Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(11) by Ilona Andrews
“What are you offering?” I asked.
“The Mercenary Guild,” Jim said.
“What?” I must’ve misheard.
“The Mercenary Guild,” Jim repeated.
“That’s stupid,” I told him. “I have the business sense of a walnut and even I know it’s stupid.”
Ever since its founder died, the Mercenary Guild had been run by an assembly consisting of veteran mercs, admin staff, and the Pack representative. The rule by committee wasn’t working. I knew this, because I was that Pack representative. I’d worked for the Guild since I was eighteen. Mercs didn’t have a long life expectancy, but I was hard to kill and I had passed the eight-year mark, which made me a veteran. I had street cred, but even with my reputation, my veteran status, and the power of the Pack behind me, I got through to the Guild only half of the time. As long as I was there, keeping the peace, some stuff got done, but when I hadn’t been there, from what I’d heard, the infighting got so bad, the Guild was on the brink of bankruptcy. Jim knew all this. He used to be a merc, too, and he had spies all over the city.
“First, the mercs and admins are too busy being at each other’s throats,” I said. “Second, the Pack doesn’t own enough of the Guild to make it worthwhile for us.”
“We do,” Jim said. “The mercs have been selling off their shares and I’ve been using the shapeshifter mercs to buy them.”
He must have thought I was born yesterday. “They’ve been selling off their shares because the Guild has hurtled over the cliff and is nose-diving into the ground. Rats abandon a sinking ship, you know that.”
Jim dismissed it with a brisk gesture. “That’s beside the point. Kate, the Pack now controls thirty-six percent of the Guild. We’ll transfer these shares to you, which will make you two the largest single shareholders.”
“This is a bad idea,” I said.
“We’re not taking it,” Curran said.
“Bottom line, I’m the Beast Lord,” Jim said. “I’m telling you, that’s our offer.”
“Your offer stinks,” I told him.
“Our offer is more than fair.”
“You can’t compel me to agree,” Curran said. “The Pack law is crystal clear: as a retired alpha, I have autonomy.”
“No, I can’t. But I can control what we offer you and this is what I am offering. You’re my friend, but the Pack is my job now. So you want me to go back to these people in whose businesses you invested and tell them that you don’t give a crap about their livelihood?” Jim said. “Just trying to be clear.”
“I own ten percent of Raphael’s reclamation business,” Curran growled. “His annual earnings are in the millions.”
The light dawned on me. “That’s why Raphael wrote the contract. He doesn’t want to pay.”
“He wrote the contract because I asked him,” Jim snarled.
Curran looked at him. An imperceptible shift occurred in the way he held himself. Nothing obvious. A slight hardening of shoulders, a straighter spine, a muted promise in the eyes, but suddenly everyone knew the conversation was over. This was how he used to silence the Pack Council.
“We thank the Pack for their generous offer,” Curran said. “The answer is no. Julie needs to get to school and we need to get to work. Thank you for your visit. You’re welcome in our home anytime.”
Jim rose. “Think about it.”
Dali looked at Julie. “Do you need a ride?”
“I’ll take it!” Julie jumped off her chair.
Dali drove like a maniac. “Do not kill my kid.”
Dali snorted. “I didn’t kill her when I taught her how to drive, did I?”
Curran rose and went to the other room. Jim and I traded glances. He reached for the folder.
I miss making it work . . .
“Leave it, please,” I said.
THE GUILD OCCUPIED an abandoned hotel on the edge of Buckhead. Once a futuristic-looking tower, it had succumbed to the magic waves like the rest of the business district. High-rises fell in two ways: either they slowly deteriorated until they collapsed in a heap of dust and debris, or they toppled. The Guild’s base was a toppler: the tower had broken off about seven stories up as if cut by a blade. The renovations and repairs shaved off another two floors, and now the Guild had five floors, only four of which were functional, the price of living through a slow-motion apocalypse.
We parked in a big open-air parking lot to the right and got out. About two dozen vehicles waited for us. According to George, Eduardo drove a huge black Tahoe that looked like a tank. Not something you’d easily miss. George drove an FJ Cruiser. Neither was in the parking lot.
Curran and I walked down the parking lane. Curran took short quick breaths, sampling the scents. We would need Derek to really follow a trail. Curran’s sense of smell was many times better than mine, but he was a predatory cat. He hunted mostly by sight, while Derek, my onetime boy wonder, was a wolf. He could track a moth through pitch darkness by scent alone.
I had called over to Cutting Edge and left a message on the answering machine for Derek asking him to stay put in case we needed him. Curran had saved him when Derek’s family went loup, and the young werewolf was completely devoted to him.
“I’ve been thinking,” I said.
“Should I be worried?” Curran asked.
“I would’ve thought Derek would separate with us. I understand why Barabas didn’t—he loves practicing law—but Derek has been working for Cutting Edge since the start.”
“It’s not really a topic I can bring up,” Curran said. “It’s a personal decision for each individual involved. There can’t be any pressure one way or the other. Jim can’t offer them incentives to stay and I can’t use their emotional loyalty to pressure them into leaving.”
It made sense, I suppose.
We combed the parking lot, predictably didn’t find the Tahoe, and headed for the Guild building.
The heavy iron gates stood wide open. Nobody met us in the lobby. I checked the sign-in ledger resting on the metal table. Eduardo had signed in on Monday, February 28. There was no sign-in for Tuesday, March 1.
“He didn’t make it to the Guild yesterday,” I said.
Curran inhaled the air and grimaced.
“It smells like a garbage dump. I get hints of his scent, but they’re old. I’d say at least fifty hours or so.”
Fifty hours was consistent with our time line. If Eduardo called George at seven thirty on Monday, he probably got down to the Guild an hour or two later.
Curran and I passed through a large wooden door and entered the inner hall. The hotel was built as a hollow tower with an open atrium at its center. Terraced balconies, one for each floor, lined the inner walls, allowing access to individual rooms.
In its other life, the hotel had been beautiful, all light stone, expensive wood, and elevators with transparent walls. It was way before my time, but I’d seen some old pictures that showed the lobby as an oasis of greenery, complete with a koi stream where fat orange-and-white fish drifted gently beneath the lily pads. A trendy coffee shop had occupied one corner, next to it a raised area had been set out for happy-hour patrons, and an upscale restaurant had offered lobster and steak. All of that was gone now. The coffee shop, koi, and greenery had vanished without a trace. The restaurant had evolved into a mess hall, offering cheap but decent food to hungry mercs coming off long jobs, and the raised area that was once the happy-hour hangout housed the Clerk’s desk and a big job board behind him.
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