Joe Avery Meets City Hall
Charles C Cole
I was taking a well-deserved day off from private investigations. Calendula, my half-rosebush receptionist, newly promoted to office manager, was in charge of wrangling the wild things who came to call.
Our only competition, the Elf King, had gone underground after Mother Nature had graciously inserted herself into our civic dispute, cease-and-desisting in our favor. After a brief client-free time, due to the threat of gloom and doom, business rebounded. We welcomed all who needed our services but, once again, it was the city’s exotics who filled the waiting room. Truth be told, compared to their human counterparts, these colorful cases were way more interesting and the clients were way more grateful.
The weather was amazing: summer’s last hurrah. The young and restless, sweaty and half-naked, screeched and cheered enthusiastically in an unconscious effort to get each other’s attention. I walked through the park to join my infamously mischievous pal, Cupid, for a few games of chess or, as he called it, “exercise for the mind.” The mythological master of love was by far a more skilled player, but I knew he’d be distracted by all the opportunities for matchmaking near and around us. In point of fact, my victory-through-subterfuge calculations depended on it.
There was a rambunctious posse of teen-aged male fauns playing a variation of soccer on Corsica Field against a team of all-human boys. The fauns had the inherent stamina and the leg muscles, but the boys had the dexterity, lifelong familiarity with sport-ball, and the deep-seated need to prove themselves. The attendant grunts and cheers were appropriate and heartwarming.
One day, we can hope, the grassroots organizers might think nothing of mixing up the opposing forces, weaving exotics and anthropoids like a patchwork quilt, but this was a solid start, a giant leap from the not-too-distant days of awkwardly gawking at one another, like two urban street gangs measuring their opponents for a rumble.
Cupid waited at our favorite table, gameboard at the ready, accompanied, for the first time, by a distraction no doubt intended for my eyes only: Janice, my comely ex-wife, looking as radiant as she had on our wedding day. What ruse had he employed to get her out of the library? Did she know she was being used for one side’s advantage? We hadn’t yet decided who would make the first move, but the game had clearly begun.
“Detective Avery?” I was intercepted by a uniformed policeman who’d been sitting on a bench with his back to me. He stood as I approached.
“What gave me away?”
“You wouldn’t be secretly transporting a faery under the brim of that fedora, would you?”
“No, sir, I would not.” I doffed my chapeau for a little show-and-tell. “I can roll up my sleeves as well, if you’d like, but I assure you there’s only me in here. Can I help you?”
“The Mayor’s Liaison for Nonhuman Exotics would like a private word.”
“Philbert Brighton wants to see me? I’m not worthy.”
“This way.” He indicated a parked limo and escorted me rather ceremoniously to the roomy back seat. Brighton looked dressed for a funeral: a shiny black suit, drab tie, a tiny splotch of rouge at the top of each cheek, and a professional scowl.
“Before you take me to the rumored dungeon under city hall to ‘disappear’ me, you should know my ex-wife and a well-known supernatural pal are watching.”
“Joe Avery, I hear your name often.”
“During intermission at the opera?”
“I wanted to thank you personally for saving the city.”
“Are you sure we’re talking about me? My clients tend to be in onesy/twosies.”
“We weren’t sure how to control the Elf King, but I promise we were monitoring the situation. For every one of his men, we had two of ours following at a safe distance. It looked like a looming turf war.”
“I know what you mean,” I agreed.
“The mayor wasn’t sure it was worth getting involved: after all, faery-folk don’t vote. Yet. We figured there might be some losses for the new minority, but maybe that would engender sympathy from our side, the human population. ‘Supernatural creatures bleed, too: they’re just like us. Only completely different. Nothing to be scared of.’ That sort of thing.”
“I don’t know if they’re like you and the mayor but, yep, I’d say we have more in common than not.”
“If you close your eyes,” added Brighton, instinctively practicing. After feeling warm and sentimental minutes before, I was getting distinctly uncomfortable.
“Tell the mayor I say hello. And not to be a stranger. If that’s all…”
“The next election’s not far away. With a misstep here, a scandal there, we could find ourselves with a fresh, unexpected frontrunner. I can’t decide if my platform would be to unite the disparate communities in a big hug or simply divide and conquer. It depends what the donors want.”
“I think you mean the voters.”
“Either way, there’s a place for you in the mix.”
“As the liaison to the liaison?”
“This is a serious offer, Detective. I’m taking a risk: revealing my hand before it’s wise. Officially, this conversation never happened. You understand.”
“Thank you, Philbert,” I said. “I will certainly give this non-conversation serious consideration. If that’s all, I’m supposed to meet Cupid for a game of chess. And he is not someone you want to piss off.”
“I’m not joking!”
“Me, either. Want to meet him? Probably the single most powerful supernatural force in the city.”
Brighton said: “Another time,” but his body language, as he slapped the glass window behind the driver, said: “Jeeves, get me out of harm’s way, now!”
As I neared my friends, Janice had a look of grave concern: “Problem?”
“We live in a city where humans and faery-folk interact moment to moment in a way they never have before, where mundane activities have become almost surreal. We’re all still finding our way. Problem or an amazing opportunity for a new world? Let’s hope the latter.”