THE FOLLIES OF 1919
“You want me to do what?”
My cousin, Albert Grimm, leaned back in his office chair. Actually, tipped it back at an angle that made it groan like an underaged troll trying to hoist a petrified dragon’s egg. In other words, a pleasant sound only if you were partial to that made by a trod-on feral cat.
“Stop the trolls and elves from doing anything stupid,” Albert repeated.
I probably gaped at him. When trolls and elves came within spitting distance of each other, stupid moves were inevitable. “Al! It’s my first week on the job!” I protested.
You’d think he wouldn’t need this pointed out considering he’d roped me into the family business, which is SIN. Don’t get your knickers in a twist or call in the Revivalists. It stands for Supernatural Investigation Network. The requirements to work here are few: be a magic user, be a Grimm, and get conned into signing on the dotted line by Albert. You don’t need to have all three to qualify, but I was unlucky enough to have all of ‘em lined up like a… Okay, so I don’t have a comparison that fits. It wasn’t the sort of wage position my fairy godmother promised, but I suspect Albert paid her off. She wasn’t jaunting about town via enchanted pumpkin anymore but in a snazzy new Cadillac Touring car.
“You’ve got the qualifications, Gwen. Hell, you got an accommodation for working both sides in the late war and neither side knew you were setting them up,” Albert said.
In the event you get confused, the “late war” was not the one between the Allies and the German coalition of discontents in Europe but the one between the trolls and the elves, which had also played out in Europe but lasted six months longer. As President Wilson and the boys were signing the Armistice with Germany, the elves had been destroying what few bridges the Allies left along the Rhine then waltzed over to do the same at the Danube. Considering trolls live under bridges, they passed “perturbed” and went straight to Ragnarök game plan. My assignment had been to sell both sides Happy Bombs. Not that they knew that, of course. Or not until each side set them off and got sprinkled with thoughts of peace, goodwill, and fraternization. There were probably going to be repercussions over that last one.
‘Course, once the effects wore off, they’d be at it again. That was the history between the troll tribes and the elven caste: kill, maim, lick wounds, regroup and repeat.
“If I got an accommodation, it got lost in the mail,” I said. “I’m also too well known in the two communities to just slip in unnoticed.” I really didn’t want to land in a troll prison or an elven torture boudoir. Elves utilized feathers and other devious methods never considered by the Spanish Inquisition. Beat the heck out of thumbscrews, if you get my drift. Troll prison was a breeding grown for fungus that considered people comestibles. No doubt some misguided chemist would determine it a more effective pain reliever than aspirin in the near future.
“These aren’t the same trolls and elves,” Albert soothed. “This is right here in Capital City and it’s one night. Everything should be over by midnight.”
“Think I heard Cinderella fell for that one, pal. Not gonna happen.”
Which we both knew was a lie. The only good thing about working in the family business is that you can berate your relatives before they send you off to probably get killed because they’re the boss.
In any case, Albert barreled on like an elephant stampede at Ringling Brothers during a mouse infestation crisis.
“You’ve got three days to prepare, and I’ve arranged some help. The phonus balonus team has been working on a couple glamours you can use,” Al assured me.
“A couple? Isn’t that stretching my repertoire to breaking point?” I’m a one tricker where magic is concerned. Glamours are my lone talent, and not glamours for others, just for myself. But I had just one different look in my bag of tricks, and it wasn’t one I particularly liked. In fact, holding the façade of a crippled old crone for long stretches while in troll territory had drained my glamour reserves. Fortunately, the local constabulary had not caught sight of me, or I’d have been picked up in connection with the Hansel and Grethel case. At least the elves took to me in unglamoured form. Mostly because I could pull off the Ziegfeld Follies glam with just a wardrobe change.
“Relax, Gwenie. Both these glamours are human ones so neither is beyond your capabilities. I’ve got your best interests at heart, cousin.”
If we’d been related to Pinocchio, his nose would have grown a foot with that whopper.
I’d have to wait for the phonus balonus crew to lay it all out, but only Albert could tell me why we were meddling in the concerns of these particular non-human immigrants to the New World. Though, considering how filthy and crime ridden New World cities tended to be, I wondered why any of them had ever left the Vienna Woods or various bucolic valleys. Then again, they might have followed us.
Albert’s chair complained again as he leaned forward and pushed a file folder across the desk to me. “You know that this year the Festival of Bridges and the Elven Film Awards occur on the same night, don’t you?”
