“You don’t know that,” Cora replied. “You have no idea what lies beyond Deadside. Only the reapers know, and they aren’t talking. For all we know, they could simply throw us into eternal darkness. A pit of nothingness. So, thank you very much, but I’ll pass.”
My chest tightened. “I can’t allow myself to believe that.”
“Oh, shit, Fee, I’m sorry. I’m such a twat sometimes.”
I couldn’t blame her. Peace for eternity did sound awfully suspicious, but, “I have to believe there’s something better on the other side.” I had my reasons for needing to believe. I pocketed the memo. “I best get back to work.”
“See you at home?” she asked.
“You’re cooking tonight.”
“Hardly fair, seeing as I don’t eat.”
I grinned at her. “You don’t sleep either, but you demanded a bed.”
I didn’t wait for a response but headed back down to the ground floor. I had a waiting room of ghosts to allocate.
I was halfway down the steps to the third floor when the intercom in the wall blared to life, and Fitch’s nasal-pitched voice filled the stairwell.
“Miss Seraphina Dawn, to Human Resources immediately. Miss Seraphina Dawn, to Human Resources.”
This had to be about Cora.
Oh, saggy bollocks.
Human resources was an open-plan office with neat little cubicles and obedient worker bees, heads down hard at work. Not surprisingly, most of the staff were petite, brunette women. Fitch recruited his own staff, and Fitch had a type. A type that wasn’t me, thank God. With my silver-blonde hair, blue eyes, and tall, curvy stature, I wasn’t on his pervy radar. Fitch liked his women shorter than him, so they had to look up at him. Me, I could look him right in the eye, and he hated that.
The feeling was mutual, by the way.
Something about the head of human resources had my gag reflex going overtime, but over the years, I’d learned not to make vomit noises in his face. Over the years, I’d accepted that, like every large organization, Soul Savers Inc. had its cockroaches, and the Necro City branch happened to house the largest one.
I strode toward his glass office, and he sat back in his chair, beady eyes fixed on me as I approached. He was a good-looking guy, clean-shaven, hair neatly coiffed, but there was an aura of yuck, a sickness that hovered around him that made my stomach turn.
I knocked on his glass door and entered. “You wanted to see me?”
The room smelled of peppermint spray and coffee, a nauseating combination.
“Take a seat, Miss Dawn.” He indicated the seat opposite him.
I slipped into the plastic chair. “Can we make this quick, please. I have work to do.”
“Yes,” Fitch said. “Work like firing staff?” He arched a neatly plucked brow, waiting for a reaction.
I kept my face neutral.
“Did you fire Miss Tripp?” There was a little edge of doubt in his voice now.
“Yes, I did.”
The doubt melted away. “You don’t have the authority to fire anyone, Miss Dawn.”
“Not directly, but I’ll be filing a report later today that will hold grounds for firing. Listen, Fitch, she erroneously allocated five ghosts to purgatory this month.”
“People make mistakes,” Fitch said. “It’s called human error.”
“I don’t believe they were mistakes. I believe Miss Tripp did it out of spite. I saw her in action today and—”
“Audit cleared her allocations, did they not?” Fitch said.
“Yes, but there’s been a mistake. I’m going to speak to Justine about it in a—”
“No need,” Fitch snapped. “I’ve done my research. The allocations were justified.”
“What? They can’t have been. Those ghosts have been in the waiting room all month. I would know if I had a purgatory-bound spirit in my waiting room.”
What the hell was he playing at?
Fitch’s jaw tightened. “Miss Dawn, you have your promotion to Deadside. You leave in two weeks. I believe you’ve been waiting for this transfer for a while, am I right?”
What was he getting at?
He smirked. “Transfers get canceled all the time.”
My blood ran cold. “Are you threatening me?”
He blinked innocently at me. “Simply stating facts, Miss Dawn. I suggest you shred your report and get back to work. Miss Tripp will resume her duties in two weeks.”
In two weeks, once I was gone. This was a cover-up. But why was Fitch doing this? “You’re making a mistake, Fitch. That girl has no clue how to treat the dead. She’s rude, unfeeling, and inconsiderate.”
