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   Chapter 14 The Ravenwood Arms

The Ravenwood Arms By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 25194

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:30

Chapter 14

I exited my building just as Malak turned the corner in his black SUV. The day warmed slightly as it progressed and I stood back from the curb so that Malak wouldn't splash me with the expanding pool of icy slush gathered on the street side of the curb. He pulled up and I dodged the splash his SUV created. I heard the click as the back unlocked and I placed my suitcase inside before taking my place in the passenger's seat.

Malak didn't say a word as I got in, barely even waiting for my seatbelt to be fastened before putting the car in drive. If anything, he looked grumpier than usual. I thought about reminding him that James was the one who decided on this particular excursion, but decided not to waste my breath. If Malak wanted to be grumpy, he could be grumpy. As we headed to the airport and our meeting with James, I wondered if Malak would behave any differently with the reporter around. Would he forsake his audio books and seat in the car? Would he trail me around the site, watching both what I did and taking notes on the reporter's actions for James? Despite my annoyance at the impromptu summons, I found myself curious.

We arrived at the airport and Malak parked. Still silent, I followed him through the security doors, the wheels of our rolling suitcases first making a low sound against the concrete sidewalks, then changing pitch slightly as we hit the tile of the interior corridor. This time there was no shouting and no Bradford in evidence. In James' office, Marcie smiled at us, got up and walked into the inner office to let James know we had arrived. As soon as she returned, she sent us back. We parked our luggage by her desk and walked into James' office.

Wendy Watts arrived before we did and was decked out in an emerald green suit. The shirt under her jacket gleamed silver. Once again she carried a large purse. This one was silver to match the shirt and earrings. Her suitcase, a wheeled number like mine, was a hard shelled case, also in silver. I wondered if all of the outfits packed inside would match the luggage as well or if she would only coordinate with the luggage on travel days. Her nails were painted a metallic green that reminded me of beetles and they shimmered slightly when she moved her fingers. As much as I liked the color, I decided it would creep me out to wear it. I didn't need to look at my fingers and think 'bugs' as I worked. I glanced down at my short unpainted nails and realized any polish I put on them would no doubt be quickly destroyed anyway so it was a moot point.

"I could always paint my toes, " I thought, trying to remember if I still had any nail polish in the apartment that hadn't dried up. My thoughts regarding self-beautification were interrupted as James began to speak. While Wendy occupied one of the guest chairs, Malak and I remained standing.

"Ms. Watts will be accompanying the two of you on this trip, " He told us. Malak's eyebrow shot up in surprise and I found myself surprised he didn't know. I always assumed he knew more than I did. I suppose what they say of assumptions was correct. Apparently today, both of us were asses.

"There are two jobs during this trip out, one tonight and one first thing in the morning, " James handed Malak a file and I watched him open it and scan the directions. I knew it would contain not only the location of the two sites, but the hotel and rental car information as well. I also knew first thing in the morning meant only a few hours down time between sites at best.

"The first is a shielding of both a house and yard, the second is of the house only, " James continued, handing me a sheet with the break out of the properties. The first property was a new construction and as usual I was being called in post electric and pre insulation. The second property was a renovation. The kitchen was gutted and both it and the living room were getting a makeover to create an open floorplan. Both projects were being managed by the same contractor, Greg Timmons. As I worked with him nearly as much as I worked with Davis, I had no problems with him.

"Ms. Watts is here to observe. You will behave as you normally do on any other job site and should she have any questions, you will answer them."

Both Malak and I nodded and a moment later, James was shaking Wendy's hand and sending us out of his office. This time it was three of us in a row as we left the office and headed towards the airport. We were quiet as we waited for the plane to be ready. Finally, we boarded the plane. As usual, Malak headed to the private compartment, leaving me to entertain Wendy. She stared at the closed door as we took our seats.

"I hope you don't mind me watching you work, " She said, turning to me a look of concern on her face.

"No problem, " I told her smiling. She glanced back towards the closed door. "He does that even when it's just me, " I told her. "I wouldn't take it personally if I were you."

"Oh, " Wendy replied. The plane began taxi-ing down the runway. "So what happens now?"

"Well Malak has the logistics file, but usually when we have two projects we will do one after dark and one before the sun comes up. What will more than likely happen is we will land, pick up the rental car and more than likely check into our motel. Then when it is dark, we will go to the site, meet the contractor and I will shield the first site. Then it's back to the motel to sleep, off to the second site before dawn, more than likely checking out of the motel before we go, and after shielding we will fly back."

Wendy nodded. "Seems reasonable, " she replied. "Do you do anything to prep before arrival?"

"Not really."

"Oh, well then I am just going to relax and enjoy the ride." Wendy pulled out an i-pod and a sleep mask. In moments, she was zoned out in her own little world. As I was used to flying more or less alone, I didn't mind. I pulled a battered copy of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' from my bag.

In an attempt to keep my brain from atrophying, I decided to start re-reading classics and in fact downloaded a list entitled '100 books every person should read'. It not only gave me a strange sort of satisfaction to be able to cross each one off the list, but I found the books I only read as part of a school requirement years ago to be infinitely more enjoyable now that I didn't have to break the story down for my English teacher. I considered it a double win.

