I hunched my shoulders in an attempt to lift my coat collar a little higher around my ears. The weather in Seattle was dismal in December. Hell, in my opinion it was dismal during most times of the year. I longed for the kinder climate of my home, where even the rain was warm. But I couldn't go back to Hawaii yet, I still hadn't met with my client, and the payday for this job promised to be worth a little discomfort.
I finally made it to the top of the ridiculously long driveway, my eyes scanning the area surreptitiously behind the cashmere confines of my coat. I'd had the taxi drop me off a little ways down the street so I could do a bit of surveillance on my approach. Even in the gray, grim weather, there were at least eight guards spaced around the front of the house. One of them moved to intercept me, and I acted as if I hadn't seen him.
“Hold on, Miss. This is private property,” the overly muscled man in combat pants held a gloved palm out to me in the traditional “stop” gesture. I saw the gun on his hip, but he hadn't drawn it. That was mistake number one. I was in the driveway already, that made me a threat.
Bad guard, no biscuit.
“I'm expected,” I could have announced myself right then, but I wanted to test Adam MacLaine's security team.
That was my client, MacLaine, or he would be soon. If this guy was an accurate representation of MacLaine's security, it was a wonder the man wasn't dead already.
“Do we have a guest arriving today?” Mr. Combat Pants asked a little microphone clipped to his shirt.
He had to open his leather jacket to access the mic, giving me a flash of the knife he had secured to an inner pocket. Damn this guy was dumb. He even turned away from me to talk into his comm. Like he couldn't conceive of a woman being a threat. I could have killed him three times already. I suppose I should have berated him for his bad habits, but I hated doing other people's jobs. And it was definitely someone else's job to whip this guy into shape. The mere thought exhausted me. I do not suffer fools.
“What?” I asked, completely distracted by his ineptitude.
And the spaghetti stain on his shirt. It was nearly invisible from a distance, but now that I was up close and personal, I could clearly see the crusty red mark on the black fabric. So, a fool and a slob. Definitely not the type of man I'd have chosen to protect me.
“What's your name, Miss?” the slob asked.
“Tanager,” I said, whispering to see if he would make the mistake of coming in closer to hear me.
“What was that?” he sure did. He leaned in close enough for me to stab him in the throat.
Of course I would never deign to dirty my hands in such a manner. My mother raised me better than that. I killed like a lady.
“The name is Tanager,” I said more clearly. “And I'm cold.”
Whoever was on the other side of the microphone heard me, and must have barked something into the muscle-head's ear. He flinched, then straightened.
“Sorry, Ms. Tanager,” he stammered and gestured to the looming house. “My team wasn't notified. Go on in. Someone will meet you at the door.”
“Thank you, Mr...?” I drew it out into a question.
“Ah, you can call me Jake, Ms. Tanager,” he stammered.
“Thank you, Jake,” I walked off, striding quickly to the beckoning warmth of the open front door.
A woman stood within the golden light of the doorway, her features as stern as her severe bun, and her eyes razor sharp. She nodded to me, and shut the door behind me after I entered.
“May I take your coat, Ms Tanager?”
“Yes, thank you,” I slid out of it and sighed.
I had worn my usual getup to greet clients, pencil skirt and modest blouse. But instead of heels, I'd chosen knee-high boots. It was just too cold outside to go without something covering my calves. The woman looked over my prim outfit, and nodded in approval. With my long, dark curls pinned up, I looked very professional.
“I am Mrs. Chadwick,” the woman introduced herself as she hung up my coat. “Mr. MacLaine is waiting for you in his office. I'll take you there now.”
I followed Mrs. Chadwick down a corridor much too wide to be called a hallway. It was lined with expensive artwork, and the sounds of our footsteps were muffled by a silk carpet runner that looked as if it had taken years to weave. It was nice, but I'd seen all of this before. Done better, to tell the truth. My clients were the wealthiest people in the world. They had to be in order to afford me.
“Mr. MacLaine, she's here,” Mrs. Chadwick said as she walked through an open door.
“Thank God,” a man's voice groaned.
It was a pleasant voice, and it matched the office I entered. Not nearly as pretentious as the rest of the house, this room was more personal. It held framed family photos, an old chair that must have come from a time when MacLaine wasn't so wealthy, a wide desk made for function instead of form, and several sitting areas; one before the desk, one before a picture window to the right of the desk, and one in front of a modest fireplace. That's where MacLaine had been, at the fireplace enjoying its comfort instead of working at his desk. In the crowd I normally contracted with, that said a lot.
