“There’s three types of people in Britain,” said Peter, placing his pint mug on the bar with a tad more force than was necessary.
“Those that can count to three and those that can’t?” ventured Bob.
“What? No. That doesn’t even make sense. No, I’m being serious, there’s three types of people in this country, is what I’m saying.”
“Those for, those against and those –“
“And I’ll tell you what they are.”
“Thought you might.” Bob’s grin was lost on Peter.
“There’s the fae, the racists and the hippies.” Peter delivered the line with the finality of a hanging judge.
“You’re lumping all the fae together? Only my experience is, you ask four fae a question, you’ll get six answers.”
“No, I’m generalising,”
“Hell, I’ve heard you arguing with yourself, and you lost the argument.”
“The fae in general, is what I mean. Not specifics, but generally. It’s what your people do, anyway.”
Peter waved his mug, slopping beer onto the counter. “Yeah. Not you, maybe, but you in general. You generalise. You make laws about us.”
“We make laws about us too.”
“Yeah, but you don’t make laws specifically for you though. Like, murder. You got a law about murder, and it applies to everyone, right? You can’t go around murdering people, and we can’t either.”
“I could think of a few I’d like to.”
“Ha! Can’t we all. No, I mean, there’s no law that’s just for your people but not for us. But us, oh no. There’s laws for us, and just for us. Like housing.”
“Yeah. You know, if we want to buy property, we got to prove residency for three generations. Us! My father saw the first people arrive. Before the Celts, even. And not by boat, neither. Walking across the land bridge, and we were here already.”
“I’d be amazed if your dad would have been sober enough to see anything at all, let alone remember it.”
“That’s racist, that is. We’re not all drunkards.”
“I’ve met your dad.”
“I meant in general.”
“He was in his underwear, singing.”
“He wasn’t at his best.”
“It was ten in the morning.”
“Okay, okay. Anyway, I didn’t mean my dad per se. My forefathers, is what I meant. My fathers in general.” Peter took another swig from the mug. “What I’m trying to say…” He frowned, staring at the line of optics as though they had his dialogue written there, if he could just focus. “What I’m saying is, we’re lumped together.” He let go of the mug and circled his hands to encompass the fae nations. “We’re all lumped together, like we’re just one thing, right?” He moved his hands to the right and banged them onto the counter again. “And there’s the racists. No offence, but you know what I mean. Want us all gone. Think we’re subhuman. You know how many fae end up in hospital? And that’s just the ones who trust your medicine. That’s just the ones who aren’t floated down the Thames or buried in shallow graves. They don’t count them, you know. Not properly. Not like your people.”
He looked down at his hands, circling the racists, and frowned. “Oh, yeah, and then there’s the hippies.” He encamped the hippies to the right of the racists. “You know the sort. They come here from all over. You ever been to Glastonbury? Not the concert, I mean the town. Jesus! You can’t spit without hitting a dream catcher. Seriously, I could arse-rape one of them and they’d be like, ‘oh, is this ethnic? Is this some sort of ancient ritual? Do you mind if I Instagram it?’ They’re as bad as the racists, in their way, lumping us all together.”
“So, what are you saying? I’m a racist?”
“No. no.” Peter waved the suggestion away. “No, you’re all right.”
“You’d better not be calling me a bloody hippy.”
“Jesus, Joseph and Mary, will you just be serious for one moment? You think it’s a joke?”
“I think you’re getting all too maudlin. Maybe have a shandy next?”
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. But you won’t be able to laugh much longer. The time’s coming, and I’m being serious here, the times coming where you’re gonna have to pick a side. And you know what? You won’t be able to pick our side. And there’s fae who won’t care if you’re racist or hippie.”
“Yeah? Because I’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve said, ‘your people’”
Peter waved his hands in front of his face as though someone had passed wind. “No, no, no. You know I’m not a racist. Jesus, don’t I drink with you? Haven’t we eaten together? But the whole society, the government, the police, you know, everything, they’re all out to screw us over. And you know it, Bob. You know it.” He grabbed his beer and downed it in a long draught.
“He bothering you?” Both friends turned to look at the newcomer. He wore a T-shirt that might once have been a tent, and his plus-sized jacket looked as though it was about to rip at the seams.
“No, we’re – “ Peter was cut off by Bob’s upheld hand.
Bob smiled at the stranger. “No, we’re just chatting, that’s all.”
“The stranger leant forward into Bob’s face. “Only we don’t like your sort here. Maybe you should go drink someplace else.”
Bob raised his eyebrows. “You think? Well, okay, maybe you’re right.” He slid off the bar stool. He walked to the end of the bar, lifted the flap and stepped into the service area of the bar. He walked around to face the huge creature.
“On the other hand, maybe we should ask the owner of the pub, because he’s the only one who makes the rules about who can drink here and who can’t. Have you seen him lately, Peter? Oh wait, that would be me.” Bob leant forward until his face was inches from the troll’s. Unseen, under the bar, Bob rested his fingers lightly on the pickaxe handle that lay there. He smiled brightly and said in a low voice, “Listen. I got a living to make. You pay for your drinks and don’t make trouble, you’re as welcome here as anyone. You make trouble, and I’ll let it be known that you’re a Ministry spy, and guess how many pubs you’ll be able to drink at then? Your choice, sunshine. Have a good time like everyone else, or piss off.” He leant back but still kept his hands resting on the club. Much louder, he said, “So, what’s it to be, sir? A pint of beer? We got some real ale on tap.”
The troll stared at him for a long second, then snarled and spun on his heel.
“Goodnight,” Bob called at his retreating back. He pointed at Peter’s empty mug. “A shandy?”
“Stuff that for a game of soldiers. No, I’m meeting some people.” Peter climbed off the stool and looked up over the bar at his friend. He jerked his head at the door. “See? The fae are pissed, and it’s going to get worse. Pick a side, Bob.” He shook his head sadly. “Sorry.”
As Peter approached the door, it swung open and he nearly head-butted the stomach of a man who looked as though sucking lemons would make his current expression sweeter.
"Watch it, short arse," snarled the newcomer.
"My apologies, officer, I'm sure." Peter stood aside and let the man through, followed by a young man, barely twenty, dressed in Ministry uniform. After they'd entered the bar, Peter paused in the doorway, turned and gave their backs an obscene gesture.
"Gentlemen," said Bob, as Peter made his exit. "What an unexpected pleasure. What can I do for you?"
"Andrews," said the sour man, "Meet Constable Nunes. Fresh out of training, he is, head full of learning. Thought I'd show him some of the real world. See some of the choice spots on the patch. Not a city boy, see?"
"Constable Nunes. I hope Sergeant Wilson isn't being too hard on you."
"That's 'Inspector Wilson'."
Bob expressed surprise that could almost have been genuine. "My, promotion? I'd celebrate, but you're on duty. Would you care to buy a lemonade, perhaps?"
Wilson treated the bar to a stare, turning slowly as the few drinkers avoided his eye.
"Andrew here fancies himself as a comedian, because he thinks he's better than us. Yet he runs a pub for fairies. You think that makes him better than us, Constable Nunes?"
"No sir," said the constable.
"No sir, indeed. In my book that makes him pretty low. Makes you wonder what else he does with fairies."
"They're not fairies," said Bob. He glanced at the couple in the corner. "Well, they're mostly not. Civilised people prefer the term, 'fae'."
"Is that right?" Said Wilson. "Well, you live and learn. I'll try and remember that next time I meet fairies." He stared at a woman sitting at a table for a moment. "You see, Constable Nunes, there's people back in the nick would call this a fairy bar. Not the Lion and the Lamb, though. No, this isn't a fairy bar. Not even a fae bar. Want to know why? 'Cause there's humans drink here too. Gay for fae, some of them. Molls for trolls. Rather have an animal stick their tongue down their throat than their own kind."
"That's unfair," said Bob. Instinctively he let his fingers stoke the pickaxe handle as he knew his mouth was going over-rule his brain again. "I'd gladly stick my tongue down your throat."
Wilson spun to face him. Bob raised his hands and stepped back. "Or you can stick it down mine. Whatever keeps the bloodline pure."
"And the lion will lie down with the lamb." The words seemed unpalatable in Wilson's mouth. "You know where that's from, Constable? The Bible, that's where. Bit of a blasphemous name for a fairy bar, but you know what? Makes sense. Want to know why? Because it's unnatural. Lions and lambs don't mix, and we all know the reason why. Still, we let it go on for now. Want to know why?"
"Because it's not breaking any laws?" suggested Bob.
"Because it keeps the little bastards quiet. They all hate each other almost as much as they hate us. You know the difference between a dwarf and a leprechaun?"
"No. Nobody does. They're the same thing, but you try and tell them that. They'd be slitting each other's throats day and night, but here, they can talk things out. Mark up the manor. Bury the hatchet, and not in each other's skulls. And if they do kick up a ruckus, we know where to come and find the little short-arses, see? Very useful to the Ministry, this place." Wilson raised his voice so that it would carry around the bar. "Especially as how the landlord used to be a Ministry officer." He smiled sweetly at Bob. "Must be competitive, running a pub in the East End. Lots of fairy speak-easies about. You know, for those fairies that don't like drinking with the likes of us. Not formally registered with the magistrates, like yours, of course. Difficult to take their licences away if they don't have one. Easy if they do. Oh!" He raised his hand to his mouth in mock horror. "I do hope I've not ruined your reputation by letting slip you used to be one of us."
Wilson turned and made for the door, Constable Nunes on his tail. At the door he stopped and turned, taking in the faces of all the drinkers. He winked at Bob. "'Night." Then he was gone.
Bob stared at the door, wondering just how many of his regulars would be prepared to swear an alibi for him if he actually used the pickaxe handle on the obnoxious copper. He felt a light touch on his arm and turned. Dawn looked up at him.
"It's not like everyone didn't know," she said. "Stuff him. We all know his sort. Deal with it every day." She shivered and her wings spread, shimmering in the overhead lights.
"Not behind the bar. Watch the glasses." Bob leapt in front of the optics, spreading his arms protectively.
Dawn laughed and folded her wings again. "Sorry. Can't help it when I get angry." She reached up and patted him on his shoulder. "We know you're okay, Bob, really we do. Don't let that bastard get to you."
"It's true," growled the creature at the other end of the bar. "We don't care. Specially when you get a round in." He downed his pint and put the glass on the bar. Bob looked around. There were maybe half a dozen people on the public side of the bar. There must have been twice as many before Wilson arrived. He heaved a sigh.
"Fine, fine, one round, but no cocktails and none of the good stuff."
Peter reached the top stair and stared at the door across the landing. He'd made it. Now all he had to do was let go of the banisters. He slid his hand to and fro, his palms slick with sweat. Let go. That's all he had to do. Let go. Now. Well, on three. One, two, three! Well, okay, maybe after three. He looked over his shoulder and wished he hadn't.
Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God! No, what was behind him was worse. He let go of the banister and staggered forward. That was better. He was in a room, that was all. A room. There was the door, in front of his nose. Wall. Floor. Yes, just floor. No stairs behind him. That was just an old memory. A floor like any other. Might as well be a hundred metres of granite under the floorboards. Except there wasn't. Every atom screamed that below a thin crust of wood lay space.
No, this was stupid. He'd stood over crevices before. He'd skipped over narrow bridges as though they were solid to the Earth's very heart.
Except they'd been underground, where nature intended great spaces to be.
Concentrate on the wall in front of him, that was the trick. Wall. Door. He was underground, that was it. Underground, in a cavern that just happened to look man made. He could do this. No problem. He shoved at the door and walked through.
Ahead of him stood a semicircle of chairs. In their focus stood an easel with a flipchart that proclaimed him to be in the presence of the Fae Brotherhood. Someone had struck out 'Brother' and writtin 'Sib' over the top. Most of the chairs were occupied. A couple of fairies, a troll, a few of indeterminate origin. By the easel stood a man, chalk white skin, white hair and pale lips. He smiled at Peter.
"Brother! Welcome. Take a seat."
Peter took a step forward, then noticed the walls. Such as they were. Some freak of nature had decided to make the walls out of glass. Windows stretched from floor to ceiling. Outside, in the harsh streetlights, he could make out other buildings, and between those and him lay a concrete ravine that screamed its height at him. He staggered back until he felt the comfort of the wall behind him. If he concentrated really hard, it was almost as though he were laying down, the wall was his floor and the heights outside the window were no more than lengths.
"Please, don't be shy." The white figure beckoned to him. The others had twisted in their chairs and were staring.
"He's a dwarf," said one.
"Not a dwarf," muttered Peter, as the sweat started to soak his clothes.
"I'm not a dwarf," said Peter, with more anger than he felt. Yes. Try and distract himself. "I'm a leprechaun."
"Same difference." Peter glared at the speaker. An elf, by the looks of him.
"Yeah, like you're a fairy," shouted Peter. Yes, the anger definitely helped.
The elf shrugged. "Scared of heights. They all are."
Someone muttered, "It's only one storey."
The pale figure approached him. "Does it help to be close to the wall?"
Peter nodded. It did, somehow.
The pale figure turned. "Brothers, come. Bring your chairs over here. Please. We must help each other. After all, who else will?"
With varying degrees of enthusiasm, the others stood and dragged their chairs back in line with Peter. A strange creature, all shadows and rags, pulled a chair over for Peter.
"Me too," he whispered.
"Scared." He took his own chair, placed it near the wall then hunkered down behind it.
"Scared? What of?"
"Everything." He shrunk even lower, looking out at the room from under the backrest, until he could almost have been just a shadow himself.
The pale man took the easel and dragged it closer, till once again he was at the focus of the semicircle. He glanced at his wrist. "It's time," he said. "Brothers." He gave a little bow to a couple at the end of the row. "And sisters. Sibs. I see we have a couple of new faces tonight. Welcome. Sir, I can see you are of the lupine persuasion." He bowed to a man to Peter's right. "Welcome. I know the moon is waxing, but in future, should a meeting fall during your time of the month, know that we understand and can support you. You are amongst family here. And sir." He bowed to Peter. "A leprechaun, you say? I'm sorry, I don't know any Gallic. Although, forgive me, to the untrained eye, a human with dwarfism and a leprechaun can be difficult to distinguish. Do you have any proof that you're fae?"
Peter looked around. Everyone was staring at him, with varying degrees of distrust and suspicion. So, a typical family, then.
"You want me to dance a jig and drink a bottle of whiskey?"
The leader of the meeting winced. "We don't encourage stereotypical thinking here. But if you could help us out?"
"I know him." Peter turned. A pixie stood and turned to Peter. His face was vaguely familiar. "He drinks at The Lion."
"So we have a sponsor. Anything else?" The leader turned to Peter and raised an eyebrow.
Peter sighed. If he was here at all, he might as well be all in. Besides, there wasn't a human among them. He raised his hand and extended his pinkie. "My ring."
"May I have it?" The man held out his hand.
"Sure, if you cut my finger off. Word to the wise, though. You'll need to cut my head off first. And bring friends. A lot of them. It's my ring."
"Of course. I apologise. But perhaps you'll allow Tyroll to examine it?"
A fairy stood, walked over to Peter and waited. Peter sighed, and held out his hand. The fairy took Peter's hand in his, with a grip that felt like steel wrapped in gossamer. He flicked out a purple tongue and licked the ring. He shuddered, his wings flashing for a moment as his eyes closed. Then he turned to the pale man and nodded. "Magic, sure enough." The leader beamed and threw his arms open.
It was the time of the evening Bob thought of as The Lull. City workers had long gone, catching the late trains to suburbia and beyond. Most of the day fae had gone home too, or they’d drifted off towards Brick Lane for a taste of home cooking. The night fae would be coming soon, for a quick pint or two before going on to do whatever it was they did in the small hours.
So when she entered the bar, Bob noticed her. A woman, alone, late at night. Human, as far as he could tell. Dressed against the chill of the night, but not in the usual tie-dye layers or faux-fae of what Peter had called the hippies. Was she an office worker putting in the overtime? Was she bored and looking to walk on the wild side?
She looked around the bar, as though she expected to recognise someone, and as she turned he saw the flash of silver at her neck. Ah, hippy in disguise, then.
She walked up to the bar and smiled at him. “Hello. Is the owner around?”
“Yes, I am,” Bob replied.
“Oh, right. I mean the real owner, not just, you know, the person who has the licence.”
“Yes, I’m here too. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. He’s too pretty to own a business. Well, I get that a lot, and frankly, judging me on how good I look is insulting.”
She looked confused, an expression Bob was used to when he tried out his wit and repartee.
“No, I mean, it’s hard for the fae to own property, let alone get an alcohol licence, so, you know, a lot of them get a human to front the business.” She waved a hand to indicate the pub, in case Bob was confused as to what business he was in.
“Nope. Front and back, that’s what you’ve got. How can I help you?”
“Oh, right, sorry. Yes, well, I’m a rep for the AETF.” She reached into her handbag, before suddenly pulling it out again. “Oh, Amanda Gordon. Sorry.” She offered her hand. “Rude of me. Sorry.”
“Bob Andrews, and I’m not sorry for being me.” Bob shook her hand. She’d obviously heard somewhere that a firm handshake was crucial, so she squeezed tightly then released after one shake, making sure to stare him in the eye. He wasn’t convinced
“Um, okay. Oh, right.” She delved into her handbag. “As I said, I’m with the AETF.”
“Are you selling cookies?”
“What? Cookies? Sorry?”
“The AE-whatever. Is it like the girl scouts?”
“Oh I see!” She laughed, too loud, too shrill. “No, no, the AETF.” She handed me her card. “The Association for the Equal Treatment of the Fae.”
Bob looked at the card. An office off of Old Street. He offered it back to her.
“You’ll be delighted to know I treat all my customers and staff with the same utter contempt and disdain that I treat my human customers with. Dawn!”
Dawn turned from serving an elf at the bar.
“Do I give humans special treatment?”
“No,” she answered. “You’re a miserable bastard to everyone.”
Bob indicated the fairy as his star witness. “See?”
“Yes. No. You don’t understand.” She started to blush. “I’m not here about a complaint. It’s just, the fae frequent this pub, right?”
It was The Lull. ‘Frequent’ might be a little strong, but at this time of night Bob had to admit that, right now, the fae ‘rared’ his bar right enough.
“So, would you mind if I spoke to some of them?”
“Oh, hell yes.”
