The second to last business I remembered visiting with Cam finally helped me out. A woman with fire-red hair in a perfectly fitted sapphire dress answered the back door of the alterations boutique. Her business didn’t struggle like the others on Cam’s route. She held herself with determination and would have looked down her nose at me if I weren’t nearly two feet taller than her. From their owners to the buildings, the other businesses all felt rundown compared to this one. It made me wonder how Cam had exploited this woman. She didn’t seem like she’d be intimidated just because of Cam’s larger stature. At least she wasn’t by mine.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I’m looking for the person who took over Cam’s business,” I said.
“Upset that someone beat you to it?”
“Not as such. My boss dealt with Cam and wants to know who took his place,” I said.
“I’d like to meet the person who can order a man like you around,” she said. My thoughts immediately went to Dimitri. That wasn’t how she meant it, but if he wanted me to do something, he just needed to say so.
“I could arrange that if you can point me in the right direction,” I offered. I didn’t know if Daniel would agree to that, but I needed to try something different, or this woman would send me away just like the others.
“It’s a deal,” she said, reaching out to shake my hand. I accepted again, wondering how Cam convinced this woman to pay him.
“I don’t know where you can find him, but I know he goes by Korak. If you’d like, I can call him. If I tell him someone’s sniffing around after him, I’m sure he’d come running,” she said.
“All right, go for it,” I agreed.
She looked down as she reached for her pocket watch. I cast a concealment spell. My sudden disappearance made her head jerk back up. I’d let her tell him about me and then follow him when he left. She didn’t need to see me or know my plan as long as she made the call. She looked up and down the alley before casting the communication spell on her watch. The head of a man with hair cropped close to his scalp appeared above the watch face.
“What do you want?” he demanded.
“A man came here asking questions about talking about Cam and asking questions about you,” she said. Her voice quavered with false fear. I liked this woman more and more by the second.
“Stay put; I’m coming,” Korak said. She closed the watch and rolled her eyes before going back inside her boutique.
I didn’t have to wait long before Kodak’s arrival. The man looked close to my size. I had a few inches on him in height, but his shoulders were as broad as mine. He walked into the alley, radiating aggression. He slammed his fist against the boutique’s back door. The redhead kept him waiting. She opened the door just as he lifted his hand to knock again. She didn’t look any more impressed by him than she had been by me.
“Where is he?” Korak asked.
“I don’t know. He showed up at my back door, mentioned Cam, asked about you, and left when I wouldn’t tell him what he wanted to know,” the impeccably dressed redhead said.
“Did you get a name?” he asked.
“No. What kind of idiot would give their name?” she asked. Korak clearly missed the implication that he was precisely that kind of idiot. I had to suppress the urge to laugh.
“Can you at least describe him?” Korak grumbled.
“About such height,” she said, indicating just above Korak’s head with her hand. “Very muscular. Well-tailored clothes, not as good as I’d make, but clearly not cheap. Deep voice, full lips, slightly crooked nose, and violet eyes.”
“You think he’ll come back?” Korak asked.
“How should I know?” She shrugged.
“Try to get something more useful if he does,” he told her.
“Will do,” she said without enthusiasm.
Korak stalked off, and I followed him. Whatever Daniel planned to do with this man and his commandeered territory, I hoped things would work out well for this woman. If I knew he wouldn’t hurt her, I might actually introduce her to Daniel. If any of the business owners I’d met today could work out a deal with him, it would be her. She wasn’t my objective, though. I needed information on Korak. So far, I knew his physical build and aggressive demeanor. I had a guess about his intelligence level but wanted to hold off before making a final call there.
I followed him to a rundown building. He slammed the door behind himself. I went to the grimy window and looked in. The interior looked worse. Clearly, this man wasn’t on Daniel’s level. It wouldn’t take much effort to shut his operation down or take it over. As far as I could tell, Korak worked alone. I needed more information to figure out how he’d known about Cam’s business venture to take it over. Had they been working together before Daniel dealt with Cam?
I circled the block, looking for an inconspicuous way into the building. The back door was locked, and none of the windows lifted for me. I didn’t want to risk breaking in and making noise yet. If I waited him out, I could get in and out without him knowing I’d been there. Unfortunately, as the hours passed, it became clear Korak intended to sleep here. I had the information Daniel asked for but preferred to return with more. I’d risk a confrontation if I forced the issue. That went directly against orders. So, I headed back to the warehouse to report what I found.
“A man named Korak took over in Cam’s place. I tracked him to a building on 3rd and Lake Road,” I told Daniel.
“Very good. What else did you find out?” he asked.
“It looks like a one-man operation. Most of his targets seem intimidated by him purely based on his size and hostile manner,” I added.
“Most?” he asked. I chided myself internally. I couldn’t lie to Daniel, but I didn’t really want to tell him about the redhead.
“One of them doesn’t scare easily. I’m not sure how he’s intimidating her into paying,” I told him, hoping he’d leave it at that.
“Interesting. How does Korak compare to you in physicality?” he asked.
“Similar build, but a few inches shorter,” I answered.
“Is she a particularly large or strong woman?” he asked.
“I’d like to meet her. We’ll deal with Korak tomorrow, and then you can introduce me,” he said.
By the time I got home, my guilt weighed me down. If I’d chosen my words more carefully, the redhead could have gone about her business without complications. I couldn’t pretend to understand Daniel’s motivations. He sounded intrigued, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t threaten her. She might be as strong-willed as him. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or not, though. I went to bed, dreading the introduction on the boutique owner’s behalf.