NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #10

The Chief manages to collect himself enough to make an indignant response, “I did, I gave you his file. If you had bothered to read it, then maybe you would have known.”

“We aren’t supposed to read each others files, we’re supposed to be able to trust our partners. We’re supposed to trust our superiors to assign us to partners they believe we can work well with,” Amber says, her anger dissipating slightly. She knows that the chief wouldn’t have given her Gavin’s file if he didn’t think it was important. The big man hated reading and files even more than she did, and he gave it to her himself.

“You do work well together, and you like having Gavin as your partner. He’s good for you, keeps you in line.” the Chief replies, sensing that he has an opening here. “If you had known, what would you have done differently?”

Amber leans back in the chair again, groaning in exasperation, “I don’t know, maybe I wouldn’t have pestered him as much? I mean, it’s hard to know what will trigger a possessed person. Maybe I wouldn’t have done anything different at all. But, not knowing could have gotten us killed.”

The Chief snorts, and pulls out one of his cigars, “I’m surprised you survived this long, to be honest. No powers, no magic, and still you want to do this. Some people might think you have a death wish.”

Amber lifts an eyebrow at the Chief, but before she can respond the chief continues, “I know you well enough to know you’re not crazy, Amber. You bring a valuable perspective to this job, one that those people,” the chief waggles his fingers around vaguely, “they just don’t understand. And that’s why you’re not going to treat Gavin any differently now that you know, right.”

“Right,” Amber says, the tenseness in her body releasing. “But…is there really nothing that can be done? I mean, how long has he been possessed – 15, 20 years? He hardly has episodes, not one in the two years we’ve been partners. You think the demon would have gotten bored and left him. Found greener pastures.”

The Chief shrugs  his massive shoulders, which gives the impression of a minor rockslide, saying “Who knows, but as far as we can tell nothing has worked in removing the demon. Your sister reviewed the case, too, and couldn’t think of anything that hadn’t already been tried.”

“Really? The great and powerful red witch can’t think of anything?” Amber says with obvious sarcasm to decide the honest surprise and disappointment that she’s actually feeling,”I guess she is human after all.”

“Aren’t we all?” the Chief says, snorting a little, “Well, part human in any case.”

Amber smiles faintly at this, and the chief chuckles a little at his own joke.

 

The smartphone drops into the half full gas station trashcan with a dull thud, causing the various debris to shift around a bit. Sky sighs a little, regretting the loss of yet another expensive phone in the search for the truth, but at least having the smart phone meant that he was able to update his blog before going dark. After a moment of mourning for his poor phone, he goes into the gas station to pick out a cheap disposable replacement.

He makes his way to a nearby motel, his moped sputtering as he pulls into the parking lot of the Seabreeze Motel. He had considered leaving town all together, but that smacked of cowardice; Sky Wotcher could be accused of many things, but cowardice as not one of them – especially not when he was this close to discovering the truth. He parks in the lot, then covers up his moped with a dustcover. This wasn’t because he was afraid of his moped getting damaged; it was already a half-rusted out pile of crap. It was to keep people from getting a good look at his very unique and easily identified moped and its license plate. You could never be too careful, and he knew that the suits were looking for him. With what he had seen tonight, there was no way that they wouldn’t be.

The events of the past few hours were a confused jumble, or at least it made him feel confused. He thought that he could remember everything that happened with enough clarity, but couldn’t piece together any meaning from the things that he had seen. He had the truth, he just didn’t understand it. Sky had the feeling that he just needed some distance and time to think. Things would make more sense in the morning, he just needed to stay out of the suit’s clutches for long enough to piece everything together and finally post his damning article not just to his blog, but send it out to all the national newspapers. They couldn’t ignore him this time, not with the evidence that he now had.

He walks into the motel’s lobby, hood pulled up around him. He goes to the counter, and is eyed with some suspicion by the thin, unshaven middle-aged man standing behind it.

“Evening sir,” the front desk clerk says, “How can I help you this evening?”

“I see that you still have some vacancies. I just need a room for the night…maybe a few. I can pay by the day right? In cash?” Sky says, reaching into his pocket for the wad of cash he’d just emptied out of his checking account.

The clerk sighs a little, “Son, you don’t want to worry your parents. Why don’t you just go on home now?”

“I don’t think they’ll be worried.” Sky replies, irritated. “I’m not a child. Now, can I have a room or not?” he slaps some crumpled bills down onto the counter.

The clerk looks down at the money, then back up at Sky still seeming hesitant, “You got an ID? Best if we have one, and a credit card just in case you mess anything up.”

Sky’s eyebrow twitches a little, but he takes a deep breath and takes out a few more bills, “I just need a room for the night. Now can you help me?” he says, waving the bills at the clerk, “Or should I go down the street to the Super 8?”

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #9

“I guess you’re the expert on that,” Gavin says, with just the slightest hint of sourness in his voice.

“That I am,” she says, jovially. “If exorcists don’t do it for you, maybe you should give the bartender a try. Let’s stop by Rhett’s on the way home. I think the place is just your style, if you have a style of bar in any case.”

Gavin laughs a little before saying,”No, I think I’ve had enough excitement for the day. I’m just going to go home and sleep.”

Amber nods a little, responding, “All right. Get some rest, then.”

She watches as he drives off in the passengers seat of another agent’s car, Gavin’s own having been left behind at the fairground. After giving a brief wave and watching the car disappear around a corner, she drops her hand like a lead weight back down to her side, and her normally mischievous expression dims. She reaches into her pocket for her phone.

 

Twenty minutes or so later, Amber is sitting across from an uncharacteristically quiet chief. Her arms are crossed over her chest and despite being leaned back in her chair she projects all the signs of an angry cat just waiting for a reason to pounce.

The chief on his side of the desk swallows, trying to summon up his usually ever present irritation at the lazy redhead so he can deliver the lecture he had been intending on giving her, but under the weight of her flashing eyes he can’t seem to find the right words. But, not being the kind of man who likes to carefully think before speaking, he decides to barrel on.

“Look, MacSweeney-” he starts, but Amber’s eyes flash and she leans forward. This action strikes him back into stupefied silence.

Amber lets the flabbergasted chief flap his mouth soundlessly for a beat before finally relieving him by saying, in what the chief feels is a gratingly calm tone, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #8

The conversation dies down again, but the silence between them is far less obtrusive. Amber reaches out to take Gavin’s hand, and gives it a light squeeze. She doesn’t let it go, but continues to hold it, and Gavin wonders at the tenderness in her expression. At first, it seems like pity – but upon closer expression it is closer to fear. Not fear of Gavin, but fear for him. Gavin doesn’t really know how to respond, so he doesn’t. They sit in the companionable silence until they get to the hospital.

A few hours later, Gavin emerges from the exam room after having been thoroughly poked and prodded by the medimages until his exasperation became so acute that they dared not keep him any longer out of fear of provoking another incident. Gavin blusters into the hallway, and looks for Amber. He hears her before he sees her, as she’s snoring in a chair in a nearby waiting room.  He’s a little surprised that she waited, but pleased none the less.