“I very much mind, thanks for asking. I’ll not have my customers wound up, not by God-botherers, vote-gatherers or do-gooders. Sorry. They come here to have a good time, drown their sorrows or feed their addiction. Anything that puts them off their desire to put coin in my pocket is a non-starter.” He looked at her crest-fallen face and took pity. “However, see that board there?” He pointed to the notice board near the end of the counter. “You have a bunch of your cards, you can stick them there. You got a leaflet?”
“Um, no. Not with me, anyway.”
“Okay, if you can get a leaflet, you can stick it there as well. A small one, mind, not A4, and not so’s it covers anyone else’s notice. You are also welcome to drink here, because I’m an equal opportunity publican, and will take money off of anyone of whatever species. Isn’t that right, Dawn.”
“Sure”, said Dawn, squeezing past him to serve another customer. “If I agree, will you stop beating me?”
“To be fair, I beat my human staff too,” said Bob, leaning in to share the confidence. “It’s only fair. Like you say, equal treatment.”
“I’m not sure you’re taking this seriously, Mr. Andrews.”
Bob sighed. “No, you’re right. Why? I’m glad you asked. Because it doesn’t matter one whit to me. Sorry, but it doesn’t. I’m sure there’s great injustices you need to fight, great wrongs that need righting, but if someone has the money, I will serve them a drink. It doesn’t matter if they’re black, white or blue. It doesn’t matter if they’re human, fairy or bogyman. They give me money, I give them drink. It’s a simple business plan. Sometimes I like to make it more complicated by putting peanuts on the bar, but generally, that’s how it works. If you want to fight the good fight, power to your elbow. But not here. Oh, and can I give you a word of advice? Seriously?”
Her lips had grown to a thin line. “What?” she forced past her clenched jaw.
“Lose the jewellery. Mountain fairy, am I right? Welsh?”
She clasped at the pendant on her neck. “Shropshire.”
“Close enough. Look, dressing up in feather hats and pixie boots will get you mocked, but wearing the genuine thing? Whoever you bought that off, they stole it. Maybe even killed for it. Okay, maybe not the seller, but someone did, because Mountain fairies, they don’t give up that stuff. It means something, you know? Like a, I don’t know, like a wedding ring to us, I guess. They don’t sell that stuff, is what I’m saying.”
“I didn’t buy it.”
“Okay, but the original owner, he didn’t sell it. Flash that too much around here, and some fae is going to take it back. Not gently, either.”
“You’re right.” Amanda lifted her chin. “The original owner didn’t sell it. He gave it to me. Well, my dad.”
“Your dad. Right. I’m sure that’s what he told you, but trust me – “ He paused. Something in the back of his mind was clamouring for attention. He glanced at the card again. “Wait. Gordon?”
She nodded. “Yes.”
“Alexander Gordon? Friend-of-the-fairies Gordon? The guy who –“
“Yes, the guy who.”
Bob stepped back and raised his hands. “Well, excuse me. I didn’t know I was in the presence of greatness. Well, the daughter of greatness, anyway.”
“There’s no need to be sarcastic.”
“No, no. I mean it. Here, let me get you a drink. After all, your father was responsible for what, ultimately, led to this.” Bob waved at the bar. “What do you want?”
“I can pay for my own drinks.”
“Not in this bar you can’t. Well, well, Alexander Gordon. Who’d have thought it? So, white wine? Cinzano and lemonade? Guinness?”
“I’ll have a red wine.”
“One overpriced Merlot coming up. None of the house crap for you.” Bob busied himself behind the bar. “A clean glass, too. To hell with the expense. Hey, Dawn. This is Amanda Gordon. Gordon!”
Dawn looked at the woman deadpan and shrugged. “You all look alike to me,” she said. “No offense.”
“No, but, Gordon!” Bob placed the glass on the bar. “Ignore her. She’s just jealous. But hey, look.” He leant forward over the bar and lowered his voice. “I meant it about the necklace. Keep it tucked away. By all means show it to a fae after you’ve explained who you are, but don’t wear it out in the open like that. Someone might not wait until you’ve explained it.”
Amanda took a sip of the wine. “So, what? Now I’m a celeb, can I talk to your clientele?”
“Hell, no. Sorry, I meant what I said. Most people here, they want to chat with their own kind, spend a few pounds, play a game of darts, even. They don’t want a do-gooder telling them what they should be doing, no offense, not even the daughter of Alexander Gordon. But look, I’ll tell you what. A couple of the cards up there are past their sell-by date. Tell you what. Bring an A4 poster and I’ll make room for it.”
Peter had never been to an AA meeting, nor a political meeting, but he imagined the last hour must have been a cross between the two. Chalky had chaired the meeting, encouraging people to speak, gently admonishing those who stepped over the line and adding his own little encouragement after each speaker. One by one someone had introduced themselves, name and species, and talked about their problems living in a human world. After each complaint the others murmured their agreement or support. Then the pale chairman would add his own perspective, most of which sounded rehearsed to Peter’s ear.
“It’s the way it is,” he’d often say, and the room would respond, “But it’s not fair.” It was the mantra of the group, and even Peter was joining in by the end.
Afterwards the leader recited a list of routine announcements about leaving the room tidy, who was on washing up rota, etc., and finally announced that coffee and biscuits were the order of the day. People broke up into small groups, not entirely on species lines, and the pale figure flitted from one to the other.
Peter had calmed somewhat, the list of complaints from strangers washing over him and helping to dampen his terror with boredom. Still, he remained seated, feeling the comfort of the wall behind him. Eventually the tall figure approached him, two plastic cups of coffee and two small plates of custard creams held in the spread of his large hands. He knelt and placed a cup and plate on the floor in front of Peter’s neighbour. A shadow detached itself from under the chair and the cup and plate disappeared.
“Creteus,” he said, sitting himself on the chair under which the shadowy figure lurked.
“Creteus. My name.” He offered his free hand. Peter shook it, his hand feeling pudgy and crass in the long fingers that enveloped it.
“Peter,” he replied.
Creteus raised an eyebrow. “Peter? A human name?”
Peter shrugged. “The Catholic church. They won’t acknowledge us, but we all have saints’ names. Tradition, I guess. Um… “ He glanced down at Creteus’ lap. “You know, under there -?”
Creteus smiled and offered Peter the cup and plate. “Oh, he doesn’t mind. In fact, I rather think he prefers it. More cover. He’s a little shy. I didn’t know how you take it.”
“Oh, the coffee? Well, it could do with a sniff of something, but it’s fine.”
“We don’t have alcohol, or other substances, not in the meetings. Clear heads, gentle voices.”
“No, no, I was joking,” Peter said, and it was half true, though a shot of Jameson’s at the moment would help his acrophobia no end, or at least numb it a little. He took a sip. It was instant, with creamer added, as closely related to coffee as he was to a giraffe. “Lovely.” He toasted Creteus with it and smiled. “Just how I like it.”
“So, what do you think of our little family?”
“No, it’s fine. Very nice.”
Creteus chuckled. “You mean you have no idea what’s going on, you feel like a frog in the desert, and just as soon as it’s polite you’ll put that awful coffee down and make a bolt for the door. Am I close?”
Peter so-so’d with his head. “I’m eating the biscuits, though.”
Creteus threw back his head and laughed. “Custard creams. I knew it. I could tell you’re not a digestive biscuit person.”
“Not unless they’re chocolate.”
Creteus chuckled again. “A sense of humour. That’s good. We need that. It’s easy in these meetings to lose perspective. All doom and gloom, but of course there’s light and shade.”
“So is this it? We sit around and whine about how unfair life is, then eat custard creams?”
Creteus sat back and stretched his long legs out. Under him, the shadows shifted closer to the wall. “What were you expecting?”
“I don’t know. Really, I didn’t. I just thought it would be, I don’t know, more positive.”
“Positive? In this city?”
“No, I don’t mean it that way. I mean, more – “ Peter frowned, trying to put into words what he actually meant. “More assertive, I guess. More solution based than just blaming people for everything.”
“We are as much people as anyone else. They are humans, but we are all people. Let them reserve that for themselves and we become less than people. They’re human, you’re leprechaun, but we – “ Creteus indicated the room with a sweep of his hand. “We are people.”
“Okay, but I thought it would be more than just moaning about humans.”
“You don’t think most of our troubles are caused by them?”
“They’re not all bad.”
“Of course not. They’re not all bad and we’re not all good. And yet…”
“We can be detained without trial. We disappear and no one will do anything about it. If we want to own property it is practically impossible. We are ‘encouraged’ to leave our ancestral homes and live in ghettoes. We’re denied a voice in government, in the judiciary, in the army. They spend more money defending the rights of dogs than they do us, and that’s not just rhetoric. Do you have any idea how many laws they pass, how much money they spend, protecting animals? You’re right, humans aren’t all bad, but they’re not good enough to change any of that. Where are they, these humans that aren’t all bad? Where are their voices? Where is their outrage?”
“Where are ours?” asked Peter.
Creteus smiled and shook his finger at Peter. “Where are ours, indeed. How many leprechauns are there in London?”
“I don’t know. Five, six, maybe.”
“It’s the clay. We like proper ground under us. Limestone for preference, slate. Can’t dig proper halls in clay.”
“No idea. More.”
“About four hundred, if you include the parks. How many fae all told?”
“Two thousand,” said Peter, automatically.
Creteus shook his head. “No, that’s the official Home Office number, and it’s a couple of years old. Even then, it was deliberately understated. I estimate there’s at least five thousand of us.”
Peter looked around the room. If he was generous he might have put it at forty bodies. “Really?”
“You’re sharp, Peter. Very sharp. Yes, we’re small. And only five leprechauns. Why don’t you join with the dwarves?”
“Because I’m a leprechaun.”
“But you have the same problems, don’t you?”
“I am not a bloody dwarf, right? I’m closer to fairies than them.”
“So side with the fairies.”
Peter looked up into the man’s face. It betrayed only genuine interest.
“Look, we’re an abomination to them, all right? We’re fairies, but we didn’t come out right, see? Leprechauns don’t have baby leprechauns. We don’t even have female leprechauns. We’re an accident, an abortion that somehow survived. I was pushed out by some fairy mare and then shoved underground where they didn’t have to look at me. Us and fairies? Are you kidding me? They cross the street when they see me. They’re my blood but I’m closer to you than to them. So, no, neither of us are going to hold hands and sing kum by yar.”
“And the pixies won’t talk to the goblins, and the trolls won’t talk to the ghouls, and the elves won’t talk to anybody. They even fight between clans. That’s why they’re winning, Peter, that’s how they get away with it all. The whole mass of humanity, against five leprechauns, and not a fae to stand by you.” Creteus leant close, his previous bonhomie replaced by an intense seriousness. “Humans do what they want with us because we let them. The humans call us fae. They pass laws about the fae. They round up all the fae into the worst areas of London. They look at us and all they see is fae. But we see dwarves and leprechauns and elves and trolls and whatever, and we try to stand alone against that generalised wall of hate because we won’t allow ourselves to be fae, and no wonder we lose.”
He sat back and looked around the room.
“Sorry. I’m on my soapbox. You’re right. At the moment we’re a pebble in the stream. But it’s a start. And the people here will tell their families, their friends. Perhaps some of them will even make friends outside of their species. Eventually we’ll have enough stones to dam the stream.” He flashed a momentary smile. “And damn the humans too, eh? But until then, we – what did you call it? – we whine and moan, but at least it serves to show we have a common purpose, a common enemy. And when we have enough, who knows? Maybe we’ll get the laws changed. Maybe we’ll change their minds. Make a stand for what’s right. Plus there’s practical work we do.”
“Like helping out other fae. There was trouble in Shadwell last night. A couple of nymphs were attacked. One was hurt quite badly. So now we have a troll and a couple of dryads escorting people home there, making sure no humans cause trouble.”
“They come all the way from Battersea to do it. Have you ever seen a dryad? No one in their right mind is going to argue with them.”
“Well, I’m a mean bugger in a fight, but I’m not going to deter any.”
Creteus smiled. “No, no, I wasn’t suggesting anything. Though if you want to help, there are lots of other services we need. But not tonight. This is your first visit after all. You haven’t decided if it’s your last yet. But I hope you’ll come again. I think we can both benefit greatly. On that note, is there anything we can do about the room? It’s the only one I can rent that’s large enough, I’m afraid.”
Peter glanced at the wall-to-ceiling windows. “Curtains?” he suggested, tearing his eyes away as his acrophobia threatened the recently eaten custard creams.
“Curtains!” Creteus beamed. “I’m sure we can arrange that.”
Peter waited, but it seemed the lecture was over.
“Right then. Well.” He slapped his thighs. “I guess I’d better be on my way. Things to do.” He slid of the chair. Creteus remained sitting, but he still towered of the leprechaun. He offered his hand, and when Peter took it he captured it with his other hand too.
“I am so very glad to have met you, Peter. Really I am. I do so hope you come again.”
“Well, the best of luck to you too.” Studiously avoiding looking at the windows, Peter hugged the wall until he reached the door. He paused for a moment to steel himself for the descent down the stairs. He glanced back. The shadow under the chair was holding out a square of folded paper. Creteus bent, took it, then looked up at Peter. He smiled and the paper disappeared into his jacket as he waved goodbye with his other hand.
Bob was behind the bar, serving a round, when Dawn tugged at his elbow.
"Steady on," he said, shaking spilled beer from his hand. He glanced at Dawn, who jerked her head towards the door.
"What's up? Oh Christ!" He smacked the pint onto the counter and pushed Dawn towards the waiting customers as he leapt towards the other end of the counter.
Making his way to the bar, a grin on his face, strode Ted. In another age Bob might have described Ted as a bit touched, or even away with the fairies. Nowadays you couldn't slander fairies like that. Even strokes were now called CVA's, never mind that for centuries people hadn't associated them with being stroked by the gentle folk. But even Ted wasn't that simple. No one could be so stupid as to walk down Cable Street wearing an elf wig. He glanced towards the table in the corner. Too late. The group of four elves were staring, and they weren't happy.
"Take it off!" he hissed, as Ted reached the bar.
"Hi, Bob," said Ted, beaming.
"Take it off!" Bob repeated, with as much urgency as he could muster.
"What?" Ted pulled at the lapels of his ancient jacket. "Take it off?"
"The wig!" Bob made a grab for it, but Ted jumped back. Bob glanced again at the elves. One had stood and started towards Ted.
"Jesusjesusjesus!" muttered Bob, as if divine intervention might be a possibility. The flap in the counter was the other end of the bar. If he ran, and didn't trip over Dawn or collide with a customer, he might arrive at Ted's side maybe five seconds after Ted had drawn his last breath. He could try vaulting over the bar, but his vaulting days were a couple of decades in his past.
He held up his hand to the approaching elf. "He doesn't mean anything. He's just -- he doesn't quite realise, hey, he --" Bob might have been talking to the counter. The elf strode up to Ted, halting six inches from the man, his face radiating such anger Bob was surprised the varnish on the bar wasn't bubbling. Ted, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the danger. If anything, he was delighted he'd attracted the Elf's attention.
"Sweet lad," said Ted.
The elf frowned. "What?"
"Sweet lad," Ted repeated. Bob wasn't sure what Ted was up to, but it seemed to be working. The sheer idiocy of the phrase seemed to confuse the elf.
"Yes." Ted bowed. "Sweet lad."
"Are you trying to say 'suila'?"
"Yes. Hello. Sweet lad."
"Ted, Ted, don't try and speak Elvish. Seriously, mate, don't." Bob knew of a dozen ways to piss off an elf. Breathing was one. Prancing around in an Elf wig was almost certainly another, though it was a new one on him. But trying to speak Elvish, especially with an accent that was less Rivendell and more Elephant and Castle was definitely one.
"Who are you, to insult my ears?"
"Listen," said Bob. "Ted doesn't mean anything. It's just he's --"
The elf flung out a hand, his palm stopping so close to Bob's face he jumped back a step. The elf finally seemed to notice him. He stared at Bob for a moment, then jerked his head at Ted. "I am asking him."
"Oh, it's not Ted anymore. It's here cas."
"Here cas. That's my elf name."
"Your elf name?"
Bob added yet another way to piss off an elf. In his head he was repeating the mantra, 'Shut up, Ted. Shut up, Ted' over and over. He glanced at Dawn. She had the phone in her hand, thumb hovering over the speed dial. Bob patted the air as subtly as he could. Calling the police to licenced premises was a last resort. It never looked good when the licence had to be renewed. Though maybe even using it as a first resort might have been too late for Ted.
"Yes," said Ted. "My spiritual elf name. Because I'm an elf. Inside I mean. Like, obviously I'm a man, but I was meant to be an elf. I got it certified and everything. It's all kosher." He reached into his jacket and produced a square of paper. "See? An elf shaman certified it and everything. I had to go through the ritual. I ate mother earth and everything. Look. It's got a seal and everything."
Ted, or whatever his spiritual name was now, shoved the paper at the elf. "See? All pukkah. That's the high shaman's seal, that is. See?"
The elf took the paper, examined the seal for a moment, then unfolded it, staring at Ted with a look of suspicion. He glanced at the paper, frowned, then started to read it. His anger turned to puzzlement, then to surprise.
"Your name is what?" he asked, finally.
"No, look." The elf turned the paper to face Ted. "It's Hercas. See? Here."
"Well, yeah, I can see that," said Ted, squinting at the paper. "That's what I said. Here cas."
"No, listen to what I say. Hercas. It starts in the throat. Hercas."
"Herecas," repeated Ted, the world's first elf with a Cockney accent.
"Close enough. I am Llenowen. Listen, this document. It's written in high elf."
"Well, yeah, naturally. It would be."
"I'm not that fluent, to tell the truth, but my friend is. Can I show him?"
"Well, yeah, 'course. Just for a minute, like."
The elf smiled. "Thank you." He turned and strode back to his friends, who seemed puzzled Ted was still standing.
Bob became aware his mouth was open. The bar was silent. Looking around, he realised everyone was staring at the spectacle unfolding, as bemused as he was himself. Now, he thought. Now would be a good time to get to the public side of the counter. He edged towards the flap, scared that undue haste might break whatever spell Ted had cast.
"What's going on?" hissed Dawn, as he passed her.
"Stuffed if I know. But I think Ted's handling it." Bob raised the flap and assumed a casual stroll towards Ted.
"Ted?" asked Dawn.
Bob shrugged. "I'm as surprised as you are."
The elves were huddled around the paper. Occasionally one would raise his head and stare at Ted. As Bob reached him, all four elves stood and came over. Bob glanced at the counter, suddenly regretting his decision to come public-side. The phrase, 'line of fire' popped into his head and wouldn't leave.
