Monday, 12 March 2018

Staying Safe

Kadogan watched Nick tap away at his laptop, standing carefully away from the sight of the flickering screen.  Nick looked up at him.  “There’s nothing to see.”
“But you are doing things to the computer.” Kadogan said.  “This is significant.”
Nick glanced between the two elfen before clicking on a few significant icons and standing up and stretching.  “It’s downloading now.” He said.  “Any chance of a coffee.”
Kadogan looked at the computer through narrowed eyes.  “I was told that nothing goes through the cables except electricity and information.  I have never understood how information travels through solid cables.”
Nick wandered from the office and into the corridor.  He smiled when he saw Ian. “Hi, how are you doing?”
Ian looked awkward.  “I’m good.  And you?  Is everything repaired after…  Is everything repaired from last Christmas?”
Nick chuckled.  “Everything is fine.  Carol had a wonderful time redecorating.” He hesitated.  “I hope you don’t mind, but I know you’d understand.  I picked up an old grimoire literally at a car boot sale.  I couldn’t believe it.  I’d value your opinion on it, if you’re okay with that?”
Ian hesitated for a moment and then nodded.  “Sure.  How old is it?”
“I’ll get it from my car.” Nick bounded downstairs.

The shop was getting ready to open.  Mrs Tuesday was unloading the delivery of bacon into the fridge while Freydis caressed the coffee machine as it heated up.  Louise looked on resentfully.  “Why have you put dried flowers on the coffee machine?”
Freydis barely looked up.  “Fresh flowers would wilt.  Dried flowers will not last much longer but can easily be replaced.”
Mrs Tuesday closed the fridge door and straightened up.  “You got the brownies to sort out the flowers, didn’t you?”
Freydis nodding and laughed.  “I have no skill in arranging flowers.  But these look well enough and the brownies have promised to replace them regularly to keep the Machine looking beautiful.”
Louise snorted and went into the back to fetch a tray of muffins.

Fiona came in, smiling wanly at everyone before trudging upstairs.  Mrs Tuesday watched her with a frown before turning to Freydis.  “That girl is not looking well.”
Freydis nodded.  “She appears to be under a great deal of stress.” Freydis paused and said carefully.  “I believe she needs nourishing food, such as soup.  That is, the correct home made soup that one would give to a person who was under strain.”
“What are you up to, Freydis?” Mrs Tuesday had a dangerous edge to her throat.
“I believe she has met several times with Dean.” Freydis looked pointedly at Mrs Tuesday.  “He may have administered things.”
Mrs Tuesday hesitated.  “Shouldn’t she speak to the police or something?”
“I am sure she would if she felt it appropriate.” Freydis searched for the right phrasing.  “Normals spike drinks, do they not?  But I have seen that the effects leave little trace.”
“Since when did you know anything about normals?” Mrs Tuesday snapped.
“We will talk later.” Freydis said.  A few moments later Louise appeared with a tray of muffins, dumping them down on the counter. 

Fiona felt like the stairs were a mountain this morning.  She dumped her bag and hung up her coat.  The computer seemed to be running something complicated and lines of code flickered over the screen.  That meant Nick was here.  She sighed inwardly.  She wanted nothing more than to grab her bag and coat, turn around, go home and go to bed, but she couldn’t abandon the shop.  She heard animated chatter from the kitchenette and wandered down the corridor.
Ian and a man she supposed was Nick Dark were leaning over an old, battered book with Steve perched on the table next to them looking thoughtful.  Steve looked around and their eyes met for a split second.  Fiona reacted completely on instinct, turned around and fled downstairs.
“What was that?” Nick asked, looking after her.
Ian put a sympathetic hand on Steve’s shoulder.  “Sorry, mate.”
Steve nodded.  “We were engaged for a few days.  It got complicated.”
Nick looked between the magician and werewolf and nodded.  “Did an elfen get involved?  Any time Lord Marius calls in he tries to set me up with my housekeeper.”
Steve’s lips tightened briefly before he changed the subject.  “It looks like the real thing.  There’s a lot of magical buzz around it.  That’s a book that’s seen a lot of spells.”
Ian touched it reverently.  “I wonder how old it is?”
Nick carefully turned a page.  “It’s handwritten and in Latin, which is more typical of an older book, and the paper seems heavy duty.”
“It looks like it’s been ignored for a long time.” Ian ran a gentle finger over the very edge of the binding.  “If it’s not been used then it could just be a well preserved but old book.”
“On the other hand, it’s written on paper, not parchment.” Nick turned a page and the men paused to admire an intricate drawing of the seven spheres. 
“There’s no sign of Uranus.” Steve looked closer at the faded colours.  “When was Uranus discovered?”
Ian checked his phone.  “It says 1781, but I don’t know how long it would have taken for it to become general knowledge and into magical practice.  I suppose the book could be as late as the early nineteenth century.”
“People still knew Latin after that.” Steve said dryly.  “I think some people can still read and write it, like the men around the table.”  Armani wriggled out of his pocket and dropped onto the table. “Keep your vape pen away from the book.”
Armani approached the book with care and leaned within an inch or two before taking a cautious sniff.  He pulled a face and backed away, wiping his nose. “I’m going up on the roof, boss.  That stinks of dragon’s blood.”
Ian and Steve looked quickly at a suddenly worried Nick.  “Where exactly did you get it?” Steve asked carefully, “And have you checked for a magical tracker?”

