Only a fool would agree to work for fairies. They are unpredictable, dangerous, and really, really annoying. Which meant that I felt like the king of fools.
Not that I volunteered to help one. The Royal Council made that decision for me. But that didn’t change the fact that I was expected to find some evidence to clear a fairy of the charge of treason.
I braced myself for the avalanche of laughter that was sure to come when I told people that someone named Nandi-Nandi-Boo-Boo would never dream of smacking the Grand Chancellor in the face with a pie. A cherry pie to be exact, with frothed sweet cream on top.
My first instinct had been to turn down the assignment and change vocations. The only problem with that scenario was that I loved my work. Snooping out the truth came naturally to me; almost magically. Besides, the Royal Council expected me to fulfill the assignment no matter what profession I currently claimed to pursue.
They had Nandi locked up in an oversized birdcage covered with anti-magic runes. Wearing a jester’s outfit of green and purple, he swung back and forth on the bird perch. The cage sat on top of a wooden table in a room that smelled of stale coffee.
“Oh goodie,” he said as I walked into the room. “Company.”
“Nandi, I . . .”
“What?” I asked.
“Nandi-Nandi-Boo-Boo. That’s my name. Not Nandi.”
“Consider yourself lucky that I don’t call you Boob.”
Nandi hopped off the perch, placing his fists on his hips. “I can see that you don’t do very well with names. How would you like it if I called you . . . Biggs?”
I blew out my breath, trying to keep it together. “You can call me Biggs. I don’t care.”
Nandi reached through the cage and offered me his hand. “Glad to meet you, Biggs-I-Don’t-Care.”
“Now that we have that out of the way,” I said. “Maybe we can get down to business. Why’d you pie the Grand Chancellor?”
“He got pied.” Nandi’s tiny face brightened, eyes twinkling with excitement. “Did someone really pop old Pudding Face in the puss with a pie?”
“Someone did. They think it was you.”
“I wish I had.” Nandi folded his arms and sulked.
“Maybe you don’t understand the seriousness of the situation. An attack on the Grand Chancellor is considered treason.”
“That’s the problem with you humans. All you understand is serious. Whoever pulled this off will go down in the annals of the Fey as a hero. And it’s funny, too.”
“The penalty for treason is death.” I arched an eyebrow for emphasis.
“What do you know? It isn’t that funny after all.”
“Any idea who might have done it?”
“What kind of pie did they use?”
“Cherry. With cream on top. Does it matter?”
Nandi clutched his belly and fell on the floor of the cage, laughing, rolling around, and stomping his feet. He kept that up for almost five minutes.
Finally, he stood and wiped a tear from his eye. “Your lack of education on both pies and fey is appalling. Of course it matters what kind of pie was used. That tells you everything you need to know about the brave soul who stood up to the corrupt and boring legal system.”
“Let’s start with why it couldn’t be you.”
“Are you kidding? Cherries are out of season. It would be unnatural to do anything with cherries this time of year. Not only that, but cherry pie is too red. You don’t want your victim looking like the target of some brutal mugging. Where’s the funny in that?”
“And it’s all about getting a laugh, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Laughter is good for you.” Nandi made a face by pulling on the sides of his mouth and sticking out his tongue. “Bananas are more my style. Or cow pies. Now, that’s funny.”
“I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I have the urge to pie someone. Until then, we’re looking for a person with a cruel sense of humor and no respect for nature. Is that right?”
“Sounds like a Red Cap,” said Nandi.
“In that case, I know just where to go.”
“Do hurry. I can imagine all the fun I’m missing while I’m stuck in here.”
“I’ll do my best.”
As I walked out of the room Nandi hopped back on the perch and started singing to the tune of Jimmy Crack Corn. The made-up lyrics had do with me cracking the case, but frankly I didn’t care.
* * *
If anyone in the city knew about the Fey, it was Grumble-Tusk. The old troll had a fierce hatred of them and used his network of goblinoid thugs to keep a tab on them in the city. Although he had more than a few Red Caps working for him, it was out of necessity rather than mutual respect.
Grumble operated out of a secondhand shop and ran a money-lending operation in the back. Rumor had it that he had made a fortune selling human junk to goblins and snifflings, but kept the illicit back business going for a sense of criminal authenticity.
