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   Chapter 2 The Ravenwood Arms

The Ravenwood Arms By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 25592

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:22

Chapter 2

In what seemed like an eye blink, I was jolted awake by the wheels of the plane making contact with the tarmac. I yawned and stretched, my back protesting having me sleep in such a position and the rest of my body upset with the fact I was awake when it clearly needed several more hours down time. I was still tired enough that my head felt as though it were stuffed with cotton, yet slightly too heavy for my neck. In addition, my belly was rumbling due to the skipped dinner and large energy output.

Outside the little window, the sun was shining brightly. Apparently, it was going to be a glorious day. The plane rolled to a stop and as the stairs were moved into place, Malak came out of his enclosure. I stood up, preparing to retrieve my bag. He gave me a quick once over glance.

"Your hair is messed up, " he informed me. I reached up and found my ponytail holder slipped as I slept. I quickly took my hair down; finger combed my long brown locks and tied it back at the nape of my neck hoping I didn't look too bedraggled. We still had to check in with the Commission's local representative, James. I harbored mixed feelings about James. I didn't really like him, but on occasion when I turned jobs down, he didn't pressure me to accept them as his predecessor had, which I appreciated. Mostly, I was just used to James and rarely gave him a thought when I wasn't in his presence.

Still he was an official representative of the Commission, the organization that helped to keep anyone born with magic safe and hidden away from the population at large. I hated looking like a bedraggled mess when brought before him. Unfortunately as I usually saw him both before and after a job, half the time I was trailing some form of dust or debris from a construction site. Resigned, I rubbed my gritty eyes, slipped on my coat, picked up my bag and followed Malak off of the plane. Despite the coat, I shivered. It was colder here, even with the brightly shining sun. The wind whipped my ponytail around and I decided it could take the blame for my disarray if anyone commented. We crossed the tarmac and went into the small airport.

This airport was larger than the one we left behind, but not by much. It was a hub for the Commission to ship people to various places for various tasks, but it also served the local community, providing commuter planes to several small nearby cities. Their normal activity kept the airport from looking suspicious. At the moment, there were only a few scattered travelers sprinkled through the airport, the bulk of them having already left. As time for the next flights drew closer, I was certain the numbers would increase, passengers ebbing and flowing with the schedule. I didn't bother looking at the signs to figure out when the next incoming tide would be. For now, those here ignored us as we moved around the edges of the waiting areas.

James kept his office in one of the back corridors and I followed Malak towards one of the security doors blocking off the corridor from the main space. Malak flashed a plastic card at the electronic scanner and the door clicked open. We stepped inside and once the sound proofed exterior door was closed and locked behind us, Malak opened the second sound proofed door located two paces further down the corridor.

I winced at the sound of the loudly voiced argument echoing off of the hallway's hard surfaces and Malak and I hurried through the second door, closing it quickly behind us in case the single layer of sound proofing wasn't enough to dull the raised voices and keep them from spilling into the public space.

"Bradford's back, " Malak told me unnecessarily. I nodded having already identified the voice of the person arguing with James. Like James Rutherford, Bradford Augustus Addison, IV was from one of the powerful mage families. They consistently produced strong magic users with multiple talents and each sometime in the distant past had an ancestor or two who accumulated and managed to keep a great deal of wealth so that the current generation had little to do in the work-a-day world.

Unlike James, who claimed the Commission worked tirelessly to maintain order, and rule both effectively and judiciously, Bradford disliked the Commission as a whole. He didn't like the Commission's rules and regulations; he didn't like privileges they received and most of all he didn't like the fact that he was not born to one of the families destined to inherit a seat on the Commission. 'It is time for new blood, ' had become his battle call, a call which was taken up by many likeminded people of similar families who, like the Addison Clan, weren't quite established enough to boast a seat on the Commission.

That was of course the injustice they most wanted to change.

