Any other morning, Alysha Gale thought muzzily as she tugged tangled blankets loose to roll to her side, the phone ringing this early would have seriously upset her. But the far side of the bed was cold this morning, sheets hardly mussed, and it was because of that vacancy that she’d been doing little more than lying in the dark, half-dozing for the past half an hour. The phone gave her an excuse to finally get out of bed. Reaching out to pat at the nightstand until her hand finally landed on the receiver, she drew it to her ear and muttered, “Hullo?”
“Allie?” The familiar voice chased away the last vestiges of her not very restful sleep.
“Michael?” She glanced over at the luminous numbers on her alarm clock, glowing a far too cheery blue in the dim room. “What’re you doing calling me at six fourty-four on a Thursday morning?” She knew he was up early for work during the week, but not this early; Michael was loathe to lose out the chance for just ‘five more minutes’.
“Sorry, Allie-cat. I know it’s early, but I figured that you’d be up. And, I wouldn’t have called but I’m kinda freaking out about them.”
That got her attention. She kicked the duvet down further and sat up, swinging her legs over the bed to seek out her slippers. “Freaking out about what?”
“The pies,” he told her, like that explained everything.
Okay, she was completely lost. “Michael, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
There was a sigh at the other end. “Have you checked your fridge lately?”
Allie thought about it, realized she hadn’t. She and Graham had gone out for dinner last night before his flight, and after dropping him off at the airport she’d come home moody and grumpy and had gone straight to bed. “I’ll do it now.”
She found the slippers, shoved her feet into them and trudged into the kitchen. When she opened the refrigerator door she wasn’t surprised to see a pie waiting for her. From the blood-dark fruit that had bubbled out of the slits in the top crust while cooking, she suspected it was cherry. “Michael, there’s a pie in my fridge. Just like there is just about every morning.”
“Right, I know,” he persisted, “now take it out of the fridge and set it on the counter.”
She pulled the phone away from her face long enough to stare at it speculatively then complied with his request, leaving the spelled penny in its accustomed place on the top shelf next to the condiments. “Okay,” she said, “the pie is on the counter.” She stared at it warily. “What’s it supposed to do, start dancing a jig, or something?”
From the heavier, much more annoyed sounding sigh she got in response to that, she figured Michael was not amused. Of course, he hadn’t been around that Fourth of July when Aunt Muriel got into the corn whiskey and apple jack. The term ‘pie fight’ had never been meant to be taken quite so literally.
“Open the fridge again,” he said shortly.
She did. Huh. “There’s another pie there.” And there was. Aunt Ruby's peach if she wasn’t mistaken. Not that it was all that unusual to have pies in the pipeline. Sometimes, especially lately, the Auntie’s seemed to want to slip her baked goods in exchange for information or favors. And she figured they were all still trying to make it up to Michael that he’d been a pawn in her Grandmother’s scheming. So excess pies for him almost made sense. She repeated the experiment, sliding the peach pie on to the counter next to the cherry, and then checked the refrigerator again. Yep. Crumble-top French apple.
“Yep,” Michael confirmed. “And if you keep doing that, you’ll keep getting pies. Over and over and…”she heard him counting silently to himself, “as many as eleven times, which is when I finally stopped pulling them out of the fridge.”
Allie frowned. She could see why it was freaking him out. A pie here or there was one thing, had even been how they’d survived in college for several weeks when cramming for finals meant no one remembered to do the grocery shopping; but continual pies wasn’t anything she’d ever experienced. “I haven’t seen baking in scale like this since last ritual, and that’s when everyone was home.”
“So you don’t know what’s going on?”
And that must’ve been assurance enough, because this time Michael’s sigh sounded relieved. “Well, lemme know what you find out.”
“Oh, you know I will. What’re you gonna tell Brian about all the pies?”
She could hear the shrug over the phone, visualizing the lift and fall of his broad shoulders as easily if he were standing here in the room. “I dunno. The truth, I suppose. I mean, after what happened on the hill, he’s sort of in the loop now.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true,” Allie agreed. She’d long since forgiven Brian for cheating on Michael, since it had all been orchestrated by her Grandmother. Michael had forgiven him before they'd found that out.
“So,” he asked and Allie recognized that trying hard to be casual tone, “what’re your plans for the day?”
“Is that your oh, so subtle way of asking how I’m doing with Graham out of town?” She snorted inelegantly. “Michael, he’s been gone less than twelve hours. I’m fine.”
