Playing with Fire: A Magical Romantic Comedy (with a body count)(3)

“Credit,” he barked, slapping his card on the counter.

I ran his card, handed him the payment terminal, and went to make his coffee. Anyone else who worked in the store had to wear a mask and gloves when handling the vials containing the most potent of the pixie dusts, and I was the only employee certified to handle the best of the best.

Not even my boss could.

Sometimes, immunity was as much of a curse as it was a blessing. Why couldn’t I drink my cares away like everyone else? Even the time Mary had shattered an entire vial of A++ dust, I hadn’t felt a damned thing while she and the rest of my co-workers spent the following six hours giggling over everything, unable to handle even the simplest of tasks without dissolving into a laughing fit.

I checked to confirm the transaction had been approved before measuring out the dust and adding it to his coffee. I offered it to him, my smile still fixed in place. “Have a great day, sir.”

“I better, seeing how much this garbage cost.”

I already missed the centaurs and the cops. A glance at the clock informed me I had survived through three hours with no sign of Mary. When she got back, we’d have words, and unless she had a damned good reason for abandoning me so she could take a ride with Chief Quinn on the worst Monday morning shift I’d ever seen, I knew exactly which two words I’d say.

My shift should have lasted six hours. The chaos ebbed to a trickle, but when the pixie sisters should have arrived, the shop remained quiet, the lull before the lunchtime storm. I considered killing the pair, who provided most of the shop’s dust and worked the midday hours. No one would miss Evita and Lea Anne in a city full of bubbly pink pixies, right?

The door bells tinkled, and instead of the tardy duo, I got Chief Quinn’s former brother-in-law. If I closed the shop really quickly and ran for the hills, would he go away? Before I could escape, Magnus McGee stepped to the counter.

Well, crap. At the rate I was going, my face was going to freeze into a permanent smile. “What can I get for you, sir?”

“Large coffee, black, no dust.”

I loved simple orders. It made maintaining a pleasant demeanor in the face of a living nightmare so much easier. I fetched his drink, and he slid a twenty across the counter. I glared at the bill and snatched it up. Why couldn’t people carry smaller bills instead of decimating the register’s change?

Better yet, I’d really appreciate it if they started using their debit and credit cards. Plastic made things nicer for everyone, especially me. I offered his change by setting it in front of him so I wouldn’t have to touch him. “Have a nice day, sir.”

McGee took his money, crammed a five into my tip jar, and stared at me. Instead of leaving like a good little customer, his eyes tracked my every move, and I contemplated turning a toothpick into a lethal weapon.

Of all the people on Earth, Magnus McGee came third on my list of those to avoid. His sister came in second.

The polite, professional me took over, and still smiling, I chirped, “Is there something else I can get for you, sir?”

How about a murder: his. I could do that. I had a spoon within easy reach. Surely I could kill someone with a spoon. I blamed my bad Monday morning shift for my inclination towards violence.

“Audrey said you can find anyone or anything. Is that true?”

Oh, God. Why me? Why was the woman I caught having sex in Central Park telling her brother about me? Who had told her I’d been the one to inform her husband—with photographs—of her deed? I really wanted to kill them, whoever they were. “No, sorry,” I lied.

“She seemed pretty convinced.”

Of course she probably believed I could find anyone or anything after I caught her cheating on one of the sexiest men alive. The mental image of Samuel Quinn’s wife and her college stud would never, ever fade. Every time I thought I could forget, someone had to remind me.

At least I could hide the truth behind the truth. “I’m a vanilla human, Mr. McGee. Sorry.”

On paper, I was as vanilla as they got, with my only recorded abnormality—or talent, as they liked to call magical abilities—being my immunity to pixie dust and a few other magical substances. Sometimes the cops called me in and paid me a cute little pittance to deal with some of the nastier substances, including gorgon vomit.

No one wanted that job, especially me, but since a gorgon’s bile didn’t turn me to stone like it did everyone else…

“That’s not what I heard. I really need your help. You’re good at finding people who don’t want to be found, right?”

That was one way to put it, but instead of voicing my agreement, I pulled out my driver’s license and showed it to him. “V for vanilla. I’m qualified to handle dangerous substances, but that’s it.” Guilt, the type born of having ruined a man’s marriage, reared its ugly head. “Tell you what. I know a few people. Give me the info, and I’ll see what they can do. No promises. I’m not what you’re looking for, but maybe one of my friends knows something.”

I was such a miserable, horrible liar. What friends? What help? I needed a life, one outside of making coffee and asking how high when the cops ordered me to jump.

McGee pulled out a slender black cell phone and handed it to me. “Everything you need to know is on here. I’ll pay seventy-five thousand if you find him, and an extra twenty-five if you do so within the next forty-eight hours. Please. I’ll call you tonight, so keep the phone on you.”

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