“How the hell did you ever manage to have so many kids?” Jeff dumped more groceries on the tiny counter and started putting things away.
Bee snorted. “Same as you. Back alley doc took the blocks out. Damn government, telling me I can’t have kids. My momma was from Purple, and they can have as many kids as they want. Stupid Earthers.”
Jeff paused. Bee was a native from one of the other worlds? “Yeah, but . . .”
Bee tossed her head. “Yeah, I was born here, so I get an implant just like you poor sods. Well! I wasn’t going to put up with that!” She bit her lip and a suggestion of a tear gleamed before she turned away. “I had trouble with Prissy, had to go to the hospital. They did something, on account of my records. There was a judicial ruling, that I was to be sterilized when I next required medical assistance. I didn’t know that, or I’d have waited longer, probably could have had Prissy at home.”
“Huh. Purple.” Jeff jogged her along a bit.
“Yeah, mom was a maid. Got pregnant, got fired, That’s when the gates were down, so they couldn’t send her home. She did this and that, had more babies. The men mostly gave her enough money to go on.” Bee shrugged. “Works for me, too, mostly. Momma keeps the little kids while I work. Once the kids are born, the government is pretty good about medical and schools and stuff. They just try to keep you from having them in the first place.”
Jeff nodded. Good or bad? Bee would be unlikely to turn him into the authorities, but would they be watching her, or at least her mother?
His own father, step-father actually, had talked about how they gotten ahead in Karista. The extended family all crowding together in a falling down house they’d bought, fixed up, ran their freight hauling business out of, expanded . . . Uncle Damien had said something about how they couldn’t afford to rent anything fit to live in, but they could buy something and make it livable.
All these derelict buildings. Who owned them?
His lips twirked, and he grabbed the newspaper and flipped through it. He’d seen . . . Yes. A government auction. Property the city had seized for back taxes. Perfect. After work tomorrow he'd have to check several of these out.
The building was a wreck, the brick façade cracked and sagging, the interior had been stripped of everything of value, suffered several small fires, a couple of police raids and probably shootouts between gangs. Jeff, or rather Ace Worley, bought it from the city for practically nothing, and hastily got Bee to sell more gold jewelry to cover the first year’s taxes and insurance, as required by the fine print he hadn’t read.
Her boss had proven amenable to selling straightforward gold chains, and impressed by “Ace’s” ability to get as many as needed. The Witches on the other side of the gate considered the work trivial. The building, however . . .
Q stepped through cautiously. “We’re not going to mention to Janic that I actually came across, right?”
Jeff winced. “Not unless he asks. It’s just that this family is such a good place to hide in.”
“But needs a place to stay. So show me this building.”
She walked around it, shaking her head. “It needs a whole lot of work. Which I’d better do elsewhere.” She made a tossing motion and the whole thing disappeared, including the basement. A few more waves of her hand and an illusion stood in its place. “I’ve put physical shields around the bottom six feet, so no one will fall in. And I sealed all the pipes and wiring and stuff. I’ll get it back to you in a couple of days.”
Four days later she returned with the brick façade. It was scrubbed and repaired. The rest of the building was brand new.
“Not worth saving. Trust me. So. Two basement apartments. Four shops across the front. Four more flats, each one taking up half a floor. One huge flat on the top floor. Sun power panels shading the roof patio. Parking in the back and along one side. Voila!” She positioned the building and popped the bubble. “I’ll just match up the water and sewer pipes, and the conduit for the city power, and she’s all yours.” The witch sat down and contemplated her belly button for a few minutes, then trotted off.
Jeff prowled the building, and wondered how he was going to explain the fast repairs to Bee. Q had left the walls and floors bare, and looking like these gypsum sheets they used here for interior walls. Maybe he could act like the repairs weren’t done?
“Five bedrooms!” Bee was wide-eyed over all the space. “Ace, how much does that job of yours pay?”
“Plenty, when I don’t spend it all on drugs.” Jeff veered away from the subject. “So, we just need to plaster and paint, get some rugs put in and such, then we can move in.”
“Are you kiddin’? We’re movin’ in right now.”
“I have to get the wiring inspected, and the power connected.”