Darren pulled up into the car park at the White Hart and took a moment to compose his mind.  The constant journeying was tiring and while he was used to being called away on duty, half the week away from his own home on a regular basis was draining him.  Darren felt a moment of complete weariness wash over him.  Perhaps he was getting old.  He got out of the battered Range Rover.  There were compensations, of course.  Mrs Tuesday’s cooking was always worth visiting.  Now that Kadogan had forced her to accept some salary she seemed to be spending it all on ingredients for meals for ‘the lads’.  Darren dragged his two large holdalls out of the back of the car.  Mrs Tuesday seemed to be making it a mission to feed up Dave, the werewolves, her nephew, and himself and it wasn’t exactly a hardship. 
Darren nodded to the young man hanging around the car park and then paused.  The man looked in his early twenties, with dark hair and troubled dark eyes.  He was checking his expensive phone in quick, nervous glances while looking around warily.  Darren wandered over.  “Are you okay?  The shop opens in five minutes but I can let you in if you know what you want.”
“Last time I came here there was a bit of trouble.” The man flicked his phone to record.
“I only stay here midweek.” Darren said.  “I didn’t hear about any trouble.  Did you get short changed?”  He dumped his bags and held out his hand.  “I’m Darren King.”
“Luke Fawcett.” The man automatically shook Darren’s hand.  He swallowed, and then the words spilled out of him.  “There are things not right about that shop.  They have books and all sorts.  I looked online, and they have the hardcore stuff mixed in with tourist rubbish.  And they can do things, like curses.”
“Why don’t you turn off that recording app and we can talk.” Darren said calmly.  He was not good at the people part of being a minister, but he could see that Luke was deeply troubled.  “Maybe I can help.”
Luke slowly shook his head.  “My mates won’t even come to York anymore.  They’re too scared.  But I reckon that you have to do the right thing.”
Darren’s heart sank.  He could see the signs of a vampire hunter.  Though he didn’t seem to be fixated on vampires or werewolves, which was something.  “Do you have faith?” Darren asked carefully.
Luke looked at him as if hit be a shocking revelation.  “I’ve never been to church.”
Darren wished he was good at this.  “Sometimes it helps to know that there is a higher power that loves us.” He scrabbled for memories of the lectures in college.  He didn’t do much witnessing of his faith.  He was usually around people who believed and were happy for him to preach, pray and smite the bad guys.  “What happened here?”
Luke looked Darren straight in the eye.  “No-one would believe it.  We were all in Tim’s car and looking for parking and when we saw what sort of place this was we came in for a bit of a laugh.  I mean, no-one believes in this rubbish, do they?”
Darren had a bad feeling about it.  “A lot of people can be quite heated when it comes to their beliefs.  Did anyone get hurt?”
Luke shook his head.  Tim was giving it out to an old couple.  I think he was trying to start something with their son.  He looked a real hard case.  But the son just sat there and an old biddy was telling us about curses.  I started really looking around.  There were these really weird books and stuff, and no garlic.”
Darren tried to judge how far he could safely go.  The recording app was no longer running.  “Were you worried that there were vampires or something there – I know it sounds crazy, but there are a lot of strange things around.”
Luke shook his head.  “There was this big guard dog.  Nothing weird would have got past it.  It was massive but really well trained.”
Darren recognised the softening look of a dog lover and moved on quickly, not wanting to hear anything about Luke wanting to give Ian a cuddle.  “So what happened?”
“The old girl was giving us this long talk about curses, like she really knew what she was talking about.  Then some guys came in and asked what had happened to the car.  So we all ran out and…” Luke shuddered.  “The car was written off.  I mean, totally.  It was over here.” Luke pointed to the battered flower beds which were recovering nicely.  “They even drained the oil first.”
“Someone smashed up the car?” Darren asked, wondering where this was going.
Luke shook his head and, after quickly leafing through his phone showed Darren a picture.  “The car was totally written off.”
Darren stared at the evidence of what happens when you upset Mr and Mrs Appuck.  He could see a metal framework and the debris of what once had been a car.  “Did you call the police?”
Luke shook his head.  “Tim’s car wasn’t legal.  We could risk being caught with it, we would have lost our jobs.” He paused.  Darren could see Luke’s thoughts catching up.  “You’re one of them.  You do curses.”  Luke backed away.  “But I’m on to you.  And yes, I’m going to get faith.  I won’t forget.”
“I do not curse anyone!” Darren snapped, but Luke had turned and was running off down the road towards York town centre.  Darren picked up his bags again. 

Darren reached the shop door just as Fiona was flicking the sign from ‘Closed’ to ‘Open’.  She held the door open.  “Who was that?”
“Did you have an incident with a car being stripped down to the frame?” Darren asked. 
Fiona briefly closed her eyes.  “Apparently Mr and Mrs Appuck got upset with a group of lads that were here to cause bother.  It got out of hand.”
Kadogan lounged past with an armful of candles.  “Mr and Mrs Appuck were here with their son, Geraint, and the young men were very rude, aggressive and tried to provoke a fight.  They were even rude to Fiona which was completely unacceptable.”
“Completely destroying their car may have been an over-reaction.” Darren hefted his bags towards the stairs.  “I saw the pictures.”
“They were rude to Geraint Appuck’s parents in front of him and only lost their car.” Kadogan said as he started to stack the candles neatly.  “I think they were fortunate.  Fiona has explained stock rotation to me so I am putting the newest supply of candles at the back.  This means that whenever I am in a shop I shall always look for the items at the back of the shelf first.”
“You’re never in a shop except here.” Fiona said wearily.
“You look like you’ve been drained by a vampire.” Darren took in Fiona’s drawn face and slumped shoulders.  “Should you see a doctor?”
Fiona held up a hand.  “No.  I’m going in the back to check on the wrapping paper.”
Darren looked at her retreating back and then at Mrs Tuesday.  “Is it the wedding?”
“The wedding has been cancelled, remember.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I hope you brought an appetite because I’m making home made soup for lunch.”

Adele lounged by the till.  It was quiet today.  The rain had started falling gently outside and no coach parties were expected.  Freydis and Louise were bickering next to the coffee machine as Freydis tried to arrange coloured dried grass and lavender in glass vases.  Mrs Tuesday was cooking something fragrant in the back kitchen which smelled insanely good.  Nick was doing things up ladders to the wiring.  Adele didn’t have much of a grasp of technology but apparently the shop was getting top notch cybersecurity with extra cameras.  Ian was following him round, holding ladders and cables and talking animatedly about the grimoire and Steve was also following around adding some magical security that also was completely beyond Adele’s understanding. 
Callum came back after carrying Mrs Anderson’s shopping to her car.  “It’s looking very impressive,” he said.
Adele nodded.  “So we have dummy cameras, real and visible cameras and hidden cameras.  And static monitors and things stuck in the wall.  I don’t know how people think of it all.”
“Vampires are usually pretty good with computers.” Callum leaned casually on the counter next to Adele.  “It’s the detail.  We had a vampire sort out all the pack’s stuff back home.”
“He’s a vampire?” Adele stood upright.  “But what about that Rey Baxter?  Could he be working with him?”
Callum gave Adele a very dry look.  “Not all vampires are the same.  Anyway, Ian used to live near them and they were good friends.  It was his house where Ian summoned the demon.  It looks like Nick got over it, though.  They both really liked their grimoires.”
“Sorry.” Adele said quietly.  She scrabbled around for a change of subject.  “That soup smells amazing.”
Callum nodded.  “Mrs Tuesday seems to be determined to feed us up.  I don’t mind.”
“Kadogan said that she had been depressed at home but was feeling a lot better here.” Adele said.  “Sometimes it’s better to keep busy.”
Callum nodded.  “I’ve been doing some painting,” he said.  “I mean, it’s not proper painting but it keeps me busy.”
Adele looked interested.  “What sort of things are you painting?”
“I’ve been painting miniatures of the streets in York.” Callum got out his phone.  “I take these pictures…” He showed Adele a corner of Stonegate, “and when I get home I paint them.” He flicked through his phone and showed Adele the picture he had taken of his watercolour.
“That’s adorable!” Adele exclaimed.  “When can I see the original?”
“After lunch.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “I’ve set it up in the meeting room.  Thanks to Nick we can have a nice lunch and still keep a very close eye on every inch of the shop.”

