At this point if you’ve been here before you know my love of combining hard-boiled noir in the tradition of Hammett and Chandler with the fantastic. More of the same here. Just a longer excerpt from one piece. It follows the general rules; the detective is hired by a rich (and somewhat morally questionable) client, there’s a girl, there’s a threat, there’s banter. Just throw in the Seelie Court and there it is. The excerpt from last post will be making it’s way into this story I’ve decided. Initially they were two different tales, but one works better than the other.
The Lady & The Fae (an excerpt)
A long time ago I learned never to have expectations about rich men. Some I’ve known have been hard, like iron at the core of them, who money or not were dangerous to cross. Others have been soft and made you wonder how they crossed the street alone. You could never tell just by looking either. Standing next to the secretary in the blue suit I didn’t make any judgments whatsoever about the short balding man in the round glasses sitting at a desk about three sizes too big for him and shuffling papers around it’s dark rose surface with all the glee of a kid with a new pack of baseball cards.
Blue suit made a discrete cough and his employer looked up with surprise and a hint of annoyance. “Mr. Poe is here, Mr. Cross.”
He had watery blue eyes with a spark of real intelligence and a thin line of sweat over his eyebrows. I didn’t read anything into it. Some men just sweat more than others. Cross swept his hands across the desk arranging the papers into an untidy pile then slid them into a drawer at his left. He had a bright white shirt and a tie the color of baked salmon. I imagined he had never been a man given to a lot of physical exertion and he was on the wrong side of middle age. “Thank you, Ellis.” he said while keeping an appraising eye on me.
“We’ll have something to refresh us I think, Ellis. What are you drinking Mr. Poe?”
“Whiskey. Neat, as a preference.”
Cross gave Mr. Ellis a nod and the smart young man crossed to a sideboard that was well-appointed and likely well used. While Ellis poured Cross waved me to a chair. I sat, didn’t notice any ashtrays so didn’t smoke. I waited. Cross made small talk.
“Your drive up was pleasant, Mr. Poe?”
“Pleasant enough. On the phone Mr. Ellis said it was a matter of some urgency.”
“So it is. Have you done much bodyguard work, Mr. Poe”
At that point Ellis handed me a thick crystal glass with two fingers of Tennessee gold in it. He put another drink in front of his employer and then slipped off to the side of the room in shadowed vigilance. I sipped and rolled the liquid around a bit before letting it slide back. My chest got warm. It was good stuff. Even if I passed on Cross’s job it would have been worth the drive. I decided to hurry things along.
“Let’s make this easy Mr. Cross. You already knew all about me before your Mr. Ellis made the call. Men like you always make a point to be informed before they invite someone into their personal affairs. You know when I got my license, and you know I was in the army. You know I have a reputation for knowing my way around the sorts of things the very rich, the newly rich, and the very criminal have been pointing their noses into since we won the war with unconventional means.”
While I spoke Cross had leaned back in his chair, his own drink untouched and smile on his small, thin lips. He spoke when I finished.
“Very good, Mr. Poe.” He grabbed his drink in a smooth motion, taking a third of it in one swift gulp. “These are in fact things I know.”
“I also know that you have a reputation for honesty and for integrity, which people often confuse as being the same thing. I’m told you are smart, resourceful, and when necessary ruthless. Is that a fair assessment?”
“I’m not ruthless.” I said. “If it comes down to me and the other guy, I prefer it to be me. If I can work a case without making more work for the city coroner I will. Usually when the bodies start to pile up it’s because the other team is getting anxious. If a button man is what you want then I’m not your guy.”
“That is not what I want at all. And I think you are very much “my guy”. Just the sort of man I need. It’s my daughter you see.”
Cross took his drink in hand again and emptied the glass before going on. “My daughter Gwendolyn is all I have since my wife is no longer with us. Gwen is eighteen and no daughter ever made a father prouder.
“In two weeks she will get married to a man who doesn’t deserve her. Of course that’s just a father’s prejudice. Mitchell Sachs comes from a good family and has his own means. I’m sure she’ll be very happy. I need someone to make sure that Gwendolyn is safe until the wedding ceremony is concluded.”
