I stood in the rain and watched the world end.
It had been an apartment building, as far as I could tell. A simple enough thing, as square and blocky and unattractive as you could ask for.
Now it was…actually, I can’t think of an appropriate word. “Wrecked” implies the possibility of reconstruction, “annihilated” suggests some degree of precision and discrimination, “destroyed” fails to convey the intensity. Devastated, perhaps, conveys more clearly what had happened here.
So, then. The apartment building had been devastated. It was impossible to see the details of what had happened, but the aftermath was brutally eloquent. Where there had been a building, there was now a large pile of rubble. Bits of the apartment building were still standing, seemingly at random, sticking out of the heap like the mast of a sinking ship. The lines of division were bizarrely sharp, sometimes cutting through rooms as though the plans had been marked out with a straightedge.
There was no fire, no debris, none of the things you would expect from a bomb or, indeed, any other mundane cause of such a scene. There was, as a result, less activity at the scene than I would have expected. There was an ambulance, and a handful of police cars. A few people, cops and civilians both, were picking through the wreckage, presumably looking for that rare category of people unfortunate enough to have been in the building, yet lucky enough to survive the experience. Others were standing around the edges, staring in dumbfounded shock at the destruction.
As I watched, one of the cops walked up to a young woman in a bathrobe. At this distance I couldn’t hear what was said, but I got the gist well enough. A few moments after he approached, she broke down crying—not gentle, demure weeping, but the sort of wracking, heartbroken sobs people seldom allow themselves in public. The two young children standing next to her looked numb, like they couldn’t comprehend what had happened. The police officer looked horribly uncomfortable.
I looked past the group, and saw that they were standing outside of a small house. It would probably have been a fairly nice house, had it not been for the minivan halfway through the wall. Something had, evidently, picked it up and thrown it, hard enough to break through the wall of a building.
I winced. I might not be able to fill in the details, but it wasn’t hard to sketch out what was going on. Somebody wasn’t coming out of that house.
Aiko was staring at the same scene with disturbing intensity. “Someone is going to die,” she said. Her tone was bright, almost sweet, which made it even scarier. Aiko seldom really takes things seriously. When she does…well. Suffice to say that, if someone literally starts riots for casual entertainment, pissing them off might not be a good idea.
“Yes,” I agreed simply. Granted, at the rate things were going, it would probably be me, but that was beside the point.
Kyra, who had been staring dumbfounded at the wreckage, shook her head. “Jesus. The guy you’re after did this?”
“Most likely. I mean, I guess the timing might be a coincidence, but it’s not bloody likely.”
The werewolf was quiet for a long moment. “You’re insane,” she said bluntly. “Not, like, funny-insane, either. Not normal-for-you insane. You are seriously out of your fucking mind. You’re picking a fight with that? What the hell are you going to do if you find it, ask it to stand still while you make like a lumberjack?” Kyra’s voice rose as she went on, until she sounded nearly hysterical.
“Calm down. People are starting to stare.” That was true enough, and the whole lot of us walked away before they decided to do more than just stare. I had enough on my plate without people deciding I’d somehow done this too.
“Calm down?” she hissed incredulously. “That doesn’t even make sense! This isn’t hysteria, it’s a perfectly rational response to the idea of fighting something that can demolish buildings and throw cars through walls!”
“I hate to say it,” Alexis said reluctantly, “but I’m with Kyra on this one. I’m not happy with letting someone get away with this, but trying to take something capable of this is a little out of our scope.” My cousin’s a relentless do-gooder, but she’s had enough lessons in hard knocks not to be stupid about it. She makes a better voice of reason than I would have expected, honestly.
“What is it with you people and deciding that I’m too stupid to think of these things?” I wondered aloud. “Come on, give me some credit for not having died yet.”
“From where I’m standing,” Alexis said dryly, “your not having died yet is more luck than skill.”
I chuckled. “Point. But I actually do have a plan this time.”
Kyra snorted. “God preserve us. I’ve seen your idea of planning, Winter.”
“You guys really need to ditch the negative attitude and look on the bright side,” Aiko said seriously. “Winter’s plans might get you killed horribly, but you won’t die bored.”
I’m starting to remember why we don’t bring Kyra along more often, Snowflake commented. It’s bad enough with just Alexis and Aiko here. More than that, and so much time goes into making fun of you that nothing gets done.
“Yeah, well, as much as I hate to cut this party short, I have work to do,” I said, while Kyra laughed and Alexis looked confused. “I told Sveinn to schedule the rest of the petitions for tonight.”
