Paper Wolves : Act I

Current Act Wordcount: 7,475
Rating/Warnings: PG-13
Blurb: With the Southside Dumppack still reeling over the loss of their old alpha, Meg must find a way to salvage the mess before the Council decides their pack is better off disbanded. Forced to rely on help from the Northern Pack that wants them to fail, she’s learning the hard way what being a child of the Baron really means… (aka Urban Fantasy gets a Day Job)

Welcome to this year’s National Novel Wiriting Month rough draft!

Read at your own risk/amusement: There will most likely be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, contradictions/retcons, uneven characterization and pacing.

Previous | Index | Next

~*~*~*~*~

Unhelpful Help

“So I could buy a passenger van from the pack’s company funds?” Meg flipped stay locks of her red-blonde hair out of the way, then gave up and rebanded her ponytail to capture the strands that had slipped loose in the past hour.

“Yes.” Her companion gave a smug one-word answer and waited patiently for her to try again.

Meg sat across the dining room table from the accountant sent down by the Northside pack, on orders of the Council. The table even had the extra leafs in it that they normally only used when the whole pack was gathered.

The extra room hadn’t made a dent in the dead tree coverage.

She had expected him to be tall and slim and significantly more ominous looking, especially when she’d heard his nickname was Merlin.

Instead she was sitting across the table, which was half-buried in paperwork, trying not to strangle someone who looked like they’d be more at home as a bouncer in a biker bar. Where Meg clocked in at five and a half feet and a build more towards wiry than lean; He was solidly build, somewhere a smidge over six foot, bald, tattooed, but took at left turn at the normal stereotype and was dressed in an expensive looking shirt and pants like he just stepped out of a G.Crew catalog. It was hard to scream yuppie when you looked like a bouncer, but he was pulling it off.

What he wasn’t pulling off was being at all helpful.

The Council may have ordered Northside to help get Southside’s books in order, but Merlin was adept at not quite answering the questions that she was asking. It was akin to making wishes from genies, or pulling teeth from a shark.

If she didn’t pay attention, she was going to lose a hand.

She took a deep breath, counted to ten, and tried rephrasing the question yet again in a way that he would answer.

“If I bought a car using the pack’s company funds, what would be the consequences?”

The accountant grinned and finally gave her the information she needed. Which would be about how the car could only be used for company business and they would have to keep a mileage log and the receipts from the gas and repairs, and that not only would they have to designate people who were allowed to drive, but make sure they had the training required by OSHA for vehicle operation.

In the end it looked like the limitations were worth it– the pack could certainly use a new van and her own car was one its last legs. Since she could access the pack funding now there were a lot of changes she was hoping to make.

But the pack funding was seriously limited.

Donny might have been taking bribes, but what the old alpha had done with the money was anyone’s guess. The Council was still tracking down all of the wolves he’d made and hunting the funds as well. Meg was pretty sure even if they turned up that Southside wouldn’t see a dime of it.

So there was the slow trickle of funding from the Council that all packs got. There was supposed to be a tithe from the pack members as well, but since the pack wasn’t actually providing them any benefit at the moment Meg couldn’t bring herself to ask.

There was also a lot of expenses that Meg hadn’t considered.

Once Merlin had shown her the ropes she’d have to send one of the wolves to school to learn bookkeeping or she’d have to go herself. They were very careful about pack finances, no outsider ever got to see the mundane detail of their cash flow– even if it was all pretty much above board.

They also had the wolves that had run away before the Council’s clean up man Christopher had shown up to clean up the old alpha’s murder. They were slowly being hunted down by the Council and either returned to Southside or sent elsewhere.

There were a few wolves who had taken the offer of relocation to Bay Point, but quite a few had simple come back to Southside, figurative tails between their legs.

Not everyone had left on good terms which meant she had wolves with no jobs and no place to live. Thankfully the Council had stepped in to provide temporary aid. once they realized the extent of the mess that Donny had left them in. But that help would only last for six months, so she had a time limit on sorting things out.

And Merlin wasn’t helping.

“Why don’t you just give up?” He asked with a smirk. “This is way above your head, you don’t have a clue how to run a pack– just give in, dissolve Southside and let better heads prevail.”

“No.” She snapped, patience having gone by the wayside several dozen questions ago. Merlin had spent all three of the tutoring sessions so far egging her into giving up power and sending the wolves scattering among the local packs. “Now go over the assets again, what are the limitations on what we can sell to raise capital?”

