Martin Caldwell looked at only a couple offices before settling on one located in a newly renovated factory building in the High Falls district. It came with a shared receptionist on the first floor, an outer/inner office combination on the third floor, and shared conference facilities throughout. He got a phone number that routed through the main switchboard downstairs, hired a temp secretary to decorate his outer office, and bought some furnishings that were just a touch more upscale than the building. It was all for show, of course, but he was doing it right.
The desks were still being installed when Nieves and Fuentes started their hunt for Rochester’s magical underworld. This was Nieves’ talent, so Fuentes drove up and down streets while Nieves extended his senses, trying to sniff out wizards by sensing their auras. Any time he felt one he made a mark on a map. They’d come back later to find out if this was a wizard that was doing something interesting, i.e. illegal.
They started in the center of the city and worked their way outward, looking for crime and wizards. It was a week before they made it out to the suburbs where Patton lived.
Patton knew there was something wrong the moment he pulled into his driveway. It had been raining when he left that morning so he drove the winter beater, but even through the closed windows and bad exhaust something smelled bad — decayed, rotting, fecal, putrid, rancid — like a sewer. He parked his car in the garage and got out. The stench tried to knock him down as he walked to the house. Halfway there he stopped and stared at the puddle in his back yard that was the source of the bad smell. Shit! he thought to himself. The septic system’s fucked up!
As he walked into the house he heard the tell-tale sound of water trickling through the pipes. In the downstairs bathroom he found the toilet running, overflowing onto the floor and seeping into the basement below. He shut it off and went to work mopping up the mess.
Just about the time he finished mopping he was greeted with a sucking and gurgling sound — the toilet had drained dry. He looked at it, then walked out to the patio and looked at the puddle. It had grown while he was mopping. Damn! There’s no hope it will magically fix itself! He went back inside and fired up the computer to look up septic contractors. Hopefully he could find someone he could afford.
While he was searching his phone rang. “Scotty? It’s me, Yvonne. Would you like to join us for dinner?”
“Sure. I have a few calls to make, but I’d love to! Would you like me to bring anything?”
“No, just yourself. It’s too nice a day to be eating alone. Hurry on over!”
“OK, I’ll see you soon!” He went back to looking for contractors.
The last thing Patton expected to find at the Coven House was a man.
“Scotty, have you met Rich Waters?” asked Margaret.
“Nice to meet you,” said Patton as he went over and shook Rich’s hand.
“Rich is Margaret’s True Love!” Yvonne sounded like a ten-year-old trying to embarrass her teenage sister. It must have worked since both Margaret and Rich blushed.
“Congratulations,” said Patton.
“Would you like some wine?” asked Elaine, clearly changing the subject.
“Thanks, I could really use some right now.”
“Oh? Is something wrong?” Elaine showed she was a better hostess than bartender by taking out a large wine glass and filling it nearly to the top. She handed it to Patton, who started by lowering the level to something less likely to slosh over the edge.
“Thanks,” he said. “Yeah, I’m having a little septic trouble at home. You might say I’m in deep shit.” He took another drink. “I’m growing a cesspool in my back yard.”
The others smiled weakly at his feeble attempt at a joke and Yvonne said, “Well I don’t want to hear any more about it until after dinner. You wouldn’t want to spoil Elaine’s cooking!”
They moved the conversation into the dining room. “So tell me, Scott, what do you do?” asked Rich.
“Right now I’m splitting my time between looking for a job and learning to deal with magic.”
“What do you mean, ‘deal with magic?’ Is there something wrong with your magic?”
Patton was a bit surprised by the question. “You know about magic? That it’s real?” Then he looked at the witches and smacked himself on the head. “Of course you know about magic! You’re hanging out with a bunch of witches! Don’t tell me — you’re a warlock, right?” Rich’s face turned dark, and Margaret jumped in.
“Uh, Scotty, calling someone a warlock is an insult. Rich is a wizard.” Then she turned to Rich. “Don’t be upset with him, he’s new to magic and knows nothing about Mage society.” Rich calmed down.
“New, huh?” he asked Patton.
“Yeah. Last week I didn’t know about wizards, and now I are one!” Patton smiled weakly and drained his glass. Yvonne went into the kitchen to get the bottle from Elaine.
“Is he …?” Rich started to ask.
“We think so, but we’re not sure,” replied Margaret, cutting off Rich’s question about the Prophecy. Yvonne returned and refilled Patton’s glass.
“So what do you do, Rich?” asked Patton.
“I am a lawyer. A wizard lawyer, if I do say so myself!” Rich smiled, and then Patton got the joke and laughed.
“Good one! Are there lots of wizard lawyers?”
“As far as I know I’m the only one in New York.”
“You know, Margaret, I never asked, but what do you and your sister witches do? I assume you make money somehow.”
“Oh, we’re advice columnists,” she replied. “We help people find true love and happiness …”
“And lust!” interrupted Yvonne.
“… through columns syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, newsletters, and magazines around the world.”
“I get to write the smutty ones,” contributed Yvonne.
“And that pays?” This discussion about employment reminded Patton of his lack of income and the money pit that was growing in his back yard and he took another sip of wine.