Adam MacLaine was around forty, with a trim build that suggested he didn't spend all of his time making money. His oak-brown hair was lightly sprinkled with white at the temples, and his skin had a healthy tan, but not the sunbed tan so prevalent in Seattle. His skin had seen real sun. Blue eyes crinkled as he smiled in relief, and came to meet me halfway across the room, hand extended.
“Thank you for coming, Ms Tanager,” he shook my hand firmly. “Could you close the door on your way out, Mrs. Chadwick?”
“Of course, Sir,” she smiled a little, showing a hint of affection for her employer. That said a lot too.
“Would you like something to drink?” MacLaine offered as his hand swept to a sideboard where several bottles waited. Not decanters, mind you, he had straight up liquor bottles out on display. The social elite would be shocked.
“No, thank you.”
“Alright then,” he looked unnerved by my refusal. “Would you care to have a seat?”
“Yes,” I slid into the chair across from his, and he relaxed a little, coming over to join me.
“I don't know how-” he started to stammer, and I held up a hand.
“Mr. MacLaine, who wants you dead?” I cut through the pussyfooting.
“I believe it's a man named Jonah Malone,” he sighed, and sank back into his chair. “His company was failing, and I bought it up at a... well, for a song, really.”
“Uh huh,” I chuckled at the song reference.
With the exception of his ironic wording, my client's stories were always so similar. Someone got the better end of a business deal. Or they were cheating on their spouse. Or cheating on their mistress. Or cheating on their taxes. No, that last one doesn't require my intervention. Not usually. But the issue was often about someone screwing someone else in some form or another.
“I assume you've compiled a dossier on him?”
“Oh, yes,” MacLaine fumbled with something on the floor beside him, and then handed me a manila folder.
“What exactly do you want me to do to Mr. Malone?” This was the line I asked all of my clients. I needed to be very clear with them. A lot of them assumed I was purely an assassin, but that wasn't the case. I thought of myself more as a fixer. I could kill when necessary, but that was the most extreme result I offered.
“I...” he gaped at me. “What are my options?”
Just as I'd thought. Cer hadn't told him. My old friend was having a laugh at my expense right about now. MacLaine had doubtless been referred to me by one of his friends, but he'd had to go through my friend, Cerberus Skylos, before he could arrange a meeting with me. Cerberus made sure the client was someone I'd want to work with before he passed on the info. And he usually did me the courtesy of explaining who I was, or at least, what I could do, to my potential customers.
“Do you know what I am, Mr. MacLaine?” I asked gently.
“An assassin,” he whispered, as if he might be overheard.
“No,” I shook my head. “I have killed people, but that's not who I am. Or what I am.”
“Uh,” he started to look confused. “Are you a vampire?”
“Good guess,” I chuckled, “but no.”
The mere fact that I was sitting there, facing him, meant that Adam MacLaine knew about the supernatural world which existed in the shadows of the human one. “The Beneath”, or just plain “Beneath” is what we, the denizens of said community, called it. So, MacLaine knew of it, but it was very doubtful that he knew the scope of the situation. He hadn't even known the correct term for a vampire- blooder. The wrong titles would give away your ignorance in a heartbeat.
Humans who were aware of the Beneath usually knew about the forerunners of paranormal society, the obvious races; loups (don't call them werewolves, they hate that), other shapeshifters, and blooders. Sometimes they knew about fairies, but the Shining Ones were really good at covering their tracks, so that was rare. What was even more rare was when humans were acquainted with the other races; gods, witches, demons, dragons, angels, and so forth. Things that went bump in the night, and did a fair amount of rabble rousing during the day as well. We just knew how to hide our supernatural gifts better than the shifters and blooders.
“A friend of mine told me about you. He said you were the best. That you never failed,” MacLaine's face started to fall into the sharp lines that always preceded my revelation of the Beneath. It was like they could sense I was about to tell them something which would change their entire life. Or at least their ability to sleep through the night.
“That's true,” I agreed. “So you know about vampires. What else do you know?”
“What else?” he scowled. “The shapeshifters, of course.”
“And that's it?”
“There's more?” MacLaine's eyes widened.
“Oh yes,” I smirked. “There's quite a bit more. But that's not for me to reveal. I only have the right to tell you about my own kind. Now, do you know what a siren is, Mr. MacLaine?”
“Like in the Odyssey?”
