It was hot in the living room at Headquarters. A heatwave had been smothering Central Massachusetts for a couple weeks now, and even this early in the morning, the air in Leominster felt heavy and thick. The front windows above the worn couch were closed, but it would have been even worse to have them open to let in the steamy air. It was just after seven in the morning and the weather report said it was already in the high eighties and climbing. The small living room felt sticky, both the old furniture and the Foundation command center overheated and more cramped than ever.
James had stripped down to just shorts and a tank top before he sat down at the small bank of computers to do his work, but his fingers were slick with sweat as he typed and he could feel a bead dripping down his back. He’d worked the overnight shift with his cousin Gabriella last night and he’d sent her home an hour early to get some sleep. The day shift were all supposed to be in in about thirty minutes, so he was drinking his coffee and trying to make the slightest dent in the mountain of tasks he needed to do before they arrived and the day added twenty more things to his pile.
The air conditioner in the window in front of him was humming, but the sound was sickly and there wasn’t much cold air coming out of it. He wanted to get up and check on it, but there were so many other things vying for his attention right now and the rest of the team would be in shortly. So instead, he settled for the weak stream of slightly chilled air as he tried to parse out what he was supposed to be reading on this monthly budget overview.
It had been a month since The Foundation for Paranormal Studies, New England’s top paranormal investigation and eradication society, had named him interim captain of their North Worcester County branch. He’d been the second in command at North County for years with no desire to be in charge. But then their former captain, Robin, had attempted to kill Gabriella in a convoluted scheme to convince the Foundation that they needed more resources if they were going to take care of the region properly. Robin had been killed in the ensuing fight and the Foundation had promised to get a new captain in as soon as possible.
Looking at the numbers in front of them, James had to admit they did need more resources. Murdering his cousin wasn’t the way to get that money, but from the parts he could understand, he could easily see that things were going to get rough this month. He hadn’t even had time to dig into it and approve anything yet, not that he really knew what he was doing with that. The program he had to use was slow and glitchy on their outdated computers and, without any instructions to translate with, the codes looked like nonsense. He’d been trying to get this done in between tasks for two days now and he had gotten nowhere with it.
Though, to be honest, James didn’t know what he was doing with most of his tasks right now. The promised training materials and replacement captain the Foundation had said were on their way had yet to materialize. The captain thing didn’t surprise him. He had a feeling he was in the spot for the long term. However, he’d expected them to set him up with some training manuals at the very least. James knew what to do in the field and he knew his way around a curse or a cryptid. But he had no idea how the computer system worked and it had taken him and the team’s logistics coordinator, Bradley, a week to realize that he not only had a new email address, but all of his previous passwords and accounts had been canceled.
Bradley found a way to blame James, of course. But there was no way James could have known. Had the Foundation emailed him about it, then deleted his email account? They would do that, wouldn’t they?
The numbers were blurring on the screen in front of him and James shook his head. He had napped for about an hour last night while things were slow, but that was the only sleep he was going to get all day and he knew it. Oh well, he’d power through with coffee and energy drinks, then sleep afterward. He’d done it plenty in college and even though he was now over a decade out of school, he could still do it. At least until things settled down.
God, this job sucked. It had only been a month, but he was floundering and things were falling through the cracks. He didn’t know how to write a schedule in the system, he didn’t know how to communicate with staff and the home office through official channels, and he was completely overdue on the performance reviews that Robin had apparently been working on before he died in a blaze of…something.
James rubbed his eyes, trying to get both the sleep and the memory of Robin’s mangled corpse out of them. Christ, he just needed to focus. Did they all really make so little money? And was there any way to shave off anything at all in the budget? He was supposed to meet with Bradley to go over this soon, but he didn’t even know where to begin with it. What did half of these words even mean?
Looking at the flickering screen, he could find their payroll information and understand that. Then there were the expenses. Okay, that part made sense. But then this little section with more expenses down here? What was up with that? There were little buttons with abbreviations in them to select throughout the page, but no matter how much he looked around, he couldn’t find a help guide in the program to help him to decode what these buttons meant.
The front door unlocked, then opened, and he heard Amelia’s footsteps as she walked inside. “Good morning!” she called up to him as she kicked off her shoes.
Amelia was James’s second in command. She was a few years younger than him and ridiculously competent in the field. She walked up the small set of stairs, face a little flushed from the heat and her long, blonde hair pulled up in a messy bun on top of her head.
“Is the air conditioner on?” she called as she got to the top of the short staircase that led into the open kitchen and living room. “It’s almost as hot in here as it is outside.”
James stood up and picked up his coffee, grateful to look away from the screen for a few minutes. Amelia walked toward him, wearing shorts and a light tee-shirt and holding her own iced coffee. She raised an eyebrow as she looked at him, and he knew exactly how bad he looked before she even spoke.
