?You picked one hell of a day to start a new job.?
A.L. turned a questioning eye toward the door. She had the habit of walking around when she talked on the phone, as if the physical movement freed her mind to focus. She?d only just hung up from a quick chat with her new landlord ? the faucet in the kitchen needed a washer, and she couldn?t get one of the windows in the living room open ? when her visitor made himself known.
?D?rin Gower,? the man in her doorway introduced himself with a grin before she could ask. ?I?m the accounting director. Office down the hall,? he held up both hands as if to stave off her adoration; it was becoming clear he wasn?t going to let her get a word in edgewise. ? I know; I know. Glamorous job, big office next door. It?s a wonder I don?t have followers. But it kept me here so I could meet you, instead of running around the countryside breathing smoke.? His grin was infectuous. She was already starting to wish there was a shot for it.
?A.L. Harper,? she introduced herself while he took a much-needed breath.
?I know ? I saw the sign on the door,? he pushed off from the doorway and came in, looking around with open and unapologetic curiousity. ?You going to tell me what the A.L. stands for, doc??
?Nope.? She watched him poke a finger in her box of personal items on her desk.
?I?ll just call you Al, then,? he answered readily, apparently without offense. ?Rumor has it that they?ve got you working with both the Watch and the RASG??
?That?s right, I??
He cut her off with a low whistle. ?Gee, why don?t you add a third mess to the mix? Psychologist for the Duels. Now there?s a group that could use having their heads examined!? He laughed at some internal joke. It was fascinating to watch.
?But seriously,? he added, ?Simon?s getting the city a bargain if he?s got you doing both.? He picked up a marker and doodled a smiling stick figure on her whiteboard, then signed it with a flourish like he was Rembrandt. ?You should hit him up for more money.?
?I think I?ll manage, thanks.? A.L. answered drily.
If he picked up on her tone, it didn?t bother him. ?Some of us are going to lunch today. It?d be great if you came along. Get acquainted with your coworkers. That sort of thing.?
?Lunch,? she repeated uncertainly, watching him. He paced more than she did.
?Yes. Lunch. A traditional bonding ritual, consisting of eating and drinking. Practiced daily among the locals,? he didn?t miss a beat. ?You should try it.?
?Sure. What time??
?Quarter til twelve,? he said before lowering his voice to impart a great secret. ?We like to get a jump on those clowns in city planning and get the big table by the window.?
?Ahh,? she murmured wisely.
?Exactly,? he paused, cocking a smile. She was catching on. Then he jumped into motion again, heading for the door. ?Took them almost three months to find a replacement for Furmaniak. You must really be something. Quarter-til-noon. See you.?
Huh. She stared at her empty doorway. Huh.
Then her phone started ringing in earnest, and the rest of the morning got interesting.