Having spent his last silver coin on a bottle of golden Irish whiskey, Fairy Private Investigator Cain Roberts flew up to his office hoping to drink himself to a deep slumber and not wake until a new case crossed his desk. His headquarters was nestled among the top floor of an accounting firm for the First Goblin Bank and Trust. His cousin, Gus, put him up rent-free in a disused janitor’s closet. It was embarrassing to take up space there, but more embarrassing to be caught with a bottle of Irish gold, namely The Dead Rabbit, furthering his image as a washed-up has-been detective. His route bypassed the public phylem-vator and possible scrutiny. He flew to the knothole in the floor joint of the hall outside his office, grateful Mother Tree had grown one and that the builders who tamed her branches for this office had left it rather loose. He yanked it open with a twist. Restoppering it behind him, he tried his best to heel-toe and soft shoe his way to his closet-turned-home-away-from-home. Focused on the handwritten sign on his door, he prayed no one would hear nor see him. He reached for the knob when he heard, “Cain, I tried to stop her, but she was insistent.”
He cringed. “Damnit, Gus. You know I don’t like to be disturbed after hours.”
Gus always covered for him, acting as his bouncer to keep out lowlifes looking for a hit man, but also finding him cases. His soft heart for persistent broads meant his cousin always sent him crying dames to console. That was the last thing Cain Roberts wanted right now.
“I can have the boys escort her out, but you know how that will look,” Gus hissed.
Gus lowered his voice even more. “She covered her wings and came in through the root cellar delivery door.”
“Picked the goblin-made lock. Look, I figured if she was that desperate…”
“Fine. I’ll take care of her.”
A pixie. Pixies were forbidden in the Fairy section of Mother Tree. They had their side, the Fairies on the other with a river of Halfsies at the top and brownies at the bottom to separate them. The root cellar of the bank was a necessity. The hub of all marketing was down there, where all the races mixed in order to do peaceful business. Pixies could charm deliveries to the banks just as easily as they could charm a Fairy into their beds. Never trust a Pixie.
Cain took a deep breath and opened the door. His desk took up almost the entire space and it barely held three drawers. There was one rickety chair for guests and one half-broken swivel chair for the infamous P.I. Seated brazenly at his desk in his chair was a lithe young Pixie with an overcoat covering her wings, just as Gus had said. Her long honey-colored hair covered half her face, which was turned toward the bulletin board full of newspaper clippings of previous cases.
“You solved all of these?” Her voice was light but filled with hesitation.
Cain cleared his throat. He must be slipping. His deductions were almost always spot on. This dame’s hair was nearly as light as his own. She had Fairy blood in her somewhere. Halfsie.
“My associate tells me you picked the lock and got past him, so let’s not play coy, Miss…?”
She turned her head and flicked her hair over her shoulder. Her skin was pale, but not Fairy white. Her eyes met Cain’s, golden hued from amber rings to buttercup yellow at the pupils. Those eyes were the most intoxicating weapons ever used on a man. Those were Pixie eyes.
“You’re a Halfsie.”
“Astute observation, Mr. Roberts.”
Cain felt both repelled and entranced by her. Halfsies could be half fairy and half pixie, or half pixie and half brownie, but never half fairy and half brownie. The fairies would never debase themselves to court the hairy mud diggers. If they did, the infants were probably stillborn. Miss Buttercup-Eyes was half fairy and half pixie. Her features were light enough to be accepted as a fairy, but her wings would have given her away from a distance. Pixies have rounded wingtips, while fairies have graceful points. Halfsies never inherit the pointed wings.
“Why are you here?”
“I need your help.” She handed over an envelope, thin, wide, and rectangular. It was still warm from its hiding place inside her overcoat. Cain opened it and slid out a thick paper from inside, the kind used for university art. On it was a picture of a boy, another Halfsie, but with the darker skin common to the people. He was about twelve, hovering with a dandelion tuft ball in the crook of his arm. I frowned. Pixies are not allowed photographs or mirrors or to fly near water for too long. They are horribly vain and would mesmerize themselves for hours if they saw their reflections. Cain studied the very well-drawn pencil art of the boy.
“Did you draw this?”
She nodded. “That’s my brother. He went missing three days ago.”
