“What are you doing?” Anne asked Greta when she walked past the staircase.
“You’re asking me what now too? Is it anti-Greta day?”
Anne smiled. “If so, it did not make our official MCU calendar. Must I remind you of the proper channels?’ The other woman had fastened a rain coat over her dress, bound her hair and donned a floppy yellow rain hat that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else.
“Please don’t impersonate our fearless leader.”
“You think I’m doing a Ruby impression? I would not even dare to presume—“
“I’m waiting for Hans to call me down or for yelling to break loose so I can barge in on his meeting with Marcus. Ok? No need to get all weird on me.”
“I wasn’t being weird. I was being me. I’m not the one half-standing on my head on a staircase while listening for signs of a struggle.”
Greta rolled her eyes and righted herself back onto her feet. “He’s being insufferable. What’s new with the Andersen case?”
“The court has submitted mouse traps into the evidence log? Why? There was a shortage at the time because of a recall based on shoddy workmanship. The crime wasn’t the traps. The crime was the mice eating up the evidence backlog and causing emotional duress.”
“No. This had nothing to do with the ongoing court case. I had to help set out new mouse traps on our floor and by the kitchen.”
“My brother cannot sleep and we all end up playing secret agent with a pack of noses. Wonderful.”
“Greta.” Anne paused, thinking. Greta got up. She didn’t want to be told she was acting unreasonably. She knew it. She didn’t need a reminder of what was polite, or worse, what was nice. Someone had to call Hans on it when he got carried away. It happened often enough that Greta wondered if he needed vaccinations to build up his immune system; that could counter the allergic reactions he now had to mice, magic, and oven timers. Though she had never found a pharmaceutical company interested in developing such a vaccine.
A large thud sounded from down below. “Do you hear that?” Greta asked. “I’ve got back up. You wait here, Anne.”
With that, she jumped down the stairs, two at a time. Greta knew she was being headstrong and stupid, but she had to do something with all this pent up energy. Anne said something up the stairs behind her, but Greta chose not to hear. She needed some action. If that meant busting in on her brother’s personnel meeting with Marcus, then so be it.
She tripped on the bottom stairs, caught herself, and landed on both feet. This was not quiet. She’d never claimed to be a ninja. A chair slid across the bare concrete floor, and the door opened.
“Has the world ended at last?” Hans asked. He didn’t even do a double take.
“I thought I heard the scanner. Has a call come in?” Her voice was too light. Brownies. She never could do innocent.
“You heard no such thing. You’re just afraid I’ll run out the new tech before you get a chance to terrorize him.”
“I wouldn’t terrorize him,” she protested. “You’re the one that does that.” She raised her voice so Marcus would here. Subtlety was for those cursed ninjas. Greta preferred pirates.
There was a cough from the room behind Hans. Marcus was trying not to laugh. Greta didn’t like that. She didn’t want him to think her silly. Silly wasn’t a word anyone used to describe her. Ever. Those who did might find themselves not quite whole. Even if she knew she was behaving like some newbie out of training who didn’t know when to stop, where to go, or which was up.
“Come on in,” Hans said. “You’re just going to be insufferable if I don’t.”
“Why, thank you brother,” Greta said, letting herself smile. “Now where were we? Were you telling him about our dungeon policy?”
“Dungeon policy? You have such a thing?” Marcus asked.
“Of course not,” Hans countered. “That’s Greta and her drama again.”
Greta glared. Hans smirked, but he did decide to amend his words. “What I mean is Greta likes to keep people off balance. It helps her do her job. Now Marcus, you were telling me about your previous experience. You worked for Hamlin, you say.”
“Yes, yes, I worked a time at Hamlin.”
“Were you involved with the Anderson case?”
“No, no, that was after my time there. You do realize, of course, that the Anderson case was only a mimicry, a copycat crime. I worked the big case before it,” Marcus said with a hint of pride. That case, the Luther case, involved, oh, a thousand rats. Quite problematic to clean up. For some reason Hamlin always attracts these criminal masterminds who think they can take over the world with rodents. They never quite account for the unpredictability factor or the power of an air tight room.”
“A thousand,” Hans repeated, something in the edge of his voice. Greta hoped he wasn’t going to go postal.
Marcus continued on. “Yes, a thousand. And the Luther case wasn’t even the biggest of them all, though the worst was long before any of our grandparents’ were born.”
“Where did you work before Hamlin?” Great interjected before Hans could ask how many rats were involved in the previous cases.
