Chapter 57

                The woman across from Dean Blaine was impressively non-descript. Even after sitting with her for half an hour, he wasn’t certain he’d be able to pick her out in a crowd. Of course, that was also possible because she might not even look like this. He was paying for her time, not her secrets, and someone in her line of work was bound to be private by necessity.

                She flipped through the pages of the contract slowly, taking in every detail. “This is an odd one. Most folks hire me to see if their spouse is willing to cheat on them, or find out a little secret information behind someone’s back.”

                “I appreciate the discretion, but I know you’ve also been tapped to publicly fill in for more notorious Heroes when they were indisposed.” Dean Blaine had gotten this recommendation through no small amount of effort; Galina was not an asset many in the world knew about. As a Super with a useful, potent gift, she wasn’t rated to engage in actual field work, but she had been called upon to assume a Hero’s public image more than once. Healers couldn’t fix everything, and that was without even counting the mental toll that the job could take. But no one wanted to hear that their champions were going through intensive therapy, so sometimes a substitute was needed.

                “You understand that I cannot in any way confirm what you’re suggesting, don’t you?” She didn’t look bothered or surprise that he knew, the mere fact that Galina had taken the meeting meant she was up to speed.

                “And that sense of discretion is why you came so highly recommended for the job,” he replied. “What we’ll be doing is not technically illegal, but it also cannot become public knowledge. The safety of several people hinge on that fact.”

                “Understood.” Galina kept flipping, reading each page carefully. Aside from her fees, which were far from cheap, it detailed the non-disclosure clause she’d be agreeing to by taking the assignment. It was thorough, but nothing she hadn’t seen before. When one had jobs in her line of work, secret-keeping was the most important thing to learn.

                Finishing her perusing of the documents, Galina slid them back across the desk to Dean Blaine. They were seated in her office, a brightly lit space in a strip mall with no discerning paintings or markings of any kind. Just a desk, a laptop, and a mini-fridge filled with local-craft sodas, one of which she’d offered to Dean Blaine when he arrived. There was also a small cup on the desk with a few pens, and it didn’t escape Dean Blaine’s notice that her hand hadn’t reached for any of them to sign the contract.

                “Is there a problem?”

                “Not with the papers, that’s all perfectly in order.” Galina leaned back in her chair slowly, eyes never quite leaving her visitor’s face. “But this feels off to me, and I don’t take jobs where I don’t know what I’m really getting in to.”

                “I assure you, everything is exactly as outlined,” Dean Blaine said.

                “Maybe so. Yet you’re clearly a Hero, and this is HCP work, but the DVA isn’t footing my bill. I know what their contracts look like, and this isn’t one of them,” Galina said. “Now don’t get me wrong, those people can be first-class pricks, and I’ve got no love lost for them. All the same, that doesn’t mean I’m going to mix myself up in some shit that will have them breathing down my neck. Whatever’s going on, you’re trying to keep it off the books, so I think you can understand why I might be concerned about becoming an accessory.”

                That was the trouble with working with skilled people, they were often too good to be easily managed or kept in the dark. Galina was an exceptional investigator by reputation, Dean Blaine had known going in that he might have to give up more information than he’d have liked to secure her services. With so few other options available, it seemed he was going to have to take that gamble after all.

                “You’re right,” Dean Blaine admitted. There was no point in denying what she obviously knew to be true. “We’re doing off-the-book work, but it’s not for a nefarious reason. What we need you to do is mimic a person whose power allows us to talk to someone that might provide us answers to a mystery. The only actual crime that will occur is the theft of the hair samples, and technically those are trash anyway, plus you won’t be doing it. As for why we’re keeping the DVA in the dark about what we’re doing… well, to be frank it’s because we don’t know who we can trust. I’ve already been betrayed by two people I’d have never suspected to be turncoats. If the wrong person gets wind of what we’re looking for, they can shut us down, or worse. That’s why I’m coming to you. By all accounts, you serve only the contracts that you sign.”

                “Sounds more intriguing than off-putting.” Galina studied him, no doubt searching his face for any signs that he was selling falsehoods. “But those seem like the sort of secrets I’m much happier not knowing. Will I be a facilitator, or a witness?”

                “Facilitator,” Dean Blaine assured her. “The way this power works, you won’t be able to overhear the conversations. All we need from you is to show up, mimic the power, put someone in a trance, and release them when the work is done. It might take more than one go given your time constraints, but your duties will never change, nor will you be exposed to any sensitive information.”

                She stared for a while longer, then slowly reached over and pulled the contract back to her side of the desk. “You’re not the only one who did research, you know. I talked to a few former clients before I agreed to meet with you. The consensus they gave was almost universal: you can’t trust Blaine around your good scotch, but he always keeps his word and his people safe. This is a gig I’d normally turn away; I want you to understand that. But it seems interesting, and your colleagues think the world of you.” Galina plucked a pen from the cup holding them and began to sign her name to the first of a myriad of blank spots on the pages.

                “I urge you not to make liars out of them,” she told him. “You’re not the only one here who is owed favors by powerful people.”