Fantasy Novel: Whistlestop Chapter 16
The grey autumn day suited Joanne’s mood, dull, muted and disconnected to her body. The sky was overcast and the clouds heavy with water that dampened the sounds around her,
“I knew, I absolutely knew it. That monster was still around. Everybody lied to me,” raged Joanne as silent tears rolled off her cheeks. In her agitation she started walking up the hill in the direction of the station, forgetting that she wanted to take the bus, and stop at Colleen’s for a cup of coffee.
Jake’s news brought back all her fears and horrible memories. The hours of pain in the hospital, the loss of her Grandfather and the recent destructive events in her life came crashing down, and her body froze. She stood in a daze in front of a shop window, unaware that silent tears were rolling down her cheeks, her knuckles white on the strap of her handbag, as she clutched it to her body.
The deceptions of the people she trusted burned like a fire in her chest and images flipped through her mind's eye, reminding her of things her Grandfather said, about promises made by Arthur and Charles, all of them lies. How Arthur had promised that the pack would look after her and that Silas and his wife would take the place of her Grandfather. With her only relative gone she thought her other family, the Pack, was a good second.
She touched her leg, where the wolf bit into her before the animal was stopped. The shifter doctor that treated her wound said that the wound healed the way it did because of the shifter’s DNA. Although she wasn’t turned, her body recovered quickly. “Look at the bruise on my cheek, there is not a trace of the accident,” she pondered as she looked at her reflection in the window. After the attack, she kept on touching the area where the wound was to confirm it even happened but nobody noticed the slight changes in her body, they saw what they want to.
A bang of a car’s backfire shocked her from her musings, “What am I looking at,” she asked herself she slowly unclenched her hand from the strap of her handbag. She saw a shop assistant staring at her from the other side of the window. “This is a costume shop,” she realized and studied the display with a frown. “Why do the clothes look familiar? Wait a minute, the mannequin was wearing one of the hunting outfits of that shooting video game Jakes was addicted to. I wish I were a badass hunter, like in the game, not a graceless klutz that fall over her own feet.” She took a steadying breath turned around and walked back down the hill, past the Civic Centre towards the older part of the city.
This area was different to the district where the Charity Shop, even though the buildings were much older. The tree-lined streets were wide, large dark gray paving stones, damp with recent rain on the sidewalks. The buildings weathered with age but well maintained in an understated way. The large trees were covered in the mottled autumn colours and the dying leaves littered the pavement. As she walked on the leaves it crunched under her feet, and the woody smell of the dust drifted up, tickling her nose.
Joanne stopped at a nondescript multi-storied red and brown building with a revolving glass door as its main entrance. She has only been here once before when she and her Grandfather attended a Council function in her early teens. She was awed by the high ceilings, muted carpets, and furniture in their function room. This time, she was unsure of her welcome as she walked through the revolving door and approached the girl at the reception desk.
The reception area had dark wooden floors and was cavernous with many doors leading from it and sounds echoed around the room. The girl behind the reception counter sat reading a piece of paper, her long dark hair shielding her face and she did not react to Joanne’s approach. “Hi,” said Joanne as she cleared her throat to get the girl’s attention.
She gave a startled yelp, “Where do you come from?” Her big brown eyes are wide in surprise.
“The street,” answered Joanne in astonishment, “I would like to make an appointment with somebody in Legal Support.” The girl's reaction surprised Joanne as shifters have super senses, how could she not hear or smell me,” wondered Joanne.
“Uhm, please take a seat, I will see who is available,” said the girl as she picked up the phone.
“Suzie, I need to uhm leave the desk, can you come, thanks, you will owe me.”
“Do you want some coffee while you wait?” asked Suzie as she moved behind the counter.
“No thanks,” said Joanne as she settled down for a long wait, straightening the gray skirt of her work suit and sat down on a visitor chair, gripping her handbag like a shield in front of her.
Two men wearing black chino’s and light blue shirts came through the front door. They looked at Joanne in surprise and used a door on the left. A few minutes later, more people walked in through the front door, looked at Joanne and used the same door as the first two men.