Merlin sighed, frustrated, and dug for the asset list in the piles of paperwork. With a calm, but slightly antagonistic manner he read down the very short list of things that Southside owned. Nothing on the list turned out to be available for sale– either it was tied up in an existing loan or they’d take a tax hit for selling it.

Meg went back to the simple balance sheet that they’d created over the past few weeks. Expenses were just a smidge under their income, and that was counting her job at the bookstore which came to an end officially on Friday.

Six days wasn’t anywhere near enough to sort this mess out.

So she thought of her happy place, which included more mauling than was probably appropriate, carefully planned out her questions, and dove back into the fray.

~*~*~*~*~

“Okay, seriously, I need more bickering here.” The Writer looked over at the two fictives with annoyance. “As much fun as it’s going to be researching the regulations for car usage by companies, I’d like a little more back story and a little less accounting.”

“So you want us to argue?” Merlin looked over at Meg who shrugged. “Err, okay.”

“I’ll edit it in later, just world build a little would’ya!”

~*~*~*~*~

“It’s not your fault,” Merlin said with the same condescending tone he’d been using ever since she met him. “You weren’t meant to be wolves, any of you. The Baron’s children are carefully chosen in real packs, screened to eliminated any flaws or defects of character and real packs do their best to weed out unacceptable children.”
“Yeah, by sending them to dumppacks.” Meg snapped. “Just because we don’t fit in with you doesn’t mean we’re any less of wolves.”
“Yes it does.” Merlin snorted. “It most certainly does. You’re undertrained, under-schooled, untalented and without redeeming merits in most cases. Take yourself, you’ve a couple college credits, in what amounts to basket weaving, you’ve never held a job that wasn’t retail and you have zero marketable skills. Tell me, in what universe does that equal ‘any less of a wolf’?”
“None of those things have anything to do with wolves,” Meg laughed. “The Baron was a sadistic narcissist who was so irredeemably evil that someone cursed his entire family to roam the world as mindless beasts. Fine, you want to insult us? Call us good children, call us just like you– because to the rest of the world that’s a step down.”
“So renounce,” Merlin snarled, “renounce and go back to living normal lives with all those sheep you admire so much.”
“No” Meg glared right back. “No, because being what we are doesn’t mean we’re irredeemable. We’re watered-down wolves, all of us, and that’s a good thing. We’re better than our parents, that’s the whole point of children. And someday, maybe, the curse will mean we’re a force for good in the world– and isn’t that the best revenge?”
“You just don’t want to die.” Merlin snorted.
“Of course I don’t. You don’t either.” Meg gave him an annoyed look. “But that’s the beginning, isn’t not the end. If all you can see is the chance to live forever, then you’re missing the point.”
“The point is to keep improving,” Merlin snapped. “I spend my life getting better, what do you do?”
“I try and keep us alive.” Meg sighed. “And a roof over our heads, which is why you’re here to teach me how to do that.”
“What’s the point?” asked Merlin. “The only reason any of you are a problem at all is because your parents can’t or won’t renounce you and you won’t renounce yourselves. You’ve got no drive, no motivations, just a bunch of lazy slackers who want someone else to foot their bill as they waste an eternity.”
“You want us to take care of ourselves? Fine, then teach me how and we’ll stop being a drain on your resources.” Meg pounced on the opening. “Make them my problem, not yours, then Nico can go back to lording over us from afar without having to get his paws dirty.”
There was a pause. “Nico is going to kill you one day.” Merlin finally said. “You know that, right?”
Meg nodded, tired. She’d forced the Northside Alpha to kill one of his oldest friends and even though it was Gil’s fault he ended up in that position she knew Nico blamed her personally.
“So let’s get back to work, the sooner I straighten this out, the sooner he’s free to take me out of the picture.”
Merlin snorted, but nodded and they got back to work.

~*~*~*~*~

“Better?” Merlin asked, leaning back from the table with a yawn. “You really need to stop writing so early in the morning if you want us to be awake enough to act.
“First off, yes thank you that was perfect, and second you don’t actually exist and it’s almost 10am on a Saturday so you have no right complaining that it’s early.” The Writer snapped.
“I have a feeling he sets his own hours,” Meg pointed out, eyeing the giant pile of paperwork on the table. “I really have to learn all this?”
“Well, unless you can think of another pack member who’d want to learn accounting–”
“Not really.”
“Then yes, you’re stuck. But I promise to bring someone in later that can help out.”
Meg eyed her Writer with suspicion. “Joy.”

