Magic Shifts(Kate Daniels,book 8)(54) by Ilona Andrews
“Even Daniels?” another merc asked.
That got some giggles. Curran cracked a smile. It was a bright, infectious smile. “Especially Daniels. I work to keep her daily. Otherwise she wouldn’t put up with me.”
“I thought I was going to be rich at one point, but when I left my people, instead of paying me, they gave me shares in this Guild.”
“You got suckered,” someone called out.
“That’s what they thought, too,” Curran said. “Turns out I suckered them. I think this place is a cash cow.”
“You need to have your head examined,” Paula volunteered.
He ignored her. “I’m not here to make speeches or to run anything. I’ve been there and done that. I have a family now and I’m here for only one reason. I’m here to make money.”
He had said the magic words. They were listening now.
“When I hire someone, I look at the tools of his trade and his place of work. If I am hiring an electrician, I want her shop to be clean and organized and her tools to be in good repair. If I am hiring a killer, I want to know he has respect for his job and his weapon. Look around you. There is garbage on the floor. Dirt. Old food. The place doesn’t smell too good and looks worse.”
The mercs looked about, as if seeing the Guild for the first time.
“If I walked through that door right now and saw this, I wouldn’t hire us. We look weak. We look sloppy.” Curran shook his head. “Judging by this place, you could never tell that this is a guild of skilled tradesmen. Because that’s what you are. You put your life on the line every day to make a buck and to help people. Not every Joe Blow can do this job. This is just as much a guild as an electricians’ or masons’ guild, except that when a member of this guild screws up, instead of the power going out or the building looking crooked, people die.”
They were hanging on his every word now.
“You deserve better than to come to work in garbage. Once the gigs start coming in, we’ll hire janitors and we’ll pay them well, because we’ll have the money to spare. But for someone to hire us, he has to make it through the front door without gagging. Besides, that’s my kid over there.” He nodded at Julie. “I don’t want her to think that I work in a dump. So I’m going to get off my ass and clean this place up. If you are too well bred to take pride in this place or if you are too scared of dirt, I don’t mind. Go sit out of the way with the rest of the special snowflakes.”
• • •
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER I stood next to the Clerk as he pulled the list of Eduardo’s jobs. I was feeling light-headed. My left side itched all over. But if these were the worst side effects I got, I would be thrilled.
The Guild had turned into a bustling hive. Trash was being swept, debris was being shoveled into wheelbarrows and, across the floor, Curran single-handedly picked up huge chunks of brickwork that had fallen off the walls and carried them outside.
“Here is everything.” The Clerk handed me a handwritten list.
I scanned it. Routine, routine, routine . . . Nothing even remotely pointing to Arabian mythology. Nothing in that particular subdivision. This looked like a dead end . . . Eduardo had worked a lot in these few weeks. Did he ever sleep?
I pointed to an entry on the fifth of February. “It says here he declined a gig.”
Clerk checked the list. “I remember that. He took a job in the morning, came back two hours later, and dropped it.”
Dropping a gig wasn’t unheard of, but once you committed to a gig, you had to do it, so the Guild allowed only three dropped gigs per year. This was a blue gig too, which meant double rate. “What happened?”
“It was a bodyguard detail, VIP client. Rose was with him on it. I did the interview with her afterward for the liability and evaluation, and she said that everything was fine until Eduardo saw a neighbor come home. Hold on . . . I don’t remember this that well.” Clerk flipped through another book. “There. ‘A man in his early fifties, six foot tall, large frame, dark hair, dark eyes, short beard, olive complexion, glasses . . .’”
I’d bet my arm this was Nitish’s customer.
“‘. . . riding a breathtaking black Arabian horse.’”
“Arabian?” That by itself didn’t mean anything.
“Yes. Rose knows her horses. She went on for about five minutes about how good that horse was. Let’s see, Rose ‘made a comment to Eduardo, “There goes a million-dollar horse.” Eduardo looked at the man as he was dismounting. The man recognized Eduardo and called him by name. Eduardo didn’t answer, went inside the house, got his gear, and left. The man watched him leave but didn’t interfere.’ The end.”
Hello, Eduardo’s stalker.
The Clerk looked up. “He came straight here, dropped the gig, and took another one. I told him it was a bad habit to get into and he said it was personal.”
“Can I have the address of the neighbor?”
“No, but here is the address of the gig.” Clerk wrote it down on a piece of paper. “Just this once.”
“Was he a friend of yours?” Clerk asked.
I didn’t like the sound of that “was.” “He still is.”
“I hope you find him.”
“So do I.”
I needed Derek. It would be dark soon and I had to talk to Mitchell, because he was still my best bet to figure out if something was influencing the ghouls in the Atlanta area. I couldn’t miss that date.
I glanced up and saw Ascanio picking his way across the floor. A middle-aged African American man in a suit walked next to him.
Ascanio saw me and made a course correction.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“This is Mr. Oswald,” Ascanio said. “He came by the office, so I thought it would be better if you talked to him yourself.”
Mr. Oswald. The woman whose family we saved from the wind scorpion had the last name of Oswald.
I held out my hand. “Mr. Oswald?”
“Thank you for saving my wife and my kids,” he said.
Normally I would offer to take him to one of the side rooms, but right now everything was filthy, so we might as well stand. “No problem, sir. Sorry about the accommodations. We had some trouble the last magic wave. How is your family doing?”
“They’re doing well,” he said. “We’ve hired movers and put the house on the market. We don’t want to take any chances.”
“That’s understandable.” Keep him talking . . .
“Pamela mentioned that you asked if anybody had a problem with us or our cats.”
Please tell me that someone had a problem with you and that you know his name and address. Please, Universe, do me this one favor.
“A couple of weeks ago I was doing some yard work after that storm we had. I was in the front yard and this man came up to me and started ranting about how our cats get on his car.”
“Have you ever seen him before?”
Mr. Oswald shook his head. Of course not. That would be too easy.
“I told him that he must have me confused with someone else, because Sherlock and Watson are inside cats. It makes no sense, if you ask me. A cat is a predator. He must go out and hunt to be fulfilled, but the kids are scared that something will eat them, so we keep them inside.”
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