This is the seventh round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 7 Title — Side Jobs — was chosen by me. Gary will choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is my submission, written today (September 25th, with only three days to spare before the voting deadline). I had three stories in various states but didn’t get inspired until this morning. Don’t worry if you’ve already voted. Just enjoy reading it . . . or not.
This story needs a bit of background because it’s set in the world of a previous story. Specifically, one of the Alphabet Challenge stories, Permeability Police (LINK). If you’re not familiar with it, I’d recommend reading it, but here’s a brief description of the world set up in the story:
The barrier between the “real” and “fantasy” worlds turned permeable, and the two worlds began to see intrusions, with fantasy creatures— some magical, some not — wandering into our reality, and regular people popping over to the fantasy worlds for a look-see. The CRAFT Treaty (Crossover Rules and Fit Together Treaty) established acceptable rules of conduct as well as an agency to review and approve all crossovers. During one crossover, some unknown sorcerer made dogs sentient. Nick, a member of the Permeability Police, has the uncommon ability to nullify magic in his vicinity. The story deals with the case of stolen magic staves.
And, here’s the blurb for this story:
Nick must solve the case of the disappearance and possible kidnapping of both his partner, Dana, and the daughter of Anubis (yes, the Egyptian god). Along the way, he joins up with Chip, the wolf, and a Griffin named DuskHunter.
Copyright 2022 — E. J. D’Alise
(4,200 words – approx. reading time: about 16 minutes based on 265 WPM)
I wasn’t too worried for the first hour that Dana was late. I got more concerned as it stretched to two hours, and, by the third hour, I was making frantic calls.
She had booked a simple escort job for a visiting Sidhe dignitary. I would typically accompany her in a support role, but I’d been called in to assist my old outfit, the Permeability Police, with an old case. A waste of time, really, as they could’ve looked up the old record and got what I had to offer on their own, but our business, Titan Services, had been slow lately, so even the small fee for my time, plus travel expenses, was of interest.
Come to think of it, I’d not heard from Dana for the entire day. We typically texted at least a few times a day, but it wasn’t unusual to have some silent days when working.
The Permeability Police. Dana and I had resigned shortly after she’d been granted her wish to leave the Sidhe and turn human. That was three years ago, and while not married, we might as well have been. But, for now, our primary focus has been our business. The number of crossings between the Human and Magic Realms increased due to actual commerce between the Realms, and there was a need for someone familiar with both Realms — me with ours, Dana with hers — to help avoid issues.
Plus, my magic-dampening effect was insurance for magic beings who didn’t want the liability of accidentally using magic to disrupt something that would incur reparations and associated legal fees.
We’d made no enemies that I knew about, and our ratings were consistently high, and yet, the only thing that made sense was Dana being targeted because of our work.
I considered filing a missing person report, but I knew the score; with nothing to go on, and less than a day since I’d heard from her, they would just file the report. Worse, they would assume what was true in many such cases and look at the significant other in her life; me.
I headed back home, needing to clear my head and think clearly. This wasn’t random. Someone had targeted us, or at least her. But who, and why?
By the time I got home, it was late, and I was in my full problem-solving mode, my feelings on the back burner; time enough for them later. As I reviewed the day, I came to another conclusion.
After three years, being asked to help the Permeability Police on the same day Dana went missing didn’t feel random; it effectively separated us. If I wanted answers and wanted them quick, I’d have to act quickly and maybe a little recklessly.
The late hour didn’t matter since the Permeability Police operated 24/7 year-round, and it might even help, depending on who was on duty.
I left my Ruger 57 at the front entrance, as well as my knife, tactical pen, and a flashlight, and headed up to the Records Department. I noticed the barrier runes carved at the entrance, but they had no effect on me, and I strolled right in, stopping right behind the woman working at her desk.
“Hello,” I said and felt a slight pang of guilt as she jumped.
“How did you—” she started before realizing what had happened. “You’re a Nullifier,” she said.
“They got a name for my type now?”
“Yeah; they’re trying it on for size,” she replied as she looked me over and continued. “You don’t work here. What do you want?”
“I’m consulting on an old case of mine, and I’d like a list of today’s crossings.”
“You used to work here?”
“From the Breakthrough to until three years ago. I went private, but they called me in this morning. Kind of a headache because I thought I was done with all this.”
