My day had already gone to shit when two angry druids stormed into my shop. My blood went cold. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. My palms itched to hold the handle of a weapon. The presence of druids in my shop was bad. Very bad. Their presence made the rest of my day seem pleasant in comparison, and it’d been a doozy so far.
I’d gotten exactly two hours of sleep the night before, thanks to some new scheme concocted by my best friend/arch-nemesis, Christian. He’d taken me on a police stakeout, claiming to need my help. I’d only gone along because he’d claimed it was an emergency, and I owed him a favor, or ten. By the end of the long, eventless evening, I was more than a little suspicious that he’d dragged me out just for the company. We’d spent hours in a crowded night club, bullshitting until four in the morning, before I’d realized I’d been duped. When I’d confronted the mischievous Christian, he’d only shrugged, saying, “I was bored. It’s not like you had a date.” I’d gone home in a rage, which hadn’t helped me get to sleep any faster.
I’d still managed to stumble into my shop relatively close to opening time. Even at seven a.m., the day had already been a scorcher. Just being outside, even at that early hour, felt a lot like being assaulted by nature’s biggest hair-dryer. My dark t-shirt and jeans were wrinkled (but hopefully clean?), my blond ponytail was messy, I hadn’t had even one cup of coffee, and I was in a dark mood, but it was my only day to open the shop, so by the gods, I could manage to at least get there somewhere approaching the right time.
I was none-too-pleased to run into cops and a busted lock as I approached the back entrance of the used bookstore/coffee shop I co-owned with my sister. I came to the obvious, and correct, assumption that our shop had been robbed, yet again. We were located in a questionable area of town. Though admittedly, in Vegas, every area was at least a little bit questionable. Even posh areas in Vegas got robbed. Vegas criminals were equal opportunity employers.
I’d cursed with gusto when I saw the full extent of the robbery. The robbers hadn’t gone straight for the safe, as they had the last few times. The place was trashed, top to bottom. Why would anyone rob a used bookstore? I had no idea. There was never a lot of cash in the safe, not ever. Pickings must be slim indeed for our little shop to be the target of no less than four robberies in the last nine months. My naturally paranoid mind had worked with the statistics busily. It was not a good sign, I’d concluded. It was starting to look like a good time to move on from our comfy old bookstore. It had been aiming in that direction, anyways. The growing popularity of e-books would have closed us down soon enough. Business had been far from booming, and we had stayed in one place long enough.
We moved often, my sister and I. We were runaways by nature. Drifters by necessity. And we were adaptable. It was our greatest ability, as far as I was concerned. We changed houses, jobs, cars, and cities on a regular basis. We’d lived in several countries, and we acclimated to other cultures well. That was, perhaps, why the states had suited us so well for so long. And the transient population in a place like Las Vegas was a particularly good fit. What better place for two accomplished runaways to fade into the background?
I dealt with the police, sending them quickly on their way, and began the annoying and time-consuming process of cleaning up my mess of a shop. By nine a.m., both of our full-time employees had called out sick. This meant that on top of repairing the whole shop from it’s assault, I had to run both the cafe and book portion of the store. On a weekend. Grrr. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t in my best mood come opening time. I didn’t even bother to hide it from the customers.
My sister, Lynn, still didn’t answer when I called her for the fourth time. ‘Personal Jesus’ played as the background music for her phone. She had an unhealthy obsession with that song. “Bastard,” I said at the beep, and hung up. She was, in fact, a bastard, but she was about as sensitive about it as I was.
I went back to work still cursing her. One of our regulars walked in, looking around the still messed up shop. He gave me a sort of dazed, questioning look.
I just shrugged at him. “If I tell ya, I hafta kill ya,” I told him, straight-faced. I made a cutting motion across my throat. He rolled his eyes at me, and headed to the mystery section. So I’m only funny to myself. It’s really the least of my problems.
The morning rush wound down, and for once I was happy to have an empty shop come early afternoon. I was repairing one of the few bookshelves that was still busted. I was rather proud that I’d managed to get things back together so quickly. I was mentally patting myself on the back when the entrance bell chimed. Twice. “I’ll be right with you,” I shouted from where I was working in the horror section at the back of the store. I didn’t mean it. I was going to keep working on what I was doing until the customers either; a. Came and asked me for help, or b. Asked me to check them out. Customer service had never been my strong point.
Was that the lock clicking? I wondered, seconds before someone cleared their throat behind me. I straightened, turning, and dusting my hands off on my jeans as I did so. Every part of my body tensed in frozen panic when I saw the two men standing in my shop. I was using the term ‘men’ loosely. For all intents and purposes, though, they looked like clean-cut businessmen in uniform three-piece suits. Even their ties were a matching conservative gray. Most wouldn’t notice the guns they carried under their jackets. And almost no one would feel the power radiating off of their skin like steam.
Druids had long held the responsibility of governing the supernatural community in both the U.S and Europe. They guarded the secrets of their own race quite obsessively from the outside world. This, I guessed, was why they felt they had to help keep the rest of us hidden. Help was the wrong word. That made it sound as though any of us had a choice in the matter. We didn’t.
The staying hidden from the outside world part had never been a problem for me. The part where they made us submit all of our personal information into their infamous rosters, well, that part had never sat well with me. We had been scamming their system for as long as I could remember, sometimes more effectively than others. My history with the druids was long, sordid, tempestuous, complicated, and ugly. And that was putting it mildly.
Having two druids walk into my shop was a disaster no matter how you looked at it. The fact that I happened to recognize these two in particular was much worse than just bad. It was an outright cluster-fuck. And, of course, it didn’t help that they both just happened to hate my guts. My palms itched badly. My hands just ached to hold a weapon at that moment. I liked guns. Okay, I loved guns. They just felt right in my hands, the heavy weight of infinite comfort to me. Even the weight of one in a holster at my hip, back, or ankle just felt good to me. And firing one. Mmm, I loved that, too. The recoil was like an old friend. But they weren’t my favorite.