“Amber,” he says, gently shaking her shoulder. “Come on, it’s time to get out of here.”

Amber snorts awake, sitting up right in the chair and looking a little flustered. She rubs her eyes in a child like way, and yawns a little  before levering herself up and out of the chair. “Mrr…so what did the doctors say?”

“I’m fine. Maybe a slight concussions. I just need rest. The chief told me to take a week and check in with the exorcist who originally handled my case…” Gavin seems uncomfortable at the thought of missing work. He’d always been a stickler for routine, even before the possession made routine necessary to keep the demon inside him in check. Without work to organize his days around, he wasn’t sure what he would fill his time with.

Amber crinkles her nose a little, looking doubtful before saying with a slightly sour tone of voice “Exorcists…do they really help?”

Gavin shrugs a little. “They can’t seem to get rid of the demon entirely. Apparently it’s a powerful one. And the treatments do seem to help suppress it, but that’s probably more the coping strategies that we develop than any supplements or rituals they actually perform. Sometimes it’s just good to have someone to talk to.”

“Mmmm. Like my bartender,” Amber muses, “Bartenders are always good listeners. They have to be to deal with drunks all day.”

 

 

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #7

“Well, I’m sure that’s going to hurt in the morning. But other than some nasty swelling, I think he’ll be just fine. Didn’t even break the skin, lucky that,” she says, then stands back up. The door to the mobile home shuts with a clang. She can hear Sky slip on the gravel outside and fall to the ground cursing, before getting back to his feet and running off again. She shrugs to herself and reaches into her jacket for her cell phone. “Yeah, this is MacSweeney. I need backup and a containment crew at the carnival. And a healer for Gavin.”

She stands silent for a few moments after the call ends, just listening to the snoring of the old fortune teller who had slumped on top of the table and had been comfortably drooling onto the table all through the chaos of the last few minutes. Amber’s takes a deep breath and feels her racing heart slow to a more moderate pound. She swallows a little, then licks her dry lips, trying to ignore the urge to search the mobile home for alcohol. Before she can make a decision, she’s distracted by a groaning sound coming from the floor.

Gavin sits upright in one sudden movement before trying to struggle to his feet. He slumps back down almost immediately and smacks the back of his head against the cabinet behind him. “ARGH!”

“Don’t try to get up, Gavin. Just stay there, a healer will be here soon to get a look at you, ok?” Amber says, getting a nearby pillow to prop him up with. “Here, just stay still. I’m going to go outside and direct the containment crew as they come in.”

Gavin looks up at her blearily, fear hiding just behind the shame in his eyes. She squeezes his shoulder, and gives him a reassuring smile, before going to the door and leaving Gavin alone with the gently snoring old lady.

 

Soon enough, Amber is riding along with Gavin in the back of a medimage van.

“That was a tough one,” she says, sounding relieved. “The crazy old  bat, drinking tea from a cursed urn like that. I’m surprised she didn’t kill more people.”

Gavin says nothing, and looks away from her. She continues, “I guess that the tea leaves aren’t a very popular fortune telling method around here…” but her voice trails off when she realizes Gavin is ignoring her.

The medimages had taken Amber aside for a few minutes after loading the stretcher on the van, explaining in furtive whispers that Gavin was actually very good at handling his demonic possession, and that she should not worry in the least about this episode. Amber wasn’t sure if they were trying to reassure her, or themselves, by the way they laughed nervously. And although he could not hear exactly what they were saying, it wasn’t difficult for Gavin to guess. The longer they spent talking in hushed voices just outside the van, the darker his mood became, so that now he’s brooding into the silence, letting it grow into a dense barrier between them.

After spending a few minutes fidgeting in the uncomfortable silence, Amber reaches under his chin, lifting his face up and over so she can look him in the eye. His eyes burn defiantly into hers, as if he’s waiting for her to say something demeaning.

She blinks at him a few times, then lets go of his chin, and nods a little. She says, “You must not be feeling that bad if you have the energy to give me that look.”

Gavin snorts, and wipes his nose a little, “My head is splitting.”

“Kinda like your personality, eh?” Amber responds, nudging him with her elbow.

“That’s exactly the wrong way to think about it!” Gavin says, glaring at her again, his voice rising to a shout. “The demon is dangerous, he could have killed you!”

Amber smirks a little, “Oh come on. It wasn’t that bad. He wanted to screw me, not kill me.”

“Those two things are not mutually exclusive.” Gavin pronounces this statement in an ominous tone.

“Look, we found the urn and contained it with no one hurt in any more or less a permanent way. I think that means we did our job, and didn’t screw it up too bad either. Nothing permanently injured but maybe your pride. That kid did wallop you pretty good with the crystal ball. I was scared he broke your skull, but apparently you’ve got a hard head.” Amber grins a little, “Although that doesn’t really come as much of a surprise.”

Gavin mutters, feeling  uneasy still, but mollified by her congenial tone. “You’re one to talk.”

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #6

“STOP!” The door to the motor home bursts open and a winded Sky comes tumbling into the room, nearly tripping over the laces of his untied chucks. The two agents turn, alarmed at the sudden intrusion, turn to face the skinny hooded young man.

Taking this distraction to her advantage, the old woman makes a sudden movement with her hand, fingers splayed toward Gavin. Gavin has just enough time to tilt his head in mild confusion before being blasted backwards by a sudden wind. Gavin crashes into a pile of pillows, cats and thick dusty curtains, causing much yowling and the flying of feathers to ensue. Before the old lady can blast her as well, Amber throws the weighty metal ball at the ground, and all sound comes to a deafening halt.

Sky tries to move toward Gavin to help him up, but finds that his movement is sluggish and labored. Amber, however, seems to be moving at normal speed, yanking the urn out of the old woman’s hands. Even though her movement is also stilted, the old woman lunges at Amber, and Sky can see that her eyes are red and the veins around them have turned black, a blackness which was starting to spread across the rest of her face. Her hands, reached out in a claw-like motion, were also black, darkest at the nails but moving steadily up her arms.

Amber backs away a few steps, her hand shaking slightly as she takes a sticker sheet from her pocket. Each sticker is embossed with an odd golden seal. She quickly removes a sticker from the sheet and places it on the urn, then places the urn safely down on the counter. She carefully peels a second sticker from the sheet and approaches the old woman. The grandmother’s wizened features shift in slow motion from red-eyed rage to wide-eyed realization, but it’s too late for her to stop, as she’s still in mid-lunge. Time and sound return to their normal flow without warning, and the old woman snacks face first into Amber’s open palm, the sticker landing in the center of her forehead. Before the old lady falls down, Amber deftly catches her under the arms then moves her onto a cushioned stool.

Gavin is sitting up on one elbow, shielding his eyes with his other hand. He groans a little as Sky stumbles over a cat on his way to help Gavin up. \

“What the hell was that?!” Sky shouts, causing Gavin to cringe at the shrill sound.

