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Chapter One - Clerks and Cubicles



"KANE INVESTIGATIONS" The painted letters on the beveled glass door proclaimed. "Ready, Willing and Able." a subtext promised. The door was slightly ajar, as it was likely to be as of late since Renny had been around. Renny, short for Renfield, was a poodle, and a vampire. Synthia, the frenetic half-demon secretary of Kane Investigations, had adopted the poodle and no amount of arguing that her boss, Jason Kane, could do would convince her to get rid of the beast.


Jason Kane was an immortal. As one he could endure a surprising amount of damage and heal unnaturally quickly. But his most valuable power, he had decided, was the one he was using now. He turned his head to one side, his trademark charcoal and grey checked hat jilting first one way and then the other. Just the two supes nearby, and he recognized them as Synthia and Renny. Supes, or supernaturals, were no more good or evil than humans, but were a great deal more dangerous. He'd encountered many supes in his time; vampires, weres, true shapeshifters and even the occasional fae, demon, or immortal like himself. It wasn't like Hollywood presented it, any more than actual vampires sparkled in any way, except perhaps right after they've dined on fae blood. Immortals had no self-genocidal desire, they did not drain powers away from other immortals by lopping off heads, they had no special attraction to or repulsion from holy places, and they definitely weren't aliens.


Convinced that there was no threat behind his own office door, he bumped it with a shoulder and let it swing further open as he entered, flipping off his trenchcoat and hanging it on the mahogany hall tree by the door. Renny whined and looked up at Jason with his iridescent red eyes that one only saw in nature on the backs of hummingbirds or extraordinarily large beetles. Renny dropped his ball; the bright yellow foam rubber toy bouncing once and rolling to a stop near Jason's feet, a large smiley face marred by a trail of blood over the right eye stared up at him. What was the movie that was from again? Jason thought then shook it off. Renny whined again and Jason patted him on his head with one hand, while reaching for the mini-fridge with the other.


He pulled out a bottle of synthetic blood, the cheap kind, (how would a dog know the difference?) and poured the slightly congealed chilled liquid into Renny's gold bowl. Renny wouldn't eat when Synthia first brought him back because she'd tried to feed him from a stainless steel bowl. Apparently even the color silver was enough to repel the vampiric canine. Renny lapped at the synthetic blood that had the consistency of partially set gelatin. Kane shuddered. Most vampires liked their synthetic blood warmed up. Renny preferred his as cold as possible. Synthia even sometimes filled an ice cube tray with the noxious stuff and tossed them to the dog as a treat. That often annoyed Kane, who had gotten a surprise on a night when he'd popped a couple of the pseudo-blood cubes into his drink. No better way to put you off the taste of a good Johnny Walker than to use synthetic blood for the ice.


Jason flipped through the pile of papers in the wire basket on top of a nearby filing case. The basket served as their inbox. "Anything new today, Synthia?" He inquired, not diverting his eyes from the chrome basket full of junk mail and bills.

"Nawnobodycalled." She rattled off, her green contact-lensed eyes (Synthia didn't need the contacts but most people were put off a bit by their natural color, a very literal smoldering amber and orange) darting up from a book she was reading. Synthia's brain seemed to run at a different speed than the rest of the world. It took some getting used to, as it seemed the young half-demon always had enough breath to utter any sentence as a single word and any paragraph as a single sentence. Her eyes once again scanned her book for a moment and she set it aside. "Clerks & Cubicles, 6th edition" was on the lily-white cover of the book which smelled faintly of brimstone.


"I thought you quit playing that game. Why the sudden interest?" Jason remarked. There wasn't a secondary private office in Kane Investigations. When he got the long term lease on the office he intended it to be a one person operation. Now where one large luxurious desk once stood, two much smaller but nicely appointed ones replaced the grand old desk. They were at angles to each other, set up in a sort of reverse V formation. Not exactly traditional, and that bugged Jason. He loved tradition. Needed it. Tradition comforted him the way nothing else could. Tradition was unchanging. You could count on it. Shrugging off the moment of reflection he sat down behind his desk as Synthia popped another candy into her mouth. Jason grimaced. Salty licorice fish. Synthia had gotten him a bag as a gift from IKEA and swore that in all of his centuries that he'd never put anything so foul in his mouth.