The trick with scamming people is to sprinkle a bit of truth with the fertilizer one is spreading, and while she looked dubious, she tapped a few keys, looked at the screen, and read what appeared.
“One CRAFT-approved crossing today, but it’s listed as private.”
“When did they start allowing private crossings?
“When the money from business opportunities got good enough to claim protection from competing business interests.”
“So, no way to figure out who it was?”
“Above my pay grade, but you could come back in the morning when my boss is here. He might be able to open it up.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll do that.”
As I retrieved my stuff at the front desk, I mentally ran through my contacts and . . . nothing. I didn’t know anyone high enough to cut through the probable red tape I’d face trying to get the information I needed.
As I exited the building, I was stopped by a dog. No, not a dog; a wolf.
It took me a moment to place the voice and visage.
“Hello, Chip,” I replied as I tensed to draw my gun. He was too close for me to hope I’d clear my gun from the holster before he reached me, but I planned on sacrificing my left arm for the extra second I needed to bring the gun to bear.
“Don’t worry,” Chip said. “If I were to attack you, I’d distract you while a buddy nips the tendons behind your knees. Then, we would feast on your entrails.”
“Comforting though,” I replied, “but not exactly something that puts me at ease.”
“Seriously, don’t worry—we’re mostly over the little stunt you pulled with the staves.”
“You remember that, do you?”
“Yeah . . . It turns out Anubis has a sense of humor and found that amusing. More amusing than my Alpha and the rest of us.”
I studied Chip for a moment, thinking him meeting me on the day Dana went missing wasn’t a coincidence.
“Just to be clear,” I said, “if anything happens to Dana, wolf hunting will be my next lifelong hobby.”
“You’re threatening me?”
“You and your pack.”
Chip spoke through bared teeth, mixing a low growl into his voice.
“I could take you out right now—”
“If you were going to, you already would have,” I interrupted.
When you’re facing a deadly predator and terrified, the trick is not to show it. Wolves are formidable, but I’d faced an angry dragon once, and I’d learned that I could control my fear by assuming I was already dead and only the formalities were left to be worked out.
Chip held his display for a few more seconds, switched off the fierceness, and turned all casual on me.
“Walk with me,” he said and started to walk away. I hurried to catch up.
He didn’t look up as he walked and talked.
“We don’t have Dana, but whoever has her also has Kebechet.”
“Anubis’s daughter? That takes some balls. I can’t imagine he’s happy.”
“No, he’s not happy, and neither is Anput, which then makes Anubis doubly unhappy.”
“OK, I get it,” I said. “You’re looking for an ally toward a mutual goal. Do we know who has them?”
“No, and no demands have been made, so there must be some motive other than financial.”
“It’s always financial,” I responded, “it’s just not immediately obvious. By the way, where are we going?”
“We’re meeting Anubis and Anput,” Chip replied, then looked up at me as he continued. “Before you ask, they’re not officially here.”
“Wow,” is all I managed to say.
I noticed we picked up an escort on our way to the waterfront. I couldn’t be sure, but they looked like Jackals; black Jackals. I was about to ask Chip about it when he beat me to it.
“They’re Anubis’s security. They’re establishing the inner security perimeter while my pack is working the outer perimeter.”
“Not very stealthy, especially in broad daylight,” I remarked.
“Purposefully so,” Chip said. “Anyone watching them won’t notice my pack-mates.”
Once at the waterfront, we made our way to a large yacht, easily over 100 ft in length and with an unusual name, Cryogenics Horizons. I now had an idea why Kebechet was here.
Anubis, in human form with the head of a Jackal, was flanked by a female I presumed was Anput in human form, minus her headdress. Neither made as much impact on me as the Griffin on an overstuffed cushion at the far corner of the main deck’s lounge, the neatly folded wings identifying her as female.
“Nick,” Anubis said, walking toward me and extending his hand, “it’s a pleasure meeting you, but I wish it had been under better circumstances.”
“Likewise,” I replied. “What’s with the muscle?” I asked as I nodded toward the Griffin.
Anubis let go of my hand and introduced Anput. I grasped her extended hand as she answered my question.
“DuskHunter was meant to be Kebechet’s bodyguard while in your world,” she said. “Unfortunately, she was delayed, and Kebechet was abducted before DuskHunter could cross.”
I looked over at the Griffin, which gave a curt nod or acknowledgment.
I sat and asked a few questions.