As Sky leans down, offering Gavin a hand. Gavin takes the hand, but once he’s back on his feet he grabs the young man by the throat, and shoves him back against the wall metallic wall of the motorhome, causing kitten colored plates to crash to the floor.

“Gavin!” Amber says, alarmed at this uncharacteristic display of violence. She supposes that Gavin must have his limits, and Sky just managed to find it.

Sky claws at the fingers closing around his throat, legs kicking uselessly at his captor. Gavin hisses, his eyes narrowed into thin slits of rage. His arm starts shaking as Amber approaches him, trying to stay calm. “Gavin, you need to let him go. He’s just a stupid kid.”

Gavin drops Sky, who inhales in a great wheezing gasp, and turns to face Amber instead. His head tilts to one side and a slow, lecherous smile crawls across Gavin’s usually placid face. It takes Amber a moment to process this, and realize that he’s approaching her. His walk has changed as well, walking stiffly and at a quick tempo, his hips have a bit of a sway and his pace is almost lazy.

“Well, well…aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” come unfamiliar words in an all too familiar voice. Amber thought she had heard every tone that Gavin had at his command, being that he had only two – annoyed and angry – and had she blinked stupidly at this new tone, her skin crawling at the languorous sound of it.

His green eyes linger too long on her neck and over her chest, and Amber takes a step back from him before he can reach out to brush a curl from her face. “You see me every day, Gavin.”

“I suppose in a way, I do see you every day. But it’s not every day that I get to come out and play,” Gavin tilts his head the other way, green eyes dancing gold in the reflected light of the candles still guttering on the old fortune teller’s table. Gavin backs her into the counter, the urn wobbling dangerously behind her before settling back down into place. He reaches up both hands to her face, thumbs digging into the meat of her cheeks, “I could just eat you up.”

Amber swallows a little, allowing the reality of this to settle on her, before saying in a flat tone, “You’re possessed.”

Amber glances off to the right over Gavin’s shoulder, and Gavin follows her gaze – but it’s already too late. The crystal ball cracks over the back of Gavin’s head, and her partner falls away to the ground again, revealing a shaky Sky. The crystal ball rolls away across the ground, and Amber kneels down to check Gavin’s head and make sure that Sky hadn’t fractured her partner’s skull.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #5

Sky watched as the three agents came out of the restaurant. In their formal suits they stand out from the tourists, students and locals who generally dress down – though no one but Sky is particularly interested in their comings and goings. They pass by a one man band performing on one of the side streets, and Amber stops to drop a dollar in his guitar open guitar case before being prodded along by the other two.

 

They quickly make their way back to the Grimoire office, and Sky settles in for another long period of waiting. He’s tried to peek in the windows of the office before, but had been thwarted by tightly closed blinds, and soon gave up on window peeping all together. Eventually, Amber and Gavin emerge from the office and climb into their car. Once they are a decent distance away, Sky emerges from the bushes and follows them on his moped, keeping a few car between them at all times.

Gavin is intently watching the rearview mirror, and nearly misses a stop sign. The agents fall forward against their seat belts as the car pulls to hard stop.

“Sorry,” Gavin says, refocusing on the road. “That kid is following us again.”

“He has a tendency to do that,” Amber replies, brushing a recently freed curl away from her face and back behind her ear. “Just ignore him.”

Gavin’s tense expression doesn’t leave his face until they arrive at the carnival. His shoulders relax a little as the two lose themselves in the crowd. He’s never been a big fan of crowds, but having more people between them and the prying eyes of the conspiracy theorist does help to ease his mind.

Amber leads the way through the crowds, dodging small children as they run past and ignoring the many distractions that she normally falls prey to until they reach the far end of the carnival. There, they find a lone RV with a sign out front beckoning guests to come inside and have their tea leaves, tarot cards or palms read by the ‘famous’ Madame Griselda. She comes to a stop in front of the RV, and Gavin bumps into her a bit, as he was looking over his shoulder for Sky.

“What do you think of that?” she says, lifting both eyebrows meaningfully.

Gavin narrows his eyes and approaches the sign outside of the RV, reading the warnings listed in rather fine print about how fortunes are just a form of amusement and that ‘Madame Griselda cannot be held responsible for the portents revealed or any reactions that the client may have to such revelations.’

“Curious,” Gavin says looking back at his partner. “Selene would love to see this.”

Amber snorts, “She would, if she ever left her shop. You know that she finds the outside world overwhelming. Come on, let’s check it out. I have a good feeling about this.”

Gavin felt a chill run through his body, but ignored it and knocked on the door to the RV. Gavin had seen the results of her ‘good feelings’ too many times not to notice that while they might feel great at the time, they usually felt like a pounding hangover by the time she woke up the next morning.

“Come inside, my dears,” a sweet if feeble sounding voice beckons them from inside. Gavin holds the door open for Amber, and then follows her into the RV.

The RV wass decorated with all the kitsch that you would expect from an old lady with too many cats to feed. The walls are covered in decorative plates featuring kittens, and strewn about are numerous afghans and throw pillows, none of which matched and half of which were occupied by bored felines. In the center of the small mobile home sat a round table with a tufted stools arranged around it and a crystal ball in its center, enshrouded by a gauzy bead-fringed canopy.

Gavin had to force himself to sit at the candlelit table, watching the beads swing dangerously near the flame as Amber took the seat next to him. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, pushing down the fear that this was a death trap ran by a woman who was clearly crazier than a witch.

The old lady sitting on the other side of the table, who was wearing a fluffy sweater and pair of reading glasses with a beaded strap, takes this meditative silence from Gavin as a good sign, and says in her reedy but enthusiastic voice, “Ah, young sir, I see that the spirit is strong in you.”

Gavin chokes down a horrified outburst of laughter, and Amber covers for him saying, “Oh yes, Madame Griselda. Gavin here is deeply in touch with his spiritual side. He was hoping that you could read his palm, or maybe tea leaves?”

“There’s a bit of a chill in the air tonight. Perhaps the tea leaves would suit you?” Madame Griselda gets up from the table, her skirts swishing around her ankles as she goes to the stove in the little kitchenette behind her. She fiddles with a jar, spooning some loose tea leaves into an infuser, then pours some water from her kettle into a dainty china teacup. The old woman’s gnarled hand shakes only slightly as she settles the teacup on the table in front of Gavin. Gavin hesitantly reaches to take the cup, which is painted with delicate pink roses, from its saucer.

 

Sky is loitering around outside of the fortune teller’s RV, doing his best to look nonchalant. He even bought himself a cone of blue raspberry cotton candy. Every few minutes, he peeks in through the half-open blinds of the old woman’s RV, but can’t gather very much from the few scraps of conversation that he’s managed to catch so far.

“Damn,” he mutters to himself, skirting around to the side of the RV and then around to the back of it. There’s another window on the other side of the motor home. Even though the view from this window is no better than it had been from the other window, it did provide him some shadows to hide in and a little bit less exposure to the crowds of carnival goers. He looks inside just in time to see the slightly stooped old gypsy-esque woman settling a teacup and saucer in front of Amber’s taciturn partner.