“Just checking, Allie-cat. It's just, with with Jack at your folks for a few weeks, and none of the cousins around, it's quieter out your way than it's been since you first got there. And, I know you get a little separation anxiety.” That coming from the man she’d practically dropped everything to move closer too, despite the fact that he was gay and in a committed relationship, was rather funny. “But if his trip ends up lasting longer than two days and you need some company…”
“I’ll call Charlie and have her come home early,” she reassured him, quickly. In the past she’d have jumped at the chance to have Michael by her side, comforting her; but since meeting Graham, she’d finally got a hold on that part of her heart. Michael would always be one of the great loves of her life. In a way he was and always would be her soul mate. In Graham, though, she’d found another piece of herself, which was way too Hallmark Channel movie for her comfort, but what the hell.
Michael, perceptive guy that he was, seemed to hear every word of what she’d been thinking, because he didn’t protest or ask for assurance and just said, “glad to hear that, Allie-cat. Oh hey, I gotta go. I’m heading down to the job-site today and the guys are gonna love me.”
“Cuz I’m bringing them the pie.” He chuckled. “Even at our best, Brian and I can’t put away nearly a dozen of ‘em. Might as well get some use out of them. They're running a bit behind so I'll see if we can get them back on schedule with a bribe. You’d be surprised how much an incentive home-made pie can be.”
Allie smirked, “Well, I hope they enjoy them. Just remember…”
“No blueberry for anyone else,” Michael interrupted. “I remember. And actually I don’t think any of them are blueberry. Huh. That kinda sucks.” He loved Aunt Jane's blueberry.
Huh was certainly right, too. Blueberry was Aunt Jane's sure fire way of trying to charm information. Everyone knew it, but she had a way with blueberries that sometimes made the results of eating one worth it. Allie said goodbye to Michael and went in search of her cell phone. She’d thrown it in the freezer last night before heading out with Graham and rather loathed the idea of taking it out of there a minute before he got back. It was cold, having been buried under two bags of frozen veggies, but the message light was blinking dutifully. She scrolled through the info and saw that she had seven missed calls, two messages and a dozen texts (most of those were from Charlie and seemed to be sent while the other woman was significantly drunk).
She decided to go to the source most likely to give her information without harassing her about Graham or anything else for that matter.
“Mom?” she said without any preamble as soon as the line connected. “What’s with the pies?”
“Oh that,” her Mom sounded rather nonplussed by the whole thing, so it couldn’t have been anything too major. “The Aunties are just a bit unsettled because Aaron brought a girl home.”
Allie felt her eyebrows try to bury themselves in her hair. “Aaron? He brought a girl home?”
“Yes,” her Mother confirmed, “to ‘meet the family’.” No mistaking the weight of those words.
Oh, well that certainly explained the frantic baking then. It was extremely rare that a Gale boy of age to choose sought out a female outside the lines. She didn’t know Aaron as well as some of the other cousins, his family lived all the way out in Port-Cartier, and usually only visited for ritual. But he was still family, so that meant she knew him well enough. A year older than Dmitri, Aaron was quiet and bookish and though he was just as much of a looker as all the Gale boys were, he hadn’t commanded nearly the attention from the Gale girls as some of the other boys. Allie remembered that at the most recent ritual he hadn’t come out of it looking nearly as scuffed as some of the other boys in first circle. She couldn’t help but wonder if he’d already met this girl by then.
Her mother sniffed rather haughtily, “Not according to Auntie Jane, but I’ve met the girl and seen them together. I think he’s definitely serious enough.”
“So what are the aunties going to do about it?”
“Well, right now they’re doing lots of thinking and baking.”
Allie snorted. “Yeah, even Michael’s reaping the benefits of that.”
On the other end of the phone her Mom chuckled, and there was the distinct sound of dough slapping on a hardwood countertop. “Mom, are you baking too?”
“Oh, just a little. For appearances mostly. If I don’t, Auntie Jane will probably think I’m not taking this as seriously as everyone else. But I’ll tell you what, Allie, as long as that boy is happy, I’m all for it.”
It was nice to hear her Mom putting aside years of conditioning and coming out on the side of romance. “Besides, I expect they’ll be able to arrange something like what Roland has. There are plenty of Gale girls who’d welcome the chance to have a child without the need to settle down. Aaron would move into second circle if he procreates. As long as Aaron’s willing to honor his responsibility to the family, I don’t see the harm in bringing in new blood.”
