Larry waved us over to their pine picnic table. He had thoughtfully set out corn on the cob, American style french fries, water, and a salad bowl for a snack. He and Fawn had learned how much work went into marriage, and that no one family ever had it like the fairy tales. They had more good days than bad now, and Zhira was one reason why. I’d just sat down to grab an ear of corn, when my cellphone buzzed. An instant later, a shrill ringing came from an open window in their house.
Fawn grumbled and stalked toward the back screen door while I stayed outside with my cellphone so I could have a bit more peace and quiet since Larry and Zhira had followed her inside. Sinera, my secretary, didn’t waste any time with greetings.
“Fern, you have a potential client waiting for you here. What time shall I tell them you’ll be into the office?” I blinked.
“Umm, today’s Sunday. I’ll be in the office tomorrow morning.” I held the cellphone in front of me and checked the date. It agreed with me that it indeed was Sunday, and that at twenty-one Celsius, with clear skies, a hint of a north wind, and no threat of rain, it was a good day to be outside.
“I was contacted directly, and informed I must call you. I do not believe this is one client who will appreciate sitting in your office until tomorrow morning.”
The identity of the client was not my first thought. My first thought was how did she contact Sinera directly? Sinera’s an elf. She doesn’t have an official number. All of my calls get routed to an answering service when no one’s in the office, which is how weekends are, or are supposed to be. The immediate thought was that she’d been contacted magickally. If that was the case, it was someone we already knew because they knew of Sinera. Thinking about it, beyond my previous clients, who mostly preferred Magick stay away from them, had no idea how to get hold of Sinera. All I remember them using was the advertised phone number. That this person knew about Sinera well enough to contact her directly meant it was someone who knew her. That meant Elves. My client had to be an Elf. I have an aversion bordering on an allergy to Elves. Sinera is the notable exception. Elves live in Underhill. They do come to our world and trade goods, a number of them Magickal, for things they consider of value. Your guess is as good as mine what each one wants.
Elves are scrupulously truthful, but that does not mean they’re honest. An Elf will always look for the best way to present the truth and in such a manner so you want to believe it. They tell you what you want to hear using the truth as the lever and it’s a bit like the old joke about ‘proper diplomacy’ which is telling someone to go to hell in such a manner they look forward to the trip.
The most classic example of Elves I can think of is trading something for a service. That the service could span generations of humans doesn’t make the service any less legitimate, and it’s not slavery. It’s payment for a good or a service. Yes, it’s indentured servitude, but not slavery. Slavery is forcing servitude on another, indenture is someone agreeing to it.
“Should I be concerned that we might be dealing with a fae?”
“I would say yes to the might.”
I stayed quiet for a few moments, thinking. Sinera politely gave me time to gather my thoughts.
“Is it someone that you and I are familiar with?”
“Yes, you have had some unfortunate dealings in a legal decision some time ago.”
Legal decision. Only one person fit that description. Judge Caddus. He was forced to declare me beholden to the Elf Lord Cobb when I falsely accused him of deliberately bespelling me. His daughter did it, but the hard fact was he wasn’t the caster. No one except Cobb was happy with that, especially the Judge.
“Has he indicated what the reason for this emergency?”
“He has said he will only speak with you face to face, in your office.”
So not helpful.
“I’ll be there within the hour. If he offers anything in the way of a hint or explanation, give me a call. I’d like not to go in cold.”
“Understood. I will inform you if more information is revealed before you arrive.”
I ended the call and grabbed a second ear of corn. The Judge could wait a few more minutes. After nibbling my lunch, I stepped on inside to tell Fawn and Larry that I had to go over to my office. As I pulled the screen door open I spotted Fawn rummaging in the closet by the front door. She pulled out her police jacket she’d gotten as a new officer. She still wore it in preference to anything else. She settled it on her shoulders and flipped her blonde hair back, then bent down to give Zhira a hug.