Margaret replied “Better than you might think. Even though information on the Internet is free, sex still sells.”
“I’m surprised you don’t shoot some videos. I understand that’s where the real money is on the Internet.”
Elaine walked into the room just then, her hands full of food. She snorted. “Humpf! Sex is not a spectator sport. Anyone who has more than a passing interest in watching it has some real problems. Sometimes we write about that in our columns.”
“Oh, here, let me help you with that!” The next few minutes were occupied with putting the food on the table and getting everyone started eating. Yvonne refilled Patton’s glass again, and the conversation drifted to Mage society.
“So how many witches and wizards are in the area, and how come ordinary people like me don’t know about them?”
Elaine responded, “What do you think Rich, a hundred?”
“In this area, yeah. Maybe a little more, but not much. Mages are pretty scarce.” He thought about it a bit more. “Maybe a hundred and twenty, tops.” He looked at Margaret and winked. “I’d have to check my little black book to be sure.” She slugged him in the arm.
“Don’t try and fool me! There’s no way you’ve slept with every witch in the city, not to mention us country girls!” Her nose went up in the air. “We gots taste, we ‘as! Dere’s plenty o’ good girls ‘oo wouldn’ drop dere knickers fo’ da likes o’ you!” Not quite Eliza Doolittle, but everybody laughed. Patton toasted her response with another sip of wine.
Rich took up the challenge. “Yvonne, why don’t you run and get Margaret’s little black book. We’ll just count the wizards in there, and multiply by four! That’ll give us an accurate figure!” Everybody laughed as Margaret slugged his arm again.
“Multiply by four?” asked Patton. “Why’s that?”
“As far as anyone’s been able to figure there are three times as many witches as wizards,” answered Elaine. “No one knows why. Magic isn’t an inheritable trait, either, and nobody know why that is, either. As a result Mages are forced to live in among Mundanes, and given our small numbers we tend to keep a low profile.”
“That’s what we call people who can’t use magic,” said Yvonne. Patton thought about that a moment, then finished off what was left in his glass.
“If you’ll excuse me a moment,” he said, rising to his feet. He took one step toward the bathroom and fell flat on his face.
“Damn!” said Margaret. “Would you mind giving me a hand with him, Rich?”
Patton awoke to find himself stretched out on a sofa with a blanket tucked around him and a hangover trying to break out of his head. As he groaned and reached to shield his eyes he realized he was naked under that blanket.
“Good morning!” The irritatingly chipper voice was Yvonne’s, coming from a chair on the other side of the coffee table.
“What happened? Never mind, I can guess. I made a fool of myself and passed out.”
“Not necessarily in that order, but yes, you did. Are you ready to get up?”
“What time is it?”
“Oh, crap! I’m supposed to be meeting with a contractor at nine!” Patton struggled to his feet, grasping at the blanket all the while. Every step he took toward the bathroom tried to shake the hangover loose, but the hangover wasn’t having any part of it.
“Go ahead and take a shower,” Yvonne called after him. “You’ll feel better for it. Trust me!” She waited until she heard the shower running, then slowly got up and walked to the bathroom, slipping off her robe as she went. She slid into the shower behind Patton and startled him.
“What the …?”
“Shh! Let me take care of that hangover for you!” She reached up and placed her hands on either side of his head, then stretched up and kissed him deeply. He wound up wrapping his arms around her as much to keep from falling down as anything, and for several minutes there was nothing but the warm water flowing over two entwined bodies merged into a soul-blending kiss.
They finally broke, and Yvonne asked, “How’s your hangover?”
“What hangover?” he murmured into her ear, then he drew back in surprise. “It’s gone! Really gone!”
“I know. I have a way with hangovers. Let’s get a quick breakfast before you have to go.”
A few minutes later they were dressed and walked into the kitchen to find Elaine, Margaret, and Rich drinking coffee. “Rich! You spent the night, too?”
“Thanks to you, buddy, thanks to you!” Rich got up and slapped Patton on the back. “I’m not sure how you did it, but somehow your puking and crying convinced Margaret to let me spend the night. I’m forever in your debt!”
Yvonne was staring at Margaret, who rolled her eyes to the ceiling. Elaine was pointedly not paying attention to the conversation, preparing some eggs instead. Patton was simply embarrassed.
“You said ‘puking and crying’, right? Please don’t say any more. I’m embarrassed enough as it is!”
Elaine handed him a bacon egg and cheese muffin and said “I understand you need to be someplace?”
“Unfortunately, yes, I have to get going. Thanks for everything.”
Rich said, “I have to get going, too. Thanks for breakfast, Elaine.” He gave her a quick kiss, gave another to Yvonne just so she wouldn’t be left out, then lingered over Margaret’s kiss. She finally broke it off and swatted him.
Out in the driveway Patton was standing next to his motorcycle putting on his leather jacket and helmet.
“That’s a BMW, right? What kind?” asked Rich.
“It’s a 1981 R65.”
“Looks nice! Must be fun to ride.”
“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy a motorcycle, and that’s pretty close.” Patton hit the starter and it fired right up. “Gets great gas mileage, too!” he said over the purr of the engine. He closed his helmet and a moment later he was gone.