"Good morning, Ms. Destine," her driver, Geoffrey, greeted calmly, holding the car door open for her.
Dominique affixed him with a steely, though mild, glare before ever so slightly inclining her head.
"Where to this morning, ma'am?"
Dominique paused as she slid into the spacious backseat. "Café Tombstone, Geoffrey. And quickly."
"Yes ma'am." The burly man smoothly closed the door behind her, the car smoothly taking off a moment later.
Geoffrey was her favorite driver. The other two (Mike something or other and Jessie or maybe Jasper?) were competent enough but Geoffrey was far and above the two combined.
He was discreet, professional, and an expert driver. And he'd been with her since the inception of Nightstone.
Even with the money she stole from Macbeth, he was expensive but a driver of his skill and disposition? He should have been far out of reach.
Instead, human cruelty and stupidity had dropped him within her greedy grasp. Well, their loss.
Of course, now that Nightstone was doing so well, he was the most expensive driver in Manhattan, but he was more than worth it.
And if a little bit extra kept him loyal, and quiet about some of the less legal things he'd seen her daytime persona pull off, well, all the better.
Normally, Dominique tried to show some small hint of her appreciation for her most valuable employees, such as Geoffrey, but last night's . . . festivities had left her with a headache the size of Castle Wyvern and a bone-deep ache in her everything.
It was all she could do to keep from growling at him.
Hence Café Tombstone. It was, far and above, the single best café in all of New York, though nowhere near the most known or expensive. The coffee was good, the service was acceptable, the staff was efficient, the atmosphere was tolerable, the pricing was adequate, and they sometimes had these honey cakes that reminded her of the good old days of yore, when she and her clanmates would steal honey cakes from the castle kitchens.
She frequented it only rarely, preferring to spend her days more productively than simply in a café, no matter how above average it was.
Still, on days like these, when she'd been without sleep for far longer than even her body could safely handle and her head was pounding and her temper roiled closer to the surface than was normal, she'd have Geoffrey take her to the café and then she would personally go collect her coffee.
She'd even wait in line, when it was necessary.
Of course, that meant she was normally there in the morning, the early morning, unless it was late in the year. And the barista she saw most often in the morning was Emily.
Emily was . . . confusing.
A thousand years ago, Demona was a born and bred warrior. She was tough and ruthless. Hard as nails. A millenia come and gone had done nothing to soften her edges. Instead, the years had acted as a whetstone, sharpening her far beyond what she could have been naturally.
And in those thousand years, she'd seen many different kinds of people. None she ever particularly liked and few she could even tolerate, but many different kinds.
Demon was accustomed to hard people and soft people and broken people of all shapes and walks of life, from the very young to the very old and everything in between.
But none were like Emily. She was tough in a very different way from Demona, not hard like a sword but hard like a particularly large boulder: impossible to really hurt in any meaningful way, too big and too tough to hurt, and generally left unbothered in a few different senses.
Emily dealt with people the way cliffs dealt with waves and she smiled sweetly all the while.
But she took no bullshit, not from anyone, not her boss and certainly not Dominique Destine.
And yet, for how tough she was, she was also deceptively soft. A gentle smile, an earnest, soft-spoken voice, big dark eyes, a way of standing and moving that threw attention away from her; soft, like many others Demona had seen over the years.
But above all else, the part that Dominique was most confused by was how broken Emily was.
Emily had a heart that had been broken years ago and that had never quite healed. She never told Dominique this, the two of them were not close, but Demona knew what old wounds looked like, especially wounded hearts.
Demona's own heart had never healed, only calcified.
But Emily's heart, broken and rent in two though it was, had been surgically stitched back together by a deft hand, so deft a hand, in fact, that it was only with a literal millenia's worth of experience that Demona could even fathom the breaking, let alone the mending.
Honestly speaking, though she was reluctant to admit this even to just herself, let alone anyone else, it was the mystery, and atmosphere, of Emily that brought her back to Tombstone as frequently as it did.
She dismissed the thought the second it crept across her mind, turning her head to stare out the window.
The city zipped on by at unbelievable speeds. No driver other than Geoffrey could drive so fast so well and so gently the riders nary even noticed the car depart, let alone speed up.