Then, something very odd happens. Before Gavin can take a sip of the tea, Amber slaps the cup out of his hand. Gavin yelps, scalding tea splattering over his hand and shirt. The old woman squawks in protest, and the teacup shatters on the floor.

 

Amber nearly trips as she stands up, pointing at a jar behind the old woman. A green ceramic jar that is oddly shaped like an urn. “That! That’s it, it’s the thingy! The death thingy!”

Gavin stands as well, pulling his badge out from his suit jacket in a smooth movement. “Ma’m, we’re with Grimoire, and you’re under arrest for the murders of Sean Carmichael, Michele Swann, and Louis Sanchez, and the attempted murder of a federal agent.”

The old lady looks rather confused, and smiles nervously at the two agents. “I’m sorry, dearie. Is this what the kids are calling a ‘punking?'”

The two agents look at each other, surprised at this reaction. Amber finally stammers out, “No Ma’m, this isn’t a joke of any kind. You’ve been giving people tea from that cursed jar. It’s been killing people. I’m actually surprised that more people haven’t died.”

The old lady is still confused,  but her smile is starting to slip. “Don’t be silly, dear. Tea doesn’t kill people.”

Amber goes around to the kitchenette, “You know, you’re probably right. It’s probably harmless. But maybe we should take a sample and have a look at the urn just to make sure, ok?”

“Now wait just a moment, that there is an expensive antique!” the old lady protests, getting up to snatch the urn away before Amber can take it.

“Don’t you touch it, you might break it!” Amber is surprised at the speed at which the tottering old lady moved, and the odd screeching tone in her voice. From way that Gavin was watching the old woman in concentrated silence, Amber thought Gavin must have thought the old woman’s sudden change odd as well. Gavin moves around to the other side of the table in at a slow, careful pace.

“Madame Griselda…?” Amber says in as soothing a tone as she can summon up, moving a bit closer to the old woman from her side. At the same time, she slowly reaches into her jacket pocket to withdraw a small round item. The weight of it gives Amber a bit of comfort, and some strength returns to her voice as she asks, “Are you feeling all right?”

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #4

He watched her for a moment longer before turning back to his notes. They spent a few hours in companionable silence, concentrating on their coffee and words. Around noon Amber scooted back from her desk, chair squealing in protest. She stretches back in the chair, catching her foot on the open drawer to keep from toppling over backward in the cantilevered chair. She makes a bit of a grunting sound as she twists her head back and forth, neck cracking a little. “Lunch time, handsome?”

Gavin nods a bit, “But let’s do something different today. What about the Milltop?”

“It has been a little bit since my last visit to the Milltop,” the redhead replies ponderously.

Gavin’s frowns a little before saying, “Don’t tell me you got kicked out of there too…”

Amber feigns offense at these words, her voice tinged with affronted dignity as she responds, “Of course not. What would make you thinks something like that?”

Gavin stares at her in silence for a moment, before deciding to let it go. He gets up from his chair and collects his jacket from the stand by the door. “You’re buying today,” he says, making it a statement rather than a request.

“Fine by me,” she replies, hopping up from her chair. She grabs her black patent leather purse and slings it over her shoulder as she walks out the door he’s holding open for her, sharp heels clicking on the hardwood floor. “We should invite Brandy as well, he should get out of the office every once in a while.”

Gavin and Amber approach the front desk where the blonde Brandon is sitting, his hair tucked behind his slightly pointed ears, a sign that he is more stressed than usual, as he normally hides the points of his ears very carefully under his hair. He smiles faintly as the two duo approaches the front desk, “Going to Scarlett’s for lunch?”

“The Mill Top today,” Gavin replies.

“You should go with us, Brandy. You’re looking a little pale,” Amber says jokingly.

Brandy laughs a little, getting to his feet, “Because elves are so well known for their dark tans. And you’re one to talk anyway, Gavin is tanner than you are and he hardly sets foot outside.”

Gavin grumbles a little, “I do go out sometimes.”

“I still say that freckles count as a tan,” Amber says with a bit of a pout as the three of them make their way out of the building.

 

Soon the three colleagues are comfortably ensconced in the back corner of the Milltop restaurant with drinks in hand. Gavin tries his best not to think about what exactly Amber is drinking, which smells suspiciously like alcohol though Amber denies it, and instead concentrates on his tea. It’s warm with a hint of lemon.

Brandy’s glass is filled with some kind of fizzing fruit juice with cherry skewered onto a red sword-shaped plastic swizzle stick, and is completely unabashed at his choice. People tend not to judge an elf for drinking a ‘girly’ drink. Then again, most people can’t seem to tell the difference between male and female elves, so perhaps it’s less a case of not being judgmental and more about not having a frame of reference from which to judge. Brandy sips his drink with unabashed delight.

“That Sky kid has been following me around again,” Amber says, stirring her drink idly with her straw. “Any tips on what to do about him?”

Brandy wrinkles his nose a little, “That wormy conspiracist kid with the hoodie that smells like cheezits?”

“The very same,” Gavin says, taking a sip of his tea to mask his amusement at Brandy’s sour expression.

“How do you know what he smells like anyway?” Amber says, quirking an eyebrow at Brandy.

“Elves have very sensitive noses, and acute hearing as well. Actually, all our senses are sharper than yours really,” Brandy says without the least hint of superiority. He says it as a plain fact, which is a bit of an oddity amongst elves who generally like to brag, and a trait that has endeared him to his coworkers.

“Then how can you stand being around Amber?” Gavin says, then jumps a little in his chair as Amber steps on his foot “-Kch!”

“Some people are an acquired smell,” Brandy says, smiling gently at Amber and patting her arm fondly.

Gavin is slightly put off by this show of familiarity, but the subject returns to its intended target before he can form the question that was bubbling up to his mouth. Amber asks, “So what do we do about the kid?”

“Maybe a better question is ‘what can the kid do for us?’” Brandy says, his mouth turning up at one corner. “Grimoire is always in need of writers, and it’s not unheard of for mundies to be brought into the fold.”

“You think he would really go for something like that?” Gavin says, doubtful. “What are we going to do? Have him pinky swear that he won’t expose the magical community to the general public? He doesn’t trust anyone. He’s not going to keep his mouth shut if we let him in on the fold.”

“That’s the best part – he doesn’t have to keep his mouth shut,” Brandy says, clapping a little as the waitress brings several baskets full of fried shrimp and fries to their table. “Now that looks good!”

“Anything else I can do for you folks today?” she says in the pleasant tone that most good waitresses have acquired, the one they can pull out even on the worst days when drunk patrons try to play grab ass or when they received what would be considered a good tip for a party of three, instead of the party of eleven that she just had to hustle for.

“This looks great, Cher. I don’t think we need anything else for right now.” Amber says, dipping one of her shrimp into the small cup of tartar sauce hanging on the side of her basket.

Once the waitress is out of earshot, Brandy continues, “Well, I’ll talk to the Chief about it and see what he thinks. It’ll probably be a few months before we can get confirmation from the head office. I’m sure you can keep him pre-occupied until then, Amber.”

