Nick looked up from his paperwork to see two blond men in jeans and work shirts standing over his desk. One was tall, middle-aged, and looked like he lived at the gym. The other was a bit younger, with a more medium build. "Can I help you?"
The shorter one spoke. "We need to talk to you. Our brother is missing."
"Have you filed a missing persons report?"
"It's not police business, it's a family matter."
"Then why come to me?"
"We're bukkene bruse."
Nick stared blankly at the two men. Really, what he needed was about a month to study his aunt's books and learn all the names. Half-remembered childhood fairytales were definitely not cutting it. "I'm sorry, I don't--"
The taller one frowned, and for just a moment Nick caught a glimpse of a different face, with two horns sprouting from the forehead and a pointed beard dangling from the chin.
The shorter one sighed. "Goats gruff. The word on the street was right. You really are new at this. But you're the only Grimm in town, so here we are. I'm John Nilsen and this is my brother Karl. The trolls have done something to our brother Hans."
"What makes you think that?"
"We've always been close, but it's been almost a month since either of us has seen him and he isn't returning our calls. We stopped by his office and they said he'd quit. Something isn't right, and it's got to be trolls."
Karl nodded his agreement.
"Okay," Nick said. It seemed plausible enough, given the ancestral feuds he'd been seeing lately. "Give me his information and I'll look into it."
"Off the record," John said.
In a city full of bridges, it stood to reason there would be trolls. The Nilsen brothers gave him the necessary information on Hans, but flatly refused to involve the police officially. After work, Nick paid a visit to Aunt Marie's trailer. The book about trolls was full of pictures of horrible, hairy things with scraggly teeth. They looked like they could squash an ordinary human like a bug. If it was trolls, he would definitely need backup.
He tried regular police work first. He stopped by Hans' old job, at an insurance office in Southeast Portland, where he was told the same thing Hans' brothers had been, that he had quit a few weeks ago with very short notice. He stopped by Hans' apartment and left his card with a neighbor who said she hadn't seen the young man in a couple of weeks at least. Then he went to see Monroe.
Monroe opened the door after the second knock, and when he saw Nick on his doorstep, he simply said, "No."
"I haven't even asked yet."
"Whatever it is, I'm sure it's none of my business. You just want to use me for my nose or my connections in the community or for information that somebody in your family really should have taught you years ago. I am not your Grimmopedia, and you people need a better training program." Monroe started to close the door.
"Wait!" Nick reached into his jacket pocket. "I didn't come empty-handed. Two tickets, Portland Cello Project. They're playing the Aladdin in a couple of weeks."
"You're getting better at bribery, at least. Throw in a good meal, and I'll see what I can do."
"Done. I need some backup. Two goats gruff came to see me about their missing brother. They think it's trolls."
"Trolls has a negative connotation, not to mention those ridiculous fuzzy-haired pencil-topper toys, so they prefer bridgelings. Although some of the younger, hipster types do use the word ironically."
"Sure. Remember the big flood back in '96? The old guard almost all got washed out back then, and most of them moved upstream rather than rebuild. So the younger generation took over. There are hardly any bridgelings over 35 in town now. But I really don't think they had anything to do with your guy's disappearance."
"This younger generation isn't really all about eating goats, you know. They're mostly interested in drinking coffee and going to shows."
"How do I tell them apart from every other twentysomething in town, then? Do I go look under a bridge?"
"They don't usually live under bridges these days, just as close as they possibly can get to them. So if you want to find a troll, you pick a bridge, find the nearest coffeehouse or brewpub, and you'll probably find one of them. That's where they mostly hang out when they're not on the job."
"They're guardians. They do some maintenance, watch over the watershed and the river creatures, and occasionally they even do some suicide counseling. They're basically good guys, as long as you don't mention their teeth. It's a sore subject."
"So where do we start?"
"Do you know who's playing the Doug Fir tonight?"
"Well, then let's start at Powell's."
The famous bookstore, and apparently, troll hangout, took up a full block downtown. Nick followed Monroe as he wandered the stacks, flaring his nostrils from time to time. "Got anything?"
"Just books and coffee so far," Monroe said.
"I can smell those, too. Throw in the scent of a microbrewery and you're describing half the city. I need--" Nick lowered his voice, "I need to find a troll to question. Let's try the next floor up."
Two rooms later, Monroe's eyes narrowed. He jerked his head in the direction of a young woman with thick-rimmed glasses and a knit cap who was looking through an art book. "She's a troll," he said. "I'll be in the travel section if you need me."
Nick approached her slowly. "Excuse me, miss?"
"I'd like to ask you a few questions about the, uh, bridgeling community here in Portland."
She looked up, startled. "Who are you?"