As far as I could tell it was the only difference in their policies and politics, although they frequently liked to claim otherwise. Of course, no one was asking me. The Appleton Family tended to produce people like me with only one talent each and a tendency to go into either the trades or academics. For every carpenter and electrician we boasted, we claimed an equal number of professors, usually of ancient history or linguistics. My cousin Sean and I, currently the only two remaining members of the once large Appleton Clan, learned both Latin and Ancient Greek while learning how to make dove tailed joints and rewire lamps. None of these family facets earned us either seats on the Commission or ranked just below those destined for seats and determined to change the system.

Not that I particularly liked the system.

Like James, I was mostly used to it and didn't think the other group planned on changing more than the house sigils on the Commission's roster if they did manage to take power. I was certain that any issues I or anyone like me for that matter, raised with the way things operated would be deemed too insignificant to bother addressing and the world would go on as it had before.

Malak and I approached the office, the sound of the voices getting louder the closer we came to the source. Finally, we pushed the main door open and stepped into the office's reception area. Marcie, James Rutherford's secretary, was typing at her computer and doing her best to pretend not to hear the argument issuing from her boss's inner sanctum. She looked both relieved and resigned by our arrival. Knowing why we were there, she stood up from her chair.

"I'll let him know you are here, " she said. Bravely, she turned to the office door and entered into the fray, closing the inner office door behind her. The voices behind the door quieted and moments later the door was flung open as Bradford strode into the waiting area. His color was high from his argument making his pale skin actually resemble something other than uncooked bread dough. The knot in his tie had even come slightly askew, which was the most out of sorts I had ever seen Bradford. Normally he resembled a cut out from a men's clothing advertisement, albeit one that specialized in high end, expertly tailored suits. He straightened his tie and looked in our direction.

Spotting me, he sneered. "Ah, the blind, imperialist dupe returns from doing the bidding of her masters, " He said. "Run along so you can report in."

Normally, I simply ignored people like Bradford, letting whatever comments they spewed roll off me. Nothing I said would really change his attitude anyway. Early on I tried questioning policy with people like him and grew tired of hitting my head on that particular brick wall. Today I was tired, hungry and Bradford was delaying me getting both food and sleep. It was my only excuse for not keeping my mouth shut, even though I knew better.

"And what would you have me do if you were in charge?" I asked before I could stop myself.

"I would have you shield those who truly needed it, " He declared. I watched him march to the bookshelves and pull one of the booklets listing the shielding regulations from the available stack. He tossed the regulations at me and I caught it on reflex, pleased it hadn't actually hit me in the nose. It was a close call though and I could see Bradford knew it and didn't really care. In fact he looked almost upset by the lack of collision.

"Then why aren't you yelling at the people who make the rules rather than the one who just enforces them?" I asked, irritated as I lowered my hand.

His face colored with embarrassment, crimson staining his cheeks. "Ignorant fool, " he hissed at me before stalking to the main door and flinging it open, making a dramatic exit.

"I thought I was an imperialist's dupe, " I called after him. The door slammed shut behind him. Beside me Malak sighed and shook his head. I really didn't need his condemnation. I knew I should have kept my mouth shut. People like Bradford could make things very unpleasant for me with very little effort.

"Because if he tried speaking to the actual Commission like that, he'd be up on charges of sedition and he knows it, " James said from the doorway of his office answering the question Bradford ignored. Marcie resumed her place, clicking away on her keyboard as though the rest of us didn't exist. "I'm a much safer option for venting his spleen."

"He certainly was in a mood, Mr. Rutherford, " Malak said differentially. Listening to him, I thought Bradford might have miscalculated as to which one of us was the imperialist in residence's dupe.

Even though we were both told to call him James when he took this position, neither of us ever did so to his face and he never corrected the use of his surname. At this point I perfected the art of not actually using his name at all when in his presence referring to him as neither Mr. Rutherford nor the more familiar James. Not that I usually spoke in his presence. James beckoned us both into his office. I followed behind Malak, still holding the booklet of rules and regulations Bradford hurled at my head, even though both of us left our luggage in the waiting area. I knew we wouldn't be gone long and I doubted Marcie would let people run off with the bags.