The flight passed quietly with the exception of some minor turbulence about an hour in. During the few minutes where the plane did its impression of a Mexican jumping bean, Wendy didn't move and I had to put my book down so I didn't get sick. After that, the pilot took us to a slightly higher altitude and the ride smoothed out.

When the plane began its descent, Wendy pulled off her mask and put it and her i-pod back in her bag. I put my book away and Wendy pulled out her compact to make certain her make-up hadn't smudged. By the time we landed and rolled to our arrival gate, she was camera ready, should anyone around actually have a camera, and Malak was opening the door in the back.

In the airport, I ducked into the restroom while Wendy followed Malak to the rental car booth. I spent too many hours on site not to know using the facilities before leaving the airport was a must. While the building sites usual had a row of port-a-johns available, I was not a fan.

Especially at night.

On an empty construction site.

As I washed my

y asked as the two of us got out and headed to our rooms.

"Pretty much."

"Oh, " Our rooms were next to each other and when we reached the doors Wendy looked at me as though she wanted to say something, but wasn't entirely sure what. She shook her head as though dispelling the thought. "See you in a few hours, " She said finally, opening her door.

"Night, " I said, opening mine.

Alone in my room, I allowed myself a moment of reaction, shaking from the near miss of the shadow creature's attack. Once settled, I set the alarm on my phone and got ready for bed. There was after all only a few hours before I had to place a second shield.

"At least there are almost never any shadow creatures around when I place shields in the morning, " I told myself. Then I remembered the three had attacked outside my building in the early morning and sighed heavily. I ordered myself not to think about it and closed my eyes.

Sleep was elusive and I drifted in and out of consciousness, not really sinking into deep slumber. When my alarm went off I was already half awake. I groggily rubbed my eyes and turned off the alarm. Knowing rolling back to sleep for a few more hours was not an option, I stumbled to the bathroom, stripped and turned on the shower, using only the cold water. I yelped as the icy droplets hit my warm skin, but the cold shower did the trick and by the time I toweled off and dressed, I was more or less awake.

In very little time I was back at the car, loading my suitcase in the trunk. Malak's bag was already loaded and I gave him my room key. Wendy trudged over, looking less put together than usual. Her snazzy suit was slightly rumpled and she was already wearing the sneakers instead of the heels, as though she couldn't be bothered to change on site. She handed Malak her room key and as he left to turn them into the clerk, Wendy shoved her bag in the back next to mine.

"This is cruel and unusual punishment, " Wendy informed me as we slipped into the car. The woman had dark circles under her eyes and her royal blue silk blouse was misbuttoned.

"This is just a quick indoor shield, then we'll head back to the airport, " I told her. "You might want to fix your shirt." She looked down and sighed at the misbuttoned garment. She finished fixing it as Malak returned and we began our drive to the second site.

The second job of the trip was located closer to the airport. Again Greg Timmons met us on site and we left Malak in the car.

"Does he always stay in the car?" Wendy asked as we followed Greg into the house. Greg snorted in derision, but otherwise stayed silent, letting me field the question.

"For the most part, " I answered.

"But isn't he supposed to be here to keep you safe?"

"That's what I was told, " I replied. As Wendy still seemed skittish, Greg stayed inside with us, instead of leaving me alone to work. Again he shivered when the shield passed through him.

"I will never get used to that, " he said shaking his head as I expanded the shield so that it covered the entire house. Wendy looked at the shields quizzically as I worked and I realized she had been a little too spooked by our encounter at the first job site to ask any questions. Even though she looked exhausted now, she was calmer.

She was quiet until I locked the shields in place and they flashed brightly. Then she pulled out her digital recorder and the questions began. Luckily, they were the questions I was expecting. Like Christy, she wanted to know if the shield would wear off the already finished walls that existed throughout the house or if special cleaners needed to be used or preservation work done to maintain them. I answered each one of her questions. When she was done, she turned to Greg and asked about his experience with shielded properties, me, others like me and Commission based projects in general. Greg gave her calm, clear and concise answers to her questions and soon she was satisfied. Wendy turned off her recorder, and tucked it back into her silver bag.

This time, Malak had his audio book turned off before I opened the car door. Wendy and I slipped inside as Greg returned to his own vehicle. I knew he would be heading back to his construction office and catching some sleep before his crews began arriving. We headed back to the airport, the drive shorter as we were closer than the day before. Once again silence reigned as we drove. After skipping dinner and completing two jobs, my stomach felt cavernously empty. As I could feel sleep waiting to claim me though, I didn't insist on stopping to eat.

We arrived at the airport, Malak took care of the rental car and in a short while we were once again aboard one of the Commission's private planes. Malak secreted himself in the back and without a word, Wendy put her sleep mask over her eyes and her head phones in her ears. I settled myself in my seat and instead of pulling out my book; I leaned back and closed my eyes, more than ready for a little sleep myself.

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