Synthia swallowed and shrugged. "My little sister is going to be in town and she wants to play." She'd not really spoken that slowly, it was just that Jason was becoming very practiced at adding the spaces between words on the listening end these past few months. "You know, they have so much wrong in that book. I could rewrite it." She picked up the game book and read, "New Boss. Acquiring a new boss requires either losing a level or sacrificing half your remaining Inspiration Points. I don't think that's right, I feel really inspired since I started working for you, and I even acquired an animal companion." Synthia popped another of those horrible Norwegian gummy fish into her mouth, smacking audibly as she sucked the salt off of the outside.


"Ugh. How can you eat those?" Jason asked, sliding a drawer open and removing a small stack of paper. He stared over at the inkwell on the corner of his desk. It was getting harder and harder to find good fountain pens and ink lately. He swore to Synthia that his fountain pen wrote smoother than anything else one could find today. "They taste like licorice at first then it suddenly feels like you're snorting seaweed."


"Dunno." She smacked on the candy, penciling in some notes in the margins of the C&C book. She was correcting what she thought was an error in the role playing game that Synthia's family, a near even distribution of demon, human, and half-demon played often in their spare time.


"They taste like Hell." Jason said, operating the lever on his favorite fountain pen, filling it from the inkwell.


"Nope. Hell tastes like rotten eggs, overripe mango, and B.O." Synthia flicked the book closed and leaned back in her chair.


"Sounds about right. For the fish I mean." He began drafting a thank you letter to Eric Kildima, or Lord Eric Kildima as he liked to be called. Kildima had assisted when a friend of his was trying to find a missing object recently and had asked for very little in return. He had "borrowed" Synthia for an evening, and the private investigator hadn't asked any questions when his secretary came back to work the next day with her hands smelling heavily of brimstone and still dusted with some sort of powdery rust colored substance that suggested blood.


"For you maybe. I think they're delish." She didn't eat any more of the monstrous food masquerading as candy, but instead tied up the silver twist tie and tossed it into a half open drawer at her desk.


The phone rang. Synthia reached for it then waited, hand twitching over the receiver. About halfway through the second ring she picked up the phone. That was a new record for her. It was one of the ways Kane was trying to teach the effervescent girl some patience. "Kane Investigations, this is Synthia how may I help you?" she answered and sounded positively normal for a moment. It was only because she had practiced that line so long that she could say it so slowly.


"Oh, I see." she replied, and turned to her computer. It was the only computer in the place. Jason didn't use computers, barely knew how to turn one on let alone use it. The old Underwood manual typewriter was as high-tech as the immortal got in the realm of things with keyboards. Synthia jabbed a few buttons on the PC and the phone call coming in was transferred to the telephony program on the computer. Donning her headset, she asked "Can you repeat that last? I was preparing to take down the message." a pause, and then keys flew across the keyboard, which had no print left on any of the keys except the Caps Lock key and the top row of function keys. The rest had all been scraped off by the half-demon's manicured claw-like fingernails. Jason didn't know whether or not she had fingernails or claws trimmed to look like fingernails. He was very curious but was too polite to ask his secretary. The 1950s is about as far forward as his attitude towards women had come, but he'd learned to ignore the general rudeness that seemed to prevail these days with a practiced grace.


The sound of Synthia typing sounded like the scrabbling of a dozen rats trying to get out of a box. There were even a few gouges in the plastic keys. Jason, still penning his note quietly, wondered if there were any keyboards that he could buy that Synthia couldn't decimate in a matter of a few weeks. He doubted that as the typing stopped and the laser printer whooshed to life. They used far more paper than most offices their size, mainly because Jason wanted hard copies of everything and refused to use a phone or a computer when face to face or a printed copy would do.