“Oh, here and there. Your brother and I already discussed that, but if you must know one of the places I worked was the Dells.”
“The farms in the Dells?” she asked.
“Yes, nice quiet community.” Marcus looked wistful.
“Why would they need a techie?”
“Never underestimate the power of mischief, especially fey mischief. You cannot imagine what they can do with a simple solitary cheese,” Marcus said.
“Ah, you’re suspicious. Hans will love you. You’ll fit right in with the unit.”
“Greta,” Hans said, angry.
Marcus cut in before a full-fledged fight could begin. “What kind of budget do you have here? What kind of equipment can I requisition?”
“Surely, Agent Syme went over that with you,” Hans said.
“I prefer the unofficial version to the official. Everyone always makes things sound nice in an interview, sound plush.”
“You told me not twenty minutes ago that we had more computerized equipment than your entire training program,” Greta said, skeptical. “Why are you already wondering what you can spend?”
“A man can dream, can he not? There’s something I saw once this last year at the Technoference that would be absolutely perfect for a busy magical crime unit. This is a busy unit, right?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Under usual operating procedures, yes” Hans answered. “We have experienced a slow down these past few weeks.”
“So you’re only working one case.”
“No,” Hans said. “We’re working on five. Normally we’re hopping around on eight to ten, sometimes twenty.”
“Five cases is slow? I like this place.” Marcus grinned, showing his teeth. Nothing pointed; Greta liked that in a team member.
Hans glowered. “It would be a better place if there were no such cases.
“But then we’d all be out of a job,” said Greta, “and you’re not fit for anything requiring human decency.”
Hans got a strange look on his face. It was actual reflection and not the penetrating laser impression she’d caught him practicing in the mirror. “Probably not,” he agreed. The moment passed and Hans returned to being all business. “Now, Marcus, have you arranged personal quarters.”
“I’m residing at a long-stay hotel at the moment.”
“You are welcome to remain here. Some of us do.”
“By some he means him,” Greta cut in. “Can’t get enough work so he lives here. Not quite sure that’s recommended. Old houses, creepy noises, bumps in the night. Can unsettle a person’s thinking.”
From the glare she got from Hans she knew she was going to have to pay for that comment later. She looked forward to it. If he was pushed far enough, he’d concede to wrestling. The trick was working him up to it so things would hit peak after everyone else was occupied elsewhere. Any sort of audience would make his brain restart. “It’s cheaper staying here with what rent goes for these days. Not all of us want to share basement apartments with a band and its unholy schedule. Moving costs being what they are, I wanted to make sure Marcus knew his options.”
“I thank you. My room is paid through the end of the week already, but I will consider the merits and drawbacks of staying here. Perhaps we could go over what a tentative residence contract would entail later.” Marcus laid a multi-tool on the table between him and Hans. Greta leaned in. There was more to the device than the usual knife blades, lock picks and files on the device. That was Midas-touched steel. Ridiculously expensive material so whatever the multi-tool did, it did it well. Greta whistled.
“Impatient to be started?” Hans asked. “I guess everyone is keen their first day. Remember the phouka on Third Street that had escaped that illegal zoo?”
Oh man. Did she ever. Hans had solved the case. She had taken a piggy back ride that could have very well been her last half-drunk move. At least the creature had been in human form and not a horse. She couldn’t stay in the saddle sober let alone after partying because of her commission. “Yeah, I remember the shiner you walked home with.” He better not say what she’d done.
“Zoos exhibit magical creatures here in Bremen?” Marcus asked. His voice was gruff.
The phone on Han’s desk rang, the receiver clanging against its cradle. “Henkel here.” The scanner started jabbering away about a 10-91BM or was it BV. There was a big, stinking importance between noisy and vicious. Let it be noisy.
“Greta, scanner notes,” Hans barked, covering the receiver for a moment. “Start over again, Anne. What letter are you talking about?”
She abandoned the doorway she’d been leaning against as she dashed toward the scanner. She slammed open the drawer of the file cabinet under the cabinet, yanked out a steno pad and started writing. No time to process, just to write. The problem with magic code traffic on the scanner is that it was all too quickly silenced. Upper echelon, aka breath wasters, hated the public to get nervous. If any of them were listening in, as too many had the time to do, they’d put a call into PD HQ and the signal would get silenced. Bremen would fund the MCU but that was the price of too much silence. Greta’s pen scrawled across the paper, getting the code within the code. Bless Pribbenow. He knew how to get his calls to last a bit longer. The 10-91 got separated out after the very first time it was said. One real word for every five he said.
