The pub was air-conditioned and dark enough that the reflections in the big mirror along the back of the bar looked ghostly and ethereal in what light managed to get through the small windows on either side of the door. As far as Juliet was concerned, that made it perfect, even if it was otherwise small, slightly damp, and smelled faintly of old vomit. After an afternoon spent chasing a rogue werewolf—who had turned out to be a teenage boy acting out against his pack leader’s rules—through half the city of Ottawa, she didn’t care what the place smelled like as long as it got her out of the sun. As an added bonus, the place was empty except for her and the big, dark-skinned man behind the bar.
“Hot out there?” he asked as she thumped down on one of the red leather stools in front of the bar’s gleaming counter. The stool creaked ominously but held her weight, even if she got the uncomfortable feeling that over time it had molded to buttocks much different than hers.
“Yes,” Juliet said through gritted teeth, heartily sick of everyone commenting on the weather. She knew it was hot; everyone knew it was hot. It had been unrelentingly hot for the past three days, which was three days longer than she’d even meant to be in Ottawa. “Give me whatever you’ve got on tap, as long as it’s not American.”
The bartender moved into the gloom and reappeared with a pint glass of dark beer topped with an impressive head. Juliet watched condensation slide down the side and swallowed hard, taking the glass as soon as it came within reach and downing half of it in one go. She set the glass down on the provided cork coaster, covered a belch with one hand, and wiped foam from her upper lip, feeling tense muscles finally begin to unknot.
“You’re not one of our regular mages,” the bartender said conversationally. “New agent?”
“Old agent. Helping out a friend.” Juliet watched two girls in voluminous white dresses drift dreamily from one side of the mirror to the other, disappearing when they reached the edge. Her own reflection was little more than the pale oval of her face and the line of her bare shoulders, interrupted on either side by the straps on her tank top. The bartender didn’t show up at all. “Get a lot of agents in here?”
“A few, now and then.” He picked up an empty glass and started polishing it, sparking little bits of light from the rim. “You all the walk the same way, like you own the world and you’re just itching to have someone challenge you on that.”
“You don’t think we should?”
“I just own a bar, sunshine. No challenge here. You in for the weirdness that’s been happening lately?”
Juliet debated playing the fool then decided she’d just look like one. “I got called up because Mags came down with the flu and I’ve been running around like an idiot since. Things are just... weird. Werewolves and poltergeists and there’s apparently something in Pink Lake doing its best Nessie impression. Hell, for all I know it’s a damn long-lost dinosaur. That lake’s always been a little out of time. That or Misiganebic’s been travelling again.”
“I’ve been hearing things are a little strange all over southern Ontario and even into Quebec.”
Juliet shrugged. “Quebec. Things are quiet back in Guelph, unless my boyfriend’s been lying to me. The strangest thing there right now is my baby brother and I’d really like to actually see him before he goes back to Alberta.”
“Gotta keep up those connections with family.” He reached for her glass. “Top-up?”
“Thanks, but I’ve still got stuff to do and nobody likes a drunk mage.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Depends on the context.”
She started to laugh, but he looked suddenly past her shoulder, his eyes widening slightly. In the mirror a ghostly shape rose up behind Juliet, shadowy hands raising a glimmering length of steel. She dove to the side, smacking her elbow off the barstool beside her and tearing the knee out of her pants when she hit the wooden floor. The slender sword slammed into the polished bar and stuck there, vibrating so hard it shook itself out of its owner’s grip.
“Who the fuck,” a sweep of her hand threw her attacker across the room and into a table that broke under the force of the impact, “do you think you are?”
She shoved herself to her feet and stuck out her hand again, letting the sword’s grip smack into her palm and stopping the vibration cold. Leaving it there, she advanced on the man struggling to free himself from the wreckage of the table. He didn’t look much older than Jesse, though she knew Jesse at least had the sense not to dress all in black, including a long leather trench coat, in the middle of a summer heat wave. She kicked the fedora he’d been wearing out of her way and grabbed him by the front of his T-shirt, heaving him back up onto his feet.
“I’ve had a long day,” she growled into his pale face. “And I don’t take kindly to people trying to kill me, especially not when they use a katana. You’re not even Japanese. You have approximately 5 seconds to explain yourself before I vaporize you on the spot.”
“You’re not allowed to do that,” he said weakly, swallowing so hard his Adam’s apple bobbed. “There are rules.”
“Rules only apply to me when I want them to.” The part of her that wasn’t hot, tired, and pissed off noted that she hadn’t seen anyone turn quite that shade of green before.
“All right, easy.” The bartender rested the tips of his fingers on Juliet’s arm. “The kid’s an idiot, but vaporization’s a little harsh.”
“The rules—” the young man started.
“Shut up.” Juliet and the bartender said it in unison and after a moment’s pause the bartender continued, “You just attacked a Magia agent, Roland. Under the rules, she does actually have the right to turn you into dust.”
This time Roland went the colour of cottage cheese and he sagged in Juliet’s grip, his eyes rolling back until only the whites showed. Juliet snorted and let him drop, wiping her hands on her pants. “Like I would waste the energy. I’m turning him over to the Magia here.” She gave the bartender a challenging look. “Got a problem with that?”
“Nope.” He stuck out his hand. “Mike, by the way.”