“I’m still not sure I like this, Brandon. The kid is delusional. I know you both think he’s harmless, but he rubs me the wrong way,” Gavin says, carefully peeling the tail from one of his shrimp before popping it into his mouth.

“Brandy and I have experience with people like him, Gavin. Trust us. He’s harmless,” Amber says in her easy tone with a hint of a smile. “It’s sweet of you to worry about me though.”

Gavin fights back the heat he can feel rising in his face and concentrates on carefully peeling all the tails off of his shrimp. Brandy has the good sense to change the subject, and Gavin is only too pleased to let Amber and Brandy squabble about gnome containment methods for the remainder of their meal.

 

Meanwhile, from across the street a harmless kid in a worn grey hoodie is watching the door of the Milltop Tavern, making notes in an equally worn black notebook. If he had been the usual kind of kid you find in St. Augustine, it would probably be a moleskin. The city was littered with artists, or artistes as it were, most of them students from the nearby college. You could see them in the spring once the chill of winter had faded – not that winter in Florida was much more than an excuse to wear boots for a few weeks – laying in their bathing suits on the west lawn, playing guitar and reading books, or sketching in their moleskins. But, grey hoodie was not that kind of kid. In fact, he wasn’t a kid at all – but a adult who just happened to look very young. It was probably the way he dressed.

His name was Sky Wotcher, a cruel joke that his parents unwittingly played on him – but he was used to it now and though he didn’t embrace the name, neither did he fight it. Sky shuffles his feet a little, unused to standing for long periods of time, and he moves instead to sit on a nearby coquina concrete bench.

He had been following Amber for days, after the contract with his temp agency had been completed. While waiting for a new position to come up, he decided that it was high time he took his investigation of the red haired woman seriously. He had known from his prior encounters that her name was Amber MacSweeney, and she was purportedly a reporter for Grimoire, a small but far reaching tabloid newspaper that could be found in grocery stores and gas stations across the country. They had even started publishing a Spanish language version the previous year. Her partner is Gavin Faust, a quiet man who collected insects. Even Sky thought this was a little odd, and he believed aliens were amongst us.  His investigation thus far had mostly consisted of following Amber to various bars and watching her hit on or be hit on by other drunks. However, the previous night all of his hard work in tailing her had finally paid off when he watched Amber and her partner break into an RV.

Whatever they were looking for, they must not have found because they left empty handed. Sky had no idea what carnivals had to do with extra terrestrial life, unless the freaks who worked there were actually aliens. The idea that aliens had disguised themselves as humans to infiltrate the planet was one that had been frequently discussed on the internet, and even featured as a plot point in a number of television shows and movies. It was an idea that appealed to Sky, although he felt that it was far more likely that aliens would actually be creatures that looked nothing like us. If the biodiversity of the Earth was any sort of indicator, then the biodiversity of the entire universe must be even greater. What are the odds that the first alien they met would be humanesque? Then again, if they could reach Earth without detection, then they might indeed have cloaking technology that they could disguise themselves with. The debate was endless.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #3

The evening starts with a slow trickle of people and builds until the fairground is filled to the brim with lines of people waiting to go on the best rides. With people coming out in full force for the first night of the carnival, the carnies are busy keeping the lines moving and the guests plied with all the usual sweets and artery clogging snacks. With the carnival crew sufficiently distracted, Amber and Gavin edge their way to the shadowy outskirts of the camp where the carnival’s RVs are parked.

They make a round of the camping area, surveying the outside of each RV. Most of them are older models, a little beat up from hard use, but obviously well cared for. After finding nothing particularly suspicious, they double back to where they started.

“Well, if there are mythies in this camp they can probably disguise themselves without much effort, and they don’t require anything large of particularly odd to sustain themselves,” Amber says, eying a kitschy hula girl in the window of the nearest RV. It sways slightly as the pendulum ride whirls around.

“That doesn’t mean that no one in this camp wouldn’t have the know-how or ability to use the urn, though. Plenty of mythies can wield magic and still appear human to the undiscerning eye,” Gavin responds, trying the door of the RV. “Locked.”

“Darn,” Amber grumbles, before realizing that Gavin is looking at her expectantly. “What? You think I can pick the lock? I’m not that kind of a bad girl.”

Gavin sighs a little, looks around furtively, then takes the pin from his tie. Amber’s eyes widen as she watches her partner display a talent she never suspected him of having. “Seriously? And just where did you learn to do that?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” he says with the ghost of a smirk as he trips the lock. He steps back and holds the door open for her. “Go on and take a look. I’ll stay out here and keep a look out.”

Amber hurriedly scoots on into the RV and the door creaks closed behind her. She takes a cautious step forward into the RV, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the low level of light filtering in through the half open blinds. Once her eyes have adjusted, she moves carefully through the small motor home, careful not to disturb or move anything. She pokes around for a few minutes, then emerges from the RV, startling Gavin a little.

Gavin breathes out hard and triggers the lock before pulling the door to behind his partner. “Nothing?”

“No, nothing. But that doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the first one. We should search a few more tonight, but I don’t want to push it. Let’s just come back tomorrow if we don’t find anything tonight,” Amber replies. And that is just what they do, and also what they find – nothing.

Amber manages to get Gavin to buy her another cone of cotton candy before they head out, and busies herself on the ride home with licking the sticky fluff from her fingers. Gavin wrinkles his nose at this, but refrains from verbally expressing his disgust with this behavior. Despite this, Amber can tell that she’s annoying him.

“Did you never eat cotton candy as a child?” she asks, an eyebrow quirking up and a smile playing across her lips.

His expression softens a little and he clears his throat before responding, “No…I’ve never been a big fan of sweets. Even when I was a kid. My sister loved it, it meant she always got double.”

She nods appreciatively, “You must have been a great big brother.”

“What makes you think I am the older one?” he says, glancing at her as he pulls up to the antebellum home that they started their morning off in.

“It’s obvious,” she says, shrugging a little.

“You must be an only child, then?” he says with the question hanging on the slightly upturned tone at the end of the phrase.

Amber laughs as she slides out of the passenger seat, “Guess again, hot stuff!”

Gavin shakes his head a little as he watches her walk down the sidewalk a ways to retrieve her abandoned heels. She waves him off as she heads into her house, but he waits until the door is safely shut behind her and the lights come on before he drives off into the night.

Amber locks the door behind her as and surveys the house in the warm light cast by the lamp on the table by the door. Bottles are scattered across the floor, some broken and left as they were; she hadn’t even bothered to pick up the pieces of glass. The furniture is antique, and probably had been well cared for at some point in time, but is now coated with a fine layer of dust. She takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out, then goes to retrieve a broom from the hall closet.

Once the house has been tidied up enough for her to walk around safely, she stows the broom and goes to the fridge. It’s mostly empty, with a few old boxes of Chinese and a lot of beer. She reaches for a beer, and hesitates for only a moment before grabbing it.