Steve looked around the packed meeting room.  Fiona had been firmly sat down next to Mrs Tuesday and, after having had a few tentative mouthfuls, was eating heartily.  Ian and Callum also had large bowls in front of them, though Kadogan, Nick and Freydis had tiny portions.  There were baskets of freshly made rolls in the middle of the table and for a short while there was silence. 
“This is really good.” Nick said appreciatively.  “Please let me have the recipe for Carol.”
Mrs Tuesday waved a hand.  “It’s just some vegetables and lentils in stock with whatever spices suit.  There’s plenty more in the kitchen and what isn’t eaten today can be reheated tomorrow.”
Steve exchanged a glance with Darren and Dave.  They were definitely going to be here tomorrow.  Steve took another spoonful before taking a roll.  He was aware that the soup had ginger and garlic, with some spices like cumin perhaps, or some of the Moroccan spices.  “This is amazing, Mrs Tuesday.”
“It’s just soup.” The old boggart looked pleased.
“I still think that faking big cats in Wiltshire is a good idea.” Kadogan said as he savoured tiny sips of the soup.  “We could make considerable money.”
“It’s not exactly guaranteed.” Ian said.  He took another roll.  “What if someone else gets a better picture?”
“We will still have good pictures, and ours will be properly staged.” Kadogan leant back in his chair.  “We will be able to sell the pictures to the newspapers and to those who write books of such things.  We could have framed pictures on our website.”
Darren held up a hand.  “Are you talking about faking big cat sightings?”
“Lord Harold requires a large quantity of dried rose petals.” Kadogan held a roll delicately in his long fingers.  “We have more than enough elf shot and so we need something else to trade.  Elfen could easily fake the big cat sightings.  It would be no trouble.”
“Indeed,” Freydis added.  “And as they are so close to the Army firing range it is entirely plausible that unknown creatures could be there.”
“I can’t imagine cats being happy surrounded by loud bangs.” Dave finished his bowl.  “Is there enough for another helping and lunch tomorrow?”
“Help yourself, I made plenty.” Mrs Tuesday waved a smug hand.
“Who is the paladin down there?” Darren asked.
Callum looked up from finishing his own bowl.  “It’s not far from my old pack.  With so much of Lord Harold’s domain inside the firing area, none of the local paladins really take an interest.  I believe the Army make their own arrangements.”
“I’ll look up the paladin for Salisbury.” Dave stood up and headed towards the kitchen.  “But I’ll get another bowl of that soup first.”

Fiona slid into the chair opposite Dean, dropping her umbrella next to him.  “Hi.”
“Hi.” Dean smiled at her and pushed a hazelnut latte towards her.  It had once been her favourite drink but Fiona had come to loathe it.
“Did you have a good time in Dubai?”
Dean nodded.  He was drinking a protein smoothie and was looking fitter than ever, the slight tan he had acquired suited him.  So did the classic shirt and tailored chinos.  “I ordered cake, babe.  I know you always liked chocolate cake.”
He sat back as the waitress brought over two slices of sticky chocolate cake with a large side of spray cream.  Fiona pulled the plate towards her under Dean’s watchful eye and took a small forkful.  She had never been able to convince Dean that she preferred carrot cake.  He always insisted that women only liked chocolate.  “Thank you.  It’s really thoughtful of you.”
“I didn’t just get cake.” Dean pulled a package out of his pocket and pushed it towards Fiona.  “I saw this in the duty free and I thought of you.”
Fiona picked up the tissue wrapped shape and for a moment her fingers hovered over the paper before she unpicked the wrappings.  It was a beautiful gold chain, heavy and sinuous over her fingers as she picked it up.  “It’s beautiful.  Thank you.” Her voice was barely audible.
“Put it on.  I’ve been imagining how it would look on you all the way home.” Dean urged.
Fiona slowly shook her head.  “I can’t accept this.  It’s too much and we’re not…” Her voice faded.
“You’re still wearing his ring.” Dean nodded at Fiona’s hand.
“It’s not on the engagement finger.  And he said that just because we aren’t together now doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter.” Fiona looked down at the glowing opal on her right hand.
“And we had a wonderful life, babe.  Do you remember going on the ghost walk and getting lost half way along?  How about the time we took a boat on the river and nearly lost the oars?  Babe, we could have all that again.” Dean took the chain from Fiona’s unresisting fingers and clasped it around her neck.  It felt cool and heavy around her throat.  He checked his watch.  “Babe, I’m sorry, but I have to go.  Think of me – and drink the latte.  It will make you feel better.”
Fiona watched him rush out of the door, more vibrant and alive than ever, and slowly pushed the latte away from her.

