The clop of steps stirred me. High heels hitting the marble outside my office. Or maybe hooves.
I opened my eyes and found myself staring at the floor next to the door, my hand holding a bottle of whiskey I had opened after my day job. It was half-empty now. Dealing with the normies, humans, by day was bad, but I just couldn’t handle the super naturals or non-humans, supnats for short, at night without a little encouragement. This time, however, I had lifted my spirits a bit too high.
The steps stopped; there was a knock. I opened my mouth to answer, but only a burp found the exit—by the smell, it had been searching for one for a while now. But the sound was affirmative enough for the person, or thing, outside to open the door.
“Hello?” a honeyed voice called.
Hooves it was.
I raised my eyes from the doorstep. And it might have been the booze, but apart from those hooves… the tail and small horns, the red skin and yellow eyes, she was ALL woman.
I flopped on my back; fixed my tie. “Hello”, I said, tossing the bottle away.
The creature—Daemon?—was startled, spotting me only now. “Oh...” She brushed her blonde curls behind her ear. “James Hadley? The private detective?”
“At your service.” I jumped up but had to clutch the doorjamb to stay erect. I fumbled my fedora from a coat rack and put it on to tip it. “Come in, miss...”
“Caprine. Lilian Caprine”, she said, stepping in. The smile she shot told me she was over her initial shock. Perhaps the shock hadn’t even been real—you could never quite tell with supnats… or women.
I helped her out of her overcoat, revealing her dress—something between cheeky and flirty in length. The velvety black fabric, tightly imitating the curves of her maroon body, made it hard not to stare.
I played it cool. “Um...”
“Take a... seat, miss Caprine.”
“Lily.” The wink she shot told me I was in trouble.
I lingered on the word and her perfume—curiously rose, not lily—dropping her coat on the floor as she sauntered past me and took a seat.
My own shuffle around my desk was surprisingly stable. “How can I help, miss… Lily?”
The girl's human friend, Bobby, had gone missing with a valuable family heirloom of hers, a golden pendant with a ruby inlay. She told that Bobby had left to Coalton last night and hadn’t returned. Her concern—whether for the man or the jewel—seemed genuine, but it was difficult to tell. I pretended to take notes while trying to decipher her act which ranged from distraught to flirty—sometimes in a single sentence. I suggested that her ‘friend’ might have just run off, but she asserted Bobby’s loyalty… and his assumed demise.
Her story was over; I wasn’t compliant.
She stood up and leaned over the desk. “Please, help me.” She drew closer.
It was very hard not to be compliant…
…but I managed to resist her. Kind of.
“Hold on, toots!” I said, putting my finger on her dark, luscious lips. “I’ll take the job, but the payment will be cash.”
I’m not a bad looking fellow, though perhaps past my prime, but young women—supnats or normies—throwing themselves at me was rare: It never happened.
“I have five rules, one of them not to kiss magical beings.”
She was all about shooting facial expression, it seemed, and now a faux frown was her ammo of choice. “Aw, couldn’t you bend it just once? Or remove it?”
“I only remove a rule when replacing it with a more important one. And I never bend them.”
“Shame”, she said, strolling to the door. She picked up her coat with deliberate tardiness while looking at me over her shoulder. Then she left.
In hindsight, I should have taken the kiss: It’s not like she would have killed me before the job was done.
My office was about halfway between the City and Coalton. The place once known for its mines and factories, was a ghost town now, inhabited only by supnats and lowlifes—those two groups having a large crossover. I took a bus: Driving in my condition would have been reckless, and taking a car to Coalton at night was a sure way to lose its tires, engine, or even soul if it had one. Hardly any normie outside knew what really went on in there.
I walked around, asking ‘people’ discreetly about Bobby—time consuming endeavour and often an expensive one. This time the cost was all my cash… and my shoes and socks: Gnomes are strange. I usually kept extra boots in my car—though not for this reason—but because getting them wasn’t a viable option timewise and I now had no money to buy a pair, I had to make do with scavenged plastic bags wrapped around my feet.
The address the little guy had given me was for a place hidden in a maze of buildings and back streets. I felt uneasy, first about the validity of the info, then about a red, pulsing glow coming from a distant gateway. I scuttled onwards in the gloom, trying not to step on the broken bottles riddled on the ground, and despite of my raising fear, or because of it, I found myself thinking for a word that had the flair of serendipitous
but the opposite meaning. That distraction marked the end to my somewhat stealthy approach as I inadvertently bumped into a ramshackle bicycle which fell with a sound equal in effect to a fart in a yoga class: Everyone nearby was fully aware of my presence, and I wished I wasn’t there.
After a painful dash to the gateway, I pulled a sawed-off shotgun from under my trench coat. One barrel had rock salt in it, the other a silver alloy buckshot. I didn’t like guns, but as a normie dealing with supnats I had to be prepared for everything.
The red light was calling me to the courtyard beyond the gateway and, at the same time, pushing me away. It was magical all right. I scanned the area, but apart from a dried-out fountain it seemed clear. I inched forward.
Then I saw it: A bald, muscular man, resembling the description of Bobby, lay behind the fountain, face down in his own, coagulated blood. He had the pendant in his hand. It was pulsing red.
I shot towards the sound. Both barrels. I was on edge.
Burst of laughter came from the building I had shot. A door opened and a short figure holding a knife stepped out. It was the gnome.
“Be a pal and pick up the bauble? I need another normie blood sacrifice to be able to use it.” He twirled the blade.
“Ye heard me, boyo.” He kicked some glass shards with his boot, smiling. “It’s not like you can run.”
I looked at my plastic covered feet.
Not unlucky, just tricked.
I grabbed the pendant and ran, but crashing against the bicycle for a second time was too significant to ignore. Serendipitous? Its tires were flat, but riding it beat running on glass. I could hear how the tap of tiny steps started to fall behind.
But as I cycled along the many alleys, I realized how out off shape I was. Years, sitting behind a desk or on stakeouts, had killed the athlete in me. I was wheezing, slowing down. And the little bastard was gaining on me.
I reached one of Coalton’s main roads just as the gnome jumped at me. I swerved, unlike the car that hit us. There was no screaming, no sirens, only a dead supnat and a busted bicycle. And me, laying on the road, holding the pendant.
I stole my money back from the corpse and took a cab to my office. Lily was already there.
“Did you get it?” she asked.
So much for her friend.
“You all right?”
Did my disheveled appearance evoke real concern?
I sat down and took a bottle from a drawer. “There’s your trinket”, I said, throwing the pendant on the desk in front of her.
Smiling, she took a hammer from her handbag and smashed the jewel. I spat my whiskey.
Lily blew a curl off her face. “There.” Then she put the hammer on the table along with a wad of bills. “Thanks, handsome. That was the only relic those nasty gnomes could have used against me.”
When I managed to close my jaw, she was already at the door. “Hold on, toots!” I strode to her. She was shooting raised eyebrows and a cocked head. I ran my fingers through her blonde locks and dipped her into a kiss.
“What about your rule?” she asked, flustered.
“New rule to replace it: Never deal with gnomes!”