The Final Return of the First Client by Charles C Cole

The Final Return of the First Client
Charles C Cole

The only way to guarantee a lunch break at the office was by leaving the building, but the demands of work didn’t always observe strict protocol. Maybe there was a long call or I was reviewing case notes or just too tired to make the hike back up the stairs from the busy street below. That’s when I locked the door, hunkered down, kept conversations to a whisper. In these instances, more often than not, an opportunistic client would figure out I was just out of sight, with no line in the waiting room.

We had a brass mail slot in the door facing the hallway. Calendula, my half-rosebush receptionist and junior partner, had whimsically purchased a receptacle that resembled the wide mouth of a whale. Daily deliveries varied from early morning to late afternoon, occasionally even after we closed up for the night. One would hear a familiar jangle, and then mail fell to the hardwood floor with a noticeable SPLAT!

That was my first clue that this was not going to be an average client: hearing a jangle but no SPLAT. I froze. Was some lost soul on their knees, peaking inside? Beat. Beat. “Closed for lunch. Try later.”

The pitter patter of tiny, clawed feet approached. A mouse in a black fez and matching vest climbed up onto the arm of the chair opposite my desk. He nodded in semi-formal greeting. “Detective Avery, I presume. Friend of the little guy.”

And the big guy. Trolls to faeries, large to small. Got a problem?”

You’ve heard of Princess Cinderella. I was one of her royal footmen the night of the ball. I was ‘volunteered.’ In the right place at the right time, I guess. Suddenly, an oft overlooked rodent not much bigger than a walnut was a full-fledged person in a snazzy uniform. Peasants looked down as we rode by, like the glimmer from my buttons was too much for them. I was somebody!”

Must have been quite a night.”

It was. While Cinderella was waltzing with her future prince, I was outside an open window, enjoying the romantic music, having a pleasant evening near the servants’ quarters. And meeting the love of my life!”

Wow!”

A human!”

Oh!”

You see my dilemma,” he said.

I do.”

I need to be human again! Please!”

Have you asked the faery godmother? That’s where I’d start.”

I wouldn’t know how to reach her. You’re looking at collateral damage.”

In a world of countless dreamers, there’s never gonna be enough magic.

I heard a genie owes you a favor,” he blurted. “If you’re not–”

He created my business for me, so he really doesn’t owe me anything.”

Genie’s take obligations seriously, Detective Avery.”

What’s your name, if I may ask?”

Osric.”

Osric, I’ll take your case. I’ll dig around. I’ve got some pretty good sources.”

Like a magic mirror?” He could tell he’d caught me off-guard. “Word gets out.”

In my business,” I countered, “I’ve befriended many folktale creatures. I consider them all magical.”

But you won’t give away your wish.”

The genie told me he can’t use magic to undo someone else’s magic.”

I’m not asking you to undo anything; I’m asking you to redo that night. I’ve never been so happy!”

Let’s look at other options first,” I suggested.

My heart’s breaking, and nobody’ll do anything!”

You only knew her one evening.”

Just like Cinderella and the prince.”

Yes, but they’ve had time since to build a relationship.”

That’s all I want.”

On paper I had two remaining wishes. I’d given one up freely, unasked, to help some bitter soul find a little bit of happiness. Nothing life-changing. I had no plans for the other wishes, but they definitely gave some much-needed peace of mind.

I was being pressured, extorted emotionally, admittedly for a good cause. But none of my future clients would have this option. First come, first served? Was I somehow closing a door? Should I use the wishes quickly before a more desperate individual came along? What if I had a personal/professional crisis of my own that only magic could resolve?

Let me see what I can do.”

As arranged, the genie popped by later.

He shook his head immediately upon seeing me. “No judgment, I promise. Everybody wants something more. It’s the classic human frailty. Ready for some guilty pleasure? How about a fancy car?”

It’s not for me,” I said, avoiding eye contact.

Again?! That’s crazy! At least save one for you! You earned it!”

No offense, but I don’t like the temptation. I’m in the habit of earning my opportunities the hard way. Anything else feels wrong.”

Do what you want, but my life mission revolves around self-satisfaction,” said the genie, “and you’re leaving a bad taste in my mouth.”

I scoffed. “Genie, self-satisfaction? What wish have you ever made for yourself?”

His jaw dropped open. He had no snappy retort. “You know what I mean.”

Just tell me, can you fix this for Osric or is it against some cosmic rule?”

I can make him human.”

Roughly my size, not mouse-size.”

Sure.”

Then, I wish it. Oh, and can you turn down a wish?”

Only if it breaks the rules.”

Which only you know. Because they’re written in your oversized head.” I didn’t mean to be snappish.

You’re not wrong,” he said, not defensive in any way.

For my last wish, because I know you love your job, but sometimes need a break like the rest of us, I wish you an all-inclusive two-week vacation in the Bahamas. Enjoy! Then right back to the wishmaking business.”

You’re one of a kind, Joe Avery. A genuinely good man.”

Don’t tell the Elf King. He finds me a sort of threat. It’s leverage I can use.”

I should pack,” said the genie. “Glad your business is thriving.”

I didn’t even have to wish for it.” I could tell he wanted to shake hands or tap me on the shoulder, but he just smiled.

The Final Return of the First Client by Charles C Cole 1

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