Rather than pick up the file, I left it where it lay. “Never has before,” I pointed out. “So why didn’t city officials just refuse to issue a license for one of the events?”
“What, and riffle voters’ sensibilities? The troll calendar specifies the night and, as it’s considered a religious holiday, no alderman is going to do anything but accept an invitation to join the revels. The film awards dinner is new considering, until they decided to out Edison Edison, there were no such things as moving pictures with sound much less awards for them. However, elven astronomers picked the date based on where celestial bodies will be in the night sky.”
“They use the location of the angels’ choir practice as a guideline?”
Albert sighed. “Planets. Stars. Not angels.” He sounded weary over the need for clarification, but, hey, at SIN we dealt with all kinds of beings who aren’t human. I’d even heard there was a guy who could call on angels for back up in the SIN protection department.
“So the planets are aligning,” I grumbled. “Won’t they be close enough together the next night, too?”
“Obviously, you know nothing about astronomy.”
I knew not to wish on a star, if that counts. I’d spotted a falling one while overseas and wished myself out of troll territory during the war and got bupkis. Maybe I needed Frank Baum’s heroine’s magic shoes instead. Of course, I might have ended up in Kansas rather than Capital City.
Albert’s comment hadn’t required a reply, so he’d barreled into describing how the elves did their social schedule by what dance those glints in the sky appeared to be performing. I sorta turned him out. Already had the gist of what was required. Infiltrate both the local troll and elven factions, find out what each was planning to do to ruin their enemy’s night out, then stop it from happening.
I thought a troll vulgarity in relation to the assignment, found I’d muttered it aloud and that Albert spoke fluent troll vulgarity. He corrected my pronunciation of a vowel, turning it from a growl into a minor aphylactic fit, then sent me off to phonus balonus with file folder in hand.
~ ~ ~
Phonus balonus wasn’t the department’s official name but described what they did much better. Need a covert identity, be it glamour specifics or a disguise for a non-morphing agent? They saw to it. Wardrobe, identification, background fiction? Done! They could fiddle a SIN team member out of nearly any spot of trouble, the exceptions being a run in with a legendary killing utensil from a blacksmith’s forge, stew pot concoction of a top-level witch, or the quicker expedient of a gunpowder driven lump of lead.
Miss Sweeney, the department head, was primed for my arrival and willing to fold to my demands. At least on one of the folks I was supposed to become.
They’d already named Pepper Saltash and given her a background as a barely feather covered dame ousted from George White’s Follies for not having the sort of voice that made dogs howl in pain. Saltash had an attitude and fashion sense. On my way back from the war, I’d done a stop in Paris and had my long hair cropped to a pert bob, so I already looked very fashion forward.
Sweeney had me turn it from dark brunette to platinum blonde. Taught me how to change the color of my eyes with the right thought, then handed me sketches for a wardrobe that would rival those found at Coco Chanel’s and in the elven realm. All I had to do was think them into existence from what I was wearing when I needed a change. This, without a doubt, was the only part of the assignment that appealed to me. Totally eliminated the need to deplete my bank account for snazzy new frocks.
I became Saltash while staring into a full-length mirror, then dashed out the door to grab a cab, a pad, pencil and press credentials in hand. Gwendolyn Grimm might live at a trolley taking rung of the financial ladder but top reporters for Film Flam magazine did not.
If you’ve never seen a flicker from Saga’jolfar Films, then you might be unaware that they leapt over their rivals by infusing the reels with magic. It made them the only studio capable of cranking out epics with sound. Not just music like you get other places with a local theatre piano banger or organist providing atmosphere. No, you get full elven orchestral backgrounds and talking actors and actresses. There’s a good reason that Saga’jolfar has cornered the market and created the awards event. They are the top studio with smaller firefly concerns buzzing about hoping to get noticed. Paramount, Fox Films, Keystone, Sennett and Roach need not apply. They’re still forcing audiences to read captions.
Honestly, I’d never seen a Saga’jolfar flicker but that was because they rose in the movie ranks while I was off selling those Happy Bombs in Europe. So I knew bluffing my way through the interview I’d be doing with the beautiful Alaglossa Blademayd and her Adonis co-star Nevarth Weald’lor would be the biggest challenge.
