An hour after Colin threw his cell phone at the couch, where it bounced and clattered under the wall mounted TV set, someone tapped on the sliding back door. Colin wiped his face with a washcloth, still hot from the dryer.
It wasn’t Mary, who Colin hoped for, or Andreus, who Colin expected. Carmel stood naked on the other side of the glass.
“Let me get you some clothes,” Colin said when he answered the door.
“Thanks. Mind if I pour a couple drinks before we get started?”
He came back with some of his mother’s old clothes that survived his initial purge of their things- a light sweater featuring screen-printed vans and very dated lettering declaring the event name, and some soft pajama pants.
“Thanks.” Carmel handed him a glass with what looked and smelled like orange juice and bourbon. She took her time putting the clothes on.
“Mary sent you?”
She took a sip of the strong drink and nodded. “Sounds like you guys had a little tiff.”
“A little tiff?” Colin scoffed. He didn’t want to get into it with Carmel, topless in his powerless kitchen. “You could call it that. What did she send you for?”
“You can look,” Carmel said. “They’re just tits.”
“I’ve seen plenty of them,” Colin said. “They’re not the problem.”
Carmel shrugged. “Then why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like you’re trying not to stare at my tits.”
Colin looked at his drink. “I’m hoping you’ll get dressed, sit down, and tell me why she sent you.”
Carmel finally pulled the shirt over her head. “Oh, this feels nice. It’s like those vintage cotton shirts, but for real.”
“I don’t want to be rude,” Colin said slowly. “But I’m not in a great mood.”
“Do you even know what a great mood feels like?” Carmel took her drink away from the counter and past the dining room table to sit on the couch.
“I do. That’s how I know I’m not in one. Hi, how are you, nice weather we’re having, isn’t it? Can we move this along?”
“That depends.” She crossed one leg over the other and leaned back. “How much have you already had to drink?”
“And you accepted the job?”
“The Millie job.”
He blinked at her. He thought the job was just an excuse for Mary to needle him. Apparently he accepted an actual job. A contract? Is that what assassins called them? “Yeah.”
“Don’t get into a pissing contest with Mary,” Carmel said. “You won’t win, and you’ll lose yourself on the way.”
Colin gulped the rest of his drink and poured another, without the orange juice. “I’m not getting into this with you.”
“Don’t get into a pissing contest with me, either. She likes to be the boss, in control of everything. If she thinks you’re out of line, you may as well be dead to her. But you and I? We’re equals right now.”
Equals. He’d never been equals with anyone in this world. Out there with the junkies, he had equals. Even Austin wasn’t his equal. The kid still had a future to look forward to. “This is my house,” he said.
She laughed. “So do you want the details or not?”
“Sure, who does Bloody Mary want me to kill this time?”
Carmel laughed again, clearly not about to be bothered. “Name’s Millicent. She goes by Millie, Maleficent, or Tsunami sometimes. She’s destructive and impulsive, and that used to be an advantage, if you can believe that. She left us for the Balancers, but we think she’s jumped ship again to the Terraformers. Lately she’s been quiet, but we’ve heard whispers through the grapevine that she’s left them, too. We think she’s planning something big. Kurada tried to find out, but of course Millie knew what was up. We’ve heard that even some of the Terrafiers are afraid of what she might do.”
“So she hasn’t actually done anything yet?”
“She’s done plenty already. Hundreds of human lives, dozens of coverups. She’s been the cause of more than a couple flash floods, freak storms, and even a fair share of evacuations. The good thing is that her destructive abilities are usually expressed through natural disasters, so she takes a while to build up to something big. In a one on one fight, she won’t be able to use that. She might leave us a parting gift of a thousand dead humans, though. So it has to be fast.”
“So I’m supposed to find her, grab her, and kill her? No one else could do that?”
“She’s fairly paranoid, and she knows pretty much every elemental in the area. There is one place she goes for meetings and parties. We’re sure she’s going for both in a couple days. The place is called Thirteenth Floor. It’s a bar run by Balancers, but all are welcome if they follow the rules. They have these glass rooms they call playgrounds for the different elements. Humans are not allowed in.”
Colin poured them both another drink. “So how do you get in?”
“They ask for identification and you have to demonstrate your ability. So I’m thinking you’ll have to wait until she comes out, and follow her. Try to get her alone.”
“Why can’t I go in?”
“It would attract a little too much attention if you started shooting sparks around.”
“No, I can, I’ll show you.” He reached into his pocket, a little clumsily, and sparked a piece of flash paper. It burned up in his palm and he crushed the little bit of ash left behind.
“Don’t tell me you can manipulate fire, too.” She stared at him intensely.
“No, it’s a magician’s trick.”
“You’re a magician?” Delight and excitement covered her face.
He was almost sorry to disappoint her. “No, I only know the one trick. It was Zep’s idea.”
“Damn, that girl had some crazy creative ideas.” Carmel’s smile faded to a faint hint of happy memories. “Did you know her birth name was Heather?”
Colin blinked. “Really?”
“You didn’t think she just happened to be name Zephyra, did you? A lot of us change our names. I did. It’s a way of connecting with our elements, or disconnecting from our human pasts. Some elementals just adopt kind of a stage name that they use during elemental dealings but not in human life.”
“What’s your real name?” Colin asked.
“My real name is Carmel. My birth name belonged to someone else.”
“Did Phoenix change his name?”
“Obviously,” Carmel said. “Andreaus, Isaac, Katrina, and Kurada if those weren’t obvious.”
Colin shook his head. “None of those are obvious.”
“Andreus and Kurada are rivers.”
“Katrina and Isaac were both hurricanes,” Colin said. “I never would have picked up on that. Should I pick a new name? What would I even call myself?”
Carmel smiled. “Captain Amperage?”
She shrugged. “You don’t have to change your name. A lot of elementals don’t. Mary didn’t.”
Carmel smiled. “It was her great-aunt’s name. She’s very proud of it.”
“What happens if I don’t go through with it?”
“We think we’ve got a little over a week to get her before she does whatever she’s planning. Ideally, we’d find out what she’s planning and stop it. We don’t take killing lightly. I don’t, anyway.” She looked at her empty glass until Colin refilled it.
“Are you okay?”
She forced a weak smile. “I will be.”
“Anything I can do?”
“Kill this bitch,” she said quietly. “And I could use a hug.”
Colin opened his arms and he didn’t even make it off the couch before she was in them, holding him tightly.
She sniffed. “Have you been working out or what?”
He smiled and sat back. She sat beside him and tucked her legs up with her head on his chest. He smiled and looked down at the top of her shaggy brown hair. Up close like this, she smelled like lemon and roses, sweet and warm.
She sniffled again. “I’m still into women.”
He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tried to lighten the mood. “Who are you trying convince?”
She gave a little laugh. “I’m sorry for crying on your shirt.”
“I’ve got a washing machine, cry away.” He used his other hand to smooth her hair, and she gave a little moan of pleasure. His body responded, but he didn’t feel that extra sparkle he got when his element reacted to his mood. He smiled and petted her and waited for her to finish crying. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Not at all,” she muttered into his chest.
“Do you want to stay for dinner?”
She nodded. “I want to stay right here for as long as I can.”
“Go ahead.” He didn’t have anything to cook, but he could order something if he could get to his cell phone.
A few minutes later, his stomach growled. Carmel giggled and released him. She washed her face while he ordered the food.
They stayed up late watching TV once the power came back on, and eating, and joking. She slept in Colin’s old bedroom and he went to sleep thankful for his friends. The feeling lasted a moment before he remembered that Mary was trying to take it away and he was supposed to murder some old lady named Millicent.