Too Much, I Sum-up

“I refuse to say what else can go wrong,” Meg slumped on the sofa watching as Merlin’s car pulled out of the driveway. He had a very nice car. “But seriously, what else can go wrong?”

“Well, they could have ‘said figure it out yourself.'” pointed out Yusuf from the kitchen. He reappeared around the corner, two beers in hand. “So at least we have help.” He handed her a beer and then leaned back against the wall. “Not particularly useful help, but help.”

Meg’s second in command looked a lot like she had expected the accountant to be. He was older, slim and wiry in a way that bespoke age instead of youth. He was middle eastern, but she wasn’t sure from where. She had a feeling he was Egyptian from the references he made now and then, but he was a solitary wolf and rarely spoke about his past.

Any accent he might had had was long gone and he spoke the unaccented English of a theatre nerd, picking up and discarding regional accents with ease. She had a feeling he’d cheated and living in those areas, soaking up the regional ‘tells’ that made people think he was from the area.

Yusuf was older, dark salt and pepper gray hair was relatively rare among werewolves who did age, but much more slowly than their human counterparts. The further down the family tree you went the more diluted the curse became and the older that people could expect to get.

No one had died of old age yet, but Meg wondered if it was only a matter of degrees of separation and a few centuries away.

“I’d take option B,” muttered Susan, who was curled up in the armchair playing on her phone and looking for all the world like a disgruntled teenager. She wasn’t of course, Susan was one of the oldest wolves Meg knew, she wasn’t sure how old though. She just had one of those faces and bodies that came across younger.

If she’s been human she’d probably appreciate it, but when years turned into half-centuries it got sort of old.

Susan had short brown hair, brown eyes, and was dressed in her mechanics shops uniform, as was her habit. It looked a lot dirtier than it actually was, a visual statement Susan worked hard to cultivate. She wasn’t really a mechanic, most of the shop duties she had didn’t require anything beyond basic training, but it looked so out of place when she looked like a teenager otherwise. She just liked confusing people.

“I’ll take the option where none of this happened, Donny’s still alive, there aren’t any fugitive offspring, and Northside keeps it’s paws in its own territory.” Theo said mournfully, curled up on the other edge of the couch and looking as mopey as possible. Her short black hair was liberally striped with bright red streaks thanks to some uber powerful hair dye and her innate stubbornness.

She was wearing what could charitably be called jeans and a t-shirt, although the original color was well hidden under various coats of paint and hair dye. In theory she had been repainting the spare bedroom, again, since her idea of ‘appropriate color choices’ was severely undernourished.

Meg had a feeling she had just been playing with the paints instead. Beige was not a pretty color, but certainly better than neon yellow and lime green. Getting Theo to actually paint over her pervious handiwork might have been too much to ask.

“If only.” Meg sighed. She popped the top off the beer and took a swig. Werewolves couldn’t get drunk, but there was a nice buzz that got going before the healing aspect of the curse actually kicked in. Was sort of nice knowing you’d never actually kill brain cells or wake up with a hangover.

“So we don’t have enough money to get a van,” Yusuf said, “That’s too bad, but at least we aren’t broke, right?”

“We aren’t broke yet,” said Susan. “We’re going to have to tithe and you know how well that’s going to go over.”

“We need to figure out where all the debt is coming from,” said Meg. “Some of it’s for loans on things I don’t think we own anymore. And apparently we own a house somewhere that we’re renting. That is one of the few things that we’re making money one, so we can’t even afford to sell it.”

“So what does the paperwork think we own?”

“Two cars, the rental house, a second mortgage on the rental house, a payday loan from three years ago– interest is a bitch, there’s apparently a computer on layaway at Wal-Mart and we have a bill for a security system for a building we don’t own in an area I don’t recognize.”

“We have cars?”

“Had cars, one was totaled in an accident but the insurance didn’t cover the outstanding loan and the other one is just missing. We’re having the cops look into that one actually. Oh yeah, and we have Donny’s apartment we’re still paying for plus whatever he left behind in the house since no one has gone over there to check it out.”

“I’m sure the Council looked it over,”

“Only to take anything of value I’m sure.” Susan snorted, “you know they’re probably going to hand us a bill for the investigation if they don’t find the money Donny stashed.”