“You got solar. You don’t need city power.”
“Well, If I’m going to rent the rest of the flats and the shops and all . . .”
Her eyes got wide. “Rent for six flats and four shops? That’s, that’s. Yur goin’ to be rich.”
“Well. Maybe. I, uh, took out a loan for the repairs, figured it would be worth it, for the fast work. Umm, how about you show the inspector around, get the power hooked up. Then we’ll move in, fix up the other flats and get them rented. Then finish ours?”
“And the shops.” Her eyes narrowed. “If you can keep producin’ those chains, I could have my own jewelry shop.”
Jeff nodded. “Yes, of course. That would work out very well.”
And somehow, without anything quite being said about it, Bee was getting, not just the inspections done, but the flats rented, and the stores filled. Bee’s mother and two underaged siblings took one of the flats below theirs. Bee’s Jewelry. Shelly’s Hair and Nails. Spicer’s Antiques. Wong’s Chinese restaurant.
Mr. Wong moved his family—elderly mother, wife, and baby boy—into the basement flat below his restaurant.
Shelly turned out to be one of Bee’s sisters. Younger, and less worn. No kids, and as far as Jeff could tell, no boyfriends. “I’m the sensible one, without children all over the place.” In as much as her nieces and nephews were all over her, Jeff had trouble repressing a grin. She reached out and administered a swat to Peter’s anatomy. “That is my purse, and you will respect my property and belongings.”
Jeff blinked at the first sign of discipline he’d seen in the entire family.
Momma Golden huffed her way up out of the bedrooms, towed by the older kids. “So how come you aint marrying my girl? You ain’t even sleeping with her!” The huge woman’s voice was accented oddly, and indignant on behalf of her chick. Her skin was a warm honey, her hair, so dark it almost didn’t look purple, had streaks of pale violet through it. According to the books in the library, Momma would have been upper middle class. The high class had either purple or blue hair, and skin with blue or purple undertones. “Corpse-like” was a frequently used description.
They claimed to have magical abilities.
Like us, and the One, or something different? Jeff closed his eyes, the better to see . . . an impressive glow. Bee and Shelly glowed. Their mother glowed. And about half the kids running all over.
Bee blushed. “Now, Momma, you know we broke up ages ago. We’re just friends now.”
Shelly raised an elegant eyebrow. “I thought Marlene and Wendy were his?”
Bee squirmed. “Well, it’s hard to say.”
“You ought to get DNA tests, and take all the fathers to court.” Shelly turned a censorious glance in “Ace’s” direction.
Momma glared at her daughter. “We don’t do DNA tests. The kids don’t need to be labeled as Natives.”
“They’re three-fourths Earther, Momma.” Shelly rolled her eyes. “And people aren’t prejudiced like they used to be. Especially about Purple.”
Momma grumbled, and Jeff slipped off to the kitchen. He hoped Bee would listen to her mother. Jeff’s DNA would probably raise alarms somewhere. Peter and Eileen followed him, and he put them to work.
“Why do we always have fresh vegetables?” Eileen sliced zucchini into circles of perfectly matching thickness.
“They taste better than canned and frozen veggies.” Jeff handed Peter an onion and a knife. “Cut thin slices this way, and I’ll show you how to make onion rings. Plus shrimp and zuccinni tempura.”
“What does tempura mean?”
“Real food, battered and fried, with no nasty chemicals I can’t pronounce added. Except for the soy sauce. Who knows what goes in there.” Jeff sliced off a chunk of ginger root and started chopping. “This goes in the soy sauce. You dip the fried stuff in it and then eat them.”
“Tastes different, but yeah.”
From the living room he could hear Momma Golden. “Huh. A man that cooks. Must be a fag. I shoulda guessed, from the sleeping arrangements.”
“Momma!” Bee sounded indignant, and then uncertain. “I don’t think he is. I think I’m . . . used goods. He don’t want someone like me.”
Jeff winced. Unfortunately true. He hadn’t even thought about taking advantage of her proximity, and history with the real Ace.
And barely audible, low voiced from the front room. “Of course, I don’t really know nothing, ‘cept he ain’t really Ace Worley, no matter what he looks like.”