Unbeknownst to Amber, a shadowy figure is watching her from outside through the lenses of a pair of binoculars. He’s young, wearing a faded pair of jeans in danger of falling to pieces at the knees, and a shirt bearing the mantra “The Truth Is Out There!” As she pops the top off of the beer and takes a pull from it, he shakes his head and makes a note. His writing is the kind of chicken scratch that might only be considered legible by doctors, or the nurses who have to decipher their notes in any case. The man himself actually has a hard time reading his own writing sometimes, though he would never admit it.

He watches Amber until she disappears from his line of sight, then crawls out of the bushes. He has to pause to free himself from a particularly thorny bush, and nearly trips over his own untied shoelace before he makes it to the curb, where an old moped is parked. He hops on the moped, and it gutters to life noisily. He looks over his shoulder nervously, wondering if the sound of the engine coming to life might alert his prey, but all seems quiet apart from the sound of his engine. He is slightly disappointed by this, but considers that he is simply cleverer than the agents; after all, they have yet to catch him or shut down his website. And he’s certain they follow his work, him being the foremost expert on paranormal activity. In the St. Augustine Area anyway.

The man scuttles off into the night, Amber watching him go from the crack of a drawn shade. She shakes her head a little and has another sip of beer before retreating to her room.

 

In the morning, Amber arrives to the office looking fresher and considerably cleaner than she had the previous morning. Her hair is still wild with curls, but she has at least made an effort to tame it back into a bun with bobby pins and copious amounts of hairspray. She has two coffees in hand, and sets one down on Gavin’s desk moving to her own to sit down.

Gavin seems pleased, though his expression doesn’t change. He opens the coffee to check it; it looks black. “Did you add anything?”

“You take it with two sugars, right? No cream?” she asks, seeming confidant that she already knows the answer. He nods, and she smiles smugly before saying, “I’m more observant than you thought, huh?”

He shrugs a little, “Not particularly. We’re hired to be observant. You wouldn’t be a Grimoire agent if you didn’t have some observational skills. And we’ve been together long enough now that it would be odd if you didn’t pick up on some of my preferences.”

“What kind of coffee do I like then?” she says, lifting an eyebrow in challenge.

“The Irish kind. More booze than coffee, really.” he replies, much to her amusement.

“Oh, come on! That’s not fair.” she protests, her easy laugh rising to the surface. He focuses his intense gaze on her, but she can see the glint of teasing hiding behind his serious brown eyes. “Ok, ok, sometimes,” she says, waving her fingers at him a little, as if to dispel his laser focus.  “But not often.”

Amber settles into her chair, which definitely had a bit of Irish flavor to it this morning, and perks up a little. “Oh, I almost forgot. I had a visitor again last night.”

Gavin pauses from reading over the bit of typing he had just finished, looking up. “Again? I thought he had finally given up after the last time…”

“He’s got some spunk, you have to give him that. He doesn’t give up easily,” she unlocks one of her desk drawers and draws out a case file.

Gavin looks over at her, the pinched look he gets when he’s concerned but trying not to look it crawls over his otherwise calm expression, “I know that you think he’s harmless, but what if his behavior escalates? You’ve seen his website. The kid is nearly delusional.”

“He would be delusional if the foundation of his beliefs weren’t actually true. But I do think it’s odd that he hasn’t managed to get at least one case right. As many as he’s written about, you’d think he would have gotten close to the truth at least once by now – even if it was just by accident. I wonder what the statistics are for things like that,” she says, finding the page she had marked as her previous stopping point. She had folded the edge of the paper down, a habit which would make Gavin cringe if he knew about it.

Gavin thinks about this for a moment before saying, “It is kind of interesting just how wrong he always is. Even with details that were reported correctly by the news outlets. What do you want to do about him?”

Amber shrugs with all the nonchalance of a cat, more concerned with the file she’s reading over than with any danger that her stalker might pose, “I think it’s about time we told Brandy about him.”

“Not the chief?” Gavin asks, scribbling a note down.

“And how exactly do you think the Chief would react to a situation like this?” she says, booting up her laptop.

“Good point. Let’s tell Brandon, and he can tell the Chief,” Gavin says, speaking aloud what Amber had been thinking all along.

As different as they are, it sometimes surprised Gavin how in sync they had become. They’d only been partners a few months now, but he could already feel himself becoming more relaxed around Amber. Because of his condition, Gavin had never really let himself relax around anyone, not even his family – or perhaps especially not his family – but there was something about Amber that both amped his guard up and caused it to crumble. He wasn’t even sure that Amber was aware of his condition, what with the way that she’s been treating him, but how could she not be? Everyone else was.

There was a look that people would get in their eye when they knew about his condition – a certain avoidance of eye contact, a barrier that people subconsciously put between themselves and him. But Amber had no such barriers, and when she looked at him it was with the same brightness and curiosity with which she approached everyone else. She spoke as her thoughts came to her and acted almost entirely on instinct. It was refreshing, and at the same time terrifying. If she already knew, then it made no difference. But if she didn’t know and he told her, it could change everything. The part of him that was rigidly, compulsively honest balked at the thought of this dishonesty, but the smaller part – the part so quiet that he didn’t even hear it talking to him – comforted him with the idea that this is small secret is not a lie. It is simply private information, which Gavin has every right to keep to himself. God only knows that Amber has her own secrets.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #2

The grey sedan comes to a grinding halt on the gravel bordering the field where the carnival has just begun setting up.  The carnival crew is much too busy setting up to take notice of the official looking be-suited couple emerging from the sedan. They are busy hoisting tents and hammering together stands, unwrapping bags of cheap plastic inflatable prizes and stuffed animals, and generally creating the atmosphere that small children far and wide recall with rose-tinted glasses. Or perhaps, cotton candy colored ones.

From Gavin’s viewpoint it looked more like a field full of near-homeless unskilled workers setting up machinery far more complicated and dangerous than they should legally be allowed to go within ten feet of. Why any parent would let a child on a ride that had so obviously been painted over to hide the rust and wear, Gavin did not know. Then again, Gavin had never been confronted with a sugar-filled child jumping and pointing excitedly at what she thinks is a harmless giant swing. Amber, of course, had been that child.

“Oooohhh, can you get me some cotton candy?” Amber squeals excitedly, begging Gavin with her warm green eyes.

“Get yourself some cotton candy. This isn’t a date. And we’re supposed to be working, anyway.” Gavin snorts at her, shaking his head.

“I would, but I forgot my wallet when you rudely shoved me out of my house this morning. I don’t think I even have my house key.” Amber sighs dejectedly, then looks around, deciding it is probably for the best. She needed to buckle down and focus on the task at hand. Too many things could go wrong with an object powerful enough to kill, and there is no telling whether or not its current owner has ill intentions toward agents of Grimoire. That seemed to be a more and more popular attitude, even one that Amber found herself agreeing with. She never really thought of herself as a government agent, despite the badge and press pass the job came with.

Gavin approaches one of the carnival workers, a squat bald man with a rounded belly. The man was shouting at the other workers, motioning to one of them with hands covered in grease from maintaining the various carnival rides.”Sir, are you the owner of this carnival?”