“I couldn’t agree more, Mom.” Her own father, after all, was ‘new blood’.
After she hung up she sent a text to Michael, since she’d promised to follow-up once she had an answer for the pies. It read: Aaron brght new gf HOME to mt FMLY. A's freaking. If anyone would understand the significance of such a thing, it was Michael.
His almost immediate reply of "kk, thx AC" confirmed that thought.
Since the store didn’t open until ten on Thursdays, Allie took a long, luxuriating shower and then indulged in a piece of cherry pie for breakfast. She wasn’t necessarily going to trust what Aunt Ruby may have charmed into the peach.
When she got down to the store, Joe was already waiting with coffee and he’d opened up. “G’morning,” he said, handing her the red mug.
"Morning, Joe. And how's Aunt Gwen this morning?" As he did every morning she asked that, he blushed and just held out the mug for her to take. She took it gratefully – she’d never been able to coax a very good cup of coffee out of her Gran’s old monstrosity of a coffee maker – and leaned against the counter, taking a long sip and an equally long sweeping gaze of the room. She and Joe, along with assistance from various cousins at different times, had made significant head-way in getting the place organized and logged. Her customized database had been further tweaked with queries that made finding stuff a relative breeze. Of course, there were still some odds and ends that defied even her ability to catalog. Plus, they’d barely made a dent in the stuff in the basement.
They'd started strong right after the whole Dragon-Queen debacle, then the business of running a business and having a sudden makeshift family around (though she and Graham would be making that official soon enough. Plus, Jack was... somewhere between an annoying little brother and a rebellious son. Not to mention the nearly continual stream of in-and-out cousins) the cellar had become less of a priority. Aside from moving two boxes of Yo-Yos up in the past few weeks, most of the stuff down there had remained relatively untouched.
“So, what’s the plan today, Boss?” Joe asked.
She’d been putting if off long enough. “The plan today is to start on the cellar.”
He groaned and let his head drop forward, the thick shock of his ginger hair tumbling forward with the motion.
“Sorry, Joe.” And she really did feel a little bad. “I just need something to do today and that basement is going to be it.”
The leprechaun shook his head. “Allie, I know you’re after wanting something to keep you occupied while Graham is out of town, but are ya sure?”
Allie nodded. “Most definitely. Why don’t we start by bringing up a few boxes to see what we’re dealing with.” She set her coffee cup down on the counter and gestured for him to lead the way. She probably wasn’t imagining that he seemed to be trudging a bit.
“Oh,” she added when they were halfway down the steps. “Leave the yo-yos where they are. I know my Gran’s method of stocking them was a little weird, but it works for me.”
Joe nodded and bypassed the first few stacks, moving into the maze of piled boxes and crates and other miscellaneous containers and waved her over so he could pile two in her outstretched arms. He also set an odd suitcase on top. “Got it?”
Allie nodded and while he worked on gathering his own load, she headed back up the stairs and into the shop proper. To her inordinate surprise, there was a customer waiting. “I’m sorry," the woman said, "I didn’t see a bell."
“It’s okay,” Allie hastened to reassure her. “We were just bringing some stuff of from the basement to catalog.”
The woman nodded and glanced at the boxes in Allie’s arms. She shifted them to the counter, careful not to topple either boxes or her coffee mug and then looked up to study the woman. The red of her hair gave Joe’s a run for its money. Actually, it was that natural shade of red that was almost scarlet, but had enough orange in it so you could tell it wasn’t achieved by product. Surprisingly - since most redheads Allie knew avoided the color clash - she wore a red jacket with white fur trim that, despite its coloration, in no way resembled Santa Claus’s uniform. She definitely pinged something on Allie’s ‘weird-o-meter’. “So, what can I help you with?”
“I don’t know if you’ll be able to help me, but I’ve been searching for a terribly long time. You’re the end of the trail.” Her accent was heavy Quebecois and her speech oddly formal and she had a forlorn tone in her voice that assured Allie that the sense of loss she was projecting was in no way feigned.
Hearing Joe come up the stairs behind her, she waved him over. “This is Joe, he’s my right-hand man. He knows the store better than anyone.” She didn’t miss that he pinked just a tinge over his cheeks. “So what is it you’re looking for?”