“So, tell the Pixie police.” Cain tossed the picture, still half in the envelope, back towards the girl. Halfsies are not allowed to intermingle with the fairies. The Fairy Police use force to keep them out. The Pixies grudgingly accept them by ignoring them as a cultural habit.
“A report was filed, but you know they won’t put any effort into finding a Halfsie! My brother wouldn’t hurt an aphid. He’s captain of his puffball team, gets straight As in school, and is always home for dinner.”
“So, he got in with the wrong crowd, I’m sure he’ll be home soon.”
“No! I know he was kidnapped.”
“What makes you think that?”
“My mother. She works at the Dragonfly.”
The Dragonfly was a well-known brothel and club in Halfsie territory, neutral ground for the Pixie and Fairy alike. It was in a branch of the Mother Tree where the Pixie half of the ample crown nearly touched the Fairy branches. The division was thinnest there, a single, highly trafficked, commercial zone of neutrality. Nightly mingling occurred from both sides. Cain had been on that beat for years as a Fairy patrolman. Drunken fights, citations for flying while high on shrooms, and worse infractions of Fairy law had filled his days with paperwork. The Dragonfly was strictly controlled, always kept the business front classy, even with topless barmaids and flittering nudes in birdcages. The VIPs went up to ‘the nests’ where top coin bought you private accommodations for as long as you could afford.
“That’s how she met your father, I assume.”
“Sadly, yes. She claims my brother and I have the same father, a regular if hers, and that she never would allow any other to…get that close to her. And whoever he is, he paid well. We had the best education.”
“You think someone found out about your father’s involvement with your mother and kidnapped your brother?”
“None.” Buttercup-eyes began to cry. “My mother is…she’s bipolar. The loss of my brother has devastated her. She won’t get out of bed. She won’t eat. She won’t work. If… if she doesn’t work, then I’ll have to… and I’ve never… and no one will hire a Halfsie that pays enough to…” she broke down in sobs.
Cain handed her his handkerchief. It was his favorite one and he was sorry to see it go. Then he met her eyes again and his heart softened. He picked up the picture and studied it again.
When Miss Buttercup-eyes had calmed and blown her nose, she said, “I wrote his name on the back.”
In flowing cursive was written ‘Oregano’.
“Listen, Buttercup, I’m not in a position to work pro-bono…”
The girl produced something shiny from her pocket, then let a locket on a gold chain trickle from her palm. It hung there, delicate gold filigree encasing a red jewel, sparkling in the desk lamp.
“If my mother knew I stole this, she’d kill me. But if this is what it takes to get my brother back, she’d trade it.”
Cain gingerly took the locket and admired the fine workmanship. This was pure Leprechaun gold, and a Brownie-hewn red ruby nestled inside. Pieces like this were worth more than The Dragonfly itself. Cain whistled.
“Tell me the whereabouts of your brother on the day he went missing.”
Cain followed Buttercup-eyes to her home where she described the following events:
The boy had gone to school, stayed for puffball practice, and returned home. She herself wasn’t there. She’d taken the grocery list and was out at the markets. Her fair skin meant she could get better prices as long as her wings were secured. She had left him a note in code that read ‘neon orange’. That meant their mother was in a manic state. The boy must have realized his mother was gone and, out of concern for her mental state, went after her into the shady brothel district. Buttercup-eyes worriedly sat alone for dinner that evening. When she awoke the next morning, having fallen asleep in the front room waiting up for her brother, she flew frantically to the hospital and then to the police. By the time she returned home, her mother was passed out in bed, but her brother was still missing.
Upon entering the home, Cain was struck by the inside. Luminescent paint covered every wall, arched ceiling, and the floor. Vast swaths of color traced sweeping waves like a psychedelic ocean of glow worms. It was dizzying and claustrophobic at same time as being awe-inspiring.
“You do this?” Cain asked.
“No. My Mom.”
“I’d go insane in here all the time, too.”
“These colors inspired our code.”
“I can see why.”
The boy’s room was normal, covered in posters of his favorite Fairy sports heroes with a desk piled with schoolbooks and a single glowing lamp. Cain knew he’d find only his academic and sports schedules in his planner, so he tossed the boy’s bed.
“What? All kind of secrets are kept hidden under beds.”
