"That's a customs mark.Mid-May
"It's just Antony playing mind games on everyone."
"You let Ginger drink coffee?"
"This magic tasted wrong."
Kristi set down Ginger on the arm of the faded old couch. Her new home, an older duplex showing its age in the middle of the Glebe, was still bare. "And here's our new home. You'll have to hide for a bit when my roomies are around. I have no idea how they'll react."
Ginger, for her part, plunked down on the arm, legs spread out in front of her. "Where's the cat?"
"Benedict Fluffybutt is Ayel's."
"You don't have one?"
"Not yet." Kristi sat down on the couch. "We've just moved in here and we don't know if we'll be here in September."
Ginger leaned back. "It needs a cat here."
Footsteps sounded upstairs. "Kristi, is that you?" Zaina came down a few steps, her body and her hair both wrapped in fluffy yellow towels. "I thought I heard voices."
Kristi darted off the couch to stand between Ginger and Zaina. "I was on the phone."
"Were you on speaker?" Zaina came down a few more steps. "I thought I heard someone else." She froze mid-step. "Um, Kristi, what is that behind you?"
Kristi looked over her shoulder, dreading what she'd find. Ginger stood on the arm of the couch, waving. Kristi sighed. "This might be easier to explain if we were either all dressed or all nude." She stepped aside to let her room mate see all of the tiny woman. "Zaina, this is Ginger."
"What is she?" Zaina sat down on the step. "I mean, is she real?"
"You're the one in Philosophy." Kristi draped her jacket over the back of the couch.
"I mean, is she, like, flesh and blood? Or is she a robot? A really anatomically correct robot?"
"She's real, Zaina. This isn't going to be a problem, is it?"
Zaina wrapped her arms around her bare legs. "I've never seen anything like her."
Ginger crouched down on the couch's arm. "I'm not from where you're from."
Kristi pulled off her lavender sweater. She tossed it on top of her jacket. "Have you heard of the fae, Zaina?"
Zaina blinked. "Um, Kristi?"
The tawny-haired woman looked down her blue sports bra. "I said it'd be easier if we were all dressed or all nude. So, you could get dressed while I put on some coffee--"
Ginger leapt into the air. "Coffee!"
"Or I'll just strip down here and now and you can toss that towel aside." Kristi put her fists on her hips. "Your choice."
"Ah." Zaina scrambled back upstairs.
Kristi turned to the tiny woman. "What did I tell you about having to hide?"
Ginger smiled. "She seems nice."
"Come with me. There's a clean tea towel you can wrap around you." Kristi grabbed her shirt before walking towards the kitchen.
"Coffee!" Ginger ran to follow.
Ayel ran her hand through her blonde tresses. The music in her coffee shop was meant to be relaxing, but it wasn't her preferred style. The din started to build as the afterschool crowd arrived. On her laptop's screen, the result of her research stared back at her. The warehouse's location had gone through a short life as industrial land, with an older warehouse burning down in the late Seventies and being replaced with the current version. Before that, it was a possible residential area before being rezoned and, before that, a farmer's field. The farm was the last human settlement Ayel could trace; the homestead was built from a cleared forest.
Even the fire turned out to be a dead end for Ayel. The blaze had made the news, but it was caused by a lightning strike during an overnight thunderstorm. Not one death made the news, and the only injury was a firefighter with smoke inhalation. Ayel came to the only conclusion she could; there was no ghost native to the site. With a sigh, she shut down her laptop and placed it in her backpack.
After a moment to gather herself, Ayel walked behind the counter. She set her pack down in the small employee's area and put on her red and grey apron. One last silent pep talk to herself and she emerged, ready for work. With the line of high school students growing, Ayel jumped right in, filling orders. Over an hour passed by the time she was able to look at the clock again. Ayel took a moment to stretch, giving a pat on the back to her co-worker for getting through the rush.
Ayel took over the cash, giving her co-worker a chance to take a break. She dealt with the customers as the entered the coffee shop. The fifth person to arrive surprised her. "Kieu?"
Kieu brushed a strand of blue-black hair out her face. She stared at Ayel for a moment. "We've met. Kristi introduced us, right?"
"Two months ago. I guess you were sleep deprived at the time."
"I remember initials. A. L.?" Kieu flashed a smile. "There was also something about ghosts."
"That was Kristi's idea. Did she ask you to come here?"
Kieu narrowed her eyes. "How did you know?"
"I'm Ayel, your other partner. I was beginning to wonder what happened to you."
"Ayel? Oh, right, the blonde." Kieu's tone went flat.
"Yeah. We need to talk about that." Ayel forced a smile to her face. "What can I get you? Double espresso?"
"Pot of rooibos, actually."
Ayel raised an eyebrow. "Pot of rooibos, sure. I guess you got some sleep?"
"Oh, lots. Things got weird before my last exam. I was seeing musical notes in the air. I must have pushed myself too much. There was even some weird files with waveforms I'd never seen before."
