“So, good news and bad news.”
Hugh raised his eyebrows. “That kind of meeting?”
Olivia was just coming out of a two-hour one-on-one meeting with Bret. Normally he spent as little time at Keegan’s as possible, but she got the suspicion that he was trying to wrap things up as much as possible here so that he wouldn’t have to come back for a while.
“Exactly,” she said. “So good news is that he is giving us the go ahead to hire someone else. And he doesn’t have time, so it’ll be my choice.”
“It’s part time,” she continued. “Which sucks, but it’s better than nothing. The bad news though, is that the money is earmarked for security.”
“Security?” Hugh said. “What, is he afraid someone’s going to come all the way to New Winslow to rob us?”
“Apparently. Or start fights. And with Charlie cutting his hours – and I don’t blame him at all – we don’t have the coverage we need.”
“So we need a cook, a custodian and another bartender. Oh, and maybe an assistant manager so that you aren’t here so often. But he’s graciously giving us a security guard a couple nights a week.”
“Like I said, good news and bad.”
Hugh let out a long breath. “I guess it’s better than nothing,” he said.
“That’s how I’m trying to look at it.”
“Do you have any thoughts on someone to hire?”
Olivia shook her head. “Nah, I’m going to put out a notice. I don’t love the idea of hiring out of town because of the curse though. I know Bret tries to avoid discussing it, but I’m going to make sure whoever takes the job knows about it. It’s not worth getting trapped for twenty years for minimum wage.”
“Have you ever been trapped by the curse?” Hugh asked.
Olivia’s mind, whirring with work related things and the criticisms from Bret’s meeting, screeched to a halt. “What?” she asked.
“You’ve been here your whole life. Have you ever gotten hit with the curse?”
“Oh. Um, no, actually.”
Hugh shook his head. “That’s incredible,” he said. “Both of my parents have been hit and they’ve only lived here for the past ten years. How have you gone thirty years without it?”
“Thirty-four,” Olivia corrected. “I have no idea. Luck, maybe.”
“And your roommate, the one who’s caught now?”
“He never did before now. But his mother was here for years.”
Hugh nodded thoughtfully. “Have you ever considered that there might be a genetic aspect to it?”
“Not really,” Olivia admitted. “Honestly, I try not to think about it too much. My life is here and I can’t imagine living somewhere else, nor can I really afford to. Does it worry you?”
“Honestly, yeah,” Hugh admitted. “Mostly for my folks. They’re old though, and my dad outright refuses to move. So it’ll be part of my life for a long time.”
Olivia thought of Cleo, who had gotten away from New Winslow for seven years, only to be pulled back in by her mother’s needs. “I have a friend who’s dealing with that,” she said. “I know if she had her way, she’d never come back.”
“I don’t blame her.”
Something twisted uneasily in Olivia’s stomach. Not that she was already jumping to marriage and kids with Hugh after a few stockroom makeout sessions. But his feelings for the town were uncomfortably familiar.
But before she could go any further down that road, the door opened and Charlie walked in. “Hey, boss,” he said. “Hugh.”
They nodded and waved, and Charlie made his way over. “What’s up?” he asked.
“I got approval to hire a new security guy,” Olivia said.
“That’s good,” Charlie said. “How about anything else?”
“Of course not.”
“Got anyone in mind?”
“Nope. Do you know anyone who’s looking for a job?”
Charlie shook his head. But then he looked thoughtful. “Actually,” he said. “I have a thought, if you’re comfortable with it. Bret’s not going to like it though.”
“Fuck Bret,” Olivia said. “Who do you have in mind?”
“Iris, may I talk to you for a moment?”
Iris had barely sat down at the Countess before Anna was standing in front of her, a serious expression on her face. Suddenly nervous, Iris nodded.
“In private,” Anna added. “Follow me.”
Iris stood up and followed Anna out of the sitting room. They passed through the empty foyer and through a door marked Employees Only. Iris couldn’t help noticing the sigils marked discretely along the top of the door as they walked through and Anna closed the door behind them, locking it with a heavy deadbolt.
Iris turned and looked around the room they’d just entered. This must be Anna and Missy’s residential suite. It was small and cozy, this living room area filled with books and artifacts and plants. Everything spilled over each other in the warm light in a way that showed no plan, yet resulted in something cozy and beautiful. Anna led her over to the overstuffed sofa and motioned for her to sit down.
“Is something wrong?” Iris asked.
She felt silly asking, the serious expression should have been enough to answer the question. But Anna hesitated before she spoke.
“I’m not going to tell you how to run your investigations,” she started. “But I do feel that I need to warn you against working with Vivien Dyer.”
Iris mentally kicked herself for not realizing where this conversation was going from the beginning. She looked at Anna, who looked back unsmiling. “Why?” she asked.
Anna sighed, clearly looking for the right words. “She’s not a bad person,” she began. “And she is talented. But her approach to magic is immature. She’s been coming here for a couple years now and has acquired a bit of a reputation among our customer base for showing off and refusing to listen to any criticism.”
“I mean, I’ve never seen power like hers before,” Iris admitted.
Iris waited for Anna to elaborate, but instead, she just kept looking at Iris. Then she shook her head. “I just want to warn you before you get too tangled up with her,” she said. “She puts on a good show, but she can be difficult to work with.”
Anna looked like she was waiting for a response, so Iris nodded. “Thanks,” she said. “I’ll, um, I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Thank you,” Anna said. “Alright, I’ll let you get back to your work. But please, just keep that in mind. I don’t want to interfere, but I don’t want to see you derailed in any way. And not just your work here. If she hasn’t talked to you about the New Winslow curse, I’m sure she’s going to soon.”
She stood up and unbolted the door. Iris followed her back out the door and into the main lobby. A few people were walking in the front door as they approached, so Anna slipped behind the desk as Iris made her way back to the sitting room.
She hadn’t lied to Anna, she would keep that information about Vivien in mind. But it also felt wasteful not to use every resource she was given. If Vivien had these powers and was willing to help, she could be a major asset. So Iris would just be careful. The sooner she solved this, the sooner they’d be out of danger and maybe she could keep the others safe long enough that everything she discovered about Baxter wouldn’t matter. So if she found herself working with someone who was a bit of a diva about her magic, it was worth the risk.
And it wasn’t like Iris was totally innocent when it came to being oversensitive to criticism. She could admit that to herself.