His expression hardened. “You know what your problem is, Miss Dawn? You let your emotions rule you. You care too much. You treat those residues of life as if they have feelings and futures.” He leaned forward with his forearms braced on his desk. “They’re dead, Miss Dawn. Your job is to allocate them, not indulge in chitchat or get to know their stories, not to empathize and build relationships. All you need to do is fill out forms, run the influence test, and allocate.” He pulled up a sheet of paper. “I have your performance for the past month compared with Miss Tripp’s. She’s allocated almost twice as many ghosts as you have.”
“Erroneously, no doubt.”
“All passed through audit, may I add. It’s because she gets the job done. No idle chitchat.”
Anger swelled in my chest. “The dead deserve a little respect and consideration too.”
“No, they deserve to move on, and the quicker we allocate them, the quicker they can do that.” He sat back in his seat. “Take some time off. The next two weeks, to be precise.” He smiled thinly. “Then, you can pick up at Deadside and chitchat to your heart’s content.”
“He fired you?” Cora said.
“No, he asked me to take time off.” I packed my shit into boxes.
Cora paced my tiny office. “The bastard, the fucking bastard.”
I shrugged. “It’s fine. I still get paid.”
“You’re not fine,” Cora said. “You’re pissed off and worried about the ghosts waiting for allocation. You know that Tripp bitch is going to treat them like shit.”
My eyes burned, and I blinked rapidly to quell the tears. Frustration and anger made me want to scream. The fucking impotence of my situation. Of course, I’d planned to leave anyway, but I’d hoped I’d be leaving my job to someone compassionate. Someone who gave a shit.
“I’m going to go back and reason with him.”
Cora blocked me. “If you go back, you’ll end up punching him in the face.”
Fuck, she was right.
“I won’t let you risk your transfer.”
“How can I just leave them like that, to Tripp’s mercy?”
There was a knock on my door, and then Justine walked in. “Fee, I heard what happened.”
“News travels fast.” My tone was bitter.
She chewed her cheek. “There’s something you need to know.”
I stormed into Fitch’s office and slammed the door closed so hard the glass rattled in its frame.
“Tripp’s your fucking niece?”
He sat up straighter. “So?”
“So? You blackmailed Justine into overlooking the erroneous allocations. She came to you with them, and you threatened to have her fired? What the fuck is wrong with you?” I stepped closer to his desk. “Tell me, I seriously want to know.”
His jaw ticked. “You have no right to come barging into my—”
“Shut it, Fitch. You’re screwed, and you know it. One phone call to head office, and you’re done.”
He visibly paled. “You have no proof, Dawn. The allocations were wiped an hour ago.”
It was my turn to use a smirk. “No. They weren’t. Unlike you, Justine has a conscience. One that doesn’t allow her to put her job above the welfare of all the dead that rely on us.”
His eyes narrowed. “What do you want, Dawn?”
What did I want? “You’ll fire your dumb niece, and you’ll give Coraline the allocation job.”
“A ghost can’t be an allocation agent.”
“Says what rule?”
He blinked at me as he searched his memory banks. But he wouldn’t come up with anything. There was no rule against it. Justine and I had checked.
His shoulders sagged, and he nodded. “Very well.”
I left his office with a grin on my face and a lighter heart because leaving would be easy now that I knew that Cora was in charge. Cora would do the job justice.
Necro was the city of buses and underground trains. Before the event, the city had been the capital of the country, a tourist attraction and home to a beloved monarchy. But the monarchy relocated, and the city was left to the tourists and those of us who worked to run it. Driving in Necro was a bitch, but the underground rail network covered the whole city. There was no need to run a car, although at three in the morning, the roads were practically empty on this side of the city. The crisp night air was almost silent, and the world was truly asleep.
The tube station I needed was a seven-minute walk from the office, a walk that took me past one of the entrances to Deadside. There were three in total, but this was the main one, and every time I passed it, my feet slowed at the wrought iron gates that rose up into the night.
The iron fencing ran all the way around Deadside, reinforced by wards we didn’t understand. Once the largest cemetery in the center of the city, it was now home to a small percentage of the dead. Why these souls were chosen wasn’t common knowledge. But once I was on the other side of those gates, I’d know.
Moonlit headstones and tombs complete with spooky vibes were visible through the gates. They stretched as far as the eye could see. The spirits of the dead laid here had moved on decades ago; now this hallowed ground was home to new spirits. I caught a glimpse of a face, a body moving swiftly. It was all that was visible from this side of the gates. The wards on this place were underworld-issue. The only way to see what truly lay beyond was to be authorized admission. The gates wouldn’t open otherwise.