The sound of Renny's lapping at the last bits of synthetic blood in his bowl overtook the sound of the laser printer as it wound down. "I'll pass this information on to Mr. Kane, sir. We will be in touch shortly. Thank you for considering Kane Investigations!" Removing her headset, she snatched up the two pages that had come out of the old laser printer Synthia had scavenged from an estate sale and rolled her chair towards Jason, setting the pages on the edge of his desk.


Jason finished the line he was writing and carefully set aside both fountain pen and finished thank you note to look at the new set of paper, still warm from the printing process. How had she managed to type two pages in less than a minute? The PI was often impressed with the girl's speed and efficiency, which is one of the reasons he accepted her offer to work for him after they'd worked together the first time. He had to admit, business was better by a longshot since the red-haired whirlwind who reminded him of Annie Lennox in her Eurythmics days had been handling the day-to-day affairs. It kept him free for more important matters.


He read over the pages twice. Jason almost asked Synthia if she was sure she typed it all down correctly, but stopped himself. Synthia didn't have the disadvantage most had when transcribing what is being said to her computer. She could type as fast as she could listen, it seemed. Sometimes even she didn't know what was typed down, she simply typed what she heard as fast as it was being said.


"This is serious. If I do this, you may need to help me, and I might need a whole team as well." Jason shook his head.


"No can do for the next week, Boss. I already got the vacation lined up. Remember? You're on your own this time. No demon-lady throwing fireballs at a deranged Weretiger hopped up on V-Fae for you this time boss. It's cause my upworld folks are in town, and its expensive for them to get here."


"Of course I remember. I was just trying to convince you to help. Most families dread reunions." Jason didn't forget. Couldn't forget. He had a flawless memory. This made his life easier from an intellectual standpoint, but more difficult from an emotional one. Remembering exactly where you've seen a perp before was very useful; remembering the faces of every loved one you've ever lost wasn't at all useful.

Family reunions. An idea just came to Jason as his eyes focused once more on that role playing book cover. "Clerks & Cubicles" was a demon contrived game in which you took on the roles of your average everyday office worker trying to get ahead. I mean, if you were a demon and you wanted to be something totally different, what would you choose? They'd published an "upworld" edition as it was called, written in English and printed with paper and ink rather than skin and blood, where it was a modest success, both among some supes and some really die hard human role players who adapted it to a "Dilbert" role playing game. Jason only knew so much about it for two reasons; his aforementioned photographic memory and the fact that Synthia wouldn't stop talking about the game when she first hired on. The half-demon was very proud of her 12th level middle manager who'd gotten her last boss fired for embezzlement in the game.


A slight smile crossed Jason's face and he felt Synthia tense from all the way across the room. "Synthia, how old is your little sister?" He asked, casually.


The quizzical look on Synthia's face showed that she suspected something, she knew that sly smile meant a plan, and plans almost always involved her. She decided to take the teasing approach. "Why?" she said, swiveling in her chair and propping her feet up on her desk, the long skirt that Jason insist she wear in the office sliding up over her knees as she did so. "Did you want to try a threesome? Is that why you've turned me down before?" Synthia knew from the get go that Jason had no interest in sex with her, no interest in sex at all with either sex as best she could figure. But, Jason's 1950's sensibilities were remarkably easy to offend, even if his tells were just minor. She was half-demon after all, and torment was still a pleasure of hers.


"Uh, no, nothing like that." a slight aversion of his eyes back down to the papers Synthia had typed and printed for him the only tell he gave of his embarrassment. Jason would have had those papers memorized by now, he didn't need to refer to them. "I'm going to need to recruit some team members, and a couple of them are likely to be employees of Smithereen's. Josh won't part with two of his barmaids unless I replace them while they're gone." The smile returned and Jason met Synthia's eyes. "I was wondering, have you ever heard of a Live Action Role Playing game?"