"He certainly was, " James replied as he settled himself behind his desk. Dressed in a three piece, pin striped suit, thinning brown hair still showing the teeth marks of his comb, James looked like a stereotypical banker behind his giant mahogany desk. "One of his compatriots wanted shielding, but didn't meet the requirements. The apartment he is renting may have a tony address, but it isn't owned by anyone in the magical community and most of his neighbors are regular people, wealthy of course, but not part of the magical community."

I nodded knowing ownership of the property was the first requirement the Commission had on their list. I didn't need to look at the booklet in my hand to know there was no way Bradford's friend was going to get the Commission to break it.

"Even if he had met the requirements of course, " James continued. "He wasn't willing to pay the fee, apparently believing the Commission should just give shields to him because he wanted it and comes from a powerful family. Said friend complained to Bradford, Bradford came here. I'm sure you heard enough of the rest."

James slipped on a pair of reading glasses, which only increased the banker-ly image, and turned to his computer screen. He tapped a few keys, using only his two index fingers and smiled when the information he wanted came on the screen. While watching him hunt and peck, I wondered who wanted me, or others like me to not only ignore the rules, but to work for free.

"There we are, the Fausti job. Any complications?" James asked.

"None, " Malak answered.

I wondered if he would have noticed if any complications had occurred as he spent most of his time in the car either listening to audio books or sleeping. Although Malak liked to say he listened to various historical treatise and books about war to pass the time, I knew from overheard snippets that he alternated between self-help books and trashy romance novels.

I tried not to judge.

Well, at least not out loud.

Personally I didn't care what he listened to, but found it absurd that he lied about it when he knew I could see the covers of his audio books as well as overhearing bits of the text from time to time. I didn't think most history books were concerned with the inner you or used words like throbbing and smoldering quite as often as Malak's books. I could be wrong of course; perhaps Alexander the Great's secret to empire building lay in the smoldering looks he favored on his generals before battle.

"Excellent, " James responded, not even looking at me. He poked a couple of

more keys, frowned at the screen and poked a couple more. He nodded in satisfaction. "Ah, larger job that explains it." Through the still open door I could hear the sound of a printer. Moments later Marcie walked in, handed James two sheets of paper and walked back out. James signed each and slid them across his desk to me.

"As usual, the fee was deposited into your account electronically. It is larger than usual, given the size of the job of course." I nodded and scanned the sheet, familiar with the procedure. The sheet was my receipt and my proof that the council owed me money should the fee not appear in my bank account as promised. I started taking shielding jobs for the commission at the age of twelve, saving up the early payments to pay for college, and while there were many things I could say about the commission, delinquent in payment wasn't one of them. At thirty-two, twenty full years after my first job with them, I knew the payment would be fully accredited to my bank account before I even made it home.

I signed both copies, left one on the desk and slipped the other in the back of the rules and regulations booklet I still held. When I got home, I would file it with the other similar receipts. I liked to keep my records straight.

"I see you got the updated codes, " James said, gesturing to the booklet. "Good. Not much has changed, but a refresher is always useful. Glad to see you are keeping on top of it." James crossed his hands in front of him on the desk, fingers laced together, thumbs pressed against each other to form a steeple above; his signal that our time with him was over. Malak turned and walked towards the door. I followed and we reclaimed our luggage before leaving.

Instead of returning to the main terminal, we took the back exit, going through two entirely different sound proofed doors at the end of a corridor running the opposite direction from the gates. This one left us in a secured parking lot when we exited the building. I followed Malak to his black SUV and we placed our luggage in the trunk. Once again I took the passenger's seat and Malak piloted us through the security gates and onto the highway. Malak was silent as he completed his final task on the 'keep Alice safe' detail, namely dropping me off at my apartment building. From there, I was, of course on my own.

Used to his silences, I concentrated on not falling asleep in my seat. Luckily it was a short drive, Malak soon leaving me, my luggage and my new copy of the rules and regulations at the main door to my apartment building. He drove away without a word and I entered the building, happy to be out of the cold wind. Normally, I would have gone for the stairs, today I was tired enough to take the elevator. Oddly enough the elevator smelled of charcoal and barbeque sauce.

