Joe Avery Meets the King’s Men
Charles C Cole
I’d recently earned a reputation as a “fixer” for our community’s exotics, from trolls to sentient trees. My “business plan” began as a viral word-of-mouth campaign through a formerly homeless genie to any folktale creature who’d listen. After twenty years in the trenches, I was suddenly an overnight success whose clients were from the otherwise ignored fringe element.
It was not a total surprise that some of my fellow mortals, a small minority, considered me a traitor to the human tribe. I didn’t, however, expect bureaucratic interference from the very faery world I was defending. Operating out of sight and provoked by my “irrational” altruism for the “others” among us was a no-nonsense sect of spies who had somehow appointed themselves as the sacred keepers of supernatural law and order.
Calendula, my half-rosebush receptionist, was the first to notice the extra attention. She’d stopped at the local bagel joint for my daily breakfast of two extra-large black coffees. A pair of suspicious characters in dark fedoras, sunglasses, and black trench coats observed her movements from across the street, noteworthy because it was a hot day where most reasonable citizens were removing layers, not adding them.
At our streetside entrance, Calendula spotted two more, one slightly taller and one slightly rounder, standing about a nonfunctional phonebooth, looking as out of place as a red star on the American flag.
After setting my liquid motivation on my desk, Calendula closed the blinds to my office.
“Do I look THAT hungover?”
“Joe, don’t be offended, is helping exotics against the law?”
“Not yet. Why?”
“I think we’re being watched.”
“Shy would-be clients not ready to take the plunge?”
“They look official: taking notes in little notebooks and wearing a kind of uniform.”
“A new assignment for our own protection? I can ask a friend at the precinct. Last I heard, the Mayor’s Liaison for Nonhuman Exotics, Philbert Brighton, was more than willing to let us do his dirty work, while he hobnobs with the artisans and the rich eccentrics.”
“Just look. Please!”
I grabbed our one pair of binoculars from my desk drawer. “Interesting: they’re having a sale on manicures at Zelda’s!” I joked. “Wait: I see tall, pasty dudes with serious faces, pronounced chins, and pointy ears not quite hidden under the brims of their hats: royal elves.”
“Royal elves?! What would elves want with us?” asked Calendula.
“A piece of the action?”
“I’ve never known an elf to care about anyone but another elf. They’re a pretty paranoid bunch. They probably think we’re talking about them.”
“Aren’t we?” I teased.
“You know what I mean.”
“Like the rest of us, they currently enjoy the freedom of unencumbered travel. Maybe it’s a stretch goal: they’re out mingling with the masses, getting to know the city, seeing the sights.”
“That’s what happens when you break new ground. To some, you’re a trailblazer. Others, a pariah. Either way, you’re on somebody’s radar.”
“I don’t like it. I’m going to soak my feet before we open; it’ll help my anxiety.”
“I’ll talk with them,” I offered. “It’s early. We’ve got time.”
“You will?!” Calendula had a way of making me feel like a bigger hero than I was.
“If I’m delayed, open up without me. You’re more of a morning person than me anyway.”
I took a couple of quick gulps of the still-hot coffee and slipped out through the morning queue.
“Be right back after a quick errand, folks!”
I clipped a small communication device around my left ear. “Joe to Princess One, come in.”
“Got your back,” replied Tina, a faery and former client with a gift for reconnaissance. “What’s the plan?”
“Quick wake-up jog through the park. Two birds with one stone.”
“I hate human expressions.”
“Let me know if our friends follow. Don’t lose them.”
“Quick question: Don’t most humans wear less while exercising?” I was dressed office-casual.
“Not that an elf will know the difference.” I removed my button-down shirt and tied it around my waist. It was an unconventional look for me. Off we went, on one of those rare days where it actually paid to be out of shape: the elves kept up without breaking a sweat.
Eventually, I found a familiar “rock wall” (aka troll by night) encircling a massive temperamental oak. I leaned against the wall to catch my breath, not entirely pretense. Seeing movement out of the corner of my eyes, I slipped around to the far side. My companions closed in.
I heard shouting and continued back around. The tree, another former client, had grabbed the patrol by the ankles and held them upside down. I gathered their hats from the ground.
“Hello, friends!” I said. “Looking for me?”
“You’re making a mistake,” said one. The others remained silent.
“You in charge?”
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“On the contrary, you’re being a public nuisance. You could fall out of that tree and hurt somebody walking underneath. That wouldn’t be good at all. Shall I tell my buddy, the Mayor’s Liaison for Nonhuman Exotics?”
“Only humans would be caught so unaware,” said my new friend. “We don’t care for them.”
“But you care about exotics.”
“Why?” asked the elf, with not a hint of sarcasm.
“It makes me feel good to make a difference. And there’s nobody else.”
“The Elf King will assist all who kneel before him and pledge loyalty.”
“For some, that might be too steep a price. Tell him I’d love to talk.” And to my friend the tree, I added, “You can let them go. But, please, don’t hurt them.” I distributed the hats.
* * *
Back at the office, I returned to a long line of patrons in the hall. I walked by and opened the office door.
“Wait your turn!” mumbled someone behind me. “Joe Avery believes in fairness.”
I spun around to a sea of the city’s newest needy class, with no idea who’d spoken.
“I’m Joe,” I said, “and, yes, I do.”