Michael stopped as he reached the shopping centre. It was a late-70s concrete horror of a place; there was a squat, dirty rectangular block of a building set into an unnatural declivity, and clustered around the base was a street-market of some kind. There was a strong smell of urine, probably because after the market closed and darkness fell it gave urinators the kind of privacy that they required to empty their bladders and then carry on home. Michael wouldn’t have been entirely surprised though to find that one of the stalls was selling used clothing that had only been urinated on once or twice, squire. And undoubtedly only by the upper class or landed gentry, so that it was, in some mysterious way, desirable piss.
He coughed, trying to expel the miasma from his nostrils, and then looked about him. No-one was paying any attention, as they either headed down to the market, over the concrete footbridge to the shopping centre, or avoided the monstrosity altogether. He flexed his fingers experimentally, and when they didn’t complain, moved through a simple tactus. Immediately a fresh, cool stream of air began to blow beneath his nostrils, filling them with the scent of pine forestry. He walked on, heading over the footbridge (drawbridge, he thought as he crossed it) and into the shopping centre.
He’d barely taken three steps through the automatic doors when a security guard stepped away from his post at the balcony’s edge and started walking towards him. The shopping centre was on several levels and had an open central section. Each of the higher levels had an edged balcony that jutted out into that space and allowed bored shoppers to look down and contemplate suicide. Michael had no idea how many of them had actually taken the drop up on its offer, but he was sure that there must have been some. He stopped, looking at the security guard. The guard, a middle-aged man with broad shoulders that looked more muscular than fat and a hint of salt-and-pepper to his brown hair, made eye-contact and frowned. He had thick brown eyebrows with stray hairs sticking up and out, this way and that, making them both look like tiny, well-used doormats. Michael wondered for a moment what kind of thing would pause at the top of your face to wipe its feet before carrying on, and decided that he’d rather not find out.
“Is there a problem?” he asked as the guard stopped in front of him, about a footstep too close, inside his personal space.
“You’re using magic,” said the guard. “That’s forbidden inside the centre, along with hoodies, skateboards and open containers of alcohol.”
Michael let his concentration relax and felt the cool breeze stop. He raised an eyebrow, neatly manicured, back at the guard.
“Thank-you,” said the guard in a bland way that implied that he wasn’t grateful at all. “Where do you have business today then, sir?” There was a tiny amount of emphasis on the sir at the end, just enough to suggest sarcasm.
“I’m seeing Charles Asciugimento,” said Michael, noting with pleasure that the guard’s face went suddenly very wooden. “Head of Building Security, I’m given to believe.”
“Your beliefs are your own matter, sir,” said the guard. Even his voice had become flat and lifeless.
“Could you escort me?” asked Michael, smiling now.
“No, sir.” Michael twitched his eyebrow again, and got no response.
“No?” he asked finally.
“No,” said the guard.
“Why not?” asked Michael, sighing as he asked. He was sure that the guard was doing this deliberately.
“Security of the building is important,” said the guard. “Were I to leave my post to escort you, that would endanger the building. I can provide you with directions if you’d care to listen, sir.”
“I suppose that will do,” said Michael, trying to hide his disappointment. He had been rather looking forward to the look on Charles’s face if he turned up with an unauthorised escort. He pretended to listen to what the guard was saying, and then smiled falsely, uttered insincere thanks, and walked off, heading towards the elevators. The guard had probably told him to take the escalators as the elevators were locked to certain floors in the building, but Michael knew ways around that. Which, he thought, the guard had just told him were forbidden in here, so it would be interesting finding out if they actually worked still.