“HEY! Stop dicking around with that, and secure the tent with stakes. There might be storms, and I don’t want any tents flying off this season! You remember what happened two years ago. Nearly flew off into the night with a kid.” After watching the workers for a beat, he turns to acknowledge Gavin, “Sorry ’bout that. We’re not going to be up and running yet for a few hours. I dunno if you’d call me the owner, everyone owns up their little bit, but I guess I am the one in charge. Orson Calhoun,” he says offering a hand out to Gavin.

Gavin stares down at the hand hesitantly. Orson looks at his, realizes how dirty it is, and wipes it across his crusty old jeans before offering it forward again. Not wanting to appear any more rude than he already had been, Gavin takes it and gives it a firm, if brief, shake.

“Sir, we’re with Grimoire. Perhaps you’ve heard of us?” Gavin says, pulling out a notepad, and watching the man carefully for signs of recognition.

“Can’t say I’ve heard of you…” the man says, not a spark of recognition in his eye. He glances distractedly at his workers, as if concerned the place might light on fire if he doesn’t keep a close eye on them.

“We’re reporters from the local branch of Grimoire, it’s a national newspaper,” she says, emphasizing the word ‘national’ as she shows the man her press credentials. “We wanted to do a report on the carnival, maybe a special interest piece about how to win carnival games. Do you mind if we walk around and talk to your crew?”

Orson chuckles, “Well, Ma’m, I don’t think we can give away our secrets. But, I’m sure the crew would be glad to give you some tips. Maybe you’ll get lucky too, eh. Get the lady a prize?”

Gavin gives a stilted laugh as Orson elbows him in the side, and looks away, “Haha…I’m not really much of a gambler, but I guess I’ll have to give it a try. For research. Right.”

 

Gavin and Amber poke around the fairgrounds, chit chatting with the men and women as they go about their business. A few are interested in talking, but most are trying to complete their allotted tasks before the sun starts going down and the crowds come out. Amber does most of the talking, while Gavin watches and writes notes.

“I guess it would be too much to hope that they would display it on a lighted pedestal?” Amber says after they spoke with everyone at least once. Twilight is starting to cast long shadows across the fairground, the rides looking less like random acts of machinery and more like the gaudy and whimsical neon lighted wonders that light up the eyes of children and adults who never grew up the world over.

Gavin loosens his tie a little, “People are going to start filtering in soon. The workers will be distracted. We’ll be able to get a better look around their living spaces.”

“In the meantime,” Amber says, “we should finish researching our article about carnival games.” She gives him one of her characteristic smarmy grins, “Bet I can get more prizes than you.”

Gavin sighs a little, “Does it matter? I lose either way. I have to pay for all of the ‘research’ as you call it.”

“You know I’m good for it,” Amber says indignantly. “Maybe we should just get something to eat and watch other people play games, then. We can tell them the tricks to winning and see how many people win with the tricks and how many people win without.”

Gavin thinks this over for a few moments, then looks over at her “And by ‘something to eat’, you actually mean ‘cotton candy’?”

Amber nods enthusiastically and takes his arm. “Come on, Gavin. Live a little.”

Gavin tenses a little, then takes a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. “All right, all right. Cotton candy and hot dogs. But I’m not going on the giant swing. Or the pendulum thingy.”

“Thingy,” she says as they make their way into the fairground, the lights coming on around them in all their shining rainbow colored glory. “What kind of a word is that for a reporter to use?”

“Good thing I’m not really a reporter,” Gavin says, chuckling. Amber slides her arm out from his as she rushes forward to the cotton candy vendor and Gavin’s lips flicker downward into the slightest frown. The frown passes so quickly that if you weren’t looking for it, you most certainly would have missed it. Gavin reaches into his pocket to retrieve his wallet, paying for the cotton candy somewhat grudgingly as Amber heads toward the nearest game booth.

NaNoWriMo 2014: Spin Doctors #1

The red haired woman staggers down the sidewalk of a well-kept neighborhood. Her heel turns in the crack of the sidewalk. Cursing, she kicks the heel aside. She stumbles forward another step, and then kicks the second heel away as well. Bristling, she stomps away, leaving her heels behind.

She eventually turns into the grass outside of an old antebellum home. She pauses and wriggles her toes in the grass, taking a moment to enjoy the feeling of it, then makes her way to the front door. The redhead fumbles around in her purse, muttering to herself, then carefully eyes the keyhole. She misses the first two times, but third time’s the charm, and she manages to get the key in the door. The door swings open and the woman scuttles inside, tossing her bag on a nearby high-backed chair. She stretches lazily as she makes her way down a hall, kicking empty bottles out of her way as she goes down a hall and into a bedroom. She crashes face first into a large unmade four poster bed with satin sheets. Then, the alarm on the nightstand begins blaring.

Her long fingered hand picks up the alarm, then daintily drops it into the small trashcan in between the bed and nightstand. It lands with a thud, and continues blaring. Then, a pillow is shoved in over the top of it, dulling the sound. The woman pulls a blanket over herself and begins to snore lightly.

 

A few short hours later, a tall thin man in a dark suit pulls up to the house in a plain gray sedan. He waits a few minutes before honking the horn. Realizing that the woman is not forthcoming, he ruffles his hair a little, ruining its ruler-perfect part, and climbs out of the car. Approaching the door, he sees that it’s slightly ajar. His eyebrows flicker slightly upward into an expression of concern. He walks inside, then calls into the dark, quiet home “Amber, are you all right?”

There’s no response, so he ventures further into the house, thence into the bedroom where the redhaired woman is sawing logs to the tune of the dully buzzing alarm. His concern evaporates, and is quickly replaced by exasperation. He calmly walks to the attached master bathroom, fills a glass usually used to rinse one’s mouth with water, then returns to her bedside. He looks down at the contently snoozing Amber, and considers her for a moment, as if considering waking a hibernating bear. He takes a cautious half step back before splashing her face with the glassful of water.

Amber flails awake, knocking the glass out of the man’s hand as she falls out of the bed and onto the floor with a squawk. She sputters, pushing her water bedraggled curls from her face, then glares up at him. “What the hell Gavin?!”

Gavin eyes her dispassionately. “You’re late. Get ready.”

 

One abbreviated cold shower and quick change of clothes later, the two are sitting in the car giving each other the silent treatment. At least, Amber is giving Gavin the silent treatment, her arms crossed over her generous bosom in the classic gesture of childish defiance. Gavin, however, seems completely unconcerned. He may even be rather relieved at the thought of having a cup of coffee before her incessant chattering starts back up.

Amber’s gaze slides over to her partner before darting away to look out the window again. This furtive glancing continues for a few minutes, before she finally blurts out “Fine, I’m sorry!”

“I’m not.” Gavin says, his lips turning up ever so slightly at the edges. “The beached mermaid look suits you.”

Amber hisses slightly through her teeth, smacking his shoulder. Gavin chuckles a little, “Touchy this morning, are we?”

