Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Friday, December 27, 2019

Friday Excerpt: Deus Ex Magical

This is an excerpt from the first of the Ostrander Witches series, set in Seattle.

DEUS EX MAGICAL by Kat Parrish

I won’t pretend my usual breakfast is a bowl of unsweetened Greek yogurt with a handful of perfectly ripe raspberries stirred in with a tablespoon of chia seeds that I wash down with a huge mug of organic green tea sweetened with a teaspoon of artisanal honey.
I’m not the girl juicing beets she grew on her apartment balcony or blending kale with pineapple and ice for a super-healthy, vitamin-packed smoothie. I don’t even own a juicer. Machines like that scare me. I can barely manage to wrangle my drip coffee maker in the morning.
Most of the time I start my days with leftover Indian food or drunken noodles with chicken or kung pao shrimp because spice kickstarts my metabolism way better than caffeine and I can tell myself I’m getting a shot of protein and vegetables in with the carbs of the leftover naan and noodles.
And yes, what I eat for breakfast tells you more than you need to know about what I eat for dinner most nights.
Cooking is not my super power.
I try, but sometimes, when it’s been raining for a week and the five-day forecast calls for more of the same, the only thing I want for breakfast is the daily special at the coffee shop on the first floor of the building where my office is located. The daily special never varies because nobody wants to have to deal with making choices first thing in the morning. I find that comforting.
I love that I can sit down, push the menu to the side and tell Dineen I’ll have the special. I love Dineen, even though she’s not a morning person so our interactions are pretty one-sided. I know it can be irritating to be around someone who isn’t morning challenged when you are, so I respect that and keep it brief.
 I love that Dineen doesn’t try to talk me into having something like oatmeal with a bowl of fruit on the side. She just picks up the menu, goes away and then returns bringing me sustenance. Orange juice. With extra pulp, just the way I like it.
French toast with crispy edges.
Bacon that’s still flexible.
An egg any style, which means scrambled dry for me.
All for eight dollars, which is a steal.
It’s late October and 44 degrees in Seattle. It was a French toast kind of day.
I had meetings scheduled back to back all morning, so I wanted to come in early to get paperwork out of the way. I’d done a job fair at Kent-Meridian High School over the weekend and had not only heard from tons of kids who were looking ahead to jobs after graduation and summer internships, but six different faculty members had also contacted me. I was particularly interested in one history teacher who had her pilot’s license, had exhibited her photographs in galleries across the Pacific Northwest and who listed “adventure travel” as a hobby on her resume.
She absolutely fitted the requirements I needed to fill a position being offered by a documentary filmmaker who was putting together a history of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and needed a pilot to get him to remote locations as well as someone to take still photos for the book he was writing to accompany the documentary. He had a government grant for the project, so the pay would be generous, and he planned to do all the field work during the summer when the teacher was on a school break.
My food arrived just as I was composing a text to my client, telling him I had the perfect candidate to work on his documentary.
You’re probably thinking—Shouldn’t you have at least interviewed the teacher before telling your client you had “the one?”
If I were just any job recruiter the answer would have been—yes, I absolutely should have. But I’m not just any recruiter. Finding people isn’t just my job.
It’s my talent.
If you’re a Fuqua Business School graduate who invented an app and sold it to Google before your twenty-third birthday, anyone can find you a job—if you actually need to work after selling your app to Google.
But say your skillset is a little more…eclectic. Say you are basically unemployable except for the one job that fits your skillset perfectly, even though you have never heard of that job.
I am the headhunter who will find you that job.
When a client comes to me with a request for a left-handed Mandarin speaker who plays the piano and has experience as a pastry chef, I know that somewhere there exists exactly the person they’re looking for.
And if you are that person, I will find you.
As I said, it’s a talent.
All witches have one.
I grant you having the ability to match people to jobs isn’t exactly the sexiest thing a witch can do. When I was growing up, a lot of my relatives pitied me and some of the ones who were closer to my age bullied me. Especially my twin cousins Lea and Tia who could both time travel. They used to call me a “lamitch,” which was their made-up word for “lame witch.” They didn’t call me that around Roz, though. My older sister is a weather witch, the strongest in the family for the last hundred years, and she’s very protective of me. The last time the twins started to give me a hard time, she conjured up an extremely localized storm that rained on them just as they were leaving for their prom.
Roz is awesome.
That sort of thing is totally against the rules, of course, but I wasn’t the only one the twins bullied, so everyone in the family kind of looked the other way. And the twins never bothered me again.
I would have liked to be able to time travel or whip up storms, but having a skill that’s actually marketable in the normal world turned out be pretty useful, and while Tia and Lea landed jobs working for a super-secret government contractor at monthly salaries roughly ten times what I make in a year, their job requires them to live on-site in an out-of-the-way military base in Greenland.
I know of at least three people who’d hire either one of them in a second if they knew they existed, but I’m not going to be the one who introduces them.
I know it’s petty, but they’re mean girls. And I don’t like mean girls. It’s not as easy to steer clear of them here in Seattle as it was in my home town, but for the most part, my life is mean girl free.
I was born in Port Angeles, Washington, a small town north of Seattle known mostly for being the birthplace of football legend John Elway. My dad runs the online learning program for Peninsula College and my mother is a liaison for the student exchange program with kids from Port Angeles’ sister city in Japan. My mother’s talent is languages. She speaks them all. Even the dead ones. Some of the ghosts of people who died in the Fukushima tsunami ended up wandering on the beaches of Washington state and my mother helped them get home. That’s another of her skills. She sees dead people.
My father loves my mother unconditionally, but he isn’t a witch and it sometimes freaks him out that both his daughters inherited her witchy ways.
I think he’s kind of relieved that what I do isn’t particularly showy or odd; that it’s almost something that could be explained as being “really good at her job.”
Even if I hadn’t had a power, though, I still would have been “different.” Even though Roz and I look enough alike I used to “borrow” her driver’s license when I was underage, in other ways, we could not be more different.