The woman eyed Joe a bit warily before seeming to come to some decision. “About twelve years ago, my Uncle got hold of my Grandmother’s estate through rather nefarious means. At the time, my parents had already passed and I was not of an age where I could do anything other than watch him demolish her home and sell off her possessions. Once I came of age, I sought out my Uncle and demanded to know what he’d done with her things. Eventually, he told me all.” Her expression became positively predatory and Allie didn’t want know how she’d managed that coercion.
The look faded, sadness once again taking over. “Unfortunately, he was rather greedy and therefore tried to get the best prices for individual pieces, rather than sell off everything in one lot.” She sighed wearily. “I’ve spoken with Estate salesmen and Antique dealers and even a few pawn shops, everytime getting sent in one direction or another. And after long years of searching I was finally directed here. Unless you have news of the items, or the items themselves, I’m afraid this is where my quest ends.”
Maybe it was her inclination to take in strays, but something about this woman’s plight tugged at Allie’s heartstrings. “What items might those be? And do you have any information that would help us track them?” She waved a sweeping arm at the room. “This is just what we have cataloged and inventoried. We’ve got a whole basement full of stuff that we could look through if need be.” She pretended not to hear Joe’s low-voiced groan.
“I have only my Grandmother’s name, the name of my Uncle, and a description from memory of the two things I seek.” Allie gave an encouraging wave. “My Grandmother was called Elspeth Lup de Sânge. I am named for her, actually.” She smiled then, and it was soft and full of memory. “The items of hers are a cloak and a basket. The cloak is red, like my own jacket,” she tugged at a sleeve in demonstration, “and it is lined on the inside with dark fur.”
Oh boy. Allie fought very hard to let no expression other than mild curiosity show on her face.
“The basket is hand-woven,” Elspeth went on, “and stained dark by the years. It too has fur lining and a red ribbon twined through its top edge.”
Allie frowned, “I’m afraid we…” she started to say when Joe cut her off with a swear. She turned to look at him and his expression was odd.
“I think I’ve seen ‘em,” he explained. “Just now when I was gathering boxes. I tripped over a damned yo-yo and tumbled a row of boxes. I would swear that I saw a basket that had a lump of red fabric shoved inside.”
Elspeth gasped. “Truly?” Her already pale face had gone bone-white.
“Aye,” Joe confirmed, “I’ll go get them right now.” He hurried back out to the hall, but not before shooting Allie a significant look.
Fearing that her customer was going to faint or swoon, Allie pulled a tall stool out from behind the counter and helped her on to it. The hand that Allie held in hers was trembling. “How long have you been looking?” she asked.
“Nine years,” Elspeth said almost breathlessly. “From the moment I came of age.”
Wow. Her reaction definitely made sense then. She didn’t seem too capable of further speech, so Allie just stood with her while they waited. When Joe came up the stairs and out from the little hallway, Elspeth nearly toppled off the stool.
“Oh, oh my,” she said in a small, but awed voice as she reached out a trembling hand and drew the fabric up from the basket. It tumbled out, red the color of newly-spilled blood, and tidy and unwrinkled as if she’d just taking it out of its packaging. She didn’t say anything, just held the cloak out to Allie - who took it reverently - shucked her own jacket in a flurry of movement, and then turned to present her back to Allie.
Realizing the significance of the moment, Allie carefully shook the cape out and then laid it over Elspeth’s shoulders as if she were a dignitary. When she spun around again, she was a different woman. Gone was the weary, defeat and in its place were a hope and delight so profound Allie felt tears coming to her eyes.
“Thank you,” she cried with joy, launching herself at Allie to hug her surprisingly tight. For a slight young woman, she had a hell of a grip. She drew back and then just enthusiastically threw herself at Joe. He managed to catch her without dropping the basket, but it was a near thing.
Allie rescued it from him and looked down at it. It was beautifully crafted, the plush fur that lined its inside could have come off of an animal just that morning it was so fresh and clean, and the wood was stained dark with more than just age. When Elspeth finally drew back from Joe, who’d gotten a significantly longer hug, Allie handed over the basket. “Here you are, Elspeth Lup de Sânge.”
Elspeth took it and when it fell into her hand and her arm dropped to swing at her side, Allie couldn’t help but grin. She looked reborn, true enough, but she also looked young and tantalizing and temptingly innocent.
“What do I owe you for them?” She asked quickly. “Price is no option.”
Allie waved her away. “Nothing, please. I’m just happy to see those things where they belong.” She smiled significantly, which got both her and Joe another hug each.
Elspeth waved her fingers merrily as she exited the shop and Allie watched her go. “So, was that?” Joe started to ask and Allie nodded.
