“That was quick,” said Emmanuel in a stilted Haitian accent as Gabby climbed into the Uber that had idled at the curb across from the Romanian consulate on the Lower East side of Manhattan. He flashed her a bright smile in the rearview mirror. He had a handsome and expressive face, skin the color of midnight, and laughed easily.
She couldn’t help think that his smile could light up half the East Side. “I told you I wouldn’t take long,” said Gabby. “Thank you for waiting.”
“For the tip you promised, it wouldn’t have mattered how long you took. It would still be more than I make in a single day,” said Emmanuel. “Where to next?”
“I have a meeting at Wall and Pearl at one,” said Gabby. “I can never gauge how long it will take to get there. Are we okay, time-wise?”
“Yes,” he answered as he pulled back out into traffic. “You ever see the famous Wall Street Bull before? I can circle that way if you haven’t.”
“Yes. I went to school here,” she told him. She didn’t know why she did. She was always so careful to cover her tracks, but he had been such a nice guy about driving her every place she asked.
“Okay. Business traveler route, it is,” he said and then chuckled.
She watched the Coven House as it slid from her view. “After that, it would be straight on to JFK for a flight at five. If I am done by two, is that doable?” she asked as she typed, “Lester, the molester is no more,” into her phone and hit send.
“Yeah. There are a couple of ways we can go to get there on time,” said Emmanuel.
“Now you know why I did my shopping early this morning,” she said and then chuckled. “I knew I wouldn’t have time this afternoon.” She watched the buildings slide by her window.
Her phone dinged a response a couple of minutes later. She scanned the message and sighed. “You mean Skinner, right?” the message from her handler said.
“Yes,” Gabby typed, shaking her head in frustration. How many people did her handler think she was here to clean up?
“Consider it a public service so he cannot violate anymore children, witchling or not,” her handler typed back.
“He will never hurt another child again,” Gabby typed back. She doubted destroying his soul would count as a charitable act, even if he was a child predator.
“Thank you for taking this little job since you were there. By the way, there has been no noise about the cleanup in either Kenosha or Racine,” her handler typed back.
“I am pushing hard against the Three-Fold Rule on this trip,” Gabby typed. Every witch feared the retribution of three times whatever they had done. The more she did, the more she had to work off.
“You are doing good for all of us. It will offset what you must do,” her handler typed back.
If only Gabby believed that. What she really worried about was how much penance she would have to do for this trip. They knew she hated having so many jobs so close together. She had just finished her third and was on her way to her fourth. Two in a row was hard enough to work off the karma to prevent the dire consequences of her actions. She did not know how she would protect herself from the karmic blowback after this many.
“You have a long fight home?” asked Emmanuel.
“Yes. I have been a road warrior for days. I am looking forward to getting home,” she said. She hadn’t told him she had taken the red-eye from San Francisco to Milwaukee the night before last, paid a visit to the boys responsible for the destruction of the coven, and then to the construction company who had shifted the money around to pay for the hit before driving to Chicago to catch the flight to New York last night. She had showered and changed in the flight lounge when she arrived in the wee hours of the morning. Membership had privileges, after all. She had ordered the ride share from the lounge as she drank a triple expresso to keep her eyes open. It was good luck that she had gotten Emmanuel. She had only had a couple of catnaps in the last two days. She just needed to keep moving, so she did not fall over. If he had been the typical brash and nasty New York cab driver, her control would have snapped from a lack of sleep. She took a sip of her grande soy latte. The caffeine only had to hold her until she was sitting in First Class and on her way back to San Francisco.
* * *
Gabby straightened her black suit before swinging the strap of her leather briefcase over her right shoulder. She turned and smiled at Emmanuel. “You are okay waiting, right?” she asked.
“Absolutely. I will sit here as long as I can and then I will circle the block until you come out,” said Emmanuel.
“Thanks,” she said. Gabby closed the door before turning back to the building. She blew out a breath before walking towards the lobby. As she crossed the threshold, she waved her index finger subtly as she walked, making all the cameras short out at the same time. She smiled at the security person standing at the desk, who greeted her with a warm smile. The other guard was fussing with the monitor.
She handed the smiling guard her bespelled Texas ID.
“Miss Jimenez?” the guard asked, looking at her face and at the ID card. Gabby knew the ID card was blank. He saw the short, hefty woman with red hair in her mid-fifties she wanted him to see and not the lithe young Hispanic woman in her twenties that was standing in front of him.
“Yes,” she said. “I have a one o’clock appointment with Mr. Waltham at Vaux Investments.”