For first time readers, the story so far from the beginning can be found here

Monday, 5 March 2018

Making Plans

Fiona sat stiffly in her chair, her hands clasped tightly around her mug.  It was a full meeting room.  Everyone who worked at the White Hart had come in thirty minutes before they opened on the Monday to have what Kadogan had described as ‘a frank and open business discussion with nothing of the personal’.  Looking round, only Freydis and Kadogan seemed cheerful. 
Kadogan pulled himself up in his chair and beamed.  “As this is becoming a business, I thought I should read some business books.” Steve slumped down in his chair and rubbed his hands over his eyes.  Kadogan ignored him.  “So we have a weekly meeting and important things should be mentioned.  I am pleased that we have had a number of different enquiries about the elf shot.  The profit should be quite remarkable.  It is a surprise that they are being sold mainly to jewellery and home furnishing outlets, but profit is profit.”
“We still have to work out what they can trade us for bulk rose petals.” Steve said.  “I asked them about fossils, but they hadn’t noticed any in the flint mines.  There is a limit to how many elf shot we can sell.  I don’t think we have a steady outlet.”
“I’ve no idea.” Kadogan frowned.  “Perhaps we can all think about it during the week and next Monday we will have a solution devised by common sharing of information.”
“Sounds great.” Fiona managed.  “Are they any good at handmade cards?  I can’t keep up with the stock.  I don’t seem to have much time.  I was wondering about advertising for someone as a homeworker, but really it isn’t worth it for normals.  The amount of time it takes and the cost of the materials means that cardmaking is really just a hobby.  However if they are keen, they could do cards for rose petals, so much weight of petals per card.”
Kadogan looked uncomfortable but it was Steve that answered.  “It wouldn’t work.  Elfen are excellent at what they do, but they don’t do cards.”
“Steve is right.” Freydis said.  “They could perhaps copy a design, but it is unlikely to of the standard of Fiona’s cards.  And I wish to add that I sat in coffee shops every evening last week and I have been observing their skill.  I have also purchased a book called ‘How to Barista the Besta’ which is about making coffee.  I believe I could make pretty designs on coffee and I wish to experiment with blends.  Perhaps I could have a budget for experimental coffees.”
“Since when did you understand the concept of a budget.” Louise snapped.
“It takes considerable skill to repeatedly go just enough over budget to annoy a husband but not enough to start an argument.” Freydis said with some complacency.  “Especially as Lord Ragnar’s tolerance was affected by outside factors and I had to be precise and swift about purchases.  I understand how to use money to the penny.”
Louise glared at Freydis, but Adele jumped in.  “Maybe we could have coffee evenings like we have the fairy teas.  Anyway, if that’s it, I need to get the boilers switched on.”
Kadogan held up his hand.  “There is an important announcement.  Lord Ragnar has asked us to host a soiree in the White Hart for his court from 10 o’clock in the evening until around 2 in the morning.  As he was willing to pay a considerable sum, I agreed.”
“What date is this?” Mrs Tuesday asked suspiciously.
“It is the 21st day of June,” Kadogan said airily, “which is several weeks away and gives us plenty of time to create wonders.”
“No.” Steve said flatly.  “It’s one of the more powerful nights of the year and this is not a strong site.  Some places can hold up to a magical charge better than others.  This is not one of them.  Why isn’t it at his court?”
Kadogan neatened the sheet of paper he had in front of him. “Lord Ragnar is traditional.  He holds his midsummer revels on the 24th day of June.  He says that everyone is so much calmer after the solstice has passed.  This year he thought it would be prudent to see what his court is doing on the 21st day of June, but his halls will be in the process of being decorated.”
“But we’re going to be open the next day.” Fiona said wearily.  “We can’t run a shop on three or four hours sleep, especially after a hard evening entertaining.”
“It’s possible.” Mrs Tuesday said with some caution. “The brownies would do the clearing up as part of their normal morning service.  They would charge extra but if we clear as we go then it wouldn’t be too much.”
“I think if we stay here overnight then it would be easier for us to gain restful sleep.” Freydis said.  “I think it may be beneficial for us to stay here where it is safer for a few nights either side of the solstice, just in case.  And Lord Ragnar is correct when he says that his halls will not be able to host anything.  The disruption for the feasts at the eight festivals was considerable.” She looked a little wistful. 
“Aren’t you glad that you don’t have the trouble of it anymore.” Louise said, her mouth tight.
Ian ignored Louise’s dig.  “Freydis is right.  There’s something going on.  Callum and I go out as dog and handler, taking turns being clothed, and there’s something going on that’s making our fur prickle.”
Adele blinked a little but Kadogan took it in his stride and nodded seriously.  “So, Fiona, please will you make sure that there are plenty of trinkets to tempt a casual purchase and choose some non violent music.  Ian, please will you and Callum consider how to best clear an area in the shop for some dancing that is away from fragile items.  Louise, Mrs Tuesday and Adele, please consider the best options for food and drink.  Steve Adderson, you and I should consider the security issues.  We must be prepared.”
Dave raised his hand.  “How about me?”
Kadogan looked awkward.  “Would it perhaps suit you to have cocoa and an early night?”

Dave called in at the spartan headquarters of the Knights Templar.  Sir Ewan answered the door.
“I hope you don’t need manpower because we don’t have any.” Sir Ewan waved Dave inside.  “Everyone’s been drafted to Doncaster.  Some idiot tried to summon an angel and it got out of hand.”
“Summon an angel?” Dave walked past Sir Ewan and into the sparse meeting room.  “Is that possible?”
“No,” Sir Ewan said cheerfully, “but it gets the attention of all sorts of nasties.  What’s up?”
“Kadogan has agreed to host a reception for Lord Ragnar at the White Hart on 21st June.” Dave sat down in the nearest chair.  “Steve seemed to think it could go badly.  Mrs Tuesday seemed worried.  What’s the deal?”
Sir Ewan frowned and sat opposite Dave.  “You know that magical energy flows through the world, and that it can be stronger or weaker?”
“Yes?” Dave answered uncertainly.
“There are eight days which we need to look out for.” Sir Ewan shrugged.  “Actually, there are other, minor, days, but these are the main ones.  That’s the equinoxes and the solstices – say 21st of March, June, September and December at a very rough guess.  Then there are the old festivals, Lammas, Lughnasadh, Beltane and Samhain.” Sir Ewan looked shamefaced.  “I’m sorry, that’s my pride showing.  You know May Day and Halloween?  Well, there’s also the 2nd of August, Lammas or Harvest, and 2nd February, Lughnasadh or Candlemass.  They’re the old festivals from before Christianity and they are deep in the bones of the country.  Other local stuff comes up now and again, but those eight days are notoriously bad for trouble.  There’s just more magic around and even if it isn’t as much as some think, it focuses the mind.  People get carried away.  There’s always a spike in prophecies around that time as well.”
Dave pulled a flint arrowhead from his pocket and absentmindedly ran his fingers over it.  “So something bad could happen at the White Hart on 21st June?”
“Something bad is definitely going to happen on 21st June.” Sir Ewan said flatly.  “Lord Ragnar’s up to something.  I bet he talked about them being too busy decorating their halls for the St John’s Eve ball or something, but that’s…” Sir Ewan caught himself.  “I’m sorry, my tongue is getting away from me.  The hall is decorated using brownies and magic.  It traditionally takes a long time because all the elfen argue about it, but realistically it can be decorated in a few hours.”
“So what is Lord Ragnar up to?” Dave tried to work out the angles.  He didn’t like the look of any of them.
“I have no idea.” Sir Ewan drummed his fingers on the table.  “But I have a bad feeling about this.  Are you invited?”
“Not exactly.” Dave spun the arrowhead around his fingers.  “But I’m sure it’s not just fairy godmothers that can crash a party.”

