Great Lakes Investigations Book One: The Good Shifter
Maggie is just trying to get from one moment to the next. She can feel something changing and for her, at this moment, it can only get better… right
Great Lakes Investigation 01 snippet –
Maggie’s eyes cracked open to see the slimy brown spots on the water-damaged ceiling tile, and she sighed and closed her eyes again. Five more minutes, please…
But she heard Ferrow coming down the hallway. That must have been what had woken her up.
She forced herself upright on the sagging couch. Another spring had broken overnight if the ache in her back was anything to go by.
She was rubbing an especially sore spot when the key turned in the lock and Ferrow came in. “Morning, Maggie.” She hung her coat on the hooks by the door and scuffed her boots on the mat. “Sleep well?”
Maggie opened her mouth to protest, to say she’d just gotten in herself, but realized there wasn’t much point. If nothing else, the fact that her shoes and coat were dry as bones would have given it away, but Ferrow knew her too well anyway. “Not really,” she replied. “This couch isn’t exactly a feather bed.”
“You could go back to your apartment,” Ferrow pointed out, selecting a teabag from the cupboard chock full of them while the water heated. “You have a bed there, I believe.”
Maggie made a vague, noncommittal noise and stretched. A few vertebrae popped in protest. “I was beat last night,” she said. “Even five blocks felt like too far.”
“Mm-hmm.” The naga didn’t sound convinced, and Maggie couldn’t blame her. Ferrow had seen how well Maggie was coping with Matt being gone in the months since it had happened—which was, to put it lightly, not well. “Have you eaten anything?”
“No.” Maggie stood.
“Color me shocked,” Ferrow said. “Go get something from Blake’s. Smelled like the cinnamon buns were coming out of the oven when I walked by.”
“Maybe.” She walked over to the window and pulled the curtains aside, letting in the grayish light of what purported to be eight-thirty AM on a misty March morning. “Might just get coffee.”
Ferrow poured boiling water into her mug, which read, “I’m a Secretary, Not a Magician, But I Understand Your Confusion,” and the scent of peppermint filled the air. “Caffeine’s not a bad idea.” She shuffled papers on her desk one-handed.
“Got a call from a prospective client yesterday. James Shalton. You know him?”
Maggie shook her head.
“Well, neither did I, so I did some digging. Tugged on the grapevine a bit, you know.” No response. Ferrow pursed her lips and went on, “Turns out he’s a vampire.”
“Huh. Vampire. Don’t see many of those.”
Ferrow sipped her tea. Maggie was in a bad way today if she didn’t respond to a new client being a vampire—they weren’t exactly common, and they tended to do their own dirty work. For a vampire to be looking to hire a private investigator… Normally that would’ve had Maggie’s detective senses tingling, and Matt would have—well.
“No, you don’t,” Ferrow agreed. “Which is why, in my humble opinion, it would be wise to take his call.”
“I’ll think about it.” Maggie finally stepped away from the window. “Leave his number on my desk.”
“You can only think about it for so long,” Ferrow pointed out. “We’re already being hounded for the utility bill. It’s just as well they can’t cut us off, or we’d have frozen through February.”
Maggie pulled her heavy woolen peacoat on, turned the collar up, then hunched her shoulders at Ferrow’s words, sighed, and left the office.
It wasn’t quite as bad out as it had looked from the second floor. It was gray and foggy, sure, but that was about the worst of it.
Granted, that didn’t mean the tiny center courtyard all the first-floor shops opened onto was any more appealing than usual, with its heavily weathered benches—at some point in the nineties they’d been yellow, or so she’d heard—and chipped concrete planters where plants went to die.
The people who frequented the courtyard, though, were anything but dreary. Everyone who worked in this building had some form of magic or was related to someone who did, and it made for a lively atmosphere. Maggie sometimes wondered if the frequently misty weather was a side effect of sorts or a facet of the veil.
Weird things happened around magic and magical people. Strange, right? For many, many years—almost as far back as the history books went—the magical and nonmagical had lived apart, separated by barriers both magical and mundane. That way, no one got burned at the stake anymore or got a stake driven through their heart…unnecessarily.
Some magical folks preferred to live among the nonmagical on their own, which was fine. There had always been plenty of magical communities, big and small, and Joseph’s Landing was one of them. The little neighborhood consisted of a few city blocks and included a couple of apartment buildings, such as the one she lived in and the one she worked in, and an elementary school, among other things.
It had been bought up by one of the old, well-established magical families a few decades ago, after a rather unfortunate incident involving a kindergartner’s powers manifesting without warning in the middle of a grocery store. The kid had ended up a pyromancy master. On that day in June 1973, they’d almost become a casualty of their temper tantrum alongside the entirety of the supermarket and the adjoining optometrist’s office.
So now, thanks to the nice little curtain of magic between Joseph’s Landing and the rest of the city, there hadn’t been any more unintentional cases of grade-school arson since the seventies. All the magical families sent their kids to Merlin-Buxton Elementary—not named after the legendary wizard, although he was the school mascot. Between that and the abundance of people “in the know” in the community, any child manifesting powers had plenty of support.
