Hazardous Goods (Arcane Transport) (4 page)

BOOK: Hazardous Goods (Arcane Transport)
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I got the pretty part right, but I don’t recall having any neighbors that looked like her.

When I glanced up at the sound of heels clacking into the room, I saw a woman with shoulder-length blond hair, maybe five three, and a figure that could not be hidden by a plain white blouse and dark skirt. Neither did her bookish, wide framed glasses hide her electric blue eyes and long lashes.

I climbed out of the van, suddenly feeling much better about my day.

“Good morning.”

“Uh, hi. I’m Donnie.”

“I’m Kara. Nice to meet you at last.”

She extended her hand, and I shook it – long, slim fingers, but strong.

“That
is
a nasty cut!”

“Hm?” She stepped forward, and then she was right there. Inches away, staring at the stitches on my forehead. This close, her lips popped red against her porcelain skin, and I could smell her perfume – a hint of vanilla.

“How many stitches?”

“Uh, six.”

Maybe it was the pause, but Kara’s eyes drifted from the cut down to my own. Normally hazel, more green than brown, I suspected they were mostly red that morning. In any event, our eyes met for a moment, then she blinked as though coming out of a day dream.

“Huh.” She was back-tracking now, moving away from the van and turning away from me. For a second, I thought I saw a blush rising on her cheeks. “My boyfriend had to get five stitches on his knee last summer. Scar’s mostly gone now.”

“What did he do?”

“Oh, he cut himself on a climb near Mount Nemo. We’re part of a rock climbing club.”

No one will ever convince me to try rock climbing. Man was not intended to hang by his fingertips a hundred feet above solid ground.

“Cool.” Reminder to self – she had a boyfriend. And I’d have no chance with her, anyways. Besides, I was her
boss
.

I felt like crying, but it was time to get back to the real world.

“Listen, I’m sorry you had to come back from vacation to this.”

“No, don’t worry. I’m just happy to hear Clay is alright.”

“So, what’s on the to-do list for today?”

“Well, I spoke to Helen Findlay last night... She’s one of the senior people at Sun Consulting.”

I nodded, signaling for her to go on.

“She was mystified. No idea why someone would want to steal the package.”

Interesting. That question had been running through my mind all morning.

“Now what?”

“Well, she asked if you would have time to meet with her later today.”

“Sure.” Oh shit. “Uh, did she seem upset?”

“No! No worries.”

Sure. Famous last words.

Big Jim was in just before six thirty, all five foot five inches of him. Right behind him was Harold – mid-fifties and an accent that suggested South Africa. Clay had called both of them the night before, ignoring his doctor’s orders, so they were up-to-date and ready to go. My impression from meeting them earlier was that both men were straightforward guys – work, get paid, go home. Their behavior that morning was consistent – stay out of their way and they would get the job done.

Jim was first out the door. He had the east end of the city, and would face the worst traffic. Don Mills, Willowdale, Scarborough and even Unionville. He’d be gone for the day.

Harold followed shortly after, headed to the airport for morning pick-ups in the car. He preferred the car, and that was just fine by me.

By six fifty I had readied my own deliveries and reviewed the schedule for the day. I would start out in the suburbs, the reverse commute. Two packages for Oakville, one for Streetsville, a half dozen in Mississauga. Time permitting, I would also try to make a few pickups in the West End. We had some catching up to do as a result of the prior night’s events.

Kara was setting up another shipment on her screen when I made my way out front.

“Ready to ride?”

I snagged a candy from the bowl on her desk.

“Yup. Wish me luck.”

“I can do better than that. Try the Lost and Found. Clay keeps the lucky charms in the drawer along the right wall.”

I chuckled, then realized she was serious.

“Then where was our lucky charm
yesterday
?”

She shrugged at that, and I saw the reminder about Clay had brought her down.

“I guess some days you need a pretty big charm.”

Clay had shown me the Lost and Found Room the day of our first meeting, which made me think it had been a bit of a litmus test.