“Oregano wouldn’t… alright. You’re the detective.” Buttercup-eyes relented at Cain’s exasperated look.
“Private Investigator. That’s right, let me do my job.”
There were no clues under his bed.
“Is your mother home?”
“She hasn’t been out of bed since she returned and I told her Oregano was reported missing.”
“Take me to her.”
“Sir, she won’t…alright.”
Cain had given her his ‘look’ again. She certainly was feisty. That was a good thing when haggling for the best deal, but not in an investigation. She opened the door to a room beginning to smell like leaf-rot. There was no light in here as all the walls had been scraped clean of the luminescent paint. There were still a few shavings on the floor, too old to lend their sawdust scent which would have been more welcome than that of a dirty Pixie.
“It nearly smells like Brownie in here! Don’t you give her a sponge bath?”
“I try. She gets combative.”
The woman didn’t move at their voices. Something about her posture made Cain believe she was listening.
“Ma’am, I’m Cain Roberts, P.I. I’m here about your missing son. If you have any information you can give me that might lead to his discovery, please speak now.”
The woman barely breathed. She didn’t turn at the sound of his voice, the mention of her lost son, the offer of help.
Cain moved around the bed to face her glassy stare. Her dark skin was the color of shadows in the dim room, but her eyes glowed a Pixie green. Buttercup-eyes inhaled sharply.
Cain leaned in close and spoke softer. “Ma’am, I’m here to help, but this will go much quicker if you just tell me what you know.”
In a flurry of motion, the woman swung her arm out. Cain ducked and winced, but could not stop the heavy flagon from beaning him in the head. She swung a second time, missed, and curled back up around her weapon, not a word having been spoken.
Buttercup-eyes took Cain’s arm and helped him up, leading him out into the hall.
“I tried to warn you,” she whispered.
“You didn’t say she was armed!”
“Even if she wasn’t, her nails are sharp.” Buttercup pulled down her collar to reveal three long gashes not yet healed down her chest from collarbone to cleavage line.
The dark-skinned Pixie was terrifying. He was fortunate she was too depressed to pull off a hex.
“I’m getting nothing here. I want you to stay here. I’m going to The Dragonfly to look for clues.”
Buttercup sadly opened her front door for Cain.
He paused, trying to gather the right words. He never made any promises to his clients, never gave them any hope. It was too early for speculations. “What’s your mother’s stage name?”
Her eyes were glowing softly, moist with hopeless tears. She held herself back from charming him to do her bidding. It showed her maturity. Yet, if he looked any longer at her eyes, he’d have no autonomy left. “Take care, Buttercup.”
The Dragonfly was lit up in neon paint, much like the interior of Truffle’s home. It was inviting, intoxicating, and nauseating all at the same time. There was a subtle elegance to the sweeps and whorls of color, but also a gaudiness that proclaimed that raucous fun was to be had inside. It was probably the silhouettes of female Fairies and Pixies in sensuous poses across the walls that conveyed this place was not for anyone underage.
Cain slid in, casually avoiding the gaze of the Pixie bouncer at the door. He wanted to appear entranced already. Pixie bouncers were notorious for charming Fairy men as they entered so they would stay until every last gold coin was spent. The music inside was deep and throbbing. Electro-synth spikes in the pitch set a counter beat. Three Pixie dames in rounded wings slid seductively around a pole on the right, while a single, tall Fairy in pointed wings held her own court on the opposite stage. None of them wore anything else.
A group of young Halfsie males threw money at the trio of Pixies, looking too fresh-shaven to be adults. They were rowdy and drunk and it was barely moonrise.
A topless waitress sauntered over, hips swaying with every step, smile playing at her lips.
“What can I do you for?”
“Name’s Cain, and I’m looking for a dame.”
The Fairy giggled, “Pick your poison, we’ve got Fairies and Pixies of all colors.”
“What if I want a Halfsie?”
She frowned, “Cheapskate.” She began to walk off.
“Was Truffle the only one?”
She stopped in her tracks and turned to hiss at him. “How’d you know she’s not working tonight? What do you know about her?”
“A little birdy told me. That same birdy squawked about her son. Now if you don’t want the Fairy Police all over this joint, especially seeing as you’re selling liquor to minors and illegally harboring Fairy fugitives,” Cain pointed to the man at the dance floor with slicked back hair, “then I suggest you tell what you know. Who are Truffle’s regulars?”