"Guys," he started.
Llenowen bowed, extending the paper in front of him like an offering to Ted.
"Hercas, forgive us," he said. "We didn't know."
"No, well you wouldn't, would you," said Ted, taking the paper and sliding it into his jacket. "No, I can see that. All square now though, right?"
"Indeed. It's just we'd never met a spiritual elf before. My friends had to come over and see for themselves."
"Oh, right. No worries. Sweet lad, fellas."
"Suila," muttered the elf out of the corner of his mouth. Realisation dawned on his friends.
"Suila, Hercas," they chorused, every one of them smirking, though Ted didn't seem to notice.
"Hercas, may I advise you, as a new-born brother?"
"Sure, Luwellen. Appreciate it."
Llenowen winced. "'Llenowen'. Never mind. The hair."
"My hair?" Ted's hand rose to stroke a lock. "What's wrong with it?"
"Well, this ring here." Llenowen reached out and touched a ring woven into the hair. "Oh, it's plastic. Still, even if it was silver, it's worn on the other side, and only by a woman who's betrothed. And this." He flicked a tassel hanging from a lock. "I've no idea what it is, but it's not elven. And the style. Sorry, no elf has worn it like that for generations."
"And that's just the start. I'm sorry, but the human who sold you that -- it was a human, right?"
"Well, he had no idea. Seriously, brother, lose it. Better still, burn it."
"Yeah?" Reluctantly, Ted dragged the wig off his head, revealing sparse hair combed over balding patches. "I guess I'll have to grow my own."
One of Llenowen's friends turned his back on them, his shoulders shaking as he had a sudden coughing fit.
"Cheer up. Let us buy you a drink."
Ted instantly cheered up. "Cool. I'll have an ambrosia."
"You know that stuff's illegal," said Bob.
"Yeah, but I'm an elf."
"It's especially illegal for elves."
"We're having wine," said Llenowen.
"Um, okay. I'll have some of that," said Ted, who to Bob's knowledge had never ordered anything but a half of bitter. "Can I join you?"
"Sorry, we, um, we're discussing clan business. You understand. Not even other elves can listen in." Bob wondered how anyone could swallow such an obvious lie, but Ted seemed to.
"No, no, fair does. I understand," said Ted, happy just to have a drink he wasn't paying for.
"Five Chardonnays?" said Bob. "Take a seat. I'll bring them over."
Bob returned to the business side of the bar. He shrugged at Dawn's quizzical look. He poured five glasses, balanced them on a tray and returned to the tables.
"We're doing table service now?" asked Dawn, as he passed her.
"Just, don't start. Okay? Just don't."
He gave Ted his glass, then carried the tray over to the elves' table.
"Okay, what's going on?" he said, as he placed the glasses on the coasters. "What was on that paper? Some sort of fake Elvish?"
"No, no, it was the real deal," said Llenowen. "It was from the clan in Hyde Park."
"They have the best jokes," grinned one of the others.
"What did it say?"
Llenowen sighed. "Look, it was just an explanation, that's all. It said basically that Hercas is a child in a man's body. He's harmless and has no idea how insulting he is. He wouldn't leave them alone till they made him an elf. It's basically his get out of jail card."
"And that's funny?"
"Sure. A man thinking he's an elf? It's hilarious. But he's a child, right? Relax. We're not going to hurt a child. We're not going to laugh to his face. And we'll look out for him. We'll let any other elf who comes in know what's happening. Hercas is safe here."
"Your friends don't play much poker, do they."
Llenowen frowned. "Why?"
"Because every time someone mentions his name, they nearly wet themselves laughing." On cue, the others tried to suppress their giggles. "So what else did it say?"
"It's just his name. The Hyde Park clan called him Hercas. It's a combination of two words. 'Her' -- " Llenowen frowned and stared into the distance. "There's not an English word for it. Okay, let me try and explain. When we hunt -- when we used to hunt, we clean the deer where it falls. It's so that the animal's spirit doesn't get lost. If we leave some of it there it acts as an anchor until the spirit rests. Anyway, we clean it. But if it's an elf's first hunt, he might be a bit inexperienced, or maybe he's still excited from the hunt. Anyway, it's possible that as he guts it, some of the contents of the intestines falls onto the good meat and makes it unclean. If that happens the hunt was wasted and we leave the carcass as well."
"Okay..." said Bob, unsure where this was going.
"So 'her' is the contents of a deer's intestine that has been allowed to foul good meat. 'Cas' just means head."
"So 'Hercas' means..."
"Shithead" spluttered one of Llenowen's crew, collapsing into coughing again.
Bob looked over his shoulder at Ted, who grinned and raised his glass.
"Pretty mean joke to play on a guy that's a little simple in the head."
"What should they have called him? A genuine name? How would that go down, do you think? A human introducing himself to an elf? Or they could have called him, 'I just slept with your mother'. What about, ' hello, I'm going to kick your head in'. No, this way, he meets a strange elf and introduces himself, the worst that's going to happen is they'll laugh. Not if he's wearing that wig though. At least it'll give him space to produce his introduction letter. Relax. Any elf reading that will understand. Believe me."
Bob wanted to argue. He wanted to speak of human dignity, of humanity shown to those less fortunate, of how wrong it was to laugh at someone mentally disadvantaged. On the other hand, he couldn't fault their logic. When he thought of the ways it could have gone down, how it most definitely would have if Ted didn't have the slip of paper, if he didn't have a name that made the elves laugh...
"Just, make sure there's no trouble," he finished, aware of the inadequacy of his response.
He made his way back to the bar.
"We've had some weird times in here, haven't we?" he asked Dawn.
"A few," she admitted.
"Any as weird as tonight?"
"Not even close," she said. "You'd better call time on the dot tonight, because the moment the clock chimes I'm going home. I've had all I can take tonight."
"Amen," said Bob, moving towards a creature at the end of the bar waving an empty tankard. "Amen."
Amanda walked into the cramped office, unwinding the scarf around her neck.
“Sorry, sorry. Late night,” she announced to no one in particular. “Anything going on?” She threw the scarf over the coat stand and shrugged off her overcoat.
“New flight restrictions announced on Breakfast Time,” said Delphinia. “They’re proposing a night-time ban on fairies.”
“Yeah, I caught that. Can you knock up some copy for the press? Highlight night-time attacks on the fae, will you? Also see what you can dig up on freedom of movement legislation. Court of Human Rights cases. Yeah, yeah, I know,” said Amanda, as Delphinia pulled a face, “’doesn’t apply to fae’, but we need to keep banging on that drum. We need to get it out before lunch, okay?”
She stood over her desk and heaved a sigh at the papers strewn over the surface.
“Maelyrra, have we got any of those recruitment posters left? There’s a pub wants one.”
Maelyrra shrugged. “Stationery cupboard?” She scowled at the screen in front of her and stabbed at the keyboard.
“You okay?” asked Amamda.
Amanda stared at the elf for a moment. “You want a coffee?”
“Well, I need one. I can’t function without it this morning.”
Maelyrra thumped a key and looked up. “You want me to make you a coffee? Is that what you’re saying?”
“That would be nice.”
“Fine. Fine.” She shoved herself away from the desk and stalked off to the kitchenette. Amanda counted to ten and then followed her.
“What’s up?” she asked, closing the door.
“Nothing.” Maelyrra slammed the kettle on its stand and threw the switch.
Amanda backed up to the counter and hitched herself up onto it.
“What’s up?” she repeated. “Tell me.”
Maelyrra threw instant coffee into a mug and stared at it. “Twenty minutes,” she told the mug.
“Twenty minutes it takes me to get into work. I dress down. I mean, I wear a coat that looks like it was a duvet in a previous life. I hide my hair under a hat. Not a fancy hat, just a woollen thing. I stare at my feet and don’t make any eye contact.”
“O-kay,” said Amanda carefully, unsure where this was going.
Maelyrra threw her head back and her eyes blazed.
“Three men came up to me and asked for sex. Three! Not all together, three separate times. In one twenty-minute journey. Three!”
“Welcome to a woman’s world,” said Amanda.
“No, no. I’m not talking about the catcalls, the whistles, the snide asides or sexual jokes. I can’t even be bothered to count them. I mean, three men, each independently, each wanted sex with me. Two offered money. Actually offered me money, thinking I would say yes.”
Amanda nodded. “Yes, men can be –“
“No! Not men! Human men! I mean, I’m an elf. They can see that. They know that.”
“Yes, I know, but some men find that arousing. It’s not right, but –“
“No! Not but. Not because. I’m a different species.” She threw her hands up and paced the tiny room. “I’m elf. I will choose an elf, and he’ll choose me. Elf! Can you imagine it? Sex with a human?” She waved her hands at Amanda as if to erase her objections. “Not for you, I mean. Of course you can imagine it. I mean for us. Sex? With a different species? What is wrong with you people? If you see a pretty dog, do you want to screw it? What about horses?
“And it’s not just me. All my friends. Every single one, including the men. Especially the men. Why do you all think elf men are interested in other men, even if they’re not a different species? Is that what you people do? Do you rut with anything? Why is it okay to go up to a stranger, an elf you’ve never even met, a creature from a different culture, different language, different species, and offer money for sex? The fairies too! Ask Delphinia. Every day. Every single day. And I know it’ll be the same tonight. We should never have come out of the forests.” She thumped her hand down hard on the kitchen work surface, rattling the mug. “We should have shot any human who learned we –“
She stopped suddenly and looked at Amanda. She shrugged. “I know he was your father, but it’s true. We were better off with our own kind. We all were.”
Amanda sighed. “Maybe. I mean it, maybe you’re right. But we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You were discovered, and we can’t undiscover you now. In our defence, the UK was the first country to recognise you, legally I mean.” She held up her hand. “I know, I know, it’s all gone downhill now, but London especially. Why do you think there’s so many Schwarz Wald fae here? And the Russians. We never hunted you down with packs of dogs, not in England.”
“But we were hunted all the same. If I stuck you next to a Russian, how would I tell the difference? And what did you do?”
“And did that stop it? What did you do?” She stabbed a finger at Amanda. “You! What did you do? I don’t mean post on Facebook or complain to your friends over a latte. What did you actually do? Right!”
“I do what I can,” said Amanda, her voice sounding small even to her own ears.
“Yeah. Yeah, sorry.” Maelyrra waved her away. “I know you do. I know, I know. You’re not all the same, and we’re not either. But even so. I just feel sometimes – I don’t know. Like you’re one and the rest of you are seven billion. Like we’re sticking one leaf back on the tree and it’s November and the floor is ankle deep in leaves. I mean, posters? Really? And every day, every night – and then some of your people come right up to me, I mean right in my face, and offer me money? For that? Like we’re not being killed every single day? Like we’re rats? Like we’re vermin, oh, and how much for a blow job?”
She grabbed the kettle and poured hot water over the coffee granules.
“Do you want a hug?” asked Amanda.
“Do you want a face full of boiling water?”
“We are making a difference, though. We’re making our voice heard.”
“Yeah? Tell that to fae who get beat up every night. Tell that to the fae who get raped. Tell that to the police who won’t even take a report, unless you’re there threatening legal action.” Maelyrra flung open the fridge door and pulled out a carton of milk.
“But we are though. Even in parliament, there’s those who will listen.”
“And will that make a difference tonight? When I go home, will I be able to make it to my front door without some dog wanting to rut with me?”
“Not tonight, no. But someday, yes. It has to.” Amanda slid off the worktop. “No one ever said it would be quick, but we will win.”
“Right!” Maelyrra tossed the carton of milk at Amanda. “Meanwhile, I’ll update our web site, right? That’ll make a difference.” She spun on her heel and stormed out of the kitchenette.
They’d diverted the flow of water, but even so the rancid waste came up to Peter’s waist. Johnson switched off the high-power jet and lifted his mask to speak.
“Your turn, Lofty. Shovel time.”
“Why do I have to shovel when you get to hose?”
“Seniority. Besides, the jet’s just not cutting it. Anyway, I’m getting a neck ache, stooping. You’re all right. Just imagine it’s gold.”
“That’s dwarves,” said Peter, regarding the wall of fat with disgust.
“And I’m not a fecking dwarf.”
“Fair enough. You’re just a giant who’s short for his height. Come on, another hour and we can have a brew.” Johnson reseated his mask and backed out of the way. “And try to get as much of it as you can in the barrow, right? We don’t want it floating downstream and blocking up the sewer further down.”
“Yeah, right.” Peter stabbed at the wall of congealed fat, wet wipes and nappies with the blade of his shovel.
“So what are you then?” said Johnson, his voiced muffled by the gas mask.
Peter thought back to last night’s meeting. “Just a person.”
“No way! They said you were a fairy!”
Peter shoved the spade into the mass in front of him as though he were spearing a mammoth.
Peter tugged at the spade, trying to free it from the fat. “It’s fae, not fairy.”
“Okay. So what? Are you ‘fae’ or are you just a midget?” Johnson had a way of pronouncing inverted commas.
Peter worked at the spade, wiggling it from side to side in an attempt to free it.
“Fae,” Peter grunted.
“So you are a dwarf.”
“No. I’m not a fecking dwarf, I said.”
Peter paused in his fight with the shovel.
“I’m a leprechaun, aren’t I! Is the accent not a clue?”
Peter felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He turned. Johnson held on tight, his eyes wide behind the lenses of the mask.
“Gimme your gold, then.”
Peter sighed and shook his head.
“No, but you got to. I’m holding you, so you got to give it to me. It’s the rules.”
Peter made a show of looking around at the Victorian brickwork in the tunnel, the foul water around them. He turned and slapped the handle of the shovel embedded in the disgusting wall blocking the sewer.
“Seriously?” he asked. “Do you really think, if I had any gold, any gold at all, I’d be down here, up to my arse in crap, shovelling second-hand fat and dirty nappies? Do you think I just do this for fun? Do you think this counts as a good night out in Ireland?” He so-soed his hand. “Okay, maybe in Longford it might, but seriously? You think I’d be down here, shovelling shit, with you, if I had any choice in the matter? Really?”
He could see the doubt in Johnson’s eyes, but still the human kept his grip. “You got to,” said Johnson, grasping hold of the one idea he had. “It’s the law. You got to give me your gold.”
“Oh, I’ll give you something, all right,” muttered Peter. He slapped Johnson’s hand away from his shoulder. For a moment it looked as though Johnson might grab him again, but Peter’s look stopped him.
“Use your head. I’ve been here for a year. I walk down the street. You think someone wouldn’t have grabbed me a long time ago? You think I’d ever cross the water if I had a crock? You think anyone, fae or human, anyone, would do this job if they had money? Do you have any gold? Do you have any money at all? We’re shit shovellers, that’s what we are, and we’re shit shovellers because we’re desperate for the money and we don’t have any other job we can do. And I’m fae! At least you’re human. You get paid a living wage. You can choose where to live, where to go. Me? I’m lucky if I can afford a pint at the weekend. And you want to rob me?”
“Not rob,” said Johnson. “Just, well, it’s the rules.”
“Just take every penny I have, simply because you’re bigger than me? Just because you can grab hold of me? How is that not robbery?”
Johnson shrugged. “It’s just the rules. I don’t make the rules.”
“Right.” Peter turned and grabbed the handle of the shovel. “You don’t make the rules. The rules just make themselves. It’s not like it’s the fecking humans that make all the rules.” He placed a boot against the blockage and heaved on the shovel. It broke free. Peter staggered back, his elbow snapping back into Johnson’s groin.
He looked down, Johnson’s head finally lower than his, as the human knelt in the filth, hands gripped between his thighs.
“Oh dear. ‘Sorry’” he said, being careful to pronounce the inverted commas.
Peter climbed up the stool and sat at the bar. He rummaged through his pockets and laid the contents on the counter. Bob came over, looked at the money and raised his eyebrows.
“Too much for a drink, not enough for a night of passion. Well, not with me anyway. You could try Dawn…”
“Oh, there’s not enough money in the world,” said Dawn, twisting past Bob, a glass in each hand.
Peter stared at the money. One note and a collection of coins.
“That’s all the money I have in the world,” he said.
“I mean it. My total sum worth. How much drink will that get me?”
Bob pushed the money back towards Peter. “Judging by your looks, not enough.”
“No, I mean it. Three shorts? Four?”
Bob sighed. “You know the definition of a friend?”
“One who’ll drink with you?”
Bob lifted the flap on the bar and came around to the public side of the bar,
“One who’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want. What’s up?”
Peter didn’t lift his gaze from the small pile of money, as though staring at it would make it grow.
“Lost my job.”
“Okay. Dawn? Two Bushmills.”
Peter pushed his money forward, but Bob pulled it back.
“Listen,” he said. “This one’s on me, but then you’re cut off. I love your money, mate, but you’re not in a fit state to drink a little, and you’ve not got enough to drink a lot. Talk to me.”
Peter shrugged. “I’m broke and I’ve lost my job. What more is there to say?”
“I thought you hated your job.”
“It was a job.”
Dawn slid two glasses across the bar. “Do all the staff get a drink?”
“Sure. I’ll take it out of your wages anyway.” Bob Held out his glass. “Sláinte. Remember, it’s sipping whiskey, and it’s your last.”
Peter clinked his glass against Bob’s. “Sláinte agatsa,” he replied. For a moment it looked as though he was considering throwing it back in one, but then he took a sip.
“So? Tell me about it. Why’d they sack you?”
“I might have hit a colleague.”
“Did he deserve it”
“Oh hell, yes. Maybe not in the balls, though.”
“You hit him in the balls?”
“With a shovel.”
Bob coughed on his drink. “Yeah, well, that’ll do it, all right.”
The two men chuckled. Then Peter shook his head.
“Lost my job, though. Even if it was a shitty job. Literally. You ever been down the sewers?”
“No. Why would I?”
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. They do tours, you know. No, straight up. You people actually pay to go down there. Not the bits I had to dig out, obviously. So next time your toilet gets blocked – “ Peter held up his glass – “You’re welcome.”
“Cheers.” The two men took a sip in unison.
“Was it worth it?” asked Bob.
Peter shrugged. “Does it matter? It happened.”
“What did he do?”
Peter shook his head. “You weren’t there. Just his attitude. Let the fae do it. Leprechaun? Oh, right. Give me your gold. He meant it, too. Like it didn’t count, if he was robbing a fae. Not like robbing a human. Because we’re not. Okay, so we’re not, but that doesn’t mean we’re less, you know?”
