Warning: This chapter contains adult language and humour. If dirty words offend, please read no further.
Again, this is a first draft, so expect errors. Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!
When he woke the following afternoon, Stirling started called contractors, only to find that even if they happened to be answering calls, nobody was available to rebuild his workshop until the New Year. It wasn’t surprising, just disappointing. The blue tarp he’d managed to fasten to the roof of his workshop wasn’t going to last long in the wind and rain of a west coast winter.
As he fed Magnon, he thought on what the faux Constable Queen had told him the night before. It wasn’t that he doubted her sincerity, that had been obvious. It was whether he could make himself take her advice. His long search had finally shown results, and the first thing that happened was that he was asked to stop.
Did Oppenheimer give up? Did Marie Curie give up? So what if he’d invented the Bomb, and it would be the another fifteen hundred years before anyone could safely handle her radioactive research papers. They’d been go-getters. Sure, some of their outcomes weren’t ideal, but you couldn’t fault their tenacity.
It was probably too late to back out at this point anyway. Another decoy had gone dark during the night, and he had the feeling it wouldn’t be long before he’d meet his secret admirers. If nothing else, the fifty thousand dollar shot he’d sent across their bow would hopefully generate some interest. He’d already updated their invoice to include a forty-nine thousand, five hundred dollar service fee for burning down his workshop. He’d added that in the “consumables” column. He was curious to see what the credit card company would say when they came across that little detail.
His phone jittered across the kitchen table playing the chorus of Aqua’s Barbie Girl while an unflattering picture of Rebbecca appeared on the screen.
“Haig Pest Control,” he said into the phone, “busting fleas knees since two thousand twelve, Stirling speaking.”
Rebbecca sighed on the other end of the line. “Afternoon Stirling,” she said.
“Hey, it’s my employee of the month! How’s it going?”
“Those people from the fake warehouse job yesterday want to talk.”
“Yeah, some chick that sounds like Mary Poppins has a massive ladyboner to get in touch with you.”
“Mary Poppins with a ladyboner? It’s like you’re reading directly from my browser history.”
“Before you get too caught up in an all-afternoon session of English Nanny porn, she wants you guys to meet.”
“She says she’ll be at Grey’s on Lougheed at five, and that we can keep the fifty thousand if you meet with her!”
“Isn’t she just an eager little beaver.”
“I know, right? Who would pay fifty thousand dollars to meet with you?”
“Maybe she Googled me and just couldn’t help herself.”
“Only in your dreams creep. She also told me to tell you that she has your notebooks, whatever that means. My work here is done. I’m charging you my minimum plus double time for this.”
“You got it, hey since you’re on the clock, check the email and order more of those Dr Evil rubber gloves. Thanks, Bex,” he said and quickly hung up.
An hour and a half later, Stirling walked into Grey’s; a moderately upscale eatery a couple blocks south of Hastings known for its goldfish bowl-sized margaritas and the young women that such drinks tended to attract.
He glanced around, unzipping his jacket and loosening his scarf. The place was fully decked out in shiny Christmas decorations and it was hopping. Nearly all the tables were full, and it looked like a company Christmas party was just hitting its stride in the far corner. With all the noise, Stirling wondered how he would be expected to conduct a clandestine supernatural meeting without shouting.
Stirling felt a familiar tightness behind his eyes and made a second survey of the restaurant. He hadn’t noticed them at first, but there were a number of ghosts clustered around the party table. Ghosts didn’t cluster, and they were almost never found in newer buildings. Grey’s had only moved into the complex five years ago, and ghosts usually faded out when their haunt was destroyed or changed too much. A minor renovation was usually enough to clear out all but the most stubborn spooks. These ones shouldn’t be here.
He was interrupted from his thoughts when a smiling waitress standing behind the front server station asked, “Stirling Haig?” When he nodded, she led him to a long rectangular room with a matching long rectangular table made of dark wood in the back of the restaurant.
The room could have easily seated twenty with elbow room leftover. A gas fireplace on one wall gave the room a welcome feeling, while the Christmas decorations and instrumental Christmas music piped in set a festive mood.
A petite woman sitting at the table rose as he entered. She barely came up to his chin and wore the unremarkable camouflage of a business casual skirt suit. Her smiling face, framed by long blond hair, looked like all the fat had been boiled off of it. It was the smile that caught Stirling’s attention the most though, hers was the unconvincing smile of a porn starlet flung into a Shakespearian drama and suddenly expected to deliver something more sophisticated than, “harder!!” or “do me, baby!!”
She held out her hand, “Welcome, Stirling.” She had a high-pitched, almost girlish voice with a BBC announcer’s clipped English accent. “I am Madame Rag.”
Stirling felt a mild pang of sympathy. His own high school experiences were scarring enough, having a name like “Rag” would absolutely guarantee this woman a spot in the Our Lady of Headgear Resthome for the Terminally Uncool.
He took her hand and shook. “Are you the fortune teller type of madame, or more like the Heidi Fleiss humpy kind?” he asked, making rocking motions with his hips for effect. The waitress made a choking noise and dropped off a pair of menus before beating a hasty retreat.