“What should we do?” Anna, at least, seemed to be taking things seriously. That was probably just because she hadn’t had as much experience with this crap—there’s only so many times you can be scared out of your wits by an eldritch monster from the netherworld before you pretty much have to start laughing at them instead, or else go insane—but it was still a nice change.
I snorted. “You’re welcome to come with me. But unless you want to be bored out of your freaking skull, I’d recommend you go home and get some sleep instead.”
“Seriously, don’t,” Aiko added. “You will shoot someone, and apparently people get upset about that sort of thing.”
“Don’t complain,” I advised her. “I got you off on a technicality, remember? Hell, the plaintiff thanked you.”
Kyra looked back and forth for several seconds, evidently waiting for a more informative explanation, then sighed when it became apparent that none was forthcoming. “You two are insufferable,” she said wearily. “Come on. If we move fast, I can drink myself into a stupor before bedtime.”
“You’re a werewolf,” I reminded her. “I literally do not have enough drinkable alcohol for you to drink yourself into a stupor.”
I dropped everyone else off at the mansion and kept going alone. Kyra and Anna had both taken over one of the guest rooms in the past few months. They weren’t in town all that often, but we could have hosted a moderately sized army in that mansion without crowding. It wasn’t like anyone else was using the rooms.
Not even Snowflake was willing to come with me to deal with petitions. That says a lot about just how incredibly, mind-numbingly boring it was. I knew what I was getting myself into with this gig, even if it was more of an unfortunate side effect than anything—but if I’d known just how much boredom being a jarl entailed, I would have put a lot more consideration into it.
Astonishingly, not a single thing happened on my way down there. I was halfway expecting a divine visitation, or a rain of fire, or at the very least a kamikaze attack or something, but things were entirely boring.
I finally got to the house at around ten, several hours later than I was supposed to have shown up, having gotten turned around twice on my way there. The rain was falling heavier now, and Sveinn had evidently decided not to make everyone wait out in the weather for an unknown period of time. I hurried up the stairs and in the door, dripping wet, grumpy, and generally not in a very good mood.
Inside the house, things were warmer and better lit, if not any more pleasant. There was a small crowd milling around the throne room, divided into a number of very distinct clumps. Nobody seemed inclined to mingle. The housecarls, arranged along the back wall, were openly fingering weapons, and I think if I’d taken much longer they would have needed to use them to prevent a small riot from breaking out. Sveinn was the exception; he was standing beside the throne, and looked about as happy as I felt.
I stormed through the crowd to the front of the room, where I sat in the throne and immediately remembered why I seldom do so if I have any choice in the matter. How they can make a chair less comfortable than the ground is beyond me, but they managed it.
The water dripping off of my clothes and running into my eyes probably decreased the solemnity of the scene somewhat. But I feel reasonably confident that my scowl was foreboding enough to make up the difference.
“You’re late!” someone called from the crowd.
“I was unavoidably detained.”
I looked in the general direction of the person who was shouting and smiled. It was, quite deliberately, a grim and menacing smile. “You’ll see it in the news tomorrow,” I said in a flat, cold voice. Which was, technically, true; I was pretty sure that they’d call it a terrorist attack or something similar.
Of course, the way I’d phrased things suggested that I had been the one to do it, but that wasn’t an accident. A reputation for being the sort of person who can make bad things happen to people that piss him off is, sadly, not a bad thing.
I can’t make the people love me. It takes a great leader to do that, and I’m not. But I can damn well make them fear me. Which, and let’s be honest here, is a safer thing to rely on anyway. Most people will forget love for a million dollars. Unless it’s the kind that spends in hell, though, they won’t forget that that’s where they’re going if they betray you. Sad, but true.
“Now,” I continued while they absorbed that, “if there are no further questions, let’s begin.”
Sveinn stepped forward and cleared his throat. “Case of Jacob Cohen versus Schneider the Mad.”
Two figures stepped up out of the crowd. The one on my left was a tall, stooped fellow with long white hair, a tangled beard that reached most of the way to his belt, and pale, watery pinkish eyes. Between that and his skin tone, he was either albino or trying very hard to look like it. He was wearing a grubby overcoat that stank enough to make my eyes water at ten feet, unless the smell was him. I was guessing it was both.
The other guy looked forty years younger and ninety years prettier. He had tan skin, dark hair, perfect teeth, and an expensive suit. I disliked him on sight.