Steve forced himself to call in at the White Hart before turning home.  Not that the new flat, right under Fiona, was a great place for him right now.  The sign in the shop door said ‘Closed’ but it was unlocked and, while the rest of the shop was in darkness, the lights above the café area were open.  He trudged over.
Adele and Louise had gone home and Mrs Tuesday was missing but Freydis and Kadogan were animatedly discussing something while the werewolves watched, bemused.  Fiona was sitting a little to one side and looking pale and a little queasy.  Steve wasn’t sure how that made him feel so he just nudged Armani in his pocket to stop him snoring. 
“We have had a breakthrough in the search for the rose petal deal.” Kadogan announced.  “We shall ask the local elfen to fake sightings of big, black cats.  I believe it often makes the papers.”
What?” Steve hadn’t expected that.  “You can’t just fake a sighting.  It’s unethical.”
“But they would enjoy it so much.” Kadogan said earnestly.  “I have had so many wonderful ideas about it.  We could get them to adopt the glamour of a very large black cat, import larger than average black tom cats, fake foot prints and hair – there are so many things!  And I am sure they would enjoy putting finishing touches to the plan.”
Steve felt once again that he was trying to nail down fog.  “But how would that pay for the rose petals?”
“But we could sell pictures and articles.” Freydis said seriously.  “We would make sure that someone local got the first picture but then we get the good pictures to sell to the papers.  Sometimes those pictures can make a lot of money.”
“No.” Fiona sounded tired.  “It’s not right.”
Kadogan tutted.  “But we sell many, many books on this subject.”
“Cryptozoology.” Ian said knowledgeably.  “The study of unknown creatures.”
“If they are unknown, how can they be studied?” Freydis asked reasonably.
“There’s a whole industry around it.” Ian said.  “Conferences, books, websites, expeditions – the whole kit and caboodle.” 
“And we do stock so many of those books.” Kadogan said.  “I am confident that we could sell more if there was a sighting or two.”
Steve rubbed his forehead wearily.  “It’s really close to Salisbury Plain.”
Callum looked startled.  “You mean where the army practice with live shells?  You can’t go wandering near there.”
“I know.” Freydis smiled.  “So all that area which the soldiers use for practice is usually out of bounds and perhaps the big cats could have been living and breeding there.  It’s very plausible.” She caught Steve’s eye.  “And I am cousins with some of them and they don’t lead people under the cannon fire anymore.  It was explained to them.”
“No.” Fiona said firmly.  “We’re not going there.”
“But just one or two photos could make a big difference.” Kadogan said wistfully.
“Indeed.” Freydis nodded.  “It would make so many people happy and every time we got a royalty payment we could send more rose petals.”
Fiona got up, grabbed her bag and walked out.

Dean was waiting at the café.  “You look tired,” he said, pushing a cup of her favourite latte towards her.
“It’s been a long day.” Fiona said quietly.  “You look…” her voice trailed away.
“The boss was feeling generous.” Dean smiled slowly and ran a hand over his shirt.  “You like?”
“You look amazing.” Fiona stared at him.  Dean had always been an own brand jeans and t-shirt kind of man.  Today he was wearing what looked like a pale blue, tailored shirt, very like the ones that Steve wore, and sharp pressed dark chinos.  His sleeves had been rolled up to just below the elbow which displayed an expensive looking watch. 
“So do you.” Dean said.  “But you look tired.  I should be looking after you. You should be coming home to me and I should be keeping you safe.”
Fiona shook her head.  “Dean, it seems like a life time ago.  Maybe it was meant to be…”
“You’ve broken up with him,” Dean reached over and gently stroked over the back of Fiona’s icy hand.  “There’s no reason to stay apart now.”
“How did you know?” Fiona asked. 
“How do you know everyone you work with is human?” Dean said smugly.
Fiona pulled her hand free and clamped both her hands around the warm coffee cup as if it was a lifeline.  “Dean, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Look,” Dean glanced around the deserted café quickly and then pulled back his collar.  “Perhaps your slick boyfriend wears a shirt like this for the same reason I do.”
Fiona looked on horrified as Dean pulled back his collar to show what looked like two stab wounds surrounded by horrific bruising.  “Dean, what’s happened to you?  What’s going on?”
“I tell you, vampires are real.  You have to believe me.  The boss did this.  He drank my blood, just like the films, and it felt amazing.  It’s better than sex.”
“It looks really sore.” Fiona couldn’t drag her eyes away from the mess at the base of Dean’s neck.
“It heals really quick.  And it’s amazing.  The boss won’t do it too often, he says it’s not good for me.  He’s a good guy.”
Fiona took a mouthful of the hazelnut latte, desperately trying to get some warmth into her.  “It’s all so confusing.”
“He’s a good guy, Fiona, and he’s keeping an eye out for me.  I’m making good money, having a great time and feeling better than I have in years.” Dean leant forward and looked deep into Fiona’s eyes.  “The only thing missing is you, babe.  Please.”
Fiona slowly shook her spinning head.  “It’s too soon.  I’ve only just broken off an engagement.”
“Sweetheart, you’re tired.  They’re working you to hard there. You need to come and work for Mr Baxter like me.  Listen, I’m off to Dubai tomorrow for a few days.  I’ll call you when I get back.  Until then, just think about it.  You and me, just like the old days.” Dean stood and dropped a gentle kiss on the top of Fiona’s head.  “Think about me while I’m gone.”
Fiona watched him stride confidently out of the café and up towards the Minster.  Then she slowly pushed her latte away from her.  What was she doing?

