I woke up to my phone ringing. That was a sure sign that I was about to have a bad day.
See, I don’t do the girlfriend thing, and I don’t have much by the way of man-friends either. If someone’s calling me in the middle of the night, it can only be my employers—the Office of Preternatural Affairs. It can only mean I’ve been volunteered for overtime. And the OPA doesn’t want to pay overtime unless shit’s going down.
The instant the ringing phone shattered the dream of being served fancy drinks with umbrellas by Rihanna, my gut told me that shit had gone way down.
It wasn’t like I’d developed magical powers of precognition. I’d just been conditioned to feel powerful dread whenever I was woken up with a phone call.
I know what follows middle of the night phone calls.
Hint: it doesn’t involve a sexy singer from Barbados bringing me a Mai Tai.
I was rolling out of bed to get dressed even as I answered my phone. “Agent Hawke here,” I said, handset pinned between my chin and shoulder as I stripped my sweat pants.
That wasn’t the voice of the woman who worked in dispatch—who I wasn’t actually sure was a real woman at all. The same individual seemed to work twenty-four-seven and her voice was a monotone, so I’d always harbored the theory she was a robot. Probably a magical robot, knowing us.
No robots for me tonight. The voice on the other end of the line was my best friend-slash-partner in crime-slash-guy who had recruited me to work for the OPA-slash-the director of the Magical Violations Department, Fritz Friederling—the one and only blond Jet Li of Beverly Hills.
I froze with one leg in my slacks, the other balanced on the edge of my bed. It freed up a hand for me to switch the phone to the other ear.
“What’s up?” I asked warily.
The OPA doesn’t call in the middle of the night unless something’s wrong, but Fritz might call for fun. Billionaires have some weird-ass quirks. The guy has been known to drive a cherry-red Bugatti around Westmont, for fuck’s sake.
“You heard me the first time, Hawke.” He hung up.
“Fucking fuck,” I grumbled under my breath, along with a few other select words that no decent guy says. I’m not real decent, though.
I finished getting dressed. Whatever Fritz wanted was gonna involve wearing the monkey suit, whether it was a job related to the OPA or one of his special tasks. Like the time he’d picked me up on a weekend to act as his bodyguard at the races. Not horse races—demon races. Turned out that chisavs could run faster than the wind when motivated by the right kind of meat. And the dress code at the races was strict as any government office.
Jesus, I hoped I wasn’t going to have to follow him around the races again. I hadn’t had to block that many knife attacks before in my life.
But by the time I was shoving my feet into loafers that hadn’t seen better days for at least two years, I heard the sound. That thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of a helicopter descending.
That told me we wouldn’t be going to the races.
See, I hear helicopters all the time in my neck of the woods. I’m a government employee. Unlike Fritz, I can’t afford rent in Beverly fucking Hills. Just the nature of the job.
It was also the nature of my job that I recognized the sound of an Apache.
Cops around here didn’t fly those. Bad as gang bangers might be, LEO still didn’t need air-to-ground missiles to handle criminals.
At least, not the human ones.
That dreadful churning in my gut was getting stronger. Almost as strong as that choking feeling I get whenever I’m stuck somewhere with a nightmare demon, like I’m about to drown in fear.
It was the dread that got me turning on the TV while I grabbed a protein shake out of the fridge.
I clicked over to the news. When I’d turned off the TV last night, it had been set to Adult Swim. I’d always been an anime fan, and I stayed up way too late to watch it on nights when I should have been resting for work.
“—bringing all kinds of problems. Buildings have collapsed. There are reports of people trapped in buildings that came down around them. They have made desperate calls to 911 asking for help, but rescuers aren’t able to get to them.” The news anchor, January Lazar, was looking blank in that way that talking heads only do when there are bodies on the ground. It was a tense blankness, afraid to show any emotion in case it was inappropriate, in case it hurt ratings.
The camera flashed away from her to footage of Reno, Nevada—a city just a couple hundred miles north of Los Angeles. It had never been a pretty city, what with all the old casinos past their heyday and the river that ran dry most days of the year. But now even the old hotel towers had collapsed under a black fog. Rubble peppered the streets.
From the looks of it, someone had dropped a bomb on Reno.
“It’s too dangerous for rescuers to venture into Reno south of McCarran Boulevard, so thousands of residents and tourists are still believed to be trapped,” January Lazar went on. There was a faint magical buzz to her words. The broadcast must have been arranged by the OPA. We had an entire team of people dedicated to throwing spells over the airwaves so that viewers’ opinions would shift whichever way we wanted.
That night, it seemed like we wanted everyone to believe there had been a volcanic eruption in Reno.
The sound of the Apache got louder.
I tossed my protein shake in the sink and flung my door open.
My jacket was whipped open, tie lashing around my neck. The chopper had landed close enough that the rotors blasted me with wind. The noise was going to wake up everyone in my apartment complex. Considering that the OPA didn’t officially exist, we must have been in a real hurry for secrecy not to matter.
The door was open. Fritz hung halfway out the side, arm hooked into the straps of a seat, Blackberry glued to his ear. He was wearing a suit like I was, along with sunglasses, and he was waiting for me impatiently.
Whatever had happened to Reno, it wasn’t bombs, and it wasn’t a natural disaster.
The Office of Preternatural Affairs doesn’t get called in for boring shit like that, after all.
My name is Cèsar Hawke.
It wasn’t that long ago that I worked for myself as a private eye. Yeah, that’s a real job. It’s not something invented by Hollywood explicitly for black-and-white noir movies.
The job is real, and a hell of a lot boring than you’d think—lots of following cheating wives to Pilates class, tracking the internet activity of people who jumped bail bonds, shit like that.
Shit that involves mortals.
I’m not a private investigator anymore.
And I don’t deal with humans very often.
These days, I’m an agent for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, which is a secret government agency that you’ve never heard about. We’re not even mentioned in the fine print of bills that pass through the Senate. We silently siphon money out of other parts of the government, soaking up tax dollars in the name of public safety.
Officially, I work in the Magical Violations Department of the OPA. We’re all witches who track down other witches—the ones who break our unwritten laws. We clean up messes left behind by nasty spells. We enchant and disenchant and sing to the fucking moon if that’s what the job calls for.
Unofficially, I’m still an investigator, albeit a different kind than I used to be. I take all the odd cases that don’t fit anywhere else, the sensitive jobs.
Fritz had put me on his special team after I proved that I was trustworthy. At least, proving that I was someone he could trust. Fritz had always had agendas hidden in agendas, and only some of those agendas aligned with the OPA’s. I aligned with Fritz, so I did whatever he told me, whether it was above-the-desk stuff or the kind of case that led to fistfights next to the cashier’s cage at the chisav races. We’re bros like that. We’re tight.
Even though Fritz and I both work for the Office of Preternatural Affairs, our relationship doesn’t have a lot to do with them anymore.
See, we’re kopis and aspis now. You’ve never heard of those titles, just like you’ve never heard of the government agency that I work for. The long and the short of it means that Fritz and I are bound for life as partners. He fights demons with his super-strength as a kopis, and I protect him magically.
It also means if one of us dies, the other goes, too.
So yeah, I do what Fritz tells me.
He says, “You’re running a special investigation,” I say, “Yes, sir.”
That’s life with the Office of Preternatural Affairs.
That’s life with Fritz Friederling.
You’d think I’d be used to it after all these years. And sure, if you’d have asked me a week ago, I’d have said it was getting easier.
But a week ago, Reno hadn’t been blown up by demons.