Soleado Valle, Texas
Soleado Valle, a desert town whose population rested in the upper five figures, had only one tearoom and Detective Nicolao Daos was very likely its only male patron. At least, the only male patron who ever came there willingly.
He always took a window seat in the corner, keeping his back to the azure blue wall and one dark eye on the street, as though to monitor who came and went. He always brought a book, never a Kindle or laptop or tablet, and it was always some intimidatingly large volume, bound in well-worn leather and lightly covered in dust.
Though he never learned any of his servers' names or even looked at them when placing an order, they always forgive him because one, he was a tall, imposing creature with unreadable eyes, and two, because he always tipped no less than thirty percent.
Today, like every day, he ordered his usual.
"Tea. Earl Grey. Hot."
"Right away, sir," came the reply. To him, it registered as a distant whisper, almost like background noise. Daos flipped a page, starting a new chapter just as another patron sat down at his table, right across from him.
"Honestly, old friend," she asked in that crisp yet light, musical accent of hers, "do you ever drink anything else?"
She was Chinese, born and raised on the mainland. Well, at least that's what she always said, and Daos always had trouble believing anything she said.
"You're late," came his terse reply, still not looking up.
His companion raised an eyebrow, as though she were slightly miffed. In truth, she'd long grown used to his little attitude problem and had decided it was charming...for now.
"Well, it wasn't exactly easy finding this particular volume, Daos," she reminded him in her rich low voice. "It's not like you can just Google this stuff. The neatly sanitized history of this town is posted on Wikipedia, but that's it. To find the good stuff, I had to go underground." She raised a lithe hand and flagged a server down. "I'll have a cup of what he's having."
As it turned it, it was her usual as well.
Daos snorted. Finally, he looked up at her, eyes as dark and almost as unreadable as hers. "Honestly, 'old friend'. Don't you drink anything else?"
"If we were at a proper Mexican bar, I'd order a shot of tequila straight up. But instead, you insist upon bringing us here, to this quaint little homage to Spanish imperialism." She reached into her Louis Vuitton and produced yet another large, ancient-looking volume. "There you have it. Las crónicas de Valle Soleado - the most complete history of this town after the arrival of the Conquistadors."
Her Spanish was better than his; in fact, it rolled perfectly, almost naturally off her tongue. It didn't surprise him that someone could speak it better than he, of course; contrary to popular misconception, he was Filipino, not Latino, and he'd only started studying Spanish in his early twenties.
But his dear Consultant, on the other hand....
What's that now, six? Daos inwardly snorted. This was very likely the fifth or sixth language after Mandarin and English which she'd rattled off like a native speaker.
"And before the Conquistadors?" Daos pointedly asked.
"Before the Conquistadors, there was peace and harmony," the Consultant shrugged. "Whatever troubles plague this town, my bet is they started after the Spaniards came."
Daos lightly thumbed through the volume, noting the original handwriting of the author himself in the margins. Though he didn't care to admit it aloud, he was quite impressed. He was fairly certain he was holding the only copy of this book ever written, and even for the Consultant, that couldn't have been an easy acquisition...nor a cheap one.
There was no way she was just going to hand it over. Not this time.
"How much is this gonna set me back?" he murmured, still mesmerized by his latest find.
"The usual price," she casually shrugged. "Nothing."
Now he looked up. "The usual price? Why?"
"The usual reason," she mused. "I have a stake in your career. I need you to be in the right places at all the right times."
"But why me?"
"I told you," the Consultant beamed. "Your heart is special. You are special, Daos, and the things which you accomplish mean more to me than all the money in the world."
Next: You Have Nothing to Worry About