Joe Avery and the Perfect Fit by Charles C Cole

Joe Avery and the Perfect Fit
Charles Cole

Technically, the drooling toadboy was next, but I needed to mix things up or risk burning out. Sometimes you need an easy case, or at least a client who’s easy on the eyes.

Nubia was my first human patron in weeks. It was unprofessional of me, I admit, but I allowed her to skip to the head of the line, in front of the toadboy in search of his biological father, the capybara plagued by the uninvited telepathic worries of his zookeeper, and the beshawled Gorgon who awoke powerless and bald!

Everyone, including Calendula, my devoted receptionist and the one in charge of crowd control, gave me a well-deserved glare when I unilaterally changed the rules of engagement.

I grabbed a surprised Nubia by the hand and pulled her to her feet, guiding her by the elbow out the door. “Sorry to keep you waiting. You’re early.”

Joe, she’s a drop-in. She doesn’t have an appointment,” said Calendula.

She called me at home,” I fibbed. “I need a stretch break anyhow. Take the next client into my consultation chambers and collect some background information. That way I can hit the ground running.”

The toadboy sat up and even smiled when he realized he wasn’t being disregarded.

Calendula was pleasantly shocked; it was the first time I’d encouraged her to use my office. “I can sit in your chair?!”

That’s where the interviews happen. See how you like it.”

Calendula glanced down at the pink plastic tub of water she kept under her desk. She was half-human and half-rosebush, and got anxiety when she wilted. She often, absently, swashed her bare feet while in thought.

Take the tub with you. Sherlock had his violin. You have your Tupperware. I’ll be back.”

I paid for a couple of bags of roasted chestnuts from the street vendor and, after brief introductions, we proceeded to walk and talk.

Nubia, I have to be honest: I’m not in the habit of jumping the line like that, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a human client. I’m usually up to my neck in the lifestyle choices of the supernatural. What mundane effrontery brought you to my office?”

Demonic possession.” The words hit me like a cold shower.

Someone close to you?”

Very.”

Sorry to hear that. Exorcism is an arcane art. Beyond my skillset. I’m happy to make some calls. I’m sure we can find the right person to evict your demonic tenant.”

I thought you’d understand,” she protested. “I’m the demon, the one you’re talking to. The original host was damaged goods, living on the street, doing nasty drugs, making desperate choices. She was ashamed and exhausted and wanted a break, without committing the ultimate self-harm. So, she held a welcoming ceremony, inviting me to take over while she rested.”

You both got what you wanted. Fate doesn’t usually operate that way.”

Now that I’ve turned her life around, she wants it back.”

Oh.”

I’ve made real progress, Detective Avery: career, relationship, health. If it wasn’t for me, she’d have none of it.”

Using someone else’s body…”

She had her chance. She had the first twenty-five years. I just want the second twenty-five, then I’ll move on. She can have the final twenty-five or more. Kicking me out now, when I’m on a hot streak, isn’t fair. If I let her come to the surface, maybe you could persuade her.”

We could find you another body, a more willing host.”

I like this one. I find her…a perfect fit.”

We stopped across the street from a funeral home, where body after body was in some way destroyed, instead of recycled. Nubia could guess my thoughts.

Such a waste,” I said.

It doesn’t have to be.”

I’ve grown to respect, even admire, non-human exotics. Such a hard, misunderstood life. But… “I won’t be a part of replacing one consciousness with another, even if the second is, on some level, more deserving.”

Nubia turned away from the funeral home and stared at “her” reflection in a store window. Her voice came out like an ominous whisper: “I was trying to do the right thing.”

You still can.”

Imagine what would have happened to her if I hadn’t come along.”

You’re here because she asked for your help. This isn’t a case of possession, it’s an intervention.”

I could throw myself in front of traffic.”

Then you both lose.” I was relieved the street was quiet. “Have you tried talking to her? Can you do that?”

In my head, yes, but I was afraid to meet her on a level playing field. She could trick me. Once I withdraw, she could rush forward and block my return.”

When it came down to it, she was just a squatter.

Can we sit at a bench while I talk to her? Will you arbitrate for the most equitable solution?”

Yes and yes.” We moved to a nearby bench on the edge of the park. As we sat, Nubia took my hand and squeezed. She closed her eyes. Ten minutes went by. Her grip never slackened. She caught her breath a couple of times and finally gasped as if coming up from a deep dive, opening her eyes wide.

Thank you, for everything!” She was looking straight ahead, not at me.

I take it you’re talking to Nubia.” She nodded. “Do I have the pleasure of meeting the original owner?”

She nodded again. “I’m Alice.”

And what have you two decided, Alice?”

I get my body back. Nubia will hang around to help me adjust to my new world.”

And then?”

We’ll swap places in twenty-five years. I guess that’s not long to a demon.”

You won’t change your mind?”

I gave my word. It’s twenty-five years I wouldn’t have without her.”

Back in the office, Calendula was ending her interview. She had pages of notes. The toadboy looked appeased. When it came  to collaborations, I realized, I too had stumbled upon a perfect, albeit nontraditional, fit.

Joe Avery and the Perfect Fit by Charles C Cole 1

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