The front of Smithereens was simple and unassuming. The neon sign would light first one letter at a time, then the entire word would flash three times, finally staying lit while a neon firework, simulating an explosion would slowly blossom out from beneath the final S of the bar's name. It was tucked away on the edge of Studio City, not terribly far from Universal or Burbank. In short, if you were in show business and your work took you to any of the many studios in the heart of San Fernando Valley, you weren't ever far from Smithereens. The current owner had bought it from Gene Autry and some of the old west motif survived in the bar to this day, but the bar had a different meaning, unseen by anyone who wasn't a supe or closely affiliated with one. It was a place where a supe could go and get a drink, have a halfway decent meal and forget he was hunting or being hunted by anyone.


Josh Smith was the proprietor, and was a true shifter. He could take the form of any animal, though the limits of this Jason didn't know. The largest animal he'd heard of Josh doing was a tiger, and the smallest, a mouse. Where that extra mass went during the transformation was anyone's guess; it was no more baffling as to where Jason's sword went when he hid it underneath his coat. He could be totally patted down and no one would find it, but when he needed to draw the sword, it would be there. Josh took the no fighting policy in his bar seriously. Any fights started in the bar were finished quickly, either by Josh himself or by one of the supes he employed.

Jason sat down at the bar and Josh nodded at him, putting away a glass he was wiping to walk over to him. "Johnny Walker on the rocks, right?" Josh said easily. Not wanting to seem inhospitable Jason just nodded, removing his hat and setting it on the bar next to him. Josh expertly poured the drink, setting it on a small Smithereens branded cocktail napkin. Rather than walk away, Josh just cocked his head. Josh's preferred form was that of a Swiss Mountain Dog, which was sort of like a large, tri-colored Collie, and sometimes the dog body language bled through.


"I need to temporarily hire a couple of your employees." Jason said simply, knowing that the shifter's excellent sense of smell would have noticed his anticipation.


"Which ones in particular?" Josh said casually, motioning to one of his employees, a tall, skinny red-haired vamp woman, to take over the cash register while he talked.


"The one you have working the register now, for one. I need someone who is fast." The private detective sipped his drink slightly, letting the cold drink sit at the back of his throat a bit before he swallowed.


"Doesn't your secretary fit that bill just as well?" Josh had brought a tray out from behind the counter and was filling little bowls with a peanut and pretzel mixture.


"Her upworld folks are in town for the next week and she won't be in the office." Jason commented, gesturing to one of the newly filled bowls of snack mix. Josh nodded and Jason took the proffered bowl, setting it in front of him.


"OK, that's one. Any others? I don't exactly have too many people to spare." Josh continued filling bowls with snack mix, eyes on that task but attention on Jason.


"Jennifer Parker. I need her talents as well." Jason popped a coated peanut into his mouth. Wasabi. That was unexpected, but not altogether unwelcome.


"For how long?" Josh gestured to David, one of the few actual humans who worked at Smithereens, to take the tray filled with bowls of snack mix and distribute them throughout the bar.



"A week, no more. Either I'll succeed by then or it won't make any difference." Jason washed down a particularly scratchy bit of pretzel with a swig of his drink.


"I'll need replacements, and I can't just hire temps with talents like Lacey and Jennifer's from an agency." Josh crossed his arms.


He didn't say no yet, Jason told himself. I wonder how he'll take this next bit. "Well, since Synthia's upworld family is in town, I convinced her and her younger sister that it would be remarkably like live action role playing if they worked for you for a week."


Josh was good. He didn't even flinch at that. "You want me to have two half-demon women working in my bar for a week? I know Synthia, she'd probably be all right but I've never met her sister. And... how did you convince her to work on her vacation?"

Jason shrugged. "I told her it would be a lot better than playing C&C, and the rest of their C&C group could meet in one of the private rooms in the back if they paid the standard fee. I hope you don't mind me booking extra business for you."


Josh laughed and shook his head. "All right, but if there are any expenses during this week due to this arrangement, I will send you a bill."


"Fair enough." Jason said and tossed back the rest of his drink. He reached for his wallet, but Josh waved him on.