I’d barely hopped out of the cab before a tall, blond and gorgeous elf had a hand extended to greet me. “Miss Saltash? Welcome to Saga’jolfar Films,” he said in a voice that felt like a Swedish massage. You know the kind. Makes you want to purr. However, we weren’t actually at the film studio. They were holded up at the majestic Snoozing Beauty Hotel where the award ceremony would take place. “Alaglossa and Weald’lor are looking forward to meeting you.”
I figured he was a bootlicker, but as I was posing as one myself, I twinkled at him. “I’m quite honored that they agreed to the interview,” I gushed. “I didn’t catch your name though.”
Rule of thumb at SIN – know your enemy and the only folks who didn’t qualify as one of those at the Snoozing Beauty were probably the overworked and underpaid hotel staff.
He clicked his heels together. Leaned broad shoulders my way. “Finstan Alefrend, but please call me Fin.” The info in the folder I’d been given had noted him as head of PR and part owner of the studio. Only a partial bootlicker then.
A hand to my arm, he led me inside and to an elaborate open scrollwork elevator cage for the trip up five floors. The carpet we stepped out on was thick, hushing our steps. “Do you have a favorite among our films?” he asked.
“Gosh, that’s a tough question to answer. Movies with sound! So innovative. So modern! So magical!” I babbled.
“Then what is your favorite from the silents the other studios produce?”
I didn’t think he’d care to hear I liked the slapstick ones from Mack Sennett or Hal Roach. The elves productions were all so serious. Tolstoy would like their themes.
“I have to admit, before the war I used to go to the movies just to gaze at Henry B. Walthall and J. Warren Kerrigan. But does anyone really want to watch a silent film when they could listen to an epic from your studio?”
Alefrend gave me a warm but predatory smile. “That’s exactly the attitude we like to hear, Miss Saltash.” Then he stepped up to one of the closed doors, knocked briefly and opened it without waiting for an answer. When he gestured that I should proceed him into the room, I sashayed past close enough to let him get a good whiff of my perfume. It’s specially blended to ensnare male elves. So much easier to take them down with a well-directed dancer’s kick if they are under a mild spell.
The set up inside supplied a lounge with plump sofas and delicately orchestrated side chairs. Two elves were holding down the sofa to the right. The buff git with a Colgate toothpaste smile got to his feet immediately. Everything about him shouted leading man so I wasn’t surprised when the PR elf introduced him as Nevarth Weald’lor. But my eyes went past him to the female. Her hair was long and streaming over her shoulders, and as pale as my glamoured bob. She was a colorized Rackham depiction of a fairy queen, every line of figure and frock like the swirl of a Spencerian capital.
I bolted past Weald’lor and nearly fell on her. “Alaglossa Blademayd,” I breathed as though in ecstasy. “Oh, Miss Blademayd, it is such an honor to meet you!”
Considering I’d never heard of her prior to the day before, quite a performance, wasn’t it?
She smiled shyly. Not the usual elfan response. As a rule, they are an arrogant batch. “So pleased to meet you, Miss Saltash. I understand you used to be on the stage yourself,” she whispered.
“Briefly,” I allowed. “I’m much more suited to life out of the spotlight where I can admire true talent like yours.”
I was full of it, wasn’t I? They should give awards for covert acting.
“I know your time is precious,” I told the elvan actors, “so let’s get right to the interview, hmm?”
If they thought me pushy, they would probably put it down to being a journalist, though it was my usual dial setting.
They talked. I scribbled and clung to each word dropped. As far as I was concerned, Weald’lor was just typical elf. Full of himself and treating Alaglossa like she was a second-rate player.
I thought we were about to wrap things up and was wondering what sort of excuse I could come up with to be back for awards night when the leading man took Alaglossa’s hand in his and smiled warmly at her. Fake as a fifty-cent gilder. He might have the looks but was a real putz as an actor.
“I know we were going to wait, dearest,” he murmured at her, “but I think we should give Miss Saltash an exclusive.”
“An exclusive!” I coughed in surprise.
“Yes, indeed,” Mr. PR Alefrend agreed.
Weald’lor gazed at Alaglossa. “My beautiful co-star and I are going to become man and wife at the close of the Awards.”
Yeah, that was an exclusive – if I actually worked for a rag of any sort – but it didn’t strike me as a happy event even if the two Joes shined it that way. The bride-to-be went a few shades paler – which was really saying something.
