I skipped Zyrtec last night and guess what? I am awake. Also, today is Kid 2’s birthday. The cake arrived, and we all have blown up way too many balloons.
In celebration, here is a small snippet of Emerald Blaze. A small tiny snippet. Tiny. So tiny, Avon won’t notice it.
Do not notice this snippet, Avon.
I made my way thorough security, parked Rhino in its designated spot, and got out. A drone passed above me, one of Patricia’s. I waved at it, took the canvas bag, and walked past our building to a smaller structure.
Walking was rather difficult. I hadn’t realized just how much the fight took out of me. My face felt heavy, like I was wearing an iron mask. My hip and side ached. The thirty-second walk kicked my ass.
Before Connor purchased it, the squat ugly building that now served as the Tafts’ home housed a company selling mysterious “Texas Products.” It came as a bonus when we bought our current place for one dollar from Connor. We remodeled the building, and now Patricia and Regina used it as their temporary residence until all of us moved somewhere better.
I rapped my knuckles on the door.
“Come in,” Regina called.
I let myself in and tracked her down to her workshop in the back. It used to be a dark garage, but Regina had replaced the steel bay doors with glass ones, painted the walls a warm shade of white, and now it was a light and airy space. Plants grew from colorful pots in the corners. A drink fridge offered cold water and Gatorade in a dozen neon colors. Next to it, a kitchenette with a sink and counter supported a teapot and a Keurig. Rocking chairs waited here and there. If it wasn’t for the floor, painted with chalkboard paint to a solid black and streaked with chalk dust, this could be a Florida room in any upscale home.
Regina stood in the middle of the floor, tapping a piece of chalk to her lips and pondering a half-finished arcane circle by her feet. Of average height, Regina was neither slender nor curvy. Her flowing maxi dress with yellow sunflowers set off the golden tone in her brown skin. She dyed her hair bright tomato red, and it floated around her head in a cloud of happy spirals. A pair of thin glasses perched on her nose.
A feline creature padded out from behind the counter. Sleek and long, made of black steel and plastic, she moved on rubber-coated paws, bound together with magic into the shape of a house cat. Nobody would mistake her for one, though. She was the size of a border collie.
The cat construct sat in front of me, blocking my way, flicked her tail, and smiled. Her mouth bristled with inch-long steel fangs.
The construct stared at me with glowing red eyes.
“Place,” Regina said, still studying the circle.
Cinder rose off her haunches. Wicked metal claws shot out of her paws, a little warning in case I decided to try anything. She turned around and padded to a rocking chair in the corner. She leaped into it, curled up, and closed her eyes.
“Can I buy an hour of your time?” I asked.
Regina glanced at me. “You’re not asking me to breach our contract, are you?”
“No. This is a strictly off-the-books consultation.”
“In that case, you don’t need to pay me for it.”
“Are you sure?”
Regina nodded. “It’s better not to leave a trail.”
When we hired Patricia, she insisted on anonymity. The Tafts weren’t exactly hiding, but they made efforts to stay off the radar. They had good reasons to do so. Their contract specified that Regina could not be compelled to work for our agency in any capacity. She would never testify in any cases, and her name would never appear on any official paperwork. Patricia didn’t even claim Regina on her taxes, although they were legally married. All of Regina’s purchases were made online and tied to Patricia’s accounts. She rarely left our grounds. When she did, it was usually because she and Patricia were going somewhere together. They had a romantic dinner out at least once a week, but Patricia always made sure to do her homework to minimize the risk.
We all knew that one day staying under the radar would no longer work, and we’d made preparations, but until then we abided by the contract’s terms.
Let the speculation commence in 3… 2… 1.