“Yes, exactly,” I smiled, relieved that I wouldn't have to explain everything. “My mother's people are considered to be a class of god. They were minor deities, more like an entourage to the more powerful gods, but still considered a divine race.”
“Are you seriously telling me you're descended from gods?” he started to stand.
I quickly sang the lyrics from Hollow Point Heroes' Sit Down Shut Up.
I had a whole arsenal of quick-draw lyrics just like this one, ready to be shot out like a bullet when necessary. I didn't even need the song to say exactly what I wanted to accomplish. All that I needed was one word to work with; sit, dance, die. You know, the usual. And then I could visualize, and direct the magic from there. This particular lyric just happened to work really well. And you'd be surprised how often I employed it.
MacLaine froze, his eyes going wide with horror as his body disobeyed him, and plopped back into the chair. He leaned forward onto his forearms, and regarded me intently. Giving me his full attention, just as I'd commanded.
“Good,” I pushed down the power that rose whenever I began to sing. “Now, don't look at me like that. You're perfectly safe. I simply needed to demonstrate what I could do before you wrote me off as insane. I put no permanence into the spell so the effects will wear off momentarily.”
“What did you just do to me?” Adam strained to push his words past the weakening magic.
“I'm getting to that,” I smiled. It wasn't often that I got a chance to talk about my heritage. “As I was saying, my ancestors were minor deities, companions of the Goddess, Persephone. You do know who Persephone is?”
“Yes,” he sighed deeply as the effects of my spell wore off. “I didn't think she was real, but yeah, I'm familiar with her myths.”
“Oh, she's very real,” I laughed to think of what Persephone's reaction to his disbelief would have been.
She just couldn't accept that people didn't believe in the gods anymore. I told her she was in denial, and she told me there were several rivers in the Underworld, but the Nile was not one of them. The Greek Goddess has a silly sense of humor.
“When Hades did his little abduction routine, Persephone's mother, Demeter, enlisted the aid of my family to find her daughter,” I said. “She gave them wings, and bid them to search the world for Persephone.”
“I've never heard that part of the story,” he was relaxing more and more now that it was apparent that I wasn't going to attack him. “They never found her, I imagine.”
“No, Persephone wasn't in the world. She was with Hades, in his domain. So my ancestors failed,” I confirmed, “and Demeter cursed them for it. They were turned into sirens. Women who sing eternally to their missing mistress, begging for her to return home.”
“I thought the sirens were mermaids who lured men to their deaths.”
“They're closer to birds than mermaids, but they do lure men to their deaths,” I said. “Their song is so beautiful, few can resist its pull, but it's also tragic. And tragedy can only create more tragedy.”
“Are you saying that you're a siren?” MacLaine cocked his head at me, fascinated, when really, he should have been afraid.
“No, only part,” I shook my head. “The other part of me is witch.”
“What? Like a Wiccan?”
I burst into laughter, and he scowled at me.
“No, Mr. MacLaine,” I got my humor under control. “Real witches are nothing like those tree-hugging, circle dancers. They're a separate race entirely, grisly and powerful. People you should hope to never encounter. My mother lured one of them to her, but he was strong enough to withstand the pull of death in her voice. In fact, he decided he quite liked her, and her music. He married her.”
“You're the child of a warlock and a siren?” MacLaine's voice rose in shock.
“The word 'warlock' means liar. Oathbreaker, from the Saxon waerloga. Male witches are still called witches.”
“So you're the daughter of a siren and a witch?”
“Oh. Um,” he chewed at his lower lip a bit. “What does that mean exactly? What does that make you?”
“It's makes me rare, Mr. MacLaine,” I smiled slowly. “Very rare.”
“And you can sing people to death?”
“I can do much more than that,” I decided to put him out of his misery. “My kind, though rare, have been born before. We are called spellsingers. We can transform songs into enchantment, bring lyrics to life.”
“Like how you made me sit down,” he whispered.
“And shut up, yes,” I laughed. “There are a lot of races living among humans. Spellsingers are only one variety, though we are, admittedly, one of the most dangerous.”
“Other races?” MacLaine looked as if he couldn't take much more, so I took pity on him once more.
“Don't worry about that right now,” I waved a hand. “They aren't the ones who want you dead.”
“Jonah,” MacLaine growled. “I can't believe he's taken it this far.”
“Mr. MacLaine,” I said carefully, “my kind have toppled kingdoms, burned cities, changed the history of the world. I can do anything to Jonah Malone that you wish... for the right price.”
