When meeting a demon over drinks it pays to wear your nicest holster. I adjusted my charcoal jacket. My hand brushed against a foil packet and then on the tooled leather shoulder rig.
I wanted a smoke. This far from Earth no one really cared, not in a bar at least, and there was plenty of tempting blue haze curling near the low ceiling of the Crook and Cow. But I didn't want to indulge. The neat glass of Scotch before me was enough.
Languidly weaving through the tables and chairs scattered around room, the demon stepped up to the scratched but polished surface of my table. Half a head shorter than me she was striking, as was normal for her kind.
She looked a bit older than my own late twenties, but that was by human standards. Her tail hung loose and the spade-shaped tip gave a little flick as she spotted the glass of liquor.
That meant I was off the clock.
Amber eyes studied me. Her gaze went over my clothes: charcoal jacket, matching suit skirt, and dark blouse to her own: dark jeans, forest green halter top and grey untucked, unbottoned button-down work shirt.
That I was still in business clothes meant, clock or-no, this was business.
"Miss Fallbrook," the demon said, bowing her head. The gesture caused the bright green hair in her braided ponytail to shift. More importantly, the movement angled her small black horns towards me.
"Tonight, Victoria is fine, Camille," I assured, returning the bow. I then leaned forward, gesturing for her to sit.
Camille Springville caught sight of my holster when my jacket slipped open. The demon gave a toothy grin that almost lit up her pale purple features as she sat.
She folded long, elegant hands on the table before her.
The tables were made from wooden pallets that had been sanded down and polished. I was told that the few trees left on the island were too valuable for such a mundane use and with the amount of shipping going through Mooring, Murphy the bartender and owner of this establishment simply bought discarded pallets.
I will admit it was cheaper than instead of paying the lumbermen that went on periodic expeditions to the mainland. The native woods were a bit gummy to work and took longer to season.
It was with this frugality in mind that then when the furniture of the Crook and Cow was burned or scratched up, the tables were simply sanded down and polished again. I noticed that many of the deeper gouges were in parallel rows that roughly matched the span of my companion's fingers.
Murphy approached. A middle-aged dusky-skinned Brazilian man; he had a full beard that was starting to grey. His shirt was stripped down at the sleeves to deal with the heat of the grill, and he wore a blue butcher's apron to deal with the splatter, and had deep pockets to carry some tools of the trade.
He plopped a metal patter with an aromatic rib-eye steak in front of Camille and then added a glass off dark beer. "You need utensils?" he asked in a rumbling voice with a slight accent.
Camille blinked at the meat. Inhaling, she then gave an almost feline smile and I could imagine her tail curling and uncurling in reaction. "Just a fork," she told him.
"Right," He pulled out the requested flatware and deposited it in front of the plate like it was more valuable than nearly half a kilo of imported beef.
Camille gracefully nodded to the man, pausing to keep her horns pointed towards him. Murphy returned the gesture then glanced at my glass.
"I'm fine," I assured.
The bartender nodded and shambled back to the bar, the prosthesis that was his left leg making a purring hum that quickly vanished into the background noise.
Spingville's hand dipped down under the table, came up, and with a roll of the wrist flicked out a black ten centimeter blade. She then took up the cheap aluminum fork and started to cut into the meat.
"Rare, a bit on the nose," she smiled and put a thin slice of beef into her mouth. "Though I suppose it'd just be rude to wear a BBQ gun and not offer the charred flesh of something that had parents," she gestured towards my holster with a laden fork.
I simply took up my glass and gave her a salute before taking a sip. Truth be told, I had a less flashy weapon in an inside the waistband holster made out of plain kydex.
It was a bit pricey to get belt loops, proper load bearing belt loops added to my business skirts, but one advantage of this city was that tailors of the required skill and discretion were common enough.
"And how is the family doing?" I asked giving my friendly smile. The one that did not show teeth. We were two women, albeit of different species, just out for drinks.
"Numerous and belligerent," Camille muttered.
"That's good?" I ventured.
