Halfway to the Temp Agency, my phone started to vibrate aggressively. It was June.
I hope so because I feel like shit
You on your way?
Are you getting coffee
I didn't write back, but instructed Oscar to take a detour through a drive-thru and ordered a pair of too-expensive lattes.
I spotted June a block away from the Temp Agency, tucked around a corner to keep out of the line of sight from anyone in the building; I asked Oscar to drop me off there. Her body was curled against the intense February chill, her face turned toward the brick wall in front of her. Her smart navy blue trench coat was too light for the weather, and the tips of her fingers were shaking from the cold as she held a cigarillo.
June had been henching longer than I had; she'd dipped a toe in the dastardly end of the freelance world for the first time almost three years ago, and had been invaluable when I followed suit. She was the first person to admit to me that she worked as a hench, and surprised me by generously helping me through my Temp Agency application. I was a shaking mess before my first intake interview, expecting a roomful of hardened and battle-scarred evildoers. There was a remarkable lack of black lycra and metal masks when I finally walked through the doors, though, just desperate temps, who looked as likely to have decent typing speeds as demolitions experience. She made fun of me relentlessly for being so scared, and we quickly became inseparable.
She'd hit a rough patch recently, much longer and deeper than my raid-related few weeks out of work. June had powers, and her skill set was extremely specific; that meant she was both expensive and niche, feast-or-famine. There had been too much of the latter, too little of the former. Her shoulders, even hunched against the cold, showed a lot of tension.
I unfolded myself from the cab and strode toward her, clearing my throat so I wouldn't startle her. She flicked her cigarillo into a small pile of filthy snow and I heard it sizzle. She reached for the coffee with grabby hands.
Her eyes were a little bloodshot. "You look like crap," she said. She took a sip of the latte, leaving lipstick marks on the plastic top of the to-go mug.
"Probably," I agreed, too cheerfully. "They give you any idea what to expect?"
"No, just that something fit my profile. They tell you anything?"
She shook her head. "Same as you." She took another swallow and flinched. "Drinking this is like eating a vanilla pod's ass."
"I told them to go light on the syrup, sorry."
"It's fine." June's voice seemed especially weary. She had an advanced sense of smell and taste, which sometimes made her valuable as a hench, but usually just made her life miserable, especially in the city. There was a shine right under her nose; she'd spread mint chapstick there, a trick doctors and coroners used beneath surgical masks, to block out some of the odors around her.
"No one tells you how much supersenses hurt," she explained once. "It's fucking agony. You know some lucky assholes can't feel pain? Like, not as an ability. Their pain receptors don't work, so you get these toddlers breaking toes and chewing off their own tongues before they learn to stop fucking with themselves. Turns out, if you can't feel pain, you can't smell anything either. Think about a bad smell, how you recoil from it, like it hurts. It's like that, all the time." We'd both been drunk as balls and I babbled about how sorry I was until she threw what was left of her drink at me. She was even worse at feelings than I was. She'd been wearing nose plugs to the bar that night, like a swimmer.
She never said so, but I suspected the reason June moved to henching in the first place was that the work she tended to get evildoing was generally less unpleasant. She worked for the border patrol, once, to sniff out explosives in the airport (mostly she found coke and contraband cured meats). She was miserable there, surrounded by the smells of body and breath, of everyone coming off long flights, of dirty clothes, of airport food. There was also the aroma of panic and exhaustion. Mostly, though, she hated dealing with cops. Now she helped villains design packaging her sense of smell couldn't penetrate, or sniffed their drinks at parties to make sure the liquid hadn't been dosed. In between jobs, she smoked like a chimney, dampening her sense of smell and taste in tiny, merciful increments.