Joe Avery goes for a Ride
Charles C Cole
My office, closed for the holiday, was as good a place as any to have a power nap. Signs had been posted on the door for days. I even went so far as to unplug the phone. I just needed a little down time to recharge.
Exotics would always have needs to be tended, which meant my business would never suffer and my working hours would always “enjoy” a certain flexibility.
I’d stumbled in just before dawn from a long overnight stakeout, my apartment being significantly less convenient. I was lying atop a tassled red Arabian carpet behind my desk, with a seat cushion for a pillow. The window was open because, believe it or not, I found the sounds of the city to be soothing white noise.
Did I mention I didn’t own a tassled carpet? I was thinking about that fact when said carpet lifted me up, all two-hundred pounds of me, and flew me out said window.
My mind naturally went to my life-changing client, the genie who’d gotten separated from its magic lamp, my first exotic client in a long line of exotic clients.
This was not a photogenic joyride. Perhaps for my own protection, the carpet curled its sides around me like an overlarge hotdog roll. I was content not to exploit my bird’s-eye view of the city from the open air, though I did keep a watchful eye out one end, over my feet, looking for familiar buildings.
“I assume you’ll stop if I’m too heavy,” I grumbled to the carpet. “You aren’t the client, are you? Because I don’t speak carpet.”
With all I’d done recently for faery-folk, I had no reason to feel unsafe and even allowed myself to consider the ride as some sort of privilege. Little did I know.
Eventually, we floated through a broken window in an abandoned cathedral and landed near the alter. Pews were pushed back for more open space, and there were many tall Gothic candles burning about me.
Having arrived at our presumed destination, the mute carpet gently rolled me out and, for lack of a better word, “retreated” into the semi-darkness. I stood to meet my host. The thrill had worn off, and I was feeling displeased by the lack of communication.
A tall thin humanoid approached. He must have been 7-foot, with unruly dark hair that tumbled over his narrow shoulders, a deep red cape halfway down his back, an impressive jewel-topped staff, but no tell-tale glittering silver tiara. Not the top dog. The Elf King’s nephew, a rumored impatient social climber, neared to a formal distance, rubbing his hands together greedily!
“At last we meet, Detective!”
“Lord Pentamerone!” I did not bow despite the obvious protocol.
“You know of me? Thrilling!” he purred.
“I’ve heard things.”
“And me: I assumed you slept in your fedora.”
“Sometimes. Catnaps are a different animal. Same but different, like faery-folk and humans.”
“You’re quite taken with our kind. It’s amazing,” began Pentamerone, “if not a little condescending. I do what I can as well, keeping our side civil, so the humans don’t feel provoked. They’ll gawk enviously, sure, but they’ll leave us alone.”
“What do you need from me?”
“Direct!” He made a disturbing sound halfway between a harrumph and a squeak.
“I figure your time’s important.”
“You had human clients once. I suggest, and I’ve given this real thought, you go back to those simpler times, with cats stuck up trees and videotaping unfaithful spouses, sending the faery-folk to me.”
“Your Highness –”
“I never tire of hearing that!”
“When clients come to me, I rarely turn them down,” I explained.
His eyes narrowed disapprovingly. My response surprised him. “But you’d turn me down?”
“I think all problems benefit from fresh perspective. We find unexpected solutions that may not look like success at first. Where I can afford to stumble, your reputation might be tarnished if you didn’t hit one out of the park every time.”
He bit his lip, trying not to engage, but his agitation boiled out. “You don’t understand the traditions and legacy. You live in a melting pot! Why is that a good thing, to take the qualities that make us unique, our abilities and our looks, and boil them away? Instead of elves and faeries, we become misshapen monsters.”
“You take our metaphors too literally,” I suggested.
“Look around you. We stand in an abandoned church! Your kind is quick to move on. I could have come to your office, but I wanted you to see, like you, I’m a dreamer of a better world. I bought this place. I’m going to bring it back to life! Make a huge throne room. Give the people a place where they can be heard, while my uncle is busy with governance. Like you, I’m going to be approachable.”
“That’s one lofty ambition,” I said, “lowering yourself to my level.”
Pentamerone stiffened. He looked me over. I don’t doubt I appeared small and insignificant. “We’re done,” he concluded. “Take the Detective home!”
The carpet slinked forward. Goaded, I stomped my foot. The sound was louder than I intended, but it had the desired effect: my ride balked.
“If it’s the same to you, Your Highness, I prefer public transit. Bus or subway. Mingling with the masses. They’re not my clients, but they’re my people. You’ve given me something to think about. Next time, I’ll host. You know where to find me. And good luck with the reconstruction.”
I found the entrance easily: it was the looming darkness at the far end of the room. We’d never been alone: the wall was lined with sober-faced elves, a stable of obsequious wallflowers. If you’re gonna have a handpicked audience, at least train them in the basics, like applauding when the boss says something inspirational. Oh well.
Several stood between me and the exit, but they parted like a curtain when I didn’t slow. And that was my first audience with genuine faery-folk royalty.