Ice froze, last bit of donut in hand. "Crap. There's a pay phone at the store down there. Let me call and see who my clients are dealing with."
Mr. Hernandez was a short darkish man with a tidy goatee. Looking around in astonishment. Stepping to the kitchen, and whistling.
"Been awhile since it's been that clean, eh? Check out the bathrooms." Ice crushed his empty coffee cup and dropped it in the donut box. Ripped off a corner of the box and squared it off. Shifted the ink around, what was the address here?
Mr. Hernandez returned, looking impressed. "Let's use my office."
Ice spun out a gentle spell to weaken skepticism and followed the man to his office, three doors down the strip at the back of a "CPA" office, whatever that was. Weird comm . . . he remember old classical movies and stuck his finger in a hole and spun the dial. Hoped he remembered the number correctly . . .
"Squeaky Clean! How may I help you?" A cheerful female voice.
He almost hated to telekinetically hang up on her. "Glennis? Karl. Do you have the contact number for this job I'm on?" He waited a beat. "Thanks, and hey, call my crew and tell them they won't be painting today."
He dialed a random number, while modulating an auditor illusion of an almost distinguishable male voice.
"Mr. Mathus? Bit of a problem at the location. The manager doesn't think the space has been leased. Who did you deal with? Hernandez? What did Mr. Hernandez look like?" Ice shifted the head set further from his ear as he manipulated the sounds . . .
"About six feet tall, maybe a bit more, black hair and handlebar mustaches . . ."
Ice glanced back at the short clean-shaven Hernandez . . .
"Mr. Mathus? You might want to tell your bank to stop payment . . ." Ice made a loud click, then shrugged and hung up the headset. "So much for that job."
He looked from Mr. Hernandez to the cop. "You get many scams like that?"
The cop snorted. "It's a first for me."
Mr. Hernandez looked glum. "Not for me, and sometimes the people being scammed get really rude and expect me to refund their money."
Ice shrugged. "Well, may I ask you to accompany me to pick up my equipment, and see that nothing is missing?"
He put a hand in his pocket and found one of the local coins. Formed it into a key and slid it into the lock and wiggled it as he used his spell, changed the shape . . . he pulled the key out as he unlocked the door, handed it to Mr. Hernandez. Fished out the card he'd made and gave it a glance. Corrected the address, straightened the numbers on the back . . .
"Who ever it was, had the security code for your alarm system. You'll need to change that pretty quick." Ice handed over the card.
Mr. Hernandez shuddered. "Dios!" But he did a very careful walk through and returned shaking his head. "I can believe you got it so clean, so fast!"
Ice looked at the walls. "Still needs a coat of paint. But I suspect you'll have no trouble leasing it now."
So he collected his gear, looked embarrassed, but accepted a twenty from Mr. Hernandez and marched off down the street.
Aleksandrov is going to pitch a fit.
He ditched the cleaning gear in a public restroom, gave himself an illusion of blonde hair, and ordinary features. Local style suit. Had a late lunch and checked on the locations of all the Mentalists around.
Hmm, all in one spot. I wonder if I'm going to need to rescue the Russians from whoever's scoping the place out already?"
He paid for lunch, thought it over and counted up his local currency (lots, gold was valuable here) and went shopping. And looking for good spots for a dimensional gate. Spot checked the Mentalists. Their meeting had broken up and his group was head back this way.
He bagged all his purchases, pulled out the tote with the beacon and cut over a few blocks to intercept a pissed off group of Russians.
He dropped the illusions and jerked his head toward a bar. Led the way in, spotted a corner with empty tables.
"From your expressions, you're day hasn't gone any better than mine." Ice waved down a tired waitress, pulled out his cash, and peeled off three twenties. "Beer. We'll start with three pitchers."
She perked right up, and hustled off.
"I had a nosy property manager who didn't know the store'd been let. So I moved on." Ice settled with his back to the wall. "How about you?"
Glare. "Another node was exploring this world, they've infiltrated, and consider it a waste of time. Where did you get the money?"
"I brought a bit of gold with me. Very valuable here. Have you eaten?"
Glares. "No." Aleksandrov eyed the waitress as she hustled up with glasses.
She grinned. "We have hot wings, corn chips and salsa, and pizza bites."
Ice handed over more money. "Bring lots." He turned back to the others. "I haven't seen anything like advanced electronics. No computers, comms are hard wired."
Nods around the table.
One guy, Federov, grumbled, "No use even picking up women. There's no halfers."
Thank the One! I won't have to deal with slave raids. This time.
But the beer and endless snacks perked them up.
"Well, this was a useful trial run." Aleksandrov eyed Ice. "Some of us fit in well, and dealt with problems easily. Most of us blundered around being snobby and rude." He looked pointedly around the table.
"And there were too many of us, and we argued with each other. In front of the other Russian Mentalists, and out in public, in Russian."
Popov hunched his shoulders. "I didn't want the livestock to hear what we were talking about!"
"Then you ought to have shut up until we were alone!" Aleksandrov growled.
Oh. My. They expect immediate and perfect obedience from others, but they don't like to be seen taking orders. Put a batch of Mentalists together and without extensive training they aren't going to work together well, if at all.
Ice looked at his watch. "Six hours until we leave, let's try to stay . . . not worthy of special notice."
Which got him a lot of special notice from the rest.
Especially from Aleksandrov. "I am beginning to think you are the only sensible one of the lot."
Not a high barrier.
"I'm surprised we don't have any trained infiltrators. Bit of an oversight, there." Ice shrugged off a dozen glares and crunched a chip. As the waitress approached with two more pitchers, he dived in. "So any of you check out the local museums?"
She picked up helpfully on that one. "Have you been to the Museum of Fine Arts? I love their Renaissance painting collection. If there were any employment possibilities . . . but I think I'll stick to accounting. I'll be graduating in just a few months."
"Any theaters nearby?"
"Two blocks that way!"
Which was a good thing. Ice added another bill to what was apparently already serious overpayment and led the slightly tipsy two blocks that way, and bought tickets to the silliest space adventure imaginable.
Had to wake half of them up when it was over.
Hauled them to a park with raised planters that was just perfect for his re-entry plans.