Bob nodded as if he understood.
“So, what now?”
Peter shrugged. “Beats me. No one’s going to want to employ a fae ball-breaker.”
“Not the council, maybe, but what about, you know…”
“Who? The fairies? They won’t look at me, even though I’m – anyway, they won’t. Maybe five other leprechauns in town; they’re keeping their heads down. The elves? Do me a favour. Who? You tell me. So what? You think I might try out for basketball? Supermarket shelf stacker?”
Bob looked at the row of optics. Dawn could just about reach them, but she was more than head and shoulders taller than Peter. Peter followed his gaze.
“No, I’m not asking for charity. Anyway, I’d have to buy stilts.”
“Sorry mate. I mean, I just don’t have the demand, anyway. Not even for cleaners. Hiring you would mean sacking someone else.”
“No, no. Not your problem. I get that.”
“No, it’s not like that. It’s just, I don’t know what I can do.”
“Sure. Isn’t that the way of it?”
Bob turned to the newcomer. ”Sorry, but I’m – Oh, Miss Gordon!”
“Okay, then I’m Bob to you. To be honest, I’m Bob to everyone except the taxman, but you can pretend it’s special if you want. Peter, this is Amanda Gordon.”
Peter raised his glass to her, his face deadpan. “Whoopie-do, Amanda Gordon. Want to buy me a drink? Because this mean bastard won’t let me buy one.”
“Ignore him,” said Bob. “He’s sober. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She wiggled a rolled-up bill. “You said I could put up a poster?”
“Was I drunk?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
Bob waved at the cork board against the wall. “Then fill your boots. Just don’t cover up anything that hasn’t expired. There’s drawing pins on the board.”
Amanda made her way to the notice board.
“That’s Amanda Gordon,” Bob told Peter.
“No, but Amanda Gordon. You know. Her dad was Alexander Gordon. Finder of the Fairies Gordon.”
“At the risk of repeating myself, whoopie-do.”
“You have no soul, you know that?”
“No, what I have is no money, no job, and by the end of the week, no bed. Excuse me for not fawning over some human, no offence.”
“You know, maybe she could help.”
“No, I mean it. She runs the fae liberation front, or something. Equal rights. Power to the pixies. Her name carries clout, and she’s more than your average hippy.”
Peter stared at his drink. “You’re a friend, okay?” he said at last.
“No, I mean it. For a human, you’re okay. All right, you take the mick, but then you do to everyone. I’ve bought you drinks, and you’ve bought mine, and we’ve laughed at the bastard world together. That counts for something, and that’s why I’m drinking this fine Irish whiskey you’re paying for, but it’s no more than we’ve done before. Well, okay, maybe I’ve bought more than you, but then you’re a businessman and I’m a customer, but we’re mates, right enough, and that’s why I’m drinking this whiskey. Because we’re friends, understand?”
“Not a word.”
“Right. But it’s just a drink, between two friends, and I’d buy the next round with a song in my heart if you’d let me. But I’m buggered if I’m going to accept fecking charity from some lanky woman who’s trying to ease her conscience.”
Bob swilled the drink around his tumbler. “Pride’s a wonderful thing for those with money,” he said.
Peter tossed back the rest of his drink, grimaced and slammed the glass on the bar. “Or those with friends,” he said, scooping up the money on the counter and stuffing it into a pocket.
“Hey, now – “
“No, feck it.” Peter waved him into silence. “I’ve got other friends, you know. Fae friends. I don’t need favours from you lot.”
“Peter, don’t be like that.”
Peter slid off the stool and tugged at the hem of his coat, shaking his head to ease his collar. “No, I got thing to do, people to see.”
Amanda walked up from her task at the notice board. “Leaving?”
“Up yours,” said Peter, holding two fingers aloft as he stalked out of the pub.
She turned to Bob. “Up mine?”
“He’s had a bad day. He’s, well, he’s had enough of tall people for now.”
Amanda nodded. “There’s a lot of that about. You can understand it, I suppose. I just wish I could make people realise it’s the minority.”
“You sure it’s the minority?”
“Of course. Oh, they’re vocal, but most people are reasonable, right?”
Bob shrugged. “How would I know? What are you drinking?”
Bob indicated the room. “This is a pub. We’ve got coffee if you’re scared alcohol will loosen your self-restraint and throw yourself at me.”
“Oh, we don’t have that much alcohol,” said Dawn, from behind the bar. “No one has. Am I working alone tonight?”
“I am the owner,” said Bob. “You don’t get to nag me unless you marry me.”
Dawn gave a theatrical shudder as Bob made his way back to the business side of the bar.
“I’ll have a white wine,” Amanda told Dawn. As Bob made his way to customers at the other end of the bar Dawn placed a wine glass on the counter and started pouring.
“Can I ask you a question?” said Amanda.
Dawn shrugged. “You’re the customer.”
“Do you get bothered much? By men, I mean.”
“This is a pub, dear.”
“Yeah, but I mean, because you’re, you know, fae.”
Dawn put the cork on the top of the bottle and rammed it in with a hard slap. “From humans, you mean? Of course I do.”
“How does that make you feel?”
Dawn slid the glass towards Amanda and sighed. “Look, I’m part of the establishment. I serve drinks, but I also got to have a rapport with the punters, you know? So we joke, sure. You’ve seen me and Bob. Part of the act. And some guy has a bit of fun flirting with me, where’s the harm? But I stay this side of the bar, right? If I’m iffy about anyone, Bob’ll pay for a taxi. Anyone gets handsy or offensive, Bob’ll ban him. It’s not like most of the money comes from humans anyway.”
“It’s always humans?”
Dawn shrugged. “There was a fairy once, one of the Green Park trash, but I’ve got brothers. Otherwise, yeah, it’s always your sort. You don’t know this? You don’t know human men will bang a hole in the wall if you put lipstick on it?”
“They’re not all like – but yeah. I just thought, men were men, regardless of their race.”
“Maybe they are. But only humans want to be unnatural.”
Dawn acknowledged a customer at the counter, waving an empty glass.
“Women too. No one but a human would try to get their jollies outside their species.” And with that she left to serve the other customer.
|Author Notes||In the UK the two finger salute is roughly equivelent to flipping the bird|
Peter manoeuvred his way down the swaying pavement. He raised the bottle to his lips, sucked at it for a moment, then held it at arm’s length, frowning. It was empty. How had that happened? He turned and surveyed his route. No puddles on the footpath. He looked at the bottle again. Definitely empty. He lifted it to his mouth and sucked hard. He was rewarded by fumes only. He shook his head and looked for a rubbish bin. Nothing. He put a hand against the wall and carefully placed the bottle on the floor. Despite his exaggerated care, it fell over. For a moment he contemplated standing it upright, but the strain on his supporting arm was too great. He waved a hand dismissively at the prone bottle and stood again. Close enough.
Bloody Johnson, or whatever his name was. Grabbing hold of him. Demanding his gold. Ha! His gold. Like he’d be in a sewer if he had any gold. How about I grab your jewels, eh? With a shovel. Right in your jewels. How’d that be? Gimme your gold, you fecking arsehole. Yeah. And what would happen then? Losing his job would be the least of it.
“Gimme your jewels!” he said aloud. Yeah, that’s what he should have said. Should have told the fecker. Gimme your jewels. Not that his were any good. Damaged now. He chuckled to himself. Yeah, damaged jewels. A shovel right in the family jewels. Try and pawn them now. That’s what he should have said.
“Jewels!” he told the street, and laughed again.
But here he was. No money, no job. Rent paid until Friday, and then what?
Nothing. That’s what. He should have never left the auld sod. I mean, sure, the feckin’ church and the pogrom against the fae was bad, but at least they were honest. Not like England. Not like sodding London. At least Ireland didn’t pretend to be fair.
Bloody English. Bloody humans. What made them so great, eh? Great Britain? Ha! Great gobshites, more like. Come to London, they said. We recognise the fae, they said. We give you sanctuary, they said. Give you the back of their hand, more like, if they gave you the time of day at all.
Peter saw a group of women scream and laugh as they staggered down the street. Several had stick-on wings on their backs, coat hanger halos tinselled over their heads. Like they were fairies. Like there was anything cool about being a fairy.
They saw him, hesitated for a moment then crossed the road. Peter leant against the wall and watched them pass by, then cross again onto his side when they were a safe distance past him.
“I’m a fairy!” he screamed at their backs. They turned, looked for a moment and then collapsed in drunken laughter.
“I am!” he screamed at their backs. “I am,” he told himself. Not that it was any boast. His parents had been fairies. And what had they done? Had they loved him? Had they cared for him? Had they feck! Dumped him in a cave as soon as they could. Left him all alone. Just as bad as the humans. Worse, because he was their flesh and blood. And whats-his-name, Creteus, yeah, he said he should be on their side. On the side of the bastards who had abandoned him. Right. But not the humans. No, definitely not their side. So what? Just his side? Him? All alone against the world. He squared his shoulders, but the ground shifted again and he grabbed the wall.
Not just him. No, what was the point of that? So what? Which side should he choose? Who gave a feck about what the feck happened to him, eh? Who?
He staggered on, occasionally accentuating points by stating them out loud and stabbing at the air. Who did they think they were? Bloody leprechaun, that’s who he was. He told them, that’s what. At least, in his head.
Peter halted his diatribe against the world and surveyed his surroundings. He was by the river, all concrete and grey, turgid water.
Maybe he was drunk. Well, drunker than he thought. He raised his right hand to his lips, then realised his hand was empty. What had happened to the bottle?
“Peter. Over here.”
He looked around. To his right the Thames sludged its way towards the sea. To his left a slight indent in the wall housed a wooden bench, the better to appreciate the factories on the south bank. He made his way to the bench and fell onto it. Maybe he’d rest a moment before trying to find his apartment.
The voice become from between his legs. Peter dropped his head between his knees and squinted. A shadow seemed to move in the depths of the shade under the bench.
“It’s me. From the meeting.”
Peter sat up, partly to think, partly to stop the world spinning.
“The meeting? Oh, wait. The meeting. Custard creams. Chair.”
It’s the clay, he thought. If only there was limestone below him. Limestone! How he missed the stone of Ireland. Even chalk. You could dig in chalk.
“Are you all right?”
“Sure.” Peter let himself slide sideways on the bench. “Great. Never better.” He put an arm under his head and stared at the paving stones, but they couldn’t hide the shifting ground underneath them. “So fecking great I could puke.”
And he closed his eyes, just for a moment.
Saturday nights were slow. During the day the city was dead except for tourists, and they all shuffled off to the West End the Tower of London closed. The clientele was almost exclusively fae this late into the evening, with the noticeable exception of Amanda Gordon. She was behaving herself, Bob noted with approval. Power to her elbow in her fight for fae rights, but she was standing by her word in not bothering the regulars. She sat at the bar, smiling a greeting at people who came to the bar, even though she was universally ignored.
He hadn't been counting the white wines she'd had, but he recognised the slow plod of the occasional drinker who had lived through one of those days. He started washing out the glasses, holding them on the whirling mop before drying them on the tea-towel. Eager sales reps regularly tried to extol the virtues of fully automated glass-washing machines, but there was something about a barman polishing glasses on a tea towel. Besides, it gave him something to do instead of hovering over patrons.
"Bad day?" he asked, holding up a glass and inspecting it in the lights.
Amanda shrugged. "About par for the course." She wasn't slurring her words, but long experience told Bob that was because she was concentrating on her diction.
"What's your handicap?"
"Par. Course. Handicap. Golfing humour."
She frowned. "You play golf?"
"God, no. You're the one who started it."
She sat back, her frown deepening. "What are you talking about?"
"How about I pour you a virgin gin and tonic and you tell me why par for the course is such a wet Wednesday?"
"I don't like gin."
Bob hooked a tall glass from the shelf above the bar and grabbed a bottle of tonic from the fridge. He filled the glass in front of her. "That's why it's a virgin gin and tonic. Ice and a slice?"
She shook her head and pulled the glass towards her. "Am I costing you too much in wine then?"
"Not at all. Besides there's way more margin on soft drinks. So why the long face? Don't the fae want to be saved?"
She stared at him, and for a moment he thought he'd found the line he shouldn't have stepped over, but then she shrugged and took a sip of her drink.
"It's just so, I don't know, so hard, right? Like, I always knew it would be, but you'd think there would be at least some progress. You know, some little victory. Something. Not -- " She waved her glass, slopping a little on the counter. " -- Not just, I don't know. Not nothing."
Bob wiped the spill with the towel. "You don't have to carry it all on your shoulders, you know."
She put her glass on the bar with exaggerated care then stabbed at the counter with her finger. "That's just it. Yes I do. Because it's all my fault, right?"
"No." She waved her hands in front of her face. "Not mine. Not me per se. But my family, see? My dad."
"Seriously? He was a hero. Kids learn about him in school."
"Yeah? But look around. Look at this country. Look at the East End. Look at what it's come to. Yeah okay, you get an elf girl in the pop charts, you get some fae leader feted by the government because he's an Uncle Tom, but for most of them? Discovery was the worst thing that happened to them. Even in England, never mind what they did to them in Russia, in Latin America. I loved him, my dad, I really did. And he did what he did for all the best reasons. A lot of the races, they were dying out, you know? But sometimes I think it might have been better if they'd stayed the hidden folk.." She looked around the bar. "I know I shouldn't say that, but even the fae say it, a lot of them."
She suddenly straightened up, switched on a brittle smile and took a deep breath. "But enough of that. I chose this, so bully for me. What's your story, Morning Glory? Why the pub?"
"Me? I'm too stupid to work in I.T., not stupid enough to be a soldier, too honest for politics and too nice to be a copper. How else can I earn a crust?"
"No, I meant here. This bar. Why a fae bar?"
"The rent's cheap, and this is my old stamping ground, sort of."
"You're a Cockney? Really?"
"Ha! No. I wasn't born within the sound of Bow bells, but my Granddad was born and raised a few streets from here. His dad was a proud veteran of the Battle of Cable Street too."
Amanda shook her head. "Is that another joke I don't understand?"
"You never heard of the Battle of Cable Street? What do they teach in schools nowadays? So, okay, this part of the East End, it's always been a ghetto of one sort or another, right? First the Huguenots, then the Irish. In my granddad's time it was the Jews. So anyway, a little bit before the Second World War Mosely sent his Blackshirts through the east end on a fascist parade. Through the most Jewish part of London.
"Well, the locals were having none of that. Not just locals, either. Trade unions, socialists, communists, Labour party members, basically anyone who wasn't a fascist. A big barney and they were sent home in short order with a bloody nose. And then the actual war started and suddenly it wasn't fashionable to be a Nazi."
"On my mother's side. Of course, by that time the Jews had all moved out into the suburbs and the Bangladeshi moved in. You can still find a few curry houses in Brick Lane. And now, the fae."
Amanda smiled. "So you're a champion of the oppressed too."
"Ha, right. Dream on. No, I'm just a stroppy git who bets on the underdog. And takes money from any side who can afford a drink. Talking of which -- " Bob walked over to the ship's bell fixed to the rear wall. He rang it and called out, "Time, Ladies and Gentlemen, please!" Dawn threw towels over the beer pumps while Bob switched off the main lights.
Amanda took a long swig of her tonic water and slid off the stool.
"Where do you live?" asked Bob.
"It's late. How are you getting home?"
"The tube. I'm perfectly capable of getting to Stepney by myself, thank you very much."
Bob held up his hands. "I know, I know. But I'm getting a cab for Dawn and she lives that way." He shrugged. "Seems only sensible to share, right?"
Amanda stared at him, suspicion on her face. "Okay then," she said at last. "If she's going that way anyway."
"Cool. Finish your drink and we'll lock up."
Bob sauntered over to Dawn. "I think you should have a cab tonight," he said in a low voice.
"Okay. I was thinking of asking for one anyway. The town's been a bit iffy lately."
"Amanda's had a few drinks, so she'll share with you. Oh, and for tonight you live near Stepney."
"What? Shadwell's nowhere near Stepney."
"Yeah, but she's perfectly capable of taking the tube half-cut, thank you very much, unless you're already going that way."
Dawn shook her head. "You're a sweetheart, you know that?" She patted his cheek. "It won't get you in her knickers though."
"How very dare you!" Bob replied in mock outrage. "It'll only be ten minutes out of your way. Call the cab for ten minutes and I'll chase the punters out."
Bob lifted the bar flap and walked around to the public side of the bar.
"Boys and girls, I love you all dearly but you got to go home now. It doesn't have to be your own home but you have to leave." He toured the tables, picking up empty glasses and lining them up on the counter.
"Bye, bye. Thank you. Bye. I've had your money, now go away. Thank you."
"Does he get punched much, talking to customers like that?" Amanda asked Dawn as she passed by.
"Not as often as you'd think. He calls it his roguish charm and we just humour him. Ten minutes for the cab, okay?"
In the corner sat an old woman. She wasn't a regular, and Bob hadn't spoken to her. She'd not come to the counter, but several fae had bought her drinks through the evening, sitting with her for a few minutes at a time. She sat hunched over an empty glass, staring at it as though it were a TV set.
"Come on, darling," said Bob. "Time's been called. Can I call you a cab?"
She looked up into his face. He was amazed at the number of wrinkles and creases in her face. It was impossible to guess what she had looked like when she was younger. She shook her head and struggled to rise. Bob held out his hand and she grabbed it in a vicious grip. She gasped, and for a moment he wondered if she were suffering a coronary.
"Leave," she hissed.
"That's right, Mum. You got to leave. Sorry."
"No." She twisted his wrist with surprising strength, turning his hand palm upwards. "You." She stabbed at his palm. "See? Here. You should leave."
"Yeah, well, I will do. Just as soon as everyone else has. Is there anyone can see you home?"
She pulled herself to her feet, stared at his face and shook her head. "Don't listen. Stupid."
"Mistress?" An elf stepped forward and nodded, almost bowing.
The old woman released her grip on Bob and transferred her hold to the elf. "He should leave," she told her new escort.
"Shall I call her a cab?" Bob asked.
The elf half turned and shook his head. "We have her."
Bob closed the doors after them and leant with his back against them. "Leave the glasses, Dawn," he said. "I don't know about you ladies, but I'm knackered."
|Author Notes||It's traditional for pubs in the UK to have a ship's bell to be rung when it's closing time.|
Peter slowly regained consciousness. He didn’t want to. He wanted to sleep in, preferably for a month. Failing that, he wanted to just die quickly, but his head and his bladder gradually forced him out of the woolly sleep.