“I can’t tell you anything. Why would I aid a Halfsie anyway?” She turned up her nose. Then she yelled, “Acorn, I’m taking my break! This cheapskate better drink his weight in gold if he wants to touch my butt like that!”
Cain was nearly taken aback by her graceful lying. She wanted him to stick around.
Acorn eyed Cain from the bar where he spit-shined a glass. He poured out some top-shelf whiskey and brought it over. “All seats cost at least three drinks.”
“Much obliged.” Cain downed the glass. He laid a gold coin on the table. “Bring me another.” The barkeep, now silenced, walked back to do his job. Cain then eyed the back of the stage, a curtained wall where new dancers emerged as the music changed. He’d love to poke around back there in Truffle’s changing area. He clearly wasn’t allowed, nor invited, as the waitress had marked him with the bartender’s care.
When the man returned with his second glass he asked, “What’s the name of that waitress? I’d like to thank her properly for informing of me of the rules of this establishment.”
“This isn’t your first firefly fight, Mr. Roberts. I know you’ve been here before. So cut the crap.”
“What’s her name?”
“Pussywillow, and leave her alone. She’s one of our top earners. She was right about you being a cheapskate, too.”
“Hey, I’m buying my three drinks.”
“But you won’t be drunk enough to buy the services of a lady.” The bartender turned on his heel and returned to his station.
Pussywillow came back after her break and worked the room. She pocketed her tips in what made for a waistband of her thong. She finally slid over to Cain, a look of distaste in her mouth.
“I don’t care how many you’ve had, you’re paying for this one, too.”
She sat a glass down in front of him upon a white napkin.
“Miss Pussywillow, I thank you for your directness and apologize for my gruff behavior.”
“I don’t judge Fairy men for trying out a taste of Halfsie, but I do judge a Fairy man who wears a long coat and covers his hair with a fedora. It’s a disgrace to Fairy kind not to show off your breeding. You judge us dancers all alike, but you should be proud of us for doing the honorable work of keeping you boys out of sight at night from the humans. Have some pride in yourself, too! You look like a walking disease.”
With that, Pussywillow left to smile and lean her bare breasts near a half-drunk Fairy twice her age.
Above Cain was a VIP nest. The circular structures lined the ceiling dome at varying heights. As he swirled his last drink, feeling the buzz of the first two begin, he heard a man’s voice laugh above him. Glancing up, he could see a faint light coming from inside the nest, illuminating the ceiling softly. Shadows moved as a girl giggled.
Though he couldn’t make out the words the man said, he recognized that voice. Where had he heard it before? The bartender glowered at him. He needed to drink, pay his tab, and get out of there. He’d never make VIP status.
He lifted his glass to his lips and the napkin stuck to the bottom. Annoyed, he pulled it off.
Written on it in curly letters, the script of the fairies, were the words, “Follow the Toothfairy”.
Cain looked around, crumpling the napkin in his hand.
A small man slipped down from the VIP nests. He wore a striped vest, pocket watch chain across his belly, and was pulling on an overcoat. His monocle pinched in one eye made him look grumpy. Or maybe he had bad news. As a Toothfairy, he worked at night and his shift should have already started.
Cain downed his last drink, slapped another coin and a tip on the table, and followed the Toothfairy out into the night.
He hated going down into Brownie territory. The roots of Mother Tree were paramount to society, but also the dirtiest. Brownies were the grunt workers, the hairiest and filthiest of all fae kind. The Toothfairy’s white pants and blood red striped vest flashed under his overcoat like a single white tooth in a dark mouth. He stood out like a flashing beacon with every step. He was moving fast. The Brownies barely had time to leap out of his way. Cain picked a path parallel to the small man, towering over the Brownies and causing them to flee like cockroaches in the light.
When the Toothfairy stopped to knock on a door, Cain stopped across the way. He ducked into the shadows of a hollow spot under a curving root and listened.
A Brownie, beefy and bearded, opened the door. “What do you want?” his pinched voice tried to be gruff, but it sounded like a Fairy bouncer on helium.
“The boss says you need to be ready to ship tonight.”
“Why tonight? My boys pulled a sixteen-hour shift as it is.”