“Juliet.” She took the offer to shake. “You know what this moron’s problem is?”
“He read a bunch of books about wizards and somebody made the mistake of letting him see that the lower world exists. Now he thinks he’s some sort of vigilante spell-slinger sent to vanquish everything that goes bump in the night, even though he couldn’t light a fart on fire with a blowtorch. He’s been in here before, harassing my customers, but this is the first time he’s actually attacked someone. You all right?”
“I liked these pants,” Juliet muttered, examining the scrape on her knee.
“Sorry.” Mike crossed back to the bar and easily freed the katana with one hand, tsk’ing over the gouge left in the counter. He passed his other hand over it and where his fingers touched, the wood knitted itself back together until it looked like new. “Before you ask, yes, I’m registered.”
“None of my business.” Juliet shoved Roland’s leg out of the way with one foot and headed towards Mike, holding her hand out. “I want the katana though. I’m sure I can find it a better home.”
He handed it over without complaint. “How are you going to carry a katana through downtown Ottawa?”
“I’m not.” Juliet eyed the length of the gleaming blade then curled her hand cautiously over the tip and ran her hand down it, casting as she did. A moment later she was holding a long cardboard tube in her hand, capped at either end by plastic. “Voila. It’s a poster or something.”
Mike reached out to touch the cardboard and jerked his hand back, showing Juliet the bead of blood welling on the tip of his finger. “Just an illusion?”
“Not to normal people.” She carefully rested the tube on her shoulder and took her phone out of her pocket when it buzzed. “Shit, it’s getting late. I need to get this idiot to the local branch for some re-education, then back to see if Mags is feeling better. You mind if I call a couple agents down here to pick him up?”
“As long as they’re gone by sundown. I have actual customers then.” He ducked back behind the bar and picked up a cloth to polish the spot where the katana had dug in.
Juliet called the local Ottawa office and explained the situation, then went to sit on one of the chairs near where Roland lay on the floor. Her concern that she’d actually hurt him somehow disappeared when she heard him snoring, loud enough that she was surprised the windows didn’t shake. She rolled her eyes and left him to sleep, texting Dmitri to find out what was happening on the farm. The news that Jesse had apparently found some friends in town made her feel a little better and she made a note to try not to be the overbearing big sister when she got back home. At least he was getting out of the house and that had been the whole point of his coming to stay.
It was nearly dark by the time she got the Roland situation dealt with, but she paused a moment by the bar to say goodbye to Mike. With the sun setting outside, it was hard to see anything more than his vague shape, though she could still see movement in the depths of the mirror.
“Thanks for the help,” she said, absently brushing at the cushion on the stool she’d been sitting on. “If you’re ever in the Guelph area, look me up.”
She heard him laugh. “Thanks, but I don’t actually leave this bar.”
“Don’t?” She thought of the gleaming dark wood of the bar, almost the same colour as his skin, and the way it had pulled itself back together under his hand. “Or can’t?”
“Does it matter?”
“Nah.” She smiled and patted the wood gently. “Thanks again. Have a good night.”
As she walked outside she passed a pair of women wearing heavy scarves over their hair despite the lingering heat and thought she heard something hiss at her before the women stepped inside the bar. Shaking her head, she adjusted the sword-tube on her shoulder and hailed a cab, giving the driver Mags’ address and pretending she didn’t hear him ask what was in the tube.
Mags was up and cooking soup on the stove, dressed in her green plaid dressing gown and a pair of neon blue bunny slippers, when Juliet let herself into the apartment. She greeted Juliet with one hand and pointed to the soup. “Want some? I promise I only sneezed in it twice.”
“You sound better at least. Less like a bullfrog.” Juliet set the sword-tube down, took the spoon from Mags’ hand, and steered her away from the stove. “Go sit, let me finish this.”
“Didn’t you burn water once?”
“La la la, shut up, I can’t hear you.” Juliet stuck her tongue out and went to find some crackers to go with their soup.
As they ate she filled Mags in with the events of her day, starting with a late-morning meeting with Mags’s partner, who had been starting to sniffle himself, following through the teenage werewolf chase, and finishing with her adventure in the bar.
“I think I’ve heard of that kid,” Mags said, pushing her glasses up her nose. “And I know Mike, of course. He’s a sweetheart.”
“He said things are screwy all over the place. Except around Guelph, apparently. Dmitri said the worst they’ve had is a couple of dead cows down the road. They look like they were hit by lightning.” Juliet slurped the last of her soup, laughing at the disgusted look Mags shot her. “Sorry.”
“Maybe the Guelph Magia is just doing their job well.”
“Maybe. Maybe Jackson finally got a handle on that son of his. Maybe pigs will fly. I don’t want to be a bitch, Mags, but are you feeling better?”
“Getting better, I promise. Can you give me a couple more days? Then I promise you can go home and I’ll owe you forever.” She made a kissing noise and fluttered her eyelashes at Juliet.
“All right, all right,” Juliet said, laughing. “A couple more days. Then I really do need to go make sure Dmitri and Jesse aren’t feeding the Musketeers too much. You watch, I’ll get back and they’ll be little balls with wings.”
“Just a couple more days.” Mags traced an X on the left side of her chest. “Cross my heart. Then I’ll let you get back to your own problems.”