No question it was full of temptations. A rack held a collection of swords, poles, walking sticks and similar items, most of them carved or embellished in some manner. A couple even looked like genuine weapons. The back wall was lined in clothes – musty leather cloaks, intricately detailed dresses, robes, scarves, even some kind of military uniform. A chair that in another place or time might have been called a throne. Several rolled carpets. A glass cabinet containing a huge array of jewelry – earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings. On top of three shelves rested countless bottles and jars, containing various liquids and a few things that reminded me of biology in high school.

Most of it was undeliverable. Dropped in the Arcane night box by an anonymous donor, marked for pickup at the office and never claimed, or the destination wouldn’t accept. Clay said they would always contact the client where possible, but sometimes the sender had moved on, or refused to take an item back.

Once a year or so Clay would have a few customers in to scan the collection and take what they wanted. But over twenty-six years, they had collected a lot of junk.

Kara said the charms were in the glass cabinet. The ‘safe’ stuff was laid out on a green felt mat. The rest was housed in a jewelry box with a lock.

After a few moments of perusing, I selected a coin. It was bigger than a quarter, more the size of a Canadian toonie. One face read “
Republica de Colombia – Lazaretto – 1921
.” The other said “
50 Centavos
”. It was cool to the touch, but not unpleasant.

Just to be safe, I went back to check with Kara.

“This one OK?”

Kara reached for the coin, then smiled.

“That one has a neat history.”

“Columbian? Some drug lord own it?”

“No.” She chuckled and shook her head, one eyebrow raised. Aparently I had a unique view of the world. “It’s a leper colony coin.”

“What?”

“I did some research on it when we couldn’t locate the owner. I guess a bunch of countries confined people with leprosy in the 1920s and 30s, to avoid spreading the disease. They were so concerned they printed special money for the colonies, so that they wouldn’t enter general circulation. A lot of collectors wouldn’t handle them for years afterwards.”

“Hm. Cool.”

“Yeah. Not for the people in the colonies, though. Professor Irving says the coin itself is not worth much nowadays. I guess there’s still a fair number around. But there are apparently stories about a witch doctor who blessed coins for family members confined to one of the colonies, and he thinks this might be one of them.”

Sol Irving was a professor at the University of Toronto, and a long-time friend of Clay’s. They tended to call on him once every few months, for help with some of the more
difficult
deliveries.

“A witch doctor, huh?” I chuckled. Weirder and weirder. “Thanks.”

I dropped the coin into my pocket and it slapped against my thigh with a solid thump. I wasn’t convinced it was magic. But lucky? I believed in luck. How else could anyone explain Ted’s occasional success with women?

The first solo ride of my career started with a pick-up. Old World Treasures, a curio shoppe in Oakville.

The ride west wasn’t bad. Tuesday morning was a good day for a drive out of the city. The eastbound lanes were already packed, cars lined up back-to-back as far as the eye could see. What a waste of humanity, all that
waiting
. Clay had the radio tuned to an all-news network, to monitor the highways. I left it, feeling a bit odd about tampering with things with Clay in the hospital.

OWT, as it was referred to in the pick-up description on my handheld, took up half of a Century home just east of the oldest part of town. Parking was shared with a Tim Hortons donut shop and an English pub. Fortunately, it was still early enough that I didn’t have to battle with caffeine-starved commuters loading up for the drive in to Toronto.

A sleek black cat rested on his haunches beside the door to the shop. I inched up the stairs, trying to avoid spurring the feline into moving across my path. I’m not superstitious by nature, but there’s no point in being reckless.

The cat watched me warily as I mounted the stairs. When I leaned down to scrub behind its ears, though, a rumbling purr resulted.

The door in front of me jingled, and a hand reached out, sliding a metal bowl of water in front of the cat.

“Oh! Hey – sorry. Didn’t see you there.”

When I’d seen the name Old World Treasures, I had expected an older bookish fellow. Sixties, hair mostly gone. Or an accountant-type. Short sleeve white dress shirt, pocket protector, blue tie and a pair of loafers.

Instead, I found myself staring at a tattooed tough guy, receding hairline pulled back in a ponytail.

He pulled the door wide and glanced down at the company logo on my polo shirt.

“Arcane? “

“That’s right. I’m Donnie. Donnie Elder.”

