Jessie didn’t know why she’d been called in to the club on a Wednesday afternoon. She didn’t work Wednesdays. No one did; the club did most of its business on Friday, and Saturday. It was open Sunday for people who wanted to be hung over on Monday. The administrative and cleaning staff worked a few hours during the week, and it could be reserved for special events. This week nothing was scheduled, and there hadn’t been any explanation in the voice mail Jessie had gotten that morning.
When she arrived at Prime Meridian, the club was empty. That killed the hope that maybe the sort of “special event” was being held that didn’t make it on to the club’s formal calendar. It also lit a small flame of worry in Jessie’s stomach. The empty club looked a little rough. The half-life of a “hot nightspot” wasn’t very long, so club management didn’t put much money into upkeep. When the threadbare carpet, the worn furniture, and generally scuffed furnishings began to show through the perpetual darkness of business hours, the owners would sell out to some other group and let them fix all the problems at once with a complete remodel. A few of the older members of the staff remembered the clubs previous incarnations.
Jessie threaded her way though the public section of the club, and into the back hallway that served as the clubs business wing. At the end of that, she found her manager’s office and knocked hesitantly on the closed door.
“Come in,” a voice spoke from behind it. The voice wasn’t loud, but it penetrated the door with ease and it made Jessie wince because it wasn’t her manager speaking. It was Dwennon. Dwennon was part owner of the club, and as such, he was Jessie’s boss’s boss’s boss. More to the point, he saw himself as part owner of Jessie because he was a principal in the organization that had secured her mother’s last ditch treatment and offered up a loan to pay for it.
She straightened her back, took a deep enough breath that her chest cracked slightly, and then opened the door with as much poise as she could manage. “Hello, sir,” she greeted the man behind the desk.
Dwennon was a ‘man’ in terms of gender, and in the broad sense of ‘homosapien’, but not perhaps in the sense of ‘ordinary man.’ Dwennon was Ylfe or if you preferred the modern word Elven. Jessie adamantly rejected the modern word. It made her think of storybook creatures, tall, beautiful, graceful, androgynous, filled with magic, and benevolence. Dwennon was tall, and graceful. But, with a hawk like nose and broad shoulders he was handsome and imposing rather than beautiful or androgynous.
He certainly wasn’t benevolent. At first, Jessie had thought him cold and violent. Now she realized that wasn’t true. Oh, it was a good summary for someone who only had to deal with him occasionally, but the real truth was that he was the product of a much earlier age. When Dwennon entered the world it was violent, society was stratified into classes, and things now considered “universal rights” were restricted to a few individuals or even totally unheard of. He thought in a way Jessie didn’t completely understand, but it wasn’t coldness that allowed him to plan or even commit violence while maintaining polite composure. Rather, he seemed to think of violence as a fact of life and the responsibility of any high-born man. It had nothing to do with manners, and being polite was also the responsibility of the high-born. She thought that Dwennon felt you might need to kill someone, but you never needed to insult them. Of course, she had formed that impression while staying as far from Dwennon’s orbit as possible. It might have been completely flawed.
He stood when she entered the room. “Jessie, as always, it’s a pleasure to see you. Please, have a seat,” he gestured at one of the chairs and then waited until she had seated herself to take his seat again.
She perched on the edge of the seat, trying not to fidget, and hoped he’d tell her why she was there, but resisted the temptation to say anything. Dwennon was in charge of any conversation he had with his inferiors. Fortunately, he didn’t waste time. “I was sorry to hear you lost your job.”
Jessie couldn’t quite suppress a wince. How did he know? “It was, unfortunate. I’m confident I’ll be able to find something better. It was just a part-time sales job, after all.”
“You are talented and lovely. You’ve also always been responsible- good about paying off your debt.”
“I’m not going to miss any payments. I’ve got savings.” That wasn’t exactly a lie. Jessie had exactly enough savings for one month’s payment on her debt, if she skipped paying rent.
“Of course, and your work here pays the interest.” He smiled, though Jessie had no idea why. Perhaps he was thinking happy thoughts about the arraignment that kept her working at the club almost for free, or perhaps in his mind they were having an amicable conversation. “Here is a statement of your account.” He slid a paper across the table to her. It had a large number at the top, a list of regular payments, and almost as large a number at the bottom. Jessie didn’t have to do any math to know she’d be paying for another decade at her current rate.
“Still, times are hard, and you’ve been having a hard time finding work. I have a vassal who observes potentially troublesome accounts and manages collections.”
Was the Enchanted working for Dwennon, Jessie wondered. It was more than possible. She had done a bit of research when she’d learned his nature. Ylfe were a form of enchanted. They’d been created by some spell during Roman times. Its original form lost now, but it had lodged in their DNA. Anything that could convey information could trigger a spell. Their nature was why they were so comfortable working magic on humans, why they’d been willing to try to cure her mother. It also meant their servants were frequently touched by magic. “I’ve been looking hard. I’m sure I’ll find something.”
“As am I. In fact, I have an opportunity for you. Someone to whom I owe a favor owes a favor to a party concerned with happenings in the area. You may be able to help me discharge my favor if you can gather some information.”
Jessie tried to parse that relationship and failed. The ēse had their own language, or at least their own kant made up of fragments of long dead languages and words to which they’d given their own meaning. One of the few words known by outsiders meant “one to whom I owe a favor.” It was a specific relationship, like brother, or enemy, or friend. There were only a few ēse in the world at any given time, something about the power required by their spell, and a debt that stretched for centuries in such a small community could be a very close relationship indeed.
Jessie realized Dwennon had stopped talking while she’d been thinking. Apparently, he wanted some response to what had sounded like a simple declarative sentence to her. That was another problem with his great age; sometimes it felt like they were speaking different languages even though his English was impeccable. “That sounds like a marvelous opportunity, sir.”
“I’m glad you feel that way.” He slid a second paper across his desk to her. “This is the address of a new business in town, very new. If you can get some job with the company, and supply me with information on their finances, and accounts, I will count it as your monthly payment. Of course, you’ll also keep whatever they pay you.”
“That does sound good!”
Dwennon smiled, and for the first time in their relationship she felt like smiling along with him, “Good! Now, you have no obligation to do this. Your debt is as it stands. I don’t know if it will even be possible, but if you can manage it, I feel we all benefit.”
Jessie nodded. The job wasn’t on the level. It was industrial espionage, she supposed, but just now the deal felt like a lifeline. How much trouble could a little accounting data cause for anyone, anyway?