“Yep,” She confirmed. “Well, a direct descendant at least.”
“Aren’t a-lot of wolves out there, are there?”
“No. And not a-lot of werewolves either. But,” she gave Joe the same significant expression she’d given Elspeth, “there are lots of predators in other forms.” She could imagine it: a picture of innocence making her way down the dark streets of Calgary at night, the perfect temptation for less than savory minds. She wondered if she should let it bother her, but quashed the thought immediately. Not everyone had family to side with them when things went wrong.
Shaking her head, she told Joe, “let’s get back to work. Who knows what other ‘treasures’” she used the air quotes quite liberally, “we might uncover.”
And although they spent the next two hours unearthing and recording item after item from dusty boxes and crates, there definitely wasn’t anything as interesting as a red, hooded cape and a basket.
They broke for lunch, Allie providing a hearty, homemade potato and corn chowder with turkey sandwiches on thick-cut, whole wheat bread, and then got back too it.
“Here,” Joe said, handing Allie the oddly-shaped suitcase he’d thrown atop the load she carried upstairs earlier. “Curious about what’s in this thing,” he admitted.
Allie agreed. She’d left it for last, before they went to get more boxes, simply because it was so odd. The clasps that held it closed were rusted with age, and it took some finagling, a screwdriver and finally good old-fashioned elbow-grease for them to finally burst open. And when they did, something else burst from the suitcase and started flapping around the room.
“Duck!” Joe shouted, and Allie turned to look at the thing. It hadn’t looked like a duck. “No,” Joe said, tugging Allie down with him, “I meant get out of the way.”
She blushed. “Oh, sorry.” She peeked up from behind the counter where she and Joe had taken refuge. “Any idea what that thing is?” she asked.
“Fey Dragon,” Joe told her, peering up as well.
“Dragon?!” Allie blurted. “Oh hell no!”
“No, not a regular dragon. It’s a Fey Dragon. It’s a relatively harmless creature from Underrealm. Some of the Sidhe actually keep them as pets. Eat you out of house and home, though. Messy buggers too.”
"If it's not dangerous, why did you want me to duck?" she asked.
"Well I didn't want it flyin' into you, now did I? They may look small but they whack into you hard enough, can knock you silly!"
Allie nodded and smiled, "Thanks. I appreciate the thought. Last thing I need is a concussion-by-dragonlette."
The fey dragon had finally ceased its frantic flapping and settled on top of one of the over-stuffed bookshelves on the other side of the store. From what Allie could see of it, it looked a heck of a-lot like one of those Chameleons with the buggy eyes and curling tail, except that it was blue and pink and mint green and had gossamer butterfly wings sprouting from its back.
“Huh, it’s kinda cute.”
The fey dragon launched itself off the bookshelf and zinged right over to where the remains of Allie’s lunch were sitting on a plate on the counter above them. It alighted with surprising delicacy, but then it began to eat. And then it wasn't quite so cute anymore. She could see what Joe meant that it would eat her out of house and home. The half-sandwich sans two bites that she’d had remaining was gobbled down in seconds, and then the thing proceeded to lick both her and Joe’s bowls clean.
“What the hell was it doing in a suitcase? I mean, it’s probably been in there for years!” She started to feel bad for the starving little thing. “No wonder it’s hungry.”
Joe retrieved the suitcase from where it had fallen on the floor when the thing escaped, and slid it across the floor to Allie. She took one look at it, studied the careful runes traced around its interior and frowned. “Okay, I take it back. Damn things been living in a pocket dimension. I’m sure it didn’t want for food.” She sighed. “I suppose I should be asking why there's a pocket dimension in this suitcase, but I don't even want to know...
An odd noise interrupted her. “What the hell is it doing now?” She looked across the shop to see the creature tearing at one of the bookshelves, knocking books and other paraphernalia onto the floor.
“I suspect it’s nesting,” Joe said. “They tend to build nests out of about anything they can get their little claws around.”
“Crap. It’s gonna destroy the place. Okay, how do we catch it?”
They tried for an hour to net it, trap it under a box using another sandwich as bait (it made a quick move and got the sandwich before Allie could pull out the stick that had been holding up the box) and even the tried and true 'you chase it, I'll grab it' technique, but it seemed quite adept at alluding capture.
Wiping sweat off of her brow, Allie looked over at Joe, who was similarly perspiring and panting. “Okay, that’s not gonna work. Any other ideas?”
