Authors: Paul Ruditis
“I’m telling you, Phoebe. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a PR nightmare.” Mika Yoshida slumped back in the guest chair of Phoebe’s office, conceding defeat.
The publicist for
The Bay Mirror
wasn’t usually a drama queen, so Phoebe tried to hear her out even though it was becoming increasingly difficult to take the problem seriously. “I’ve been to the end of the world,” Phoebe said, only slightly joking. “It had very little to do with public relations.”
Mika glared at her. “You’re making fun of me.”
“I’m making fun of the
,” Phoebe corrected. “I get that it’s your job to handle these things. You know how much I appreciate your work. Readership for
doubled after you started here. But no, I don’t take what you’re saying right now very seriously.”
couples.” Mika pounded her fist on Phoebe’s desk to punctuate the statement. “Five couples broke up in the past week—”
“Couples break up all the time. If it didn’t happen I wouldn’t have an advice column.”
Mika plowed on as if Phoebe hadn’t said anything. “And what did these five couples have in common? They were all married in a ceremony presided over by
The Bay Mirror’s
resident expert on love. The headlines practically write themselves. Our competitors are going to have a field day.”
“Which is precisely why I never should have agreed to that photo op in the first place. Who gets married in a mass wedding officiated by a newspaper columnist ordained over the Internet?” Phoebe rifled through her desk in search of a pencil. She didn’t write anything out longhand, but she’d developed an annoying habit of chewing on one while she wrote. Phoebe had gone through two boxes of pencils while working on her book.
“The Church of Love and Light is a well-respected, non-denominational organization.” Mika could barely keep her face straight.
Phoebe pulled out relatively fresh pencil with barely any teeth marks. “It was forever ago. I’m surprised these marriages have lasted as long as they have, to be honest. I wouldn’t have given half of them a week. The better question is why are you stalking these couples in the first place?”
“I wanted to do a follow up story. A kind of ‘where are they now?’ article showing how you’ve inspired their happy marriages. I didn’t realize that inspiration had an expiration date.”
Phoebe placed the pencil behind her ear. She didn’t have time for this. She’d been so busy with the girls and the ghouls lately that she’d gotten behind in her work. Elise still had some stockpiled articles she kept on hand in case of magical distractions, but Phoebe needed to get ahead for future issues. The stack of letters on her desk was practically demanding to be read. And that was nothing compared to the inbox full of emails.
Phoebe got up and politely—though not so subtly—helped Mika out of the guest seat. “It is a little weird that they all decided to file for divorce this week,” she conceded. “But I wouldn’t call it a PR nightmare yet.”
,” Mika insisted. “I said it has the
to be a PR nightmare. It’s my job to stay on top of these things.”
Phoebe led her to the door. “And you’re really good at your job. Now that you’ve alerted me to the issue, I’ll keep an ear out for any other breakups. Maybe some of these people have written in about their problems and I can do my own follow up in the column exploring the challenges of maintaining a marriage.”
Mika’s eyes lit up. “I can spin that.”
“I have no doubt.” Phoebe gave Mika a gentle push out of her office. “Now go head off some other PR emergency. I hear the new sports reporter has some questionable thoughts on women as professional athletes.”
Mika sighed. “You joke, but that’s why Elise had to fire the last sports reporter.”
Phoebe watched her friend walk off with newfound determination. She didn’t envy the publicist’s job. Mika took the paper’s failures personally. It got worse every time someone posted an article online about how newspapers were a dying industry. It was almost as if Mika felt it was solely her responsibility to keep
The Bay Mirror
in business. Ever since Phoebe’s column of advice to the lovelorn had become one of the most popular sections of the paper, the publicist went into overdrive when anything happened to threaten it. Thankfully, Elise usually kept her in check.
The Bay Mirror’s
editor-in-chief was fairly mellow about the newspaper business. Elise Rothman had seen so much in her career that she used to claim that she was prepared for anything, no matter how bizarre. Back then, Elise had never anticipated just how unprepared she was to discover the secret that Phoebe had been keeping from her for years: that she and her sisters were witches. Elise recovered from the shock quickly—the circumstances had demanded it—but it was a memorable milestone in their relationship. It was also the last time Elise had ever mentioned that she was prepared for anything.
Phoebe was about to start on her pile of letters when an outburst of laughter caught her attention. Normally, she was able to ignore the typical commotion from the bullpen. Reporters were always calling attention to themselves by reacting to something or other. But this time, the noise piqued Phoebe’s interest when she saw a familiar freelance photojournalist leaning against the desk of the paper’s political reporter.
Phoebe had noticed a love connection forming between Rachel and Jal weeks ago while the pair had looked over photo selects for one of his articles. As the paper’s resident love expert, Phoebe had made it a personal mission to nurture that budding relationship. A small part of her knew she should just let nature take its course, but her meddlesome tendencies proved to be a louder voice in her head.
The potential pair was hunched over something so funny that it clearly warranted further attention. Phoebe dropped her pencil on the desk and went out to join them, putting off the stack of letters just a bit longer. “What’s so funny?”
“This!” Jal held out Rachel’s digital camera. His body was shaking so hard with laughter it was impossible to make out the image on the screen.