Bits, as the shop was known, smelled like a compost heap with a generous helping of troll stench thrown on top. Dull, rusty, partially broken junk littered the store in no apparent order. Merchandise was piled up along the walls and in tottering mounds in the middle of the floor. A counter ran along the entire length of the rear wall.
A pair of mountainous, unwashed humans leaned against the counter, while Grumble sat behind it, feet propped on the scuffed and scratched wooden surface.
“Here to do youse festival shopping early, Snoop?” Grumble sneered at me.
“I’m looking for someone.”
“Den youse outta luck, Bub. I ain’t in da information trade.”
“Too bad.” I positioned myself so I could keep the hired muscle in sight. “This is a chance to put one of those pesky Red Caps on the chopping block and make a little money while you’re at it. There’s a reward for whoever turns in the guy who pied the Chancellor.”
Grumble guffawed. “He deserved it. And whoever done it is okay in my book.”
I looked him in the eye so as to get his attention. “Even if he’s Fey?”
Grumble shifted in his chair, looking more than a little conflicted. The deep growl in his throat was a good indication that he didn’t like the direction his thoughts were going. His upper lip twitched. Then he dropped his feet off the counter and leaned in closer.
“A couple of dem Caps been complaining about da Chancellor’s plan for a reservation of some sort. Personally, I like da idea of putting all dose stinking fairies where dey can’t cause no more trouble. But I heard one of dem has organized a protest group. Seems to be dat his name is Dour-Razzle.”
“Any idea where this Dour-Razzle can be found?” I asked.
“Do I look like a charity? How bouts youse buy something?”
“Why don’t I just slip you a few coins and you can give me a location?”
“Like I told youse before. I ain’t in da information trade. Dey got a union.”
Glancing around the immediate area, I spotted an item that stood out amidst the rest of the junk. A large magnifying glass with a jade handle sat on a shelf, nestled between a milking bucket and a pair of tarnished brass candlestick holders. I had a glass like it up until two weeks ago when someone broke into my office and robbed it.
Mine had been a gift from an appreciative client and had been enchanted to detect magical print on documents. It lost its magic when a suspect I was chasing missed me with a curse and hit it instead. After that, I used it to read the fine print on contracts.
I picked it up and examined it. The handle had an inscription that read: A magic eye for the sharpest private eye in the Five Realms.
“Hey, this is mine,” I shouted at Grumble.
“It will be once you pay for it.”
“No. I mean that someone stole this from me. I own it.”
“Den the boaf of you can enjoy a happy reunion. Once you pay for it.”
I fished a handful of coins out of my pocket and started plunking them down on the counter until Grumble gave me a nod.
“Atta boy.” Grumble swept the coins off the counter with a single swipe of his hand, disappearing to who knew where. “You can find Razzle in da fish district. Him and da rest of the Caps hang out at da Sweating Pig.”
Grabbing my property, I headed out the door.
“Come on back if youse lose your snoop glass again.”
Any day in which dealing with a troll is the easy part is a day I’d just as soon skip. The fish district ran along the docks. Violent crime ranked high on the activity list in the area and city guards stayed away if they could manage it. On top of that, Red Caps were small, mean, evil, and impossible to find if they didn’t want to be found.
As I walked, I checked my inventory of personal defense items. Billy club. Concealed wrist blade. Packets of flash powder distributed throughout several pieces of clothing. And a stun rod with ten charges still on it. The last item came in pretty handy for a non-magical human working in a magical world.
* * *
Everything seemed in order when I reached the Sweating Pig. The inn smelled every bit like name suggested. Flies, which were common all over the fish district, had been drawn to this location in even greater numbers.
I walked in and found a seat close to the entrance. Then I placed a stack of silver coins on the table. Enough of them to be noticed, not so many as to get me killed where I sat. I don’t know why, but I laid the magnifying glass next to it. I ordered an ale and waited.
A mixed-breed hooker was the first of the group to wander over and make an offer to liberate me of the coins. She stood near six foot, sported a pair of fangs, and looked as if she could bench-press me with ease.
I politely declined and mentioned that I was looking for information about Nandi-Nandi-Boo-Boo. The comment earned a round of laughter from the nearby tables, which meant that people were as nosy about me being here as I hoped they would be.
A gambler, an out-of-work merc, and a grungy gnome who claimed to be a powerful wizard all solicited me with their services. Each left the table with their eyes still on the coins.
Then I caught a blur of movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head a Red Cap had positioned himself across the table from me. His hand moved towards the money, but stopped when he realized I noticed him.
