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SEPTEMBER 29, 2019

Chapter 1

WIND WHIPPED NORMA MAE ROLLINS'S ponytail and tangled her sweaty curls as she carried the box of her client’s personal belongings. People who didn’t live in Seattle assumed September was rainy. Though it was autumn, as global warm worsened, September was decidedly dry and chilly. Though the burn bans had been lifted from the state, the bad air from the summer forest fires still lingered.

     The boxes filled with costumes, props, and bedding were unwieldy in her slender arms, but not particularly heavy. Like all vampires, Norma had slowly grown stronger with time. She figured after sixty-eight years as a vampire; she had the strength of three fourteen-year-old farm girls—which is what she had been on the night she was changed.

     Her only employee and closest friend, Carlos Fisher Perez, carried three boxes to her one. Before his first death, he was a luchador in his prime. After an injury put his wrestling career on hold, he took some questionable medical advice and a potion from a werewolf Shaman. Now a shade (also called a zombie or a revenant), he walked the Earth until his soul freed itself. Norma and Carlos both wanted that to happen later rather than sooner. Vampires had lots of rules, and Norma liked having a nonjudgmental friend. Carlos had three cute cats which he adored. Though his body was slowly putrefying, he claimed that he too, was growing stronger than he had been in life. (However, he kept healthy with daily Crossfit, a low carb diet, and the occasional body part from a corpse.) 

     “Oh, do be careful, Sir.” Atmospheric mist swirled around their client, Pamala. She floated above the middle bench seat as she eyed Carlos’s slow, uneven gait. 

     Carlos couldn’t answer. His vocal cords were crushed in the accident, which ultimately took his life. He slid the two boxes of dresses and a dishpack into the van, but his deep brown eyes were filled with a storm. He was annoyed.

     “Carlos is very strong, he won’t drop anything,” Norma assured their client. 

     “Oh, I’m sure he won’t,” Pamala said in a voice that said she was sure he might.

     Norma pushed the boxes to their places in the van, organized for easy removal. She jumped back out and went inside the building to make sure they didn’t miss anything. 

     Norma’s Cleaning Service was initially a service for vampires when hunting got a little messy—and they still did clean-ups—but Norma didn’t balk at any paying job. They ran all types of errands for the supernatural community and any humans the world ignored. 

     Since ghosts moved more languidly than other species and took such a comparative time to move a single physical object, Pamala needed help transporting her things to the small, still mostly rural city, of Carnation for a job to haunt a corn maze, pumpkin patch and connected bed and breakfast. 

     Pamala had existed in Seattle since the 1880s. She didn’t want to leave, but her former diner was slated for demolition to make room for a high-rise tower. She had sought other employment in the city, but most people didn’t want to live in haunted condos anymore. Everyone was so concerned with property values. Seattle was just too expensive for ghosts.

     “Want to drive tonight?” Norma asked as she secured the last box. 

     Carlos nodded.

     “You okay?”

     Carlos wrote: Just annoyed with this crap job. Also hungry.

     “Sorry. I’ve broccoli in the car.”

     Carlos: Good. 

     She wondered if anything else was wrong. Perhaps, there was something she could do for Carlos, but other than paying a fair wage and full medical, she didn’t know what that would be. Besides the members of her vampire family, Carlos was her only friend. She hated the thought that she would continue to exist after he was gone.

ONCE CARLOS CONSUMED A POUND of broccoli and passed the cities of Seattle, Bellevue, and the lights which dotted the mountainside of Cougar and Tiger mountains, his normal good mood resurfaced. 

     Norma chatted with Pamala quietly. It helped distract her from the dark loam which sang to her in the valley between Cougar and Tiger Mountains where she had been born as a human and reborn as a vampire. Each time Norma crossed Lake Washington, her mother’s sheep farm—which has been long closed and turned into a Christmas Tree Farm—called to her. So did the land where she was created. 

     She fought the urge to ask Carlos to stop so she might return home by reminding herself that she had a client. When that didn’t work, she reminded herself her hometown of Issaquah had exploded in size since she was really a girl. Her mother was long dead as was her creator. 

     She let her eyes follow I-90 as it stretched to the east, deeper into the Cascade Mountains where King County was still pastoral.

     They turned off the interstate and headed north on Preston-Fall City Road. Every mile away from the mountain, the call grew weaker and allowed her to regain her focus on the job. 

     The new Victorian-style bed and breakfast looked to be a first-class experience.  Norma hoped Pamala would enjoy haunting it. The hosts, a middle-aged married couple, their cat, dogs, and a menagerie of rabbits seemed pleasant enough and excited to have a ghost working for them. They even helped Norma and Carlos unpack the van. 

     “So you’re undead too,” the first host asked.

     “Ever consider show business?” her wife completed the thought.

     “No,” Norma lied. 

     Her entire experience was show business—just the business of making the supernatural community disappear. Norma gave the hosts one of her flyers; she gave her one of theirs. “We clean up all kinds of messes and run errands for the supernatural community.”