"You've got my permission but you still have to convince Lacey and Jennifer. I'm their boss, not a slave driver, no matter what you hear from my staff." With that, Josh moved back to the cash register, relieving Lacey and directing her to go speak with Jason.


It didn't take very much convincing to get Lacey on board. She was itching to stretch herself, being a very new vamp, albeit the progeny of a very old and powerful one. Jennifer took some more convincing, but she eventually came around. A key feature of the negotiation was that Jennifer wouldn't have to be around Synthia. It wasn't that she didn't like his secretary, it was the fact that Jennifer was a super-sensitive telepath and Synthia generally gave Jennifer a huge headache when she was around. Jennifer had compared it to a room full of people all trying to talk directly to you at once. Conversely, Jennifer found Jason's presence comforting, because Jason was very careful to guard his thoughts around her. He had practiced meditation under some of the best masters of their times and could even temporarily block a telepath from getting what they wanted even if they were intentionally looking into his mind, though that took a great deal of concentration.


The remainder of his team would be easier to recruit. He had a working relationship with an earth witch and supes hiring themselves out as muscle was pretty common, but he wanted some that would be more discrete than say, the known werewolf "Dog, the Bounty Hunter". Weres, vamps and even immortals had come out of hiding as a race, but not all members of the races came out or were even happy that it had happened. It had started when a Norwegian scientist had developed synthetic meat, complete with blood, in an effort to stave off world hunger.


The vampires were the first to come "Out of the Coffin" as it were. Their carefully planned PR campaign had begun decades ago, well before the synthetic meat and blood had been developed. The vamp had been a futurist, and saw that medical science wouldn't be long (in vampire reckoning) in developing some suitable substitute for blood. It had started with the vampire funding "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", then later taking a mediocre author and turning her work into the media blockbuster "Twilight" series. It had spawned an entire fiction genre called "Urban Fantasy", and TV series like "Charmed", "True Blood", "Supernatural" and "Being Human" had cropped up as humans put their own bizarre twist on what it meant to be living in a world were humans and supes coexisted. By the time the vamps came out, stating they could just drink the synthetic blood instead of human blood, (and really they'd been with us all along and if they were a true danger we would have known about it right now, right?) they were so romanticized that the impact on society was minimal. At least at first.


There were die hard extremists that were against the vamps, that didn't stop the werecreatures from coming out. Their campaign had decidedly less money behind it (Weres often lived violent lives and had shorter lifespans and therefore less money than the vamps.), but since so many weres were in the military, war heroes who just happened to change into wolves that their integration into society was almost smoother than the vamps. The immortals soon followed, but Jason wasn't one of those. He kept who he was a guarded secret. His job was too dangerous for anyone he didn't trust knowing what he was.


The immortals "coming out" was a bit anticlimactic in comparison. They had waited in the shadows, garnering favor and repaying old blood debts to the vamps. In the past, immortals had been called, "Hunters" or "Slayers" because they either hired out to take vamps out or hunted them on their own. Van Helsing was one of them, or maybe still was, the cagey old Prussian might still be alive for all Jason knew. Of course, they were really the most innocuous of the supes that had come out yet. They were just people who lived a long time. They didn't have any odd dietary or light restrictions, they didn't become slavering beasts, and many of them were researchers and scientists already working on improving the human condition.


But immortals were fairly rare in comparison to the rest of the supe community, probably due to the fact that they had in the past, and some of them still did, hunt and kill other supes. It made them big targets, so while the public reaction to their being Immortals was negligible, putting your name out there on the list of "guys who don't die" was a sure fire way of attracting supernatural attention to the extent of putting you on a list of "guys who are going to be killed". Hence, Jason's reluctance. Especially since he took the odd job now and again of quietly eliminating some of the nastiest and most evil supes he could get wind of.


Jason knew he could just call someone to fill out his team but he had some time and he liked talking to people face to face. He drove his souped-up '72 Dodge Dart out to North Hollywood and parked a few car lengths down from "Charmed, I'm Sure" which was a Wiccan novelty shop in which, if you knew what to ask for, sold actual working charms and potions. Jason wasn't interested in potions this time but their maker, Janus North.


