"We have a client coming."
"Are we looking at staplers moving around in an office?"
"We keep all our work confidential."
"Ginger, where are your clothes?"
Kristi watched Ayel as the blonde entered the warehouse. She waited for the door to close before opening her own door. "Okay, Ginger, take a look around."
Ginger dismissed the tawny-haired woman with a wave of the hand. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Look for people like me."
"And other Wee Folk," Kristi added.
Ginger hopped out of the van, her long hair swaying. She darted under the van. Kristi followed the tiny woman out, but remained standing beside the minivan. She stretched, working out a few kinks in her back. A breeze promising rain later wafter through the parking lot, teasing Kristi's hair. She heard tiny footsteps running across the gravel; it took some willpower to avoid looking in Ginger's direction.
For her part, Ginger dashed to the edge of the gravel, marked by several dandelions pushing their way up through the rocks. The tiny woman touched one of the growing weeds. In moments, the plant grew, flowering in a bright yellow blossom. Ginger plucked the flower and held it over her head like an umbrella. She sauntered along the the wall, acting as if she was there for a stroll. The tiny woman stole a glance back at the van; Kristi leaned against the contraption.
At the corner of the warehouse, Ginger stopped. She peered around, even looking up. A raven flew overhead. Ginger pressed up against the warehouse and waited for the bird to fly away. Once sure that it was safe, the tiny woman crept around the corner, then sat down, crossing her legs under her. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.
Ginger let her senses flow away from her, into the ground she sat on and into the air she breathed. The earth below her did not feel right, much like the earth back on the old farm was starting to grow into. The grass around her was tame, kept controlled, much like in Ayel's backyard. Ginger ignored the state of nature near the warehouse and pushed senses further. There was nothing of home around, but there was a twinge. The tiny woman focused on the new feeling, following it. Something around didn't belong, but she couldn't tell what.
Ayel walked up to the desk in the small reception hall. The wall behind the woman at the desk was made of thin wood painted cream at some point in the past and now desperately needing touching up. Papers were pinned on an overstuffed bulletin board. The woman looked up, brushing a strand of chestnut hair out of her face. "Yes, hello, how can I help you?"
"Hi, I'm here to see Alex Klein. He might be expecting me."
"I'll page him. Please, have a seat." The woman picked up her phone and pressed a button. From deeper inside, her voice echoed, "Alex, come to the front desk. Alex to the front desk."
Ayel sat down. She thumbed through the magazines, mostly older titles covering the news with a smattering of automotive and general interest issues mixed in. Her wait wasn't long; Alex emerged from the interior of the warehouse soon after the page. Ayel got back up. "Hi again." She dug out a red and white USB memory stick from her jacket pocket. "Here you go." The blonde handed the stick to her client.
Nervous, Alex looked over at the receptionist. "Thanks."
"Since I'm here, do you mind showing me around?" Ayel flashed a reassuring smile at Alex. "I'm taking Business at Carleton and seeing how things work here would be really helpful. Classes are great, but there's nothing like a first-hand look at a real business."
Alex stammered as he turned to the receptionist. "Ash, would there be a problem?"
Ash looked up from her work. She viewed Ayel with a critical eye. "Yeah, go ahead. Just keep her away from anything sensitive and the offices. And make sure that she doesn't get in Antony's way."
"Will do." Alex led Ayel to the back. "Antony's driving the forklift today. He's good, but he tends to have a lead foot."
"Thanks." Once she closed the door behind her, Ayel leaned in closer to Alex. "It doesn't hurt to see the site." She kept her tone low so that only Alex could hear here, even with the forklift \'s engine whining.
"Sounds good to me." Alex kept the lead, taking Ayel deeper into the building. They walked through the maze of crates to the back wall. "This is the boss's latest shipment. Does any of it look odd to you?"
Ayel approached the small stack of crates. "It's all still packed." She shrugged. "Do any of these show where they came from?"
"Over here." Alex pointed out the shipping labels to the blonde woman.
"Thanks." Ayel read over the first crate's label. "Prague?"
Alex shrugged. "The boss has a wide taste in art."
Ayel pulled out her notepad from her coat pocket. "I'll just get the origins of these. It'll give us a start point in our research." She bent in to get a better look at the label. "That's a customs mark. How were these shipped?"
"I think the boss had these flown in. He had to go to Montreal to pick them up."
"How long were the crates held in Montreal?"
"A few weeks. The boss was getting antsy waiting for these to clear."
Ayel leaned back on her heels as she thought. "Can you include where all the packages still waiting to be sent out came from? Or where they were held if they were held up anywhere?"
"You know what's going on, then?"
