Rachel Min Caspian slammed her hands down on the desk, bolting from the uncomfortable chair and turning her piercing sea green eyes to the empty desk. James’s desk was pristine, much cleaner than her messy space, but it was also emitting a shrill, ear-splitting whistle that had gone off for the last three days at exactly two o’clock. If she didn’t like James so much, she’d have picked up his tablet computer and thrown it out the two-story window into the dirty street below.
“Again?” Min’s partner called from the kitchen where she’d been doing dishes.
“I’m going to kill him!” Min shouted, scrambling across the small office space to the desk and opening the screen to turn off the alarm. She shouted a few choice curses when she realized that the damn thing was locked. His tablet was still screaming bloody murder, and she was two seconds away from throwing it out the window.
“It’s his last name backwards.” Min looked up, seeing her partner emerge into the office holding a dish rag.
Min typed the letters as quickly as she could, silencing the hated thing, and slammed the computer closed. For good measure, she unplugged it, and hoped the battery died before James came in later.
Running her hands through her dark brown hair, she sighed and dropped down into his cushioned computer chair.
“How come the kid gets a nicer chair than us?” she grumbled, rubbing her eyes.
Owen Orion Venus floated over to her own desk, completely empty except for a charger for her tablet, a notebook and pen. Owen was a dhampir, the rare result of a vampiric change that allowed her to withstand sunlight. There were other differences but, for her, that was the one that mattered most. It meant that she could spend her days with her best friend and business-partner, Min.
They were jacks of all trades, jacks for short. They took on odd jobs for people, but the more dangerous, the better it paid. Jacks were a result of a police force that had too much on their plate and a serious decline in private investigators. Owen and Min were happy to step into the role, even going so far as to get certified by the Job Action Committee and being able to sign J.A.C. after their names.
“He’s here more than us,” Owen replied, dropping down on her stool and reaching under the thin table to pull her tablet out of her bag. She dropped the dishtowel on her lap absently as she opened up the forum app for paradisioforhire.org.
“Not this week.” Min was still sulking, stretching her legs under James’s much more professional desk and kicking the power box out of spite. “I could be riding my bike right now.”
“He’s taking his driving test this week and Myra needed his help with the kids. The day care is closed while the sitter goes to Japan,” Owen explained for the twentieth time. She resisted the urge to sigh. It was only Monday.
“Why did I agree to hire someone that will be late to work for an entire week?”
Owen let Min complain, tuning her out as she navigated the forum. Paradisio for Hire was the place for picking up any and all odd jobs. The more dangerous, the more money involved, and the two were used to danger. Plus, rent for the office space was due in a couple weeks, and they were still two hundred dollars short.
It was easy enough to make small potatoes money. Owen knew that if she had to, she could take some odd escort jobs to get it, but she hated doing those. Owen and Min had spent the last seven years training to be jacks. They wanted to be able to take any and all jobs to become the most famous jacks on the islands.
So far, they hadn’t managed to land any big cases, and it was wearing on Owen’s self-confidence. She scrolled to the sub-forum that listed jobs over five hundred dollars, and started scrolling.
Realizing her friend had stopped paying attention to her, Min stood up from James’s desk. She glanced over at Owen, a little enviously. In deference to their time in the office, both had opted for their more comfortable and breathable clothes, rather than their working leathers. Without the possibility of a potion or charm being thrown at them, they wanted to be cool and comfortable.
Owen’s wheat-gold hair was braided neatly and fell over her right shoulder. She’d done her make-up perfectly, her long lashes accenting her luscious brown eyes. Her bohemian-style dress was pale blue and fluttered in the wind of her fan. As she scrolled through listings, she played with her long necklaces, tangling the strands together without realizing it. Modest and classy, Owen knew how to style her outfit to match.
Min, on the other hand, was wearing white, cut-off jeans and a blue button-up over a white camisole. She’d dressed without thinking about it, and her long dark hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail. She’d done her make-up in the office bathroom that morning, and she couldn’t even remember the last time she washed her hair.
It wasn’t that Min didn’t care about her appearance. It mattered mattered a lot in her line of work, but she’d been in a bit of a slump since moving into her new house last year, and was struggling to find a semblance of normalcy. Having James work in the office so they could have regular office hours while Owen and her did work was a blessing because it had allowed Min to start coming in later. She really wasn’t a morning person.
They had two more hours before James showed up and they could leave, so Min decided to take out some of her frustration in their small gym. It really couldn’t be called a gym, but it was what they called it anyways. Their office space had once been an apartment, but ten years ago the location was converted from residential to business. The main office was the original living and dining rooms, and the hallway led to a fully functional bathroom, a single bedroom, and the kitchen. The bedroom was small, but they’d hung a punching bag from the ceiling and stuffed a treadmill in the corner. There was a rack of weights and two mats that could be rolled out for yoga and stretching.
As a siren, Min didn’t have any of the supernatural strength or agility her partner had and she worked for every inch of her muscles. She stopped in the small bathroom, changing into her teal sports bra and black work-out shorts. Both were made from natural fibers as Min refused to wear anything synthetic. The man-made material didn’t degrade very well and was bad for the ocean. She glanced in the mirror, frowning when she realized her lipstick had smeared. She wiped it off before going across the hall into the gym.
She started with a run, hoping to clear her mind a bit.
Owen joined her, leaning on the door frame as she looked through listings.
“There’s one to recover a missing artifact for the Bishop Museum,” Owen suggested, her shaped brows lowered as she concentrated. “It would cover rent for an entire month, but I think it would take some digging. They’re not sure who stole the item.”
“The last time we did a job for them, you almost lost your foot.” Min turned the speed up on the machine, stretching out her powerful legs.