“Can I presume Kebechet is entering into a business relationship with a cryogenics outfit?”
“Yes,” Anubis replied. “It was against our wishes, but preserving the flesh from decay is what she does, and this seemed like the perfect side job for her. The head of the company contacted her about a partnership, and this was supposed to be an exploratory meeting to work out logistics and other details.”
“You haven’t asked about Dana,” Anput interrupted. “Are you not concerned?”
“Greatly, but I’m presuming she was not the target,” I said. “I estimate my best bet to getting her back is to find Kebechet and hope that Dana isn’t hurt.
“But, I’m curious; what prompted you to hire Dana as an escort?”
“It was meant to be both of you,” Anubis replied. “Dana said you would join her later that day. She was chosen because her Sidhe background gave her a facility with our language. You, to negate any entity with magic posing a threat. And, of course, DuskHunter to oppose any physical threats.”
“Kebechet doesn’t speak our language?”
“She’s not as well known in your popular culture, so there are few representations of her in your modern interpretation of mythology,” Anput replied. “For that matter, that’s the same with me, but I made it a point to learn the more common languages of your world once the barrier separating our worlds came down. Kebechet didn’t see the need to learn, although she’s now started taking lessons.”
I pondered what I’d just learned.
“Anything you care to share?” Anput asked.
“Well, it could be I was purposefully pulled away if someone with magic is involved. Also, because I was pulled away a few days before you contacted and hired Dana, it’s someone who knew of Kebechet’s planned travels. Someone either on your side or someone on this side who was in the loop, if not directly, at least peripherally.
“By the way,” I continued, “what magical abilities of yours am I nullifying?”
“Hmm . . . It’s unfortunate so much of mythology has been corrupted, but to answer your question, none. Some modern interpretations ascribe me as having energy shooting out of my eyes and other such nonsense,” Anubis replied. “These modern interpretations are insignificant relative to the previous thousands of years that established my — and other gods — identities.
“We’re a physical representation of things important to human nature and culture. For example, I am the god of embalming because preservation of the dead was important to Egyptians, much like your modern gods play a role in fostering the idea of eternal life.”
“So, there’s no magic?”
“Well, some aspects could be termed magical, but not in the sense that magic is understood and applied in metaphysical and fantasy areas of interest.”
“Does Kebechet possess abilities other than preserving corpses against corruption and decay?”
“No,” Anput replied, “although, again, in some modern interpretations, she supposedly has the power to generate water, which points to a fundamental misunderstanding of her role.”
I continued with questions, listened to the answers, and answered questions by Anubis and Anput. In the end, the plan was simple. They would investigate at their end anyone who might have known about Kebechet’s travel plans and sought to profit from them. I would do the same on my end. One catch; Chip and DuskHunter would accompany me. I objected on the grounds it made me conspicuous and possibly alert the people we were looking for, whoever they might be.
Ultimately, I lost that argument and drew nothing but stares as I made my way home with Chip and DuskHunter in tow. You’d be amazed at how much easier it is to walk down a crowded sidewalk when you have a wolf and a Griffin walking at your side.
That evening, as Chip and DuskHunter munched in the backyard’s patio on meat I’d had delivered, I sat down to do some research, beginning with the cryogenics outfit. It was a bunch of crap, but something Anubis had said made me more sympathetic with the people grasping at the possibility of immortality, or at least possibly delaying death.
The company had been around since the turn of the century, making me wonder how many frozen bodies were stored in various places. Most of the companies were privately held, and revenue was only estimated. Still, it sounded as if gross sales for the industry went from around $100 million early in the century to the present-day neighborhood of $500 million. Not impressive as industries went, but nothing to sneeze at. While researching the company, I noted something that might be a tenuous connection. I looked at the clock . . . 1:07 am. I got up, stretched, and went to the kitchen. I grabbed a bowl, cereal, and milk, and made dinner. The evening was cool, and mosquitoes weren’t likely to be a problem, so I decided to eat outside, perhaps gaze at the stars as I unwound before heading off to sleep.
“Did you find something?”
The question made me jump, and it took a moment to see the dark form blending in the shadows of the pergola.
“I didn’t know Griffins could speak,” I said.
DuskHunter rose, stretched, jumped up on the lounge chair next to me, and settled to face out as I was.
“You didn’t read the Chronicles of Narnia,” DuskHunter replied. “A small speaking part, but it established the ability in modern lore, and I chose to learn.”
