“Navigation,” Jessie told the car. Its GPS popped back on, “History,” the system pulled up a listing of the places she’d driven. “Destination 1, navigate.” The map popped up.
“You have reached your destination.”
Jessie sighed and looked around her. She’d been getting more worried for the past half hour as she made her way to the address she’d been given for the business she was to infiltrate. For one thing, it was out in that odd part of town by the maglev depot. Every city she’d ever lived in had the same sort of area somewhere in it near the city’s transportation hub. A section of town with laser straight streets in a slight state of disrepair, dominated by businesses with meaningless names, no landscaping or signage, and parking lots only large enough for a handful of employees. She’d always wondered what they did in those buildings and always thought it could be basically anything and no one would ever notice. Jessie knew it was a little irrational, but driving there, it had occurred to her that this would be the last place anyone would look for the mafia.
The building her old car assured her was the location of her target was worse than most. Had it not been in good repair, she would have assumed it was abandoned. Even the parking lot seemed somehow impersonal and forlorn. She seriously debated telling the car to turn around and take her away. But, she couldn’t afford that – literally.
She sat in the car for a moment thinking. Suppose she walked in there and there was a giant pile of money setting next to bales of drugs. What should she do then? She’d assumed the business she’d be spying on was fairly mundane. For the first time, she realized that didn’t make a lot of sense. More probably, someone was up to something illegal in there and Dwennon, who was also up to illegal things, wanted a report to see if their illegal activities would conflict with his illegal activities. Was she willing to spy on criminals to get out from under her debt? Could she back out now even if she wanted to?
She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel of her car. What she could probably do was blow it. Try to get a job, but try badly and fail. Then she could go back to Dwennon and say “sorry, man, I tried.” She didn’t know where she’d get cash then, but there were a lot of options that beat spying on a gang.
She took a deep breath, and shut the car door, but paused before walking back over to the building. She was spending too much time giving herself pep talks in the car lately. Perhaps, she thought, this would be the last one for a while. Then she walked up to the door of the small shop.
Her first impression of the store was that it was a lot nicer inside than outside. Her second impression was that it seemed like it had been decorated by someone with a lot more money than taste. It was filled with expensive furniture, big heavy pieces with lots of leather and wood in their construction. They dominated most of the room, and what they didn’t fill was taken up by a small mountain of a reception desk against the wall. It looked like it belonged in a Vegas casino, or at least it looked like the center section of such a thing.
Was this how gangsters would decorate?
Maybe. It seemed reasonable that they would spend a lot of money to no really good end. But she imagined the spending would be flashier. This was more like someone who’d never really spent any time thinking about decorating had tried to furnish a high-end law firm.
Then she realized the room wasn’t empty. There was a man standing by the reception desk. Jessie blushed and she was light enough that she turned a nice shade of pink when she blushed, so that only made her more embarrassed.
The man didn’t really fit the room. He was short, though not significantly so, and perhaps a little too thin and pale. His nose and chin were just a bit too sharp to be classically handsome. Perhaps he could have pulled off “rakish” if he was dressed a little better. As it was he looked like a guy with a sharp nose and chin standing in a room better suited to bull-chested men smoking cigars. She realized she recognized him. It was the mage from the Treehouse about two weeks ago.
For a long moment they both stood there awkwardly. Jessie looked pink. The mage, Kyle had been his name, looked confused.
“Hello?” He said at some length making the word into a question.
“Hello”, she answered. She was fairly sure he didn’t recognize her. Not that it would have changed much if he did. He didn’t look like a mobster, she thought. Actually, he looked as little like a mobster as it was possible to look. She could picture him pirating software, but if looks were any guide that would be about the limit of his crimes. On the other hand, she suddenly felt bad about spying on him. She knew him, which made it worse. Of course, she reasoned, she barely knew him and it wasn’t like someone else wouldn’t be sent to spy on him. So in that sense maybe it wasn’t that bad.