If you have only just dropped in for the first time, the story from the beginning is here.  

Monday, 26 February 2018


Fiona kept herself busy.  They had now been open four whole months and the shop was going in directions she had never thought it would go.  Her pen flew over the paper as she jotted down ideas. 
She wished she could get Dean’s face out of her mind.  She couldn’t lose the memory of the look in his eyes as he tried to warn her about boggarts and werewolves.  What if she was being manipulated?  What if Mrs Tuesday and Ian were just playing?  Fiona stared at her list.  She could speak to Mrs Tuesday about the best containers for the carefully dried, magically grown herbs.  And whether to sell them as a set or not.  That’s what she needed to be thinking about. 
Steve came in and dumped a large cardboard box on the counter, rubbing a hand over his tired eyes and leaving a long dusty streak.  Fiona had been so busy caught in her own thoughts that she jumped and knocked the rack of astrological bookmarks onto the floor.  She smiled wanly at Steve as she scrabbled to pick them up.  “Hi.”
“Hi, sweetheart.” Steve knelt down next to her and helped her with the fallen cardboard.  “I thought I’d call in and see you before crashing.  It’s been a long negotiation and a long drive.  I’ll show you what I’ve picked up and then I’ll grab a shower and some sleep.” He smiled, tentatively, twisting a Gemini bookmark around his fingers.  “But before I do, here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small ring box.  He picked up Fiona’s left hand and slid the opal ring onto her ring finger.  It glowed in the light and once again Fiona’s heart turned over. 
“It’s so beautiful.” There was a catch in her throat and without thinking she reached up and kissed him.
“Not in the shop.” Kadogan said with disapproval.  He looked into the box.  “Interesting.  I didn’t realise that there were elfen out there still doing this work.”
“What is it?” Fiona stood slowly, her hand in Steve’s.
“Elf shot.” Kadogan carefully sorted through the box.  “They are very blunt, though.”
“Health and safety.” Mrs Tuesday came up.  “Let’s have a look at the ring.”
Fiona held out her hand helplessly as Adele and Louise came in to admire it over Mrs Tuesday’s shoulder.  “What’s elf shot?”
“Arrow heads made from flint by the old fashioned way.” Kadogan held one up to the light.  “It used to be thought that these were the physical remains of elf shot, or the weapon that would cause stroke or seizure.” He spun the darkly gleaming arrowhead between his fingers.  Fiona shivered.
“It’s okay, they’re safe.” Steve said, giving her hand a squeeze.  “I checked.”
“They are also very blunt.” Kadogan said with disappointment.  He looked around quickly.  “Not that these sort of things would cause stroke or seizure.”
“I traded them for 20 solar powered singing daisies, forty keyrings with glitterballs on them and 17 kilos of dates.” Steve worked his neck.  “They want to know what they can trade for bulk rose petals.”
“They got a good deal, then.” Kadogan said with disapproval.  “Those glitterball keyrings will be highly prized.”
“You can buy fifty of those keyrings for what we can get for five of these arrowheads.” Steve said flatly.  He shook his head.  “I’m going home, getting a shower and some sleep.  Ian and Callum can get the rest out of the car.” He handed Fiona the keys.  “I’ll catch up with you later.” He bent to kiss Fiona, catching Kadogan’s eye at the last minute and brushing her cheek with his lips before leaving.
Adele looked into the box with interest.  “Our Roz makes jewellery out of this sort of stuff.  What price are you doing?”
“Steve will set the price when he gets back.” Fiona pushed a tired hand through her hair and shouted to Ian and Callum. 
“Are you making lists for the wedding?” Adele asked, looking at the sheaf of notes on the counter.  “Our Selene had spreadsheets and everything.  She’s divorced now, but she still has the cordless drill.”
“It’s for the shop.” Fiona said.  “I was wondering about re-doing the herb section.  What do you think, Mrs Tuesday?”
“I think you’re looking too pale.” Mrs Tuesday looked Fiona up and down.
“I’m not surprised with all the stuff about the wedding.” Louise said.  “But you can’t do anything once an elfen gets involved.”

The door jangled and Freydis wandered in.  She still looked like a supermodel but today was wearing classy, low heeled boots, jeans and a tartan shirt tucked into her tight waistband.  Her hair was in a ponytail and she was swinging a cute leather jacket as she walked.  “Hi.”
Kadogan appeared with Ian and Callum.  “What are you doing here?”
Fiona really didn’t feel up to this.  Her head was banging and all she wanted to do was crawl away to somewhere dark.  “Ian, Callum, could you get the rest of the stone arrowheads…”
“Elf shot,” Kadogan corrected helpfully.
“…elf shot out of Steve’s car and put them in the store room?  Thanks.” Fiona held out the keys to Ian.  The werewolves glanced suspiciously at Freydis and jogged out to the car park. 
“I’m working here now.” Freydis announced.
What?” Kadogan stared.
“I thought I could be of use.” Freydis said airily.  “I’ll start by learning how to make lattes.”
“No.” Kadogan said flatly.
“Yes.” Freydis said calmly, drifting over to the café area.  “Which bit makes coffee?”
Louise backed away, flushed.  “Since when can you do anything except fornicate and shop?”
Freydis shrugged.  “I’ve decided to change.” She strolled behind the counter and peered closely at the coffee machine.
“Freydis, no.” Kadogan tried to get between Freydis and the coffee machine and failed. 
“What does this do?” A jet of steam shot out and Freydis jumped back, a gleam of fascination in her eyes.  “This is marvellous.”
Fiona was sure Mrs Tuesday was swearing under her breath and Louise had gone from flushed to pale.  Ian and Callum were bringing in large boxes of what looked like prehistoric artefacts, sagging under the weight, and exchanging glances before looking back at the elfen.  “Freydis, why do you want to work here?”
“I need to prove to Lord Ragnar that I can be different.” For a moment Freydis paused and then pressed another button.  The coffee grinder started working.  Mrs Tuesday leaned over and switched it off. 
“You wish to change?” Kadogan looked at her narrowly.  “We will speak this evening.  Until then, you may assist if you accept that Louise, Adele and Mrs Tuesday are all your superiors in this matter.”
To Fiona’s amazement Freydis didn’t pout, she frowned thoughtfully.  “Acceptable for the first week with a review afterwards?”
“You are intrigued by the coffee machine, are you not?” Kadogan leaned forward.  “I can see it calling to you.  But there are other duties you must also perform.”
Freydis put her head on one side.  She glanced over the coffee machine, then over the café area and the shop as a whole.  “I understand.” She ran a manicured finger lightly over the steam control.  “Agreed.”
Kadogan turned to Fiona.  “Agreed?”
Fiona nodded limply.  After last night she was deeply aware of how much she owed Freydis. 
“Good.  I shall speak to Steve Adderson.  Also I shall assist in loading the elf shot.” Kadogan strode out to Steve’s car where Ian and Callum had taken stock of the boxes and had decided to load a trolley.  Fiona wondered what on earth they were supposed to do with thousands of stone arrowheads. 