“So, from conqueror to mercenary, eh?” MacLaine chuckled.
“I have no desire to destroy monarchies or watch Rome burn, that was my Grand Aunt Adelaide's thing,” I rolled my eyes.
“Wait, the burning of Rome, where Nero supposedly fiddled...” he exhaled roughly. “A relative of yours did that?”
“Nero didn't own a fiddle,” I grimaced. “That instrument wasn't invented till much later. He played a cithara.”
“It looks kind of like a lute... never mind that,” I was terrible with tangents once I got talking. “Nero wasn't in Rome at the time of the burning. He hired Adelaide, just as you're hiring me. Someone else played music for her while she set Rome ablaze.”
“Someone else... you can start fires with your song?”
“I told you,” I huffed. “I can do anything the words permit me to do. If I sing about fire, stuff burns. If I sing about water, someone drowns. Sometimes, a whole continent,” I shook my head. I wouldn't tell him about Uncle Eilener and Atlantis. He still got flack over that fiasco.
“So what? You're- wait. Nero hired someone to burn Rome?”
“Sure,” I shrugged. “Everyone hated him. After Rome burned, Nero came in with food and supplies, opening his own gardens to house people. He polished up his image while secretly deciding on a spot to build his new golden palace. It was good PR, and smart property management.”
“What a bastard,” MacLaine winced.
“Yeah, Aunt Adelaide regretted working with Nero. That's why I'm a bit more choosy with my clients,” I smirked. “But what do you want, Mr. MacLaine? What result would you like, concerning Jonah Malone?”
“I'd like for him to just back off,” he huffed. “But I don't see how...” he trailed off as he saw me smiling. “You can do that? Just make him change his mind? Permanently?”
“Absolutely,” I inclined my head. “And it's even cheaper than killing him. Only two and a half million.”
“Two and a half million?” MacLaine huffed. “That's more than I paid for the company.”
“Your acquaintances did warn you about my price, correct?”
“Yes, but,” he frowned, “that's when my life was in danger.”
“Your life is still in danger,” I stood. “I haven't agreed to take your case yet.”
He gaped at me for two seconds before standing, and offering me his hand again. “Two point five million is just fine, Ms. Tanager.”
“Wonderful, then we have an agreement,” I shook his hand, then started heading for the door. “And just a suggestion,” I stopped, halfway there, and looked back at him, “fire your security team and get some professionals. Even without my magic, I could have killed them all within ten minutes. Especially the one called Jake.”
“You... what...” he blinked, and then recovered. “Alright, I'll do that today.”
“Smart man,” I smiled. Maybe he would live long enough to pay me. After all, he hadn't hired me to do his-
“How much for you to head my security?”
“No,” I shook my head. “I don't have time for that, and you don't have enough money to pay me.” His face fell. “However,” I pulled a card from the pocket of my skirt, and handed it to him. “This man will help you.”
“Cerberus Security,” MacLaine read, and then looked up at me. “This is the guy I called to arrange our meeting.”
His eyes went wide, “Please tell me this isn't the same Cerberus who...”
“Guarded the Greek Underworld?” I laughed. “That was a giant dog, Mr. MacLaine. With three heads, I believe.”
“Oh,” he laughed, but it sounded strained. “Just a reference to the protection skills then?”
“Yes, exactly,” I smiled. Nope, I wouldn't tell him that he had guessed correctly.
Cerberus was actually a shapeshifting god with a fondness for practical jokes and dangerous women. I'm unsure which had cost him his job. I've known him for centuries, and he still hasn't told me. I know that Hades personally kicked his old, guard dog out of the Greek Underworld. Gave him the fiery boot. So now, Cerberus watched over humans. Humans who could pay him enough to soothe his wounded, puppy pride. Cer was damn good at what he did, but he was better at defense. He lacked the subtlety for a proper offense. If you told Cer to kill someone, he would probably just punch them in the face, really hard. I doubt he'd even stop to ask if the guy needed killing to begin with. So he kept to the security side of the business, and he called me for anything beyond that. Conversely, when my clients had a bunch of buffoons guarding them, I sent them to Cerberus.
“Ms. Tanager?” MacLaine stopped me again.
“Call me Elaria,” I smiled at him.
“That's lovely,” he grinned. “You must call me Adam then. I was just wondering... isn't tanager a type of bird?”
“Why, yes it is, Adam,” I was still smiling as I left. It was always nice when someone appreciated the subtleties.
