I was ten feet from the office door of Cutting Edge Investigations, when I heard our phone ring inside. Unfortunately the key to the office was in my sweatshirt pocket, which at the moment was full of pale pink slime dripping from the tentacles resting on my shoulders. The tentacles weighed about seventy pounds and my shoulders really didn't like it.
Behind me Andrea, my best friend and partner in crime solving, shifted the bulbous mass of flesh that was the rest of the creature, rearranging it. "Phone."
"I hear it." I dug in my pocket, all but glued shut by slime. Cold wetness slipped through my fingers. Ew.
"Kate, it could be a client."
"I'm trying to find the key."
Clients meant money and money was in short supply. Cutting Edge opened its doors three months ago, and while we were getting a trickle of paying jobs, most of them were lousy. Despite a good recommendation from the Red Guard, the premier bodyguard outfit in the city, clients weren't knocking down our door in a rush to hire us.
Our world was beset by magic waves. They flooded us at random, smothering technology and leaving monsters in their wake. One moment you had rogue mages spitting fireballs and lightning, the next the magic would vanish, and the cops would gun down said mages with their now operational firearms.
Sadly the consequences of the magic waves didn't always vanish with them, and Atlanta by necessity had spawned many agencies to deal with magic hazmat. All of them had been in business a lot longer than us: the cops, the Mercenary Guild, a slew of private companies, and the big gorilla, the Order of Merciful Aid. The Order and its knights made it their mission to guard humanity against all threats and they did just that, on their terms. Both Andrea and I had worked for the Order at some point and both of us left under less than amicable circumstances. Our reputations weren't stellar, so when we got a job, it was because everyone else in town had already shot it down. We were quickly turning into Atlanta's business of last resort. Still, every successful job was a check mark by our name.
The phone rang, insistent.
Our latest job had come courtesy of the Green Acres Home Owners Association, who showed up at our door this morning claiming that a giant levitating jellyfish was roaming their suburb and could we please come and get it, because it was eating local cats. Apparently the translucent jellyfish was floating about with half-digested cat bodies inside it, and the neighborhood children were very upset. The cops told them that it wasn't a priority, since the jellyfish hadn't eaten any humans yet, and the Mercenary Guild wouldn't get rid of it for less than a grand. The HOA offered us $200. Nobody in their right mind would do the job at that price.
It took us all damned day. And now we had to properly dispose of the cursed thing, because dealing with corpses of magical creatures was like playing Russian roulette. Sometimes nothing happened, and sometimes the corpse did fun things like meting into a puddle of sentient carnivorous protoplasm or hatching foot-long blood-sucking leeches.
The weight of the jellyfish suddenly vanished from my shoulders. I rummaged in my pocket and my fingertips slid against the cold metal. I yanked the key out, slipped it into the lock, and swung the heavy reinforced door open. Aha! Victory.
I lunged through the door and made a break for the phone. I reached a second too late and the answering machine came on. "Kate," Jim's voice said. "Pick up the phone."
I backed away from the phone like it was on fire. I knew exactly what this call was about and I didn't want any of it.
"Kate, I know you're there."
"No, I'm not," I said.
"You will have to deal with this sooner or later."
I shook my head. "No, I won't."
"Call me." Jim hung up.
I turned to the door and watched Andrea walk through it. Behind her, the jellyfish squeezed through the doorway on its own. I blinked. The jellyfish kept coming. It cleared the door, turned, and I saw Curran carrying it in his hands, as if the three hundred pound mass of flesh was no heavier than a plate of pancakes. It's good to be the Beast Lord.
"Where to?" he asked.
"Back room," Andrea said. "Here, I'll show you."
I followed them and watched Curran pack the jellyfish into the biohazard container. He slid the lid in place, locked the clamps, and closed the distance between us. I held my slimy arms out to keep from getting him covered in ooze, leaned forward, and kissed the Beast Lord. He tasted like of toothpaste and of Curran, and the feel of his lips on mine made me forget the lousy day, the bills, the clients, the two gallons of slime drenching my clothes. The kiss had lasted only a couple of seconds, but it might as well have been an hour, because when we broke apart, it felt like I had come home, leaving all my troubles far behind.
"Hey," he said, his grey eyes smiling at me.
Behind him Andrea rolled her eyes.
"What's up?" I asked him.
Curran almost never came to visit my office, especially not in the evening. He hated Atlanta with all the fire of a supernova. I didn't have anything against Atlanta in theory - it was half-eroded by the magic waves and it burned a lot - but I had a thing about crowds. When my workday was over, I didn't linger. I headed straight for the Keep, where the Atlanta shapeshifter Pack and His Furry Majesty resided.
"I thought we'd go to dinner," he said. "It's been awhile since we've gone out."
Technically we had never gone out to dinner. Oh, we had eaten together in the city but usually it was accidental and most of those times involved other people and frequently ended in a violent incident.