I held out my hand, and it was engulfed in a mitt with fingers the size of pork sausages. The man could crush me in an instant.

“Nice to meet you. C’mon in.”

Pasquale DeMarco preferred to be called Pask. And despite his appearance, he was a pleasant enough fellow. He gave me a quick tour of the store without even being asked. Antique maps and shipping documents behind glass, old globes, compasses, a pair of harpoons mounted on a wall, several sturdy banded chests. The place belonged at the end of a weathered wooden pier, open to the ocean wind.

Pask’s delivery was a three day ride. Deliver within the week. I watched as the big man took a white item from one of the cabinets at the back of the room, then placed it gently in a felt-lined box.

“Serpent’s tooth. Worn on a necklace or chain it can help treat malaria and certain fevers.”

“Serpent. You mean like a snake?” I eyed the item skeptically. It looked like an oversized golf tee.

Pask raised an eyebrow at me, then returned to his wrapping.

“You a skeptic?”

“Skeptic?” I eyed the man’s thick forearms. “No. Call me agnostic.”

The big man nodded and continued packing the very large white tooth. It was engraved with the image of a naval cannon, the detailing remarkable. The base of the tooth was capped in silver, carved in a swirl as though it was a cyclone rising from the sea.

“Well, I used to feel the same way.” He closed the lid, and began to wrap the box in bubble wrap. “Then my wife and I decided to sail the world, just the two of us.”

The bubble wrap was taped shut, then stuffed into a small carton, then a thick envelope, address marked on the front. Pask taped the envelope shut, then handed it over to me so I could confirm the label against the delivery information on my handheld.

“A few months sailing on the open sea, just two of you and the night – you see a lot of things you can’t explain.”

“I’ll bet.” I figured they probably got a little tired of singing ‘Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum’, too.

“So you’re helping Clay out with the business, are you?”

“Yeah. I’m not sure you know, but Clay had a heart attack yesterday.”

“Really?” He seemed genuinely concerned.

I recounted the story of the mugging, Pask perched

on a feeble-looking stool.

“Unbelievable. Madness, really.” I eyed the stool, convinced it would explode into splinters. “You know, this is a very small community, and Clay is well-liked. Whose delivery was it?”

I paused, feeling a bit uncomfortable at the question.

“I can’t say. Confidentiality.”

“Oh, of course!” The big man blushed, and I realized he had been asking out of concern, rather than any malicious intent.

“It was one of our regulars, though. Clay was surprised. I guess he’s never had anything like this happen before.”

“No? Well, that makes sense. Clay’s always been seen as... I guess
neutral
is the best word, though that’s not quite right. I mean, people aren’t on
sides
per se, but he’s managed to stay out of the petty squabbles. Kind of a trusted intermediary. For someone to go after you guys – I’d be surprised if BOA doesn’t look into it.”

BOA? I had a vague memory of Clay mentioning the name. Might be worthwhile following up with him, to get a better feel for the politics of the occult world. Were there parties? Leaders? God forbid, elections?

“Well, Clay has asked me to follow up with our clients, let them know about the theft. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, maybe you could let us know?”

“Absolutely.” He paused, then leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “Though pretty much all of it is out of the ordinary in this business, if you know what I mean.”

We shared a chuckle.

“Though, now that you mention it... Hm. There
has
been some chatter about a few new players in town.”

“New players?”

“I haven’t heard much, but I got the sense they were throwing their weight around – hard-balling a couple of the downtown shops, trying to bully them into supplying stuff on the cheap.”

“Anyone in particular?”

“Naw. I mean, I’ve just heard rumblings, nothing specific.”

“OK. If you hear anything further, can you let me know?”

“Absolutely.”

As Pask turned to check something on his desk, I contemplated the bizarre nature of it all. Lucky charms I could understand, maybe even horoscopes or palm reading if a person needed someone else to tell them to leave their cheating spouse. I could also understand people who collected cool things, like fancy swords or flashy amulets.

But
real
magic? Curses and magic wands? I was still having a tough time with that, let alone the idea that bigger powers were at work, influencing the power of spells or potions. Who were these bigger powers? J. K. Rowling?

BOOK: Hazardous Goods (Arcane Transport)
10.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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