“I wonder if I choose the wrong day to come, it seems as if everybody was out,” thought Joanne as more people came in and used the same side door. “I wish she would hurry up, I do not want to miss my train.” She looked at her watch and saw that she had at least four more hours, so she slowly breathed in and out to calm herself.
A big man opened the door to the right and looked and Joanne and walked towards her, a frown on his face as he saw two women walking in from the outside.
“So, I see nobody has any work to do,” he looked questioningly at the two stragglers that came in just as he moved across to Joanne.
They bowed their heads in the way wolves did to submit to a stronger pack member and scurried away.
“Jessie said you were looking for legal advice, I am Winslow Smith, one of the SC’s Legal Advisors. So, let’s go to my office and see what I can do for you,” he indicated to the door he came through and urged her towards it. He's non-threatening attitude put Joanne at ease.
When Jessica stormed into his office a few minutes ago, she was agitated and struggled to say that there was a human woman at reception and that she, Jessica could not smell her, and that has never happened before.
He was surprised at her reaction and asked why it was his problem and not Special Enforcers’ problem, the Shifter Councils version of the FBI.
Jessica managed to get the words out that the woman has requested legal aid, and he was the only lawyer available to see her. Jess knew Winslow was waiting for information from Xavier and was at a loose end.
“So, do you want to use the restroom to refresh before we start our conversation?” asked Winslow, as they approached two doors labeled with pictures of an old-fashioned man and woman on the respective doors.
“I will send Suzie to you, so she can take you to my office.“
Joanne thanked him and was grateful for the opportunity to wash her face to remove the evidence of her tears, calm her nerves and comb her hair into a neat ponytail. A few minutes later Suzie entered the toilet area and smiled at Joanne.
“Ready,” she asked and escorted Joanne past many offices with their doors open and people sitting behind desks, to a corner room, where Winslow Smith was waiting. The sounds of their footsteps echoing down the corridor.
“So let's get started, tell me who you are and how can I help you,” asked Winslow as he drew a yellow legal pad toward him.
“First of all tell me how much is this going to cost me, and what is the scope of your authority?”
“We, in general, do not charge for legal support to shifters, but a few humans retain my services for cases that involve both species,” explained Winslow. He proposed a lump sum as retention fee and then a monthly rate until her problem is solved. He thought that this woman needed help, and the billing could be dealt with later.
Joanne quickly calculated the costs before she agreed to the price. Once they signed the contract appointing Winslow as her lawyer, she explained who she was and said only one question, “How come property is in my name, but I do not own it?”
Winslow looked at her askance. After two hours of questions and answers, Joanne was exhausted and hungry, and Winslow was satisfied that he had all the information to start the SF’s investigation. It was only his years of training that prevented him from reacting when the owner of the property everybody was looking for walked into his office requesting legal advice.
The phone on his desk rang shrilly.
“Jessica, I am still busy,” he listened to what she had to say and said he will call back.
“I would like to introduce you to one of the Top Three Alpha’s, Neil has been a close friend of your Grandfather and he asked to see you after we are finished. So, do you still have the time or do you have another appointment?”
“I need to leave in an hour's time,” said Joanne as she looked at her watch.
They left the office and used the lift to the penthouse level. Joanne recognized the foyer the moment they stepped out of the lift. It was where she and her Grandfather attended the SC’s event. On the left was the big function room with the high ceilings, but Winslow walked to the right where glass doors divided the foyer with what looked like other offices.
Joanne heard voices on the other side of the large wooden doors, one which was partially opened. Suzie was sitting at the assistant’s desk and waved them through.
The two men turned around as they entered the room, one was a middle-aged man with graying strawberry blond hair cropped neatly and bushy eyebrows, and the other man was average in height but lean, and the power was vibrating through his body.
“What are you doing here,” growled Xavier, as he walked towards Joanne. He saw Winslow’s hand on her arm and curled his lips displaying his teeth at the astonished lawyer.