If bouncers had looked at that license too closely, they’d have seen that my brown eyes didn’t match the blue eyes on the face in the photo, the blue eyes of our Dutch ancestors that everyone in my father’s family had inherited.
I hadn’t inherited my father’s height either and took after my petite mother while Roz was tall and willowy. I yearned to be willowy, but it’s hard when you’re only five two.
When it came time to go to college, Roz had chosen to stay in Port Angeles, but I’d gone to Whitman College in Walla Walla and after an internship with Smartsheet, I’d borrowed the money to open a virtual headhunting service, operating out of my apartment and meeting clients in public spaces until I could afford to rent an actual office. My parents were sad that I hadn’t come back to the nest, and when Roz started talking about moving to Seattle, so she could be closer to her clients, they were not enthusiastic.
“It’s not as if she’d be moving to Kathmandu,” I protested.
“Might as well be,” my father said glumly. “We hardly ever see you anymore and if you both live in the city, you’ll never want to come home.”
My dad is kind of a drama queen, although to be fair, it had been a while since I’d made the trip.
Port Angeles is about two and a half hours from Seattle, which is close enough to visit when I want to and far enough away that I can skip the lesser holidays the family celebrates. Like Arbor Day, which is my father’s favorite non-candy holiday. He always plants trees on Arbor Day and then immediately negates the effect of all that new oxygen by firing up the barbecue so Roz has to jump in and clear the air around the house. There are times I think my father would be happier working as a forest ranger, but he claims he likes what he’s doing, so I don’t press.
Thinking about my dad gave me a guilty little twinge. I actually hadn’t been to Port Angeles since my mother’s birthday in August and here it was early October. I was about to compose a text inviting myself over for the weekend when a guy sat down at the table across from me and smiled.
“Carys Ostrander,” he said like he knew me. Did we go to high school together? I wondered. But no, I would have remembered if I’d ever met someone as insanely good looking as he was.
He reached over and grabbed one of the strips of bacon on my plate, dragged it through the buttery, maple syrupy puddle dripping down from the French toast and popped it in his mouth.
I probably should have objected but I was distracted by his mouth. He had that narrow upper, plump lower lip thing going on and I don’t know why but I immediately wanted to nibble on that lower lip.
 “So, Carys,” he said, making my name sound like the best name in the world. “Rika Bailey and Michael Sarkissian.”
That’s kind of random, I thought.
He patted his lips with the napkin at the place setting across from me and then crumpled it lightly and set it aside.
Dineen saw that and immediately materialized at his elbow, coffee pot at the ready. He saw the waitress out of the corner of his eye. “No thank you Dineen, I won’t be staying.” He gave her a thousand-watt smile that melted her.
“Too bad,” she said with a smile of her own. I was astonished.
Dineen was always in a bad mood. Her studies at Cornish College of the Arts weren’t going well. She’d been hoping to have a gallery show in the spring and it looked like it was about to fall through. I hoped she could hold on for another semester because one of my major clients was going to need her in about six months, but he hadn’t created the job yet, so I couldn’t tell her why I thought she needed to stay in school.
As Dineen sauntered off, the guy turned that smile back on me. He seemed a bit surprised that I wasn’t quite as susceptible as Dineen was to his charms.
“Rika Bailey and Michael Sarkissian,” he said again. “You need to end that.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, baffled. Rika was a former client, but I had no idea who Michael Sarkissian might be.
“You are meddling in something way above your paygrade,” the guy said, reaching for another strip of bacon. I swatted his hand with the back of my fork.
 “Rika is a client,” I said evenly. “I don’t discuss my clients.”
“She came to you looking for a job,” he said, “not for help with finding a husband.”
How does he know who I am and what I do? I wondered.
“You seem awfully well-informed about my business,” I said.
“Being informed is part of my job description,” he said with a smirk.
I was about to say something else when my phone chimed. Ordinarily I don’t break off conversations to answer the phone—it’s so rude—but I needed a second to figure out what to say and when I glanced up, the guy who’d been sitting across from me was gone.
I don’t mean gone like he’d stepped away. I mean…gone… as in he was no longer sitting at the table and not anywhere near it either. I hadn’t heard him get up or walk away. I looked around the coffee shop, but there was no sign of him. He had left a twenty on the table, on top of the check.
Weird. But I didn’t have time to think about that right now because my assistant had just texted me a 911 and that meant it was time for me to finish up my coffee, ask Dineen for a box for the French toast and leftover bacon, and head upstairs to start my day by putting out whatever fire had Melissa in a tizzy.

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