“What’s your grievance?” I said, already developing a headache.
The guy in the suit pointed a finger at the bearded man as though hoping to stab him. “This man has robbed me!” he exclaimed. “I demand recompense!”
I looked at the other man, who didn’t seem particularly concerned. Then I blinked and looked again. “Is that…a squirrel?” I asked hesitantly. “In your beard?”
The man—who I was pretty confident at this point was Schneider the Mad, because duh—reached up and scratched the squirrel behind the ears. It chittered happily. “Like squirrels,” he said with a beatific smile. “They’re so chewy. Chew chew chewy-chew chew chew chew.”
“Right,” I said slowly, while everyone in the room tried to pretend they weren’t edging away from the crazy old guy with the squirrel. Including the housecarls; apparently this was enough to tip even their astonishingly dysfunctional scales. “So…would you care to respond to this accusation?”
“Just chewing around,” he said. “Chew, chomp, munch, crunch, nibble, nosh, gnaw.” He looked out the window and started humming. It sounded like “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
“Okaaay then. Mr. Cohen, could you specify how exactly you were robbed?”
“Certainly,” he said, gesticulating vigorously. The guy seemed entirely unaware that his opponent apparently thought he was in the forest, and also seemed to be off of way too many meds for comfort. “I agreed to pay him five hundred dollars for a rubber chicken. I paid up front, and he has not held up his end of the bargain. I demand a refund and compensation for my inconvenience.”
I closed my eyes and counted to ten. It didn’t help, so I went back to staring. Schneider appeared to be feeding his squirrel something that smelled suspiciously like squid. “Are you telling me that you paid five hundred bucks…for a rubber chicken…to a guy called Schneider the Mad…who carries a squirrel in his beard?”
Cohen bristled. “Yes.”
I closed my eyes again, then took a deep breath and opened them. “That,” I said slowly, “is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have heard all week. Well done. You don’t get a refund. You additionally owe me a hundred dollars as compensation for wasting my time and forcing my brain to consider possible explanations for the mind-numbing stupidity of your actions.”
“You can’t do that!” he shouted. He was definitely a shouty man, was Jacob Cohen.
“You’d be amazed how often I hear that,” I said dryly. “I think you’ll find that, as a matter of fact, I can do that. Now pay your hundred and get out before Schneider’s squirrel chews your nose off.”
As beginnings went, it was less than auspicious.
I rubbed my eyes and looked at the clock. It was getting close to midnight.
The problem, essentially, was in how I’d set up my position here. I hadn’t intended, at the time, to actually do the job, so I’d just declared myself jarl without thinking too much about the consequences.
That meant that, theoretically, I was allowed to do pretty much literally anything I wanted—jotun law is very old-fashioned, and that was technically the only system of laws I was obligated to follow. I might run into trouble if I flaunted my disregard for other cultures’ expectations, but there was no official, legal requirement for me to follow them.
On the other hand, that very antiquatedness worked against me in other ways. Jötnar expect their jarls to take a personal interest in the lives of their subjects, to a much greater extent than I would have preferred. Since I’d—rather shortsightedly, it must be said—claimed the entirety of Colorado Springs as my territory, that meant that anyone in the city could insist that I personally settle their dispute, for any reason or none.
And I couldn’t stop them from doing so. I could annoy them, sure. I could be an absolute dick about it. I could make the request procedures so arcane and convoluted that almost nobody had the patience to get through them. I could schedule their hearings for ungodly times of day. I could make them stand outside while they waited. I could do all these things, and I did—but I couldn’t actually stop them. I could not, for any reason, outright refuse anyone.
“Case of Thomas Burkett versus Elisa Hosking,” Sveinn announced, ushering forward the eleventh supplicant of the night. The crowd had thinned out considerably, which was some consolation.
“What do you want?” I said wearily.
Burkett, a short, overweight guy with a toupee and a bad attitude, puffed himself up self-importantly. “I run the largest company providing—”
“You would not believe,” I interrupted, “how little I care.”
Burkett stared, face going red. His eyes literally started to bulge. Kyi giggled. A moment later the housecarl turned it into a fake cough that wouldn’t have fooled a deaf cat.
“Find a point,” I suggested. “You have ten seconds before I have you thrown out.” I paused. “Of a window. I’m really not in a very good mood.”
I thought he wouldn’t get himself under control but, alas, he made the deadline by a second or two. “This woman worked for me up until two months ago,” he said, biting off each word. “Since then she’s been slandering me to all her friends. I want recompense and a public apology.”
