Approximately 75 years ago
I glanced out the windows of the expansive estate, then turned my attention back to the elegant lady leading me through the luxurious hallways.
“I hadn’t exactly expected Roland to hire one of your kind,” she admitted in a slightly haughty tone, “but he explained that you were the best applicant, so I expect you to do your job properly. We do have certain rules we expect you to follow, certain…standards…we expect you to live up to.”
Translation: these people were snobs and I needed to look nice and play nice to make them happy and not fire me. Got it.
She went on, talking about dress code and things like that, but it wasn’t until she told me “well, here he is” and walked off and left me alone, that I realized I didn’t know anything about my charge.
I opened the door to his room, taking a look around before spotting the boy sitting neatly in a chair, reading a book. Probably eight or nine, if I had to guess.
He blinked at me for a moment. “I presume you’re my new bodyguard?”
“That would be me,” I agreed, coming all the way into the room. “My name is Madden.”
“I’m Ambrose, but they probably told you that already.” He looked awfully serious for such a young child, but maybe that was the way of the wealthy. “I don’t recognize your species,” he added. “So far my bodyguards have been a shifter and an angel.”
“I’m a naga,” I informed him, but I was kind of surprised to hear that he’d had multiple bodyguards before me and that one of them had been an angel. No wonder the boy’s parents had hesitated at hiring a naga – I didn’t have the same kind of magical prowess an angel would have, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t good at my job, either. I could definitely handle myself in a fight.
I did wonder about my predecessors, however. My new employers had been vague as to what had happened to the previous bodyguard – and they hadn’t even mentioned that there had been another before that – but maybe Ambrose would tell me. “What happened to them, if you don’t mind me asking?”
He looked at me gravely, considering, then answered anyway. “People try to kidnap me a lot,” he explained. “Because Papa makes diamonds and people think that’s fun or something. They want them.”
I certainly was aware of the diamond empire of Roland Wright. Humans might not realize his diamond empire was because he could basically grow diamonds like fairies grew plants, but to most supernaturals, his wealth wasn’t a particular surprise. What was a surprise was that he flaunted it. He liked being on the front page of society news, mingling with the world’s elite, and being fawned over by everyone. It was honestly a dangerous thing for a supernatural, intentionally drawing that much attention, but it was also dangerous for his only child. Of course some people would feel that kidnapping him and demanding money from his wealthy parents was a great idea, which in turn explained why he would need a bodyguard.
Ambrose continued, fiddling with the edge of his book. “John, the shifter, he got hurt really bad. He was able to stop them from taking me but he was in the hospital for a while and Mama said it was a mutual agreement that he leave after that.”
From the tone of the boy, I got the impression he questioned that decision. Whether it was because he felt bad that his bodyguard got hurt and then got fired or because he was concerned that his bodyguard might have decided he was too dangerous to look after, I wasn’t sure, but it was clear the boy didn’t believe it was mutual.
“Then Sara, the angel, she was nice, but I think she expected something else. When she first came, she was talking about getting to travel the world and stuff and go to expensive locations and fancy parties, but I don’t really go with my parents when they go to that kind of stuff, so she had to stay behind with me and she didn’t like it. And she got tired of having to protect me.” He shrugged a bit. “Mama fired her when she caught her stealing some diamonds. I think she didn’t get arrested, but she wasn’t allowed to come back.”
Ah. Well, that was a mess for the poor kid.
I glanced around the room, which was done in somber colors, taking in the lack of toys and the focus on what appeared to be books and studies. This boy was pretty young yet, but it seemed like he was expected to behave like an adult already. I wondered if he’d ever been allowed to really have fun.
It wasn’t my place to intervene, though. I was here as his bodyguard, not as his nanny, and I wasn’t about to interfere with the way my employers chose to raise their kid. That was up to them.
“A naga though.” His brows furrowed. “Aren’t you into poisons and stuff? Is that helpful for being a bodyguard? I’d think it be more useful for an assassin.”
I decided not to point out that assassins weren’t an everyday business. “We have venom and work with poisons regularly, yes. But we also train to be adept in pretty much any form of hand-to-hand combat and are comfortable handling opponents with or without weapons. Since most of the attempted kidnappings have been humans, my skills may be more helpful than straight magic.”
“Oh. That makes sense,” he said more quietly, as if embarrassed that he’d guessed wrong.
I couldn’t blame him, though. It wasn’t like a lot of outsiders knew much about how naga life worked.
And then, too, I wasn’t a traditional naga. Most naga wanted to live in their nests and would devote themselves to making the nest better, but I…I really wanted nothing to do with a naga nest anymore. Striking out as a lone naga was tough, though, because I had no one I could rely upon, so finding work with other supernaturals was actually a bit of a boon for me. It sounded like I’d probably earn my salary, but at least I wasn’t off somewhere with humans pretending I was human. It was something, at least.
Over the next few weeks, I learned several things. First, that Roland and Miranda Wright enjoyed the life of luxury and were willing to spend on one meal what most people would view as a good salary for an entire year. There was a part of me that was disgusted by that, and a part of me that didn’t entirely care – it was their money, after all, couldn’t they spend it however they wanted? It still felt like a waste, though, when I realized how much money they practically threw away on a daily basis. It probably made sense to them, however, given that Roland could literally just make diamonds if he wanted. He didn’t have to ever worry about spending money, so why care?