“Yeah, Christopher mentioned that.” Meg sighed.

“Well at least we have a chance to clean house, put things in order so we have something to build up from.” Yusuf said.

“Always the optimist.” sniffed Susan.

“Someone has to be.”

“We work with what we have or we give up and go home and Northside takes over the territory.” Meg said with a sigh. “That’s what they want us to do.”

“They might have a point,” said Susan, although with less snap. “I didn’t realize things were so bad. there’s no way you can get a tithe out of post of the pack, they just don’t make enough.”

“Merlin said we needed better skill sets,” Meg said, “I’m beginning to wonder if he wasn’t right.”

“You want to send the pack to college?” Yusuf frowned.

“Trade school, more likely.” Meg tipped her beer at Susan. “Why not become an actual mechanic? I know you’re more than smart enough and you’re pretty handy fixing things around here.”

“That’s because I’ve spent a very long time building things.” Susan sniffed dismissively. “I could be a mechanic easily enough, but you have to get certified and stay certified and normally there’s an apprentice program– all things that I don’t want to repeat every twenty years when I have to reinvent myself.”

“It’s not always as easy as passing a test for some professions.” Theo frowned. “They won’t let you take the bar exam unless you can prove you went to law school and no one wants to do law school more than once. They have mandatory attendance.”

“Wait, you’re a lawyer?” Meg looked over at Theo in shock.

“Um, no. No, no, no, with a side of hell no, and no.” Theo held up her hands, managing not to spill her beer, but only as an afterthought. “But I knew one, he went to law school twice and then gave up. He operates within the pack, but he can’t practice for real.”

“I’m guessing doctors and lawyers share the same headaches then.” Meg said with a sigh.

“Any profession that requires certification is more or less in the same boat, it makes a paper trail and we can’t afford paper trails.” Yusuf noted.

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t have the skills.” Meg said after a moment of thought. “We just can’t use them officially, right?”

“True, but those are hard things to learn and most people do it for the power or the fame–”

“Like becoming a Black,” Meg said, with only a little bitterness.

Yusuf nodded. “Like taking the family oaths, it sets you apart from everyone else, says ‘I can do X’ in a world where most people can’t. You might be able to convince one of two of the wolves to go through it once, but most of us are, hmm–” he paused to search for the right word.

“Lazy?” Offered Susan with a snort.

“Yeah, pretty much.” Yusuf raised his beer in toast to her, but then realized it was empty and headed back into the kitchen to get another round.

“So what do I do?” Asked Meg tiredly. “We have to get better somehow, we can’t keep living at the mercy of the Council like this.”

“You mean what do we do,” corrected Theo. “One for all and all for one!”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work.” Susan laughed. “Pack loyalty is really not something Southside has in abundance.”

“So let’s look at this from another angle.” Meg took the offered beer as Yusuf returned. “Let’s see what skills we have already and make something from that.”

“Going at it a bit backwards, but hey, it can’t hurt.” Susan cocked her head thoughtfully. “Actually we’ve pretty much got the entry-level world covered don’t we.”

“And most of us have had those types of jobs long enough that we know how the non-entry level stuff works as well.” Yusuf pointed out. “I might be a admin assistant, but I’ve learned a lot about how businesses in general work.”

“And I could give you chapter and verse about building cars,” Susan added.

“And I can–” Theo frowned. “Oh, I know, I can paint!” She grinned and Meg rolled her eyes while Susan sighed.

“Well I can,” Theo objected, grumpily. “I can also sculpt things, and carve things, and knit, and weave, and sew, and make shiny things, and yeah being an artist is about as ‘useful’ as dirt in the big picture, but darn it I can make things pretty!”

“Wait, you know how to sew?” Meg looked over at Theo.

“I can do clothing, and embroidery, and tapestry, and well any kind of needlework really, and I can make sheets and drapes and just about anything with fabric, or leather. Although leather’s a pain.” Theo made a face.

“Huh,” Meg said. “Well you certainly don’t have to have a certification to do that– so why are you working at the mall?”

“Wait, what?” Theo blinked.

“Why aren’t you selling art instead of selling pretzels?”

“Because, um,” Theo looked at Susan for help, but the other werewolf shrugged. “Because I didn’t think of it?”

Yusuf laughed and Meg sighed.

“Wait, so I can do that?” Theo looked like someone had run high voltage current through her. “Really?”

