Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(12) by Ilona Andrews
Usually the board was organized to within an inch of its life. The Clerk would write the open jobs on index cards, mark them with different colors according to priority, and pin them neatly to the corkboard. Today the board was a mess. Random pieces of paper covered it, stuck this way and that, some on top of the others. A couple had coffee stains. One looked a hell of a lot like a used dinner napkin whose owner must’ve indulged in gravy. What the hell . . . ?
About twenty mercs lounged here and there, some at the tables. I scanned the crowd. Not many veterans. The Guild attracted all sorts of people. Some worked hard and some hung out at the Guild bullshitting or waiting for just the right job to fall into their lap. Most of these guys were of the second variety. A few looked drunk. Most weren’t too clean. As we walked through, a woman on the right hocked a loogie and spat on the floor. Charming.
These people hung out at the Guild every day. Some probably slept here. One of them had either stolen a car from a worried woman looking for her boyfriend or knew who had. They would tell me who did it.
The sour stench of rotten food floated in the air. Mud streaks stained the floor. The trash can in the corner was overflowing. The staircase that led up to the three remaining floors had a lovely patina of grime.
I turned. A tan dark-haired man in his forties waved at me from a nearby table. Lago Vista. I walked over and took a seat. Curran sat next to me. Lago had been a mercenary all his life one way or another, but he’d joined the Guild about three years ago, when he moved to Atlanta from Lago Vista, Texas. He liked it when people called him Lago. It wasn’t really his name, but he never talked about the things he’d left behind, so I didn’t ask. He and I had worked together on a couple of jobs. He wasn’t as fast as he used to be, but he had a lot of experience and he knew what to do with it. He did his job, he did it well, and he didn’t get me or anybody else killed. That made him a decent merc in my book. If you needed a second for a gig, you could do a lot worse than Lago. If you could put up with his come-ons, that is. Lago was an aging jock. He liked one-night stands, and he viewed himself as a smooth operator.
“Haven’t seen you around.” Lago lifted a coffeepot. “Need some fuel?”
The coffee in the glass carafe was solid black and looked viscous. “Is that last night’s batch?”
Last night’s batch that had probably baked for about twelve hours. No thanks. “Where is the Clerk?”
“You didn’t hear? The Clerk’s gone. The cleaning staff, too. All of the admins are gone. You’re looking good, Daniels. Looking really good.” Lago gave me a long once-over.
“Stop looking at her and you might live longer,” Curran said, his voice nice and friendly.
Lago glanced at Curran and held his arms up in the air. “Hey, no offense. Just a compliment.”
Curran didn’t answer. Lago shifted in his seat, uncomfortable, and turned to me. “Who’s the guy?”
“He’s my . . .” Fiancé, honey-bunny? “He’s mine.”
Lago nodded knowingly. “The thing with the Beast Lord didn’t turn out, huh? That’s okay, I heard that guy is a dick. You don’t need that shit.”
Curran’s face showed no emotion. Lago stuck his hand out. “Lago Vista. Call me Lago.”
“Lennart.” Curran reached over and shook Lago’s hand. I held my breath to see if Lago’s fingers would survive. He didn’t writhe in pain and no bones crunched. And that was exactly why Curran was such a scary bastard. When he lost control, it was because he made a deliberate choice to do so.
“So what happened to the admins?” Curran asked.
“The Guild Assembly failed to pass the budget. No budget, no paycheck. The cleaning crew was the first to walk off, then the cooking staff. The Clerk hung on for about six weeks, but he left, too.”
Holy crap. “Who’s taking the calls?”
Lago shrugged. “Whoever feels like answering the phone? It doesn’t ring much anymore.”
“Why didn’t they pass the budget?” Curran asked.
“Because Bob Carver wanted to raid his pension fund.” Lago gulped his coffee and grimaced at the taste.
Bob Carver had been in for about fifteen years, and he was one of the rare breed of mercenary who played well with others. He was part of a four-person crew known as the Four Horsemen and they took the larger, more difficult jobs. Half of the Assembly consisted of admins and the other half of mercs, and Bob Carver was chief personnel officer and the mercs’ leader. Before my father decided to take an active interest in my existence, I functioned as the third part of that triangle, representing the Pack’s interests. I didn’t think I made that much difference, but it must’ve been just enough to keep the tide of crazy at bay, because in my absence the Guild had clearly gone off the rails.
Curran kept looking at Lago, listening and waiting. Lago gulped more coffee. “It works like this: if you last twenty years in the Guild, you get a pension. You start paying into it from your first job. Not much money, like five percent, but at the end of twenty years it adds up. If you die before your twenty years are up, you’re screwed. Whatever you paid into the pension fund stays there. Your family gets the death benefit, but that’s it. I don’t know what the hell Bob needed the money for, but he wanted to borrow against his contribution.”
“That’s illegal,” Curran said. “And stupid. If everyone raids the pension fund, there will be no pension fund.”
Lago winked at me. “I like him. But yeah, you’re right. That’s basically what Mark said. Mark’s our operations manager. Bob really needs the money, I guess, because he got a bunch of mercs on his side and hammered enough votes to stop the budget. He says he won’t back down until they give him his money.”
Awesome. Just awesome.
I leaned closer. “Lago, do you know Eduardo Ortego? Big guy, dark hair, looks like he can run through walls?”
“I’ve seen him around.”
“Did he have a beef with anyone?”
“Sure. You remember Christian Heyward?”
“Big guy? African American with the bulldog?”
“That’s the one.”
The Christian Heyward I remembered was a genuinely nice family man, who had a very low tolerance for bullshit. He came in with his American Bulldog, did his gigs, and went home to his wife and kids. “He had a problem with Eduardo?”
“No. He quit the day Eduardo registered, so they gave him Heyward’s zone. It’s a good zone. Some people got pissed off because of it, but nothing too major. You know how it is: your guy looked like he could handle himself and nobody wanted to get hurt. They bitched behind his back, but that’s as far as it got. Nobody wanted their bones broken.”
“His girlfriend was here yesterday,” Curran said. “Looking for him. Someone took her car.”
“That’s a shame. Can’t help you, man. I wasn’t here yesterday. But one of them might.” Lago glanced at the gathering. “Most of these assholes are here every day. Good luck getting their attention, though. Half of them are drunk, half of them are hungover, and the other half don’t give a shit.”
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