Joe’s face screwed up quizzically for a few long moments, then he snapped his fingers. “Music. They’re charmed by fae music.”
Allie looked around the room for inspiration. There were a plethora of music boxes, a stack of 8-tracks (and she’d unearthed the player a few weeks back) and even a grammaphone. The problem was, she needed something that would sound ‘fae’. And idea sprung to mind, but she gave the music boxes a try first. The thing looked interested for all of two seconds, then went back to shredding a book and packing it on top of the shelf.
She looked at Joe. He nodded. “Call Charlie,” he agreed.
Despite the fact that Charlie had drunk-dialed (the two messages on her phone had been her cousin warbling oddly off key into her phone) and drunk-texted Allie at nearly four a.m. the night – well morning – before, she answered sounding perky enough. “’Sup, Allie?”
“I’m in need of your assistance.”
Charlie’s laugh was musical. “Oh yeah? Lemme guess. You’re lonely and missing Graham so you want some company.”
Allie frowned. Oddly, she’d hardly thought of Graham all day, and doing so now only caused her a moments’ nostalgia for the night before. “Nope, not even close!” she crowed. It was nice to get one up on Charlie from time to time. “Actually, I need your musical ability. We’ve got a fey dragon loose in the store and we need you to soothe the savage beast.”
Charlie’s snort was loud enough that Allie had to stop herself from wiping her cheek. “Seriously?”
“Yep. It’s on top of the bookshelf, the one with all the globes, building itself a nest. Joe says that it’s going to keep destroying my store and it’s going to eat me out of house and home unless I can get it back in the suitcase.”
“Ahh,” Charlie sounded amused. “Well you’re in luck. I just finished doing some recording with that pop-fusion band, remember the one?” Allie did, and shuddered violently, “Anyway, I’m running on about four hours of sleep and about four cans of that cheap-o energy-drink crap, so after I soothe this beast for ya, I’m claiming the bed.”
Allie nodded. “That’s fair.”
“Oh,” Charlie added, “but I can’t stay over tonight. I’ve gotta be back here by nine for another recording session. These guys are like vampires, they never get up before dark.” She heard Allie’s significant silence. “Not real Vampires, geez. I know better.”
“How soon can you get here?”
She could hear Charlie already zipping and packing up, getting ready to make the trip through the wood. “Just a few. I’m not that far from you. Just north of Vancouver.”
“Cool,” Allie grinned. “See ya in a few.” She hung up and looked over to Joe. “Charlie’s coming,” she told him rather inanely, as if he hadn’t heard all of her half of the conversation. She looked back to the Fey Dragon. “So, what should we do about it in the mean time? I don’t want the damn thing wrecking my books or demolishing my shop.”
“We feed it,” Joe suggested helpfully.
A cat that ate the canary grin spread itself over Allie’s face. “And I know just what we’re going to feed it, too. C’mon,” she waved Joe to follow. “Lets fetch some pies.”
Joe hadn’t lied when he’d said it would eat her out of house and home. The damn thing was on its fifth pie by the time Charlie meandered into the shop, and showed no signs of slowing down.
“Awwww,” Charlie cooed. “It’s so adorable.”
Allie’d gotten over the cute-factor when it dive-bombed the shelf with the mis-matched teacups. “Yeah, yeah, now play it a damn song so we can put it back where it came from.” She looked over at her cousin and really saw her for the first time. Her hair, instead of being its usual neon blue or fire-engine red, was now striped in thick swaths of bright, rainbow colors. “Did a bowl of fruitloops vomit on your head?”
Charlie snorted again, and this time she was right next to Allie, so Allie ended up wiping spit-spray off her cheek. “The fusion band is doing a pride party tomorrow night and since I’ll still be sitting in for their regular guitarist, I figured I’d look the part.” Smiling, she unholstered the guitar and drew it to her chest. “Okay, what do you think? What’s a nice fae-sounding song?”
Allie didn’t have any suggestions, though she rolled her eyes when Charlie started playing Greensleeves’. The Fey Dragon looked up, binocular eyes fixing on them, but didn’t react otherwise.
“Hrmm,” Charlie stuck her pick between her teeth and made a few adjustments to the tuning knobs. “Less fry fiss,” she said with the pick still in her mouth, and began to strum the opening chords to a very familiar song. Allie was going to kick herself if it worked.