“Well, keep working at the mall for now, but as soon as you can make more at the art, go for it.” Meg had barely finished before she was smothered in an ecstatic bear hug from Theo who put her down abruptly and dashed up the stairs to her room to start committing art.

“I can’t decide if that was brilliant or insane.” Yusuf grinned. “Either way it’ll keep her busy for a while.”

“And keep her from worrying so much.” Meg sighed, leaning back in the couch. “Ever since she had to rescue Keeper she’s been driving me nuts with her worst case scenarios.”

“But a lot of those are realistic, if slightly more embellished than necessary.” Susan pointed out. “She’s trying to help.”

“I know, I just want her to be Theo though.” Meg looked over at Yusuf and Susan. “It’s our job to worry about the sky falling.”

“So, let’s worry.” said Yusuf. “If we’re just breaking even now how are we going to manage in six months when the Council stops supporting us.”

“Or in a week when I lose my job.” Meg pointed out.

“So we need more income,” Susan said. “Would it be unreasonable to point this out to the Council, have them give us a raise of sorts?”

“They’ve already gone out of their way to give us the six month boost.” said Meg. “We’re not getting another dime out of them.’

“So we need second jobs, if we can.” sighed Yusuf, “Ah well, not like we haven’t done that before.”

“We’ll get a bit of a break if we can sort out these two care loans and that security system.” said Meg, “But we really need to start finding our own housing. Better to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.”

Yusuf looked at Susan who muttered something unkind under her breath. He sighed.

“You know we aren’t a normal pack, you aren’t going to be able to tell people where to live.” He said finally. “Even if you get them houses or condos where they want there’s no guarantee they’ll pay the mortgages or even stay in the area for very long.”

“There has to be something we can do.” objected Meg. “We need to save money–”

“No, you need to save money,” Susan pointed out. “They are doing just fine for the most part.”

“But don’t they want to do better?” asked Meg, frustrated.

“Not really,” said Yusuf, “that’s why they’re in a dump pack.”

~*~*~*~*~

“Am I allowed to point out that there’s no solution to this situation?” Meg pointed out, annoyed.

“No.” said the Writer. “I’m working on it. I dunno, maybe you can will the lottery.”

There was a long pause.

“Or not.” the Writer sighed and looked over the situation again. “Okay so you need more money, jobs aren’t exactly easy to come by in the wide world of retail, at least not the area you’re in. I don’t think you qualify for a small business loan since technically you’re just a branch of the lager Black corporation.”

“So what, we just go feral and say screw it?” Susan snapped.

“No, no there’s a solution here somewhere.” the Writer poked the story. “I may just ignore it for now and maybe something will come up when the rest of the plot happens.”

“I don’t think that’s really a valid plan.” Yusuf said mildly.

“It’s NaNo, I don’t need a plan!” the Writer objected.

“Right, well we’ll just be over here not finding solutions because you’ve written us into a corner.” Susan said snarkily. “You go chase that plot.”

“Right.” the Writer flipped over the index card and declared the scene Done For Now.”

Ticket to Hide

“They found two more wolves,” Yusuf said as Meg got back in the door from her second to last day of work.

Meg winced. “Who?”

“Remi and Sofia.”

“Oh, good,” Meg relaxed, tossing her jacket on couch. “I was worried it was one of the dangerous ones.”

“To be honest, I think they might be killing those.” Yusuf pointed out, apologetically.

“I’m not going to think about that, thank you.” Said Meg, heading up the stairs to go chance out of her work clothes. “I’ll be right back.”

A few minutes later she was back into her comfy jeans and a worn sweatshirt and ready to tackle the paperwork. “Alright, lets fill those forms!”

“Actually Christopher had them do most of the work themselves,” Yusuf handed her the paperwork as she sat down at the dining room table. “He’s almost got a system worked out at this point.”

“Well he’s running out of wolves to track down, but I guess later is better than never.”

“True.”

Meg scanned over the forms, she didn’t remember much about the pair other than they had come in from Louisiana and tended to use French as a method of insulating themselves from the rest of the pack. Not really team players, unless you counted their team of two.

But they were coming back with enough cash to get themselves settled until they could find jobs, Sofia was a writer and that meant most of her work was done online (and why they had savings to start with). Remi was a generic handyman, he did yard work, simple repairs, anything he could get away without having certifications for.

Sofia was fine, in terms of recovering from the exodus, but Remi was looking at a bunch of backlogged taxes and fines regarding his one-person business. Meg sighed and added that to the list of things to go over with Merlin at the next monthly meeting.

