She had not replied by the time he was ready to go. He turned off his computer, pulled on his worn, leather trench coat and stuffed a pair of his leather gauntlets into one pocket. He was aware how ‘wild west’ it made him look, but he was in the land of Tombstone, after all. Might as well blend in, right?
Milo tugged the curtains closed as he got to the door. “Have a good day, Douglas.”
“You know I won’t,” the shade sighed.
He said something else, post-sigh, but Milo had already pulled the door closed. The almost obsessive-compulsive need to start that conversation…maybe he did it to keep his roommate engaged on this plane. Maybe he did it because he needed to stay in touch with the real world, too.
It was too easy to get lost in his computer, in the depth of his day job, both so layered with differing variations in reality. And when magic can sustain you better than greasy fast food and super-powered energy drinks, the lure was far too tempting in the face of building, much less sustaining, tangible relationships with other humans, and well, when the evil alternatives—the ghosts, vampires, and weres of the world—would simply just kill you before they would think to befriend you, people like Milo tended to not want to interact at all.
He got into his car, and drove out of the parking lot. It was a bright morning in Arizona, and even at 6:30, he could already feel the heat. Another crazy hot day in August, though, as he told all his friends up north, the temperature here was five to ten degrees lower than Tucson, fifteen to twenty degrees lower than Phoenix. Between the mountains and the elevation, not to mention his ability to regulate his internal body temperature, he was rather happy to be in Sierra Vista.
It did not take long to pull into the lot of the business park. They shared the building with two other tenants—a temp agency and an orthodontist—but their signage was the smallest. In gold letters on a black granite were the words:
PRIMOGEN CONSTRUCTION You’ll think we’re magic
If their clients only knew. Milo smirked as he got out of his vehicle. The truth of the matter was not as simple. Yes, they were a construction company, specializing not in ground up builds but fixing home issues in existing structures. Broken pipes, shattered windows, sagging foundations, imps, trolls and poltergeist. You know, the normal things.
He nodded to the receptionist. Her name escaped him—Brianna, Brisa, Aubrey…no, wait, Sabrina?--, as she was the newest in a line of temps they had hired from the business next door, though she had remained the longest. But that might have something to do with the fact that she occasionally wore wings to work, carried a mini-whip on her keychain and oh, yes, she was a were-rabbit. Ahem, were-bunny. (She had corrected the entire staff late one night during a full moon when they had found a rather large white, well, bunny asleep behind her desk. Talk about surprise.)
“Mr. Goddard?” she grinned and extended one handful of phone messages.
He snagged them out of her hand. “Good morning…”
She chuckled, and in true were-fashion, those green eyes sparkled with a gold line around her iris. “Myname, Milo...” she waited until he met her eyes…good thing he was a mage, he only felt the tug of her compulsion, “is Bri.”
“Good mage.” Her eyes dimmed and she turned back to her monitor with a satisfied huff.
Milo stuffed the messages in his other pocket, shook the threads of hypnotism from his brain and headed to his office. He glanced at the clock on his wall. He had a staff meeting in twenty minutes, so the boss could hand out the day’s assignments, but until then, he had time to check email, read those messages in his pocket and see if MagickalMayhem had replied.
He caught himself smiling at the thought. And more than a touch embarrassed. He hadn’t exchanged more than a few dozen words with her, and already he wanted more. Milo only hoped it was worth all this mental exercise. He had had more than his fair share of bad experiences with women who had started out interesting and relatable, and ended up shallow, high maintenance and downright ugly.
His work email was the normal blur of requests and spam, and the messages were really more of the same. He had a troll to check on behind the Walmart, a flight of fairies to relocate, the return of a drunken dwarf—oh, not a Little Person, but an honest-to-god-walked-out-of-Middle-Earth dwarf—and that did not even include whatever was brewing in his boss’s inbox.
He looked at the time in the toolbar on his computer screen. Five minutes. More than enough time to check his networking site. “She replied.” Those two words slipped out with a breath of amazement and relief. He leaned closer to the monitor as her message loaded.
Scary is good.
But before we get all cozy in a dark theater, perhaps we should meet somewhere more public, more well lit, with more of a chance to get away without the overly awkwardness of being caught in a small space together should we find our first impressions, well, unimpressive.
Let me know.
Milo smiled. He liked that. Her interest, or at least her curiosity, was showing, growing, even if she gave him an easy way out, something that would be honorable for them both. But if he had not wanted to meet her before, he most definitely did now. It would answer some questions and maybe get his foot farther in the door.
