Windsor, Canada, is never what you'd expect it to be. One short ride across the Ambassador Bridge and you're in what you'd expect to be Detroit Part 2. And, yes, there are elements of Detroit here: the wind is not precisely fresh. The water is a little chewier than most Canadians might prefer. The current fad for street shamanism which has turned Detroit into a warzone between the ethnic magical traditions is still present, yes.
If you're not careful, and you're wearing the wrong colors, you are just as likely to get into trouble with the Ukrainians and the angakoks as you are in Detroit, simply because you have the wrong sartorial preferences. I suspect you'd have much the same problem walking through Compton wearing the wrong t-shirt and shoes, albeit you'd be much less likely to be shot, and much more likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a dragon-summoning spell. Detroit's a hard place to be a wizard and it's almost as bad in Windsor.
The city, on the whole, has an unintentionally-debased air to it, like the offspring of a prize-winning Yorkie who had a liaison with the neighbor's charismatic but base mutt. It's an essentially Canadian town which is, completely by accident of geography, surrounded by the Rust Belt of America. It holds its chin up high and proud, but futilely, like a prom queen stepping through knee-deep mud.
The residents have a somewhat defiant air, like the border guard of a fantasy kingdom tasked with keeping orcs from the gates of civilization. There's always a sense when you cross that the locals will amass into a phalanx formation and push you back into the Detroit River, that the entire peninsula, formed by two or three of the more southern Great Lakes is a counterthrust by our friends from the north in a last minute bid to keep America away.
Against this backdrop, I find myself in a small strip mall in one of the middlingly-prosperous districts. There's the usual shops here: a Tim Horton's, yes, just like every block in every city above the 42nd parallel in this hemisphere. There's the usual small Spencer's Gift Shop, ubiquitous in every neighborhood now that magic works again.
I don't have to look inside to see the shrunken heads, mass-produced in Bali, or the dime-store wands and totems for teenagers who suspect they might have a chance at attracting a demon's attention or think they hear the call of a totem spirit. There's also a pizza shop, a cash for gold place and a business which seems to be doing pretty well selling, against any sort of common sense, unicorn-themed shoes.
And then, at the other end of the strip mall, the side opposite the coffee shop, there's an empty space which has the look of sudden abandonment and appears to be now semi-permanently for rent. It's acting as a sort of buffer zone between "Pedicorns And More" and the final space at the very end: Molly Maid of Greater Windsor.
I'm here to interview one man: the Princess of Windsor.
I find him hanging decorations in the lobby.
My first impression is that of intensity. He's not tall, nor particularly young. His suit is flawlessly-tailored, yes, but that doesn't account for the way the field of focus narrows when he's in view. It's the way he stands, as if he's the vortex of a whirlpool. The world is spinning and he is the center.
Every word which comes out of his mouth is weighted, his Shatnerian dialogue clipped and delivered like a shotgun slug: as if every syllable is metered for cost and deliberated upon for maximum impact. When he steps up and shakes my hand, his grip is vise-like. The distance my hand takes is just the amount to convey welcome, the vertical travel just so: I feel like my hand has been thoroughly and properly shaked at the end of the clasp. Not enough to feel needy, not enough to feel like I'm getting short shrift.
After the handshake, his hand returns to his pocket, in an oddly Napoleon-esque gesture. His other hand straightens the ribbon around his chest, the famous one which reads "Princess." I wonder where his tiara is, but realize after a moment's reflection that the Princess would only bring it out for the greatest occasions: Corporate mergers, acquisitions, high level negotiations and the like.
But that's what you'd expect from Canada's primary practitioner of corporomancy, the shamanistic art of corporate magic.
"Do you think..." He purses his lips. "...that the sign in the middle, the pink and blue house, is a good choice for the center of the display window?"
It's not a bad sign. Non-threatening, broad strokes. Just enough form to the outline to suggest house-like qualities, but not enough to exclude anybody's actual house. Representative but not specifically so. I tell him as much.
He sighs and shakes his head. I get the feeling I failed some sort of test.
"Common sense has little to do with Molly Maid." He turns to me. "Or with what we do here."
He reaches down to the floor and picks up a broom. It has a crystal on one end and it's pinker than anything I've seen before, a shade of intensity so bright I can't look at it straight on without hurting. He gestures at the window and the house changes form, becomes a car with an achingly-bright logo on the side: the company name.
"I assume you're from the Post. You want to know how we do what we do."
He motions me away from the window, to have a seat in one of the chairs.
"Magic is about expectations. Business is about managing expectations."
"Two great tastes, right?"
He looks at me with an expression of faint disgust. "Do I wear these things because I'm just another pretty face? No, I do it because the soul of acquisitions, the heart of running a business, is to surround oneself with the trappings of success."
I've heard that before. In his first interview after acquiring the entirety of the Canadian Molly Maid franchise, the reporter had asked him why the tiara and frilly lace. His response had been apocryphal—he had spoken about the dark ages and cargo cults, Jungian archetypes and the nature of reality. The entire time, he'd been twiddling a feather duster. You can't argue with his success, though.
"Don't you wish you'd gone into a different line of business? You could have gone after Cabela's, be wearing camouflage and hunter's orange now."
"Don't be so naive. I—"
An alarm sounds in the back, a strange insistent hooting. The Princess' jaw tightens. He says one word, "War," and strides out the front door, jingling the bell. I follow behind. The lot is mostly empty now, save for my rental car. At the far side, just pulling in, is a van. It has a picture of a castle on the side.
It's Camelot Cleaning Services and they look pretty serious. The side door slides open and a woman with arms like steel trunks steps out. She's wearing a crown and chainmail armor.
It's going to be a long afternoon.