Yeah. But anyway. All comments welcome.
The clock behind me thudded off seconds, mocking my wasted time.
The man in front of me was well-dressed, handsome in a vacant kind of way, and had no useful information for me whatsoever. His girlfriend was missing and he couldn’t think of one single relevant fact. I took my time with him but his monosyllabic answers were getting on my nerves. Judging by the pacing I could hear in the adjoining room, he was annoying my business partner too. I thought of Nico using his favourite method for extracting information – punching – and cheered up.
I tried to be encouraging and sympathetic to the nervous man, but being nice isn’t one of my natural talents. He’d asked me to call him Mr Smith. I get a lot of Smiths. By the time they arrive at Kennedy & King they’ve realised the benefits of disguise and anonymity, something they sadly lacked when they got into the mess they want me to sort out.
The people who come to me either regard me with dumb awe or complete contempt. This guy was the dumb awe type. He found his voice and said his girlfriend went to meet some shady guy she met on the internet. That wasn’t much to go on. I’ve never dealt with anyone who isn’t shady, myself included. My stomach dropped at the thought of explaining why I couldn’t find his girlfriend. I didn’t care. Go find someone who does. But who else in Glasgow tracks down the mystically dodgy? My unique selling point is also my curse, and bad witches like me know all about curses.
I asked him what protection she’d carried and his eyes widened to the point where I could hardly stand the stupid.
“You mean like a gun?”
I make it my policy not to mock the afflicted so I didn’t laugh in his face, and adopted the tone I use when I’m trying to be patient with bratty children. I’d meant an amulet, charm, demon, spirit guide, witch, sorcerer, maybe even a vampire. A gun would get you nowhere, except possibly shot yourself. Where would she get a gun in Glasgow anyway? Stabbing is preferred – it’s so much more interactive. I fielded more questions but he could tell me little of use.
“So can you find her?” The man’s voice was high and pleading.
“I don’t know. It depends who he is and what he’s done with her. Did you bring her laptop and mobile like I asked?”
He nodded, set the laptop on my desk and fumbled in his pocket for the phone.
“He told her not to bring any communication devices. It was stupid of her not to take her phone, though, wasn’t it?”
“Not if he’d told her not to.” He could have responded with decapitation, electrocution, combustion. All the fun stuff I used to enjoy. I jolted myself from happy memories and smiled at Mr Smith.
“It never left her side,” he said, with something approaching pride, and slid the mobile across the desk. Another person who ran their life with a little beeping box. He read my name slowly from the business card I gave him.
“Ariana Kennedy. Like that Greek myth chick.” His eyes wandered to the charms suspended over the desk and he stared at them, mouth agape. My patience left the building.
“That was Ariadne,” I corrected, as politely as I could through my gritted teeth. “Thank you, Mr Smith. I’ll be in touch.” He’d signed the forms with a name that looked nothing like Smith, but as long as his credit card worked he could call himself Bozo the Clown for all I cared.
Nico, my demon partner in the agency, wouldn’t come out until the client had gone. Nearly seven feet of rippling muscle, with neon flame-red dreadlocks and a smile that could make your day or ruin your life, he’s even less of a people person than I am. We decided I’m a better actor, so I went up front. He appeared from the small side room as soon as he heard the door slam, eating chocolate as usual.
“He’s still a bit shell-shocked,” I explained, with no empathy whatsoever, after removing the pen from my mouth. No one can ever quite believe they need the services of a disgraced witch and a powerless fire demon. Well, powerless is not quite true. He can still make water boil instantly, which has a few practical uses, but it’s not the jaw-dropping, show-stopping pizzazz he’s used to. After our disgrace, Nico was power-stripped of anything useful. My situation is a little more complicated.
Nico shoved the last of his chocolate in his mouth and asked what we should do. It was late, and I was reluctant to wander round the Ancient Quarter at that hour, because it might mean talking to the landlady. The Ancient Quarter is protected with a perception filter, and ordinary people shouldn’t be able to find it. I voiced this to Nico and he shrugged.
“Everyone can find something if they’re desperate enough. Pass me the laptop and I’ll hack her email.”
Demons are far more practical than witches.
“Whaddya you get from the phone?”
I turned it on, and found a few messages from relatives and friends, but no texts more than two days old. The call log had been wiped. She was trying to hide something. Nico tapped away on the laptop and I tried to think.
“I wonder if the boyfriend is in the habit of checking her phone. Either that or whatever she was going to see is very touchy about secrecy. Who can we ask in the AQ?”
“Carlos,” said Nico, in his rumbling Californian drawl. “But he’s pretty sparked out on liquor these days. I don’t think he’d sense a kick to the face. Greta might be able to help.”
Greta is a sorceress who specialises more in glossy firework tricks than any solid magic. She’s incredibly sharp but acts dumb, which means a hell of a lot of information comes her way. I didn’t know where she was but at that time of day it was one of three places, all involving alcohol. I can do as much magic as I have to on behalf of our clients, but nothing that benefits me without potential consequences, so a locator spell was out.
Nico turned the laptop screen so I could see it.
“She deleted all her emails but I should be able to recover ‘em.” The blue light from the screen in our dim basement office made Nico look spooky. “Here we go. She responded to some spam email about karma.”
“People really respond to spam emails?”
“They must do or the spammers wouldn’t bother. Gimme her phone. No point making ourselves traceable.”
Nico hit some buttons. I heard a tinny but sibilant voice say little. Nico stared at the phone, confused.
“He don’t talk to demons.”
I tried, but got a recorded message saying the number was unobtainable.
“Well, looks like I can do the locator spell for Greta. If that thing can tell you’re a demon just from talking to you it must be pretty powerful.”