The Vegas Swap-o-Rama was open Friday through Sunday. It was Thursday, and in two hours it would be Friday, aka swap meet day. Three nights a week I spent at the vet, from eight at night to six the next morning. Streaming vids were slowly educating me on mortal mentality. To keep my fingers busy, I weaved the pawnshop finds into beribboned and magic’d charms. Starlight was potent. I’d charged some talismans from Jerry’s Pawn outside under the new moon. I was wire wrapping the relief hammered disks, adorning the final silver creations with purple, midnight blue, and black braided silk ribbons. I found it ironic that the same humans I was selling to often made me offerings with candles and incense and moonlit sacrifices. All things are connected.
My goal was to have a dozen charms ready by dawn. I’d done four, that left eight more. The finished ribboned charm caught sparks from the air around it as I set it down. It was time for my midnight rounds. My presence had a calming effect on the animals, but an extra trail of magic in their enclosures helped them relax even more. They were darlings, all of them, and I added a bit of healing as I went. A trick I’d learned from Panacea.
The knock on the back door stopped me mid-stride. No one ever came to the back door. I walked over to it and stared at the slab of fireproof metal.
“Cate? Cate? It’s Ravi, open up.” More pounding. I considered leaving the door closed. What was Ravi doing here? I was not okay with him coming to where I worked.
“Cate?” He was almost screaming now. His desperation chewed at me. I pushed the release and swung the door open.
“What do you…” I started.
Ravi pushed past me with wild eyes and tousled hair. “Close it, lock it,” he panted.
I raised an eyebrow, but closed it. It automatically locked from the inside. I turned to him.
“Gonna tell me what you are doing here?”
“I…I thought I had it under control, but…I don’t know what I’m going to do, Cate. They threatened to cut things off.” He was almost crying. Sweat trailed down his face and neck.
“Back up, who are they, and what are they after you for?”
“Money. Big Bill’s crew. I owe, and they take things until I pay.”
Vegas. It’s always about the money. “What kind of things?”
He started to sob. I was going to have to help him. “How much?”
“Ten thou. I’ve got it as soon as my luck changes…”
“Gambling?” I rolled my eyes. I should have seen that coming. Even Goddesses can miss things. “Let’s say I decide to help you. First, you have to promise to go get some counseling.”
“Anything. I’ll do anything.” His puppy dog eyes were pleading his case. I pushed myself to not do the eye flare to freak him out, but mortals using those exact words…well, I am a Goddess, after all.
“Here’s what you are agreeing to then. First, counseling. Second, you stop gambling forever. Third, you do jobs for me when I need them. Paid jobs.”
Someone pounded on the door with a fist.
“Yes, yes, I agree. I agree. Help me?”
“I’ll need a key to seal the deal.”
Ravi paused, his hazelnut brown eyes locked on me while his brain caught up. He rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a ring of keys.
“This one is to my apartment. It’s the backup key.” He managed a smile as he handed it to me. The metal glimmered as I touched it, but he didn’t notice. His eyes hadn’t left me. I had that effect on mortals, and he was already smitten.
I glanced at my phone. There were almost six hours left in my shift. The animals had been quiet tonight and I didn’t have any special needs cases…
“Stay here and watch the animals. Don’t open any of the cages unless there’s a fire, an earthquake, or something. The criteria drill is in the door for that. Read it. Be ready. If anything goes weird or anything at all strange happens, then call this number. If you aren’t here when I get back, I’ll kill you myself. Is that clear?”
He nodded with a grin covering the fear. Good, I’d gotten through to him. I was uncomfortable transferring my responsibility, but I owed him a debt.
“Now, where I am I going?” I selected the Uber app on my phone.
“The Keystone Bar is where he hangs. But Cate, where are you gonna get that kind of cash?”
“Don’t worry about the details. I said I’ll take care of it.” I stepped out the door and let it clang behind me.
Two guys were leaning against the wall. They were trying to look inconspicuous, but talking eggplants would have fit into this alley better.
“One of you the-fist-that-pounds-on-doors?”
They both straightened up and approached.
I held my ground. “You Big Bill’s guys? “
“What’s it to you?”
“I have a message from Ravi.”
“Nah, I have to give it Big Bill himself.”
“Not happening. No one sees The Bill without an appointment.”
“Then make me an appointment. Now is a good time.” I stared him down.
“What’s your name?” the bigger brute asked. The close-cropped hair only enhanced his beady brown eyes.
“Ten-big-ones.” I didn’t smile, because it wasn’t necessary. They got the message.
The Uber pulled up.
“Hey, where’s Ravi?” the uglier one asked.
“You don’t need Ravi.” I touched Ugly Goon on the arm and trailed my other hand across the chest of Beady Eyes as I walked past them to get to the Uber. I flashed the app at the driver and got in.
“Keystone Bar,” I said, repeating the address.
The driver glanced in the rearview mirror, but pulled away from the curb. I glanced back at the big-fisted twins. They were leaving, too. A little magic can do wonders.
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