The scent of fresh bread and cinnamon pulled her from her musings, and she realized she was in front of Blake’s. Ferrow was right. The cinnamon buns were still steaming in the display case, and it looked like the stout little baker was setting a dozen fresh poppyseed bagels on a tray.
She was briefly tempted—poppyseed bagels happened to be one of her favorites—but as with most of her feelings these days, it passed quickly, and she opted instead for the persnickety vending machine tucked into an alcove on the square’s west side.
As she fumbled in her coat pocket for enough change to get a bottle of iced coffee, she heard scuffing footsteps behind her. She turned to see one of the kids that lived in the apartments on the upper floors of her building. Helena Chatham was six-and-a-half years old. Her favorite things in the whole world? Unicorns and playing in the dirt.
“Hey, Helena.” She slotted quarters into the machine. “Off to school?”
“Hi, Miss St. Clair.” The little girl hiked her backpack up on her shoulders. “Yeah.” Helena didn’t look up at her, instead keeping her eyes on the ground. Her light brown hair was falling out of its usual braid, and one of her shoes had come untied.
The bottle clunked into the pickup slot and Maggie grabbed it. “You seem down, kiddo. Everything all right?”
Helena shrugged, raincoat rustling. “I dunno, miss.” She kicked a pebble. “It’s my turn for show and tell today. Everybody’s been showing off their new magic, doing tricks and stuff, and I don’t have anything.”
“Aw, that’s too bad.” Maggie crouched to meet Helena’s eyes. “It took a while for my magic to show up, too. I remember wondering why everybody got their magic first. It wasn’t very fun.”
She wasn’t lying—it hadn’t been fun at all. What had made it even worse was that Matt’s had shown up first. She’d been in a snit for months. It had made their seventh birthday party quite an ordeal.
“Nuh-uh,” Helena said. “I’m boring. I don’t wanna be a Normal.” She looked up, and Maggie saw her lower lip was quivering the tiniest bit. She also had a mark of dirt on her chin. If this kid didn’t grow up to be some sort of garden witch, Maggie would eat her hat.
Maggie smiled. “You’re not boring. Your magic’s still growing, that’s all. Don’t worry. I know your mom and dad, and the chances of you not having any magic…well, they’re pretty slim.”
She slipped her hand into the inside pocket of her coat and drew out a little charm shaped like a seven-pointed star. “How about you take this for show and tell?”
She set it on one point in the palm of her hand, where it balanced, swaying back and forth slightly. She flicked it, and it spun, sending off brilliant rays of light in every color of the rainbow. It also gave off a very faint sound of wind chimes.
Helena laughed, mesmerized. “It’s beautiful! What is it?”
“It’s my good-luck charm.” Maggie closed her hand around it and offered it to the little girl. “One of them, anyway. A lightning fairy gave it to me a long time ago.”
Helena grinned and opened her hand, palm up. Maggie deposited the charm into it, and it quickly disappeared into her pocket. “Thank you, Miss St. Clair!” she exclaimed happily. “I’ll bring it right back after school!”
Maggie stood. “Sounds like a plan,” she said. “Now you get on, or you’ll be late.”
“Thank you again!” Helena called as she ran off.
Maggie sighed, her bleak mood returning in full force as she made her way back to the office. It was all well and good to soothe a child’s worries, to tell them that yes, their magical powers would manifest sooner or later.
They’d get their share of the useful mystical skills that “blessed” the magical subset of the population. There weren’t many magic users who didn’t appreciate their abilities, although she could think of a few.
As a matter of fact, she’d been coming down on that end of things herself lately. Her magic had been…unruly as of late. Or maybe a better word was weird or new. In any case, it was unsettling, and she both didn’t like and didn’t know what to do with it.
Everyone knew that new magic didn’t develop in adulthood—what you got when you were a kid was what you got. Which meant she had to be going crazy because while she’d always been perceptive, this was getting a bit absurd.
She could smell the coffee through the sealed glass bottle. She’d heard Ferrow coming that morning before the naga had reached the stairs. Last night, she’d smelled the pizza delivery girl from halfway down the block, and the aroma of double pepperoni and mushroom certainly hadn’t been coming on the utterly nonexistent wind.
She cracked open the bottle of coffee as she reached the second-floor landing. Ferrow was talking to someone, presumably on the phone—which was odd too; they’d specifically soundproofed the office for client confidentiality. Sure enough, she hung up as Maggie opened the door.
“Ah!” Ferrow said with a bright—no, a satisfied smile. “That was James Shalton again. He was quite insistent upon using our services.” The smile turned into a grin. “I let him know that you’d be along presently. Don’t forget your notebook.”
Ferrow tossed Maggie her keys, and Maggie caught them one-handed. “Ferrow,” she started, exasperated, “you can’t accept a client—”
“I can, and I have,” she said firmly. “What are you going to do, fire me?”
Maggie huffed and walked back out the door—only to turn on her heel, stick her keys in her pocket, and snag her notebook off her desk before leaving a second time, letting the door snap shut on Ferrow’s fanged smile.
I can see it now, a foggy chilly day, magical creatures everywhere. Can Maggie handle a tough job right now or is it exactly what she needs to shake off the past? Find out when Great Lakes Investigations Book 1: The Good Shifter comes out on February 1st, 2022. Available for pre-order now.