This wasn’t his bed. It was too soft, for a start. Not a police cell either. He managed to open his eyes on the third attempt. It was dark, the only light from a digital clock throwing a blue glow that, even to his eyes, only suggested the shape of the room.
He was underground. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but he could feel the reassuring pressure of earth all around him. That was a blessing, at least. No windows. No furniture either, except for the bed and a bedside table. The bed was pushed up into the corner of the room. The bedside table held the clock and an unopened bottle of water. He really wanted an unopened bottle of whiskey, but water would have to do, because some bastard had filled his mouth with glue overnight.
He prised himself into a sitting position, his feet dangling over the edge of the bed, and waited for his stomach to stop sloshing. That was it. He was going to give up drink. Not right now, of course. Right now he needed a hair of the dog. But later. Maybe not give it up entirely, but he wasn’t going on another bender like last night.
Vague memories began to filter through the murk. He should have eaten something, but he didn’t have enough money for food and booze, and he had needed the booze. And now he didn’t have enough money for either, and no prospect of getting any. He reached out for the bottle, unscrewed the cap and took a swig. It was warm, but it helped.
“Jesus!” Peter leapt across the room and whirled to face the bed. Sudden nausea and dizziness sent him staggering sideways until his outstretched arm could steady himself against the wall. The room was empty.
“Sorry.” The voice was low and timid. It was also oddly familiar.
“Where the blood and sand are you?” asked Peter. He squinted into the darkness.
“Under the bed.”
“Under the bed?” Peter bent down and peered into the darkness. The shadow under the bed revealed nothing. “Under the bed? Seriously? What the hell are you doing under the bed?” He caught himself making a mental check of his body. His clothes were fastened and his backside intact, though the gurgling in his guts suggested that might be a temporary state. “Are you some sort of pervert?”
“No, it’s my bed.”
“But under it?”
“It’s where I sleep.”
“You sleep on the floor?”
“Then why the feck do you have a bed?”
“So I can sleep under it.”
Peter frowned. It was a ludicrous argument, but not one he could logically fault, at least not in his current condition. He took a swig of the water again. Who was he to judge? He got nauseous on the first floor and felt insecure on clay soil. Wanting the reassurance of a bed over you to sleep was really no different.
“So, what? You’re a bogey man?”
“That’s what the human’s call me.”
“What do you call yourself?”
“No, I meant… Never mind. So, George, what am I doing here?”
“You weren’t very well last night. I didn’t think you’d be safe in the street.”
Not very well. Did he really think that or was it just a polite euphemism for being drunk and incapable?
“So you brought me home?”
“Yes. Creteus says we should look out for each other. Was that all right?”
“Creteus? Oh, right, lanky social activist, right? Well, I thank you. So this is your place?”
“It’s, um.” Peter looked around the room, as much as he could see of it. “It’s nice. Basement, right?”
“Sub basement. I don’t like the light. Sorry.”
“No, no it’s good. I don’t like height. Spent most of my early years underground. A lot of my adult life, come to that.” Not now though. The sewer system of London would have to take care of itself without him. Good riddance, but at some time the question of meals would present itself. Rent. All the little things in life for which merchants and landlords expected coin.
“I didn’t know where you lived,” said the voice under the bed.
“No, no it’s fine. To be honest, come next week I won’t know where I live either.”
“What do you mean?”
“Doesn’t matter. Thing is, I can’t repay you, grateful as I am. Listen, do you ever, you know, come out from under stuff?”
“I stand behind stuff.”
“Yeah, sure, it’s just, it’s a little weird for me, you know? Not being able to see who I’m talking to.”
“No, no. It’s not important. I just wondered.”
Peter released his hold on the wall and stood a little more erect. Normally he could talk for Ireland, but aside from his headache and furry tongue, it was disconcerting talking to a shadow. It was too much like talking to yourself. The room had offered all it had in terms of subjects for conversation. Besides, there were more pressing things than conversation.
“So, George,” he said at last. “At the risk of being indelicate, does this place have a loo?”
|Author Notes||In Europe buildings are zero-indexed. The ground floor is floor 0 and the first floor is one flight higher.|
Sunday was a day of rest. Well, almost. Bob enjoyed a lie in, a late Full English Breakfast in a café off of Petticoat Lane, and then spent the rest of the day doing the books with either the footy or F1 on the telly in the background, before opening up at six for a few hours.
What he didn’t enjoy was someone leaning on his flat doorbell at eight in the morning. He staggered across the bedroom, flung open the window and leant out.
“What?” he yelled. Then he noticed the two uniformed police officers standing in the street. The bell stopped ringing and Inspector Wilson stepped backwards into view. He looked up at Bob and treated him to a grin.
“Good morning, sir. Are you the keyholder of these premises, by any chance?”
“Jesus Christ, Wilson! It’s Sunday morning!”
“Is it?” Wilson looked at his watch in mock surprise. “Why, yes it is. Thank you for letting me know. I wonder, sir, if you might come down here for a moment.”
Bob glanced at the uniforms. One was taking photos of the bar front. “What’s with the woodentops? Are you going to arrest me?”
Wilson glanced back at the two regulars. “No, not unless you’ve been a naughty boy. These officers are just investigating this heinous crime.” He indicated the front of the bar with a sweep of his hand. He was obviously enjoying himself, which meant Bob would not.
“Fine, fine. Give me a minute, okay?”
He pulled his head back in and closed the window. What the hell would Wilson want with him, at this ungodly hour on a Sunday? Something that meant trouble if it had got him up and about at this time. Bob pulled on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, slipped on a pair of old trainers and made his way down the stairs.
“Well?” he said, stepping out into the spring air.
Wilson indicated the bar. Bob stepped out into the gutter and turned. Along the length of the bar front in white paint someone had written a message.
“What does it say?” asked Wilson.
“How would I know?”
“Well, you were always the touchy feely one, learning their culture and stuff. I thought you could read this stuff.”
Bob stared at the wall and shrugged. “They’re not all the same, you know. They each have their own language and script. You’re supposed to be the experts.”
“Oh, we got people who’ll decipher it, right enough. Not me, though.” Wilson shrugged. “Can’t be arsed learning all that mumbo-jumbo. They want to live here, they gotta learn the lingo. What is it, you think? Elf? Fairy? Not dwarf, not unless they had a ladder, eh?” He chuckled at his own joke. “So, what you want to do?”
“Do you wish to make a complaint of criminal damage to my uniformed colleagues? SOCO probably won’t come out today, lazy buggers. Monday, possibly Tuesday they can check for prints, fairy dust, that sort of thing. Of course, you’ll have to leave it all up there till they’ve finished. We can round up all the neighbours.” He looked up at the windows in the street. “Bound to be hundreds of the little buggers in this road, right? Of course, they won’t have heard anything. Thick as thieves, eh? All we’ll get is no speaky English. Well, at first, anyway.”
Bob sighed. “No.”
“No? Really? Well, if you’re sure.” Wilson beckoned an officer over. “If you can just inform my colleague here.”
“I don’t wish to press charges,” Bob told the police officer.
“Shame, but never mind. Okay, officer, thank you very much for your assistance. You can go back to answering stupid questions from tourists.”
Wilson turned back to Bob. “It’s still a Ministry thing, though. Oh yes. Never mind not pressing charges. Fae vandalism? Maybe political? Signs of unrest, certainly. The natives are getting restless, and we can’t have that. So don’t you worry. We’ll keep a special eye out. Extra patrols. Maybe wave the flag when you’re open.”
He leant closer. “That’s what you fae-lovers don’t understand, see? They’ll never be one of us, and we’ll never be one of them. Shove ‘em all behind a wall, that’s what some people say. Line up against one would be better, ‘cause that’s exactly what they’re saying about us.” He stepped back and surveyed the graffiti. “That’s going to be a bugger to get off, and then you’ll have to repaint it.” He looked at his watch. “Best jump to it, then. B and Q are going to do well out of you today, eh?” He gave Bob a big grin, then turned and sauntered over to his car.
Bob watched the car drive off, then turned to face the bar. He frowned and his lips moved as he stared at the lettering. His Elf was poor at best, and he hadn’t kept up his studies since he left the Ministry, but it was good enough to get the gist of it.
Wilson was going to have a field day. Elvish script calling for a war? God, no one had learnt anything from the Battle of Cable Street or the Paki-bashing of the seventies. He glanced at his watch. The DIY stores wouldn’t open until ten. Nothing he could do until then, and he was up now. He turned and started towards his Full English.
Flat - apartment
DIY - Do it yourself
B and Q - DIY store in the UK
Full English - large cooked breakfast often served in cafes
The bathroom contained neither bath nor shower, and the ancient soap had refused to lather under the cold tap, but Peter felt better for having stuck his head in the sink until he could hold his breath no longer. It would do until he could get back to his digs and have a shower and change his clothes. While he still had digs to go to, that was. Monday evening was rent day, and Monday night would see him fighting for a cardboard box to call his home. But that was tomorrow. Today he faced the glorious aspect of no money, no food and enforced sobriety.
They treated their dogs better than this. They found a dog on the streets, they put it up in Battersea Dog's Home. They had better rooms for stray pets than any Peter had stayed in since he'd reached this God-forsaken island. And he couldn't go back to Ireland, not after the church declared their pogrom against the gentle folk. Oh, they said they hadn't, but Peter knew the message that came from the pulpit, no matter what their spokesman said on the telly.
Was he even sober right now? It normally took a few beers to get this maudlin. Peter pulled at his jacket. No point whining. So life had kicked him in the shins. He'd punch life right back, and he had no choice but to punch below the belt.
He tried to look in the mirror above the sink, but all he could see was the top of his head. No matter. Dignity in death and all that shite. He'd go down kicking. He sacrificed some of his dignity by straining to drink direct from the tap, then wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Right! Now he would be dignified.
He returned to the bedroom. It was, as far as he could tell, empty. A little more light filtered into the room through the open door, so he left it wide.
"Hello," said George, from behind the door.
"Jesus!" Peter had been expecting the voice, but had steeled himself for it to come from under the bed. To hear it suddenly behind him caused him to clutch at his chest. "You'll be the death of me, creeping about like that."
"No, no, you're right enough. I was just startled, that was all. Sorry. No offence meant. This is your place, after all. Creep away, sir, creep away." He stared at the door and wondered what George looked like, but he was a guest in his home and there were rules as ancient as civilization. He'd just have to carry on wondering.
"So, I'm guessing you're awfully shy?"
"And is it just yourself?" Peter glanced at the bed. It was a single, but he had no idea how big George might be. Was there a Mrs. George under there, even shyer than her husband? Little Georges?
"I don't know. Sometimes I think there might be others. Not sure, just a feeling sometimes. We don't like to stand out."
"No, I can see that. It must be awfully lonely."
"Only lately? What happened? Did you lose somebody?"
"No. It's just, I never thought about it. Not till I came here anyway. No families here, see? No children, not human children. Not here in the city. And fae children, they're not the same."
Peter felt the blush rise. This wasn't the sort of conversation he'd like to have with a good friend, let alone an acquaintance he barely knew and never seen. He felt awkward and embarrassed, but George had picked him off the streets and given him a bed for the night. That counted for something.
"Yeah, well, that's humans for you. Tell us how wonderful we all are then stick us all into this cess pit."
"You don't have any money."
"Last night. You said you had spent everything."
"Did I? For all I know I might have told you I was the fairy king. Sorry. I was a wee bit worse for wear last night." Peter dug into his pocket and produced the contents. A till receipt from an off-licence, a plastic bead he had no knowledge of and the grand sum of fourteen pence in copper. "Hey, look at that. I was telling the truth. Except the bit about being the fairy king. Oh, wait." He looked around at the room, bare of anything except two sticks of furniture and a digital clock. "Oh Jeez. No, look, I'm sorry. If I had any money, sure, it would be yours. You were a true friend in need, and I will be grateful to you until my dying day, but sorry, pal. I can't recompense you beyond a few pennies. Like, literally pennies." He held out his hand as proof.
"I wasn't asking for money. You are my guest."
"In that case I apologise for my faux pas. No insult was intended. Nevertheless, either way, I'm gan. Broke. Brassic. Without a penny to my name. Well, without fifteen pence, and that's the truth. No crock of gold from this poor specimen. But you have my undying thanks, and in the unlikely event that I can ever do something for you, you have but to ask it."
"That is the main cause of my current fiscal straits, yes. You are a man of perception, I can see that."
Peter frowned. Had he told him that? Probably. He had made some passing remark earlier, hadn't he?
"No home after tomorrow, unless the gods cause their countenances to shine down upon me and grant me a miracle of some cash, or failing that, an offer of work. You know, if you're trying to cheer me up, you are doing a grand job."
"No, I meant -- never mind. Listen, it grieves me to press on your hospitality further, but you wouldn't happen to have a kettle, would you? I would kill for a cup of tea."
"Um, okay." Peter wondered how George would make his way to a kitchen somewhere, unless he had a kettle stashed behind the door.
"I have a bed," said George.
"And a mighty comfortable bed it was, too. But do you also have a kettle?"
A suspicion started to creep up on Peter. "Stay?"
"The bed is comfortable."
"Yes, yes, I can't deny that. It was certainly preferable to any pavement I have slept on, and I've slept on many a pavement. But stay? You mean, like stay? Move in?"
"But we have already established my funds have been pissed down your toilet. I can't afford rent, unless it's a penny a day, and even then I can only pay for a fortnight."
Peter placed his hands on his head and wondered how to explain. "Look, George, friend. I'm grateful, truly I am. Listen, can I sit down for a moment?" He turned his back on the door, walked over to the bed and sat.
"It's just, well, a bit strange, don't you think? The pair of us?"
"No," said George, from under the bed.
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" Peter hauled his feet off the floor. "How the hell did you get under there?"
"You're telling me." Peter gingerly placed his feet back on the floor. "George, you've done me a solid favour, we both know that, but I can't."
"Well, there's only one bed for a start." George remained silent. Peter thought it through. "Well, okay, technically there only needs to be one bed, yes, I see that. But, like, wouldn't you prefer a bed of your own?"
There was a long pause, and then in a voice so low Peter hardly caught it, George said, "No."
"Look, I'm flattered and all, but I'm really not sure what you're asking."
"I sleep under beds."
"Yes, we've established that."
"I've always slept under beds. Children's beds. Then I got here. And now they won't let me. Just an empty bed. So quiet. - So... lonely."
"Jesus, George." Peter gave a large sigh. It was weird. He'd shared digs before, when he was working his way across the country. Was this so different? Okay, they were sharing a bed, but there was a mattress between them. And the room was underground. He could definitely sleep here if he got used to George being so close. But after all, was it any different to a bunk bed? And, when push came to shove, did he really have any choice?
"Why children's beds?" he asked.
"Smaller. Cosier. And adults are dangerous. It's just what we do."
"Do you do anything? To the kids, I mean."
"No! Why would I? They're my home. Were, I mean."
"Okay, George, here's the deal. No funny business. No murdering me in my sleep. No going through my stuff. And I swear to Almighty God Himself, if you snore I'm going to take my chances on the street."
gan, brassic, broke, etc - no money
tap - fawcett
off-licence - liquor store
Peter climbed the stairs and pushed open the door. The sub-basement led into a store room. Shelves lined the walls from floor to ceiling, full of plastic storage boxes, re-purposed plastic buckets and mysterious parcels. The air was full of spice and pungent smells. He hurried through, having no interest in the contents. A further flight led to a narrow corridor. At one end a flight of stairs led further up. At the other end a door stood closed. Half way along a door stood open, second-hand daylight filtering into the dark hallway. Peter made his way along the hall. Muted voices recited something too low for Peter to catch the meaning. He paused at the open door. The hushed chant stopped abruptly and three women snapped their heads to look at him. They stood around a chair, in which another woman sat, her face covered in green paste and her hands gripping the arms so tightly her knuckles were white.
Peter nodded at them and hurried on. As he opened the door the chanting started up again. He stepped out and blinked in the grey light. God, he had missed being underground. Even the overcast sky was too bright, too far above him.
The exit he had just used consisted of a non-descript door flanked by lines of doorbells. Various names in various scripts announced the residents to anyone who could read them. A shop front, its windows papered, had a sigil which meant nothing to him. Presumably it meant something to those who needed to know. He thought of the white-knuckled woman. Women with skin complaints, maybe?
He walked down the narrow street towards a main road. At the junction he made a note of the street - Grenfield Row -- then looked for his bearings. Whitechapel Road, so Brick Lane would be down there, so his flat would be... over there somewhere. The road was quiet, most non-fae heading towards the Petticoat Lane market. He crossed the road and hurried into the side streets.
He would kill for a drink. Maybe a bit of breakfast, but mostly a drink. Even a cup of tea. George, bless his cotton socks, didn't possess a kettle. He didn't possess anything, as far as Peter could discern, except for the bed, and that was now Peter's for the time being. He had magicked up a second bottle of water, but Peter passed the corner shops and cafes with envy, each one mocking his thirst and empty pockets.
At last he reached his digs, an ancient house converted into a fae doss-house by the simple expedient of putting up paper-thin partitions and dividing generous rooms into tiny cubicles. He reached his room without meeting anyone. He switched on the electric kettle then proceeded to stuff his meagre possessions into a plastic bin bag. He had finished packing before the kettle had boiled.
He surveyed the sum of his worth after how many years on this earth? The kettle clicked off as the lights went out. Great. The electricity meter had run out of money. It was symbolic. Of what, he wasn't sure, but it was deeply symbolic of something or other. He touched the side of the kettle. Good enough for a lukewarm cup of tea. He rinsed out his only mug, dropped in a tea bag and let it stew in the tepid water. He was going to have a cup of tea. He had been craving one since he woke up, and he was damned if the Fates would deny him one now, even if it was the world's most disgusting brew.
He dried the kettle out on a tea towel and dropped that into the bag. He took a sip of the tea and grimaced. But it was a point of principle now, so he gulped it down, rinsed and dried the mug and put that in the bag.
With one last glance around the flat he threw the bag over his shoulder and left. At the door he turned and shouted, "I'm off. And you can tell that thieving git of a landlord he can pull this week's rent out his arse!" No one cheered. No one did anything. He paused for a moment, then turned and stepped out into the street.