“The supply is too low.”
“Supply? I took him three freshies three days ago. What’s he doing, killing them?”
“I don’t know. Look, he pays me when he’s happy and I pay you. If the boss ain’t happy, I ain’t getting paid and neither are you.”
“I gotta lay low or I’m going to get caught. Taking too many at once or too often raises hairs, if you know what I mean.”
“Then find a new safehouse!”
“Halfway house, you mean. That means another middle man, a new employee on the payroll. Your boss gonna cover that?”
The Brownie sure had guts; Cain gave him that.
“If business is good, we all get paid. If the stock is top, you get top dollar. Find top stock.”
“Do you want another safehouse, or top stock?” the Brownie’s voice was getting higher pitched the angrier he got.
“BOTH!” The Toothfairy was at his wit’s end. His shoes were no longer white and the mud was creeping up his pant legs the longer he stood in Brownie territory.
“Go get the ones I got you three days ago, give ‘em a bath, and shine them up real good. Make them top stock. Brownies know how to present a business deal. You don’t. You think you’re so big because you’re so tall, but you’re just another middleman like us.” He slammed his door in the Toothfairy’s face. A chunk of wet soil fell from the alcove onto the Toothfairy’s head.
The Toothfairy stomped off, splashing more muck on his white pants. Cain slipped out of the shadows and followed him.
The Toothfairies all lived in the Toothfairy Guild. It was a lower branch of Mother Tree, but it had many small tributaries where they built their nests and watched for humans. The retired Toothfairies could smell humans from a mile away, so they claimed, and kept diligent watch, their vests now violet striped.
This one did not go to the Guild. He continued to a small store in Brownie territory. A candy store.
Cain could not believe the irony.
The colorful conflagration was closed for the night, garishly luminous bubbles on tall sticks dim and dark. A horrid face in clown make-up surrounded the door and sugar-glass windows. Cain shivered. He hurried to follow the Toothfairy to the rear entrance, hoping the alley tunnel held somewhere he could hide. Brownies were expert tunnellers. Rumor was they could travel anywhere in their territory underground without being seen. Pixies and Fairies were not welcome in their tunnels, nor would they want to enter. The thought of all that soil and the weight of Mother Tree above him nearly sent him into a panic attack.
He found a small sugar-glass window at the base of the store that looked into the basement. Making sure the Toothfairy was inside and no one was around, he slid on his belly to peer into the corner of the glass.
The room below was lit by two small lamps, but as his eyes adjusted, he realized the space was not just dark, but vast. The Toothfairy lit a third lantern and held it above his head. This was fortunate for Cain as those below it would not see him in the window. Even more fortunate that he now could see what lined the space. Cages. Most of them appeared to be empty. The Toothfairy walked over to a few whose shadows scurried back from the bars. Cain squinted.
Fairies and Pixies.
But only one Halfsie. Bravely he stood, demanding that he had rights of some kind just by his posture. The other figure, a Brownie guard, rapped him hard across the knuckles gripping his cage with a baton or rod of some sort. The Halfsie boy jerked his fingers back into his mouth and plopped himself down, looking up at his jailers.
What did the Toothfairy want with them?
Cain watched as the Toothfairy pointed out a few children. They were muscled from their cages and tied together in a line. They were led out of Cain’s sight. His stomach flip-flopped. The door to the candy store opened above him. He held his breath and tried to blend into the shadows and look like trash or soil piled up. He was grateful for his overcoat, already brown, and the fresh coat of mud from lying on his belly.
The Toothfairy stomped off, muttering under his breath. The children, three, one of them Oregano, were tromped down into Brownie tunnels. There was no way to follow them in that labyrinth.
Cain followed the Toothfairy instead to his opulent home at the near-top of the Fairy side of Mother Tree. The Toothfairy was giving him no leads as to who he worked for or with. He needed backup for this one.
Traveling across and down branches to a familiar spot, he knocked. No one answered. He knocked again. He heard a voice from inside.
“What in blue blazes? Who dares knock at three in the morning?! Come on, featherbrain! I swear, if this is some drunk fairy or Pixie prank, I’m gonna…” The door opened and a sleepy-eyed, angry Fairy appeared, leveling a goblin steel six-shooter at Cain’s head.