I had my opening though. “I hope that you will allow me and a Flam photographer to be present to record the happy occasion that night. It would so thrill our readers and no doubt have them mobbing their local Saga’jolfar theatre to see your next feature.” Felt I’d padded the request sufficiently to win approval, and approval I was given. Alefrend went off to get me official passes to the proceedings. Weald’lor excused himself, claiming a prior commitment. But when I tried to make my own getaway, Alaglossa grabbed my hand.
“Help me,” she whispered.
While I had no doubt of her acting talents, her plead didn’t sound false, despite the drama of those two words.
I leaned forward. She mimicked my stance so that our faces were bare inches apart. “What sort of help?” I asked quietly.
She glanced wildly toward the door. “I can’t tell you here. They might overhear,” she said then hastily laid out a plan to change the topic of conversation to fashion before Alefrend returned. She suggested inviting me to jaunt off to look over the local frock offerings with her. Which is exactly what she told Alefrend we were doing when he returned. With press passes in hand, Alaglossa and I scuttled off.
And once we were far from the Snoozing Beauty Hotel and the elf convention gathered there, she told me she was in love with a troll.
~ ~ ~
“Who in their right mind falls in love with a troll?” I demanded of Albert when I got back to SIN headquarters.
“Which she is not. She is 360 degrees from being a troll.”
“I believe you mean 180 degrees. 360 brings us back to being a troll.” As it sounded like he was about to launch into a mathematics lecture, I glared at him.
“Did she give you a name?” he asked.
“She did. Grevil Gridspawn. Sounds like a real charmer.”
“He’s the eldest son of Hornslag Gridspawn, owner of Goodspan Construction.”
“’Nuthin’ else,” Albert said. “I think this assignment got more complicated and yet easier to bring to a conclusion than it was before.”
“In what way?”
I wasn’t surprised when he put off answering by tossing a question at me. “Have you begun working on the second of your new glamour identities?”
Actually, I hadn’t even asked about it. “One at a time, Al. The Saltash one didn’t require as much work as the crone I posed as before. Sweeney said the second one would be similar to my old look and yet in no way like it, so I’m not exactly keen on what it will entail.”
“I have every confidence that you can pull it off, Gwen.”
“She’s going to make me a troll, isn’t she?”
“Absolutely not. It never entered our minds to do so.”
Mentally I pictured his nose stretching another dozen inches.
“But there’s no time to waste. You’re in good with Alaglossa, so go master the second glamour and do the same with her troll honey.”
“To what end? With his family’s connections, you think he’ll be one of the ring leaders of whatever the trolls have planned to disrupt the elves shindig?”
“No,” Albert said. “I want you to help the lovers elope.”
~ ~ ~
It took me a solid twenty-four hours to master the second disguise. Mostly because it turned me into a man. Not what I wanted to be.
Dolin – no one had felt he needed a further name – was taller than I was, had broader shoulders, a deeper voice, and carried a rosco. His hair was shorter than my bob and a bit lighter shade of brown. The only thing I failed to concoct with the glamour was chin hair. Sweeney slapped a fake moustache above my upper lip. I didn’t look as dapper as John Gilbert with it, but we appeared to have similar tastes in soup strainers.
When I hit troll territory, I had a different story to trot out, too.
“Where ya think yer goin’?” a troll henchman snarled. He used a Maouser M1915 Flieger-Karabiner left over from the late war as a toll gate to stop me.
“Lookin’ fer Grevil Gridspawn. Ya seen him around?” I growled, turning the question into a demand. It’s what you do with trolls if you don’t want them to have you for dinner. And I ain’t talkin’ invite to supper. I’m talkin’ entrée. While posing as a hag in their territory, I’d had to trot out a fib about being a vegetarian to avoid inadvertently staring at stew of human on my plate a few times.
“Whadda ya want him fer?” the goon spat back.
“That’s fer him ta learn but I warrant he’ll wantta see me,” I said.
“Ya got a warrant? What fer? We’re law abiding here. We jest build bridges.”
I stared at the Mauser. “With extremely unlikely tools,” I noted. “Ya might consider shovels, pickaxes, cement, and trowels. I’ve heard they’ve worked well for other construction companies.”
He showed me some nasty dentures. “Oh, funny guy, huh?”