“Let me call upstairs,” said the very polite young man. A few minutes later, he hung up the phone and said, “Let me make you a visitor’s badge.”
She nodded while she waited. She chuckled internally. He would have a hard time explaining why he scanned a blank ID if they ever asked him.
“Twentieth floor, Ms. Jimenez,” said the guard as he handed her the visitor’s badge and her fake ID.
“Thank you,” she said as she smiled at him. She knew the spell she had thrown at him would completely erase his memory of her in another five minutes. Even though he saw the illusion she had made, she took no chances.
Gabby walked through the rest of the marble and chrome lobby to the bank of elevators for Floors 18-35. She didn’t have to wait long. She stepped into the elevator as she waved her finger again. “They are sure having a bad camera day,” she chuckled to herself. A flick of her finger and the needed button lit up. A few moments later, the doors opened to a stylish reception area.
A young blonde sat at the desk and smiled at her as she said, “How can I help you?”
“Hi. I am Salina Jimenez. I have a one o’clock with Mr. Waltham,” Gabby said, smiling sweetly.
“Of course, Ms. Jimenez,” she said as she picked up her phone to notify her boss that his interview was there. Gabby knew that she saw a thirty-something thin black woman with glowing cocoa skin, blue eyes, and close-shorn hair. “Let me take you back,” the receptionist said as she came back around her desk. “Oh, I love your shoes!” she gushed, noticing the distinctive Christian Louboutin pumps.
“Thank you,” answered Gabby. “They are my favorite.” Shoes were her one vice. “Just had to wear my lucky shoes today.”
“Hopefully they will help,” the receptionist said.
* * *
She finally saw the end of the trail she had been chasing for the last two weeks sitting behind the big statement desk sitting in front of floor to ceiling windows. The view of the Manhattan high-rises was amazing behind him. She thought the older man with gray hair and a thick gray mustache looked like everyone’s grandfather. Almost like a benevolent John Bolton. She gave him a warm smile to disarm him.
“Ms. Jimenez, how good of you to come,” he said as he stood up and shook her hand. “Please have a seat and we can discuss the project.” He motioned to the guest chair in front of his desk.
“Sure,” Gabby said as she sat down, crossing her legs demurely. She pulled a stack of design pages out of her briefcase and set them in front of her. She flicked her finger to set the spell to lock the room.
“I am glad you could come here. I hate that long flight,” Mr. Waltham said.
“No worries. I was here for another meeting,” she said, smiling. “I put together three different web layouts for you based on our conversation. I printed the wireframes since you told me you are not much for PowerPoint displays.”
“Excellent,” he said. He held his hands out for the design stack. Gabby handed them to him and watched as his face fell. “I don’t understand. Is this a joke?” he asked, looking up at her as he shook the blank pages.
“No. It’s not a joke. A joke would be funny,” she said as she flicked a finger in his direction, freezing him instantly.
She watched as he struggled against invisible bonds, his growing panic showed clearly on his face. When he was finally anxious enough to know she meant business, she said, “Getting dragged clear across the country for your bullshit is not a joke either. Now, I am going to ask you a few questions. If you give me the answers I need, I will make this painless. If you refuse to answer or lie to me, I will make it as painful as possible. Understand?”
He mumbled, finally realizing his lips had been frozen along with his body. His eyes widened as he hyperventilated.
“Calm down. Being frozen is not hurting you,” she chastised, rolling her eyes. “Now, who had you send that money?”
She frowned at his muffled response. She was pretty sure he just told her to have carnal relations with herself and not in a nice way. “That was not a very grandfatherly thing to say,” she said as she flung out her power hand at him. His body stiffened as the electricity arced throughout his body. She made sure every nerve cell screamed. She waved a finger, and she cut his muffled scream off. She waited for him to recover. “Let’s try this again. Who had you send the money to the wolves?”
He sputtered, “wolves?” through his sealed lips as his eyes widened. His eyes spun around the room, looking for help.
“No one is going to help you,” she said with a growl in her voice. “Yes. wolves. Wolf-shifters, to be exact. I want to know who told you to pay them for the attack on the coven in Madison, Wisconsin. Twenty-three witches were torn to shreds. Now, who had you send the money?”
“I didn’t know. I didn’t know,” he sobbed through clenched lips.
“We both know that is not true. Who had you send the money?” she asked again.
“No. I can’t,” he said in a muffled voice. She was pretty sure he mumbled he would be a dead man if he talked. It was hard to tell through the blubbering.
“Really? I would think you would be more worried about me right now,” Gabby said.