Luke wasn’t exactly sure what had been happening in the non-normal community. All he knew was that Gareth was turning up at his desk with more bruises than usual, Rhys had disappeared and that Surjit had very reasonably handed in her notice. Now he was faced with a smooth talking businessman who he suspected knew more than he should about practically everything and had an uneasy feeling that he was coming a serious second in negotiations.
“Are you sure that these will sell?” Luke asked sceptically. He looked down at the crazed patterns. It looked like a colourblind hippy had taken a wild trip and vomited random colours over the board.
“Trust me,” Steve said. “If you can deliver the blankets in these colourways, I’ll want 500 up front and options on another 500 by Christmas. And if you can provide a few different colourways in similar styles, I’d like to take an option on those as well.”
Luke ran a hand over his thinning hair. “I thought that the Fair Folk would like all soft colours and greens and natural shades,” he said plaintively.
“Why?” Steve said in bewilderment. “Oh, they’re not like the stories.” He thought for a moment. “Well, they’re not like the nice stories. And these days they’re very rarely like the bad stories.” Steve thought for a moment. “Especially if they’re worried about being caught. Listen, it’s a good deal, and if you keep it exclusive then I’m happy to keep the price up.”
Luke looked again at the eye-jarring colours. “I’ll keep it exclusive,” he said. It was the sort of blanket that he couldn’t even donate. He’d get blacklisted by homeless shelters.
“Try it in monochrome,” Steve said. “I don’t need to have that tied into the exclusivity clause.”
Luke frowned as he checked over the pattern. “Yes, that would work,” he said. Years of working with textiles had honed his instincts. “I can see it with scarves, sweaters and skirts,” he said. “In fact, there are a few different garments that could work. I can get some samples ready for you if you like?”
Steve looked at the discordant design. “I can’t see it myself, but I’ll take your word for it,” he said. “By the way, if you’re looking for a new receptionist, I know someone who’s looking for a job.”
Luke felt a shiver of unease. “Are they like Rhys?” he asked.
Steve grinned. “Yes, she’s a werewolf, but she’s not likely to cause any trouble. Her boyfriend’s moved to Leeds and she’s looking for a job so she can join him. She’s a sweet kid, and no trouble at all.”
“What sort of experience does she have?” Luke asked. On the one hand, this meant that he wouldn’t have to go through the tedious and nerve wracking process of posting job adverts and interviewing. On the other hand, things were weird enough. “And is she, well, safe, you know?”
“She’s fine,” Steve said. “And Kidder hasn’t been a problem, has he?”
Luke had to admit that Kidder was turning out to be one of the best employees he’d had. He kept his head down, did his work and was no trouble. He’d been talking about organising a work’s football team, but that wasn’t the worst thing he could do. “Is she a bit older?” Luke asked cautiously. “It’s just that my sales staff can be a bit rowdy and I don’t want someone who gets upset.” Surjit had told them where to go when they started messing around. She’d also included a few explicit directions for good measure.
“Jasmine is fine,” Steve said. “She can be a bit shy, but she’s devoted to her boyfriend and probably won’t notice anything.”
Luke frowned. “Her boyfriend won’t make trouble, will he?” he asked. “He’s not likely to throw his weight around?”
Steve shook his head. “He’s a minister. He may have a bit of a sharp tongue, but he’s not the jealous type.”
Luke shrugged. He couldn’t imagine a werewolf being the girlfriend of a minister, but he wasn’t going to argue. He needed a receptionist. And how much trouble could she cause? “When can she start?”
Bron paused, panting at the gate. “That was a good run,” he said.
Gareth nodded. “I’m still getting used to it,” he said, fighting to catch his breath. He started stretching out as Bron hung around in the back of his mind. “But it’s good.”
Bron observed as Gareth went through the cooling down exercises. “There is so much knowledge now,” he said. “And we’re doing much better. Besides, it’s good that we exercise. Mortimer feeds us very well and we could end up fat.”
Gareth chuckled as he stretched his hamstring. “We’re putting on muscle, not weight,” he said. He kept the stretch going but his focus shifted. “That’s a new car in the drive.”
“Keep the warm down going,” Bron said. “And keep alert.”
Gareth nodded. “It’s a fancy car,” he said, changing legs. “It must have cost a fortune when it was new.”
“That was a while ago,” Bron said as he looked at its battered condition.
“The plates say that it’s a year old,” Gareth said.
“Then either the owner is a careless driver or it’s seen some action,” Bron said. “It’s even more battered than your car. That dent in the side looks like it was hit by a boggart.”
“Well spotted,” a voice said from behind them. “That’s exactly what happened. I’m Darren King and I was told that I could stay here. I’m an exorcist.”
Bron turned slowly before starting the quad stretch. “Nice to meet you,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything. But you’re welcome of course.” He noted the hard muscles, cold eyes and assured balance of the man facing him. “There’s room for all of us.”
“You need to start checking your emails,” Darren said. “Not that would have made much difference. Lincoln aren’t good at sharing information and neither is York. I believe that there’s trouble around here. While the non-normals of Leeds are having fits, I’ve heard that the real action is around here.”
Gareth looked Darren over. He looked more like a movie star in a battered leather jacket, faded t-shirt and supermarket jeans than an exorcist. “Do you have any sort of identification?” he asked. “And just for the record – you’re not going to exorcise me.”
