The following day, Jo found herself pacing back and forth across the small living room of the house, soaking up information as fast as her phone could deliver it to her. None of it looked helpful at all. Finally she pocketed the phone and sat still just for a moment. She needed to clear her head.
Her Gran was out; she’d seen him off to visit with friends earlier in the morning. She wouldn’t have to pick him up until late afternoon, so she had plenty of time to go somewhere, preferably somewhere she could be more productive.
The rain was falling again, gentle this time, and for a wonder, it held hardly a trace of acid. It streamed all but silently down the cab windows as she crossed the city. Her destination this time was farther than the gym; she leaned her head against the glass and did her best to relax and recapture some of the calm she’d worked for after her climb.
She’d just about fallen asleep when the phone buzzed in her pocket, making her jump a bit. She grabbed it out of her pocket and stared at the indicator, then grinned. Quinn. She gestured for it to pick up, then slipped it back in her pocket as his deep but quick voice filled the large interior of the cab. “Josie! Just the girl I’ve been wanting to talk to!”
“What a surprise. You called me, Quintrell. What do you want this time?” She tried and failed to keep a straight face, but she was reasonably certain she’d kept it out of her voice.
“Naturally, because I wanted to talk to you! What I want is to get together, and soon.”
“… and? Are you finally asking me out on a date?” she teased.
“Oh, if only,” he laughed. “No, not a date, not this time. Maybe next time. This time, like so many before, I’m calling for a favor. Unlike so many before, this is a favor I’m doing you.”
“Your loss,” she smiled. “What’s this favor you’re going to do for me?”
“You wouldn’t happen to be looking for work, would you, Josie?”
She leaned forward on her seat, all attention firmly on his voice. “Yes! How’d you hear? But yes, I could definitely use the work.”
“Whoa, whoa, I haven’t even told you what it is yet. It’s not really your usual deal.”
“Well, stop teasing me then, and spill it. What’s the job?”
“Nothing you can’t handle, I’m sure. It’s just … it’s a bit of a desk job. Corporate stuff. Mail room, in fact.”
Her stomach soured a bit at the thought, but really, running packages around the city was pretty much the same thing, and it’d be a lot more common in an office. Courier work was rare, the jobs few and far between when most deliveries were made at the speed of raw data.
“I’m in. Let’s meet tonight, I want details. You’re the best, Q-ball!”
“Great,” he said with the slightest hint of sourness in his voice; he’d always hated that nickname. “I’ll send you the when’n-wheres. Catch you later!”
She sat back with a genuine smile and sense of relief. Quinn wasn’t the first person she’d have thought of to come through when she needed work, but he did have a knack for being around at just the right time.
Fifteen minutes later, the cab dropped her off at a coffee shop she was fond of; she settled in for a few hours to study her contact lists and the local news, looking for anything that suggested opportunity. She was a firm believer in having backup plans.
She took her usual table at the Capital Cappuccino cafe, their titular beverage in hand. She’d been to just about every coffee place in the city, including most of the big franchise locations, but Capital was by far the best, as far as she was concerned. No other place in the region had Capital’s clean, comforting look and old-school charm.
The front of the store was all glass; not as much of a benefit in the rain as it usually was, but it afforded her a great view of the cars sweeping majestically by the windows as they carried their passengers from one part of the city to the next.
The rest of the walls were very plain; hardly a decoration in sight, and numerous pipes were visible, painted to match the wall. The overall impression it gave was of cleanliness, rather than the spartan feel that other places might have suffered.
The smell of the coffee was strong, but somehow not overpowering like it was in some places. It greeted you as you walked in, and settled around you like a warm blanket the longer you stayed.
The real highlight of the place though was the furniture. It was real, genuine wood, cut and polished with the grain still visible. The golden shine of the wood counter under the hanging lamps had been breathtaking the first time she’d seen it years ago, and it never lost its impact. The chairs were darker, a more reddish brown hue. The tables were surfaced in a more typical blank white.
She’d hardly ever seen wooden furniture before setting foot in this place, and took a special joy in sitting in the wooden seats. It was probably her imagination, but she always felt like the seat was just a little warmer than it should be, like the tree it’d been cut from was somehow still alive and warming it just for her.
She’d been seated for less than an hour, sipping her cappuccino and scanning the news, when Quinn’s details came down the data tubes to her.
Capital Cappuccino, 3pm.