And it looked like she’d have to do that kicking, because the Fey Dragon hopped down from its perch and fluttered over to them, docile as could be. Joe got his hands around it and placed it in the open suitcase, where it curled its spiral tail around itself and closed its eyes, and then Allie closed the lid. She took a few minutes to ensure the seals were intact, and then carefully carried the suitcase to the back hallway. She’d probably keep it upstairs where a few other nefarious items she’d uncovered in the shop were stored.
“Stairway?” was all she said when she came back into the room. “Seriously?”
“C’mon, Allie. You gotta know there was some sidhe-heavy involvement in that album. Robert Plant wasn’t that stoned, or that into Tolkien… he just had some new friends.” Charlie grinned, and then clacked her teeth down on a yawn. “Okay, that’s it for me. Nap-time.” She gave Allie a one-armed hug, smiled at Joe who seemed to flinch a little from her hair, and then headed upstairs.
Allie and Joe spent the next little while cleaning up the fey dragon’s mess on the bookshelf (and dammit, that had been a first-edition Faulkner he’d torn to shreds) and then a bit longer getting pie residue off of the counter (and the floor and the shelves). By the time they were done, the place looked just about the same as it did that morning. An odd thought popped into Allie’s head just then. “You know, we haven’t sold a single yo-yo all day.”
Joe’s frown matched hers. Granted, Allie was usually out of the shop whenever the yo-yo sales went down, but they’d been selling two a day almost consistently since she’d taken over the shop.
“Yeah,” Joe started to say, “I noticed…”
He broke off as the door swung open, jostling the little bell above it. Three men of varying age and appearance, but all wearing matching jackets, came into the shop in single file. The lead man spotted Allie and Joe and smiled. “Hey! So glad you’re open.”
Allie waited for Joe to ask the question. She’d spotted the logo on the jackets already and was trying hard as hell not to roll her eyes at fate. “Hey, guys. What can we do for ya?”
The second man pushed past the first, not aggressively, just anxious. “Do you sell yo-yos?”
She almost laughed when Joe sputtered helplessly. “Yes,” she said, moving in front of Joe with a wicked smile. She was going to pay for it later, she knew. “We have a whole assortment.” She gestured the men, wearing their “South Calgary Yo-Yo Club” jackets, to the shelves behind the counter.
Three sets of eyes went wide. “Oh wow,” the third man managed, jaw gaping. “Wow.” The other two began eagerly inspecting the inventory.
“Um, pardon me for asking, but you look like the kind of guys who’d already have yo-yos.” She gestured to the jackets.
“Oh that,” Third guy said with a snort of disdain. “We’re in town for a competition and we’ve been sabotaged!”
“Sabotaged?” Allie had to ask. How in the blue hell did one sabotage a yo-yo competition?
Second guy turned away from his perusal to nod. “Yeah, someone sliced the cords on our competition yo-yos.” His expression was even more bitter than Third Guy. “If we hadn’t insisted on more practice before heading back to the hotel, we’d have gone to the competition with tampered yo-yo strings!”
“Oh wow, that’s terrible.” She said it with a straight face, mostly because she did kind of agree that yo-yo sabotage was a pretty shitty thing to do.
First Guy finally spoke again, sounding rather heartbroken. “These are great, really, and I’m sure we could manage, but they’re just not up to competition standards.”
Allie frowned. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
Again, as before when faced with disappointed customers, Joe broke in. “You could check the stock in the basement. We’ve got a whole bunch more down there.”
Joe might as well have told him that cheesy wind-breakers were worth millions at the way their faces lit up. “You have more?” Second Guy asked avariciously.
“Yep,” Allie confirmed. “They’re in the basement though. It’s not exactly customer friendly.” She gestured over her head, mimicking spider webs. “Bugs, webs, dust. I’d hate to send you down there.”
First Guy perked up again. “You have a bug problem?” He fumbled in his awful jacket for a few seconds and then proffered a business card. “M’name’s Earl Darden. I run a pest control shop. I’d be happy to send someone around to help you out with clearing out your basement, at a discount of course, if you’ll let us look around down there.”
Roland’s face popped into Allie’s head just then, and as much as she wanted to help these guys, she couldn’t help but think about what might happen if one of those stacks of boxes in the basement fell over while they were rummaging around. It was a lawsuit waiting to happen.
