The Hollows series
A FISTFUL OF CHARMS
T he solid thud of David’s car door shutting echoed off the stone face of the eight-story building we had parked beside. Leaning against the gray sports car, I shaded my eyes and squinted up at its aged and architecturally beautiful columns and fluted sills. The uppermost floor was golden in the setting sun, but here at street level we were in a chill shadow. Cincinnati had a handful of such landmark buildings, most abandoned, as this one appeared to be.
“Are you sure this is the place?” I asked, then dragged the flat of my arms off the roof of his car. The river was close; I could smell the oil and gas mix of boats. The top floor probably had a view. Though the streets were clean, the area was clearly depressed. But with a little attention—and a lot of money—I could see it as one of the city’s newest residential hot spots.
David set his worn leather briefcase down and reached into the inner pocket of his suit coat. Pulling out a sheaf of papers, he flipped to the back, then glanced at the distant corner and the street sign. “Yes,” he said, his soft voice tense but not worried.
Tugging my little red leather jacket down, I hiked my bag higher on my shoulder and headed to his side of the car, heels clunking. I’d like to say I was wearing my butt-kicking boots in deference to this being a run, but in reality I just liked them. They went well with the blue jeans and black T-shirt I had on; and with the matching cap, I looked and felt sassy.
David frowned at the chunking—or my choice of attire, maybe—steeling his features to bland acceptance when he saw me quietly laughing at him. He was in his respectable work clothes, somehow pulling off the mix of the three-piece suit and his shoulder-length, wavy black hair held back in a subdued clip. I’d seen him a couple of times in running tights that showed off his excellently maintained, mid-thirties physique—yum—and a full-length duster and cowboy hat—Van Helsing, eat your heart out—but his somewhat small stature lost none of its presence when he dressed like the insurance claims adjuster he was. David was kind of complex for a Were.
I hesitated when I came even with him, and together we eyed the building. Three streets over I could hear the shush of traffic, but here, nothing moved. “It’s really quiet,” I said, holding my elbows against the chill of the mid-May evening.
Brown eyes pinched, David ran a hand over his clean-shaven cheeks. “It’s the right address, Rachel,” he said, peering at the top floor. “I can call to check if you want.”
“No, this is cool.” I smiled with my lips closed, hefting my shoulder bag and feeling the extra weight of my splat gun. This was David’s run, not mine, and about as benign as you could get—adjusting the claim of an earth witch whose wall had cracked. I wouldn’t need the sleepy-time charms I loaded my modified paint ball gun with, but I just grabbed my bag when David asked me to come with him. It was still packed from my last run—storming the back room of an illegal spammer. God, plugging him had been satisfying.
David pushed into motion, gallantly gesturing me to go first. He was older than I by about ten years, but it was hard to tell unless you looked at his eyes. “She’s probably living in one of those new flats they’re making above old warehouses,” he said, heading for the ornate stoop.
I snickered, and David looked at me.
“What?” he said, dark eyebrows rising.
I entered the building before him, shoving the door so he could follow tight on my heels. “I was thinking if you lived in one, it would still be a warehouse. Were house? Get it?”
He sighed, and I frowned. Jenks, my old backup, would have laughed. Guilt hit me, and my pace faltered. Jenks was currently AWOL, hiding out in some Were’s basement after I’d majorly screwed up by not trusting him, but with spring here, I could step up my efforts to apologize and get him to return.
The front lobby was spacious, full of gray marble and little else. My heels sounded loud in the tall-ceilinged space. Creeped out, I stopped chunking and started walking to minimize the noise. A pair of black-edged elevators were across the lobby, and we headed for them. David pushed the up button and rocked back.
I eyed him, the corners of my lips quirking. Though he was trying to hide it, I could see he was getting excited about his run. Being a field insurance adjustor wasn’t the desk job one might think it was. Most of his company’s clients were Inderlanders—witches, Weres, and the occasional vampire—and as such, getting the truth as to why a client’s car was totaled was harder than it sounded. Was it from the teenage son backing it into the garage wall, or did the witch down the street finally get tired of hearing him beep every time he left the drive? One was covered, the other wasn’t, and sometimes it took, ah, creative interviewing techniques to get the truth.
David noticed I was smiling at him, and the rims of his ears went red under his dark complexion. “I appreciate you coming with me,” he said, shifting forward as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. “I owe you dinner, okay?”
“No problem.” I joined him in the murky, mirrored lift, and watched my reflection in the amber light as the doors closed. I’d had to move an interview for a possible client, but David had helped me in the past, and that was far more important.
The trim Were winced. “The last time I adjusted the claim of an earth witch, I later found she had scammed the company. My ignorance cost them hundreds of thousands. I appreciate you giving me your opinion as to whether she caused the damage with a misuse of magic.”
I tucked a loosely curling lock of red hair that had escaped my French braid behind an ear, then adjusted my leather cap. The lift was old and slow. “Like I said, no problem.”
David watched the numbers counting up. “I think my boss is trying to get me fired,” he said softly. “This is the third claim this week to hit my desk that I’m not familiar with.” His grip on his briefcase shifted. “He’s waiting for me to make a mistake. Pushing for it.”
I leaned against the back mirror and smiled weakly at him. “Sorry. I know how that feels.” I had quit my old job at Inderland Security, the I.S., almost a year ago to go independent. Though it had been rough—and still was, occasionally—it was the best decision I’d ever made.