It was a warm summer day, like every other in Onigashima, the island housing over seven million supernatural creatures. Everyone and their monstrous uncle lived here. Why do I bother? Margot thought as she opened her office door, which had “MARGOT VANCE – FIXER” printed on its frosted glass pane. Business had been slow lately, and no one seemed to need her anymore.
She pushed the door open and walked into her small office. The wallpaper was old, dirty and patches had come off but Margot had stapled maps and newspaper clippings to cover them. The creaking hardwood floor welcomed her every morning, not that she noticed it anymore. The gaudy rainbow flamingo coat and hat rack, a present from one of her first clients, stood sullenly a couple of feet from the door. As was her morning ritual, she hung her suit, wide-rimmed Fedora and tie on the rack, in that order. On the opposite side was a medium sized blackboard with a notice board on its back, though it had been a long time since she’d tacked something on it. The few thumbtacks that remained had long since rusted to maximum tetanus effectiveness. Her desk stood on the opposite side from the door, an old and scratched mahogany desk she’d “salvaged” from an enemy’s office when she’d burned it down. He had it coming, trust me. The desk’s top was almost bare, a round water stain its only permanent occupant. There had once been a phone and a computer on her desk, but they’d been possessed so she dumped them on boiling Holy water. To the desk’s right was a small and nonworking radiator that had given its best and last many moons ago, and above it a small window with an impressive view of the adjacent building’s brickwork. Behind the desk and to the left was a small bathroom, but only clients used it. Margot swore never to use it again after something tickled her while sitting in there. As for the tickler, his tongue hung along with other trophies on the wall right behind the desk. Her pride and joy was a little to the left of the bathroom: the bar, stocked with all her favorite gut-melting drinks.
Today however, there was something else in the office, a particular thing that frankly had never been there before.
Weston Styles, The Bone Mage, The Unnatural Investigator, His Royal Highness (or Badness as Margot often said, mockingly) sat on one of the small chairs facing the desk. Even looking at his back, she instantly knew who it was from the bowler hat, black umbrella with the wooden grip and the smart (literally so, it cleaned itself, reminded him of appointments and the front pocket made coffee) pinstripe suit of two shades of grey. His hairline had receded in the ten years since he and his partner had founded this kingdom.
Margot walked over and sat opposite him, noting the grim countenance he bore instead of his usual confident and disdainful smile. While his suit kept itself prim, the rest of him didn’t look as fresh. Bags under the eyes, half-bitten nails, at least a couple of days unshaven, Margot observed. “It’s rude to stare.” He said in a tired tone, blinking slowly and heavily. Lack of sleep, she added to her mental notes.
“You look like shit…and you have ten seconds to tell me what you want before I kick you out!” Margot seethed, as she always did when they met, too many bad memories.
Onigashima’s King straightened. “Don’t waste your breath, the answer’s no. I’m not closing up shop and giving business to your sycophants!” She said, before he could even speak.
“What are you talking about?” He said slowly, rubbing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. “Do you have coffee?” He said and with a sharp ding, his front pocket bulged and came off, turned into a coffee filled cup and set itself on the table in front of him. When Margot raised her eyebrow questioningly he added, “This one’s disgusting.”
“Sorry your highness; I only have Scotch and Vodka.” She said drily, giving him a humorless and quite unfriendly smile.
“Ugh…” He reluctantly sipped from the pocket-cup.
“Time’s up, out!” She stood to her feet, kicking the chair back into the wall and pointed at the door.
“Still angry then…” He said.
“Still wearing the ring?” She sneered, turning the subject on him.
“I am married after all.” He said flatly.
“She’s been gone five years.”
“Doesn’t mean she’s dead.” He said, hopeful.
“Convincing me or yourself?” She knew it was a sore subject but she couldn’t help herself.
“Both…” He said, suddenly deflated. “I haven’t come to argue or relive past grievances, Margot.”
“Then what? Coming to make me an offer I can’t refuse?”
“I don’t see how you could, looking at the state of this place. Not much money coming in it seems.”
“And whose fault is that? And I already said, the answer’s no! I’m not retiring and giving the job to your people!” She ranted, the air around Weston getting heavier as the rage made Margot’s power manifest.
“Again, what in the blazes are you talking about? I’m not here to force you into retirement, nor have I done that with any other fixer!” He said, outraged. “Bloody hell, Mar, I was the one who set you lot up on this in the first place! Why would I suddenly want you out?”
“To give it to your ‘Unnatural Investigators’, your pathetic band of lackeys!” She said what she’d suspected since she’d heard about UIs taking over her colleagues’ zones. She didn’t like the other fixers on principle, but even if they tried to kill each other every time they met, they all stood for something, or at least she hoped they did.
Weston shook his head, resting it on his hand. “You have it all wrong, Margot. My ‘lackeys’, as you call them, haven’t been forcing fixers out; they’ve been taking the zone because the fixers are gone!” He said, exasperated.