“Could I say something here?” Hosking asked.
“Not until it’s your turn. What, specifically, is the slander you’re accusing her of, Mr. Burkett?”
“She says that she quit because she was being sexually harassed.”
“Could I please say something?”
“No, and if you interrupt again I’ll have Sveinn gag you.” Hosking sat back in her chair, clearly nonplussed. “So,” I said to Burkett. “Sexual harassment, eh? That’s quite a serious thing to suggest.”
“It is,” he agreed.
“Is it true?”
Burkett froze. His mouth opened and closed like a landed fish, which he resembled more than superficially.
“Ah, that’s a bit of a problem. See, in order for something to be slander, it has to be a lie—maybe you should have looked it up?” Behind me, Kyi started laughing. This time she didn’t bother covering it up.
Burkett did not seem as amused. “I, I, I don’t know what you’re suggesting,” he stammered feebly.
“Yeah, I think you probably do. I’m guessing Ms. Hosking hasn’t gone any further than talking with her friends, is that right? She hasn’t brought a suit against you for harassment?”
“That’s correct,” Hosking said once it had become clear that Burkett wouldn’t or couldn’t answer.
“Thank you. In that case, Mr. Burkett, you will not be getting anything. You will apologize to Ms. Hosking and provide her with whatever she deems to be adequate recompense. Is that clear?”
“Whatever I want?” Hosking said slowly. She started to smile.
I grinned. “I’m glad at least one of you understands me. Now get out.”
They did so in silence. I’m pretty sure Hosking was gleeful, and Burkett was afraid to speak up lest I slap him around some more. I was, after all, legally allowed to hand out anything up to and including the death penalty to anyone foolish enough to willingly submit to my version of justice, and they didn’t have much of anybody to complain to about it.
Jotun law also tends to be rather harsh.
“Next,” Sveinn said, sounding about as enthused as I felt. It had been a long day for everyone. “Case of Katrin Fleischer versus Friedrich Schwarz.”
“Finally,” I muttered as a pair of vampires stepped forward.
The one on the left was female, with curly brown hair and a generically cute face. She was wearing an expensive suit and a charming, entirely false smile.
It was not, of course, Katrin. The master vampire of the city would hardly stoop to attending something like this herself. No, this vampire’s name was Natalie Sullivan—or at least that’s what she preferred to be called. She was, for reasons entirely unknown to me, one of Katrin’s inner circle.
Generally speaking, when Katrin wants something from me, Natalie serves as her mouthpiece. I suppose that the official reason for that is that she’s an attorney, insert your own evil lawyer joke here. Personally, I suspect it’s more because Katrin knows that I can’t stand her. Of course, Natalie isn’t too fond of me, either. I think she’s upset that she can exploit the most intricate, arcane legal maneuvers and loopholes in the world, and I don’t have to care.
The other vampire was a male I didn’t recognize, and it was only by scent that I knew what he was at all. He was average looking, with stringy blond hair, glasses I was pretty sure he didn’t need, and a sneer that seemed to be a permanent part of his expression.
I am not fond of vampires. They’re parasites, utterly dependent upon hurting and killing people in order to continue their own existence. Furthermore, they are freaking creepy as hell, and when I’m saying that you know that it means something. That probably makes me racist or something, but I feel justified in this case.
Most of the time, of course, I had plenty of additional reason to dislike vampires. I disliked Katrin because she was a prideful, deceitful bitch who was constantly testing me to see what she could get away with, and that got annoying fast. I disliked Natalie because she was a lawyer, and she acted like one. That also got annoying fast, not to mention that her efforts to seem human, rather than blending in, usually took her straight into the uncanny valley. Vampires were creepy enough already.
I disliked Friedrich because his smug, supercilious attitude was readily apparent. He walked in like he owned the place, and sneered at me like he expected me to grovel.
I’m a bit of a hypocrite, really. I dislike having authority over people. I hate giving orders. But at the same time, I absolutely can’t stand people giving me orders. That’s a large part of why I’ve never actually been a part of a werewolf pack. People who won’t take or give orders don’t fit in well to the dominance structure, and wolves who don’t fit in the hierarchy have all kinds of problems.
All of which meant that, when the strange vampire walked in and looked at me like a servant, it prejudiced me against him. Not that it mattered particularly, since I needed to stay on Katrin’s good side right now anyway, but it made things easier.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, rubbing my temples. That never seemed to help with a headache, and yet I never ceased to try.