“Meade! Don’t shoot, for Tree’s sake!”
“Roberts?!? For crying out loud…”
“Meade, let me in.”
“Roberts, what the soil are you doing here? I’m not letting your drunk, sorry ass in. You are filthy!”
“This is serious. I’m on a case!”
“Oh no, my wife will murder me if you drip mud on the rug. I’ve got babies now.”
“Which is why I came to you.”
“To wake my sleeping babies?”
“No. It’s a case on child trafficking and it’s huge.”
“Huge? You remember the last time you said a case was huge…”
“Well, this one is!” Cain yelled, flustered.
“Shh! Alright, come in before you wake the entire branch. Geez.”
He turned on a small light in the kitchen and began to make a pot of tea.
“Meade, I need someone in the force to bust this ring.”
“I got a tip about some missing boy and I found him in a cage. They chained him up with others and led them further into the tunnels. We’ve got to get to them fast. Who knows where they are moving them?”
“So, you don’t know what they are doing or who is running this?”
“No, but I know he was taken and they have cages and ropes.”
“Well, it sounds suspicious.” Meade reached for two carved mugs.
“Suspicious?! Are you sniffing fairy dust? This is lightning bolt, tree-shattering news!”
“We can’t bust a place without a warrant or probable cause.” Meade set the mugs on the table.
“I’m an anonymous tipper, Meade.” Cain leveled his voice. “Go get a team and raid the Candy Shop in Brownie territory.”
“The Candy shop?”
“Seriously. The guard will sing like a canary. I won’t even tell you the name of my client or who led me there. Go find out for yourself. A real investigation. I want no part of this. I wasn’t even here.” Cain backed himself to the door without his tea.
“Cain, wait.” Meade sighed and put his tea kettle down. “Show me.”
The Candy Shop was dark as midnight at four in the morning. Meade winced as Cain broke the candy glass window to the basement and slipped in. After letting in his accomplice, they lit a lantern and poked around. The cages were empty.
“I swear, Meade, they were here.”
“I can smell the stench of urine, too, Cain, but they moved the evidence. Without evidence, we’ve got nothing.”
A sudden loud sound came from above. Cain snuffed the light. There was a scuffling, like something large was dragged across the floor above. There was a whimpering, then two gunshots. Cain’s wings tingled from tip to toes. Footsteps approached the door to the basement and voices were heard. Two voices argued and they were silenced by a laugh.
Cain knew that laugh. It was the same laugh from the Dragonfly. This man was always above him, literally. Still, he could not place his voice.
When it seemed safe, he and Meade left the basement.
“Did you recognize those voices?” Meade asked him.
“No.” Cain wasn’t ready to tell him about the laugh. Something twisted in his gut the way a mouse squirms under a cat’s paw.
The detectives went their separate ways as the morning’s bakers and marketmen began to rise with their dough. He ran himself, coat and all, through the waterfall wash. Dragging, wings drooping, he limped back to his janitor’s closet in the First Goblin Bank and Trust.
“Those are some dark circles under your eyes,” Gus commented in the elevator.
“Hmph.” Cain was too tired for words.
“The case, or the young woman? Seriously, if it was her, I don’t wanna know. No, I just don’t wanna know.”
Cain grunted again in what he hoped was a disgruntled then-why’d-you-ask sort of way. He shut his door, took three steps, and collapsed in his desk chair.
Something poked him in the thigh from the pocket of his long coat.
The ruby necklace.
Cain palmed it and leaned back; his eyes closed. Sleep took him before he fully reclined.
Pain woke him. Aches in nearly every muscle. Pain in his head. A sharp pain in his palm, then a tingling, like his arm was asleep.
He turned his head and squinted at the clock. It was noon. He’d slept for about six hours. He turned his hand over. The ruby necklace had bitten into his flesh, indenting the shape of the gold filagree into his palm.
He snapped awake. A man’s booming voice sounded down the hall. He was the bank’s top shareholder and probably the richest man in the Tree. He was a jeweler and master marketer of leprechaun gold. His radio ads kept young brides-to-be hankering for engagement rings, necklaces, and bracelets layered in the stuff. His casinos shone with gold dust that enamored Pixies and Fairies alike. He lived more inside banks and boardrooms than in his own manor atop the Tree, neighbors with the bank president whose voice answered. Then the richest Fairy in Mother Tree laughed. Cain’s wings tingled from tip to toe.