His eyes barely reached the top of the table. Only the glistening red cap gave his position away. He glared at me for a moment and then climbed up on a chair and sat down.
“You looking to get killed?” His voice was husky, like an old man.
“I’m looking for information. The coins are for whoever gives it to me.”
“Information about what?”
“A fairy. I’m looking for a witness that saw him attack the Chancellor.”
“What’s the looking glass for?” he asked, warily eyeing it.
“To make sure my informant is telling the truth,” I said. “It’s enchanted.”
“Alright.” He held his small, wrinkled claw out across the table. “Give me the money.”
“Not so fast. First, I need a name.”
“You already have one.”
“I need your name.”
He withdrew his hand and took a step back, moving surprisingly fast. His eyes remained fixed on the coins. A greedy glint filled them.
I reached towards the coins, moving slowly to avoid spooking the Cap and to add as much dramatic effect as possible. The scrape of the coins as they slid along the wood had the intended effect.
The Cap followed the retreating stack of sliver. His stare rapidly alternated between the pile of money and my face. His lips twitched as if warming up to talk.
“My name is Razzle.” The words seemed to shoot out of his mouth on their own volition.
“Just a minute.” I picked up the magnifying glass and held it up and looked at him through it. “Say it again. I have to see if you’re telling the truth.”
“Razzle.” His eyes shifted away from my gaze. “That’s my name.”
“Good.” I continued to watch him through the magnifying lens, hoping that he didn’t have a way to detect enchantments. “Do you know anything about a fairy by the name of Nandi?”
“Nandi? Or Nandi-Nandi-Boo-Boo?” Razzle asked.
I sighed. Even the evil fey had an annoying attraction for ridiculous names. “Take your pick. I don’t care about the name. Do you know who attacked the Chancellor?”
“Nandi-Nandi-Boo-Boo.” He said it quietly, as if testing the lie detecting property of the lens. When no objection came forth he continued. “It was the fairy that hit the Grand Chancellor with the pie.”
Razzle had answered, but a glimpse of a red glob had my attention. Nestled beneath the collar of his green felt shirt sat a lump with a different hue than the bloody drippings that dotted the rest of his shirt. This looked more like—cherry pie filling.
“Do I get the money?” Razzle nearly shouted.
The raised voice snapped my attention back to the discussion.
“Almost,” I said. “Tell me what you saw and then the money is yours.”
While Razzle talked I slid the stun rod out from the belt scabbard where I kept it. Then as soon as he finished I slid the money forward with one hand and leveled the wand at him, under the table, with the other. Just as his hands touched the coins, I triggered the wand.
Razzle stiffened. Then he toppled to the floor, still as rigid as a stone statue.
The noise in the room stopped. Everyone had their eyes focused on me.
I stood up and pulled out my Civil Enforcement medallion. It gave me the authority to arrest anyone I suspected of criminal activity. I held it up high and made sure to flash it around so everyone got a good look at it.
“Nothing to get excited about folks. Lord Marshall Hume asked me to escort Razzle here to his office for a little chat. Look.” I pointed to the coins that were still on the table. “He even offered to buy everyone a round of drinks.”
It worked; their attention was on the money.
Still holding the medallion in the air, I grabbed Razzle by the collar and dragged him out of the inn. Once outside I took the time to hoist the Cap over my shoulder and marched down the street as if nothing was amiss.
Behind me, the sounds of a scuffle tumbled out through the open doors of the inn. The patrons were no doubt deciding upon the distribution of drinks.
Thirty minutes later, I turned Razzle over to the lead Inquisitor and collected my fee. It covered my expenses for the case—and then some. The lure of quick money nibbled at my thoughts once again and I decided to drown that inner voice in a bucket of my favorite ale.
I woke up in my office, slumped over my desk. My head pounded. Nandi sat on the desk in front of me.
“Good,” he said. “I’m glad you’re awake. Now I can thank you for saving me.”
“Just doing my job,” I mumbled.
“Don’t be modest; you’re the best.” A smile widened across Nandi’s face. Then he gestured with his hands and a pie appeared in the air. A flick of Nandi’s wrist sent the pie smacking into my face.
The filling dribbled down my face and into my gaping mouth.
Banana cream pie.
“Now, that’s funny.” Nandi giggled.
Glaring at Nandi, I wiped the pie from my face. “I hate bananas.”