“Did you sleep at all?”
She rolled her eyes and gave him a grim smile. Amelia got it. At least he had that. They might bicker nonstop, but the team at North Worcester County was solid. The others were being as understanding as they could be as James tried to settle into the job.
“I’m fine, I’ll sleep more after work,” he continued. “I’m just trying to get some of this admin work done before everyone else gets here.”
“Is there anything I can help with?”
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” James admitted. “Do you know anything about approving the budget?”
Amelia shook her head. “Not at all,” she said. “I submitted a gas reimbursement form last week. Is that what it is?”
Crap, he’d forgotten about that. They’d sent it to the Foundation’s accounts team and he’d meant to follow up a few days ago. James made a mental note to check on that next. “No, it’s like, the entire thing,” he said. “I understand payroll and that’s about it. There’s all these abbreviations and I have no clue what they are.”
“And I take it they haven’t sent the training information with all of those things.”
“Of course not. I feel like a fucking third-grader trying to do this job.”
He stretched and his back popped. “I’ll figure it out,” he said, cracking his neck, then taking a sip of coffee.
Amelia made a face. “You sound like a rice crispy.”
“It’s what happens when you pass thirty.”
That and didn’t work out regularly, didn’t get enough sleep, and drank coffee for at least one meal a day. He’d get back on it, though. He just needed to catch up on everything and then he could take care of himself again.
“Go take a run,” Amelia suggested. “Get some blood flowing. I’ll get stuff set up for the meeting and take a look at the air conditioner. If it’s just the filters, we might be in luck.”
Yes, the meeting he’d forgotten about. The Foundation had sent information for him to share with the team, but it was encrypted. He really did want to take that run though, and since he apparently couldn’t get into the information until Bradley got here to help, he might as well do it now.
As James walked toward the stairway at the front of the raised ranch house the Foundation had purchased as their North County headquarters, he cast a longing look down the dim hall toward the three bedrooms they had for overnight staff. But if he fell asleep now, he’d sleep through the meeting. Caffeine and a workout would wake him up enough to function today.
James didn’t believe it even as he thought it, but he headed downstairs anyway.
The first small flight of blue carpeted stairs ended at the front entrance. Through the frosted glass window in the middle of the door, he could see it was overcast outside and he had a vague hope that some rain might break the heat.
He turned and walked down the second flight of stairs, which led to the basement. To the left of the stairs was the closed-up medical room that had been unused since the Foundation eliminated team medics five years before James had joined. He thought briefly about how he should really go in and check the condition of pretty much everything in there, then turned and headed toward the little gym behind the heavy door to the right.
The gym was slightly cooler, one of the benefits of it being in the basement. As the door slammed shut behind him, James went over to the fan in the corner and turned it on, noting the amount of dust that flew off it as the blades began to spin.
This place was getting a little grimy. Not that James was a great housekeeper or expected anyone on the team to do the cleaning instead, but the puff of dust made him feel itchy just looking at it. He turned the fan off and unlatched the plastic front casing. There was a clean towel sitting on the shelf next to him, so James gave the fan a quick wipe, then put it back together and turned it on again. It wasn’t great, but it was better than nothing.
James went for his workout bag, then realized he’d left it upstairs. For a second, he was about to go back up and get it. But if he did that, then he’d end up thinking of something else that needed to be done. He’d go do that, then there’d be no time to do his workout. And then he’d have to listen to Amelia lecture him about not getting any exercise.
Nothing in the bag was necessary. His headphones were upstairs, but Amelia had left her speaker down here. So James hooked it up to his phone, turned on his usual workout playlist, and started stretching. If he could lose himself in his workout for a little while, it would be a step in the right direction. Then hopefully the day would go smoothly and he could try to settle into this new role a little better.
James never wanted to be in charge.
Never wanted to move up in the Foundation.
But heavy is the head that wears the crown and all that, right?
It’s been one month since James was assigned the captaincy at the North County Branch of the Foundation for Paranormal Studies. He’s exhausted, undertrained, and buried under mountains of paperwork when he’d rather be out in the field doing what he does best.
As new requirements come through for branch teams, North County is handed a fresh case to solve. The Jarvis Street School is long abandoned and about to be converted into condos. But before any construction can be done, the violent spirits haunting the building need to be removed.
What starts as a simple case becomes more complicated, with the team fiercely debating their moral responsibilities as new details come to light. Add in some simmering resentments, glitchy equipment, and what might or might not be the ghost of their murderous former captain following James around. Will James be able to keep his team together through this first real test of his leadership skills?
Jarvis Street is Book 2 in the North County Paranormal Series, a paranormal workplace urban fantasy!