“Fresh from a tour of the nowhere lands with the Orpheum circuit,” I countered. “Jest tell Grevil that it has somethin’ ta do with the upcomin’ festivities, would ya? If he wants ta know more specifics, jest say it concerns certain elves.”
That got his attention, though I doubted he and Grevil would read the same thing into the message.
“Stay here,” he snapped.
“Glued ta the spot,” I said and took a pack of Lucky Strikes from the inside pocket of my suit jacket, foraged for matches in a trouser pocket and soon looked like a guy with all the time in the world. While waiting I practiced tricks with smoke rings but linking them like Houdini or one of his ilk might was beyond me. Still, the effort made me look harmless despite my get up and perceived attitude. Did worry a bit that I might set the fake caterpillar beneath my nose on fire though.
When Grevil Gridspawn returned with the company minion, I almost saw what Alaglossa saw in him. Even with my glamour increased height, he towered a foot taller, and his shoulders would make entering troll hovels in the Old World only possible if they greased the doorways and he moved in sideways. He wasn’t quite as ugly as most trolls, but he was no fairytale prince either. I wasn’t sure if we were reenacting Beauty and Beast or Alaglossa just liked males with masses of muscles to flex. Grevil had ‘em in spades.
“Yeah?” he snapped. As an opening line, it lacked Shakespeare’s touch. Well, Georgie Cohen might have considered it.
I dropped my cigarette, ground it out with my plodder, and stuck out my hand. “Name’s Dolin. I was told ta look ya up, Gridspawn. Understand ya have somethin’ out of the ordinary planned for Bridge night that involves the elf event.”
Gridspawn gave me a scowl. Trolls excel at them. Probably has something to do with the configuration of their brows. The lackey looked excited, which meant the scowl turned his way and a growled order in trollese was given. Said lackey looked disappointed – in a “I need something to kick. Anybody see a handy cat?” way, but he toddled off leaving Grevil and me facing off.
“Walk with me,” the troll Romeo ordered. “We don’t want to be overheard.”
“No, we don’t,” I agreed and fell into step. Well, quick step for me as his stride was longer.
We did a hundred yards in complete silence before he asked, “Who sent you?”
“In a round about way, Alaglossa Blademayd. She confided in my sugar.” Which, while it implied I had a girlfriend, was actually the truth. Alaglossa wasn’t big on looking at the person she was talking to. When she confessed her love for an elf’s natural enemy, it looked more like she was talking to a sugar bowl on a table at Maxim’s. “Were you aware the studio was pushing her into a marriage with Weald’lor after the awards?”
His growl left me in no doubt. He hadn’t heard.
He said something in troll, but I only recognized the vulgar words, in particular the one on which Albert had corrected my pronunciation.
“You’re the go-between then?”
“Naw,” I said. “I’m the problem solver. For a far from modest price, I can whisk both of ya away ta somewhere neither yer tribe nor her canasta group will find ya.”
“There’s no such place,” he grumbled. “If there was—”
“There is,” I assured. “It’s a pocket dimension. Ya heard of those, right?”
“Heard they were dangerous,” he said.
“Only if ya aren’t prepared fer them. The door only swings one way though. Once yer in, there’s no comin’ back. It would suit though. No other trolls or elves there. Just some folks called the Castapopic Efenglades. They’re close enough ta all our species and willing ta make friends with outsiders. Diversity is their middle name.” Though with a tag like Castapopic Efenglades, it’s a good thing they don’t add it on their business cards. If they had business cards.
“How would we survive there? What would we do for a living?” he asked. Seems I’d already hooked him on the idea.
“Plenty of rivers, streams, brooks, and because-ways requirin’ somethin’ ta make getting’ from one side ta the other possible. And they have movin’ pictures, too.”
“Talkies.” I didn’t add that they were in vivid color and weren’t shown on stretched screens in a theatre but implanted straight into interested parties’ brains. Hey, you go to an alien place, you’re gonna run into alien ways. “Plus, I heard they were lookin’ fer ethereal leadin’ ladies. Ya know any more ethereal than Alaglossa?”
“I doubt even angels could match her loveliness of face, form, voice or disposition,” the dip sighed.
Brother! Talk about lovesick!
“Exactly how much will your services run and what will they cover?” he asked, reverting to businessman briefly.
Seems he’d palavered with low lifes like Dolin before. So, I spelled it out: permits, new identification packets, a change of clothes suitable to the new surroundings, real estate listings, local currency, my fee, and then I pulled the grenades from nowhere. Well, it was somewhere. They’d just been glamoured in one of Miss Sweeney’s special cloaking satchels.