Back at Grenfield Row he let himself in through the street door with the key George had given him. The shop door halfway along the corridor was mercifully closed this time, but when he descended into the basement the three women were there, stood around a cardboard box. One of them slammed the lid shut and all three stared at him. He nodded a greeting again, walked across to the stairs and descended into the sub-basement.
"Honey, I'm home," he called out as he walked through the door, then stopped dead.
"Peter," said Creteus, rising from the bed where he had been sitting. "Welcome home."
Peter strode across the room and dumped the bag at the foot of the bed.
"That's my bed," he growled.
Creteus smiled and gently shrugged, looking around the room. "I'm afraid I was not spoilt for choice," he said.
Peter too surveyed the room. It was true. He wasn't sure the ancient bedside table would support Creteus' weight, and that just left the floor.
"George?" he said.
George's voice floated out from behind the bedside table. "Yes?" It sounded stronger than this morning, more confident. Peter wondered how he could fit behind the unit. There was hardly a crack between it and the wall.
"Okay. Just checking you're about."
"I can go if you want."
"Jeez, no. This is your place. I'm not turfing you out."
Creteus gave Peter a smile that nevertheless gently admonished him. "I think Peter was just checking I hadn't broken into your rooms whilst you were absent, in order to steal your heirlooms," he said, still looking at Peter. He spread his arms wide to encompass the room. "Nothing is missing."
"I never said that." Peter dropped down on the foot of the bed and opened the bin bag. "I brought my kettle. Is that all right? For the electricity, I mean." Because I haven't even got 50p for the meter, he added silently.
"Sure. It's all included in the rent," said George's voice.
Peter wanted to apologise for that, to explain again he was skint, to promise he would make it up as soon as he found his feet, but there stood Creteus, towering over him, and it was none of his business.
"Well, sit down." Peter indicated the other end of the bed with a nod of his head. "You're giving me a crick in my neck."
"Thank you." Creteus hitched his trousers at the knees and sat on the bed. He was tall, even by human standards, and Peter strongly suspected the bed was once made for a child. His knees folded halfway to his shoulders, and Peter suddenly thought of a grasshopper.
Peter placed the kettle and lead on the floor and pulled out a crushed box of no-name teabags.
"I've got no milk or sugar," he said, by means of a reluctant invitation.
"Black will be wonderful, thank you."
Peter looked in the bag again and pulled out his mug.
"Oh, wait. I've only got one mug." A clink from the other end of the bed caused him to look up. A mug, still rattling slightly, had appeared on the bedside table. "Fair enough. What about you, George?"
"Thanks," came George's voice from under Peter's feet. Looking down, he saw the kettle and teabags had disappeared. A clunk announced their arrival on the bedside table, along with another mug.
Creteus smiled. "He is so very useful, isn't he?"
"Sure." Peter rose and placed his mug with the others. "So, you and George are mates?"
"We're all fae, Peter. We should all be friends." He glanced at the bed. "So there's no need to be jealous."
"What?" Peter sat on the bed, then jumped up again. "No! No-no-no-no. It's like a bunk bed, right? He sleeps underneath."
Creteus chuckled and raised his hand. "No, I never meant to imply anything untoward. But it's good to see. George doesn't make friends easily." He mouthed the word 'shy', as though it were a secret. "But the two of you seem to have hit it off wonderfully. That's good. For both of you."
"Well, I worry about George. Don't I, George? He's been very unhappy since coming to the city. Haven't we all? But with him on his own, too, and lonely. Has he told you about his former life?"
"The kids? Sure."
"Wonderful. So you becoming his friend is such good news."
Peter clenched his fists. "I'm not a kid."
"Oh my goodness, no. I didn't mean to imply that at all. I just meant, he's missed the presence, I think. Right, George?"
"Right." George's voice was behind the bedside table again.
"And of course, it benefits you too."
"Excuse me?" said Peter.
"Oh, George has told me about your situation. I hope you don't mind. Such a shame. And what a friend in need."
"Yes, he's a diamond sure enough."
"What was your job, if I can be so bold?"
"Environmental waste engineer."
"That sounds a responsible occupation."
"Yeah, well, it just meant shit shoveller in the sewers."
Creteus grinned. "Still a responsible job, if not exactly fragrant. And they fired you? A human wanted your job?"
"No one wants that job, but they didn't want me. I wouldn't take their sh- their 'jokes'." Peter waggled his fingers to show the quotes. "And one of them got in the way of my shovel and went crying to the boss."
"No doubt he deserved it. But now you are at a loose end."
"You could put it like that."
Creteus took a deep breath and stared at the opposite wall. After a moment he shook his head.
"That's how they work, you know. Chop, chop. Slice, slice. More and more fae isolated, powerless. One at a time, like hyenas thinning the herd. And eventually there we are, each on our own, no friends, no power, no home. It's the way it is, but it's not fair."
"Yeah, well, maybe I shouldn't have hit him in the bollocks."
Creteus whirled on the leprechaun. "No, no. Don't apologise. You did what anyone with an ounce of pride, an ounce of dignity would do. They treat us like vermin, like rats. Well, sometimes rats bite. They need to understand that."
"Doesn't help me now though."
"No, no, indeed not. Do you have any other skills?"
"You mean apart from dancing a jig? No human is going to hire me, anyway, not now, even if I had a degree in accountancy."
"Tea's up," said George. Peter glanced at the bedside table. Two mugs steamed there. Creteus took them both without rising and passed one to Peter.
"We shouldn't be running to them with a begging bowl, Peter."
"I can't see any fae employing me either. They employ their own. Who wants to see a leprechaun serving food at an elf restaurant?"
"You've been to the Lion and Lamb before, right?"
"The boozer? Sure, but he's barely making ends meet. He'd hire me, sure enough, but he doesn't have a space."
"A human owner, I believe?"
"Sure. But Bob's okay. I mean he's a sarcastic git who makes inappropriate jokes, but he does that with humans too. No, he's okay."
"Of course. But humans drink there too?"
"A few. Tourists mostly. But mainly fae."
"And the lion shall lie down with the lamb, indeed."
"Nothing. And I expect people talk, yes? Many a slip?"
Peter sighed. "Look, I'm not an educated person. I'm not particularly good at reading between the lines, or just reading, come to that. Why don't you stop farting around and get to the point."
Creteus chuckled again. "The point. Indeed. Very well. It would benefit the community as a whole if we could judge the zeitgeist."
"Don't think any zeitgeists drink there."
"Very droll. But if we knew the gossip, the general feelings of both the fae and the humans, it could help us anticipate events, plan our actions. Be more proactive."
"You want me to spy on them."
Creteus winced. "Spy? No. Just let me know who's about, topics of conversations, that sort of thing. The feel of the place."
"Sounds like spying to me. And anyway, there's a tiny flaw in your plan."
"I'm skint. No job, no money, no prospects of getting either."
Creteus stared ahead at the wall again, nodding his head. After a moment he asked, "Do you care the sort of job you do?"
Creteus smiled. "Understandable. I have a need for someone to run errands for me. Collect subscriptions. Deliver messages. I can't pay much, but as well as a wage I can give you additional money for 'the boozer', if we can chat about it the next day. The job offer isn't dependent on that, of course, but I'm not sure the pay will stretch to meals and evenings out."
Peter ran a hand over his mouth. The tea was hot, but that was all he could say in its favour. The oaths of sobriety he had sworn that morning seemed a long time ago.
"Just the topics, sort of thing?" he asked.
"Okay then. But I'm no spy."
Sunday evenings was Fae night by unspoken agreement. No city workers, no tourists. Bob hung the tea towel on its rail. He poured two white wines and a half of bitter and placed them on a tray.
“You’ve got the bar,” he told Dawn.
“I’m the boss?” she said. “Great. In that case, you’re fired. You spend too much time on the wrong side of the counter.”
“No one has a sense of humour like you,” he replied, lifting the bar flap. “That’s why no one laughs at your jokes.”
A couple of elves sat at a table. One of them he recognised as the elf who had explained about Ted’s new name.
“Hi, guys,” he said, placing the tray on the table, grabbing a vacant chair from a neighbouring table and sitting down with them. “I have a favour to ask.”
“Listen. Llen – Llen – “
“Llenowen, right. Listen, someone wrote something on my wall last night. Something in elvish..”
“I saw the wet paint. It wasn’t us.”
“No, no. I didn’t think it was for a minute. It’s just, I got the gist of it, but I would appreciate a proper translation.” Bob offered his phone, the picture of the graffiti on the screen. ”The next round’s on me.”
Llenowen stared at him impassively, not even bothering to look at the phone.
“Okay the next two – the next three rounds, okay?”
For a moment Bob thought he was going to have to leave the table, but then Llenowen took the phone. He glanced it, pursed his lips and handed the phone back.
“It doesn’t translate well in human.”
“As close as you can get?”
“It’s from a song. Galanodel was a lord who had an honour feud with a – “ Llenowen waved his hand. “I don’t know the term. A higher ranking lord. War was the only recourse, but Galondel was outnumbered ten to one. At the final battle he was trapped, most of his warriors gone, a cliff to his back, an army to his front. The speech he gave to his liegemen filled their souls and strengthened their arms. The battle afterwards was glorious. Foolhardy, unwinnable, but glorious. The song of it is famous throughout all elvish nations.” He pointed at the phone. “That was the battle cry they took up.”
“So it’s a battle cry.”
Llenowen winced. “I knew you wouldn’t be able to understand. Not just a battle cry. It’s the battle cry, when everything is against you. It’s a cry from the soul that says that even though all is lost, you will win or make it a bitter victory for your enemy.”
“Well, that was most of it. The last word means ‘human’.”
Bob chuckled. “I’ve been called it enough times to know it doesn’t exactly mean human.”
Llenowen shrugged. “We have lots of names for you.”
“I can imagine.” Bob placed both hands on the table. “Thanks.”
“It wasn’t us though.”
“No, no. I shouldn’t think you’d be drinking here if it was.”
“No, I meant it wasn’t an elf.”
Bob sat back. “It wasn’t? Why not?”
Llenowen shook his head. “Have you seen Elvish?”
Bob thought back to the statements he’d taken back in the day. “Yes.”
“We write like we talk, like we sing, like we move. Elvish script is art. It is an expression of all we are, all we do. It is a thing of beauty, even when it’s a threat or an insult. That-” He stabbed a finger at Bob’s phone. “If that was written by an elf then he had two broken arms and one eye. Look at it. It’s an insult to elves anywhere. A child wouldn’t be as clumsy as that.”
“You’re saying you were set up?”
“I’m saying it wasn’t an elf who wrote that.”
Bob pursed his lips and nodded as he assessed the new information. “Okay. Thanks.” He stood and picked up his beer. “I appreciate it.”
Llenowen’s companion leant over and muttered something in Llenowen’s ear. Llenowen nodded. “You’re welcome.” The two rose, leaving their drinks on the table.
“Hey!” Bob said to their backs. “Aren’t you going to cash in your free drinks?” The elves made no reply and walked on, out of the pub.
Bob stared at the door for a moment, then returned to the business side of the bar.
“Whoa!” said Dawn, holding up her hand. “You were fired by the new boss, remember? Staff only this side of the counter.”
“You think the new boss is going to pay all the outstanding bills, then?”
Dawn swept her arm aside in invitation. “Welcome back, boss.”
Some time later Bob turned from putting the price of a beer into the till and saw Peter climbing the bar stool.
“Hello, mate. I didn’t expect to see you here tonight.”
“Didn’t expect to be, to be honest, but when the winds of fate blow, you can either hoist your sail or hunker down, right?”
“I’ll have a bottle of Guinness.” Peter took a ten pound note from his pocket and smoothed it out on the counter.
Bob took the bottle from the shelf and decanted it into a glass. “You got a job already?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
“You’re not mugging schoolkids for their pocket money, right?”
Peter scowled. “If that’s a joke about my height we’re going to fall out, you and me.”
Bob held up both his hands. “Woah. No offense meant, mate. We’ve both said worse things when we were larking about, okay?”
Peter took the glass and gave Bob the note. “Yeah, okay. Sorry. Just a bit sick of it all right now. You lot and your ‘jokes’. Just ‘cause you think it’s funny doesn’t mean it is.”
“We not joking now then? Because I thought that’s all we had, you and me.”
“Oh, I don’t mean you, you know that. I mean you.” He waved his hand in Bob’s general direction. “Your sort.”
“My people? Okay.”
Peter scowled and took a draught of his stout.
“But things are looking up, right?” Bob handed him his change. “I mean, last night you had coppers to your name.”
“A bit of luck, I guess. Not from your lot, though. Sláinte.” He tipped his glass at Bob and slid off the stool, moving over to a table by the window.
“A lover’s tiff?” asked Dawn.
Dawn nodded at the leprechaun. “Never known him not sit at the bar and pull your chain.”
“He’s probably seen the abuse you pour down on me and decided he can’t do better.”
“Oh, he hasn’t seen anything yet. You wait till my last night here. Then you’ll know abuse.”
Bob looked around the bar. “You’ve not been abusive to the punters, though, right?”
“Me? I’m the definition of friendly bonhomie. Why?”
“Just a bit quiet, is all.”
Dawn followed his gaze. “Maybe it’s an elvish holy day or something.”
Bob looked again. She was right. Various fae, but no elves. “Maybe,” he said.
|Author Notes||pound note in the UK = bill in hte US|
“Peter? Good morning.”
“Hm?” He had been dreaming of the old country: green fields, thimbles of poteen and fresh-baked bread on windowsills, tricks and favours traded with the big folk.
“I’ve made you some tea.”
“Good on you. What time is it?”
“Seven in the morning?” He groaned and rolled over to face the wall. “Make another one in an hour, okay?” He could almost taste the poteen. He tried to chase the dream.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what?”
“I’ve made you tea. We have to get up.”
“Do we now? And why’s that?”
“We have to see Creteus at eight.”
Peter sighed. “Okay, okay. Just give me a minute, okay?” He closed his eyes, but the dream had evaporated like fairy gold. He threw the covers back and sat up, turning to sit on the edge of the bed. It was oddly reassuring to sit on a bed where his feet could reach the ground.
“Sorry. Sorry. Not much of a morning person. You okay?”
“Yes, thank you,” said George who,as far as Peter could make out, was behind the bedside table. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yeah,” replied Peter, and then realised that, in fact, he had slept well. There was something about sleeping underground, with the comforting weight of soil all around him, no chink of daylight or the cursed rumble of traffic. He had slept within a minute of his head hitting the pillow to George’s wake-up call. When had he last slept so well? Not since leaving Ireland, that was for sure. “Yeah, I slept really well, thanks. You?”
“Yes. You breathe loudly.”
“Jeez, sorry. Just give me a kick if I snore.”
“No, no, I like it. It’s good to know there’s someone on the bed.”
“Um, okay.” He was, he acknowledged to himself, still not entirely comfortable with the arrangement, but if his nocturnal breathing soothed George, it was worth it for a bed so deep underground. Peter leant over and picked up the mug. No milk again, but it was hot and wet. “Slainte.” He sipped the scalding tea. “So, Creteus?”
“Yes. He likes to start at eight.”
“You work for him too?”
“Just odd jobs.”
“What does he do, Creteus? For a living, I mean.”
“Mostly looks out for us. For the Fae.”
“Ah, a politician.” Peter’s lack of personal experience with that particular breed didn’t stop him having an opinion about politicians. Too concerned with other’s morality, not enough about their own. They were on a par with priests and taxmen, not that Peter had had any dealings with those either. “What does he do for money, though?”
“I don’t know. He’s a good person, though.”
“I’m sure he is. Good enough to slip me a tenner on a Sunday night, anyway.” And maybe a little more for whatever odd jobs he might have for a leprechaun down on his luck. To be honest, his morality didn’t really come into it. A ten pound note from a good man bought just as much as one from a bad man. He reached for his trousers where he had hung them on the floor the night before. He rooted around in the pockets and looked at the contents. Ninety-three pence. What would that get him? A croissant maybe? A chocolate bar? Certainly not a full English.
“Is there somewhere cheap I can get a spot of breakfast round here?”
“Creteus has bacon sandwiches for those who get there early.”
“Bacon sandwiches and a tenner. By God, the man’s a saint. I’ll be ready in ten minutes,” said Peter, pulling on his trousers.
Lockup - A small workshop or garage with no accomodation attached.
Brown sauce - the only thing that can make bacon taste even better. The original was HP sauce, still regarded by many as the best, but now many brands exist. Quintessentially British, it is like ketchup in texture, but savoury and spicy. It can be enjoyed with cold meets, mashed potato and as an ingredient in things like cottage pie. I even like a smidgeon in my baked beans. But most of all, it is the marriage with bacon that transcends this mortal coil and transports one, if even only briefly, to nirvanna. (other paradises are available)
Part of leperchaun lore is that they are the deformed children of fairies
He worked in a company, Bob guessed, with ‘consultancy’ in its name somewhere. He had the look of someone who was so ahead of the trending curve he was virtually behind it again. The young man with him may have been a client or a co-worker. Either way the consultant was treating him to a liquid lunch.
“Do you do food?” the punter asked, passing the vodka Red Bull to his associate and taking a sip of his G&T.
Bob indicated the hot and cold bins at the end of the counter. “Hot pies and pasties, ham or cheese rolls.”
“Do you do anything, you know…”
Bob raised his eyebrows in confused innocence. “Anything…?”
The punter leant forward and lowered his voice. “Ethnic.”
Bob looked both ways and, seeing they were clear of eavesdroppers, leant over the bar and beckoned him closer. The punter leant forward into whispering range.
“I’ve got a scotch egg behind the counter.” Behind his poker face Bob delighted in the confusion on the man’s face.
“But if you’re after Fae food, Brick Lane’s the place. Don’t believe the stories about what goes into Dwarf food, and the Elf nosh is a bit on the pricey side, but worth it if that’s what floats your boat. Me, I do pub grub that involves nothing more complex than a microwave.”
Brick Lane was indeed the place to go, if you were a tourist and wanted to walk on the Fae side, but most places doctored their dishes to appeal to a more traditional London palate. If you were in the know, if against all the odds you were friends with a proprietor, and if you were happy eating in the kitchen, the real deal could also be found in Brick Lane, but that had always been the way, whether it was kosher, halal or Fae you were after.
“I’d have thought you’d be friendlier to your own people,” said Dawn, as the consultants made their way to a table to discuss virtual cyber visibility profiles, or whatever passed for buzz phrases nowadays.
“Sure. I mean, we all hate you. I’d have thought you’d at least want to curry favour with your own sort.”
“You hate me?”