“My head hurts” she mumbles under her breath, shading her eyes with her hand. “And don’t lecture me. It’s a waste of both our time.”

Gavin nods a little, knowing that – at least in this case – she’s speaking the truth.

 

They soon arrive at the offices of Grimoire, proclaimed to be “The source you can trust for the stories you actually want to read about!” on the sign creaking slightly in the wind just outside of the red brick building. The building itself was obviously new, but designed to blend in with its antique surroundings.

Just inside the entrance, a young blonde haired man in a vest, white shirt and grey pinstriped pants tailored to fit his willowy frame, is sitting at a long desk studiously typing away at his computer. His thin fingers dance across the heavy brass keyboard with its strange symbols, red velvet wrist rest, and crystals that glow different colors, the purpose of which would be lost on the average denizen of the small, historic city of St. Augustine. Viewed from one angle, the nameplate on his desk says “Brandon White,” from another it bears the same symbols as his odd keyboard, but in a flowing script. He looks up briefly, his fingers pausing above the keys as the two scan their ID badges, then after shaking his head, he refocuses on the task at hand, keys clicking down into place with slightly more force.

Amber slinks over to the desk and leans on it, smiling down at the young man in an altogether too sweet manner, greeting him with a “Good Morning, Brandon. How is the Chief doing today?”

The young man looks up and returns her cloyingly sweet smile with interest and responds in a fair, fluting voice “Maybe if you had been here for this morning’s meeting, you would know.” Before turning his thin, pale face and large round blue eyes back toward his computer screen with a sniff and flick of his ponytail.

Amber deflates a little, giving a pout. “Oh come on, Brandy. Give us something.”

Gavin rolls his eyes behind her back and continues on past the blonde gatekeeper and down the hallway toward the break room to get himself a cup of coffee.

“Is it really that bad?” Amber pouts at him. “He’s not any more blustery than usual, is he?” Gavin can hear her whining as he walks into the office with ‘Faust and MacSweeney’ on the door.

Amber spends a few more minutes squabbling with Brandon before retreating back to their office to lick her wounded pride. She slumps hard into her chair, causing it to squeak as she spins around toward her partner. She puffs her cheeks up, then slowly blows the curls of red hair out of her face, before asking “After you’re done with that first cup of coffee?”

Gavin nods, taking a sup from his square white mug. “And after you finish at least one report. He might be more lenient if it looks like you actually make some kind of effort to do your job.”

“My job is to solve cases. These reports are just gloss for the mundies.” Amber grumbles a little, turning toward the folders haphazardly strewn across her desk. “I guess I should get started on that case with the tree sharks…”

Gavin’s eyebrow twitches slightly in annoyance and he puts his coffee mug down, so he can fix his serious eyes on her. “Amber, that was three months ago.”

“So I’m a little behind.” She says flippantly, not meeting his eyes. She grabs up a folder and starts sifting through the papers inside of it, and mutters just loud enough for him to hear, “You could help, you know…”

Gavin’s eyebrow twitches a little, “You don’t just want help, you want me to do it for you.”

“And how would that not be a huge help?” She says, giving him a hopeful smile. “It would keep the chief off both our backs. And you’re a better writer than I am.”

Gavin takes a moment to think about this, then shrugs, “Fine, give me a few of the cases.”

 

Amber and Gavin soon take their seats across a fine mahogany desk from the Chief, a man so large that he makes his executive sized desk look child sized. His hulking form is squeezed into a button down shirt and tie that looks like it would cut off blood circulation to his head if he were too irritated. Even now, his cheeks are ruddy with mild annoyance. “It’s about damn time you turn these reports in.” he says in a voice edged with the gruffness of a long-time smoker.

“Sorry, Chief,” Amber says, looking down at the hands folded in her lap, wondering if the Chief even bothers to read the reports. She knows that he signs everything Brandy gives him, even if it’s with the scrawl of a man who never quite mastered the art of writing his own initials without crushing the pencil halfway through.

“And speaking of being late, I hope you have a good excuse for why you two idgits weren’t at the meeting with the big wigs this morning. They wanted to talk with all the spinners. There’s been strange things going on lately.”

“Sir, strange things are our business.” Gavin pipes in before Amber can open her mouth and spout off a feeble excuse. “What could be stranger than what we already deal with every day?”

The chief snorts and slides a fresh folder across the desk to Gavin. “What indeed.”

Gavin and Amber look at each other, then Gavin takes the folder.

 

Gavin flips through the folder as the two of them walk back toward their office. Amber tries to read it over his shoulder, “Well, what is it this time?”

Gavin stops dead in the middle of the hall, and Amber smacks into him, her chin against his shoulder. “-Gah!”

“We have a serial killer.” he says grimly.

Amber and Gavin are taking the items in the folder and setting them up on combination cork and white board on the back wall of their office.

“All right,” Amber says, backing away from the board after carefully placing the last red tack onto a large map in the middle of the board. “So…what do we have, break it down for me again.”

“Over the last five years, this object,” Gavin says, motioning to a picture of an urn “has been making the rounds. It first came up for auction after the death of an old woman who claimed that her husband’s spirit was trapped inside of it. She told anyone who would listen about it that she could hear him whispering, pleasing to be freed, but the lid was sealed tight.”

Amber lets out a low whistle, “Poltergeist? Maybe a demon? What else?”

“Djinn, perhaps.” Gavin tosses out.

Amber shakes her head a little, “Not likely. Djinn have physical presence and power. The urn looks like porcelain, not the right material to support the sort of seal you would need for that.” Amber leans in to get a closer look, but he picture of the urn is black and white and not particularly clear, “Although, I’d have to get a closer look to be sure of it. I suppose it could be orichalcum.”

Gavin nods. “Well, we know where it’s been. The old woman died in New York, where the head office initially got wind of it. Then, it started traveling south. The new owner must have figured out how to open it somewhere around Maryland, because that’s where the first killing took place. People have died in these small towns all along the eastern seaboard.”

“So why do they think St. Augustine is next?”

“We think that it was bought by a carnival, one that travels south to north in the winters. It’s actually a joint case between us, and a few other branches, since there’s actually several carnivals that make follow similar north-to-south routes down the eastern seaboard this time of year.” Gavin snorts, “Most carnivals have at least a few mythies on crew, even if they aren’t entirely aware of it. Some are entirely mythie. But, we’re not sure what kind of carnival it is. They usually police themselves, we don’t have to keep a close eye on them. Either they aren’t aware of the danger of the urn, or they do know and are using it to purpose.”

Amber grins a little, ignoring his gloomy overtones,  “I did want to check out the carnival this weekend. I guess I have a good excuse to eat cotton candy and ride the giant swing until I puke now.”

“Like you ever need an excuse to act like a child,” he replies, trying to suppress a small smile of his own.

“Come on, hot stuff” Amber says, smacking Gavin’s rear and making him jump. He looks around, hoping no one saw that, and is relieved to see that the door to their office is safely shut.

She grabs the jacket from the back of her chair, and heads to the door. “Let’s get a move on.”