“Only because I was careless. It’s a lot of money.” Owen chewed on her lower lip as she read the rest of the listing. “Oh, it looks like Leaf & Mana are interested. I don’t want to compete with them again.”
“Why not?” Min was starting to get a little out of breath as she ran.
“It messes with the kid’s chances.”
Min did her best not to wrinkle her nose. Owen was always concerned about James’s future. As a skilled aura witch, all three guilds in Honolulu wanted him to join them with Leaf & Mana being the most prominent. He was still young with several years before he was offered the change, the guild wanted him on their side before he had to consider it. He’d already turned them down twice, saying he wasn’t old enough to join.
“I bet he could get us some juicy info if we wanted it.”
“It’s the only guild good enough for his skill level. We can’t jeopardize that and you know it. As it is, I don’t know if he’s ever going to accept because it’ll mean he can’t work here with us.”
Min rolled her eyes and concentrated on running again while Owen scrolled through the listings.
After a couple minutes of silence, Owen made a disgusted noise. “This one is mis-filed. I hate when people do that.”
“Did it seem interesting?” Min asked, breathless.
“It was a missing children’s case.” Owen sighed, and Min could tell she was already moving on to other things. “But it’s for charity. We can’t afford that right now.”
“Let me see it.” Min hopped off the treadmill. She was only partially interested in the case, but any excuse to get off the treadmill was welcome for her. Owen didn’t scroll back to the listing, shaking her head.
“We can’t do it, so no.”
Min contemplated her chances of getting the tablet away from the dhampir. Owen’s reflexes were sharp, but she was relaxed, and probably wouldn’t risk touching Min’s sweaty clothes while she was dressed so nicely. As if sensing her friend’s mood, Owen looked up and shook her head.
“If you want to look at it, you have a computer at your desk.”
Properly chastised, Min went back to her workout. Owen continued looking at listings, missing James’s uncanny ability to single out the highest paying jobs quickly. He’d have found one for her already, but as it was, she had to click on each listing before she knew what the rate was, and it was usually buried after the entire novella describing the work.
Frowning, Owen realized that she’d already clicked on the listing, and hit the back button. The tablet glitched and sent her back to the missing person’s page. Annoyed, she wandered back to the office, leaving Min to her running. The app seemed frozen, so she restarted it to continue browsing. She debated giving it up all together and just waiting for James, but she didn’t want to rely solely on him to find their jobs. When he finally moved on to doing guild work, she wanted to make sure they didn’t need to hire another assistant because they didn’t know how to navigate a forum.
Maybe by then work will come to us, she mused, smiling to herself as she sat back down on her stool.
Owen looked up as the bell on the door clacked loudly. By the confident way the person opened the door, she was certain to see a familiar face. Newcomers always opened it slowly and tentatively, unsure of whether they actually wanted to be there.
Owen prided herself on manners, but she was hard-pressed to maintain her greeting smile when the guest entered. The young woman was clearly homeless, dirt caked along her skin on her ankles, and her bare feet so dried out that they looked like leather. Her dress was torn along the hem, and her bird’s nest of a hair so tangled Owen wasn’t sure how long it was supposed to be. Her blue eyes were clear and her thin lips pursed into a line.
“Hello,” Owen said, standing up from her seat.
Being in downtown Honolulu meant that their office had its fair share of homeless residents living around it, but none had ever come inside before. Usually, they were harmless, but something about the woman put Owen on edge.
“I’m looking for the jacks.” Her voice was delicate, almost afraid as she looked at Owen’s face.
“I’m Owen Venus. What do you need today?” Owen was careful not to offer help as she had a suspicion that this woman might not be entirely human. She really didn’t want to get into a war with the fae this week.
With shaky hands and nails that were black from dirt, the woman unfolded the piece of paper she’d been holding in her hands. On it was a photo set of three children. Owen recognized it immediately from the forum post that was listed in the wrong place. She refrained from commenting until the woman held out the paper.
“What is this?” Owen took the paper, noticing that it was very clean, as though the woman just had it printed. There were small smudges where her fingers had held it.
“I live near the Ala Wai,” the woman said, lifting her chin and dropping her hands to her sides. “I teach a lot of the children that don’t have the ability to go to school. I help them read and write, so they won’t be stupid when they get older.”
Owen nodded politely, listening.
“In the last three months, these children have disappeared. When I ask about, no one can tell me where they went.”
Owen looked at their faces, noticing that most of the kids were relatively clean. The pictures were also old school pictures, showing that at some point the children had gone to an actual school.
“Did you consider that the family might have found a more permanent residence?” Owen asked, trying not to wrinkle her nose as the woman’s scent started to permeate the office.
“I found Shera’s dad living in a duplex in Kuakini,” the woman confirmed. “But Shera wasn’t there, and he wouldn’t tell me what happened to her.”
“I’m sure Shera is with her father and was probably just at school. Usually, the most obvious answer is the one that’s true.” Owen held the paper back out to the woman, but she shook her head.
“I’ve asked other camps. Their kids are disappearing too.” The woman’s voice was getting louder, and her shoulders were tensing. She was ready for a fight if Owen didn’t placate her.
Owen had no intention of placating her.
“Look, Miss, we only take paying jobs. It’s how we stay in business. Also, if their parents aren’t concerned for their kids, it’s probably because these parents know where they are, and know that they’re safe.” The woman started to protest, but Owen shook her head and just continued on, “I’m sure that these kids just found a permanent residence with their parents, and they have moved on from living on the street. Now, I’m going to please ask you to leave.”
The woman stared at Owen for a long minute, her cheeks bright red and her nose wrinkled in frustration.
“When these kids turn up dead, it’s going to be on you,” she snarled before stalking out of the office and slamming the door.
Sighing, Owen dropped the paper into the trash and walked to the bathroom to wash her hands.