"Here we are, Ms. Destine."
Dominique blinked, eyes automatically refocusing. Indeed, they had arrived. But not all was well.
Café Tombstone was a low stone and brick building with a broad sign with a golden floral frame and curly golden writing. Its main concession to its name, design-wise, was a very subtle graveyard theme: vague skull, tombstone, and skeletal shapes worked into the walls, chairs, limbs, and doors of the place.
In homage to its namesake, its door was shaped like a wrought iron cemetery or crypt gate and it had a single large window of dark, tinted glass.
Today, the single window had more in common with a dark pit than it did with a storefront. The glass had been smashed in from the outside and at least half of the café's interior was covered in dark glass shards.
A large crowd had formed outside the café, mostly onlookers held back by police tape, but also a bevy of police, paramedics, and familiar faces.
There was Emily, someone Dominique recognized as a new coworker of hers, and Emily's night manager, a long, thin, awkward man with a gob and a half on him. But there were also two other familiar faces: the detective and her partner.
"Ma'am, shall I-"
"Park the car."
Geoffrey knew to avoid the cops where possible and he knew to especially avoid those two. But he also knew not to presume to know Dominique's mind.
And so it was that he pulled over without protest or, indeed, much in the way of surprise. Funnier still, if Dominique had thought to look back at him after leaping unassisted from the car, she would have noticed that her swift spring into action shocked him no more than her command.
But she didn't look back so she didn't see anything. She didn't see the complete lack of surprise at what was a very out of character moment, regardless of how she pretended and presented otherwise. She didn't see the slight, very slight, smile or the mild look of fondness.
Her eyes were fixed on Emily. Emily, standing before a beat cop, wrapped in a shock blanket, a hasty bandage holding bloody gauze over a hidden temple wound.
"Emily," she barked out imperiously, shifting from an elegant scramble to a domineering stride as she approached.
Emily jumped, turning slightly to stare at her. "Ms. Destine! What are you doing here?"
Dominique shot her a look that clearly illustrated just how stupid that question was before slowly answering it, "Obviously, I came for my morning coffee. What happened here?"
"Ma'am," the officer tried to break in, "you can't be here. This is . . . a p- . . . p-police inves-ti-ga- . . . tion?" His voice died a slow death ending in a high, querulous squeak as he quailed before the might of Dominique Destine, CEO, and the death glare infamous enough to provide second-hand trauma to the families of victims.
She dismissed him with a sniff and went back to talking to Emily, who watched the whole thing with an expression of simultaneous disbelief and reluctant awe.
"What happened here? Were you attacked?"
Warriors were very physical people. They fought, they sparred, they wrestled, and, frequently, they hugged. Contact was important to warriors, doubly so to gargoyles.
Even a thousand years hadn't managed to kill that side of Demona. It was so ingrained that her hand rose, unbidden, to softly examine Emily's head wound.
"Ms. Destine," Emily cut in, catching Dominique's hand, "I'm alright. There was a robber. He smashed the window in shortly before dawn and tried to rob the register. A gargoyle chased him off. He never even got the chance to do anything."
Dominique sighed, body relaxing minutely even as she raised an eyebrow, staring pointedly at the gauze.
"One of our customers got showered in glass. I slipped trying to help them. It's just a small cut. The paramedics tended to it the second they arrived. It's a head wound, so it bled a fair bit, but it wasn't anything serious."
Dominique relaxed further. Still, she eyed the gauze. "It's not too tight? No undue pressure to the temples or the wound?"
"It's fine, Ms. Destine. It's just a light cut. I'll be back at work as soon as we reopen."
"Reopen? You're closing?"
Emily inclined her head towards the glass. "Just until we get the glass fixed. The boss is on the phone already so it shouldn't be too long but probably a day or two at least."
"A pity. It won't impact business negatively?"
"Well," the human hesitated, "it probably will, a little. But nothing lasting. And me and the others will get a bit of time off, to recharge and all that. I imagine everything will be back to normal in about a week or so."
"Well, I'm . . . relieved to find everything acceptable here. I imagined worse when I saw the storefront."