"I'm looking into a missing goat. Goat gruff, that is."
"Oh, you must be the Grimm. I don't hang out with goats. They're too hung up on the past, can't get over the whole eating thing."
"Let me show you a photo anyway." Nick held out the picture of Hans Nilsen.
She shook her head.
"Can you tell me where to find another one of your… kind who might know? Maybe somebody with a lot of connections in the community?"
"You'll want to talk to Peter. Try Everyday Music, down the street. The blutbad who's lurking over there watching us should be able to sniff him out."
"Thanks," Nick said, and started to turn to leave.
"Hey, while I've got you here, can you do something about my landlord? I just know he's got to be some kind of evil creature, and that's your job, right, taking out evil?"
"Only the Grimm kind," Nick said.
"Oh." She shrugged. "Okay, then."
The record store was much smaller than Powell's, and it didn't take Monroe long to point out Pete, a man with a thin beard and a faded Kool-Aid Man t-shirt. He, too, denied knowing anything about a missing goat.
"But the troll who works at the coffee shop by my apartment--the one that started serving Stumptown Coffee first, before everybody did it--totally copied my tattoo design," he said, "is there anything you can do about that?"
"I thought you preferred to be called bridgelings."
Pete stared at him. "Dude, he's not a Troll like me. He's just a troll."
"Oh. Then it's out of my jurisdiction. Can you think of anyone else I might talk to about Hans?"
"The goat, right. You might try Tiny's, on 12th by Hawthorne. Some of the Hawthorne Bridge guys hang out there, and there are a lot of them. That's the most popular bridge in the city these days. I'm over it, myself."
Tiny's Coffee was a small coffee shop just around the corner from a parking lot full of food carts that were doing brisk business even though it was nearly ten o'clock at night. They were getting ready to close, but Monroe pointed out a man with a sleeve tattoo who was still at a corner table. Just like the last two trolls, he denied knowing anything about a missing goat.
"I've got a question for you, though. I'm a locavore--I never eat anything that isn't from, like, within a hundred miles--well, except for coffee, but that doesn't count, and I really want to stay that way. So here's my question. Hypothetically, if a goat moved here from, say, Seattle or San Francisco, how long would he have to live here before it would be okay to eat him?"
Nick reached for his gun holster. "What did you do to Hans Nilsen? Did you eat him?"
"No, no way, I would never actually eat a goat. It's just something I've wondered about. For my blog. Let me see that photo again?"
Nick held out the snapshot of Hans Nilsen. "You blog about being a locavore?"
"No, it's a bridgeling blog. Very underground. Oh, wait, I do know this guy. I totally didn't recognize him without the beard. I've seen him hanging out with another bridgeling--Mike or Mick or something. I see them at the cart pod right outside a lot. Have you tried the vegan poutine there?"
"Thanks." Nick turned to Monroe. "Let's go."
There were a few clusters of people sitting at picnic tables that were set up near the food carts. At the far side of the parking lot, Hans Nilsen, now with a beard, sat, eating a fried pie and sitting closely with another young man.
"Who are you?"
"Your brothers are worried about you. You quit your job, you haven't been home. They think you've been eaten by a bridgeling."
The man who had his arm around Hans' shoulders stifled a laugh.
Hans buried his head in his hands. "I've been staying at Mike's. And I found a better job. I should've known they'd jump to conclusions like that. They're so prejudiced. That's why I haven't been taking their calls."
"Because I don't know how to tell them about my new relationship."
Nick glanced at Monroe, who raised his hands in a "not me" gesture.
"Well," Nick began, "I know coming out is hard--"
"No, it's not that. They've known about that forever. Mike is a bridgeling. When they find out I'm in love with a troll they'll freak out."
"I think at this point they'll just be relieved to find out you're okay. Can we give them a call?"
Hans looked at Mike, who nodded his encouragement. "Okay."
Twenty minutes later, the other two Nilsen brothers were standing at the table, talking to Hans and Mike. It was clearly an emotional conversation--their faces changed so often that Nick had to look away or else get a headache. After a while, he heard an exclamation and looked up to see Karl Nilsen picking Mike up off the ground in what had to be a rib-cracking hug. But Mike, Hans, Karl, and John were all smiling. Since having the job of Grimm dropped in his lap, it wasn't that often that Nick felt like he'd had a solid win, but this situation was looking like it would turn out all right.
"It's nice to see love transcend an ancient enmity like that one," Monroe said. "If they can do that, who knows what else is possible?"
Nick smiled. "Yeah. I think we helped build a bridge here today."
"Ouch. Just for that, you're buying me two dinners."
"Okay. You know, I couldn't do this job without you," Nick said.