"No." Ayel shook her head. "But the more information I have, the better. I doubt Customs is going to admit that something odd happened in their offices, but maybe one of their employees was spooked enough to mention it online."
Alex nodded. "Thanks. I better get you going. Ash doesn't mind visitors, but the boss gets nervous."
"No problem, Alex. Thanks for giving me the short tour and showing me around."
Kristi kicked at the gravel with her toe, scattering rocks around. The warehouse's main entrance opened. Instead of Ayel as the tawny-woman expected, two young men came out. Kristi shot a glance at where she last saw Ginger before returning her attention to the newcomers. She shot the young men a smile. Both men stopped in their tracks. "Um, hi," Kristi said.
"Hi," one of the young men, a blond, said.
"Hello," his dark-haired co-worker said. "You look lost."
"Oh, no, nothing like that." Kristi brushed back a curl from her shoulder. "I'm just waiting for a friend. She's just stepped in."
"Maybe we can help," the blond man said.
"We're on break, but if you have a question, shoot," the dark-haired man added.
"Not really." Kristi leaned against the van. "Just wondering how much longer I'll have to wait. My friend really takes her time."
"I can go in and find out," the blond man offered.
Kristi shook her head. "No, no need." Her face brightened. "But if you're on break, you might know where there's a good place to eat around here. I've never been to this part of Ottawa before."
"Sounds silly, right? I mean, I've been here for three years. Most of three years. I'm a student at Carleton."
The dark-haired man smiled. "Yeah? My brother's going there. He's in Chemistry. Maybe you had a class with him?"
"Maybe? I'm majoring in Art History, but I've taken classes in Psych. Basic Psych is popular."
"I'll ask him. What's your name?"
"Kristi." The tawny-haired woman offered her hand. "Kristi Thiessen."
The blond man shook Kristi's hand. "Sean Hayden. This is my friend, Jared Weaver."
Kristi shook Jared's hand. "Hi. So, do you two work in the warehouse?"
"It's a summer job," Jared said. "It'll pay for most of school."
"Which school do you go to?"
"Queen's," Sean said. "We're home for the summer. Probably should have stayed in Kingston, though."
Kristi cocked her head to the side. "Oh? Why's that?"
Jared took a nervous glance at the warehouse. "Weird things are going on. Weird."
"It's just Antony playing mind games on everyone," Sean said. "He's not right in the head."
"Maybe, but there's no way he could have moved that crate into the offices."
Sean looked at the time on his phone. "We better get going. Our break isn't that long."
Kristi held her hand out. "May I?" Once she had Sean's phone, she added her name and number to his contact list. "Let me know if you're busy this weekend. I could use a tour guide." She handed Sean's phone back to him. The two men walked off, ribbing each other. Kristi settled back on the van. A few minutes later, Ayel came out of the warehouse, walking at a steady pace.
The blonde woman opened the driver's side door. "I have some information for you," she said. "Where's the fairy?"
"I'll go get her." Kristi walked down to the corner of the warehouse. "Ginger, time to go."
The tiny woman got to her feet, pickiing up her dandelion parasol. "Hi, Kristi! There's something odd here."
"Tell me about it in the van, okay?" Kristi returned to the van.
Ginger ran to catch up, then hopped into the van on the passenger's side. Once the tawny-haired woman was in, Ginger climbed up into her lap. "There's something odd here."
Ayel glanced down at the tiny woman as she started the van's engine. "Felt something?" The blonde woman retrieved her notepad from her pocket and gave it to Kristi. "Something to start with. It's all the origins of the artwork in the warehouse. None of it has been unpacked yet."
Kristi put the notebook in her jacket pocket. "Thanks, I think." She looked down at the tiny woman on her lap. "What was odd, Ginger?"
Ginger set down her dandelion. "The magic here is twisted. It didn't taste right."
"Magic has a taste?" Ayel asked. She backed the van out of the parking lot.
"Everything has a taste," Ginger said, as if explaining the obvious. "Some things taste better than others. Apples have a good taste. Coffee has a good taste and feels fun after drinking it. This magic tasted wrong."
Kristi's eyes widened. "You let Ginger drink coffee?"
"I didn't know she had any." Ayel began driving down the road in the correct direction. "Someone must have left their mug out without finishing it. And just how did you get inside to drink coffee, Ginger?"
"I found a way in. The cat wanted to play." Ginger held up her dandelion. "Here."
"Thank you." Kristi took the flower and wove it into her hair. "Where next, Ayel?"
"There should be a craft supply store around here where I can get you measuring tape." Ayel checked for traffic around her van. Then I'll take you home so I can get ready for my shift tonight."
"This might be easier to explain if we were either all dressed or all nude."
"How long have we been partners again?"
"I'm not an elf!"
"You're weirding me out."