The Council had set them up in the same hotel as the others, but from the looks of it they weren’t going to be there more than a day or two. Well that was something at least.

“Good bit is that Remi’s due for a rebirth in a few years anyways, might as well do it now.” Yusuf tossed her another set of forms. “The Council sent down the forms, we’ll just need to put the note in the rolls.”

Meg wasn’t sure quite how the Black family managed to generate the new identities that they wolves needed in order to keep under the radar, but she was immensely glad that she didn’t have to do it herself. Faking birth records was one thing, faking a whole twenty or thirty years of life was something else.

“So who else did we need to rebirth?” Meg finished filling in the blanks with a tired practiced ease. “May as well do that now.”

“No one yet, but there might be a few who are willing to go early.”

“Let’s not make more work if we can help it.” Meg handed him back the paperwork and Yusuf tucked it into the waiting manila folder for mailing. “So that makes, what, twenty-seven wolves now?”

“Yup,” Yusuf nodded, “I don’t think we’re going to get back any of the others.”

“Well, maybe Marilyn,” Meg said wistfully. “But I’ll bet she’s gone back to her family pack– I can’t see them turning her away now.”

“You’d be amazed how long people can hold a grudge,” Yusuf said, “but yeah, most likely her father has forgiven her by now.”

“Ah youth,” Meg sighed. “I wonder if we could talk the wolves who are actually making enough cash to tithe to help out.”

“Couldn’t hurt to ask,” Yusuf said, “as long as you make it voluntary you might get a few nibbles.”

“I didn’t realize just how bad the paperwork was,” Meg eyed the other piles or mostly carefully arranged paperwork. “Did you know we had wolves on the rolls that haven’t been around for almost a century? It was only a handful of people, but you have to wonder why someone in the IRS didn’t catch on to the fact that they were getting W2s for 110 year olds.”

“I don’t think they’re going to mind as long as we actually pay them.” He sighed, “But it will be nice to have things up to date. Donny was never one for paperwork– probably because if it was a mess then they wouldn’t catch on to what he was doing.”

“I wonder how many of his children we’ll end up getting.” Meg said. “Christopher hasn’t said anything about it so I’m not sure if they plan on sending them here or elsewhere.”

“It would make more sense to send them away, some of them have family here and it’s always best to make a clean break if they aren’t going to renounce. The last thing we need is for someone they know to see them a few decades down the road.”

“One less thing to worry about at least.”

“You read for the last day tomorrow?” Yusuf changed the topic of conversation.

“Not really,” Meg rolled her shoulders. “I have no idea what I’m going to do once the last paycheck hits the bank. The company is gone, so it’s not like we can move to another branch. Heck, they weren’t even bought out so everything gone back to the publishers or out to liquidation companies.”

“What are your coworkers doing?”

“Moving home.”

Health to the Company

The bookstore looked emptier than Meg had thought possible. The books were long gone, either sold or packed up and shipped away.

The tables and chairs had sold at the final round earlier in the week along with the shelving units and even the cash registers (at the very end). Even some of the light figures were gone now and their last day had been spent packing up the last remaining items and then cleaning.

Lots of cleaning.

She wasn’t quite sure what she had expected, after all she’d worked hard enough for the security deposits for her apartments, she’d hate to think what the deposit was like for a whole store.

They’d had fun though, stopping for random games of tag, name that stain, and the sort of dark humor that went along with a death.

The whole company had gone under, so once the sign came down off the outside the store would truly be gone, and the manager and assistant manager were out on the lift doing that now.

The company hadn’t asked for the uniforms back, so the store manager Leslie had doled out what they had left in the back. It might be a sad reminder, but the polo shorts were actually pretty nice and Meg had taken a couple for later.

They didn’t have a time clock anymore, so the last round of clock in and outs went on a paper timesheet that Leslie was driving over to the remnants of the areas main branch. The managers would have another week before they were laid off officially, but everyone else was gone at the end of this shift.

Meg sighed, having hit the end of the windows she had to tape heavy brown paper to and having nothing left to do.

“You can always help me,” pointed out Cole who was one of the two workers left other than the managers. He was a college age kid, short brown hair in not quite a military haircut, out of place blue eyes (which always made her wonder if he wasn’t really a bottle brunette) and the build of a football quarterback. He waved at the rest of his own set of windows and gave her a pleading grin.

