Sitting on a barstool, watching Aster clean up the rest of the glass and absently pulling her long hair into a braid, a part of Peggy longed to be able to go back to the day she had originally planned. A very small part. A surprisingly small part, if she let herself think about it for too long. Which she didn’t, because most of her was trying to work the problem in front of her.
“I can see you thinking,” Aster said, brushing the pieces of light bulb and some stray crumbs off the dustpan and into the trash. “Think out loud. I don’t want to be left out of a single step.”
“Do you have a hair tie?”
Aster pointed to their own cropped hair, then snapped their fingers.
“Lori keeps some in the register.” They handed Peggy the tie with a, “Okay, now spill it.”
“Well, for starters,” Peggy said, winding the tie around the end of her braid. “We need to hope that Mario isn’t actually cursed.”
Aster nodded enthusiastically. “Because curses can’t be broken unless some way to break it is in the curse.”
Peggy stared at them, trying very hard not to look completely shocked and utterly failing. Aster tried to look offended, jutting out their jaw, but then broke and began laughing.
“I told you I was reading books.”
“Okay, then, smarty-pants, tell me what you think.”
Aster nodded, the smile falling off their face. They began to pace a few steps in either direction, one hand behind their back and the other at their chin. Anyone else and it might have been a comical exaggeration. But with Aster it looked real. And right. Peggy realized that she had been treating this whole ‘supernatural detective’ thing like a passing obsession of Aster’s. Like a kid with a new toy on Christmas when you know they’ll forget about it by the new year. But Aster wasn’t a kid. And it was obvious to her now that this wasn’t passing. Aster was taking this whole thing as serious as a car crash. Peggy remembered all the times in the past weeks Aster had tried to talk to her about what they had read and Peggy had sat disinterested and half interested, and felt her cheeks grow warm.
“Even though we don’t want it to be a curse, it sure sounds like one. Based on what I read, anyway. It’s too…’mean’ doesn’t feel like a strong enough word, but I guess that’s it. Oh, no wait. It’s too ‘vitriolic.’ Yeah, I like that word. But could a breakup be bad enough that someone would throw out a curse?”
“Yeah, right, stupid question.”
“I can think of two exes, at least.”
“Three.” Aster nodded, coming around from behind the bar. “In a way, that’s a good thing. It narrows down the type of magic. Curses are only made from redwave magic.”
“And that makes things a little harder, because I can’t sense redwave magic. Only blue.”
Aster snickered. “What, you mean you’re not,” they waved their hands around, “spiritual?”
“I’m pretty sure Maria is less,” Peggy also waved her hands around, “spiritual, and more fairy.”
Aster scoffed, and Peggy put her hands up.
“Not like that. Like, actual fairy. Greenwave magic.”
“Some fairies will bang anything in sight, including humans. Pretty much anytime you meet someone who’s vaguely psychic, it means they have fairy somewhere up the line.”
“You say that like I’m just meeting vaguely psychic people all the time.”
They both stared at each other for a few seconds before Aster let out a low whistle.
“I have more reading to do,” they muttered. “Anyway, redwave magic. Doesn’t that mean we’re looking for a witch?”
“If it’s a curse, it’s a witch. Seeing as how we don’t have any other threads right now I guess we pull this one. Finding a witch, though, can be tricky, if they don’t want to be found. We need…”
Peggy trailed off, staring off into the middle distance until Aster threw up their hands.
“What? We need what?”
“We need to go to the Gulp ‘n’ Go. Come on.”
“That’s not what I expected. Why the…hey, wait for me!”
Three blocks north of Dinah’s was the Gulp ‘n’ Go convenience store. Home to two gas pumps, a perpetually vandalized sign, some of the best food to buy when you’re drunk and it’s three in the morning, and Steve and Stevie.
They were standing in their usual spot, at the side of the building on the little patch of grass between the parking lot and the road. The smoke from their cigarettes was lazily floating around the ‘No Smoking’ sign affixed to the brick wall behind them. Between them was their boombox, playing some metal song Peggy didn’t know. One of them, swimming in an oversized Pacific City jersey and an Ocean City hat, was playing air guitar. The other one wore a Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt and a trucker hat that said Eat Farts and was sitting on an overturned bucket, doing the drums. Peggy had never been sure which one was Steve and which one was Stevie. Everyone in the neighborhood just referred to them as the Steves.
