Genre: Urban Fantasy
Word Count: 2,500
Summary: When Fred is released from jail he plans on laying low and staying well out of trouble. Unfortunately, his gang bosses have other plans for his unique talent. Completely by accident Fred falls smack into the middle of an intricate scheme of destruction orchestrated by his gang's worst enemies. To crawl out alive he may have to temporarily abandon the whole 'lay low' plan he had been so eagerly anticipating.
I let the breath I had been holding hiss through my teeth and nearly crushed the phone between my fingers.
“Tomorrow night, Fred. Right after sunset. You’d best be there.”
“Yeah, okay. I will.”
Spence hung up the phone.
I pushed the end call button and set the phone on the table.
“What’d he have to say?” Graditch asked. He was fully dressed, finally, but he clung to the back of the couch like a crutch as he slowly made his way over to the kitchen table and collapsed into a chair.
“I have to go to the warehouse,” I told him.
Graditch grimaced. “I’ll assume that it isn’t a promotional visit.”
I shook my head. “Nope.”
The mountain goblin was silent for a few moments. “Well, good luck with that,” he said. He swiped his phone off the table and stuffed it into his baggy jeans’ pocket as he stood shakily. “Now, which way is my house?”
“Graditch, you live with your dad in an apartment two blocks from here,” I said.
Graditch blinked. “Oh, yeah,” he said slowly. “Hmm. I think I remember now.” He began his unsteady journey towards the door. “That is some wicked stuff, man.”
“Graditch, the key?”
“They key to my apartment, dumbass,” I said.
The mountain goblin dug into the pocket of his jeans and produced a small silver key. He tossed the key to me, flicked an ear, and left. I listened to his heavy footsteps make their way out the building’s front door.
I didn’t really need the key anyway, but I didn’t want Graditch to have it so he could let himself in to my home anytime he wanted. I threw it into a drawer in my tiny kitchen that held other miscellaneous odds and ends, and, interestingly enough, a mouse skeleton.
Butch was at my feet whining, and his blue eyes were wide and pleading. He licked his chops expectantly.
I rolled my eyes and went to my fridge in search of some suitable food for my dog. There was a block of moldy cheese, a couple bottles of cheap beer, and a sealed mason jar half full of a translucent green liquid that could only be tuanca. Although Butch enjoyed a bowl full of beer when I ran out of money to buy dog food for a few days, I decided that the block of cheese was a better choice. Butch snatched the cheese from my hand and set to gulping it down, completely oblivious to the blue fuzz growing on it.
After I filled Butch’s bowl with fresh water I ripped the sheets off my bed and threw them on the floor. I’d have to make a trip to the laundromat before I even considered sleeping on them again. I stripped off my jeans and flopped down on the bare, stained mattress to sleep the daylight hours away.
The last smoky light of day was fading away outside the grungy windows when I woke up. I could hear the other Dark Fae in the building stirring from their slumbers, booted feet thumping against the creaky floorboards and low growls and hisses.
I took a quick, cold shower in my moldy bathroom. When the bar of soap slipped through my fingers and plunked on the tub’s floor I looked around warily before I bent to pick it up. I had to run around my apartment for fifteen minutes in search of decently clean clothes. Most of my already minimal wardrobe was on the floor covered with dirt, and some of it smelled like Graditch’s sweat. I finally found suitable clothes and left the apartment.
As I approached my destination heavy metal music beat the air, the base only broken by the raucous howl of Dark Fae wandering the streets who had probably begun their night with a few shots of tuanca. The building the music emanated from was called The Orc’s Pimple Saloon. The bar stood at the corner of the block between a pawn shop that advertised pocket watches and used DVDs, but really sold unlicensed guns, and a liquor store. The place had once been a creamery, way back in the 1700s before Fae of any kind—except maybe Old Lady Kira—had overtaken the neighborhood. Now the tall windows were blacked out with spray paint and protected by iron bars. A sign hung over the metal door depicting an orc with a massive red zit on his forehead.
Walking into that bar was like stepping right back into the past. In three years, it hadn’t changed a bit. Tanigor’s idea of decoration were splatters of paint thrown against the wall and allowing it to drip down the bricks. None of the tables or chairs matched because they’d all been salvaged from dumpsters. Webs of Christmas lights were strung from the high rafters and added a dim glow to the dark building. Near the back of the bar Fae played pool and darts on equipment that bore the scars of competitions that sometimes turned violent.