Jonah Malone was a gangster. Or a mobster. Probably a whole lot of words that ended in “er”. He had clawed his way to the top, and then discovered that he didn't actually have a head for business. All of his enterprises were failing, not just the one MacLaine had purchased, and Jonah was reverting to his old thug ways to handle the frustration.
It had been a simple thing to schedule an appointment to see him. I simply sang to the receptionist over the phone, and she found a spot for me that very day. Then I walked into Jonah Malone's office, closed the door, and sang to him. In five minutes, he had completely forgotten why he wanted to kill MacLaine. He also decided to sell off his remaining businesses, and get out while he could. Perhaps meditate more.
I walked out feeling relaxed, and satisfied with a job well done. I had video taped Jonah's “change of heart” and sent it to Cer, who would pass it along to MacLaine as confirmation. Within ten minutes, MacLaine had transferred my payment into my account. I could finally go home. Maybe I'd have a Mai Tai on the plane as a special treat.
I was on the way to the airport, when Cerberus called.
“Got another one for you, El,” Cerberus didn't bother with a greeting.
“I'm tired and cold, Cer,” I sighed. “Give it to someone else. I'm going home.”
“No one else can handle this. It's bad.”
“Blooder army bad.”
“That's pretty fucking bad,” I made a face at the phone.
“Whose army?” I asked.
“Some guy named Lincoln,” Cerberus' voice had a shrug in it.
“Like the president?”
“Yep,” he didn't offer anymore info.
“Where is this army going? What do they want? Who's the client?” I huffed. “You wanna give me anything without me pulling your fucking canines to get it?”
“Whoa, easy now,” Cer chuckled, “you're turning me on, Elaria, sweetheart. You wanna make a pit stop in Denver, and make good on some of your promises? We can fly to Kansas together after your failed attempts at pulling my pearly whites.”
“Kansas?!” I nearly screeched, causing my driver to look back at me in concern. “It's fine. I'm fine,” I told the driver. To Cer, I said, “I'm not going to Kansas. Who do you think I am? Dorothy?”
“You'd look cute in a little gingham dress,” he offered.
“The only way you'd get me in gingham is if you put on a collar and let me call you Toto,” I shot back.
“For you, baby? Anytime.”
“Great,” I rolled my eyes, “now we have our next couple's costume planned.”
“No, really,” I could hear Cerberus smirk. “I look good in a collar.”
Cerberus and I had been playing this mating game since we met, back when I was sixteen, and we'd never concluded it. Part of me wanted to see if he was as good as he implied, but the other part of me knew our friendship was worth too much to risk it. Plus, we did business together, and everyone knows that saying about mixing business with Percocet. Or something like that.
“Look,” he finally got serious. “The guy is an old friend of mine. He's a blooder, a gheara, but he keeps his people in line, and they don't cause any trouble. He's one of the good ones.”
“I don't know about a blooder being good, but I believe you about him keeping his people in line,” I chuckled. “It's not like you hear a lot of vampire stories originating in Kansas. I didn't even know that Kansas had a Beneath. I'd thought they'd all flown away to Oz.”
“Banning's a tough one,” Cerberus didn't even acknowledge my jokes on the paranormal community. Which he knew irritated me. I put effort into my humor, the least he could do was acknowledge it. “Fought his way out of Europe, and now the fuckers are coming for him.”
“Lincoln doesn't sound European,” I noted dryly.
“He's not,” Cer finally laughed. “He's a local hire. Mercenary.”
“Ah,” now that I could relate to. “So the guy is just doing a job. I can't hold that against him.”
“Yeah, but he contracts out with the Falca all the time. Those elitist bastards wouldn't even bother to come to America, and kill Banning themselves,” Cer huffed. “Lincoln, what kind of stupid merc name is that?”
“So what do you want me to do?” I rolled my eyes, something I did a lot when I talked to Cer. He had a thing about names, especially professional ones, and was always going on about them.
“Ma'am? We're here,” the cabby called back to me.
“Hold on, Cer,” I stuffed my phone into my purse, and pulled out some cash for the driver. I hurried out of the cab, and over to a semi-secluded bench, then pulled out the phone again. “You there?”
“Why do you always shove your phone in your purse when you put me on hold?” Cerberus grumbled. “Just press the fucking hold button. You think I like listening to all your lady loot knocking against the mic?”
“I'm going to hang up,” I threatened.
“Fine,” he growled. “I can get you ten million for the job.”
