If you’ll recall, my new book, Gods of the Empire, comes out in a couple of weeks! To whet your appetite a bit, here’s an exclusive excerpt.
In this scene, Aton responds to a note that will change his life forever:
The Hotel Voisine traded in discretion. Aton could tell that from the exterior of the building, which had almost no ornamentation on it at all. It looked more like the anonymous Imperial buildings nearby rather than the other luxurious hotels. Unlike the Hotel Woodburn across the square, with its ostentatious arch and bizarre carved faces, the front door of the Voisine was simple and did not announce itself. On closer inspection, one would see the fine grain wood used in the doors and the gold plating on the fixtures. But the only real sign of exclusivity, of upper-class opulence, was the doorman.
He wore a uniform of deep green, with bright yellow trim and immaculately polished gold buttons. He was six inches taller than Aton, if not more, and weighed another fifty pounds, all of it seemingly concentrated in his arms. Aton showed him the envelope, but before he could try and talk his way in, the doorman opened the door and tipped his cap. “Welcome to the Voisine, sir.”
Inside, the reserved nature of the design was inverted. The entryway was five stories high, with great skylights in the roof that allowed the afternoon sun to fill the place with light. It looked like any other hotel lobby—there were a pair of couches and some large, comfortable chairs with end tables—only taken to the most luxurious extreme. Aton wanted to stop and just pet the nearest couch, to try and divine which rare animal had given its hide for the comfort of the Voisine’s guests. But the moment he slowed his walk, he felt the eyes of every one of the half-dozen people in the lobby on him. He didn’t make eye contact, but he didn’t have to.
A smiling older gentleman stood behind a pink marble counter at the end of the lobby. “May I help you, sir?” he asked as Aton approached.
Aton showed him the envelope, but didn’t pull out the note inside. “I was told to meet a Mr. Laffargue here? Didn’t say where, no room number—”
The man cut him off. “Of course, sir, Mr. Laffargue. He is expecting you in the meeting room on the second floor. Upstairs, then left, then through the double doors.”
Aton paused for a moment. Surely there had to be something more. He was a stranger to these people, a nobody from off the street. Yet he was being treated as an honored guest. Aton decided to go with it. “Thanks.”
He turned at the top of the stairs and found the double doors. He almost walked directly in, but thought better of it and decided to knock. Anybody who could afford to set up shop at the Voisine could afford a goon or two waiting inside to break the leg of any unwanted, or at least unanticipated, visitor. He knocked, then went inside when he heard a muffled reply.
The room was deep and narrow, with a long table of dark, polished wood taking up much of it. The table was surrounded by about a dozen chairs. It was the kind of room where a board of directors might meet. Yet there was only one other person in the room. He was sitting at the far side, but not at the head of the table itself, as if he didn’t quite rise to that level. A stylish bowler hat sat on the table next to his chair.
The man stood up. He was shorter than Aton and about ten years older. He wore the girth of a comfortable life. “Aton Askins?”
“Please, come sit.” The man waved to the chair across the table from him, then sat back down.
Aton sat down. “Mr. Laffargue?”
The other man dipped his head. “Indeed. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Askins. Can I offer you a drink of some kind? Just a word and they can pour anything you’d like.”
“No, thank you,” Aton said, trying to get comfortable in his seat. He put the envelope on the table.
“You know why I’m here. That gives you a leg up, so why don’t you tell me what I’m doing here?”
Laffargue grinned. “My, my, why the hurry?”
“I’m a working man, sir. I’ve come considerably out of my way to this meeting, so I need to know, sooner rather than later, whether it’s worth my while.” In truth, he had nothing else to do, but he wasn’t about to let a potential employer know that.
“I can respect that,” Laffargue said, shifting in his seat. “I have a job for you. A long-term proposition, something that would require exclusivity until it was complete. Would that be a problem?”
Aton was thrown off balance by the suggestion. Usually he had two or three jobs going all at once, although now he had hit a bit of an empty patch. “As it happens, I do have an opening in my schedule going forward. However, if you want me to turn business away, I’d need to be fairly compensated for that.”
“Oh, I don’t think compensation will be an issue,” Laffargue said. “But before we talk specifics, I need to know if you’re interested. If not, there’s no point.”
“How long are we talking?” Aton was intrigued.