Camille snorted. "My sister-in-law been going on about Easter Vigil." The long leathery wings folded against her shoulders fluttered a bit.
"Ah." In a way, it was for best that Camille's species were not humanity's first Contact species. Losing several European cities on the Atlantic coast and even more South Asian cities to the predations of the Squids, resulted of the nations of Earth became far more appreciative of species that did not open negotiations by sinking major metropolitan centers into the ocean.
After the Squids, the Descended Empire and the Recovery Union were seen as welcome friends, despite any... physical differences. That was the official line at least. Strangely enough, even after nearly half a century, many humans still had problems dealing with entities that looked like demons or giant crab monsters.
"I can see that being a problem what with everything," I gestured to her horns.
Camille snorted. "Please, a quarter of the church's congregation are Descended. No, the problem is that one of my daughters-in-law is Sein. And there's a ritual she wants us to go to at temple, that happens to be on the same night."
I nodded along. The Sein Path was a religion among the Descended. Unlike the Restorationists, Followers of the Waves, B'ahn Comprehensives the Sein were a bit more private and secretive. Personally, I found it a bit amusing that a species who knew exactly how they were created could have organized religions, but I suppose that could come from their vehement hatred towards their creators.
Still, Camille had a point. Earth used one calendar, the Descended Empire another, neither of which matched up with this planet's solar revolutions or axial rotation.
"But I somehow doubt you're giving me a hundred Imperial Stav dinner just to chat about family. I suppose some of my stories back when I was in the Descended Imperial Service might be worth that much."
I gave her my smile again. She had made a false assumption. I did not pay full price for her meal.
Camille turned away and made a point to take a pull from her beer.
The Descended Empire: a bit of a brashly, grandiose name for an organization that was more naval-based protection racket than proper government. While the Empire laid claim to the protection of all Descended settlements, extracting tithes from them was another matter.
"You're correct, I want something else."
Camille nodded and continued eating. "How many?"
Camille nodded and continued eating. "How many?"
"Just you should be enough."
The demon, the Descended, looked up. "Oh? What is it then?"
"A favor for a friend."
Her gaze met mine. "Miss Fallbrook, you don't have friends." Camille said, entirely polite.
I bowed my head to concede the point. "Call it for a friend of a friend."
Camille sopped a slice of meat in a bit of the blood that has pooled on the plate. "And the favor is?"
"I need someone to watch my back while I talk to said friend of a friend," I said finishing my Scotch.
"Ah." She resumed her meal and got two thirds through the steak and most of the way through the beer before speaking again.
"You have security personnel on retainer," she noted, a bit of blood dripping from her blade.
"Yes, including yourself."
The woman leaned back a bit and made a point to take in the Crook and Cow. Despite being a work-night in two different calendars, the tables were full of Descended and humans, both modded and unmoded. In one corner I saw two forms that might have been part of Camille's brood.
"This isn't your office," she said as if coming to a dawning realization.
I gave a dry laugh. "This isn't company business. Hiring your services for a... personal favor. Using company resources would be wrong." I reached into my jacket.
Tensing slightly, Camille watched her blade turning in her hand.
I slowly withdrew the grey envelope and slid it over towards her plate. The planks had been evenly planed and it slid easily across the table.
She opened it and fanned through the contents. Her lips curled into a frown. "You included an invoice."
"Technically it's the service section to some contractual boilerplate. You have time to make a decision, the meeting isn't for an hour."
This time she ignored my smile, the Imperial notes in the envelope, and went back to eating.
"Well?" I asked as she neared the end of the steak.
Her gaze swept over me. "You're not expecting much trouble," she said with wry amusement. The knife was placed on the table and she removed a heavy brass pen from her shirt. With a flourish she signed it and passed the pink carbon paper back to me before pocketing the envelope and pen back into her overshirt.
"If that were true I wouldn't be hiring you," I noted taking a picture of the carbon paper and sipping it into a pocket of my own.
She gave a sharp grin and finished off the last of the steak.