“Interesting. Do all magical creatures pick and choose which human interpretation to adapt?”
“Some, like Anubis and Anput, are traditionalists. Some are more flexible,” she replied. “But, you didn’t answer my question.”
“I found an avenue we might pursue, but it’s tenuous.”
“Are you worried about your mate?”
“Yes.” I leaned back and looked up and located Orion. “But I can’t let it cloud my reasoning or judgment.”
She didn’t reply, and my curiosity got the best of me after a few seconds.
“As far as I know, Griffins are created with magic. How is it that you’re . . . I mean . . .”
“Why don’t I disappear in your presence?” she concluded for me. “We may be created with magic, but magic doesn’t sustain us. It’s one of the reasons I was tasked with Kebechet’s protection.”
“That seems a convenient loophole. Why isn’t it the same with objects?”
DuskHunter turned to look at me. I wasn’t sure, but I thought she might be smiling. Then again, I don’t know what a Griffin smile looks like.
“You’re referring to the Staves Incident,” she replied with definite mirth. “Inanimate objects have no life force, no will. Living things can’t be willed away by something outside themselves. They can, however, be torn to pieces,” she added as she flexed her talons.
“I hope I never see that,” I said. “Are you sleeping out here?”
“Guarding things is what I do. My sleep and yours aren’t the same; a part of me is always awake.”
“Well, I’m sure to sleep better knowing that,” I replied. “Goodnight.”
The next day, we drove to Cryogenics Horizons, the company, not the yacht. Entering the lobby caused a mild panic and a quick response by a small security force. A potential bloodbath was averted when the owner, Adrian Bise, rushed in, told security to stand down, and invited us to join him in his office.
Adrian was nervous as he ushered us in, be it because of a Griffin and a wolf suspiciously eying him or because he had something to hide. I aimed to find out which it was.
“Mr. Bise,” I began. “We’re here to—”
“Please,” he said, “call me Adrian.”
“Adrian,” I repeated. “We’re here to figure out who knew that Kebechet would be visiting you yesterday.”
“Other than my chief of security, no one. People knew we were to have an important visitor, but not who it was.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I conducted all the arrangements myself, no intermediaries. If there was a leak, it had to be from the other side.”
“Adrian, think carefully about this … did your wife know?”
He might have been the head of a company, but he was also a husband. After a moment of looking at the three of us, he broke down.
“Please,” he said, “she swears she didn’t mention it to anyone!”
“I’m not saying she did,” I said, “but I notice that in all the photos of functions she attends, she’s carrying a Chihuahua.”
“Tootsie? Yes, he’s always with …” to his credit, the apparent conclusion came to him quickly.
“No! You think . . . No, he wouldn’t!”
“We’d like to have a word with Tootsie.”
“Please,” Adrian said while eying DuskHunter and Chip, “Tootsie is the son my wife never had.”
“It’s not like we’re going to kill it, but you must understand I’m every bit as concerned about my partner as Anubis is for his daughter,” I said. “Where is Tootsie right now?”
The social gathering of environmental activists was in full swing when we came through the gate and strolled across the lawn, making a beeline for Mrs. Bice and Tootsie. No fool, he, Tootsie tried desperately to get away from Mrs. Bice, but that caused her to hug him more firmly, no doubt thinking she was protecting him. He stopped struggling once I stood in front of Mrs. Bice, and Chip and DuskHunter stood on either side.
“Tootsie!” I cheerfully said. “Nice to meet you. I wonder if we could have a word.”
Mrs. Bice started to object, but a growl from Chip — and a talon gently resting on her shoulder — had her consent to letting me grab Tootsie for a chat.
Inside the kitchen, with Mrs. Bice nervously standing in the corner, I set Tootsie on the stainless steel counter.
“Now,” I said, “I think you know why we’re here, so I won’t ask any questions. Instead, you’ll tell me everything you know as we listen.”
“Honest,” Tootsie said, his eyes looking as if they would bulge out of their sockets . . . although they might have always looked like that, “I don’t know anything about—” and then stopped.
“About what?” I asked.
“No about; I don’t know anything.”
He literally jumped in my arms when DuskHunter scratched four parallel six-inch long and two inches wide gashes on the stainless steel surface.
“OK, OK . . . Look, I just wanted to impress the others. I didn’t know what was going to happen!”
