Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(14) by Ilona Andrews
Nobody looked me in the eye.
“What are you, the morality police?” an older drunken-looking merc asked.
“Yeah, I am, Chug. Remember that time your leg was broken and Jim and I came to get you out of the hole under a collapsed building?”
“Next time you’re in trouble, don’t call me.”
“I’ll survive,” he said.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.” I jumped off the table and headed for the Clerk’s desk. We needed job logs.
“Where are we going?” Curran asked quietly.
“To get the logbook. When a job is completed, it’s written into the logbook before the payment is authorized. According to those clowns, Eduardo had already gone to do a job at that address. On Sunday this lady called about a giant tick, and he went out and killed it, and he got paid. The logbook should have a record of it.”
The problem he had gone out to fix on Monday was still active, because the client had called the Guild again about it this morning and the car-stealing rednecks took the job. Sometimes that happened—you killed some creature but didn’t realize it wasn’t alone, so you had to go out the second time and complete the job. We had to talk to the client. Mac and Leroy would’ve taken the gig ticket with her address with them, so the logs were our best bet.
Something had happened to Eduardo on Monday, during the second job or on the way to it. If he were a normal human, I’d be calling hospitals to see if he was somewhere with an injury, but the standard protocol for hurt shapeshifters dictated that medical personnel notify the Pack immediately. The Pack had its own medmages, led by Doolittle, who had brought me back from the brink of death so many times I had lost count. Eduardo could be hurt, he could be dead, or he could be in jail, arrested for something, but he wasn’t in a hospital.
I crouched behind the Clerk’s desk and tried the log drawer. Normally it was under lock and key. The drawer door swung open.
The mercs watched us.
“Try to look casual.” I pulled the top book out and put it on the desk.
“Because what I’m doing is illegal without a warrant, and we have about twenty witnesses observing our every move.”
Curran crossed his arms, making his biceps bulge, leaned against the desk, and fixed our audience with his stare. Everyone spontaneously decided to look anywhere else but at us. Right. Casual, my foot.
“See,” he said. “No witnesses.”
I flipped the pages. Eduardo was like a brand-new merc. He would do things by the book. Only three log entries on Sunday. Wow. There should have been a dozen or more. On a good day the Guild used to be chaotic with a steady stream of mercs coming and going, and Sunday during a strong magic wave should’ve been a good day for business.
Second name down. Mrs. Oswald, 30862 Chamblee Dunwoody Road. Complaint: giant tick eating cats. Status: resolved, Biohazard contacted to remove the remains. Eduardo Ortego.
One of the two conference doors in the opposite wall opened and Mark Meadows, the Guild’s head admin, stepped out. I almost did a double take. Mark had started as the Guild’s secretary, but after the death of the Guild’s founder, Mark became chief administrative officer. Mark’s slogan in life was, “I’m middle management and proud of it.” His jaw was always perfectly shaved; his face showed no bruises; his hands had no cuts. His nails were manicured and the light scent of expensive cologne followed him wherever he went. He stood out among the rough-and-tumble mercs like a professor at a prison rodeo. Most mercs despised him, because Mark had no mercy. Profit was his god and no hard-luck story would sway him from following the letter of the Guild’s law in pursuit of the bottom line.
That was the old Mr. Meadows.
This Mark had let himself go. His normally impeccable suit was rumpled. His face was red, his expression flustered. His hair looked like he’d clutched at it with his hands but stopped short of actually pulling it out. His face wore a haunted expression. No doubt coming off another session of the Guild Assembly.
Do not see me, do not see me . . .
His eyes lit up. “Daniels!”
Damn it. “I don’t have time, Mark,” I called.
“But you have time to break the law and invade client privacy by reading the log.”
Ugh. “I’m looking for a missing merc.”
“Too bad. I’m a member of the Assembly and I call on you to formally appear before the Assembly. You can’t refuse.”
The hell I can’t. I slapped the book closed and slid it into its place. “This is me refusing.”
“Well, well, well!” Bob Carver emerged through the open door. He was the same height as Mark, and their hair color was a similar shade of brown, but there the resemblance ended. Mark was in his thirties, ate well, and spent a lot of time at the gym. He was toned. Bob Carver, on the other hand, was lean and hard, whittled by life like a walnut wood carving. In his late forties, he looked like a guy who had been through some rough shit and came out of it tougher.
“Look what the cat dragged in.”
He was playing to the audience. Never good.
“Is he talking to me or you?” Curran asked. His voice was deceptively light.
“I don’t know,” I said. “But I’m sure he’ll get around to telling us.”
“Hello, Your Highnesses.”
Bob pretended to bow with a flourish, eyeing us. Behind him more familiar faces appeared as the mercs inside the room came out to see what the hubbub was about. Veteran Guild members Rigan and Sonia, and the rest of Bob’s Four Horsemen: Ivera, a firebug good with bladed weapons; Ken, the mage, tall and phlegmatic with a distant look on his narrow face, as if he were perpetually pondering something beyond human understanding; and Juke. Juke was a few years younger than me, a good deal thinner, and she wanted very hard to be edgy and hard-core. Instead she managed a pissed-off Goth Pixie look: her short hair stuck out from her head in a short asymmetric cut, her arms were thin like chopsticks, and her smoky eyes and purple lipstick made her delicate features even more fragile. She studied Sōjutsu, the art of yari, Japanese spear, and she was pretty good with it.
“So glad you graced us with your presence,” Bob said. “Came to slum with us mere mortals?”
Bob and I never had a problem. Juke and I had a problem, because I enjoyed jerking her chain, but Bob and I always leveled. Where was he going with this? I leaned back. “You’d have to clean the place up a bit for it be a slum, Bob.”
Bob narrowed his eyes. “I know what you’ve been doing. I know your Pack conned enough mercs into selling you their shares so you’d control a third of this Guild. I know you’re thinking of buying those shares.”
Jim would be overjoyed to hear that someone had been talking to the Guild behind his back. That wouldn’t increase his paranoia. Not at all.
Bob was building up steam. “So that’s it, huh? You thought you’d come here, throw your weight around, and save us. Whip us into shape. I’ve got news for you.” He looked around dramatically. “Nobody’s whipping us. There won’t be any bowing or scraping.”
Curran shrugged. “Okay. Fine by me.”
Bob glowered. “I don’t give a fuck if you think that’s fine or not. I’m telling you how it’s going to be.”
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