“Dumbass went poaching,” Natalie said with a grin that made me want to shudder. Her casual inflection was slightly off, like listening to a ninety-year old trying to use modern slang.
“What, exactly, does ‘poaching’ mean in this context?” I asked dryly.
The vampire’s grin vanished instantly, as though she’d suddenly remembered that it wasn’t a good way to charm me. “He preyed on someone that another vampire had marked,” she said, her voice entirely businesslike.
Vampires getting territorial about their food. Just what I needed. “Is he from out of town?”
“No, he’s been in the city for five years.”
“And the other vamp, was he local, too?”
I paused. “So what you’re saying,” I said slowly, “is that one of Katrin’s minions insulted another one, so he threw a hissy fit.”
Natalie gave me a cold look. It reminded me uncomfortably that, ridiculous and contemptible as she was, she was still a scary monster, and I’d be wise not to underestimate her. I could probably beat her—as vampires go, Natalie is distinctly at the bottom of the violence totem pole—but whether I’d get the chance was another question entirely. Vampires have a reputation for being sneaky bastards, and Katrin wouldn’t keep her around without a reason.
“Your statement,” she said a moment later, not sounding at all pleasant or amused now, “while a crude oversimplification of a complicated situation, is not entirely inaccurate.”
“And I’m handling this…why, exactly?” I asked, ignoring her hissy fit entirely. “I didn’t agree to handle Katrin’s discipline problems for her. If she’s trying to outsource that to me, I’m going to be upset.”
Natalie looked as though she were smelling something unpleasant. “Ordinarily,” she said in a tone which suggested she was about as happy with this as I was, “my mistress would prefer to handle this in-house, as it were. However, in this specific case, she didn’t have the option.”
I paused to read between the lines. “Are you saying dipshit here decided to appeal his case to me himself?” I asked incredulously.
This time the vampire’s smile almost looked honest. “That’s right,” she confirmed.
“Could I—” said dipshit started to say, sounding confused about the course this discussion had taken.
“Shut up,” I interrupted offhandedly. “I wonder who gave him that idea. They can’t have liked him very much.”
Natalie’s face was carefully neutral. “I don’t have any information on who suggested it to him.”
Yeah, I bet. It was Katrin. I couldn’t prove it, but it was her. Oh, she might not have been the one to say it, but she was responsible. It was too neat to be an accident. She got to punish an insubordinate minion without taking the blame herself, piss me off, and remind me of how hellish she could make my life, all at once. If she wanted to badly enough, she could make every day look like this.
That prospect was upsetting enough to make me feel a little ill. It went well with the pounding headache and building fatigue I already had.
Of course, two could play that game.
“What sort of punishment,” I asked casually, “would this sort of thing typically get? If Katrin were handling things, I mean.”
Natalie shrugged. “Nothing too serious. Confinement for a few weeks, perhaps, or he’d have to provide the vampire he stole it from with a replacement.”
As casual as she sounded, you could almost forget we were talking about a human being. Almost, but not quite. I’m not generally the biggest fan of humans, but some things were beyond the pale.
I found myself smiling maliciously, and did nothing to hide it. “And rather than accept that,” I said softly, knowing quite well that I sounded rather creepy, “you decided to take your chances with me?” I smiled wider. “Friend, I think you made something of a mistake.”
Natalie paused, looking a bit like you might expect someone on their first skydiving trip to look right before they jumped. Then she sighed. “Jarl Winter,” she said, sounding almost pained, “could I speak to you in private for a few moments?”
I considered her for a moment, then shrugged. “Why not. Everyone, if you could please wait outside for a moment?” I would have preferred to just vacate the room myself—it would have been much more convenient for everyone—but I could hardly afford to send that message. Jarls don’t worry about inconveniencing other people, however much I personally hated that attitude.
The small crowd that was still waiting left, with much speculative whispering, and took the other vampire with them. It only took a few seconds before the door shut, and I leaned back in my throne, shifting uncomfortably. “Well?” I snapped, in no mood to continue pretending I had any patience left for Natalie. She wouldn’t believe it anyway. I don’t like Natalie, but she isn’t stupid.
“And your minions?” she said, eyeing the housecarls significantly.
I snorted. “If you think,” I said dryly, “for even a second that I’m going somewhere alone with you, you’ve vastly underestimated my intelligence. Now get to the point, vampire, before I lose what few scraps of patience I still have this late at night.”