"I'll let Kristi explain those." Ayel began getting Kieu's tea prepared. "Did you happen to see a small device, handheld, looks like a smart phone merged with a remote control?"
"Yeah. Did I make that?"
Ayel set down the pot of tea in front of Kieu, along with a cup and saucer. "I don't know when Kristi's due. There's wifi, but try not to hack into anything secure, please?"
"Why is Kristi coming here?"
"We have a new client. He's dropping off a memory stick with information we need."
Kieu picked up her tea. "How long have we been partners again?"
Zaina entered the kitchen wearing a grey sweater with the Carleton coat of arms and a pair of black track pants. Kristi, once again wearing her own sweater, set a steaming mug of coffee down in front of her room mate. She returned to the counter to pick up another mug and an espresso cup and brought them both to the table. As Kristi sat, Ginger climbed up on the table, a tea towel wrapped around her.
"So." Zaina stared at Ginger. "Her name's Ginger, right?"
Ginger stuck out a hand. "Hi."
"Do you want the long story or the short?" Kristi said. She sipped at her coffee.
Zaina shook Ginger's hand using two fingers and a thumb. "Is she dangerous?"
"It depends. Zaina, how familiar are you with the Wee Folk?"
"Aren't they supposed to be Irish?"
"It's complicated. There's legends throughout Europe, including the sidhe in Ireland, trolls in Scandinavia, and changelings from all over."
Zaina tore her eyes from the tiny woman. "But this is Canada."
"All sorts of things came over by ship with settlers. Why not Ginger?"
"I see. But is she dangerous?"
Ginger picked up the espresso cup with both arms. "Everything is dangerous. You could burn yourself with this coffee."
"Not helping, Ginger." Kristi set her mug down. "That's the thing, Zaina. Everything is myth and legend, and then you have Shakespeare coming along and who knows what he changed for his play and who knows anymore?"
Zaina sipped her coffee as she processed the information. As she set down her mug, she asked, "Will I get murdered in my sleep if she lives here?"
"I doubt it. Ginger was in my bedroom on res and no one died then. Here, she has more room and she seems to like me."
Ginger quaffed her coffee. "I'm not going to murder you. We need a cat."
"We need to get you clothes first."
Zaina laughed. "I don't think anyone makes clothes in her size."
"I can," Ginger said. She fingered the tea towel she wore. "I don't like this fabric. Way too coarse."
"I shouldn't be surprised," Zaina said. "I've heard the story about the shoemaker and the elves."
Ginger set her cup down hard on the table. "I'm not an elf!"
Zaina jumped back. "I . . . I didn't--"
"I'm not an elf!"
"She didn't mean to insult you, Ginger," Kristi said. "She won't call you an elf again." She eyed Zaina. "Right?"
Zaina nodded. "Right. Won't happen again."
Ginger brightened up. "Okay." She sat down beside her cup.
Zaina kept a watchful eye on the tiny woman. "Are you sure I won't be murdered in my sleep?"
"Don't call her an elf again," Kristi said.
"I'm not an elf." Ginger drained the rest of her coffee in a long swallow.
Kristi shrugged. "There's a reason why the fae are known as the Fair Folk."
"Self-defense?" Zaina shook her head in disbelief. "You need to tell Janelle about her."
"I will." Kristi looked at the time on the oven. "I need to head out soon, though. I should be back before Janelle gets in. If I'm not, hide Ginger somewhere."
"Hide Ginger? Kristi, how do I hide a-- a-- whatever she is."
Ginger set down her espresso cup. "I'm Ginger."
"Put her in my room if you have to. She can amuse herself. Just don't use the e-word around her."
"I'm not an e-word, either."
Ayel refilled Kieu's teapot with more hot water, then brought it out to the dark-haired woman. The blonde sat down across from her. "So, you don't like blondes."
Kieu raised her head to look at Ayel over her laptop's screen. "Huh?"
"You don't like blondes."
"How did you know that?"
"You said so to my face. You really don't remember much when sleep deprived, do you?"
"How out of it was I this time?"
Ayel shrugged. "Since I don't know what normal is for you, it's hard to tell. You'd have to ask Kristi. I do remember you tasting purple."
Kieu sat up straight. "Wait. As in, I said I could taste the colour purple or as in you tasted me and thought I tasted like the colour purple? Both are odd, but one's much more out there than the other."
"I don't go around licking other people. Kristi would have mentioned it to you if I had."
"I haven't seen her."
"I was with her earlier today and we were supposed to do some research into the new job."
"No, I haven't seen her over the past few weeks. I remember my exams and then I was in my bed."
"You're in for a treat, then." Ayel stood up again. "Enjoy the tea." The blonde woman started back to the shop's main counter. As she stepped behind the cash register, Alex walked through the main door. Ayel began to greet him when she noticed that he was pale. "Alex, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Can I get a regular coffee, please?"
"Sure." Ayel grabbed a large white coffee mug from the shelf. "You're here early."
Alex leaned on the counter, placing his hands flat on the surface. "We were sent home. One of the walls fell over."