The day dragged.  For once there were no coach parties and business was slow.  Fiona tried to get back to the lists but kept finding herself staring out at the car park.  Ian and Callum had got bored in the store room and, after washing Steve’s car, were kicking a ball around. 
Louise sighed.  “I wish I had their energy.”
Mrs Tuesday watched carefully.  “They’ll be settling down within a week or so.” She nodded in satisfaction.  “They’re getting a ‘brother bond’.  It happens sometimes.  A couple of lone werewolves team up and look after each other.  It can turn out well.  Or badly,” she said, going back to the herbs she was sorting.  “But they’ll probably do okay.”
“I took a werewolf as a lover once.” Freydis said, lounging elegantly against the café counter.  “It certainly expanded my horizons.”
“I bet it wasn’t only horizons that got expanded.” Mrs Tuesday chuckled.
Freydis winced.  “But it was worth it.  Now, time for another practice at the Machine.  Who would like a hot drink?”
Adele had a quick look at Louise’s face.  “I brought a load of wedding magazines in from our Laura’s wedding.  Do you want to look?”
“Sure.” Fiona forced a smile.  “I might as well while the shop is quiet.  Freydis, please may I have a hot chocolate?”
“Oh, I love making hot chocolate!” Freydis clapped her hands together.  “I get to use spray cream!”
Fiona’s phone started ringing.  She pulled it out of her pocket and went paler.  “Excuse me.”
Mrs Tuesday stared after Fiona as she fled into the back rooms.  “Is she expecting bad news?”
“It was from Dean.” Louise had been behind Fiona and had got a glimpse of the name coming up. 
“I’ll make her a hot chocolate anyway.” Freydis said cheerfully.

Steve came in just as the store was about to close.  He looked a little more refreshed and had got rid of the dust but there was still a tiredness in his eyes.  Kadogan and the werewolves weren’t around, but the ladies were congregated in the café area surrounded by wedding magazines.  He nearly tripped over as he realised that it was Freydis loading the dishwasher with dirty cups.  “Um, hello Freydis?”
“Hello, Steve Adderson,” Freydis said brightly.  “I work here now and I have contributed a great deal to the discussion concerning your wedding.”
Steve took in Fiona’s stunned expression and drawn features.  “Thanks?  But when did you start working here?  Where’s Kadogan?”
“He’s meeting with Lord Ragnar.” Fiona said.  “Steve, can I speak to you in private?”
“Sure.” Steve felt a shiver of worry slide down his spine. 
“Don’t worry about us.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “We’ll lock up.  Freydis, why don’t I show you how to shut down and clean the coffee machine?”
“I adore the Machine.” Freydis sighed.  “I would love to learn.”

Steve strode into the back of the bar.  “Sorry I’m late,” he muttered to Darren, throwing a large sports bag  down next to the table Darren had dragged into the centre of the room.  Armani slipped out of Steve’s jacket pocket to flap slowly over to the top of one of the racks where he perched, glaring balefully as he hunched over one corner.
Darren quickly checked his watch.  “You’re not late.”
“That’s lucky.” Steve pulled open the sports bag and started pulling out candles.
“You may not need to do anything.” Darren said, trying to get a clear look at Steve’s face.  “It should be a standard exorcism.  There have been noises, strange smells, people feeling uneasy – all the usual stuff.  I normally find it’s a version of mass hysteria, but this time they’ve got ectoplasm leaking out of the walls and stories of it being built over a witch’s well.” Darren pulled off his coat.  He was wearing a black shirt and dog collar with his well washed jeans and the bare bulb of the stock room gleamed on the silver cross around his neck.  “I’d be glad of a hand if it turns out to be more magical than ghostly.”
“I thought everywhere in York was haunted?” Steve also pulled off his suit jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeves.  “It’s good for the tourists.”
“The café already has the story about the maid abandoned by her lover haunting the till.” Darren said dismissively.  “This is actually getting in the way of the café running.  Even if the staff were comfortable coming in here, you can’t say that the ectoplasm doesn’t affect the Food Hygiene rating.”
Steve looked around.  Metal shelves held trays of paper cups and sugar sachets.  A box of drip coffee filters had fallen and spilled its contents onto the plain concrete floor.  The unplastered walls gleamed with oily liquid seeping out from the brickwork and dripping down where congealing gobs lay along the base of the walls.  Some of it had splashed onto the boxes of coffee and teabags and the dark green stain spreading over the cardboard looked gangrenous.  “So, what’s the deal?”
“I’ll do a basic exorcism.” Darren handed Steve’s candles back to him and started setting up his own.  “And we see what happens.” He frowned.  “I’m not usually susceptible to impressions,” he said, “But something feels off here.  What do you think?”
Steve looked around.  He had very little experience of ghosts or hauntings but he agreed with Darren.  “I think that there’s something not right here, but I couldn’t tell you what.”
“I don’t generally approve of magic,” Darren said, “But in these circumstances, can you get a circle up.  By the way, before we get started, have you decided on a date yet?”
“Fiona called the wedding off.” Steve said quietly.  “She couldn’t cope with the pressure from Kadogan.  I’ll get Armani into the circle.  Will you start with a prayer?”