She almost smiled. It was a better job than most of Natalie’s expressions; if I hadn’t been watching her eyes, I might have almost thought it was sincere. “As you wish. I’d appreciate it if you could go easy on Friedrich, here.”
“And why,” I started, before being interrupted by a long and genuine yawn. “Why,” I continued, “would you want me to do a thing like that?”
“His progenitor is an old friend of mine. I must admit I harbor a bit of lingering fondness for the boy.”
Yeah, right. And in unrelated news, scientists had developed aeronautic bacon, and there was a guy on the corner selling the deeds to a dozen bridges at cut-rate prices. Natalie was simultaneously a vampire, a lawyer, and a politician, which meant she had only slightly more chance of doing something out of the goodness of her heart than Loki did.
She wanted something. And given that this involved Katrin, it wasn’t hard to see that it was probably some sort of vampire politics. I knew nothing about the internal politics of the vampires in town, and the longer I could keep it that way the happier I’d be.
On the other hand, it would also give me leverage on Natalie. And that wasn’t a bad thing to have.
“I do this for you,” I said, “you owe me one. Got it?”
She didn’t look happy, but she also didn’t look surprised. She nodded tightly, and I smiled. “Great. Sveinn, get everyone back in here, all right?”
It took only slightly longer to get everyone herded back inside than it had taken them to leave. “So,” I said. “Friedrich, you did some pretty stupid things. But I’ve decided to cut you a break, so I’m not going to kill you. You owe Katrin and the vampire you poached from a favor each, to be claimed at their discretion. And you also owe me, oh, let’s say ten thousand dollars, to be paid within the year.”
“Why do I owe you?” he protested indignantly. Beside him I saw Natalie rolling her eyes, and almost smirked. Yeah, she definitely wasn’t saving this guy’s ass because she liked him so much.
“Let’s say it’s a tax,” I said with a smile. “To discourage any other vampires from coming to me with their problems. I have enough of my own to deal with.”
Natalie herded him outside before he could talk himself any further into trouble, fortunately for the brains of everyone in the room. I looked at the small group of people still waiting and sighed. “It’s late,” I said. “I’m tired. Does anyone object to postponing the rest of this session until next week?”
No one did, and they filtered out into the rain, not without a certain degree of grumbling. I stood up and stretched, giving them a few minutes to disperse before I left to go catch a few hours of sleep.
“Jarl?” Sveinn said, while the rest of the housecarls wandered out, most of them also yawning and grumbling. “What should we do with the money?”
“You guys split what we took in tonight,” I said, yawning again. “To make up for the late night.”
Kyi, who was still lingering, sighed. “This is not jarl,” she said disapprovingly. “Jarl does not apologize.” Kyi’s English, while still shaky, was distinctly better than when she’d started working for me.
I glowered at her. “Housecarls,” I countered, “don’t tell their jarls what to do.”
She smirked. “As you say, jarl.”
Sveinn cleared his throat, cutting off any rejoinder I could have made—which was just as well, really, considering I couldn’t think of a witty one. “And the money from the vampire?”
I shrugged. “Assuming he pays up, it goes in the general fund.” I took in a lot of money jarling, but I already had vastly more cash than I was ever likely to need. Some went to upkeep for the housecarls, and the rest I split between various charities.
“I’m going home,” I announced a moment later. “If you hear about another building blowing up or some shit like that, you know how to contact me. Otherwise, it can bloody well wait ’til morning.”
The housecarls are, as a group, psychotic, dangerous, generally unsafe to be around, and not as obedient as some overlords would prefer. They aren’t stupid. None of them argued the point with me.
I was delayed getting home by an overturned semi which, even at this time of night, had traffic backed up to a ridiculous extent. By the time I finally staggered in the front door, it was almost two in the morning, I’d achieved nothing since sundown, and I was in the sort of mood that could only be described as “homicidal.” I was actually a little sad that nobody’d tried to assassinate me on the way home; in my current state of mind, taking my mood all the way to actually homicidal would be a relaxing diversion.
My frustration was somewhat alleviated by the fact that Alexis had left dinner in the kitchen, some sort of pasta with cream sauce that wouldn’t suffer excessively for being left out a few hours. I shoveled a plate of it down my gullet and, now feeling only somewhat grumpy, went to bed.
End of day one, and nothing accomplished. At this point, it wasn’t looking too good for me to get this sorted out within my one-week deadline.