Cole was nice, but a bit lazy at times, and Meg had a feeling he’d known she’d finish early. She sighed and clambered down the ladder.

“You don’t have to help him,” Mei objected from where she was moving the last of the boxes over to the side door to get them ready to load into the U-Haul. “He’s been going slow on purpose.” Mei was short, Hawaiian and in the middle of a Masters program in some sort of middle eastern historical literature– Meg was never quite sure what to call it other than ‘things that can’t possibly get her a job later’, but Mei seemed to love it.

“I know.” Meg said, without annoyance. “But it’s the last time I’ll get to cover for him so why not enjoy it while I can.” She grinned as she carried the ladder over to the other set of windows.

“I’m not slow,” complain Cole, “I’m just big boned!” He grinned. “Besides the slower we work the slower six o clock comes.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works.” objected Meg as she started hanging paper from the other end of the bank of windows.

“I reject your reality and substitute my own!” Cole declared defiantly.

“The laws of relatively laugh at your rejection,” Mei said, having moved the last of the boxes and came over to help with the windows. “I didn’t realize how dark it was in here without the lights.”

“I didn’t realize how many of the lights the company owned,” added Meg. “You’d think the mall would have had more in here– but it’s almost like the only own the walls.” There were a few florescent rectangles higher up on the ceiling, but as the windows were covered they were losing a lot of the natural light that had made the store seem bright and open.

They finished the windows about the same time Roderick and Leslie finished the sign and the group met back inside the room for last instructions.

“Help us load up the truck and that’s all we need you for today. You can sign out with six, I’ll sign off on that. No point in making you stay if we don’t have work to do.” Leslie said. She was older, middle-aged with that ‘I’ve been a mother for longer than you’ve been alive’ feel to her. She had short curly blonde hair that was starting to go grey, kind hazel eyes and a smile for every occasion. Meg was pretty sure it was her personality that had kept their store going long after the others in the area had settled into the red.

“It’s gonna be weird, walking out of here.” Said Cole, looking around the empty store that was in semidarkness. “I dunno.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.” said Roderick. The assistant manager was older, but not as old as Leslie. He had been aiming for a manager’s position this year at one of the other stores, but with the company going under that dream went up in smoke. From what Meg knew he was going back to college to pick up a MBA– it was the only way to keep his other student loans from coming due.

Roderick had long black hair pulled back in a braid, looked somewhere between native American and Mexican in a way that made people’s heads hurt as they tried to fit him into an easy stereotype. She’d never asked which he actually was and he’d never offered so she’d filed him away under ‘not Caucasian’ and didn’t think about it much.

She was going to miss them– although to be far she was going to miss them anyways in another few years when she’d have to do her own rebirth. That was one of the cardinal rules of changing identities, getting as far away from the folks who had know you before as possible.

“But we’ll always have Paris,” said Mei wistfully.

“I’d prefer to have Germany, thankyouverymuch.” said Leslie, who was rather proud of her heritage, although Meg was pretty sure she had more Russian in her than Germanic. “But I’ll miss all of you, which you darned well know already.” She sighed. “I’ll keep you in mind, if I find another job– you know you’ll be the first in line.”

“Good minions are hard to find,” Cole nodded solemnly.

“Good assistant Evil Overlords are pretty nice too,” Roderick pointed out.

“Hah, you’re leaving us for the Corporate Jungle,” Cole sniffed. “A traitor to the cause!”

“I work with insane people,” Meg sighed dramatically.

“Well at least until the boxes are loaded,” Roderick agreed with a grin.

Innocent Bystanders

The truck was loaded much more quickly than Meg had hoped and with a final timecard signature she was no longer an employee. She stood in the parking lot with Cole and Mei and waved as Leslie and Roderick drove the U-Haul off to the main branch for unloading and reloading into a real trailer.

“And so ends the tale of the Fearsome Five.” Cole said sadly.

“And so begins the adventures.” Mei objected. “Life isn’t over because the bookstore is gone. We can still keep in touch you know, there aren’t laws against it.”

“You never know.” He said morosely.

Meg laughed and the three of them started the long walk out to their cars. The mall insisted that the employees park at the far ends of the lots so that the customers got all the close spaces. Which was a little stupid considering that the customers rarely filled the lots unless it was a holiday of some sort. Or anywhere near Christmas.