The only pieces that Tanigor could claim as new were the sound system and his oak bar. He had upgraded from a simple stereo to the high-tech system only five years ago. It’d been like trying to lead a donkey, but we’d finally convinced the old fart to buy something his customers could actually dance to without straining to hear the beat above the chatter. Tanigor had learned to like his new investment and soon added a stage and colorful light effects.
The oak bar was the child Tanigor never had and probably worth more than the rest of The Orc’s Pimple combined. The wood was polished to the perfection of a mirror, and it was the only piece of furniture that didn’t bear any scars. Bottles filled with a range of colorful and highly explosive booze were displayed on shelving behind the bar.
I attempted to sidle along the wall and slip into the back rooms where alcohol was stored and Tanigor had his office, but it’s nearly impossible to evade notice in a room filled with Dark Fae.
“Fred!” somebody yelled. “Fred is back!”
Everybody swung their gazes to the door and I felt like a hot spotlight had descended on me. If my skin wasn’t dark green, I’d have probably blushed as pink as a pixie. I dropped my eyes and flicked an ear to the crowd. “Hey,” I said.
“Bout time you got on back here!” shouted a light-skinned Northland goblin. His white-blond head of hair bobbed through the crowd toward me.
“Hey, Hyjarri,” I said.
The goblin was taller than me and muscular, almost mistakable for an albino orc except for the distinctive long, pointed ears. His grin seemed to consume his entire face, revealing his mouthful of needle teeth. “I was starting to miss my favorite bartender!” Hyjarri draped an arm across my shoulders. “How’ve ya been?”
I subtly shrugged his arm away and moved closer to the office door. “Good as I can on a visit with the state, I suppose.”
Hyjarri nonchalantly followed me. “I suppose your old man was happy to have you back, huh?”
I shrugged. “Not particularly.”
“Oh.” Hyjarri’s grin faded for a moment, then reappeared like a flashbulb. “Guess what?”
I’d reached the doorway to the back rooms, but I sighed and turned back to the goblin. “What?”
Hyjarri pulled up the sleeve on his right arm and showed me the red tattoo of the Black Kings. “Right after you got carted off. I completed my initiation!”
I looked at the mark, pride and regret warring in my chest. “That’s great, Hyjarri. I knew you’d get in eventually.”
Hyjarri thumped my shoulder with his fist. “It’s all thanks to you, Fred. If you hadn’t shown me the ropes when I moved to New Knox I would have been dead meat. Seriously, man.”
I ground my teeth together and looked at the floor. “Don’t thank me,” I said, my voice sharper than I had intended.
Hyjarri’s eyes narrowed. “Why not?”
I swallowed the words that sprang to my lips and forced a smile instead. “I just put a few good words in for you in the right places, man. You did the rest by yourself.”
The pale Northland goblin grinned. “Thanks, Fred,” he said. “Hey, you should come party with us sometime. Tell us all about prison and stuff like that.”
“If you’re not careful you might get some firsthand experience,” I said. “I have to talk to Tanigor now. I’ll catch you later, okay?”
Hyjarri nodded. “Yeah, I better see you later. Bye, man.” Hyjarri flicked an ear and merged back into the crowd.
I watched the goblin’s broad back for a moment until he was lost in the tight pack of orcs, goblins, ogres, and a single troll. I bit the tip of my tongue and pushed through the door. I emerged into a large, cool, dark room stacked to the ceiling with wooden crates and cardboard boxes filled with booze. Tanigor’s office was at the opposite end of the room hidden behind a stack of whiskey crates and a beaded curtain.
I knocked on the doorframe and waited for an answer.
“Who’s that?” came the gruff reply. I heard the creak of leather and got a whiff of cigar smoke.
“It’s me, Tanigor. Fred,” I said. I peeked through the beaded curtain into the pitch black office, comfortable lighting for Dark Fae.
A bark of laughter. “Nearly forgot you were alive, dumbass. Get your filthy hide in here.”