Phoebe leaned in. “What is it? I can’t tell.”
“Let me.” Rachel grabbed her camera and Phoebe felt a jolt of pleasant emotion as the pair’s hands touched. Even someone who wasn’t an empath would have noticed it. Rachel and Jal were clearly on their way to coupledom on their own, without any help from Phoebe.
Rachel held out the camera. “Does this statue look familiar?”
Now that the screen was still, Phoebe could finally make out the image. The stone carving of a man in a suit appeared to be at the Presidio. She could see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background. “It looks like… Congressman Ward?”
“The likeness is uncanny,” Rachel said.
“It’s the expression on his face that sells it.” Jal said through the laughter as Rachel joined back in. “Like he has a permanent stick up his butt. I want to go down there and leave birdseed all over it so the pigeons can go to town.”
Phoebe didn’t share in their amusement. Years of experience with the supernatural raised her warning level without the need for a premonition. Random statues of living politicians didn’t often turn up in parks on their own. Phoebe held out a hand, hoping to determine if her suspicions were justified. “Can I get a closer look?”
“Sure.” Rachel handed over the camera while suppressing a last few giggles.
Phoebe enlarged the image on the screen. They were right. It looked exactly like Ward, at least the photos Phoebe had seen of the man. The statue even matched his usual dour expression, but with just the barest hint of what could be surprise in the eyes. That little bit of shock added to Phoebe’s concern. She had to be absolutely sure.
Phoebe concentrated on the image, forcing herself to see beyond the picture, beyond the pixels. The world around her faded and suddenly she was in the congressman’s California office, at least in her mind.
It was nighttime. Late. The congressman’s staff was long gone. Ward sat at his desk, dressed as if it was still the workday. He hadn’t even loosened his tie. That was no surprise. Ward wasn’t the casual type in his personality or his politics. If he had his way, no one in the country would be casual about anything. The congressman was preoccupied with drafting laws to ensure the public had no right to do anything. Phoebe was surprised that a progressive city like San Francisco had elected such a closed-minded politician, but she reminded herself that his district was actually outside of town in one of the more cloistered areas.
In her vision, Phoebe saw the congressman stand to greet someone entering his office. She wished she could see through his eyes to know who it was, but she couldn’t control that aspect of her vision. Still, it was unusual for her not to see more. The visitor might have been using some kind of cloaking spell to keep prying eyes from getting a full picture. Phoebe concentrated, but the vision remained incomplete.
The congressman did not come out from behind his desk, keeping it between himself and his seemingly unexpected visitor. There was no offer of a warm greeting to whoever had come in. Ward wasn’t overtly angry about the late-night intrusion, more like mildly annoyed. The practiced veil of the politician couldn’t hide his true feelings, but he tried to adopt a fake smile to cover his displeasure; couldn’t risk offending a potential voter in the next election. Phoebe’s vision didn’t include sound, so she wasn’t privy to the conversation, but it seemed innocuous enough.
The sudden change caught Phoebe by surprise, just as it did the congressman. One moment, Ward was speaking and the next he was frozen in stone. He barely had time to react. Only the barest hint of surprise registered in his granite eyes.
Phoebe came out of the vision to find Rachel and Jal staring at her. She was used to this. It happened from time to time. Her coworkers didn’t know she’d just had a vision of the past. From their perspective, Phoebe had tensed up and then zoned out. Depending on how long she’d been in the vision, they might have feared she’d had some kind of stroke.
Phoebe laughed, hoping to break the tension as she handed the camera back to Rachel. “Perfect likeness. He should find a way to use it in his next campaign.”
Jal turned to his computer and brought up his contact list. “I’m going to see if I can get a statement out of the congressman’s office. Nobody seems to know where the statue came from or why it’s in the middle of the Presidio.”
“Maybe I can get a shot of the congressman standing beside it.” Rachel suggested, placing a hand on his shoulder. “We can ask readers to see if they can tell the real from the fake.”
“Better hurry,” Jal said. “I’m sure the groundskeepers will be carting it away soon.”
Phoebe backed away from Jal’s desk. “I just remembered the girls have a doctor’s appointment this morning. If Elise is looking for me, tell her I’ll be back later.”
Phoebe didn’t wait for the pair to respond before heading out. She tapped her phone awake as she left the bullpen and pressed Paige’s name while waiting for the elevator. If Paige was free, she could orb into the building, grab Phoebe, and get them both to Piper’s before the elevator reached the first floor. The doors opened the same moment Paige answered the call.
“Tell me your kids are in daycare at Magic School today,” Phoebe said as she stepped into the elevator.
“They are,” Paige replied. “I’m supposed to meet a new Charge in an hour. I’m guessing my plans just changed?”
“That would be a safe bet,” Phoebe said. “Come get me. I’m in the elevator at work.”
“On my way.”
Phoebe ended the call as the familiar white/blue orbs began to collect at the top of the elevator. Having a sister who could teleport at a moment’s notice had its perks. It wouldn’t be long before they knew what kind of danger the day held in store for them. It seemed unlikely that Phoebe would be getting to that stack of letters anytime soon.