“What are these?” he demanded. “I don’t want any of my people to get hurt.”
“’Course not,” I said. “That would ruin the whole escape ta love and happiness thing. These are non-destructive distractions. They will simply give yer clan somethin’ ta concentrate on rather than where they’ve misplaced ya.”
Grevil accepted the explanation and, sure that he would soon be joined in conjugal bliss with the female of his choice, he scrawled me a check for a ridiculously large amount. We shook hands and went our separate ways. My way was to an alley near the Snoozing Beauty where Dolin vanished, and Pepper Saltash rejoined the fight.
~ ~ ~
There was a lean charmer waiting for me outside the Snoozing Beauty. Albert had told me to expect him. A fella answering to Kip Holland. He worked in the protection division though I wasn’t sure whether he was there to keep Saltash in one piece or ensure the match made in a doped up shaman’s idea of heaven came off without either participant getting killed by their own kind, or the other guys either. As Holland had a camera affixed to a tripod leaning against a nicely broad shoulder, I knew what his cover was immediately.
“Miss Grimm?” he asked when I was looking like a dame again.
“Saltash at the moment,” I corrected. “Let’s go inside and see if Alaglossa is available for some publicity shots. If you can put some space between her and Weald’lor, I can tell her the details for tomorrow.”
Holland flashed me a smile that could earn him a spot in movieland. Bet he had an inner swashbuckler eager to jump into the fray, though hopefully fray was not a word to use this early in the game.
Alefrend was the first elf to greet us, and he did so in the hotel’s lobby. “Thank you for working within our tight schedule, Miss Saltash,” he said.
“Let me introduce my cameraman,” I countered and handed over Holland’s name.
In his turn, Holland gestured to another man loaded down with equipment in various satchels. I didn’t catch the name when it was tossed because I was too stunned at my first sight of an actual celestial being. If it was acting as Holland’s backup, Holland was obviously the new employee I’d heard whispers about. None of those whispers had included that he was a heart throb himself though. Holland, not the angel. It looked a bit bored and uncomfortable. Well, I probably would too if I had to cloak a pair of floor dusting wings.
“Shall we get started?” Alefrend asked and gestured toward the dinky elevator again.
Holland asked what floor and what room number and said he and his associate would take the stairs rather than crowd us. I think the angel looked most relieved when the PR elf supplied the destination. Then the doors closed, and the operator swept us toward the roof.
It was more than just a roof though. They’d installed a glass covered conservatory. One with angles that made it hexagonal, which meant it was plunked down in the center rather than snugged in a corner. Fortunately, the Snoozing Beauty was a taller skyscraper than her sisters in the neighborhood, so the only thing blocking the sun from gracing the conservatory foliage was the cloud cover.
I glanced at the clouds rather than the arbor inside where Alaglossa and Weald’lor waited for us. Wondered whether the weather would play havoc with what we had planned for the following night. The night of the Bridge Festival and the Film Awards.
“Will these cause lighting problems for you,” I asked Holland and gestured toward the sky.
“We brought studio lights,” he said and sent the angel off to collect them.
The film stars strolled out to greet us. The men shook hands. Alaglossa inclined her head in greeting. A slight breeze teased her hair so that it floated around her shoulders.
“Oh, dear,” I said. “Perhaps we should nip inside rather than have you look windblown, Miss Blademayd.”
“Of course,” she murmured and turned to go.
But when Weald’lor took a step to follow her, my cameraman cohort stopped him. “Actually, I think having Mr. Weald’lor’s hair ruffled by the wind would suit his stature as the dashing hero,” Holland said. “Let’s have the ladies go inside while we wait for the lights. We can then use the time to get a few pictures of you alone, sir.”
The elvan actor smiled his approval. “Where would you like me to stand?”
Holland indicated a spot as far from the conservatory’s entrance as it was possible to get without falling off the building.
I could have kissed him. What a wonderful partner Albert had supplied! I would have to ask that he be attached to my cases frequently in the future. There was no time to waste though. I hustled Alaglossa inside and hastily whispered what Grevil had arranged with Dolin. Gave her the timetable that Albert had worked out. I would be passing it along to her troll sweetheart later that night, seeming to brush shoulders at a local troll tavern. Although I’d known it when meeting him earlier, it would have appeared fishy to have a plan before I had his check.
