Previously: 99 Problems, Cash Ain't One
To be fair, the evening started off well.
Dinner was scheduled for seven, so naturally, Daos made sure he and Dominador arrived at six forty-five with a bottle of red wine.
Dani Reyes answered the door with a big smile and a bright light in her eyes. Daos was amused. He and Dominador took off their shoes without waiting to be asked, while Dani accepted the wine bottle and led them into her humble abode of pale turquoise walls and burgundy sofas.
"I take it your interview went well at the Gato Negro?" he greeted.
"Sí," she nodded avidly. "I start working tomorrow evening. Please convey my gratitude to the Chief of Police."
"You can convey it yourself when you see her," Daos beamed back. "She's there almost every night."
"Tell me about it," Trish called from the kitchen. She emerged with a tray of tequila shots, lime slices, and a salt shaker. "All the bigwigs in this town go there - the Chief, the Mayor, not to mention every doctor, lawyer, and city councilor. Did you know? A single glass of wine there costs the same as a quarter of a tank of gas; it's ridiculous. And especially annoying right now."
"How come?" Dominador asked, taking a seat on of the dark couches.
"Carmen has got me tailing the Mayor," Trish scowled. "She wants to know the second he decides what to do about the high school."
Dani's eyes lit up again as she sat next to Dominador. "Do we know anything yet?"
The reporter did her best impression of a news anchor. "'The city is in talks with various banks to see about funding for a new school.'" She sighed wearily. "I'm sorry, but does anyone else miss the days when there was a corpse on your doorstep every other morning?"
"No," everyone else chorused. Daos shot her a perturbed look.
Trish shrugged. "Cheese stands alone, I guess." She knocked back her shot without bothering with salt or lime.
Dinner continued easily enough; Daos credited Dani's new job as the source of the ease, not to mention the steady supply of alcohol Trish made sure to provide. Daos abstained, of course; he hadn't been much of a drinker in a long while and saw no reason to start up again now.
Dominador, on the other hand, was in heaven. He'd been complaining a lot lately about the cafes and bars in Soleado Valle; apparently they "tampered" with food and drink far too much for his taste. Dani, on the other hand, had made his quesadillas with just the right cheese and vegetables, with no fancy or experimental spices, while Trish served his favorite brand of tequila...again, with no fancy tampering.
Here's hoping we don't get a call in the middle of the night, Daos mused. Hate to have to explain Dominador to the Chief.
It didn't matter; it felt good to be among people, eating and talking about nothing dire or earth-shattering. It also felt good to be with people he saw regularly, whose names he actually knew. Daos suddenly realized just how lonely his lifestyle was before he came to Soleado Valle.
"Now," Dani piped up, "as grateful as I am for this new job, how long do you think it will be before they rebuild the high school?"
"Well, the city can't stall forever," Trish assured her. "The neighboring town can only handle the extra kids for so long before they start pestering the Mayor to get on this, assuming they haven't started already. I mean, the very day after they put the fire out, he hired a broker to start negotiating with the banks."
"I dunno," Dominador shook his head. "It's pretty rough out here job-wise. Even if the funding is approved and the building starts, whichever company lands the contract will drag it out for as long as possible."
Trish nodded in agreement. "When I caught up with the broker himself--Hyun-jun Im--he said something similar. Of course, I had to promise I'd keep that little tidbit off the record."
Daos suddenly stopped breathing. In fact, his entire body went deathly still.
"I'm...I'm sorry," he began haltingly. "Did you say Hyun-jun Im?"
"That's right," Trish confirmed.
Daos still clung to his denial. "Hyun-jun Im...is here? Working with the Mayor?"
"Wait a minute," Dominador cut back in. "I know that guy. I met him outside the coffeehouse. He swore up and down he knew me from somewhere."
That's because he does, Daos wanted to say but knew better. Baby steps and all that. Instead, Daos rose to his feet, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest.
"I need to make a phone call."
"It has happened, then." The Consultant was so grim she didn't even bother touching her Earl Grey this time around.
Daos was equally grave. "Hyun-jun has come to Soleado Valle. Others like him will soon follow."
"You say he spoke to Dominador?"
"They conveniently ran into each other outside a coffeehouse," Daos raised an eyebrow. "If the Curse of Naberius was keeping creatures like Hyun-jun out, why did you want me to lift it?"
"Naberius may be benevolent, but his magic is a double-edge sword," she explained. "Bibiana was right. Too many people who died in this town shouldn't have."
"Hyun-jun is currently posing as a broker helping the Mayor," Daos told her. "Perhaps his real target is Dominador."
The Consultant chortled, "Doubtful. If Hyun-jun really were after him, we'd picking up pieces of Dominador all over this town for weeks." She paused, mulling something over intently.
It was precisely moments like these when Daos didn't trust the Consultant. She now had that same look on her face she always got whenever she was debating with herself whether or not to tell him something, usually something very crucial.
Her next words confirmed it.
"There has been talk...in the underground," she began, her eyes staring off into space. "It's got the Lower Beings all abuzz. It's not specifically about Hyun-jun, but I wouldn't be shocked if he were a part of it."
"What's going on?"
She gave him a rather sharp glance. "You know my rule," she said, eyes drifting back off into space. "No sharing intel until I'm sure it's legit. So for now, keep your ears open, but believe nothing until you hear back from me."
"How do you know the Chief?" Daos suddenly demanded. It caught the Consultant off guard, a feat which he'd long thought impossible. "Earlier, you referred to her rather informally, by her first name," he pointed out.
"Think, Daos," she finally replied. "Put two and two together. Who do you think reached out for help with the death rate in Soleado Valle?" She chuckled. "I may have clued her into your existence. And then, of course, I made sure your transfer to her department was seamless."
"She's quite a woman," Daos murmured.
"I'll say," the Consultant smirked. "She has a particularly nice set of lips."
"So I noticed," he admitted without thinking.
She flashed him a warning look. "Stay away from her, Daos. My 'pull' has its limits, and you've already got one dead Chief of Police under your belt."