in town this weekend,” came his quick reply. “She knows that, from when I phoned her on Friday.”
His arm met my chest – but he wasn’t about to dodge past me a third time, not with that lame line. “Look, this is a place of business,” I said, raising my voice and ignoring for the moment how it was also my residence. “If you have a personal grudge with Melissa, this is hardly the–”
“I have a case for her, a friend of mine is dead!”
Okay, so, with that one he was able to get by me and knock at Melissa’s bedroom door.
“Hey!” I protested, resorting to grabbing at his arm by the overcoat so he couldn’t turn the doorknob. “I said leave the details with ME. Or come back later. Melissa isn’t–”
“Oh, nevermind, James,” came her voice from behind the door.
It swung open then, and Melissa slipped out. She closed the door behind her, leaning back on the wall with her arms folded, and glared at the both of us. Again, though I’ve said she’s only a little over five feet tall, comparatively, at that moment, it felt like I was only five inches in height. (Incidentally, she had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt.)
“Sorry,” I mumbled at her yet again, but her anger was swiftly zeroing in on Eric.
Melissa’s nose wrinkled slightly as she sniffed the air. “Interesting scent,” she observed. “Since you’ve apparently been seeing some other witch regularly, why not have her deal with your problems?”
“Because she only lets me talk with spirits, she doesn’t do detective work,” Eric answered. He also seemed a bit more deflated now that he was in Melissa’s presence. I chalked it up to her glare. “I need more than that. I need to know who killed him.”
Melissa’s jaw clenched. “I should have known.”
“I don’t… do… DEATH!” she stated, punctuating each word with jabs to Eric’s chest. “You of ALL people know that. If evil spirits are manipulating the living, that’s one thing. Once people are dead, that’s out of my hands. That’s a border I cannot cross! Whoever it is, you have to let them go, Eric.”
Melissa swore. My jaw dropped – I’d never seen her lose her cool that way. She then marched between us to lean against her desk, facing away, towards the window. Eric didn’t pursue her, apparently knowing enough to give her some time after that outburst.
“You’re a damn fool,” she reiterated after a moment, using slightly less colourful language. “Eric, you haven’t changed in three years.”
“And I won’t dispute that,” he answered. “But I still need your help.”
“So what,” Melissa inquired, still without turning, “makes you think I’ll help you this time, when I have never done so in the past?”
Eric shuffled his feet a bit. “I came in person?”
Melissa finally turned back. “Get out.”
“Look,” I piped up, aware that the smart thing to do here would be to retreat somewhere else. (Sometimes I do the smart thing, but this wasn’t one of those times.) “Obviously there’s a history here that I don’t know. But, setting that aside, if someone has died because of the supernatural, shouldn’t we do something to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” I mean, Melissa had always seemed pretty conscientious about preventing issues that might happen later.
“That’s not what this is about,” Melissa said, tight lipped. “Right, Eric?”
“It… might be,” he said, in a rather unconvincing way.
“It’s about using the supernatural to solve a routine death,” she explained, looking to me. “Eric is nothing if not predictable.”
“Oh,” I said, briefly taken aback. “And if we did that, it would mess with the supernatural balance on Earth?”
“Right,” Melissa asserted.
“That’s not a sure thing,” Eric protested. “Mel, you’re just twisting the facts here to get rid of me.”
“Is it working yet?”
Eric’s expression tightened. “Fine. Fine, have it your way,” he said after a moment. “I’ll investigate things on my own.” He turned and strode purposefully back towards the front door. “You know, you haven’t changed in three years either,” was his parting shot before he walked out and slammed the door behind him.
Melissa stood silently, face turned away from the door, not watching him leave. I fancied a bit more colour appeared in her cheeks when he spoke his last words, though whether it was anger or embarrassment, I don’t know.
She then breezed past me, not to her room, but to the kitchen.
I gave Melissa five minutes before I joined her.
ASIDE: This case was written in 2009, five years after Case 2. In a way, it was me dealing with the death of my grandmother (who died of natural causes). Stay tuned to see how it plays out, there’s four entries like usual.