“That didn’t sound like a question,” Darren said, pulling a card holder from his jacket pocket and flipping it open. “I have a duty to my calling and to protect the world. If you have spirit inside you, I have to ask questions.”
“It’s okay,” Sir Philip came out from behind Darren and grinned. “I know Darren from way back. And he’s come here because he’s helping police the threat from the Orache Stone and he’s from out of town.”
“I shouldn’t be here for too long,” Darren said. “I’m being translated.” He sighed as he took in Gareth’s confused look. “I’m a minister. I have a parish. But with things going so crazy here, I’m getting moved from York to Leeds. Being translated means being moved on from a parish.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Bron muttered. “You’re still not exorcising me. And now that we’ve got that sorted out, what’s for dinner?” He strode past Darren and into the house. “Something smells good.”
Gareth stuck his head into Carli’s office. “Are you ready to leave?” he asked.
“Just a second,” Carli said, grabbing up her bag. The rain rattled against the windows and she shivered. “Are you sure that you still want to go out?”
“I have been wanting a date for weeks,” Gareth said. “And so far we’ve been interrupted every time. Besides, I’m not taking you home to the madhouse.”
“Of course, you have a new guest,” Carli said. “What’s he like?”
“Bron respects him,” Gareth said. “Kidder and Mortimer are both terrified of him, though they’re starting to relax a bit. He brought his girlfriend around last week and I think she and Kidder sort of knew each other and that helped.”
“He must be terrifying if he’s got Bron’s respect,” Carli said. “How did he manage that?”
“Bron and Darren did a little sparring – which I stayed well out of!” Gareth said. He terrified the life out of me and kept up with Bron without much trouble.”
“That’s scary,” Carli said. She looked at the rain scything down in the car park. “We could get a takeaway and go to my place.”
Gareth felt temptation wash over him but fought it back. “No, I’m determined that for once we are going to go somewhere nice,” he said. “It’s about time I treated you to a meal.” He grinned down at Carli. “But we can still go to your place afterwards.”
She smiled back. “It’s a deal,” she said. “Come on.”
Talk turned to work matters as they walked down the stairs together. “The monochrome sounds like it could work,” Gareth said. “And I can think of a few places we could advertise, especially some of the more obscure websites.”
“You could just pass on the details to the sales team,” Carli said. “They’d appreciate the challenge. The trouble is that the monochrome isn’t straightforward from my side. It’s not just like adding black or white to a shade to get gradients. It’s more about getting subtle differences…” she trailed off as she heard Jed yell. “Oh no!”
Gareth raced ahead, flying around the last corner and landing ready to take on whatever had attacked Jed, stumbling to a halt at the unexpected scene. The new receptionist had Jed in an arm lock, twisting firmly against the joint. She was young, tall, slim, blonde and impossibly beautiful. She was also handling the bulk of Jed like an expert. “Try putting your hand on me again,” she said, twisting Jed’s wrist a little for emphasis. “And I’ll rip it off.”
Bron woke up, stretched and grinned. “I’m glad that someone’s teaching you how to behave,” he told Jed.
“Let me go!” Jed yelped. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
“My boyfriend will be picking me up soon, and you’ll see that he’s real if you stick around,” the blonde said. “But it doesn’t matter if he’s real or not. If I say don’t touch, you keep your hands to yourself – understand?”
“Yes! Yes! I’m sorry!” Jed cried, collapsing on the floor as the new receptionist released his hold.
“Hi Jasmine,” Carli said. “I’m sorry about Jed, but most of the guys here are okay. This is my boyfriend, Gareth. Gareth, this is the new receptionist, Jasmine Tait.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Gareth said, politely shaking Jasmine’s hand. He looked at Jed who was slowly picking himself up from the floor. “I’d ask if you were okay, but you seem to have it handled.”
“Are you sure that your boyfriend is picking you up?” Jed asked. Genuine admiration glowed in his eyes.
“Yes I am,” a voice said from the door.
“Hi Darren,” Gareth said, somehow unsurprised. “You didn’t tell me that Jasmine was working here.”
“You didn’t ask,” Darren said. His attention was all on Jasmine as he strode over to her.
“Carli, this is Darren, our new housemate,” Gareth said. “Darren, this is Carli, the genius designer here.” He watched the polite introductions and gave into the inevitable. “Why don’t we all go back to my place? Mortimer would love to make something substantial.”
Jasmine looked up at Darren, her face shining with love. “That would be wonderful. I’d love to see where you’ll be staying.”
Carli looked out of the window at the worsening weather. “And it’s definitely a night for staying in,” she said.
Gareth looked at Jed, standing forlorn and lonely. What the heck, he’d survived an attack by werewolves, seen the Orache Stone in action, at least from a distance, and was about to start selling to elfen. “If you keep your hands to yourself, you can come along,” Gareth said. “The food’s good and there’s plenty of it. The company…”
“Are they all as crazy as you?” Jed asked.
Gareth shrugged. “They’re possibly crazier,” he said.
Jed grinned. “I’m in,” he said. He watched as Jasmine scampered over to Darren’s battered Range Rover. “Does she have a sister?”
The story from the beginning can be read here.