Cain grabbed his hat and tailed the man. First, he took coffee at a corner diner, tipping the Pixie waitress too much and slapping her butt when he thought no one was looking. Then, he got a shave he didn’t need from a Fairy barber and talked about the upcoming puffball tournament in which he was betting on the Blue Wings over the Rose Thorns. Cain nearly fell asleep in his own barber chair as the men droned on, but he lurched awake and threw the towel from his chin as the bell dinged behind the jeweler.
He thought he had lost him for a good hour when he finally spotted his crystalline blue eyes though the window of a tailor’s. The businessman then got in the express, an elevator up the main trunk that only top brass could afford. Cain had no choice but to travel upward on the slower public phylem-vator system.
He needed to be more careful. The man knew he was being followed. When he exited the transport, he looked around carefully, both for the jeweler and for any large henchmen who might rough him up.
Casually, he headed towards the casino.
It wasn’t bustling at lunchtime the way it would be later. He donned an apron and hid his coat in the casino laundry. Being waitstaff allowed him access to the kitchens and back half of the casino operations. He slipped down a back passage and began peeking in doors. Meeting rooms, stockrooms, supply closets, the doors were endless and unhelpful.
At the end of a hallway, a door was jammed. Pushing harder, something slid free and a great sheet of fabric fell down upon him.
He was pounced on and pummeled by many small hands and what he assumed were tiny shod feet.
“Get him!” squeaked a tiny voice.
“Tie him up!” squeaked another.
Cain went limp. The tiny fists and feet stopped punching and kicking him. He allowed himself to be tied up.
“Excuse me, good sirs. I think you may have the wrong person.”
“Are you Mr. Black, the candy man?” a youngling asked.
“That’s what a criminal would say! Don’t listen to him!” squeaked another.
“Do my clothes look rich to you?” Cain tried not to laugh at their innocence. He felt small hands examine his pants legs covered in grime and his worn shoes.
“He smells bad, too.”
“Who are you?” the young questioner asked.
“I’m Cain Roberts, Private Eye.”
“THE Cain Roberts?” the questioner asked again.
“What’s a Private Eye?”
“Untie him.” The questioner was the leader.
“Because he can help us.”
The fabric was pulled from Cain and he spied two small girls and one small boy and one larger boy, the leader.
“Oregano.” Cain grinned at the larger boy. Two blue eyes stared from his dark skin. His rounded wings drooped to his thighs as he took in the Private Eye.
“How do you know my name?”
“You are not only book smart, but street smart. Your sister should be proud.”
“My sister sent you?”
“We are saved!” screeched a girl.
“First we have to get you all out of here.” Cain stood. He surveyed the room, finally seeing two hairy legs sticking out from under a toppled metal cot. “You did that?”
“We’re sorry, Mister Roberts,” the little boy sniffed.
“Nevermind him. Stay behind me and I’ll get you safely home.”
Cain stuck his head out into the empty hall. The children were nearly free. Having knocked out the Brownie guard and unlocked their chains and the door, they were ready to make a run for it when he came bumbling along. But the dangers of strange adults who could raise an alarm remained. Just then, the Toothfairy stepped into the hall. Cain slipped back inside and shut the door.
“It’s Mr. Black,” he hissed. “Get to your cots and pretend you are chained up!”
The kids scurried back to their places.
Cain searched the body of the guard and found a radio. He grabbed the transmitter and pressed the button.
“This is guard uh…” he checked the body, “247, and I have a suspicious character spotted on the second floor.”
“Honestly, Gary, you take this job way too seriously. What are you doing on the second floor?”
“Followed him. Just get up here! I need backup!”
“What is it this time? Centaurs? You know the goblins died out after the War of 1430. They don’t actually work at the bank.”
Cain checked the hallway. Mr. Black was still coming. He needed a diversion. Taking the boy’s shirt, he did a very un-fairy-like thing; a thing so reviled in the Fairy world, he’d be excommunicated if this didn’t work. He wadded up the boy’s shirt and took a lantern to it. He made fire – the most human thing you could do. The children screamed and wailed in terror and revulsion. Mr. Black flung the door open. Cain threw the fire at him. It had engulfed the entire shirt. The effect was one of a fireball magically hurled across the room. He threw his apron on it to make it bigger, howling like a banshee, unhinged. The children screamed in terror. The cook staff came running with pots of water and the police were called. Cain refused to budge, blocking Mr. Black from the children until the officers arrived. They were all separated and questioned.