I nearly dropped the phone. Ten million was twice my assassination fee. But then I thought about it. An assassination was one person, and Cerberus was asking me to kill... wait, how many was he asking me to kill?
“How big is this army?” I asked him.
“I'm not sure,” he muttered.
“How big, Cer?”
“Big enough that a gheara blooder can't handle it with his entire gura backing him,” Cerberus snapped.
Blooder, as I mentioned before, is the correct appellation for a vampire. Kind of obvious, I know, but that's how those names usually came about. I mean look at my race, spellsingers. Well duh. But the word “gheara” was a little more interesting. It was Romanian for “fang”, and it indicated that the particular blooder was a big deal, akin to a king, maybe even bigger than that. There were usually hundreds of blooders in a single gura; that's the group of vampires who kiss the gheara's pale patootie. In fact, most people call them a Kiss, but the blooders don't like that. Probably because of the ass-kissing thing. The polite term is “gura”, which is yet another Romanian word, meaning “mouth”. Then there was the Falca, which were the elite blooders who controlled everything in the blooder world. “Falca” meant “jaw” in Romanian. Yeah, I guess all the names were obvious, they just sounded less so in another language.
Anyway, if this guy had an entire gura looking after him, and Cerberus still couldn't help him without me, then there must be a whole lot of mercenary blooders coming after Cer's friend. Crowds were tough, it was much easier to weave a spell around a single mind. To alter the free will of thousands of people at once was nearly impossible. So I would probably have to go another route. I could sing a spell to affect the environment, and attack them physically, leaving them their free wills. Or I could enchant a few of them at a time, and force those to attack the others. Possibly even a combination of both. It would be exhausting, and probably take me multiple songs to complete. I wasn't even sure I could do it.
“Ten million per song,” I said to Cerberus.
“What?!” he shouted into the phone.
“An assassination usually takes a few lines, half a song at most,” I explained my reasoning. I never arbitrarily picked a price. “And I charge five mil for a kill. So ten million for an entire song is a bargain, especially when you'll be wanting me to kill hundreds, possibly even thousands of blooders. You know I'll need to sing more than one song to take care of an army, so your friend can pay per song. If it gets too expensive, he can tell me to stop singing, and handle the survivors with his gura.”
“Gods damn you, Elaria,” Cerberus snarled. “You have the mind of Archimedes and the cold calculation of Hades himself.”
“Thank you,” I said primly. “But you know as well as I that you were trying to dick me over on this one, Cerberus, and I'm not happy about that.”
“He's a friend, El,” he sighed.
“Yeah, that's why I'm letting you slide,” I acknowledged.
You'd think immortals would end up having tons of friends, what with our extensive lifetimes. But it's actually the opposite. When you live as long as we do, you end up breaking most bonds. Family is usually the exception, but even they can drive you crazy enough to make you avoid them for a few decades. When you form a friendship that lasts, like mine and Cer's, it means something.
“So, are you meeting me in Kansas?” I finally asked him.
“You'll do it?” Cerberus asked with a measure of surprise.
“Of course I'll do it,” I rolled my eyes. Again. “Any friend of yours, and all that heroine bullshit.”
“Thanks, El,” he said sincerely.
“Of course,” I said just as sincerely. “Now where in Kansas am I going?”
“Head to Lawrence,” Cer said. “Check into the Springhill Suites, it's one of the nicer hotels there. A Marriott.”
“Well as long as I can stay at a Marriott,” I teased.
“I'll book a room for you,” he promised. “Under your usual alias.”
“Florence Nightingale,” I agreed. “Perfect.”
“And I'll come and get you after I arrive.”
“Alright,” I agreed. “See you in Kansas, Toto.”
“Bring your sexy red heels, Dorothy. I'll pack my collar,” he laughed as he hung up.
Ah, Kansas. It was actually kind of pretty. Lawrence was a bustling town, but not quite as busy as Seattle, and not nearly as cold. It was November, so there was a nip in the air, but something about that breeze coming off the water in Seattle, made things so much colder. Lawrence was more mellow with its chill, like Seattle's hippie sibling. Autumn had painted the city in its colors, and there was the smell of the season on the breeze; dry leaves and cooling earth. I breathed deeply of it as my cab drove me out to the Springhill Suites.
As promised, I found a room already booked, and paid for, under my alias. I showed the surprised clerk my ID, with the alias name on it, and he handed me the keys with a twitching smile. I gave the standard line; my folks had thought it was a great joke to name me Florence, with our last name being Nightingale. And he let the twitching take the shape of a proper smile.