Ayel filled the mug with regular coffee. "A wall? Was anyone hurt?"
"No, thank God. Scared Ashley at the reception desk. At first, we thought it was Antony tearing around on the forklift, but he was on break and the 'lift was shut down and locked up."
"How is the warehouse? Is it still standing?"
"Yeah, it was just one of the inside walls. Nothing load bearing. Roof's still standing, so we're good, but everyone's spooked."
Ayel walked out from behind the counter, Alex's coffee still in hand. "I'll carry this. My other partner is here, and you can tell both of us what happened." Ayel led Alex to Kieu's table. "Alex, this is Kieu, the third partner and technical genius of the team. Kieu, this is Alex, our client." She set down the coffee on the table. "Alex has very good reasons to believe his workplace is haunted."
Kieu closed the lid on her laptop. "Hi."
Alex sat down on the long bench beside Kieu. "Hi."
Ayel pulled over a stool. "Alex works at a warehouse in Nepean. Strange things have been happening there recently. He's hired us to find out what it could be."
Kieu nodded. "And by strange, you mean what, exactly?"
"Filing cabinets flipped around, printers moved, and, today, a wall collapsed." Alex wrapped his hands around his mug of coffee. "The bossman sent everyone home when that happened."
Ayel sat down. "I've begun researching the warehouse's site itself. There's not much to tell, there. The worst thing that happened was a fire in the Seventies, and while the original building burned down, no one died. It was a freak accident. Before that, it was a farmer's field and the family just seemed to have a genetic heart problem from the obituaries I found. Nothing that would leave a ghost hanging around for vengeance."
"Oh." Alex's shoulders drooped.
Kieu glowered at Ayel. "That's not to say that there isn't another cause."
Ayel ignored the dirty look. "Definitely. Considering that everything started recently, there could be another cause, whether its from artwork or something that has come in but hasn't left yet." She gave Alex a soothing smile. "Did you get the information Kristi and I asked for?"
"Yeah." Alex released the grip on his coffee mug and dug out the memory stick from his jeans pocket. "Yeah, here."
Kieu intercepted the memory stick as Alex passed it to Ayel. "Thanks. The wall that fell, what was on it?"
"Not much. Calendars, a bulletin board on Ash's side of it, a few photos on the other side, and the schedule." Alex shrugged. "Nothing that wasn't there for ages."
Ayel glanced at Kieu. "Probably not the best idea, but Kristi would ask if she were here."
"What idea?" Kieu asked.
"Alex, would it be possible for us to take a look at the wall that fell?"
"I don't know. I doubt the boss would clear it. He's getting people in tomorrow to fix it. That's why he sent us home, to make sure it was safe."
"Not a problem. Never hurts to ask."
Kieu opened her laptop again. "Is there anything valuable in the warehouse?"
"Probably." Alex took a long drink of his coffee. "I mean, we get cargo moving in and out all the time, a lot of it insured. Sometimes it's just paper, but it's a lot of paper. Other times, it's furniture or appliances. Hell, one time, we had to have twenty-four hour security because we had a shipment of smart phones go through. That was fun."
Alex pointed at the memory stick. "Everything I could find is on there. I didn't include anything that's left already."
"Thanks," Ayel said. "We'll keep working on your case. I'm sure we'll find out what's going on."
"I appreciate it, thanks." Alex chugged the rest of his coffee. "I don't suppose you know where there's a bar around here?"
"Three doors down," Ayel said. "You can't miss it. I'll deal with your coffee cup." She watched as Alex left the coffee shop. "Kieu, I'll need the memory stick. Well, Kristi will need it. Actually, we both need it."
Kieu copied the data from the memory stick to her laptop's hard drive. "You're going to look things up? Let me do it. It'll be faster."
"Sure, if you want. Kristi is going to find out what all the artwork is, and I was just going to see what all the crates are holding, but if you want to handle that, I'll start looking for weird happenings at the Customs offices in Montreal."
"If you want to do any of that, go for it. I'm not going to stop you or make you do anything."
"You're weirding me out."
"Kieu, whatever those blondes did to you at Sir Wil isn't genetic. Some girls are just mean, no matter their hair colour. I had to deal with a right bitch of a redhead in high school, but that doesn't mean all redheads are evil dominatrices out to make everyone's life pure Hell on Earth. Just her. And it turned out she was upset because her younger sister got to go to this prestigious Catholic school in Oshawa, so she took it out on everyone else." Ayel reached out to pat Kieu's shoulder. "I'm not going to make your life Hell on purpose. Okay?"
"Sure, I guess." Kieu patted Ayel's hand.
"And I'm not taking over Kristi. She's your friend, our business partner. We would have had you with us if we could have reached you."
Kristi dashed in, breathless. "Hi guys! Has Alex arrived yet?"
"You just missed him," Kieu said.
"I need to go back to work. Kieu can catch you up." Alex returned to the counter.
"Supernatural. I watch it for the eye candy."
The less we disturb things, the less anyone has to believe that we were here."
"We need to go now, before the alarm goes off."