Easy enough, already here, she wrote back. She glanced at the time; it was 2:30. That was plenty of time to finish her research, and she didn’t have to pick up her Gran until 5.
She glanced at the time again. 3:05. Hmmm, she thought. He’s late again. She was neither surprised nor especially angry; it wasn’t uncommon for him. She was anxious though.
Wakey wakey, she pinged him. You said 3:00!
Just then he walked through the door, checking his phone for her message. She rolled her eyes and smiled.
Quinn was a small guy, about average height, but thin and a little spindly. His blonde hair was pale, though not as pale as his skin. It was a slightly shaggy mop on his head. His features were thin, too, but his eyes were laughing as he read her message, and his lips followed suit, quirking into a lopsided grin. He hadn’t noticed her; he grabbed one of the small white porcelain mugs and gestured to the server.
That was one of the other things she liked about the place, she reflected; actual people doing the serving. It was a novelty; most places were completely automated. She was grateful that at least the payment mechanisms were automated; you just took what you wanted and it was verified and charged automatically, no fuss, no muss, just coffee.
Right behind you, she sent just as his espresso was handed over. He took it and glanced at his phone, then turned and caught her eye with a grin. He sat himself down.
“Josie! It’s been way too long. Your hair’s growing out. You going for the longer look?”
Ugh, she thought. It was going to be this way, then. He never commented on her hair or anything like that unless he was stalling, trying to drive her crazy.
“Thanks. Thought it was time for a change. And speaking of changes, what’s the job?”
“Oh Jo, always in such a rush … okay, fine,” he said with mock melodrama. “Fine, fine. It’s Westall Holdings.”
Her eyes widened a little in recognition. That was the company Sal’s husband David worked at.
“Don’t get too excited. I know they’re pretty big around here, but it’s nothing glamorous, like I said. Mail room stuff, maybe some archives, that sort of thing. And it’s short term, just a few months. Not huge pay. A buddy of mine knows a guy who works there, he’s lookin’ for bodies to fill the ranks. They got some kind of big project on the go.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What’s the catch? You never give up your teasing this quick.”
“No catch, we’re just late to the game. We’ve gotta hurry if we’re going to get in before the getting’s gone.”
“How much time do we have?”
“Couple of days, tops. Can you be ready to go see ‘em tomorrow?”
Westall Holdings. She didn’t know much about them aside from the name, because of David. She could definitely use the cash though. “Tomorrow? No problem. Got nothing else to do.”
The city spread out below her like a carpet of lights in the night, mesmerizing in its intensity. In order to avoid light pollution that would impede the progress of science, some long-gone ruling body had decreed that lights should be blocked from shining into the sky. The results were a boon to astronomers, but it was just as lovely from on high. Jo’s vantage point at the top of an old apartment complex let her look down on a big swath of the cityscape; from a distance it looked like stained glass.
Even the air felt fresher than usual. Maybe she’d climbed high enough to rise above the smog, or maybe it was all the rain; it had just about stopped, but a misty drizzle still made itself felt. Instead of feeling damp and depressing, she felt somehow more alive.
Maybe that was due more to the interview; she had shown up with Quinn and talked with a company representative for fifteen minutes. She’d left feeling buoyed, sure that she’d landed the job.
The line of questioning had started off standard enough, but as the interview progressed, the rep seemed more and more interested in her athleticism, especially her climbing hobby. She’d spent the last five minutes describing past climbs in detail, and she was sure the woman she’d been talking to had taken more notes during that time than at any other point in the interview.
How’d yours go?
Quinn. She hadn’t seen him after her interview. Went well, how was yours? she sent back.
Pretty much what I expected. Very straight forward, very easy. Do you think you got it?
Yeah, I think so. She paused a moment. Did they happen to ask you about climbing or anything?
No, just the standard stuff. Why?
No real reason, she just seemed real interested in my climbing. Guess it’s nothing. She paced the rooftop as she messaged. Her home lay to the south-west, toward old town. A dark spot in the glowing stained-glass city caught her eye out beyond where she lived. She was just thinking it must be the old ironworks when a tiny spark dragged her eyes to itself; a blue spark, out in the middle of that patch of darkness. She frowned and tried to image it, though it was hopeless at this distance without a tripod for the imager. She got about a second of it before it winked out. She felt a touch of that creepy dread she’d experienced walking out in front of the place the other day and shivered.