It was a M. Not a V. Noisy magical creature. Probably not a siren or Pribbenow wouldn’t be calling it in. Zweig street. The old school house. Creature contained but not restrained. Pribbenow started describing the location again. Greta frowned. It wasn’t at the old school house. It was an old building, but it couldn’t be on Zweig Street. Zweig was a cover for something else. Zweigh meant twig. Greta translated in her head. Ast. Pribbenow was talking about Ast Street. It was an old building on Ast Street with a leaky roof. She wasn’t going to go dump water on every roof and check for leaks. She chewed on her cheek, waiting for more information. She knew better than to grab the microphone and ask questions. Wait. There. Something about an exchange. Sales. Merchants. What sort of merchants? There was a potter’s place on that street and a weaver’s emporium. The chocolate banana stand also called Ast home. Wait. There it was. Heroes. The scanner went dead. Pribbenow had been cut off.
“Gum drops,” Greta said viciously, throwing down the pad of paper. She realized Hans had slammed home the phone and yelled licorice at the same time.
“Two emergencies present themselves and you are hungry?” Marcus asked, bewildered.
“First, these are not emergencies. If they were, we would not be sitting here.” Hans said, jumping up to grab a bag from a hook on his door. He slid his feet out of his work shoes and yanked on some running shoes.
“You are not sitting,” Marcus said. He covered his face with his hands when he realized he’d said that aloud.
“Second,” Greta said, dashing in to the rescue, “we don’t mean food in the edible sense. Some people swear. We…” It sounded foolish even to her.
“I understand,” Marcus said, waving her off. “I’m the same way with the word rust.”
“What was Pribbenow on about?” Hans asked at the same time Greta asked him to spill about the call. Her brother gestured impatiently at her.
“Somebody’s purchase from Quests R’ Us is loose on Ast Street. It’s inside the building still but is evading restraint. Then the call got silenced.”
Hans’s jaw tightened. “Of course it did. Can’t have us given the details to keep the public from panicking because they might’ve hacked the frequency or the codes. How I hate that store, always causing problems. Its continued existence is like stepping on a needle with a bare heel.”
“What was yours?” Greta asked when he wasn’t forthcoming with the information.
“It was Anne. Agent Syme called to report that a letter arrived for MCU up at HQ.”
“A little lousy letter has you all worked up?” Greta asked.
“Not now,” he answered, all warning.
“Why did Anne call you to tell you of this letter?” Marcus asked. “Bureaucracy is not your game so I do not understand the unneeded step? You eat time with it.
Hans froze. He exchanged a pained glance with Greta. “Sensitive calls from HQ are not permitted to come into a private residence. That extends to my basement.”
“You have to earn the answer to that. The price for that one is one field experience and I call what counts. Greta, you’re going to HQ.”
Of all the misbegotten luck. “No, I’m not. You need me on the Quest mess. Send Marcus up to Ruby. He knows the way there.”
“Anne and I will handle Quest R. Us. They were running a special on musical weaponry this week. Hopefully that is all it is.”
“The weaponry isn’t mobile,” Greta snapped. “It won’t be only a gargling gnome or singing sidekick, either. Pribbenow knows how to handle those on his own. You need me.”
“I need you up at HQ. Shut up, trust me, and go.”
“I don’t like it.” Greta crossed her arms. She wished she had her sidearm. Not that she’d use it on Hans, but it made her more assertive.
“I’m not punishing you,” Hans said. She saw his arms twitch, like he was going to throw them up. She guessed it was something important after all. “Agent Syme needs to talk to you. You aren’t only a courier.”
“Two of you isn’t much. You need cover or there won’t be an MCU.”
“The sooner you get to HQ, the sooner you can play your favorite role—backup.”
“What am I to be doing during this excitement?” Marcus asked. “Do I accompany you or Greta?”
“Neither. I want you here. Sending someone unfamiliar with our procedures and specific terminology is begging for a casualty. Knowledge keeps you safe and a lack of it makes you dead. I am not being theatrical. Magic is a deadly crime.”
Marcus nodded, but it seemed stiff. “What then will you have me do?”
Hans handed Marcus a sheet of paper. “Go rearrange the attic supplies so they are in your working order. While you are doing that, familiarize yourself with the MRFs we have available. Go to that address if fifty minutes with the best two MRF units that are functional.”
“Magical Reduction Fields, got it. At least it isn’t paperwork.”
“That will be your next time,” Greta said. “You haven’t been trained on it yet, so envy your paperwork free life while you’ve got it.”