Joe Avery Marches to a Different Tune
Charles C Cole
Calendula, my plant-human hybrid receptionist, stepped into my inner sanctum where I was concluding an early-morning nap in my swivel rocker. I’d driven all night after working a case for the legendary Mothman, dealing with a melodramatic imposter causing an uproar on social media.
“I’m awake,” I responded with eyes still tightly closed. Being a creature of routine, Calendula carried two extra-large black coffees, this I knew. Something stirred inside me.
“Detective Avery, I bring bountiful liquid sustenance.”
“The importance of which, Calendula, my sweet-smelling rosebush, you understand better than most.”
Calendula smiled, placing the cups on my desk, fanning the scent in my direction for extra incentive.
“Let the freak show commence. Who’s first?”
“No! Except for my ex-wife, humans bring me down. They’re all the same: petty, greedy, manipulative. I need a case with a desperate exotic who just wants to be treated fairly. That’s a cause I can get behind.” I sat up, and she handed me one of the coffees.
“It’s hot!” Calendula warned. Though she’d been careful, one of the thorns growing on her palms had slightly pierced the paper cup, allowing the hot water to ooze out, something I unhappily experienced firsthand. I yelped.
“Sorry!” she said. “I’ll go trim.”
“Wait! Tell me about the human. Why me? Doesn’t he know I specialize in supernatural clients?”
“He’s an exotic human: the Pied Piper. The police have impounded his flute because, whenever he plays, all the nearby human children go into a semi-trance and walk away from their parents.”
“He’s not being charged with attempted kidnapping?”
“Apparently, it’s not on purpose, so he says. He’s considered an attractive nuisance, like a private swimming pool without a fence next to a daycare. The police would be happy if he left town, but he likes being around other exotics. He just wants his flute back.”
I stood, stretched, swaying unsteadily a little. “I’m ready. Send him in.”
A robust, bearded, red-haired man of about 30, dressed like one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, entered. He wore a knee-length green tunic, matching tights and a brightly colored night cap. We shook hands, briefly, the piper looking about the entire time, probably validating his decision to see me. Around the room, on the wall and shelves, were photos and momentos from prior cases.
“Like what you see?” I asked.
“Looks like you know what you’re doing.”
“Or I know how to self-promote,” I confessed. “Have a seat.”
“I’d prefer to stand.”
“Me, too,” I said, “but I’m pacing myself.” I sat heavily, pulled out a new spiral notebook from a drawer full of them and started my interview. “Got a name?”
“I hear you’re a gifted musician.”
“Kids like me.”
“But there’s a time and place, am I right?” I asked.
“I play when the mood hits me. I don’t filter myself. It soothes me like nothing else can.”
“And there’s no way to stop the children from swarming you?”
“I like the attention. They’re no threat.”
“Their parents might consider you one: a stranger hypnotizing their impressionable kids.”
“I don’t hypnotize them. I don’t make them do silly tricks for an audience’s entertainment.”
“But they’re compelled to follow you.”
“So long as they’re careful about traffic, I don’t see the harm. I’m not alone with them. I don’t touch them. They like the music.”
“When you stop, they can go home?”
“When you’re playing, do they listen to their parents?”
“They can hear them, but they prefer not to.”
“And you don’t consider that your problem?”
“Not at all,” Piper concluded, without a moment’s hesitation or consideration.
“Then we’re through. Thank you for your time.”
“I thought a man who’s helped a genie and a faery would be on my side.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Playing music is my gift; it’s who I am. I didn’t ask for it. I’m not trying to exploit others with it.”
“What happened to the rats of a little town called Hamelin?” I probed.
“They went away.”
“All of them?”
“And the children went away as well?” I asked.
“The town fathers reneged on our deal. Consequently, their children were…relocated. They were last seen skipping and humming.” His lack of remorse was shocking.
“I’ll make some calls. Stop by tomorrow.”
Before the next morning, I had some success, but I fully expected an unhappy client.
Right before we opened, Calendula was already soaking her feet in thought, something she did often. “Give your roots some love, my love. I’ll unlock the door. Send him in when he gets here.”
“You’re doing the right thing.”
“Losing a case intentionally is not something I want to be known for.”
Piper knocked on my chamber door. “Hope I’m not interrupting. Your secretary would be great at poker. I couldn’t tell if you have good news or you were planning on breaking it to me gently.”
“Mostly good. All those kids from Hamelin came back, no worse for wear.”
“Still humming and skipping. The town fathers offer you an apology and payment in full. And Little Bo Peep has found her sheep. An influential friend on the police force let me borrow your flute. It turns out the magic is in the instrument, not the player.”
“But I found it; that makes it mine. Nobody’s ever asked for it back. Whoever owned it before me probably didn’t know its worth.”
“About that: we’re going to try harder to reunite it with its original owner. The adults of Hamelin are going to lend a hand. That’s a lot of hands.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“I’m just a small-time private detective, doing my best for the local underrepresented exotics, but you knew that.”
“I’ll get even with you,” he said.
“I have faery-folk friends who could swallow you in one gulp if I wanted, but I’m not like that. Still, I think it’s best if we keep our distance in the future.” And so we have.