One Albert would be confiscating, unfortunately. Well, that was the family business for you. Put your life on the line, supply more thrills and chills than you wanted to handle, and as a result get you addicted to the thrill of the chase. Yeah, there was no other life for me, even if I wanted to leave SIN.
Alaglossa was all smiles when Holland began snapping her picture. Within half an hour he announced we’d run the Film Flam gauntlet and would return the following evening to cover the Awards themselves. “And take a few wedding pictures,” he added as though in an aside to Aelfrend and Weald’lor. They did a bit of male bonding – or so it looked to me – and we left. The angel and the extra equipment had already vanished.
~ ~ ~
The task load was a hefty one the next day. I bounced from being Dolin to Saltash and back. The only person I had no time to be was Gwen Grimm! But it was all coming together. The distractor grenades I’d given Grevil were to be tossed during the sacred Bridge Festival parade. They’d blow trolls in attendance off their feet and rile them up. Then a team of bully boys wearing mock elf ears would smash the barrels of mead and upend the tables of troll delicacies on display. A flock of pixies would swarm the Bridge Queen and her court when they were in the center of the span. We hoped a few of them jumped into the river to escape the pests. The pixies were doing their job for half price, eager to irritate the trolls and escape capture. Grevil had assured Dolin there would be no pixie nets in sight.
All of this would take place as the film awards ceremony reached the midway part. Awards for lighting, costuming and script would be in motion. By the time the trolls reached the Snoozing Beauty’s ballroom where tables of elf world celebrities had gathered, they’d be up to the final awards for the night: the Best Leading Man and Best Leading Lady.
There might be a few bruises acquired as elf met troll, but we needed them all in one place. Then we’d be setting off a Happy Bomb. The evening would end with the enemies toasting each other with elf wine and anything else the hotel staff could find in a bottle. Grevil would be waiting not far away in a taxi, and I’d be really pushing myself by being Saltash to lead Alaglossa out of the building then seconds later delivering her to the cab as Dolin. I planned to demand a week off to recover once it was all over.
My cousin Percy was on troll watch duty. Holland had stationed angels in the night sky to watch for the signal flare he’d send up when the trolls were on their way.
I flitted anxiously from the ballroom to the lobby. Holland was busy playing Film Flam photographer. Another agent slipped in to tell me Grevil was in place. The taxi’s motor was running as was the meter. It was all moving along nicely, but I tossed a last glance as the night sky before returning to the ballroom. There wasn’t a star or planet in sight. Thick cloud cover had taken over. As I watched, a flicker of lightning flashed within the mass. We were going to have very wet trolls arriving.
But before I could slip back in the awards room, an elf ran through the hotel’s entrance doors. He wasn’t dressed to be part of the party that night but decked out to blend into the shadows. He was wild eyed and puffing from what had obviously been a long and frantic run. He brushed past me, nearly knocking me off my feet as he ducked inside and yelled, “The trolls are coming!”
Instant pandemonium. Chairs were knocked over as elves jumped to their feet. The only folks in the room toting weapons were the security people and, being elves, they were armed with swords that combined delicate with nasty. The rest of the crowd began grabbing anything that could serve as a weapon, which meant empty bottles of elven bubbly were hastily smashed, table knives were acquired and a few of the females turned elaborate hair combs into nasty troll stickers.
Rather than stay trapped in the ballroom, they surged out the door, prepared to do combat with the trolls when they arrived.
Holland’s camera equipment was trampled in nothing flat. He surfaced at my elbow. “You need to get out,” he said.
“True,” I agreed, “but not without Alaglossa.”
Fortunately, most of the tide of elves had passed. I easily dodged the few left, making it to where Alaglossa was struggling with Weald’lor. Whether he was attempting to carry her to safety or had gotten wind of her pending flight, she had no intention of going anywhere with him. But she was unarmed and frantic.
I dashed up. “I’ll make sure she’s safe,” I told him. “Best you make headlines as a battle-hardened leading man outside.”
He bought the idea. Grabbed her close to kiss the top of her head – because she had her head bent as usual – then ran after the crowd, powered up with nothing more than ego to fight the trolls. Yep, absolute dunce.
“Time to leave,” I told her.
“But my things—” she protested.