“Oh, I didn’t mean me per se, I meant the Fae generally.” She grinned. “But now you come to mention it, yeah, me too.”
“Is that why it’s so quiet?”
Dawn shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a funny time, right now. God knows what goes on in the minds of the Elves. I don’t think even they know most of the time. Maybe they just found an Elvish place to drink. But people are getting a bit restless, you know? Even here, they’re staying home more. The Ministry is pulling people’s chains, the papers are having a go and there’s all that business in parliament. It’ll either drive you to drink or away from it.”
“Whatever it is, I hope it blows over soon. It’s not good for business.”
Both pub doors opened at the same time and in strode officers in Ministry uniforms.
“Talking of bad for business,” muttered Dawn.
Two officers flanked each door as others filed into the pub. Finally Inspector Wilson entered, followed by a man Bob didn’t recognise, but who oozed authority.
Wilson held up a paper and said in a voice that carried around the bar, “We have a warrant to investigate all Fae on these premises. All Fae are to stay exactly where they are. Ladies and gentlemen, if you are not of a Fae persuasion, I strongly advise you to leave now. The Ministry of Fae Affairs apologises for any inconvenience.”
“I haven’t finished my drink,” complained Mr. G&T.
Wilson stood over him. “If you pardon my presumption, sir, you have that manly look about you that says you can neck a drink and still close a million-pound deal before tea time. Am I correct? By all means take your time if you prefer, though.”
The punter looked around as the other humans stood and shuffled past the officers at the door. He muttered something, took a gulp of his drink and left, his glass still half full.
Bob pulled his phone out and started hitting the keys.
“You can put that away,” said Wilson.
“Your warrant applies to Fae, not me,” said Bob, still hitting the keys.
“Oh, a barrack-room lawyer, are we?” asked Wilson’s companion.
“Ex ministry,” said Wilson. “Reneged on his oath, turned his back on his own people.”
“Really? And who are you texting? Your Fae friends?”
“No.” Bob hit the send button and looked up at the stranger. “A human friend.”
The man held out his hand for the phone. Bob pointedly put the phone in his pocket.
“Well, if a lawyer can be said to have any friends.” Bob treated the man to a broad and entirely false smile. “Robert Andrews, proprietor of this fine establishment. And you are?”
“The man who wants your phone.”
“Won’t do you any good. It’s locked, and by the time you can crack it you will be neck deep in injunctions. Besides, the Ministry holds no sway over me. I’m not remotely Fae.”
The two stared at each other for long seconds. The pick-axe handle under the bar was out of the question, of course, but nevertheless Bob’s hands itched. Instead, he held out his hand.
“Still don’t know who you are.”
“Under-secretary Boyce.” The man made no attempt to shake Bob’s hand.
“Oh, a politician. I thought you didn’t smell like a copper.”
“Oi, watch your mouth,” barked Wilson taking a step forward.
Bob raised his hands and stepped back, smiling. “No offence, I’m sure.”
Boyce stared at Bob for a moment longer, then appraised the bar.
“Where are the elves?” he asked.
“Haven’t a clue,” said Bob. “I was asking the same question myself only seconds before you arrived.”
“But elves drink here, correct?”
“Sure. It’s a pub. It’s what people do in a pub.”
“Which elves in particular?”
“Most people pay cash. Most Fae don’t have debit cards.”
Boyce turned to Bob and raised an eyebrow.
“What I mean to say,” said Bob, “is that I don’t ask for people’s names when they order drinks.”
Bob shrugged. “Beats me, pal. They all look the same to me, know what I mean?”
Boyce shook his head. “I would have thought you would have been more cooperative, given your history. Especially since they vandalised your pub. You know it was Elvish, of course. The graffiti I mean.”
“Well, the script was Elvish. Doesn’t mean to say it was elves, though.”
“I notice you’ve painted it over. That could be held as destroying evidence. The ministry’s reach could certainly stretch that far.”
“Inspector Wilson suggested that course of action,” said Bob. Boyce snapped his head around to Wilson, who had the decency to look embarrassed. “In fact, he recommended I go to B and Q to get the paint. Very helpful, he was. I say, can I put in a recommendation for his helpfulness yesterday?”
It was all Bob could do to not giggle. Wilson’s face was worth whatever agro this was going to cost him.
“I photo’d the vandalism,” said Wilson. “We didn’t realise the import of the message till today, it being Sunday yesterday.”
Boyce took a deep breath. “Question them,” he said. “Every one. I want names and clans of any elf who’s drunk here.”
“Pardon me for asking,” said Bob. “It’s been a while since I was in the firm. But why would an elf vandalise the very pub he drinks in?”
Boyce swept an arm to encompass the bar. “Clearly they don’t drink here now,” he said.
“Right!” bellowed Wilson. “Line up. Against that wall there. Well? I know you speaka da English. Move your arses or I will kick you into line.”
“Please do as he says,” said Bob. “I’m sure this will all be over soon.”
Wilson whirled on Bob. “I said shut it.”
“Bob spread his hands wide. “Just trying to be helpful. I know I’ll have to pay for any breakages if you get too enthusiastic in your work.”
The Fae started to rise and either moved or were moved towards the far wall. It wasn’t as if there were that many to organise. Bob prayed none of them would try to make a stand. Even with witnesses, any court in the land would believe that a Fae, hands cuffed behind him, had assaulted a dozen Ministry officers, rather than the ridiculous notion that the officers had clubbed an innocent Fae for being too slow to stand against a wall.
“You too.” Wilson pointed at Dawn.
Bob nodded at her. “It’ll be okay,” he muttered. “Trust me.”
Dawn lifted the flap of the bar and started towards the rest of the Fae when Boyce held out his arm preventing her from preceding.
“You work here?” he asked.
“Yes, sir!” prompted Wilson.
“Yes sir,” said Dawn, looking at the beer-stained carpet.
“We’ll start with you then. Inspector?”
Wilson strode over to her, grabbed her by the shoulder and pushed her to a table in the far corner. He placed a pad and pen on the table.
“Names and clans of elves,” he said. “You can write, yeah? English, I mean, not fairy gobbledegook.”
Wilson slammed his hand on the table, causing Dawn to jump. A couple of officers moved to stand between Dawn and the bar, facing Bob.
“Yes what?” shouted Wilson.
Dawn glanced up at Bob but Wilson grabbed her hair, forcing her to look at the pad. Bob stepped forward but the officers placed their hands on their batons.
“Don’t look at him,” said Wilson. “ You gonna look at anyone, you can look at me. Now write their names and clans.”
Boyce looked at Bob and smiled, ignoring the interrogation. “When’s your licence due to be renewed?” he asked.
“Don’t know their names,” said Dawn in a low voice, staring at the pad in front of her.
“You got a dog licence?” asked Wilson.
“Show me your dog licence.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Your Fae registration,” said Bob. “He’s asking for your I.D.”
“In my purse.”
“You’re meant to keep it on you at all times! You want to be put into one of the camps? We can do it, you know, if you don’t have your dog licence on you.”
“For Christ’s sake!” Bob grabbed Dawn’s handbag from behind the bar and tossed it across to her table. “You’d have complained if she’d stopped to pick up her bag when you told her to move.”
Dawn grabbed her bag and scrabbled through the contents.
“Well? I don’t have –”
The door opened and in burst Amanda Gordon, breathless and flushed.
“Stop,” she cried, drawing herself up and wrapping herself in righteous indignation.
Boyce sighed. “And who are you? Mr. Andrews’’ solicitor?”
“What? No. No, I am Amada Gordon.” When that failed to achieve any result she added., “Of the AETF.”
“Ah yes, Fae-loving hippies, as far as I understand it. My secretary tells me you write to me a lot. Such a waste of paper. Go away, little girl, and hug a tree somewhere. We are busy. You have no authority here.”
The door opened again, and two men entered, suited and clutching briefcases that looked as though the bearers meant business.
“No, but my lawyers might,” said Amanda, thrusting out her chin.
It was a non-descript terrace house indistinguishable from its neighbours. Peter was losing count by now. Was this the seventh or eighth place they had visited? They weren't all houses. There were a couple of cafes and a workshop of some sort, but mostly they were houses or flats, some squalid, some reasonable. The only unifying factor was that they were all occupied by Fae. Elmwood rapped at the door and the pair waited. Seconds later it opened and revealed a faun. Peter was vague on fauns. This one looked a fairly young adult, and given the skirt he guessed it was female.
She gave a nervous bleat at seeing them, then stepped aside. They entered a narrow hallway. Elmwood turned into the first door on the right without waiting for an invitation, and Peter followed.
A faun rose from a desk. The bench he had been sitting on looked custom made, just a wide backless affair, too high for Peter to be able to use. He closed the screen of the laptop and stepped towards them, his hooves clip-clopping on the floorboards.
"Elmwood," he said, offering a hand. "How are you?"
"Alekos." Elmwood gave the faun's hand a cursory shake.
"And this is?"
"Peter," said Peter.
"No, I'm -- "
"He's a leprechaun," said Elmwood quickly.
Peter grinned. It had only taken him introducing himself as a fairy three times for Elmwwod to ensure any new person they met knew Peter was a leprechaun.
"Oh. Um, fine." From Alekos' reaction Peter assumed the faun's knowledge of leprechauns was no better than Peter's knowledge of fauns. "Tea?" asked Alekos, folding his hands over each other in a nervous dance. "Oinia?"
The female faun that had let them in nodded from the doorway and turned.
"Here, let me help," said Peter, following.
"It's fine," she mumbled, staring at Peter's feet. "I can manage."
"No, I insist." He held his arm out in an invitation for her to proceed. After an anxious glance at Alekos she continued down the hallway and Peter followed.
"Oinia is it?" he asked her as they entered a tiny kitchen.
She nodded, picking up a kettle and going to the sink.
"What a lovely name. It suits you. Does it mean anything?"
She nodded and turned the tap.
After a moment Peter prompted, "And it means?"
"Wine-dark," she said, her voice hardly more than a whisper.
"Ah, an intoxicating name for an intoxicating woman."
For the first time she looked up, searching his eyes for any hint of a joke, then she shrugged. "It's just a name. It's Greek."
"Oh, you're a stranger in a strange land?"
She placed the kettle on the hob. "Aren't we all?"
"Oh, that's the truth, and that's the entirety of it, isn't it? But I meant, you're from overseas?"
"My family was, a long time ago." She lit the gas with a disposable lighter.
"Me too. From Ireland. But I guess you knew that, me being of the leprechaun persuasion." He waited for a smile, but she simply turned to the cupboards above the worktop.
"So you belong to the Creteus Club?" Peter asked, wincing behind her back at the clumsiness of the question. A cup of tea would only take a few minutes to brew, though, and he was curious.
"What?" She pulled a tray from a shelf and placed it on the table.
"The subscriptions, I mean."
"Oh, that." She shrugged. "We need to stand together, Dad says."
She pulled a teacup from a hook under the cupboard.
"Here, let me." Peter stretched and just failed to reach the other teacups by a couple of centimetres. "Okay, let me let you," he said, dropping his arms. Finally he got a smile, if only a brief one.
"So why do you do it? Pay the subs, I mean."
She shrugged, placing cups and saucers on the tray. "Some of us can. Others need help. We got to stick together, you know?"
Peter indicated the tray. "Only three cups? Aren't you having one?"
Oinia stared at the tray. "They talk business. Not really my thing."
Peter leaned in. Close to, he could smell a strange mix of musk and lavender. "Not my thing either," he said in a low voice and winked. He saw the blush rise. "Please, as a favour. Don't let me be the only one who's bored stupid."
She looked at the door, at the cups hanging from their hooks and the tray. Then she smiled, biting her bottom lip and tentatively reached for a fourth cup.
"Yes! Thank you."
"You're welcome," she said, the blush deepening. The kettle whistled, causing her to give a little jump. She turned and turned off the gas. She pulled down a teapot and splashed a little hot water into it, swirling it around before tipping it into the sink. She reached for a metal tea caddy and strained at the lid.
"Here, here, let me." Peter took the caddy and pulled the lid free. "Something I can do, at least."
"Thank you." She started spooning tea into the pot.
"What happens if you don't pay?"
"What do you mean?" She poured the water into the pot. "We always pay."
"I mean, what if you didn't. What if you couldn't, or didn't want to anymore?"
She frowned, as if such a thing had never occurred to her. Then she shrugged again. "I don't know. Then we just wouldn't, I guess. But we can and we do."
"He wouldn't threaten you or anything? Creteus, I mean."
"Creteus?" Her eyes widened. "Threaten us? Of course not. He's on our side. On the side of all the Fae."
"No, of course not. Sorry. What a silly question. Excuse me. I'm new to all of this. It's just, in the human world, sometimes bad men collect money. If you don't pay, they turn nasty."
"Oh, humans!" she said, and that said all she needed to say about what she thought of them. She gave him a shy smile and reached for another tin in the cupboard. "Do you like custard creams?" she whispered, twisting off the lid to reveal the treasure inside.
|Author Notes||Custard cream - a kind of cookie in the UK, broken out when you want to impress visitors who stay for a cup of tea.|
The Ministry officers filed out. Wilson waited until the last of them had left and then leant in close to Bob.
"It's only going to get worse, you know," he said in a voice that wouldn't reach the ears of Amanda's solicitors. "It's all going to shit, and you're standing right in front of the fan." He gave a nod towards Dawn, the only Fae left in the pub. "They hate you. Your own kind hate you. You can be sure we hate you. Close up and piss off, and that's the best advice you're going to get. 'Cause if some patriot doesn't firebomb you, the fairies will. And we'll be devastated. There'll be tears and everything." He shook his head. "I don't understand you, honest I don't. You know what they're like. You saw enough of it when you were in the job. Why you choose to be such a traitor, and for them as would kill you as soon as look at you, well, it's beyond me."
"Will that be all, officer?" asked Bob, his voice loud enough to carry around the pub.
"Watch your back, is all I'm saying. You want to commit suicide, there's ways that won't inconvenience people." Wilson turned, nodded at Amanda and her legal team and sauntered out.
After the door closed Bob silently counted to three, then let out a long breath.
"Ladies, cover your ears," he said.
"What complete and utter bastards!" spat Amanda. She slammed a fist on the counter. "What utter, utter ..." She waved her hands in the air, searching for a curse strong enough. "Bastards!" she screamed.
Dawn said something in her own language. It was long and complicated, but the gist was clear. Bob wondered if fairies could actually lay curses on humans. The experts all denied it, but the venom in the voice could have poisoned a reservoir.
"Okay," said Bob. "Perhaps the gentlemen should cover their ears." He lifted the flap and put four glasses on the counter. He picked a fifth and waggled it at Dawn. "I know you don't normally, but...?"
"Hell yes," replied Dawn. She was shaking and her face was white. Whether from fear or anger Bob wasn't sure. Perhaps it was both.
Bob took a bottle of ten-year-old single malt and splashed it into the glasses, not bothering with the measure.
"Gentlemen," he said, pushing the glasses towards the solicitors. "I know you're on duty but I've never seen a lawyer yet who didn't drink, and by God you earned it today. Amanda?"
Amanda grabbed a glass and downed half of it in one, then nearly coughed it up again.
"It's so unfair!" she said, her voice trembling with rage. "They weren't doing anything. Not a thing. But they just come in and walk all over them. The utter, utter..." Again she couldn't find the words to adequately express her feelings.
"I don't think you're going to find an argument here," said Bob. "Thanks for the assist, by the way."
Amanda waved it away. "No. Thank you. It's so blatantly racist, though. I mean, they didn't even pretend they'd done anything. They were after elves, did you notice that? They were after elves, which is bad enough, but when there weren't any, they just went straight for any Fae. Any Fae at all. It's just so wrong!"
Bob rolled the whiskey around his mouth, trying to savour the taste. It was a mistake, breaking out the good stuff. He should have used the normal stuff in the optics and then they could have all just got raging drunk. It went against his soul to neck good whiskey though.
"Dawn, flip the signs, will you? I doubt we'll get any trade now."
Dawn went over to the doors, flipping the 'open' signs to closed and dropping the catch on the doors. Bob noted the shaking of her hands.
"I'll get you a cab," he said, reaching for the phone.
Dawn nodded, returned to the bar, picked up her drink and retired to a corner table. Amanda took a step towards her but Bob caught her eye and shook his head. The last thing she wanted in a room full of humans was one to invade her personal space, no matter who Amanda's father was or how well-meaning she was.
"City cabs," said a bored voice on the phone.
"Yes, this is the Lion and the Lamb. Can I have a cab to Shadwell, please."
"The Lion and the Lamb? Hang on a mo."
A moment later a different voice came on the phone. "Who's it for?" The voice was male and had an east end accent.
"This is Bob from the Lion."
"Yeah, but who's it for?"
"One of my staff."
"Sorry, can't do it."
"When can you?"
"Said I can't do it." The line went dead. Bob looked at the phone for a long moment. How often had he used them? He practically kept them in business.
"Hang on," he said to Dawn. "They, um, they're busy. Let me try someone else."
He dialled another firm.
"Yeah, the Lion and the Lamb here. Whitechapel. Can I have a cab for Shadwell please?"
"Human or Fae?"
He hesitated. IF he said human, would the cabby refuse the fare when he arrived? Of course he would.
"Fae," said Bob, already knowing what the response would be.
"Sorry, we don't do pickups in that area."
Bob stabbed at the phone, hanging up.
"Don't worry about it," said Dawn. "It doesn't matter."
"It bloody well does," said Bob. "I'll walk you home if I have to."
"Yeah, that would be a good idea. Me walking through the streets with a human into Shadwell. Brilliant idea. Who's head would they kick in first, do you think? Mine or yours?"
"It won't come to that," said Bob, wondering if it would. Jesus! All he wanted to do was make a quid or two selling booze. What had politics got to do with that?
"We have a car," said one of the suits. "Shadwell's only around the corner."
"It's okay," said Dawn.
"No it bloody-well isn't! You're either going home in his car or you're going to walk hand in hand with me. You think the Ministry isn't going to be about looking for trouble? You think they wouldn't want to pick up my favourite employee?"
"I'm your only employee."
"That's why you're my favourite." For a moment Bob was rewarded with a wan smile. "Seriously, Dawn, I've worked with solicitors. You never get a free offer from one like that. Take it and tell your grandchildren about it."
The solicitor shrugged. "It's okay. We'll bill for the ride. Even solicitors don't charge as much as cabbies."