“I have to go to work sweetie. I’ll be home soon.” She straightened up and shared a hug with Larry. They held onto each other for a moment more, looking into each others eyes until they noticed me watching.
“He shortstuff. I have to go in. There’s a crime that doesn’t appear standard. So the special unit will be covering it.”
I nodded. “It’s a day for it. I just got a call from Sinera that there’s a client who wants to see me now of all times. I have to go too.”
Larry reached down and picked up Zhira. She giggled and leaned over to Fawn to give her a kiss on the cheek. She then wiggled in Larry’s arm to give me one on the cheek and a pat of her hand.
“We keep corn” she said smiling.
“Yeah you will ‘cause it’s your favorite. I know you” I said laughing. There’s something about laughing innocence that lightens any mood. Here I was going to talk with a Elven Judge, and all I could think of was how nice a day it was. Children are magic.
The good mood stayed with me on my drive over to the office. I pulled into the near empty parking lot and parked the dull black PT cruiser under the lone light post in the lot. It was still missing the rear seats, but I hardly used them. The large back without the seats allowed me to carry a whole lot of things. I felt a stab of melancholy as I got out, closed and locked the door. There not so many around now which made it stand out more. TO do my job I was likely going to have to get a newer old car so it would fit in more when I had to stake out an area. The bright blue sky gave the red brick a more vivid color as I walked to the front door. Reality intruded on my happy mood as I began considering more the reasons an Elf Judge would need to see me so desperately.
I couldn’t think of a reason why and that bothered me more the closer I got to my office. When I pushed the door open of my classic nineteen thirties noir style office, enjoying the gritty ambiance with the four drawer file cabinets bolted to the bottom of the Murphy bed. The four-blade fan turned silently on its refurbished bearings over my large Oak desk with candlestick phone and new Rolodex that sat in gleaming black on the polished wood. The new bricks on the repaired section of wall stood out against the older faded ones. The only bit of ambiance missing was the neon glow of the building’s sign because it was too light outside for it’s orange color to be seen. This was home, moreso than any other place I’d lived.
Judge Caddus was in the guest chair next to my desk, in full formal dress. His dark blue robe covered him from shoulder to ankle and his boots were of bright blue laquered leather with some silver highlights. His pale hair was in a long tail between his shoulders. He stood up and bowed politely as I moved to my desk and sat down. He sat after me, the action telling me that he was requesting my help rather than standing and demanding it. Sinera had schooled me on some of the Elvish eitquette.
Whoever bows lower is the one requesting the meeting, and who stands last is the one who is petitioning the other for assistance. If they remain standing, they will be negotiating from a position of power and making demands. If they sit last, then it will be as a potential ally or looking for assistance. When both stand and sit at the same time with the other party, it is an armed truce to negotiate a settlement between them.
That he sat with me and stood until I began sitting meant he was not trying to pull rank. He was genuinely concerned about something, and that something was extremely upsetting, if I understood Sinera’s lessons properly. I smiled and did what I always did, start with small talk. It gets people, most of them, to be more at ease.
“Hello, Judge. It’s been a while since the last time we saw each other. I’m hoping you have been doing well for yourself.” He looked at me like I’d grown horns and hissed at him. Too late. Whatever gaffe I’d done I did accidentally. Judge Caddus calmed himself and realized the mistake. He actually smiled, if the faint raising of the lips was an Elvish smile.
“I am also unfamiliar with proper human reaction and form. Let us both understand our differences and allow each the room for unintentional error.”
I smiled. He’d spotted the problem and offered a complete solution that blamed neither and focused on understanding. I am nowhere near so diplomatic. I much preferred not fighting, but I had little tolerance for errors that could be avoided with a little effort such as study or practice.
I nodded to indicate I noticed his layered solution.
“Yes, let’s not get in a fight because of a misinterpretation of someone’s intent.” I paused a moment to let him consider the words. “If I am not being overbearing, may I ask what had you contact my partner Sinera directly and request this meeting on a day that is almost never an office work day?”