“Will have to be left behind. You’ll get new ones at the refuge.”
Still she vacillated. Finally, I said the only thing likely to get her out the door. “Grevil is waiting. If you delay too long, he’ll get swept up in the fight. Be spotted by the trolls and who knows what they’ll do to him, but I doubt it will be something nice.”
She nearly pulled me out the door. I ditched the idea of resurrecting Dolin and kept the Saltash form. Delivered her to the waiting taxi and passed Grevil the password, then gave the taxi driver the address where they were bound. Percy would be meeting them there to open the portal and push them inside.
Yes, push them inside. Oh, they were bound for the world of the Castapopic Efenglades, but it was a water world with few islands. They did import movies into the citizens heads because there was no place to show them otherwise. They didn’t use screenplays either, just followed wildlife around, recording the daily life of sea creatures. Land was at a premium and there was no need for any bridge building. Nothing was close enough to link by bridge.
When Albert set out to get rid of troublemakers – which an eloping couple representing two different genuses were in his eyes – he could be downright vicious.
The lovers were on their way to a new hell – which is what they would view the pocket dimension as. We SIN agents now had rampaging trolls and elves to wrangle.
Still if we could get them all within a small area, say the street before the hotel, the Happy Bomb could be set off and their built-up animosity would vanish. We only had the one bomb because the plan had been to set it off inside the ballroom. Which was no longer possible.
Then the skies released their payload and the still hatching backup plan washed away.
I ran to Holland and grabbed his arm so sharply, the right hook he’d been aiming at a belligerent elf lost its momentum and swung him to face me. His elfan target fell forward onto his face when a chair splintered against his back.
“You have anything we can use magic-wise? I’m just a face changer and that’s useless here.”
“Just my fists,” he returned.
“Won’t get involved unless you, the hotel’s human staff, or I get in trouble.”
I said the nasty troll word, getting the pronunciation right this time. Holland grinned at me, obviously amused.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” I said. “But you need to talk the angels around. Possible?”
“No promises,” he warned.
I headed to the front desk. The concierge was hiding behind it, arms over his head. “Is there a wine cellar here?” I demanded. “Does it have casks rather than bottles?”
It did, he said, and gave me directions on how to find it. Holland followed me as I ran to the service elevator near the kitchens. I explained what I needed en route. He checked in mentally with his angelic battalion. Okay, there weren’t that many, but I was distracted, okay?
We’d barely reached the cellar when the angels manifested around us. “Everyone grab a barrel,” I ordered. “At my signal, we’re going to pour it down on the rowdy bunch outside. Make sure you coat as many as possible, trolls and elves, male and female. Leave no combatant untouched.”
The holy cohort nodded and vanished, as did the barrels in their hands.
“What now?” Holland asked.
“How sturdy are those tripod legs for your camera?”
He chuckled. “Sturdy enough to knock folks down or trip them.”
“Then let’s go to work,” I said.
~ ~ ~
“Interesting solution,” Albert allowed though he didn’t sound complimentary about it. Probably because the hotel had billed us for all the spirits rained on the battling troll and elf factions. But enough of them had recognized what it was raining and tilted their heads back and opened wide. Those who weren’t previously knocked unconscious were soon well soused.
“You work with what the gods supply,” I said.
“In this case Dionysus?”
I shrugged. “I need time off. Those quick switches between the two glamours wore me out. You don’t want me worn out for the next case, do you?”
“No, Gwenie, I don’t. Take a week. Get away. In fact…”
I didn’t like the way he paused, but as he opened his center desk drawer and took an envelope out, I waited. On tenterhooks rather than patiently, though.
“Two train tickets to Glitter Shore Resort. I was intending to go myself, but you deserve them more. Take Holland with you.”
“Take Holland with me,” I repeated.
“I’ll see you both when you get back,” Albert said.
But I knew him better than that. He was sending us to the Glitter Shore Resort because there was trouble brewing. I just hoped it wasn’t a kraken.
The Follies of 1919 © 2020 Beth Daniels / Nied Darnell
Cover graphics Dreamstime
Cover design Beth Daniels
The Follies of 1919 is a work of fantasy fiction. No people, places or events have originated anywhere but in the author’s imagination. They are not in any way based on real people, places or events, nor is any of it strictly historically accurate as to setting, though slang and elements from the Roarin’ Twenties are represented, if a bit twisted. All rights reserved by the author.