Guy Two must’ve sensed her reluctance. “I’m a Lawyer,” he told her, also pulling out a business card. And of course he was. It read ‘Jeff Flanders’ and listed one of the more affluent law firms in Southern Calgary. “I’d be happy to have the fellas and myself sign a Premises Liability waiver that would ensure you weren’t held liable if one of us were injured on your property.”
She really couldn’t argue with that. Waiting while the guy ran back to his car for his laptop, Allie looked over at guy three. “What do you do?”
“Lou Glassman, Plumber,” Guy Three offered, and there came the third business card. “Any plumbing problems?”
Not wishing to tempt fate, Allie took his card, pocketed it and shook her head. “Nope, but I’ll keep you in mind for the future.”
It didn’t take Flanders long to get a document written up and printed (who carried a portable printer in their car, seriously?) and Allie read it over carefully before signing. It certainly appeared ironclad. She’d send a copy to Roland just to double-check, but suspected that she wasn’t being screwed over here.
Once all the signatures were inked, Joe waved the men over to the back hallway with an inviting sweep of his arm. “C’mon.” They hurried after him like ducklings after their mother. She heard their eager chatter over the tromp of four sets of shoes hurrying down the steps. For the sake of space (no reason to test that nice iron-clad agreement by shoving more people into that maze of boxes) Allie stayed upstairs, but the men were loud enough in their exultations that she heard them through the floor.
When they came upstairs about a half an hour later Glassman was carrying a box full of a variety of yo-yos. “Uh, find what you’re looking for?”
Glassman looked to overcome to speak, but Darden was babbling. “You have an entire box of Auldey and a whole bunch of YoyoJam and YoyoFactory down there. Metal, wooden...Some of them are discontinued and antiques! We’re taking all of these,” he gestured to the box in Glassman’s arms, “and you can bet that we’ll be back!”
When Joe tried to ring up the purchases it took another ten minutes of arguing to tell all three men that yes that was the correct price. Darden promised her free pest control service, and Glassman the offer that if she ever had any plumbing problems, even a leaky faucet, to call him day or night! She’d mentioned to Flanders that her brother was a lawyer, so that free service in that area really wasn’t necessary. Still, the man tried hard to come up with some way to repay her. “Just come back.” Allie said and had to smile when they all emphatically assured her that they would.
The men were finally ushered out of the store at about ten minutes to close, and Allie slumped against the counter. “Cripes,” she muttered to Joe, who looked about equally ready to drop. “I’m exhausted.” She pointed to the doorway, “Just turn the sign to ‘Closed’, I think we’ve done enough business for one day.”
Joe looked relieved as he headed over to do just that. Allie suspected that he felt the same way she did: to leave the door open any longer would just tempt fate. “Thanks for all of your help today, Joe.”
He rubbed a hand over the back of his neck, a sure sign that he was embarrassed. “Just doing my job, Allie.”
“I know, Joe. But I suspect today was a special case.”
He looked confused, then studied Allie for a moment and seemed to catch on. “Don’t be telling me that the universe is rearranging itself for you because you’re after missing your boyfriend?” He sounded somewhere between amused and wary. And if the Irish was coming through that much, pretty wiped out as well.
Allie shrugged. “I don’t know, Joe. But I’ve hardly had the chance to think about Graham all day.”
Joe’s shoulders slumped. “He’s not coming back until Saturday, is that right?”
“Uh,” Allie winced, “yeah.”
“Them I’m after heading to bed. I’ll need to be full on rested if we’ve got another day like this tomorrow.”
“Joe, I’m sorry…” she started to say, but Joe held up a forestalling hand.
“It’s no worry, Allie.” He smiled, “Today was actually kind of fun. 'Night.”
“G’night, Joe.” She trudged up the stairs, weary feet slapping heavily on each step. When she checked the bedroom, Charlie was already gone. Allie frowned. She must’ve snuck out when they were dealing with the rogue yo-yoers.
After a quick supper of re-heated soup and a slice of pie – she knew her mother’s triple-berry anywhere – Allie decided to call it a night. She barely managed to get herself all tucked into bed when the phone rang. She smiled when she answered it. “Hi, Graham.”
“Hey, Allie.” Over the phone line, Graham’s voice sounded slightly tinny, but Allie settled back into the pillows warmed and comforted by it. “So, did ya miss me?”
Allie thought about the day she’d had, about a girl in a red hood, and the fey dragon, and the South Calgary Yoyo Club, about how the fates, or the universe or whatever it was had shaped her whole day just to help it pass easily for her. She gave a pleased little smile and admitted, “Like crazy.”