Darren had a bad feeling about the whole thing as he started praying.  He was struggling to focus and the waves of anger coming from Steve didn’t help.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that this wasn’t a haunting.  He opened his prayer book and began working through the service.  Nothing happened.  Darren was used to silence as a strategy on the part of demons, and he was used to strange noises as he prayed, but there was nothing.  He could usually feel something to push against.  He felt like he was pushing against empty air.  He forced himself to keep going.  At the back of his mind he was running through a checklist.  The café owner seemed genuine.  The room showed all the signs of a haunting.  Everyone was expecting ghosts with all the vampiric magic being stirred up.  Had he fallen for hysteria?  Perhaps there was a rational explanation for the dark ooze on the walls.  Darren struggled on.  Doubt was a weapon in the armoury of evil.  He splashed Holy Water on the walls.  Nothing happened.
“It’s not a ghost.” Steve said quietly.
“I need to finish the service.” Darren turned the page in his prayer book.
“Be quick.” Steve was watching the walls, glancing down for only a fraction of a second as he rummaged for his tools.  Armani was clinging onto the outside of his bag, looking wary and unnerved. 
Darren struggled on, keeping the reverence and respect in his voice as he finished the service, with Steve praying alongside him, both watchful.  “Amen.” Darren made a dignified sign of the cross.  “So, what is it?”
“Lord Ragnar still hasn’t got full control of his faerie realm.” Steve was holding out a silver dagger at around waist height.  Some of it is still under Rey’s control.  And some of that vampiric realm is leaking through here.”
Darren began quickly but methodically packing up his improvised altar.  “Deliberately sent here?”
Steve shook his head.  “Deliberately sent out, but not aimed, if you know what I mean.  As far as I can tell, Rey has just filled corners of the realm with malice and let them loose to leak wherever they like.” His lip curled.  “As if the elfen aren’t bad enough without that.”
Darren gave him a sideways glance.  “Okay, how do we play it?”
“I’m going to try pushing back.” Steve started pulling in his concentration.  “It could get crazy but it should be okay in the circle.”

Darren watched Steve as he closed his eyes and started murmuring.  He had heard a lot about Steve’s abilities and was professionally interested to see how he handled this.  The light in the bulb was fading but the candles inside the circle seemed to be holding up.  The ooze on the walls was starting to flow actively down the walls and outside the circle it was starting to drip from the ceiling.  Darren took a quick glance at Steve as he pulled on his jacket and, after a thoughtful look at the ooze inching over the floor, pulled on gloves as well. 
Darren hated dealing with elfen magic.  It wasn’t his place and he didn’t understand it.  He hated the mutability and illogical way it twisted and turned until you couldn’t tell left from right.  Today was worse.  It wasn’t just like trying to nail down mist, it was like trying to nail down malevolent mist.  He could hear noises now.  Armani was obviously getting anxious and was shifting uneasily on the top of Steve’s bag.  Darren braced.
“Something doesn’t like me pushing back.” Steve muttered.  “I think they’re getting ready to…”
Darren found himself crashing back against the wall.  Steve had skidded along the floor next to him and Armani was hanging on to the last upright shelving and looking bewildered.  “What the…?” He scrambled quickly to his feet to face what looked like an archway into the realm lit by the crazy, dancing light of the now bright lightbulb swinging wildly above the shattered candles.
“They pushed back.” Steve had a livid red mark down the side of his face and his shirt was ripped.  He got to his feet with angry purpose.  “They are sending their agents.”
Darren wanted to swear.  “It’s gabble ratchets.” He looked around and grabbed a metal upright from one of the shattered shelving units.  “You need to get this closed down.”
Armani grabbed one of the smaller struts and flapped upwards, struggling to gain height as a fetid wind started to hiss into the store room.  “Gotcha back, boss.”

It was nasty.  The chattering dark shapes started pouring out of the elfen doorway.  Darren took a wide sweep and caught the nearest hard.  They was a sound of breaking glass as it evaporated and another two took its place.  The wind was blowing harder and the stink of it was making Darren retch.  He kept swinging wide and hard, aiming as well as he could in the fluctuating light.  He’d faced these creatures before and he knew that the only thing was to keep them at a distance.  They were small and relatively fragile, but if they swarmed on you in any number then you were finished. 
Behind him he could hear Steve muttering.  Armani was swooping low to take hit and run swings at the gabble ratchets, and while he didn’t do much damage, he was distracting them.  Darren squinted through the archway.  It wasn’t easy.  The image of the arch was dark with discoloured stonework and oozing carvings, with a dim view of misty moorland beyond.  There were bigger shapes in the mist. “We’ve got to get this shut,” Darren yelled over the chatter of the gabble ratchets. 
“I’m trying.” Steve snapped. 
Darren didn’t dare risk looking over his shoulder.  There were half a dozen of the gabble ratchets in the store room now and more in the archway.  He flinched as Armani knocked one past his head and flew fast after it.  “Try harder!  It’s only bloody elfen, you’ve been dealing with them for years!” 
A split second too late Darren realised that he had touched on a raw nerve.  Armani crouched in a corner and pulled a tin tray in front of him as Steve pulled himself up to his full height.  “I really cannot deal with the elfen right now.” Steve took a deep breath, muttered a few words and flung his hand out in front of him in a crisp, clean action that left an iridescent trail as it scythed through the air and that the very whip lash tip of the gesture through out an arc of pure, fury stoked power.  Darren felt the magical charge go straight through him like a high pressure hose would jet through a shadow as the wave of energy ran through the room and smashed into the elfen arch like a storm driven wave.  Once again he found himself picked up by a blast and thrown hard against the wall, pinned there as Steve gave an uncharacteristic howl of fury and watched as the arch was sandblasted away, fragments flaking off and peeling back and disappearing into the swamp, the gabble ratchets thrown back howling into the dark.  It seemed to go on for a very long time.

Finally it stopped.  Steve lowered his hand and gazed in satisfaction at the plain brickwork where the arch had been.  Armani crept cautiously out from behind the dented tray and Darren picked himself up painfully from where the blast had dropped him.  He wasn’t sure what Steve had done, or even if Steve knew what he had done, but it had been successful.  The shelves had been shredded and scraps of fast coffee supplies lay in drifts, but the atmosphere was definitely more wholesome and the ooze on the wall was no longer glistening in the now stable light.  What small traces that still clung to the wall were dried and lifeless but most of what had been seeping through was now part of the heaps around the room and nothing more was coming through. 
“I feel better for that.” Steve stretched happily.  “Do you think we’ll get a coffee on the house?”