Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(37) by Ilona Andrews
Now her desk stood empty, as she had left it. She claimed she would come back to it, but I doubted it. My desk was to the right of hers, Derek’s directly behind mine and Curran’s behind Andrea’s. None of the desks had any notes on them. Great.
I landed in my chair. Saiman was right about one thing: if I fell, the city would fall with me. Being my ally was a death warrant. How the hell was I going to keep them all safe? I couldn’t even find Eduardo. Before, I was only responsible for my own safety. Then I became responsible for the safety of my friends, then for the safety of the Pack. Now I had to safeguard the city. My obligations kept escalating and not in a good way.
I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to be responsible for the city.
None of it would have happened if I hadn’t claimed Atlanta. But letting my father add it to his growing empire would’ve been worse. My father understood the concept of democracy and free will. He just felt that they should be exercised within the frame of his own will. My father had been a king, a tyrant, and a conqueror. He was never elected to the office. He would probably laugh at the idea. And if he did somehow decide to hold elections, he would magic the masses into electing him, because he would honestly believe that he was best qualified to rule wisely.
Having a pity party for myself accomplished nothing. It didn’t help Eduardo at all. I had to find someone to analyze my glass. The sooner the better. And I had to find a way into the Guild.
I checked the answering machine. Three messages. I pushed the button.
“Hey, you twisted goon,” Luther’s voice said from the machine. “I had my bug guy check your giant bug. It’s a wind scorpion, also known as a camel spider, a solifugid, which makes it an arachnid. The largest species grow about six inches, including legs, and they’re not venomous or dangerous to humans. We have a few of these guys in Arizona, but my guy says this one is likely from the Middle East or North Africa. It’s not too late to tell me what you know. Call me back, if you have any decency left.”
Ghouls, wolf griffins, inscriptions in Arabic, and now wind scorpions. All of this pointed at the same geographical area. Trouble was, I had no idea how it all fit together. I couldn’t tell Luther what I knew since I didn’t know anything. Maybe if I went outside and gave alms to the poor, some mystic old lady would sell me a magic lamp with a cooperative djinn to answer all my questions.
The machine clicked, rolling over to the next message. “Hi, it’s Barabas. Please call me as soon as you get this.”
I dialed the number. Just what I needed, another emergency.
The phone rang once and Barabas picked it up. “Hey. I think I found a loophole.”
Cancel the freak-out about another emergency.
“Talk to me about the Guild stopgap measure.”
Good morning to you, too. “The stopgap is a hiring freeze. The Guild’s mercs are contractors, but they still have to formally be hired by the Guild. If the Guild judges that there are too few jobs per merc, the stopgap kicks in until there are more jobs or fewer mercs.”
I started drawing a cliff on a piece of paper.
“They’re on stopgap right now,” Barabas said.
“It doesn’t surprise me. The place is falling down around them.” I added a bunch of stick figures to the cliff and drew a falling dollar bill under it.
“From my review and the information I received from Jim, it appears that administration staff is central to the Guild being able to turn a profit.”
“Yes. The Clerk is the grease that makes the gears go around.”
“Correct me if I am wrong. Bob Carver and his Horsemen wanted to access the pension fund. They tied up the Guild’s budget, so the admin staff stopped getting their pay. They walked off. Without the Clerk and his staff, there is no effective distribution of jobs. Nobody is taking, assigning, or tracking the jobs, so customers become angry when nobody shows up. The Guild’s business dries up, which results in a financial shortage. It’s a Catch-22.”
“Exactly.” I added a stick figure diving after the dollar bill and wrote Bob above its head. “The Guild needs money to rehire the admins, but they need admins to make the money in the first place.”
“We need to break this vicious circle.”
“There is a provision in the manual that permits each individual merc to contribute money to the Guild and earmark where it goes.”
I rubbed my face, but rubbing failed to produce any great insights. “Are you suggesting we give the Guild our money?”
“Barabas, it’s a sinking ship already. You want to throw good money after bad?”
“Hear me out.”
Famous last words. “Okay.”
“We inject cash into the Guild under the condition that it will be spent specifically to rehire the admin crew. The Clerk comes back, the jobs—”
“Gigs.” If he insisted on this foolishness, he might as well start using correct terms.
“The gigs are once again properly assigned. Mercs once again make money. It gives us instant goodwill.”
“What will happen when that money runs out?”
“We need to make sure that the money lasts until the Guild’s finances bounce back. We use the goodwill we earned and our shares to break the budget lock. People don’t like chaos. Chaos means they can’t earn money. They need strong leadership. We need to develop a reputation as the people you come to when you have a problem you need solving.”
“How much money would we need?”
“My budget projections indicate we need at least $142,860 to bankroll admin operations with a skeleton crew for the next four months, which is how long I estimate we’ll need before the Guild becomes financially solvent.”
I chewed on that number.
“Give me a second.”
“It’s a doable number. Curran gave me a $300,000 budget.”
Well, he spent millions on the forest, why not the Guild. “Go on.”
“The individual contribution is capped at $50,000. Jim doesn’t want any Pack members involved, and the stopgap prevents us from enrolling Curran or anyone else. We are stuck. We don’t have enough people to donate the necessary money.”
“For the record, I think this is a terrible idea.”
“I will be sure to note your objection,” Barabas said.
“Look in the membership chapter under corporations. I can enroll up to three people as my auxiliary support. The flip side of this coin is that if they screw up, I’ll be directly penalized.”
“I saw that. That requires you to be a corporate member for at least six months.”
“I’ve been a corporate member for over a year. I converted my membership when Curran gave me Cutting Edge. A very smart Pack lawyer with spiky red hair advised me to do it for tax purposes.” Also, the Guild had good dental insurance for its corporate members.
“Pack lawyers give good advice,” Barabas said. “Even if they don’t always remember it. I’ll call you back.”
He hung up.
Well. I guess Curran did take care of it.
If we were going to take over the Guild, we’d need the Clerk. I flipped through the phone book. I had no idea where the Clerk was, but I knew where Lori would be. She was his favorite protégé, because, as he had confided to me once late at night, she had more than half a brain. Lori’s parents, Karen and Brenda, ran a bakery off Campbellton Road, which was called Sweet Cheeks. I remembered because I had stopped by there to buy a cake pop once, and one of her mothers—I thought it was Brenda, but I wasn’t sure—teased me about my sword until Lori came out and told her to stop messing with me.
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