As they walked and chatted they did dawdle a bit and when a cop car pulled up behind them Mei groaned. “If they harass us for loitering I am so going to give them a piece of my mind.”

“You need your mind,” objected Meg, “give them a piece of Cole’s instead.”

“I object!” Cole yelped just as the door opened and the two cops got out. Cole’s eyes widened as they looked at him sharply and he gave them a sheepish grin. “Sorry.”

“Which one of you is Megan Black?” Asked the older officer, who didn’t look at all amused. He had short black hair, brown eyes, and an athletic build. Meg had a feeling he was someone who took his job very seriously. And he was looking for her. great.

“That’s me,” she said as Mei and Cole shot her a worried look. “What did you need?” She tried to keep calm, but she had no idea what was going on.

“Are you related to Nico Black?”

“Err, loosely.” She blinked. “He’s a distant cousin of some sort, why?”

“Are you aware that he’s under investigation for running a criminal organization?”

Now Mei and Cole were looking alarmed she sighed. “No, but I’m not at all surprised, he’s not a nice person.”

“Nice isn’t really the word I’d use,” noted the second cop. He was younger, had oddly gray hair and green eyes.

“I was trying to be polite,” Meg shrugged. “He’s an asshole then.”

“So you do know him?” The older cop asked pointedly.

She noticed his nametag said Hunter on it which was amusing and sort of creepy at the same time. She tried to read the other cop’s nametag without looking suspicious.

“I know of him, I’ve never met him in person. Like I said, distant cousin, but sadly not distant enough.”

“And have you ever had business dealings with him?” The cops tone didn’t change, but she could tell he was on the verge of pouncing on something. Tense without being scared, excited without being overly so.

“Err, sort of I guess,” she blinked, trying to figure out where this was going. “We’re both shareholders of the same family company, but he’s a different branch, I don’t deal with him directly. Why?”

“So you won’t mind if we come over to check out your side of things,” the cop said.

“Yeah actually I would,” said Meg with some annoyance. “Unless you have a warrant or a damned good reason for asking I’m not going to let you go digging through my house.”

“‘Dammed good reason’?” the younger cop asked, amused. “What counts?”

“Kidnapping, murder, bodily injury.” Meg snapped. “But since I’ve never met him in person, I’m going to be hard pressed to believe that evidence of that sort would be anywhere near me.”

“But his accountant is.” the older cop said mildly.

“His accountant was assigned to help us sort out the mess left behind when Donny died.” They knew who Donny was, of course, the local cops had been in on that one, although they never figured out quite what was going on.

~*~*~*~*~

“Is this really the right way to be interrogating a suspect?” Office Chase asked the Writer, he might be the younger of the two cops but he was pretty sure there were better ways to get the job done.

“Err, probably not?” The Writer looked sheepish, but a bit lost. “I guess I need to channel more cop TV shows.”

“To be fair, most of them interrogate people wherever they find them,” Office Hunter said with a sigh. “In theory you want to take them back to somewhere you can tape the interview, that’s why they ask folks to come down to the precinct to testify after all.”

“And what exactly are we trying to do here?” Chase asked. “I mean, are we suspecting her of working for the mob as well or are we trying to get a man on the inside? It’s sort of playing both ways here– after all we can’t arrest her for having the same accountant.”

“Mostly you were just there to intimidate,” the Writer checked her plot notes. “You’re sort of the sword hanging over the bed, you’re purpose is to add a level of suspense but not necessarily do anything but menace.”

“So if we talk to her in front of her coworkers, that actually makes sense then.” said Chase. “I mean we want to intimidate her so she makes mistakes, since she’s new at this and we haven’t been able to get Nico to make mistakes. Going after the fingers in order to cripple the arm, so to speak.”

“Thus the goal is to let her know we’re watching her now, that we know she’s connected to Nico, and that Nico is up to no good. If she’s a good person she’ll investigate herself and then maybe help us. If she’s not then she’ll let Nico know we’re onto a weak spot and maybe he’ll do something to try and shore up the walls that we can catch him on.”

“I wonder what you’d need in order to get a warrant to search the house.” the Writer mused.

“Watch more cop show?” suggested Chase, who was making himself at home on the sofa. He waved the remote happily.

“TV? Hah! I have HULU!” said the Writer, and popped open her laptop to queue in a Bones marathon.

“So, right, we’ll get back to this scene sometime later in the month then.” said Hunter with a sigh.

END OF ACT I