Excerpt: Selume Proferre

On Monday, when An-An unlocked and pushed the door open to Bookfall, she found the entire place filled with black smoke. She stormed through the shop, the heels of her cowboy boots clicking against the tiled floor. She pulled open the door marked “Employees Only” with a little more force than necessary and made her way down the old rickety stairs to the basement.

“Carmina!”

The small, blond-haired woman turned from where she’d been examining what looked like a lawnmower welded together with a couple different kinds of saws.

“What have I told you about blowing things up in the shop?” An-An asked, arms crossed over her chest, boot tapping against the concrete floor.

“That I should try very, very hard not to?” Carmina asked with a frown. She wore heavy work gloves and equally heavy overalls, topped with high work boots. She nudged a smoldering piece of whatever-it-had-once-been away from the body of the machine with the toe of her boot. “I put the fire out.”

An-An rubbed her hands over her face. “The whole shop is filled with smoke, Mina.” She told her, “We’re going to have to set up the fans before any customers come, and you’re lucky it was me and not Kai to open this morning, because if Kai came in and found the shop full of smoke, he would kill you. Not to mention he’s got enough on his plate as it is …”

“I’m sorry.” Carmina wilted slightly under An-An’s exasperated gaze and lecturing tone. “I’ll clean this up and set up the fans and be really careful not to set anything else on fire or blow anything else up. And pay extra rent this month, if you want.”

An-An’s anger slowly drained out of her. “I don’t think you need to pay extra. You didn’t damage anything after all. Put the fans up when you’re done here.”

She headed back up the stairs to the shop as Carmina began to sort through the pile of machinery.

An-An filled the coffeemakers once upstairs and turned them on, taking the cream out of the fridge in the backroom and putting it on the counter with the sugar and cups by the coffee station. Finally, she parked herself behind the cash register and pulled out her laptop, putting it on the counter and turning it on. Carmina was a good kid, a little immature, but fine since she’d started dating Kai’s partner in crime, Valentine. Three years ago, she’d become a figure of their little circle. Kai had kindly let her rent the basement of Bookfall after she’d been kicked out of her old battle-bot workshop space. So Carmina was okay, even if she annoyed the Hell out of An-An sometimes.

Carmina came up the stairs from the basement, turning on fans as she made her way through the shop and flicking the closed sign to “Open” on the door before grabbing her leather jacket from off the coat rack in the back room.

“Okay, I’m out of here.”

An-An gave her a nod and little wave from her seat behind the counter.

“I’ll be back around noon, maybe,” Carmina told her, glancing down at the cellphone she’d dug out of her coat pocket.

An-An nodded and Carmina gave her a distracted little wave on her way out the door, already dialing the phone with her other hand.

An-An turned back to her email, tipping the heavy black cowboy hat that she wore up enough to better see the screen. She scrolled through a bunch of notices coming from different email lists she was on. A queer singles’ karaoke night someone was trying to organize, a workshop being offered on Japanese rope bondage, a note from Valentine about Damian’s latest art show. An-An propped her chin on one fist as she scrolled through one email after another. It was all good stuff … it wasn’t holding her interest at the moment, though.

She wondered briefly what would be the likelihood that Adien would be at the bondage workshop and decided it was pretty high, which meant An-An would rather cut off her own arm than go. It was a pity, really. Normally, An-An tried to stay on pretty good terms with her exes, but Adien had been a whole other ball game altogether.

An email address caught her eye and she frowned. Donald Williams, the address said. The only “Donald Williams” An-An knew was of Simon and Davidsons, which meant work, good paying work at that, and that was something An-An could definitely use. She clicked on the message.

Dear Ms. Yihua Li-Johnson

I am writing on behalf of a friend and colleague here at Simon and Davidson who is in need of an inscriber to assist on a job. Having been impressed by your professionalism and discretion when we worked together a few months ago, I am contacting you with the opportunity to meet with my colleague and see if it would be possible for you to work together for the duration of this particular case.

Sincerely,

Donald Williams
Rune Master
Simon and Davidson
Quality and discretion in spell-craft since 1875.

An-An sat back and drummed her fingers against the top of the counter. That was all polite but vague, which was unsurprising really since that was how Simon and Davidson always worked—how most of the higher-end firms worked, actually. The last time she’d worked for Simon and Davidson, it had been as an office temp. The pay had been good, the hours reasonable, everyone more or less polite. This sounded different, though, and An-An was a little confused as to why they were trying to hire an inscriber instead of using one of their office ones—unless there was something wrong with this mysterious “colleague.”

Still, An-An thought the worst thing that could happen would be for her to go to the interview and then turn down the job if the caster turned out to be a complete dick. If all went well, the money would go a long way towards making life easier. An-An set her computer aside as the bell over the door alerted her to the first customer of the day.

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