Second, I learned that most of their staff didn’t like Roland and Miranda. They didn’t care much for the snobby attitudes or the middling-average paychecks, particularly given how much the couple flaunted their money about everything else. To me, it seemed like a recipe for disaster – with that many disgruntled employees, it was no wonder people tried stealing diamonds or selling stories to the newspapers. True, they were careful not to display any magic in front of human employees, but sometimes I wondered if they would end up slipping up on that because they just seemed so into indulging themselves that they simply might not care.
Third, it seemed that Ambrose was largely forgotten by his parents. They expected him to be the top of his class, apparently, which was why he studied hard, but they were far too into making themselves happy to remember for the most part that they even had a kid.
Surprisingly, though, I also learned that Ambrose didn’t seem particularly bothered by his parents’ behavior.
“I like to dream,” he explained when I hesitantly asked if he felt bad about being left behind when his parents flew off to some exotic location for a weekend getaway. “Not about that kind of stuff. I study to make my parents happy, but when I’m done, I like to sit and dream about stuff. Imaginary things. If I go with my parents, they want me to dress nice and sit up straight and be a mini them.” He shrugged a bit. “I’d rather stay home and get to dream some more.”
After taking some time to mull that over in my head, I took us on a detour the next day after school and introduced Ambrose to the joys of a library – and books about imaginary things. He seemed quite taken with the worlds he could explore that way, but I noticed he didn’t stop daydreaming, either. I didn’t see that as a huge problem, though. He seemed like he had to be such a serious kid most of the time and didn’t have any friends his age – probably because he was aware they were only interested in him because of his parents’ money – so getting to daydream was probably the best chance he had to have a little fun in his life.
I did earn my salary, too, as expected. Some thugs attempted to grab Ambrose my first week on the job just as he got out of school and was headed to the car, but I sort of calmly jabbed one in the solar plexus with my elbow hard enough I was pretty sure something broke and then grabbed the other’s wrist and jerked him so he flew over my shoulder and landed on the ground, dislocating his shoulder in the process. They were both not thrilled with that turn of events and did an awful lot of screaming at me about it while I just got Ambrose in the car and drove off.
Ambrose had watched them out the window, a little wide-eyed. “You took care of them so easily! But shouldn’t we have called the police?”
“My job is to ensure your safety, and I can’t do that if we’re sitting on the street waiting for police to arrive. Some of the school officials saw what happened, they’ll doubtless call the police and they know where I can be reached. The police can stop by the house for a statement.”
That did end up being what happened, and it was far from the last of the incidents. I was kind of surprised at the number of attempted kidnapping incidents until, about four months after I’d started working for the Wrights, I noticed something which made me pause.
That evening, after Ambrose went to bed, I approached my employers for the first time.
“Mr. Wright, Mrs. Wright,” I nodded at them as politely as I could, well aware I was interrupting their evening entertainment time when they normally listened to music or something.
Miranda Wright frowned slightly, but Roland kind of looked at me blankly.
“And you are…?”
“Madden, Ambrose’s bodyguard,” I reminded him, my smile a little tight. He couldn’t even remember who he had put in charge of his own child. “Ambrose is fine,” I added, “but I noticed something with the latest incident today. I saw a tattoo on one of the men’s hands, one I’d seen on another one. The police informed me that the tattoo belongs to members of an organized crime syndicate. I’m fairly certain the attempts to kidnap Ambrose are organized, but just intended to appear random.”
Roland Wright blinked at me as if I’d just spoken a bunch of foreign words. “Ah, well, I suppose that could be true, but we can leave it up to the police, eh? Not really my concern.”
I kind of wanted to point out that this was his son I was talking about, so yes it very much was his concern, but perhaps it wasn’t best to alienate my employer. “One of the bosses of the crime syndicate is a supernatural. It’s possible he knows what you are and intends to do more than simply kidnap Ambrose for a ransom.”
“Nonsense,” Roland scoffed. “It’s always about the money.”
“Besides,” Miranda cut in with a smile that was anything but friendly, “that’s your job, isn’t it? Making sure he doesn’t get kidnapped.”
“It is,” I agreed, “but if this is an organized crime situation with someone who understands about supernaturals, sooner or later their plans will account for what I am and they’ll send more people – likely several supernaturals – that I won’t be able to handle alone.”
“Oh, so that’s it.” Roland let out a sigh. “You just want to laze off and let someone else do the work. We’re not hiring a second bodyguard. If you don’t feel like you can handle it, just quit. We’ll find someone else.”
Now I kind of wanted to beat some sense into him and his wife, who was looking overly condescending and pleased at her husband’s response.
For one thing, since he could literally make diamonds any time he wanted, hiring a second bodyguard shouldn’t be that big of a deal. For another, though, he wasn’t actually listening. I knew I was doing a good job protecting Ambrose and I wasn’t upset that my skills were needed routinely, but I was genuinely concerned that this could rise to a level where I wouldn’t be able to protect him. There was a very real risk that this syndicate could send more people than I could handle or send someone who knew how to fight a naga.
And Ambrose’s parents weren’t listening to my concerns.
I just smiled and excused myself in response, realizing I wasn’t going to get anywhere with them, and decided I’d have to just figure out another way. Some method of ensuring Ambrose was safe despite his parents’ stingy self-absorbed blindness.