“Neither, Mr Haig, it’s the one where a title is given to someone of worth and distinction.”
Rag had a strong grip, and as they shook, Stirling caught a whiff of something that brought back sense memories of dissecting cow eyeballs in his grade eight science class. A phantom of formaldehyde, the slightest top-note of decay, with just a ghost of Isopropyl alcohol.
Madame Rag sat herself while Stirling hung his jacket on the back of his chair. His cell phone buzzed faintly in his pocket, he ignored it.
“I’d like first to apologize. We sent one of our people to your home yesterday with an invitation to meet, and it seems he may have inadvertently caused some property damage. We will, of course, reimburse you for any costs.”
“Already on it,” said Stirling, grinning. “What I’d really like is for you to return the things that were stolen from my workshop.”
"Saved, actually,” she demurred. “When the blaze began, our man removed what he could to save it from the flames.”
“So, let me see if I understand this. One of your guys came to my house, accidentally ripped off my workshop door, mistakenly burned down my workshop, then unintentionally took my shit without even leaving a note? Is that what about the size of it?”
“It was a most unfortunate series of events. We only wished to contact you to make you an offer. You see, until recently we were unaware of your abilities.”
“I noticed,” he said. “It’s nice to be appreciated, but you guys seem to be going a bit overboard with the ducks. What is that, five now?”
Rag didn’t even try and look confused. “We recognize talent when it’s brought to our attention, and you are a most remarkable young man. My employer is interested in giving you the tools to become even more formidable.”
“I get by just fine with my formidable tool just the way it is, thanks,” he waggled his eyebrows at her Groucho Marx style. Madame Rag leaned back with a look like she’d just smelled something unpleasant, which was exactly the point. “But listen, I’ve got a dilemma here,” Stirling continued, “as much as I’d like to sign on with you, I really don’t like the way you people do business. Breaking and entering, arson, and theft, while oftentimes fun, aren’t the best ways to make a great first impression. Your job right now is to convince me that you aren’t the frothing douche jockeys that you’ve actions are screaming that you are.”
Rag’s smile stayed in place, but Stirling could see some serious definition in her jaw muscles. She was clearly falling for his boyish charms. The waitress arrived and took their drink order, momentarily breaking the tension.
Rag looked at him intently, still smiling. “We know you have been looking for people like us for a long time. We can teach you things beyond anything you have been able to imagine. That you have managed to train yourself even the tiniest bit of magic is impressive, but we are part of a culture that has been studying and working with magic for thousands of years. We are the gatekeepers to knowledge and power. Regardless of what you believe we may have done, are you willing to throw away your one chance to learn, to be more than you currently are?”
Stirling didn’t have much to say to that. She was absolutely right, even with what they had done, could he afford to let this opportunity go? They might be his only chance to get full control of his magic and lead a normal life. Her hard eyes searched his. “I’ll let you consider that. If you’ll excuse me, I need to powder my nose.” She rose and left the room.
Self respect and integrity were important, but in Sterling’s experience, pragmatism also had its place. He pondered this as he reached for his phone to see who called. As his hand closed on his phone, it buzzed again, it was Rebbecca.”
“Haig Pest control,” he said, “You got the rats, we got the bats, Stirling speaking.”
“Where are you?” Came Rebbecca’s worried voice.
“Just kicking back here at Greys.”
“And what about Marry Poppins?”
“She went off to powder her ass, why what’s going on”
“You know how you sent out that group email to your duck mailing list?”
“Well, I was checking your email, like you asked, and the cops replied! One of your customers from somewhere down in Asscrack Arkansas was robbed and murdered, the only thing that the murderer took was one of those stupid ducks you make! The police want to talk to you about it.”
“Holy shit, William?!”
“Yeah, that was the name of the dead guy! What the hell is going on with your ducks?”
“I have no goddamn clue.”
“Do you want me to call the police? Marry Poppins might be packing more than an umbrella, if you know what I mean.”
“I hope you don’t mean what I think you mean, because I’ll not have you casting shade on our transgender friends. They have a hard enough time as it is.”
There was a beat of silence on the phone while Rebbecca presumably tried to figure out what he’d implied. “I’m talking about a gun! A gun, you epic fuckwit!”
“Oh, well, that’s alright then. Don’t worry about it, I’ve got things under control here, besides, it’s Canada, we’re too polite for guns. If we need to fuck someone up, we’ll just produce another Celine Dion or Justin Bieber. The best part is, they don’t even know they’ve being fucked with.”
“Well, be careful, alright? You’re weird and a jerk, but deep down you’re a decent guy, I’d hate to have to start looking for a new job around Christmas.”
“Aww, thanks Rebs, that means a lot.”
“Don’t call me…!”
Stirling hung up and the server arrived with their drinks, a gin and tonic for Madame Rag and a goldfish bowl of neon-green margarita for him. He swirled the limy alcoholic slush around with a straw. It was the sound, he decided, of the plot thickening.