“Hey!” The office albino waved from the doorway with an aluminum beanie on his head. “Meeting time, dude!” He popped back into the hallway just as suddenly as he had come into the office.
The mage chuckled. Nathan Benthford, like Sabrina, was an authentic supernatural creature. The Universe had compensated for his lack of skin pigmentation with an amazing psychic sense that had admittedly been written off as functional insanity. He was not a danger to himself, nor to others, but he was definitely insane. Did not mean he wasn’t a psychic, just the voices in his head told him real things, useful things, and that allowed him to earn a pretty decent living at Primogen.
Milo hit send, logged out of the site and headed down the hallway. “Gentlemen,” he said as he entered into the conference room. Nate was doodling on a whiteboard in the back, talking to himself again, or at least the other three men in the room were not paying him any attention. Bri sat at the conference room table, pen and pad at the ready, as was her smile.
At the head of the table stood Arthur Kent, boss and owner of Primogen, so named because, well, he was probably the strongest supernatural in all of Arizona. He was also the most neutral power in the area, unless, of course, the price was right. Being a necromancer afforded him that luxury…and more than a little immortality. The company had been a side project that quickly evolved into something, well, profitable, and as Arthur had told Milo in a phone interview, “Sometimes it is about the money, but sometimes it’s about the legacy. If you want to be remembered when our bodies have gone to the worms, then make an impression now, good or bad. The rest will follow.”
He had not sent the team on any ‘evil’ missions, per se, since Milo had started with him two months ago, or at least none that were outwardly subversive to the clientele they served. If there was an ulterior motive, the mage was oblivious. Or Arthur was apt at playing those cards close to his chest. And until he knew differently, he was not about to ask.
“Nice of you to join us, Milo.” Arthur gestured toward an open chair between the his other two teammates, Vince Morrison and Zeke
Bartholomew. Vince tugged on his goatee and nodded. Zek raised his coffee mug into the air and gave a slight yet exaggerated bow. Milo slipped into the chair wordlessly. “Now that we’re all here, let’s get to it, shall we?”
Old Mrs Gonzalez was a tiny Mexican woman. And not just because Milo and the team easily hovered around six feet tall each. No, she was tiny, petite, as if someone had just miniaturized her, turned her into a living doll. Not in a Little People kind of way, though. Just. Tiny.
Milo pulled another tuft of desert troll hair from his pocket. Their last job was not a difficult one, a minor relocation of a creature who had long wandered from the bridge of his early years. But trying to stuff a senile troll into their truck, who was rather intermittently certain that their intent involved a large, bubbling cauldron and a comparable spoon was not without its own issues. Hence the hair every where.
My kingdom for a lint brush, Milo thought as he stood at the bottom of their client’s porch.
Zeke was doing his best to try to explain to her what they were going to do, but it was really hard to hold anyone’s attention when there was an albino present. Much less an albino with the attention span and running mouth of a ten year old hyped up on sugar.
Mrs. Gonzalez simply could not stop watching, nodding occasionally for Zeke’s pauses, but she was not listening. No way, no how.
“Nate,” Milo coughed in his fist.
The very white man in his very black trench coat did not hear him. No, he was talking, loud and clear as day, to the saguaro cactus by their client’s front porch. “You’ve seen them, haven’t you? Roaming around, peeking through windows? It’s okay. You can tell me. Are they wearing little red hats?” He accidently leaned too close, his hot hand—so named because it was the one he used to detect invisible supernatural creatures versus his cold hand that found all the ghosts either not strong enough to manifest or more than strong enough but choosing not to—snagged against the prickly spikes and drew blood. He stuck the offended finger into his mouth. “No need to be rude,” he muttered around the digit.
Milo smelled the blood without having to see the bright redness blooming against Nate’s skin, but Vince’s head perked up from his position near Zeke. He pushed away from the porch post and looked around.
The air shimmered with a supernatural pulse, like silver and gold waves of oil on top of water. The mundane folks would not feel it. The slightly sensitive would feel the hair rise on their arms, the backs of their necks, but shrug it off. But Nate whimpered and held the hand in Milo’s general direction.
A flicker of fingers and one small word of power magically stitched the wound closed, not quite healed, but good enough for now, with the added bonus of hiding the heat and the scent. Vince rubbed at his mouth with one hand and nodded his gratitude. There were just some powers that did not need to be revealed in the bright afternoon sun. In front of strangers. Strangers like Mrs. Gonzalez, who put her hands on her diminutive hips and looked down the line of them.
“You’re not here just to check my plumbing, are you?”