     Carlos typed and made his phone read aloud: Did it once before. Norma pays better.

     He helped Pamala hang up her collection of white tattered Victorian gowns. Pamala often wore physical dresses, so unbelieving eyes could more easily see her.

     As they were leaving, the first host offered them both free tickets to the corn maze and two bright orange pumpkins. “They’ll last if you don’t carve them until a week or so before Halloween.”

     Norma thanked the hosts and set the bed and breakfast information in her backseat organizer. She liked to keep track of all businesses which at least dabbled in the supernatural community. Who knew when they might need something professionally cleaned?  

     It was nearly midnight before they were back on the road to Seattle. The dark forests of Tiger Mountain called to Norma, stronger this time since the van headed directly towards its eastern slopes. Its call would be strongest once they passed the valley in which she was born and reborn. She understood Pamala’s concern about leaving any of her possessions in Seattle.

     “Mind if we stop? I got some meat in the cooler.”

     Carlos: Barbecue?

     “Heck yeah.”

     Carlos hit on the turn signal and changed lanes toward the right when her cellphone rang through her Bluetooth system. He grunted out a sound that meant damn.

      She tapped the screen to answer: “Norma’s Cleaning Service.”

     “Your flyer says you clean up all kinds of messes and you don’t ask questions.” A woman’s voice clipped with an east coast accent said in a cross between a statement and question.

     Carlos turned off the turn signal and continued westward. He knocked on the dash. It was a private signal between them. Be on guard.

     “I ask what I need to ask,” Norma said, carefully adjusting her tone to firm, and proficient.

     “My coven sisters are renting a houseboat and found a siren in the living room.”

     “Coven sisters? Are you vampires?”

     “No. Witches… Why would vampires stay in a houseboat? I thought water stole all vampire power.”

     “Only holy water,” Norma lied to keep up the myth. “Not lake water.”

     Carlos laughed as he always did when someone asked about the supposed vampire myths. Norma figured some European vampires from landlocked countries couldn’t swim and started all the water-based tales. However, she spent her childhood playing in streams and swimming in lakes and Puget Sound both as a human and vampire. 

     “I saw this movie where a shower killed a vampire,” the voice said.

     “Daughters of Darkness?” A movie buff, Norma loved horror films. “1971: Lesbian vampires meet an abusive jerk and his pretty wife.”

     “I think so?...” The woman’s voice wavered.

     “It’s a good flick, but I shower every day,” Norma said. “So where are you?”

     “On Lake Union.”

     “What marina?”

     The witch gave the address. 

     “How many are with you?”

     “Two. Three, including me.”

     “Your name?” Norma asked.

     “You need my name?”

     They usually charged $4000 for cleanings, but beside her, Carlos put out his palm with all five fingers spread. The website listed the price of Deep Cleanings at $4000 to $6000 plus unusual expenses, so the price wasn’t unheard of. 

     “Unless you plan to pay cash and I’ll want to see the cash upfront. Mermaid disposal starts at $5000, plus any additional expenses,” Norma said.

     “My name is Bianca Townsend. My sisters and I planned to put split the cost with our credit cards. Is that okay?”

     “Yep. That will be fine.” Norma said. She checked her GPS for traffic updates. “We’ll be there in twenty.”

     She hit the touch screen to end the call before Bianca said anything else.

     Carlos touched the screen which played one of his prerecorded messages: Something about the client’s voice told me they’d be a pain.

     “I hear that,” Norma said.

     Since Norma watched so many movies, Carlos also prerecorded: That movie good?

     “Daughters of Darkness? I guess. It’s European. Lots of long shots and talking. Beautifully filmed. But, Derrik fast forwarded through the scene where the husband abused his wife. He told Pascaline and me to cover our eyes—and I was like forty—so it must have gotten pretty bad. But the rest of the movie was okay.”

     Carlos: Not sold.

     (Derrik Miller created Norma’s creator, the Vampire William T. Caruso. After the coven discovered his criminal activity and failing mental health, Derrik took Norma in. Otherwise, she would have died, chained to a barn, watching the sun rise over Tiger Mountain. Though Derrik has watched plenty of horror movies with Norma, he prefers romantic comedies.)



A Norma's Cleaning Service Mystery

Norma Mae Rollins never chose to be a vampire, but she enjoys her undead life. She runs a profitable cleaning service which assists Seattle’s paranormal community by straightening untidy interactions with humans or each other. She loves her work. She and her sole employee, Carlos, have a good rapport. (It helps both vampires and zombies have an affinity for a high protein/low carb diet.) 

When three witches on vacation find the body of a dead siren in their houseboat, Norma is called in to clean up the body no questions asked. When the mermaid's family shows up, things really get messy.

Published by Zb Publications​

Paperback ISBN: 9781950708031

Ebook ISBN: 9781950708048

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