"That's new, " I said as the doors dinged open, letting me out on the third floor. The elevator smelled of lemon scented cleaner when I left and it was a bit late in the season for cook outs. The pool in our complex had been covered for at least a month. As I rolled my small bag towards my apartment door, my stomach rumbled. I debated food vs. sleep as I dug out my keys and opened the door. A flurry of excited barking greeted my arrival and Winston, my overly enthusiastic dog rushed to welcome me home. Despite being half English Staffordshire and half American Pit bull, Winston believed himself to be more of the Yorkshire terrier scale and frequently bowled me over with his overly enthusiastic greetings. I braced myself as his weight plowed into my knees and although I dropped both the booklet and the handle to my luggage, I didn't fall over.

"Yes, yes I see you, " I told Winston who gave up barking so he could lick instead. "I was only gone a few days not a few months. You make it sound like I was trekking the Sahara."

"Don't let him fool you, " A voice said from the hallway leading to the bedrooms. I looked up to see Sean amusedly watching my homecoming extravaganza. "We went for a nice long run in the park this morning and not only has he eaten, but he managed to completely destroy that rawhide bone thing you got him last week."

I laughed and shook my head. "That didn't take long did it?" Satisfied with his greeting, Winston left me, crossing the living room and going to the edge of the kitchen. He lay down next to his empty food bowl and rolled his eyes up to look at me while letting loose a pathetic sounding whine. "I'm not falling for that trick, " I told him. "I know Sean didn't abuse or starve you while I was gone."

"So how did it go?" Sean asked as I shucked off my coat and tried to force it into our overstuffed coat closet. Sean, my cousin, business partner, best friend and roommate, settled himself on the couch watching my fight. I succeeded in wrangling a hanger and forcing my coat between a large puffy coat Sean liked to wear skiing and the wool trench coat I wore when I actually had to look nice in the cold. Feeling triumphant when the closet door managed to shut again, I moved to the kitchen to make a peanut butter sandwich, figuring something in my belly before sleep would be a good plan. The suitcase and booklet I left where they were for the time being.

"You mean how was my excursion as a blind imperialistic dupe?" I opened the bread, took two slices and put the bag back on top of the fridge.

"Or maybe an ignorant fool, I'm not sure what the final call was. Bradford was in the office when we got back." I explained.

"Ah, " Sean replied, not needing more of an explanation.

"The job went well though, larger than usual so I was paid more, " I continued as I spread a thick layer of peanut butter on one slice of the bread. "I learned I could shield tennis courts, so if anyone is attacked during a doubles match they will be fine no matter which of the two courts they are playing on."

"Always handy, " Sean replied as I decided to add strawberry jam to my sandwich, making it a PB and J instead of just a peanut butter sandwich.

"I'm also pretty sure Malak finished Becoming the Man You Always Knew You Could Be and moved on to Ensnared by Passion. The woman on the cover of that one had quite impressive breasts." I returned the jam to the fridge, poured myself a glass of milk and took the milk and plate containing my sandwich back to the living room. I placed them on the coffee table while I sat down in the arm chair across from Sean.

"Heaving bosom, " Sean said.

"Excuse me?" I took a bite of my sandwich and felt the rumblings in my tummy quiet.

"I don't think they are referred to as impressive breasts. That would be tacky. If they are on the cover of a romance novel, it is referred to as a heaving bosom. It's classier that way."

"Well, I would hate to be tacky, " I told him with a laugh.

"That's why I'm here, to uphold the classy level of our family."

"I thought it was because this apartment is within walking distance of the shop and neither of us has ever gotten motivated enough to look at buying our own houses?" I replied.

"That's just my cover story. Oh and speaking of the shop, Gracie stopped in while you were gone because you weren't answering your phone. I told her you were personally overseeing the delivery of a special order. I left out any other details, figuring you could add your own if you wanted."

"Thanks, " I replied. Gracie was a friend I made in college and while she was a close friend, she knew nothing of the magical world or my extra abilities. This was hardly the first time we used the 'supervising a delivery' line. "I appreciate the cover story."

"No sweat. She was very eager to see you though. Apparently there is some sort of auction coming up she wants you to attend. I told her you'd be back Monday if she wanted to stop by, "

"Ah, " I said nodding. "I mentioned that we were running out of space here and were either going to have to do a mass clear out or start looking at houses. She decided that because I routinely build things and have conversations with various tradesmen; a foreclosure auction would be the perfect solution. I'm guessing she found one."