“What?” She said, incredulously.
“It’s why I’m here. I’m hiring you. You’re the last Fixer still in Makai and I need you to find out what happened to the rest!” He said, to Margot’s shock.
“Why me?” She said, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“You really want me to say it?” She folded her arms in response. “Because you’re the only one left I can trust with this. My UIs aren’t equipped for it; they’re not detectives. And you’re the last Psyclone in Makai…”
“What’s my power got to do with this?”
He pulled out an impossibly large and phone-book-thick folder from inside his jacket, from one of the dark recesses of that too-smart suit. “There’s something else…I had someone else on this and he vanished too.” He carefully set it in front of her.
She flipped the cover, saw the photo inside and her eyes widened in shock. Important, happy and gut-wrenching memories also flashed through her mind as she read the name John William Spencer. “No…”
“I’m afraid so. He’s gone too and I have no way of finding him…and you know the people won’t talk to me…” He said and for the first time Margot felt his desperation. With Maggie gone, J.W. was the only thing Styles had left, his only—loving—family. “I’ll pay any sum.”
“Good! Open that limitless purse of yours and give it here, I’m charging you on expenses and I’ll still charge you on delivery!” She said bluntly.
“Just try not to abuse it…” He said, pulling out one of those small coin purses with a metal clasp. It was made from a leather as black as night and from a creature best not described—ever. It didn’t weigh much in Margot’s hand, and she put it in her trouser pocket.
“Do you have any leads?”
“My people went through his study and they’re interviewing the last people to see him.”
“I’ll talk to them myself. I’ve seen how your UIs work and they can be off-putting to say the least.” She said. They could make the Dalai Lama kill them with their bare hands, the pricks. “Who are they?”
“His usual patients, Lillian Carpenter and Abaddon.”
“Those two still married?”
“Yes and for the past three years they’ve been doing couple’s counseling with J.W. He once told me their problem was too much honesty.” He rolled his eyes, but smiled as he remembered the conversation.
“Are they at the palace?”
“No, J.W. did house-calls for them at their house on Fallen Square.” One of the better neighborhoods in the island-city.
“Anything else I should know?”
He fidgeted in his seat, seeming so unlike himself for a second. Despite her animosity towards him, it pained her to see him like this, at the end of his rope and ready to hang himself with it. “He’s been a bit erratic lately…I fear he’s reverting, but I don’t have enough proof.”
“And moments where he seemed disconnected to the world…” Margot had an idea and it wasn’t what Weston thought, but she didn’t say anything. Not until I’ve spoken to her, she thought.
“I’ll go see Beauty and Beast, and I have a few ideas on where to start.”
“Good, thank you. My UIs are at your disposal, Margot. You can use them for anything, enforcement or information.” He stood up, picking up his hat and umbrella and placing them both under his arm. “Though they’ve been listening in to all of this, so some of them might be a bit reticent to help you, but I’m sure you’ll find a way to make them cooperate.” He managed a weak smile, but she saw some of his old self in it and her mind once again flashed with happy and sad memories, her blood boiling as the bad ones kept piling up. She pushed the memories down.
“I do need something else from you.” She said, following Weston to the door.
“I need your osteomancy.” He eyed her suspiciously. “Think of it as the King’s signet ring.” She said and he nodded. With a flick of his wrist the bones on her hand snapped, crackled and popped, the appendage hanging limply, just a sad sack of meat and bone shards. Margot grimaced, the pain enough to make lose her step and hit the coat rack, the flamingo’s head hitting the wall. Weston pulled her up. The rainbow flamingo wobbled and threatened to topple but didn’t go through with it, though it did look displeased.
“Enough?” He said.
With an effort of her will, Margot’s bones reconstituted themselves. She flexed her hands to make sure everything was back in its place. “Yes, I have it now.”
“Good, I’ll contact you later to check on your progress.”
“Fuck off…you came to me, let me do my job in peace.”
He gave her hard stare. “You’re on my time now and I don’t like it wasted.”
Margot bit back her response and nodded. Sometimes it’s wise not to push. She waited for him to leave, and saw four Unnatural Investigators emerge from the alleys and fall in line around him, his personal escort as the high and mighty return to their abodes.
She put on her tie, straightening it out as best she could, doing the same for the suit and finally put on the once-brown Fedora—now a distinct and faded cardboard color. She locked the office door behind her, and left towards Alleyweb, to find the Mapmaker and get a few stones rolling before heading to meet the happy unholy couple.
Twenty fixers vanished with no explanations, some of the most dangerous individuals in all of Makai. It chilled her to think of who—or what—might be responsible.
Even scarier was the thought that John William Spenser was also missing, arguably the most powerful man in the world, the one they once called The Illusionist.
This is not going to be easy, she thought.
And she was right.