Oh who was she kidding? It was shady. She might as well admit it, she was doing something shady because she was going to get hurt if she didn’t. She might as well own that. While she was being honest she decided she’d better acknowledge there was no reason he couldn’t be a criminal just because he looked like a nerd. If looks were any guide to criminality then the cops would all be out of a job. She’d have to keep her eyes open for huge stashes of guns and money.
But she also had to proceed. “Is this Illusion Consulting LLC? If it is, I’m looking for a job.”
* * *
Kyle looked at the woman in confusion. He understood what she was saying, of course, it just didn’t make much sense. Why would she walk into a store that didn’t even have its sign up in this part of town and asked for a job? She also looked oddly familiar though he couldn’t begin to figure out where he’d met her before. At length he decided to talk to her. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do with his time. Perhaps it would be good to get his mind off of things. Maybe she could even help him somehow.
“This is Illusion Consulting, and I’m the right person to talk to about a job. Come on back to my office. ”
He led her back down the hallway wondering if she noticed any of the small holes in his illusion. Their footsteps echoed more loudly then they should have if there’d actually been as many things around as it seemed like there were. The carpet didn’t feel as thick underfoot as it looked.
When they got to his office he gestured her into a chair then took the other visitor chair opposite it. The position was uncomfortable, and he wished he had a better option, but none of the building’s rooms were set up for conferences, and if he set behind his desk that would come off as combative.
“So, uh, what job were you hoping to apply for? Wait, no don’t answer that first. My name’s Kyle, what’s yours?” He stuck out his hand.
The woman smiled brightly and extended her hand as well. “Jessie, and I’m not picky. It’s a tough market out there. ”
The name Jessie sounded as familiar as the woman’s face looked, but Kyle couldn’t quite place it either. The last couple of weeks had been insane and he’d never been that great at placing people. It was, perhaps, one of the reasons he’d gone into magic instead of something more people oriented. “I suppose I have the most use for a receptionist and general assistant. That’s one job, not two. We’re still a small firm, and everyone will probably have to wear several hats for a while. ”
She grinned again. “I like hats. I have considerable experience in customer facing roles.”
“Oh, perhaps you can tell me about that?”
The woman handled the leading question gamely and then several similar ones after that. Kyle realized, uncomfortably, that she was a lot better at interviewing then he was at interviewing people. She seemed forward and honest. She told him, for example, that she hadn’t finished school but while she’d been in it she’d been studying advertising. He’d then posed some questions intended to feel out what she’d do in his situation. She’d pointed out, reasonably enough, that he needed to advertise, needed to manage a fairly large set of cold calls, and most of all needed to take his product to the general public. It had been with that last answer that he’d gone from leaning against hiring her to leaning toward it.
For the past two weeks he’d been thinking about selling his spell to other businesses. That sort of magical marketing was what he knew and it was the most common model in the industry due to the expense of spells in general. But she’d pointed out that his spell, or rather the spell he’d made up to discuss the whole thing in the form of a hypothetical, wasn’t like others. His illusions would be so cheap individuals and small businesses could buy them directly. The idea of acting more like an advertising firm than a magical firm got around a lot of his problems.
The interview went a while longer, but the woman impressed him. He eventually relaxed enough to ask the one question that had really been bugging him. “Do you remember any time we might have met?”
She nodded. “It took me just a bit to place it, but two weeks ago at the Treehouse. You set our table on fire.”
“Oh,” he answered embarrassed. He’d set the table on fire and she’d inspired the very spell he hoped to make his fortune off of. That sort of clinched it. He had to hire her. He was either going to make it big, and she’d deserve at least a little payback for his success, or he was going to fail and one minimum wage salary wouldn’t make that much difference. He’d already worked out that with his savings he could stay in business for about 8 months before he had to sell out to Thomas Illusions. With her on the team that might only be 6 months, but it didn’t make much difference. If he couldn’t make it in 6 months alone 2 more months wouldn’t mean much. On the other hand, if he couldn’t make it alone having someone with a little more business experience around might make a very big difference.
He extended his hand to Jessie again, “So we’ll make this official when I can get a contract drawn up, but welcome to the team. Um, if you still want on the team that is.”