Well, it turned out that at one of these environmental gatherings, Tootsie and other Toy Breeds were gathered and bragging about the importance of their owners. Tootsie bragged about his owners entertaining the daughter of a god. One dog, in particular, was very keen on the information—a Toy belonging to a developer from Arizona. I could put together the rest, and after a few more questions, I asked Mrs. Bile for her contacts list and the developer’s address in particular.
“Well,” I said once I had everything I needed, “we’re done here. I would kindly ask you to keep this conversation private. I don’t want anyone hearing we’re about to visit them.”
I turned to leave but stopped and added, “Should I find out you warned anyone of our coming, DuskHunter just might pay you both a visit one night, especially you, Tootsie.”
And with that, we left for our next stop.
Three hours later, we landed in Vegas. I’d never been to the city, and I’d have to miss it now because we immediately set out for Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Specifically, the Las Vegas Boat Harbor. The boat we were looking for was the Hole in One. Unfortunately, the approach to the marina was across what used to be the bottom of the lake but was now a vast open expanse. I noticed a boat pulling away from its mooring and suspected our developer was getting away. He would have made it, too, had DuskHunter been male and wingless.
Instead, the Hole in One only made it a few hundred yards from shore before it turned and returned to the dock. As the crew moored the boat, I waved at Dana waving at me from the top deck. Next to her stood who I presumed was Kebechet, and just behind them, DuskHunter stood watch.
There was extensive damage to the upper structure, a good reminder never to get on a Griffin’s wrong side.
We all sat in the Cryogenics Horizons lounge; Anubis, Anput, Kebechet, Andrew and Mrs. Bice — clutching at Tootsie as she occasionally cast nervous glances toward DuskHunter, Donna, myself, and, of course, Chip.
“A golf course developer, you say?” Andrew asked.
“Yup!” I replied. “His son plays a computer game with a modern version of Kebechet as a character, and that version can generate water at will, presumably by pulling it from the air. Of course, pulling enough water from the air to refill Lake Mead would cause many other issues, but developers aren’t known for thinking ahead or about the impact of what they do.”
“Was anyone else involved?”
“He bribed some people to keep me busy, and hired a low-level mage and some thugs to help with the kidnapping, but CRAFT is handling that end of it,” I answered. “I’ll be following up to make sure no one skates. Oddly enough, they all seemed eager to confess after a brief chat with DuskHunter and Chip.”
Andrew turned to Kebechet.
“I hope this unfortunate experience hasn’t dissuaded you from going ahead with our proposed partnership,” he said. “Our marketing department is confident your involvement would greatly benefit our sales efforts.”
“Kebechet is glad to help your efforts,” Dana answered in her stead, “and looks forward to spending more time in our world.”
“Ahem,” Anubis said. “Anput and I have also been talking, and it seems this world might be receptive to our more conventional offerings. Not so much the mummification services, but . . . well, we’re planning to open a chain of funeral homes. We’ve already found a couple of investors who seem excited at the prospect. Name recognition, and all that, you see.”
After that, and a few more pleasantries, we said our goodbyes.
Dana and I were about to get in our car when DuskHunter approached.
“May I have a moment of your time?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“My daughter has expressed an interest in setting up a security outfit for visiting dignitaries, and . . . and I was wondering if she could apprentice with you to learn how to do business in your world.”
“We would be honored to sponsor her and get a CRAFT permit for her!”
“Thank you,” she said. “I’ll contact you through the local CRAFT office in a few weeks. I’ll also be here often because of Kebechet, so perhaps we can get together once in a while.”
“That would be great,” I sincerely replied, drawing a curious look from Dana, who was aware of my antisocial tendencies.
As we drove away from the waterfront, I slammed on my brakes as Chip suddenly appeared in the middle of the road, blocking our way. After we stopped, he made his way to the driver’s side door.
“Nick, my Alpha wanted to know if he could meet sometime to discuss a partnership. Perhaps providing security for when you escort visitors from the other side.”
I looked at Dana, who nodded.
“Fine with us,” I said. “It would allow us to get more side jobs, as well. Drop by any evening.”
“Excellent,” Chip said and trotted off.
As we resumed driving, Dana turned to face me.
“Well, look at you!”
“You’re turning all social and stuff, making associations left and right!”
“Well, they’re not people, so I trust them.”
She laughed, and we talked about the future of our business all the way home.
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