As she walked around the parking lot toward the Steves Aster followed behind her, their eyes bouncing between Peggy and them. Peggy hadn’t said why they were here, yet, because she wasn’t completely sure she was right.
“These idiots?” Aster asked.
“Just let me do the talking.”
The Steves noticed they had company only after Peggy and Aster had been standing there for a few seconds. The one in the jersey slung his air guitar off his shoulder and gently put it down in the grass as he eyed Peggy and Aster up and down.
“Maybe if I was drunk,” he said, pointing at Peggy. Then he pointed at Aster. “Definitely.”
Peggy and Aster both squinted and said, “Gross,” at the same time.
The other one kicked the boom box to stop the music. “Did you come here to insult us? Or do you have a request?” He did an air drum solo, finishing on what Peggy believed to be a high hat, pinching the air cymbal to get it to stop.
“Neither,” Peggy said. “You guys are imps, right?”
Aster whipped their head to look at her. “Imps?”
“Low level demons. Mischief makers, really.”
The one in the jersey made a smug look and took a drag on his cigarette. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He said it at the same time the drummer lifted his hat to wipe sweat away and said, “Yeah, totally. How’d you know?”
The one in the jersey glared at him. “Stevie, man. Come on.”
Aster and Peggy looked at each other.
“Steve,” Peggy said, pointing at the one in the jersey.
“Stevie,” Aster said, pointing at the drummer. “Need to remember that.”
“What the fuck are you two, then?” Steve asked, pointing back.
“Whatever I feel like at the moment.”
Steve’s eyes lingered on Aster, and he licked his lips. “I feel that.”
Peggy rolled her eyes. “Keep it in your pants, creepshow. We need information. Someone in the neighborhood is fucking with redwave magic, we need to know who.”
Stevie opened his mouth and immediately clamped it shut with a single hand out from Steve.
“I’m not sure I feel like being nice to someone who just called me a creepshow.”
Aster squinted, and then their eyes went wide. “Oh! Oh, they want…Peggy, they want a bribe. I don’t have much cash on me.”
While Aster patted their pockets, trying to locate their wallet, Peggy sighed and pulled her own wallet from the back pocket of her jeans. She looked through the bills, then glanced up at Steve.
“I’ve got Teddy Roosevelt with me. He always struck me as a nice guy.”
Steve and Stevie looked at each other, considering. Steve sniffed and rubbed at his nose before holding out his hand.
“Two of us,” he said, examining the bill. “Two of these.”
Peggy sighed and pulled another twenty-five dollar bill out of her wallet. Stevie snatched it, practically giggling.
“Super-Slush and candy vines, here I come.”
“All right, now that that’s settled,” Steve said, his bill disappearing into his jersey. “What was it you wanted to know?”
“Redwave magic,” Aster said, stepping between Peggy and Steve. “Someone cursed this guy, every time he opens his mouth something bad happens.”
“Oh man, yeah!” Stevie said, standing up. “That car crash was sweet.”
Steve and Stevie giggled together for a few seconds, going over the details of the crash. They eventually sobered up, and Steve resumed his ‘all business’ stance, his hands together in front of him.
“We’re aware,” he said.
“We need to find whoever did the cursing,” Aster said.
“For you, my baby ray of sunshine, anything. Stevie?”
Stevie didn’t look up from the bill, still in his hands. “Been feeling it mostly over around Park and Lime.”
From the breast pocket of their shirt Aster pulled out the list of exes and unfolded it. They scanned it quickly and then shoved the list at Peggy.
“Fourth one down. Naomi Wallace. Address is right next to that intersection.”
Peggy handed the list back to Aster and nodded at imps.
“Steve. Stevie. Pleasure doing business with you.”
“You can come back any time, as long as you bring those Roosevelts,” Steve called as they walked away down the sidewalk. “Your friend, though, can come back any time they want.”
Aster glanced back at them and gave an awkward wave. “Are imps horny on main, or does Steve have a thing for me?”
Peggy snorted. “Yes, and yes.”