Joe Avery’s Early Client
Charles C Cole
I arrived at my office in the early morning. I stepped out of the elevator into an empty hallway. The peace and quiet wouldn’t last, but it was a nice way to start the day. An unexpected box was leaning against the door to my suite. Flat, rectangular, and heavy, like a large painting. I locked the door behind me and carried the package inside to my consultation room, making space on my desk, excitedly digging around the industrial staples and ripping one end open.
“Easy there!” called a voice from inside the box. “Did you even bother to read the warning on the outside? Fragile.”
I slid the box off the contents. Not a painting. A magic mirror. I stood it on end and placed it in my chair. A vague face appeared, eyes and mouth, but little else. The face smiled, I felt, sarcastically. “Morning, detective.”
“I’ve heard of you,” I said.
“I’ve heard of you, too,” said Mirror. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Why the delivery?”
“Surely, you’ve got people.”
“Detective, I don’t sit on the throne; I just answer to the royals who do. I’m a regular Joe, like yourself, Joe Avery.”
“Do your employers know you’ve gone AWOL?”
“If they don’t, they will: sooner or later we’re back to playing Twenty Questions. ‘Mirror, Mirror on the wall, is the queen cheating on me? Is the royal advisor borrowing money from the vault? Will the prince ever be happy?’ I mean, I’m good, but I can’t predict the future.”
“How can I help?”
“The other day, a baseball smashed through the window across the room from where I usually hang. Nobody came looking for it. Nobody even noticed the mess until I pointed it out. I think it was a penetration test. This week, the security system shut down for an hour. Now, some people would probably have gone for the jewels, but I’m one of a kind. And if you’re desperate for answers, as most people are, I’m your guy.”
“You must know who’s coming after you.”
“I don’t work that way; I’m not all-seeing. I’m like a genie, only instead of granting wishes, I give answers. I go into a mini-trance and the universe replies.”
“Lucky you,” I said. “If you want extra protection, just tell the king.”
“We had a spat. I told him something he wasn’t expecting. Never ask a question for which you’re not prepared to hear the answer. That’s my motto. Personally, I think he’d be delighted if I disappeared for a while: out of sight is out of mind.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I thought we’d make small talk for a bit, then my would-be abductor would figure out where I went and come demanding tribute, which is when you’d step in and be the hero.”
“I haven’t even had my morning coffee, and you want me to take a bullet for you?”
“I’m not expecting violence, Detective Avery, just the threat of violence.”
We heard glass breaking, likely the frosted pane on my entrance, and a door opening. Moments later, the prince joined us, brushing bits of glass from his elbow.
“I believe that belongs to my father.”
“Hand it over and we can avoid the bad publicity.”
“My friend here thinks you’ve gone rogue,” I said.
“From my perspective, information is the most precious commodity in the kingdom. My father thinks so. But I think some facts should remain private. In my house, there are no secrets, thanks in large part to that talking sheet of glass. I just want a return to the status quo: I do what I want, because I can, and the king is none the wiser, blissfully ignorant, focused on diplomacy and governance.” The prince pulled a revolver from his pocket. It was small, snub-nosed, foreign. “Step away from the desk please, detective. No need for you to get hurt.”
“I can’t do that,” I said. “He asked for help. That makes him a client. It wouldn’t be good for business if I hung my clients out to dry. People find out things. Make judgments. Take their business elsewhere.”
“I don’t wish to shoot you.”
“Then don’t.” I noticed a shadow approaching from behind my uninvited guest. “Consider for a minute, Your Highness, if your father had any questions about your recent activity, wouldn’t he have already asked them and already know the answers?”
The king cleared his throat demonstratively. The prince noticed. “Son, you made a mistake. Let’s not make another.”
“You don’t need a magic mirror; I have contacts; I’ve built a network; I have eyes and ears on the payroll.”
“Are they loyal to our family,” asked the king, “or do they just work for money and would therefore change sides, share information with our enemies, for the offer of more money?”
The prince jabbed at the air in front of the mirror with his gun. I slid myself between the two of them, reluctant but resolute. “What did he tell you?”
“We’ll talk about it later, privately. This needn’t involve Detective Avery. Let’s go home.” The king put his hand on his son’s back. It was like hitting an off switch. The prince’s arms and shoulders immediately drooped. The prince placed the gun on my desk and backed away. “I apologize on behalf of my son. Send us the bill for the door. It’s the least we can do.”
“And the mirror?” I asked, knowing full well I could never stand up to a king.
“Find him a good home. He’s served his purpose. I’m happy to give him a reference.”
When we were alone and I’d picked up the mess, I made a proposal. “Speaking of references, my ex is an archivist in the city’s finest library. What if you work there? No more investigative gossip.”
Mirror steamed his glass from the inside and drew a big heart. “I’d love that!” he announced.
“Another satisfied customer,” I said.