My glass was empty so I sat it on Cross’s desk where his secretary could see it.
“Okay. You have a great daughter, she’s made a good marriage match. So what exactly is it you’re afraid of?”
“Who said I was afraid?”
“Who says? Me. I saw the White Ash that lines your drive and that makes up your front door. If I were a betting man I would say I’ll find the same if I take a look at your window frames. And then there’s the flowers. Yes, you are afraid Mr. Cross and you think that whatever it is your afraid of will be coming for your daughter before her wedding. I can’t effectively protect her unless I know what it is I’m coming up against.”
“I don’t have to tell you Mr. Poe how the war changed everything. I was in manufacturing before, not too big, I didn’t have this house then. The war was making me richer, but there were others who were determined to keep me down. Now it wasn’t malice, just good business. I was loosing more military contracts than I was getting. I couldn’t let that stand. Then there started to be rumors that turned out not to be rumors. The enemy were using occult means to turn the tide and soon the allies were doing the same. There were other stories; that magic had been purged from the word centuries ago and now we’d brought it back. Most people didn’t believe of course. Couldn’t believe. That sort of thing, it runs contrary to what most people know.” Crossed waved a hand dismissively. “So I did my research. I’m not a credulous man, I like to see for myself.”
As a story I knew it pretty well. I also knew what had come next. “You did believe. Or at least you saw no harm in trying it out. So you made what, a deal? What sort of demon?”
“No demons.” Cross put his hand to his neck where a thin silver chain hid itself in the fold of skin. He pulled a small silver cross from it’s hiding place behind his vest and held it up to shine in the light from the bay windows. “I count myself among the faithful, Mr. Poe. I would never take part in any Faustian pact.” Replacing the cross he patted it in place before going on. “As a boy in Scotland however my grandfather would tell tales of the Good People, the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. You probably know them as fairies. I performed a ritual. The details are unimportant but it worked. A prince of the Seelie Court made my acquaintance and a deal was struck. Assistance in my business affairs in return for my first-born daughter as his bride. By the time of the second war I was a very rich man and my fortunes increased. It seemed to be working out quite well for me.”
“You sold your daughter into servitude. Not working out so well for her.”
“Understand, I wasn’t even married at the time I entered into the agreement. I was just a boy! Never even considered it. The idea of having any children was so far from my thoughts that I considered it likely I would never have to make good on my end. I’m not a handsome man, not the type many women would consider.”
“Then you met your wife and all that changed.”
“It did. We met between these interminable wars. Melinda was a beautiful woman. Beautiful and smart. Her family was old money but she was the last one left. It was at some pointless social function or other. When she took an interest in me, made it clear she was willing to be pursued, I couldn’t believe my luck. Now I doubt that it was luck.”
“Why is that?”
“We were very happy for a time. Very happy indeed. Our marriage was quick. I was afraid she would change her mind, you see.” Crossed laughed but something in it was strained. “I don’t think poor Melinda could have though.”
With a motion Cross indicated for Ellis to get him another drink. I wasn’t offered one.
“Within a day of my daughter being born my wife was a different person. She seemed to have lost all her love for me, though she doted on Gwendolyn. It became torture to live in the same house with her when we had once been so happy together. I have to admit to myself know that our happiness was an illusion, at least on Melinda’s part.
“On the day Gwendolyn turned five Melinda vanished. She took none of her things with her and said nothing to anyone. Simply vanished, with no trace.”
“What do you think happened, Mr. Cross?”
“Do you know anything about the Fae? Their behaviors? Their strengths?”
“Some. They can confound with their speech, create illusions, speak to birds and animals, among other things.”
“’Among other things’, yes. It is my belief that my wife was put under a glamour to love me and bear me a daughter. When that was done she was taken away to the Seelie Court because she had also made a deal.”
“So you would have to make good on yours. It seems like a lot of work.”
Apologies if this runs into TL;DR country. I like the sequence though and think it works better as an excerpt as presented.