Dominique ignored the twitching of Emily's lips as she hid a smile as Dominique's less than subtle redirection.
"It looks worse than it is. I'm just grateful that gargoyle scared them off."
Right. Dominique had forgotten that detail.
"What did the gargoyle look like? I've never seen one in person," she offered when Emily shot her a puzzled look. "No gargoyles in France, at least not as far as I know."
There were, in fact, no gargoyles in France in the modern day, though there used to be quite a few French clans, including the Nostradamus Clan who'd settled in the Notre Dame Cathedral.
But the last French gargoyle had died decades ago, victim of one of the last true Canmore Hunters. She'd avenged his death, for what it was worth. One less Hunter, at least.
"Don't know. We just saw the shadow before the robber ran off. Couldn't really tell you much. Wings, tail. Not much else."
Dominique sighed internally. She forgot sometimes that humans didn't know how to read shadows, didn't know how to tell the difference between different wing and tail types.
Just from a shadow, a gargoyle knew the size, shape, general weight, wing type, tail type, and general ridge type of a fellow gargoyle.
"And the robber ran off just because of a shadow?"
Emily nodded decisively. "I'm not surprised. Other than a few idiots, everyone knows gargoyles are bad news for bad guys. Nighttime crime is way down nowadays." She chuckled wryly. "I almost feel safe walking home at night now and that's thanks pretty much exclusively to gargoyles. But I'm guessing that's part of why the robbery took place so close to dawn. Gargoyles aren't active in the day."
Dominique nodded, opening her mouth to speak when-
"Ms. Destine," a smooth voice interceded. A smooth, familiar voice: the detective's accursed partner. The man was, if anything, less tolerable than the detective. "I must admit, I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Detective," she 'greeted'. "Bluestone, yes?"
"Yes. Tell me, Ms. Destine, what's a prestigious CEO doing at a place like this at this hour of the day?" Translation: what scheme are you concocting this time?
"At a café? At 7 in the morning? I wonder." Translation: what do you think I'm doing here, you idiot?
Bluestone blinked, ran that through his head, and his jaw fell. Behind her, Emily startled giggling under her breath, shoulders shaking from the effort needed to keep her face straight.
"Right," he drawled, looking disappointed in himself, "but why this café? Surely there are better cafés out there, more suitable for a CEO like yourself."
And now Emily just looked pissed. If Dominique weren't having such fun riling the man up herself, she might be inclined to step aside and let the barista take a swing or ten at the detective.
"Excellence comes in many forms, detective, including less obvious ones. Café Tombstone may not be as obviously excellent as some other cafés but I can assure you, it is among the best in Manhattan, and certainly the best for its price range. Both the products and the service deserve special appreciation."
Dominique could see Emily and her two coworkers smugly preening in the background while the detective looked absolutely gobsmacked.
"Th-that's quite a compliment, coming from someone of your exacting standards," he stammered. Translation: Demona's praising humans?! What?!
Dominique had to bite her tongue to keep from laughing. Meanwhile, Emily lost that particular battle, soft, smothered chortles reaching her ears.
She turned back to the barista, digging one of her business cards out from a pocket. "Here. Contact me if there's any trouble. It would be a shame to see such an excellent café go out of business in such a manner."
Emily smiled secretively, taking the card. "Of course," she said pleasantly, inclining her head. "Could you wait a moment? Nick, I need your pen!" Plucking a small note pad from her vest pocket, she scribbled something down, tore the paper out, and handed it to Dominique.
"Well, since we can't prepare your coffee this morning, you'll have to go somewhere else." Dominique refrained from mentioning that she'd actually been planning on skipping coffee this morning. If it wasn't Café Tombstone, she didn't want anything else. "This is a friend's café. The coffee's pretty good but it's a little hard to find."
"Thank you." Dominique quickly scanned the paper. Hard to find; now there was an understatement. Even with her excellent map of the city, she couldn't quite pin down where this café was supposed to be located. "Good day and good luck."
"A good day to you too, Ms. Destine! Now, is there anything else I can help you with, detective? Any other obvious questions need answering?"
Dominique was still chuckling when she handed the paper to Geoffrey.