• 20 Mar - 26 Mar, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

Ketta flipped her hair out of her face and leaned forward a bit to study the sprite's impossibly small face. Every square millimeter was etched with lines of distress. She might not be innocent of the crime, but the only people she was hurting were the consulate's bureaucrats, so Ketta was willing to call it a worthy cause.

"So, are you going to help me?" shrilled Mithnee. "Please, I don't know who I'll go to if you won't."

Ketta repressed a wince at the tinny voice of the minute fey. It wasn't Mithnee's fault that she sounded like the world's smallest teakettle. Every species had its quirks, and considering that the last time Ketta had been snapped at about her "human stink" she'd relieved the speaker of a few pints of blood, it would be fairly hypocritical of her to turn around and complain about some poor sprite's voice.

"Yeah, I'll help you," Ketta answered, leaning forward and permitting a grin to spread across her face. "You know the usual price for my assistance, right?"

Mithnee nodded hesitantly, the movement virtually imperceptible. "I don't have it all right now but I heard you had an installment plan and once I'm out of the city I should be able to move funds from."

"Forget what you've heard. From you I want a charm."

Mithnee's gaudy green–and–gold wings whirred and she rocketed backwards about a foot. "A charm? That's forbidden magic, I can't give you a …"

"You're already in trouble with the consulate and you're not going to get out of here without my help," Ketta replied firmly. "Performing one charm before you go won't get them any madder than they already are and if you didn't think I could smuggle you out of the city safely you wouldn't be here."

Mithnee flew around in a spiral, agitated, but she apparently couldn't come up with an objection to Ketta's logic, because finally she twittered, "Fine.ÊOneÊcharm – or I'll try it once, anyway. If they're an elf or a vampire or already in love with you it won't work. Who on?"

"I'll show you," said Ketta.

The Twisted Fork was packed any night of the week, but Ketta always went Sundays. Her own schedule was irregular – the odd jobs she did came unexpectedly and could take any amount of time – but Ennec came like clockwork, at ten p.m. on the dot every Sunday. He'd never mentioned to Ketta what he did for a living but whatever it was offered more regular hours than Ketta's work. Since the first time she'd run into him she'd made time most Sundays at ten to drop by the Twisted Fork, but that had been less than a year previously and to hear the waiter tell it, Ennec had never missed a Sunday in almost a decade.

Ketta would never have thought to demand a special price from Mithnee if it hadn't been a Sunday when she'd careened through the air vent, having just barely lost a pack of the consulate's Chasers. A surprising percentage of Ketta's clients showed up while being actively pursued; she supposed that this would probably get her into trouble one day, but so far no one had managed to stumble into her office with Chasers close enough on their heels that they'd been led to Ketta.

I'm just lucky like that, I suppose, Ketta thought to herself as she strolled into the Twisted Fork, permitting her brow to furrow. She should probably move somewhere new, where she'd be harder to find and less likely to act as an emergency hostess for fugitives. Her good fortune couldn't hold much longer. She resolved to put away some money – not that waiving Mithnee's cash payment would help her supplement savings – and move her office as soon as she had enough that it wouldn't mean skipping too many lunches.

"You okay in there?" Ketta murmured, patting her purse where she'd stashed Mithnee, trusting the hubbub to keep her unheard, and the cut of her dress to keep anyone from noticing that her lips were moving. A feather–light, reassuring tap on her deliberately placed thumb confirmed that Mithnee wasn't likely to suffocate or be crushed by the purse's contents, so Ketta took another several steps into the room and let the door shut behind her, scanning the room for Ennec.

He didn't disappoint. In his out–of–place starched white shirt complemented by an almost painfully black vest, he stood out from the seedier crowd of the Twisted Fork like a zebra among raccoons. Ketta wondered for the hundredth time why he hadn't been assaulted, dressing like that and frequenting a place like this; she'd lived in the neighbourhood for five years and it had only been the second half of that period that people seemed to have learned that she really did know how to keep idiots, thirsty vampires, and miscellaneous muggers away from her and her possessions. As far as she knew, Ennec had no such skills.

Ketta slid up and caught a waitress's eye. "Zoe, right?" she asked, and after getting a confirmatory nod, she went on. "Get me a Mermaid's Tear. I'll be over there in the corner. I've got a tab running under the name Ketta Plesk." Having placed her order, she sidled over to Ennec and slid onto the stool beside him, giving him a smile when he looked up to see who it was but saying nothing yet. Sometimes he could be coaxed into starting a conversation himself; this might or might not be one of those times.

Ennec was wearing a brooding expression, staring into his beverage as though it would help him answer some ineffable question. This wasn't out of the ordinary – he rarely started off an evening looking happy, although a pleasant night often saw him stroll home with a faint smile on his lips. On this particular evening, however, he seemed even more preoccupied than usual.

Ketta jostled her purse on the pretense of reaching to take the Mermaid's Tear Zoe handed to her. "How are you this evening, Ennec?"

"I'm all right. And you, Ketta?" he replied, absently touching the curious amulet he always wore. It was a twisted lump of gold with a small red stone in the middle – too opaque to be a ruby, but whatever it was, it was pretty.

There. Now Mithnee has a name and a voice. Should be all she needs, Ketta thought to herself. "Oh, I can't complain," she laughed cheerfully. "Have you seen that new show about the werewolf who falls in love with the vampire heiress? What was the title again..."

"I don't recall. And no, I haven't seen it. Is it good?"

"My cousin Beth says it's cheesy but the action is good. I haven't seen it myself either." Mithnee, what's taking you so long?ÊKetta thought impatiently. She pushed her purse sideways with her elbow as she set down her drink, and felt acknowledging taps from the other side of the fabric.

As soon as Ketta registered this, there was a loud alarm from another part of the restaurant. Ennec leapt to his feet and shouted something that Ketta didn't catch, because at that moment, someone hit her at the base of her skull and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

To her small relief, she was in a single cell, and not being forced to cohabit with someone else – yet. After she was tried (and undoubtedly convicted of about a dozen different charges) she would probably be in even less desirable accommodations.

Her purse was gone, and her pocket pistol with it. They'd found the knife tied to her leg and some clever person had noticed that her hair fastener had sharp parts, but at least she hadn't been transferred into a prison outfit.

Leaning against the wall, Ketta waited for something to happen. There was no one immediately visible in her cell block, and she had no tools with which to attempt escape, so there was nothing to do but wait for someone to drop by to feed her prison slop, or get her acquainted with a public defender, or some similarly unwelcome prospect. –Anonymous