Jewel Heiss squinched her eyes shut. She was so tired that her hair hurt. Her clothes stank of gasoline. She and her partner Clay Dawes had spent a satisfying day measuring gas, writing tickets to stations whose pumps filled shy, and sitting in traffic. Only one part of her body was in a good mood, and she was even tired of that.
Late Monday afternoon, the staff room at the Chicago Department of Consumer Services was empty. They were the first team back in the office. Jewel drooped. Clay looked fresh as ever, in an annoyingly laid-back way. His colorful Hawaiian shirt and beige chinos were way too casual for the DCS, and his surfer bangs hung into his crinkly blue eyes in defiance of departmental code.
“I’m gonna become a nun,” she muttered.
“That would be a waste.” Clay put whitener and coffee in her mug and black coffee in his. “Take tomorrow off. Get some sleep.”
She sighed. Sleep sounded so good. “I can’t.”
“Why not? I’ll babysit Randy,” he suggested. “We can do gas stations.”
Randy was her sex demon. Her source of fantasies-come-true. Some nights, it was so good, she wanted to die in his arms. Some days, she never wanted to set eyes on him again. Once an English earl, Randy had possessed a brass bed for two centuries, after his mistress complained that he was a lousy lover and put a curse on him: Satisfy one hundred women.
The curse was only kind-of broken.
He sure knew his way around a bed, though.
“You need a break from each other,” Clay suggested.
That was way true. Today she’d left Randy in her apartment, messing with the computer, but he was still waiting for her to come home…and get naked. “There’s a catch, right?”
“Well, we might go shopping.”
“You don’t shop. You shoplift.” Clay was a mostly reformed con artist. “But it’s a lovely idea all the same.” Clay had been using the possessed brass bed to sell fake sex therapy when Jewel met him. He wouldn’t be reformed now if she hadn’t ruined his scam by scoring Randy’s hundredth notch in the bedpost.
Now Randy was celebrating his freedom in her apartment, in her bed, with Jewel. Over and over and over.
The boss, Ed Neccio, waddled into the staff room, his hands full of files. “You two get in here.” He went into his office and drew the blinds shut. “I’ve got an important case for you. Siddown. Heiss, you look whipped. Don’t your partner let you sleep?” He leered perfunctorily and passed across a thick file. “This is totally stop secret hush hush on the QT confidential, like nobody never knows nothin’ about it, okay?”
Clay mouthed, Stop secret? at Jewel.
“That means no blabbing to my wife, Heiss,” the boss said. “You two are chummy, but I’m telling you this is classifired. You talk in class, you get fired. Capisce?”
She muttered, “Yeah, yeah.”
Ed aimed his bushy eyebrows at her. “The Fifth Floor’s got an interest in this one.”
Jewel groaned. She lifted the cover of the file with a fingernail. “Looks like this one’s stale.” She recognized signatures from three different divisions of the department. “Gee, I get to bat cleanup for Digby and Britney?”
“To hell with them,” Ed said, slapping the file shut. “This is the important stuff. Number one, it’s fraud. I dunno how or where. That’s your job to find out. Guy runs a psychic spa thingy, you get fortune-telling with your facial and shit. Got a million ways to service customers, each one shadier than the other. Every team we send in there, he gets to them somehow.”
“You try Building Codes and Safety?”
“They went in first. Clean as a Pekinese’s asshole. His permits are in order,” Ed admitted. “But the guy’s a crackpot. Calls himself a magician. Thinks the city handles the hinky shit all wrong. Wants to start a new era of peace an’ magic an’ age of aquarium moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter lyin’ with Mars. He’s running for Mayor,” Ed returned to coherence.
“Oh,” Jewel said. “Has it hit the press yet?”
“No. That’s why this is a rush job.”
“Shit,” she echoed. “I get it.”
“Fabulous,” Clay said. “What do you get?”
Ed waved a dismissive hand. “Explain it where I don’t hafta listen. Couple more things.” He tossed down another file. “Consumer complaint. Woman claims her brother is getting rushed by a golddigger trying to sell him a magical machine.”
“Should be open-and-shut,” Jewel said. “Find out what her claims are, make a ruling.”
“He’s a millionaire. You gotta at least pretend to use kid gloves.”
“No problem,” Clay murmured, leaning over her shoulder.
Jewel thought, Clay and a millionaire. Scary combination.
“No problem,” Ed muttered, as if thinking the same thing.
Clay peered closer at the file and stiffened.
Then Ed took her breath away. “So, listen, you two. On both these cases….” He hesitated. “I guess I gotta authorize you going in undercover.”
Jewel choked on a gasp of ecstasy. She sat up.
“Don’t get excited. You’re still no Alias bitch. Uh, woman. Person.” Ed appealed to Clay. “Keep her outta trouble? Fill in the gaps in her expertise.” He rose. “Now, scram.”
“One more thing. Know that punk kid you’re always protecting? He’s selling something again, some kinda consumable. If you give a shit, take it away from him before the Department of Health busts him for not having a pushcart license.”
“Sure, okay, fine,” she muttered. Inside she was wooting. Undercover! Jewel was sick of inspecting gas stations.
In the empty staff room, Clay flicked the top folder away from her. “Okay, let’s split these up. You take the political case and I’ll deal with this little golddigger thing.”
“Forget it.” She pulled a chair close to him. “Listen. While nobody’s in here but us.”
He sat. “The Fifth Floor?”
She nodded. “The thing is, it doesn’t matter who runs against da mayor, we know he’ll win. But it’s the campaign fuss. The media circus.” She lowered her voice. “This guy’s platform is totally against Policy.”
They exchanged glances. The Fifth Floor had a lot of policies, but only one with a capital Pol. The Hinky Policy, the reason for their tiny division’s existence.
“Yeah, yeah, we don’t see magic, we pretend it’s normal, and we cope,” Clay said.
Jewel winced. If she had to define hinky, she wouldn’t use the word magic. That was kind of the whole point of the Policy and the Division. You just knew hinky when you saw it.
“Don’t say that word.”
“So?” Clay opened the skinny file. “Why’s he dangerous?”
“He can screw up the city. Suppose the nut goes on TV with something hinky? What if he starts giving the public advice about how to deal with the hinky stuff? Other cities are getting sick, but Chicago is da city dat woiks. We work hard at that.”
“Other cities.” Clay looked up from the file he was reading. “Brussels.”
“Brussels is actually doing okay,” she said. “But—”
She met Clay’s eyes.
They both said, “Pittsburgh.”