I stepped into the office. Like his saloon, Tanigor’s office hadn’t changed while I was away. The room was stocked with metal file cabinets filled with legal paperwork and other documents that probably weren’t quite as permissible. The desk was metal as well, covered with more paper. Tanigor hadn’t progressed to a computer yet. There was no decoration, just his enormous leather chair fit for the highest of the Fayrghuz, the boss of the bosses.
“You’re skinny,” said Tanigor as I sat in a wooden chair across from him. “Skinnier than usual. Prison meals ain’t no good, huh?”
Tanigor was an old goblin, his green skin collapsing in wrinkles and speckled with scars and black spots. He was a pure forest goblin, long nimble fingers and a face sharp enough to cut diamonds. His long gray hair was tied in a tail at the base of his neck.
“Well, I’d rather eat something else, I guess,” I said. I felt uneasy under Tanigor’s amber gaze.
“Whaddaya want? This just ain’t a friendly visit, is it?” He set the pen he had been writing with down on the desk.
“I want my job back.”
Tanigor laughed again, gravely and rough. “I haven’t got any openings. Anyways, just when I start counting on ya you’ll go right back to the bin.”
“No, I won’t!” I protested.
Tanigor made an obnoxious spluttering noise with his lips. “Yeah, right, and shit smells like roses! Who do you think you’re kidding? Not me, that’s for sure!”
I sat back in my chair, insulted. “Tanigor, I was your best bartender! Ask any of your customers. I hardly ever missed a day of work.”
Tanigor rubbed his nose between his steepled hands. “Fred, you and I both know you’re going to be busy for the next few months. You’re not going to want to be working.”
“Who wants to work in the first place?” I said. “The thing is, I have rent to pay and my landlord is an ogre. Must I say more?”
Tanigor chuckled. “No.” His face grew serious again. “But that doesn’t mean I’m going to give you a job just because your landlord is liable to eat you for the rent. I want to know that you’ll be here for your shift and not distracted by other business.”
“Yes, Tanigor, I promise!”
“You miss one shift, serve one wrong drink, break one glass, and you’re finished. Is that clear?”
“Yeah, yeah, crystal.”
“You can start tomorrow at nine sharp.”
“Uh, about that,” I said, my claws tapping my knee. “I kind of have something important going on then, so how about the night after tomorrow?”
Tanigor regarded me a long minute until I thought his eyes would burn a hole in my forehead. “The night after tomorrow, Fred,” he said with bared yellow fangs. “You had better be there or you’re shit outta luck.”
“Thanks, Tanigor. You have no idea…”
The elderly goblin cut me off. “Don’t thank me yet, dumbass. You’ve still got a lot to prove and a lot more time to screw up. Now get outta my sight.”
I happily obliged and scurried out of the office before Tanigor could throw something sharp or heavy to make himself clearer.
After circling the saloon catching up with old friends and a few drinks, I felt drained. It was still early in the night, but I decided to head back for my apartment. It felt good to finally be outside in the dark where the harsh rays of the sun couldn’t irritate my skin. In prison we’d only been allowed outside during the day, and it hadn’t been an enjoyable experience because we were confined to the shade and hadn’t been permitted sunglasses.
The light pollution of New Knox made the stars invisible, but I knew they were there. When I was young my mother used to take me miles away from the city where we could see the stars. I thought it was stupid back then. Still do. It was a waste of gas and time just to see a bunch of shiny dots in the sky that had little if nothing to do with my life.
My mother insisted they were important, though. She told me magic was of the stuff in the stars. I told her stars were great big balls of burning gas and magic had nothing to do with it. She just smiled. I never understood her fascination with stars and magic. Stars were things for Pretty Fae, for Elves. My mother was as dark as a Dark Fae could be, and she didn’t have any magic. At least none that she’d shown me.
Butch was hungry again when I arrived back at the apartment, and he’d expressed his irritation by chewing one of my t-shirts to shreds. I found a box of instant potatoes in a cupboard and dumped them into the dog’s bowl. Butch began licking them up like giant snowflakes.
Before I went to sleep, I found my cell charger in a drawer and set my completely dead phone to charging. I figured I needed some way for people to contact me. The last thing I needed was angry an Dark Fae knocking on my door.
If you wish to read the first couple of chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Part 1, Chapter 2, Part 2.