Howl for the Holidays(36)

By: Keira Blackwood

“That’s nice, Leonard. I’m happy for you.”

“You should come have dinner with us sometime, before this mission or after. Hilda can cook and we can catch up on the last fifteen years. Boy can she cook.” Leonard patted the soft stomach where his flat abs used to be.

“I’d like that,” I said, though I wasn’t so sure. I had never been a sit down with the family for dinner type, and I kept busy with work.

“And don’t give me some excuse that you haven’t any time between missions,” he said. “That’s what I would have done, and I know you’re the same. I didn’t choose to work with a partner, and I see you going out alone just like I would have done. Give yourself time to be social, to have a life that’s not just for the Therion Tribunal.”

“Okay, Leonard,” I said. “Can I have my assignment?”

“Of course,” he answered, and pulled the manila envelope from the counter, scribbling something on the corner before handing it over.

“It’s good to see you,” I said and turned toward the door.

“Hope to see you around, Liam,” he replied, voice more somber than when I had entered.

The little bell dinged as I exited, leaving my old friend behind. Leonard 555-1034 a small, neat script on the bottom of the thick, manila envelope. It was a kind offer, and maybe I would call, but we both knew it was more likely that I wouldn’t. This mission would lead to the next, and I couldn’t take the time to reminisce when there was work to be done. Wordlessly I repeated the number to myself, 555-1034—my only contact nearby if I ran into more than I could handle.

I peeked inside the envelope before moving on. Everything that should have been included was there: papers, cards, photographs, a single key, a burner phone, and a pile of cash. Grabbing a few hundreds from the envelope, I passed the old man by the window on my way behind the building. Leaving the bills in his previously empty coffee cup, I continued on my way.

“Thanks, man,” he called after me.

“Just make it home,” I replied.

The small lot behind Brute Pawn had three places for vehicles to park and a large dumpster. One of the spaces was empty, which limited my options to a silver, early nineties Buick station wagon and a black, Chevy pickup from the late seventies. Either could have been left for me. I pulled the key from the envelope and tried the truck first. The key fit, so I climbed inside. With everything I owned in my bag, and a new assignment acquired, I was ready to go. After setting my black backpack on the rough bench, I pulled out the contents of the assignment envelope.

There was more than enough cash to get me through to the next job, just as there always was. A new driver’s license and Marshal’s badge named me William Blake Lilyfeather. It seemed Leonard Wakeford still had a sense of humor. I could just picture his face when he made the ID, smiling wide as he imagined me having to call myself Agent Lilyfeather. At least it would be easy to remember. Next in the envelope was a picture of a thin, fair-skinned man, with a dark, handlebar mustache. A baseball hat was pulled down low over his eyes, his hands were in his front pockets, and he was looking over his shoulder. Clearly he knew he had a reason to be followed. His long, sharp nose dominated his scruffy face. From the look of him, my best guess was weasel shifter.

The large stack of papers offered the most information. His name was Brody Fowler, a wolf shifter. The mission was surveillance—observe and report. Sounded easy enough. I checked the glovebox and found a camera with a long scope—just what the mission called for. Flipping through the report, everything I needed to know was provided. There was no information as to who Fowler was or why it was important for me to track him, only where, when, and how long. It was what I needed and nothing more, exactly the way every mission started. Straightforward, uncomplicated, simple—perfect.