“Meade, I need to take the boy back to his sister, please.” Cain pleaded from his interrogation room.
“Already taken care of.”
“Yes. The Toothfairy is going to go away for a long time. He confessed.”
Cain grunted. “Am I free to go?”
“You gave your statement, so yes.”
Cain’s case was not closed, not to him. The Toothfairy went down for the trafficking, but the leader was still at large, probably laying low for a time. The kidnappings would continue, maybe in a few months. The memory of Buttercup’s tearful eyes burned into his soul. Thinking about how her drawing of Oregano’s eyes didn’t capture the crystalline blue color, realization zapped him like lightning.
He flew under cover of darkness back to the Dragonfly.
He paid Pussywillow a huge tip to get him into a certain VIP nest and he waited for her to escort his prey to him.
He heard the laugh before the man’s head cleared the rim of the nest.
“What’s this? I paid for this nest! Get out!”
“Double dipping, Pussywillow? Tsk tsk.”
The man did a double-take. She turned and sauntered off.
“Sit.” Cain pulled the necklace from his pocket. “Look familiar?”
“Never seen that before in my life.”
“I’m not here to vindicate some dancer’s lover. I know you gave this necklace to someone special.”
Cain pulled out the photo of the boy, drawn so intricately by his sister. “Recognize this boy?”
The jeweler leaned forward to pull the picture closer to him across the table. “No, can’t say that I do.”
“This boy was on the news tonight. He was kidnapped by a certain child trafficking ring.”
“That evil Toothfairy gets what he deserves.”
“Ah, evil, you say?”
The man settled back and sipped his drink.
“A few Brownies will confess to seeing you speaking to the evil Toothfairy late at night near a certain Candy Store,” Cain lied. “Now, that’s not quite incriminating enough by itself, but I also happen to have met this boy’s family and his mother doesn’t seem to recall who his father is. Fortunate for the father, as he wouldn’t want to mar his reputation. When the boy went missing, his older sister came to me and offered to pay me with the most valuable possession their mother owns – a gift from their father.” Cain laid the necklace out on the table.
The rich man’s face paled, even in the dim blue glow of the table light.
“This is leprechaun gold and a goblin hewn ruby, is it not? You would know. You personally see every piece sold in your shop of this quality. Your radio ads say so. Her eyes are a gorgeous Buttercup yellow and gold, so I didn’t put two and two together until I saw young Oregano’s eyes. Crystalline Blue. Just like his father’s.”
The man stood and violently threw his drink against the wall. The glass shattered and broke, shards reigning down on people below, whose screams could barely be heard above the deep bass reverberating.
“Did you personally select the cages your son was put into? Did you examine the craftsmanship of the handcuffs and chains on his feet?” Cain said as he stood and scooped the necklace and picture up. “Does your eye for quality extend beyond gold, jewels, and pixie dancers?”
“GET OUT!” bellowed the man as the bouncer flew up above the nest to grab Cain’s coat collar and help him leave.
He rolled to standing as the bouncer flung him into the narrow street. A few corner hookers laughed. He adjusted his hat on his head and took off confidently for a certain Pixie home. Hearing laughter inside, he knocked and then left a package at their door. Behind him, he heard the door open and close, but he rose into the darkness and zipped across the border back into Fairy territory.
He slipped in through Gus’ office window and unlocked his office door. Pulling out the golden Irish whiskey, he poured a glass to congratulate himself on a job well done.
When he woke the next morning, his face was stuck to the desk in a sticky puddle of drool. He really needed a shower. Stretching, he flipped on the morning news broadcast. After the end of a peppy new song, the reporter’s voice announced.
“Shocking discovery this hour of the death of Mr. William Henry Bell, the owner of Leprechaun Jewelers and richest Fairy in Mother Tree. Police are ruling it a suicide. He was found by his housekeeper. Mr. Bell was prominent in high society but reportedly had no heirs. More as the story develops.”