"My God. A solicitor with a sense of humour. Seriously, Dawn, you need the ride home. You're shaking like a leaf and I meant it about the Ministry. And take the night off. I'm not opening again. Not today. Who's going to want to drink here tonight anyway? Okay?"
Dawn stared at her drink and nodded.
"Thank you," Bob told the suit. "I appreciate it."
"No worries. Miss?" The solicitor put his glass down and held his arm out in invitation. Dawn downed her drink, shuddered and rose. As she passed Bob she paused.
"You need to leave, you know that, right? You're a stubborn git, and that's sweet, but they'll beat you in the end." She placed a hand on his arm. "You're okay, for one of them, but this isn't your town anymore."
He watched her leave with the suits. He looked at his glass. Somehow, when he hadn't been looking, the whiskey had evaporated. Amanda's glass was empty too. He uncorked the bottle and poured himself a large measure. He held the bottle up to Amanda, expecting to have to persuade her, but she shoved her glass forward for a refill.
"Things are getting hairy, right?" he said, refilling her glass.
"They think just because there's more of them, they can do what they like." She took a sip and grimaced. "Well, they're bloody wrong. If they think I'm just going to lie down and take it they've got another think coming." She took another generous sip.
"I can believe that," said Bob. "But, if you're not going to lie down, how about sitting down? And maybe a cheese roll?"
|Author Notes||In the UK Solicitor = Lawyer|
Peter was coming to terms with the sheer variety of Fae in this tiny part of London. Some he didn't recognise at all; some he'd thought of as the humans' wild fancy. The group he and Elmwood were visiting at the moment were squat, ugly bipeds with grey skin with a sheen that reminded him of swamp mud.
Peter sidled up to one of them whilst Elmwood spoke with a cluster of the creature's colleagues.
"So, how's it going?" he asked.
The creature poked him in the chest with a sausage of a finger. "When you gonna do something?" he asked.
"When you gonna do something?" he repeated, accenting the question with another poke. "We pay you the subs, when you gonna do something?"
"Hey, easy. This is my first day, okay?"
"He needs to do something. We pay our subs."
"Okay. I can understand that. What do you want him to do? Tell me. Maybe I can bend his ear."
"Give me a clue here, fella. Something like what?"
"Stop them doing stuff. They keep doing stuff and it ain't fair."
"The humans, you mean?"
The chest-poker turned his head and spat on the floor. Peter took that as a yes.
The creature furrowed its brow. "How what?"
"How do we stop them doing stuff?"
"Yeah, he got to stop them doing stuff. It's not fair. They keep doing stuff to us, and it ain't fair. You gotta make them respect us, you know? Show them they can't just do stuff and we don't do nothing. If he don't do nothing, nothing gets done, you know?"
"That's true. An erudite argument and a cogent summary, right enough."
"Right." He gave Peter a chest poke. Peter tried to bat it away but the finger had the inevitability of continental drift. "You gotta do something, or people will do something, if they don't stop doing stuff."
Peter turned with a wave of relief. A fairy stood in the doorway.
Peter glanced around the room. Surely no one else could claim ownership of a name like that.
"I'm Peter," he confirmed.
"Creteus wants you."
Elmwood looked round. "Creteus wants us?"
"Just him," said the fairy. "Now."
Creteus smiled as Peter entered the lockup.
"Peter," he said. "We have a crisis."
"Do we, now."
"Indeed. The proprietor of the Lion and the Lamb."
"Bob, indeed. What's he like?"
"He's okay. He's a mate. Bit sarcastic, but he just thinks that's funny. He doesn't have anything against us, if that's what you mean. He doesn't take any shit, but he doesn't take it from his kind either. The Ministry hate him, if that's any indication. Yeah, he's a good enough fella, if you're short of someone to drink with."
"And he runs a fae bar."
"Well, it's sort of a hybrid, you know? People --" Peter cursed himself silently. "I mean, humans drink there too. Mostly hippies and sightseers."
"Hippies and sightseers?"
"You know. Humans who want to hug us as well as dolphins and tourists who want to stare at fairies and ask stupid questions."
"We're not zoo animals, Peter."
"No, no, right enough. But he stocks a few Irish whiskeys. You'd be surprised how many pubs only have Scotch."
"Is he respectful of the Fae, though?"
Peter frowned. "Respectful? Not sure you could say that. Like he doesn't touch his forelock and call you sir, but he doesn't treat you any different to anyone else. And he has a fairy working for him."
Creteus nodded, pursing his lips. "And I heard a rumour he's Ministry."
"Bob? No. Not anymore, anyway. Yeah, I heard he used to be, but he quit. That's why they don't like him. The Ministry, I mean. There's a right bastard in the Ministry, hate's Bob's guts, truth to tell."
"Is that so? So why would he invite the Ministry into the pub?"
"It's true. All the humans left and then the Ministry swooped in and questioned every Fae in the place, and Bob just stood back and let them."
"He let them? Seriously?"
Creteus shrugged. "Shall we go see?"
|Author Notes||Peter is a leprechaun in the Fae ghetto in|
Amanda gently rolled the dribble of whiskey round her tumbler, staring at it intently. "Am I an alcoholic?" she asked.
Bob took a deep breath and pointedly screwed the cap back onto the bottle. "You understand I'm a professional, right? I have years of experience and am considered an expert on these things for the purposes of court cases."
"No, but seriously."
"Seriously? Put out your tongue."
"Do it. You want my expert opinion, do what I say. Stick out your tongue." Bob gave a theatrical shudder as Amanda complied. "Ew, disgusting. Put it away. No, not in your mouth! Oh well, too late now. M'lud, I can confidently attest and affirm, you are not an alcoholic."
Amanda scowled. "I was being serious."
"As was I. My evidence? An alcoholic doesn't get approximately drunk on two whiskeys."
"Approximately drunk. Not drunk, just not exactly sober. Secondly, you are obviously new to afternoon drinking. Becoming an alcoholic doesn't happen overnight; it takes months of dedicated practice. Also, you've been nursing that drop for the last fifteen minutes while we've been putting the world to rights. An alcoholic would have finished it by now. I mean, none of these on their own is conclusive proof, but taken together, in conjunction with the observations I have made on several occasions heretofore and the copious notes I have made heretowith, it is my professional opinion you are merely a lush, with a tendency to drink when stressed and having a really shit day. The defence rests."
Bob held up his hands. "It's not stalking until there's an injunction."
Finally Amanda smiled. "Idiot!"
"Guilty as charged. Listen, what you did this afternoon, that meant something, okay? Charging in on your white horse and paying those solicitors to defend the defenceless, brava. That made a difference to the Fae who were here. You've earned a drink. Or two." He slid the bottle further from her. "But not three."
"I didn't pay. They work for us pro bono. They're newly qualified and want to make a name for themselves."
"Doesn't matter. Yours was the only number I called and you didn't disappoint. You think they'll forget what you did for them? Hands across the sea, and all that. The longest march starts with a single step. Hug a tree. Things go better with Coke." Bob downed the last of his whiskey. "Eat your heart out, Churchill."
Somebody banged on the door. Amanda looked towards it and turned back to Bob, a question on her face. He waved his hand dismissively. "We're closed," he told her. "And this is a perfectly legal lock-in, it still being opening time. They can find another pub. Seriously, Amanda, I admire you. I could never hang my hat on a cause like you do. Too cynical, see? Too poor to miss a moment I could be serving a pint."
"You could serve beer anywhere."
"Yeah, but this is the East End. They tried to drive us Jew boys out once before, remember? Battle of Cable Street? My town. My pub. My rules."
Amanda smiled. "And you don't think you've hung your hat."
Bob shook his head. "Only half Jewish, see? No hat. Not even a kippah. Just bloody stroppy."
Someone banged on the door again. Bob sighed.
"We're closed!" he screamed, causing Amanda to start.
They banged again. Bob cursed under his breath and rose from his chair. "If that's the bloody Ministry again, I shall swing for them, you see if I don't."
He made his way to the door and rested his hand on the catch. "Who is it?" he called.
"No, this is serious. Open up."
"We're out of whiskey."
"Stop arsing about and open the fecking door, you gobshite."
Bob turned to Amanda and mouthed "Gobshite?", his eyebrows raised. He turned the catch and opened the door a few centimetres, his foot planted firmly at the base of the door.
"What is it, Peter? We're closed and I have a hot date."
A tall, pale figure stepped into view. "Hello," he said. "I am Creteus. May I have a moment of your time to discuss this afternoon's incident?"
|Author Notes||The UK has strict licensing hours for pubs. A lock-in is when the landlord closes the pub, locks the door and the locals continue to buy drinks after hours. Strangers are rarely invited and it's strictly on the down-low.|
Bob placed the tray of coffees on the table and distributed the cups.
"No cream," he said. "Just milk. I wasn't expecting visitors. We got the fancy yellow sugar though."
He sat down next to Amanda, facing the two Fae.
"So, I'm Bob. I own this establishment. Peter I know. You are...?"
"Okay. That doesn't help me a lot."
Creteus spread his hands wide. "I represent many of the Fae in this area."
"Okay. What's that to do with me?"
Creteus turned to Amanda. "And you are?"
"Ah. I have heard of you. And your father, of course. Daughter of the saviour of the Fae. Or their executioner, depending on your outlook."
Amanda set her mouth into a thin line. "And your outlook?"
Creteus shrugged. "In my culture we visit neither the sins nor the virtues of the father onto the children. Nor do we expect the children to pay for those sins." He waved his hand dismissively. "Your efforts to salve your conscience really mean nothing to us."
"Hey, hey, hey!" Bob tapped his finger on the table. "Cut her some slack. If it wasn't for her, things this afternoon could have been a lot uglier. You could try showing her a little thanks."
"Thanks?" Creteus turned to face Bob. "Humans rounded up Fae, Fae who were innocent of any crime, even by human standards. Humans intimidated them, manhandled them, interrogated them, and I should show thanks that a human made sure that such treatment was according to human laws? Their only crime was that they were Fae. And I should thank you they were only interrogated and not beaten or dragged away to one of your concentration camps?"
"That's not our fault!" Amanda was almost vibrating with anger. "We're trying to help, to fix things."
Creteus bowed his head. "And we are so grateful. Because, obviously, we're only Fae. A slip of a human who lives under her father's shadow can do so much more than the thousands of Fae in the square mile." He looked up and treated her to a mirthless smile. "We'd be so terribly, terribly grateful for a human's help."
Bob put his hand on Amanda's. "Mister Creteus. Perhaps you could get whatever it is off your chest, and then get the hell out of my pub."
Creteus sat back. "The Ministry of Fae Affairs visited you this afternoon, I understand. What did they want?"
"They were after Elves."
"My pub was vandalised. A call to arms against humans written in Elvish. I think they rather wanted to talk to the graffiti warriors."
"Who would do such a thing?"
"Well, not dwarves or Michael here. It was too high." Bob held up a hand to Peter. "Joke, mate. Just a joke. I have it on good authority it wasn't an elf either."
Creteus frowned. "Why do you say that?"
Bob shrugged. "I'm no expert, but I was told the writing wasn't neat enough. Apparently half the poetry of Elvish is how pretty the words look written down. But who knows? I know nothing about human poetry, never mind Elvish. My experience stops at 'there was a young Fairy called Daisy'."
"But they didn't get anything," said Amanda. "They were after clan names, but our solicitors made sure every Fae knew their rights."
"Rights." Creteus looked as though he would spit. "What rights are they? The right to own property? The right to freedom of movement? The right to assemble peaceably for a lunchtime beer?"
"No one was detained," said Amanda. "No one was coerced."
"Not here." Creteus gave her his mock bow again. "But we are so grateful."
"Look, we did what we could. I brought solicitors, but they had a warrant. What else could we do?"
"No, no. I'm sure you did all you could. Your conscience is clear. I'm sure we're all so terribly grateful."
"Okay," said Bob, rising. "Now you know all we know. So unless you want to buy a beer, you can leave, okay?"
Creteus stared at Bob for long seconds, then shrugged. "Thank you so much for your help," he said, rising. He bowed to Amanda, nodded at Bob then turned to the door. Peter scrambled out of his chair and followed. At least he had the decency to look embarrassed, Bob noted with a note of satisfaction.
"We're closed for the rest of the day," he told the leprechaun. "But your money's still welcome back here after today, okay?"
He closed the door on them, turned the locks then leaned back on the door. He gave Amanda a searching look. She was almost levitating with anger.
"Ms Andrews. Amanda. I'm a publican. Dishing out trite advice is my profession, nay my vocation. You can please yourself in this world, or you can please other people. And let me tell you, self-righteous pricks like that? You'll never please them. You want to put the world to rights? Fill your boots. But do it for yourself."
Amanda snorted. "Ha! And you think he's self-righteous."
Creteus and Peter walked through the East End together. Every now and then a Fae would greet Creteus, or wave, or simply nod, and Creteus would acknowledge them. To a man, they ignored Peter.
Eventually Creteus asked, "Where do your loyalties lie, Peter?"
"How do you feel about the humans? Do you feel any loyalty to them?"
Peter spat on the pavement. "Them gobshites?"
Creteus nodded. "Yes, I can understand that. What with the daily insults, the degradations, the chip, chip, chipping at your soul. What about the Fae?"
"It's one thing to hate the humans, and you've every reason to do so, but what about the Fae? Do your loyalties lie with us?"
"Well, sure, I guess."
"Because this isn't a world where any of us can remain neutral, you know that, right? They have a saying, the humans. If you're not for us , you're against us. That's their strength, see. They have no indecision, no second thoughts. When push comes to shove, they know exactly what side they're on, and that's the side of themselves. They see the Fae as a threat, and that includes every single one of us. They don't see the distinction."
"I guess not."
Creteus stopped and turned towards the leprechaun.
"We must be united, Peter, every one of us. Because they are. They seek to divide us, to chip away, until we are nothing but their slaves. Do you think it's a coincidence they're concentrating on the Elves at the moment? Trying to get our brothers to turn on them, to give them up? And when the Elves have gone, who will be next? The fairies? The dwarves?" Creteus shook his head. "The leprechauns?"
"They're not all bad, though."
"Ah, the landlord of the Lion and the Lamb? The daughter of Gordon and her do-good charity?"
Peter shrugged, knowing a yes would be the wrong answer.
"The landlord, your friend. Did he give you money when you were broke? Did he give you employment? Did he offer to give you a roof over your head? Did he? Or did he stand back and let the Ministry walk all over our friends?"
"He called the Amanda hippy."
"Hippy. Yes." Creteus smiled, then continued his walk. Peter scurried alongside him. "They only do what they want to do. She feels guilty because her father exposed us, and now what she wants is to assuage her guilt. Not for us, you understand, but for herself."
"But they're okay. For humans, I mean. They're not bad people."
"You think not? And the pub, what do you think that is?"
"It's a pub. It's a place you can buy a decent whiskey, or at least enough whiskey that you don't mind if it's decent."
"And the hippy? What does she think of it?"
"I don't know. To be honest, I think maybe she thinks of it as an excuse to meet with Bob, but don't quote me on that. I'm not exactly an expert on romance."
"No, I think she sees it as an interface, a place where humans and Fae can meet, enjoin, see the other side as characters not so different from themselves. An interface where Human and Fae can embrace each other and end all the misery in this word."
"Well, that too, I suppose."
"And how many humans have you embraced, hmm?" Creteus stopped to shake hands with a wizened old woman at the doorway of a greengrocer. She took his hand in both of hers and said something close to his ear. There were tears in her eyes. Creteus smiled and nodded and walked on.
"It's not a hands across the water meeting place of love and harmony. It's a point of friction, and the city is tinder dry right now. Do you know what I think the Lion and the Lamb is? A trap." Creteus put his wrist together, his fingers clawed. "It must be very convenient for the Ministry to know where a group of Fae meet, where humans who are sympathetic to our cause mingle. And all they need to do is go to a human judge, get a warrant under their human laws and Snap!" He brought the jaws together. "And then they have the names and details of Fae who have the audacity to think they can visit the same premises as humans in all their purity. And the landlord was once one of them. How convenient."
"No, he's not like that. He left them. He saw what they were like and left because he couldn't do it."
Creteus shook his head sadly. "Of course, if that's what you believe. You know the human better than I. Nevertheless, the Ministry raided the pub. And, what did you call her? The hippy? She arrived and ensured legitimacy to the whole proceedings." He patted Peter on the shoulder. "Oh, I'm sure that's not what either of them intended, but nonetheless, that is the truth of the matter. I'll need to talk to those they interrogated, of course. A couple have come forward already. The Ministry are not very, what shall we say? Polite? And there was a fairy there, too. She works there, I understand."
"Ah, yes. Dawn. What's she like?"
Peter shrugged. "Okay, I suppose."
"Look, you know about us and fairies. I know you do, otherwise you wouldn't have teamed me up with that Elmwood. What was that? A lesson? Who to? Me or him?"
"We are all Fae, Peter."
"No! No, you don't get to do that. Fairies and leprechauns, that's different. It's not like us and dwarves. My parents were fairies, okay? You have no idea what it's like, to have your own parents bury you in a cave, spit at you, cross the street, they're so ashamed to even look at you. Fairies like Elmwood, they despise me. And for why? Because of something I've done?"
"So you don't like Fairies."
Peter hawked loudly and spat on the ground. "I'm telling you, the only reason I stuck it out with that pretentious little prick today was because he has no sense of humour and can't tell I'm taking the piss out of him every time I open my gob."
Peter took a long breath. "Well, okay. Dawn's all right. I mean, there was a bit of tension when I first met her, but she doesn't spit in my drink and she's okay with me."
"And she works at the Lion and the Lamb. Why is that, do you suppose? The money can't be that good."
"Ha! Tell me a Fae who's on good money anywhere here. But it's a job. And she likes the craic, I think."
"She's a drug addict?"
"What?" Peter frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"She likes crack."
"Yeah. Oh wait, craic, not crack. The Blarney. The chat." He mimed a jaw opening and shutting with his hand. "The cut and thrust of wit and repartee, is what I'm saying. The interaction twixt barmaid and drunkard. The craic. She's a feisty woman, she doesn't take shit without giving it back in spades."
Creteus smiled. "You like her."
Peter batted the suggestion from his face. "Away with you. I'm just saying, for a fairy, she's okay."
They stopped. Peter looked around. They had arrived at the building that housed his sub-basement.
"Be careful with your friendships, Peter," said Creteus, taking his hand and shaking it. "With the humans especially. They will always choose their own over you."
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