When he approached the door, Jason scanned about with his senses. Janus, an earth witch, showed up as a flicker on his radar. She really only flared up when she was actively using her magic, there were two other witches in the shop, and a were across the street behind him. He cast a casual glance that way, seeing a werefox he knew that was also a prostitute of some reputation. She smiled and winked at him, her lean tawny body stretched languidly against a lamppost across the street. He simply nodded and entered the shop, the silver bells jangling, his senses being assaulted simultaneously with wolvesbane, garlic, and some sort of incense. Dragon's blood, maybe?


Janus looked up when Jason came in, smiling, and pulling a lock of her prematurely grey hair (she looked to be about 30) out of her face. Jason knew that witches lived a long time as well, and he had his suspicions that she had went under a similar sounding name in the 60's. Had Jason paid more attention to music back then he may have known definitely if she was "that" Janis or not. It wasn't his business, and he knew the benefit of making a clean break with past lives, so he wouldn't ever ask.


"Jason!" She said, smiling. "What gives me the pleasure of your visit? Did you need another tranquility potion for your secretary? I put them into my regular potion rotation now, seeing as you find them so useful." She put her elbows on the counter, lacing her fingers and resting her chin on top of them.


"No, but while I'm here I will take two of those. The real reason is a bit more significant, and private."

Jason said, his voice low.



"Ah. Well then. Let's take care of that in my office, shall we?" As she lead him towards the rear of the store she called out. "Katie, mind the counter until I'm back, would you?" A young witch bobbed her head and returned from where she was alphabetizing homeopathic remedies and moved behind the counter, eyes on the other two or three browsing wiccans and witches in the all-night magic shop.


"Now" Janus said as she sat down behind her mahogany desk, gesturing for Jason to sit in a leather chair opposite hers. "What is it I can do for you?"


"You're aware that Rudolpho Benito Losciuto is going to be in town in a couple of days?" Jason began and Janus nodded. "I've gotten an inside tip that he's brought a hit squad and weapons, and that he intends to overthrow the current vamp government."


"So?" Janus shrugged. "Internal vamp squabbles aren't my concern. I don't even pay the vamps protection anymore. Haven't for years, but they think they're still collecting. Forgetfulness potions work astoundingly well when they're delivered through blood." she smiled, her deviousness never ceasing to surprise.


"Because Losciuto is intending to do this change of power during his concert. At Staples Center. Live." Jason said the last two sentences with special emphasis.


"That would be very bad vamp PR, but still no reason for me to get involved. Why not hire some were or vamp muscle to take care of it? Or better yet, go to the local nest leaders and give them the heads up?" Janus was fishing in one of the desk drawers, bringing out the pair of light blue tranquility potions, no larger than one of those energy shots humans used to stay awake, and setting them on the desk.


"Because he's hired witches and at least one of the lesser fae, and all intend to demonstrate publicly their abilities. He wants a bloody war. Losciuto knows that by calling such attention to the reality of supe politics, the humans will finally know that they're in charge only because the supes want them to be." Jason slid a $100 out from his money clip and laid it on the desk, collecting the potions, as he spoke.


Janus' face went white. "Madman. He'd cause worldwide panic. This would be worse than Salem, worse than Armenia!" she was shocked but not shocked enough not to tuck the $100 Jason gave her away in the top drawer of the desk. "You have a plan, yes?" She followed up. Of course he had a plan. Jason always had a plan.


Jason nodded. "I do. I only have one more stop to make. I have to drive to Big Bear."


"Piotr?" Janus said with a wide smile on her face. The alternatively reclusive and boisterous werebear was always a delight to work with.


"Piotr." He replied. "Thanks for the potions. I'll give them to Synthia. She and her sister are covering for Lacey and Jennifer at Smithereens while we're gone."


Janus just waved, her mind already on which potions she had ready made and which she needed to brew for this mission.


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