"A foreclosure auction?" Sean asked frowning.

"Yeah, I think she saw it on one of those home improvement shows she likes to watch and she thought it was a good idea."

"That seems overly ambitious, especially for her." Sean said with a laugh.

I nodded. While Gracie had a keen eye for design, mostly used for exquisitely designed marketing campaigns, handing her any sort of tool meant that in very short order you would be making a trip to the emergency room. "I think she likes the concept of making a home completely your own from the bare bones up as well as the recycling aspect and thinks I have the skills to pull it off."

"I've seen those shows, " Sean said thoughtfully. "It actually might be less risky for you since you wouldn't be trying to flip it for a profit."

"Don't encourage her, " I told him. "Since we are speaking of the shop though, why are you home at this time of day anyway? Shouldn't you be chatting up designers and managing the website and workforce?"

"You do realize it is Sunday and that we are closed on Sundays?"

"Is it?" I shook my head. "I always get so mixed up when the crews work weekends." I shrugged. "That does explain the lack of commuters at the airport though. Well, at least I won't feel bad taking an extended nap once this sandwich is done. I didn't get finished until about three this morning."

"Ouch, was the hunky contractor there this time?" Sean fluttered his eyelashes at me and I frowned. Once, over martinis, I confessed to having a little crush on Davis and Sean never let me forget it.

"Davis was there, " I told him, finishing off my sandwich. "Didn't you have a date with a fireman while I was gone? Shouldn't that have maxed out your man candy limit?" I reached for my milk as Sean rolled his eyes and heaved a long suffering sigh.

"Jacob. It was a complete trip to Dullsville with side trip to Boring Town for good measure. We were a total mismatch and now of course my fireman fantasy is ruined. Now when I try to bring it to mind, all I hear in my head is Jacob droning on about how many pounds he can bench press and the health benefits of protein shakes."

I laughed, finished my milk and took my plate and glass to the kitchen. "Did you at least make a dirty joke about protein shakes, " I asked, knowing my cousin.

"Of course. He frowned and told me nutrition was serious business and then proceeded to point out all the bad choices heaped on my plate as compared to his own. Speaking of which, we went to that new restaurant that just opened up down on fifth, Celeste. Really good food and the prices weren't bad. My pork chop had some sort of Calvados and ginger glaze or sauce or something that I could guzzle by the bucketful if they'd let me and even Jacob's plain-jane steamed fish with steamed veggies looked pretty good. Admittedly, it probably would have looked better if he hadn't asked them to put the sauce on the side."

"I'll have to give it a try then, " I told him. I rinsed off my dishes and left them in the rack to dry. I yawned hugely. Now that my belly was full, my exhaustion was rising. I was fed and it was time for sleep. I had one final question though and while relatively unimportant I knew it would nag me if I didn't ask.

"Do you know what's up with the charcoal smell in the elevator, " I asked as I rubbed my eyes and started towards my bedroom.

"Mark was trying to get one last barbeque in before the really cold weather kicked in. There was some sort of mishap as he was taking all of the elements down to the rec area. Poor guy was shivering the whole time. He looked miserable and despite the tinfoil he put over the plate, everything had to be ice cold by the time he got it back upstairs."

"Let me guess, " I said, thinking of our twenty-two year old neighbor and the group of people he usually had flocking about him. "His band of cohorts refused to eat by the covered up pool?"

"You got it, " Sean told me.

"Well at least I won't stay up wondering about the elevator's new scent, thanks, " I told him. "See you in a few hours."

I left Sean in the living room and headed to my bedroom. I quickly stripped off my clothes, leaving them in a heap on the floor and pulled on an oversized t-shirt to sleep in. I slipped beneath the covers, pleased to be surrounded by the scent of my fabric softener instead of the industrial detergent the motel favored. As I settled, I remembered my suitcase standing next to the front door.

"I should get that, " I thought. Instead, I closed my eyes and let sleep claim me.

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