The Agency: Bert's Bowl and Raven's Song
Thomas glanced over his shoulder at the new bartender, who rearranged the glass liquor bottles.
"I'd put those in classic bartending order," Thomas said.
Bert didn't turn around. "Yeah, and I'm putting them in Royal Bar order."
Thomas shook his head, then jumped when he saw that the plastic takeout container that had formerly housed the catfish was whole again.
"What the…?" he said and leaned over it. It was filled with murky water, and Thomas couldn't see the bottom.
"Don't touch it." Bert still hadn't turned. "That's personal property."
"It's unsanitary to have on the bar, and I didn't think fish could have personal property."
"Yeah, well don't mess with it."
Thomas mopped up around it. "Fine! I don't care what you do with it, but it's got to move! What if the health inspector comes?"
With a sigh, the big fish-man grabbed it and placed it under the counter. Thomas would have commented further, but Mr. Raven appeared from his office. He'd obviously been thinking hard – his hair stood up in spikes where he'd run his hands through it.
"Are you okay, Boss?" asked Thomas.
"I've been trying to solve our dragon problem. They're not going to give up. Now that we've foiled the direct approach, we can count on harassment." He shook his head. "They'll have us closed in a week, I'm sure of it."
"Can't we approach the Organized Crime Division?" asked Thomas. "When I was at the staffing agency, I'd call when I thought something was fishy about a new client. No offense, Bert."
Bert rolled his large, black eyes.
"That's a great idea, Thomas, but that's what they'll expect us to do. I had something different in mind." Raven smiled, but it looked painful. "I'm going to visit Elmadora."
"Who?" asked Thomas.
"Former head of the OCD." Bert frowned. "She's her own law now. Are you sure that's wise?"
Raven spread his hands, and Thomas could see he'd been chewing on his black-painted fingernails. "What choice do I have? There hasn't been a crime yet, and harassment will be difficult to prove."
Lady Elmadora's landscape design and architecture best fit in the "Leave Me Alone" school. Her dark stone mansion could've been photographed and placed beside the word "ominous" in the Gothic dictionary Raven had at the Edgar Allen Poe Academy for Mopey Boys. The long gravel drive, the color of bleached bones and edged with stones that looked like they had come from a grab-bag of gravestones, said anything but, "Welcome." He encouraged his black stallion onward and handed him off to a black-liveried groom at the front door. Elmadora's butler answered his ring.
"Orenimous Raven here to see Madame Elmadora," he said.
"The Lady is asleep, sir, but she mentioned your visit. She said you may wake her with a song."
Raven sighed. "I thought having an appointment meant I wouldn't have to sing the song."
"The Lady was most insistent."
"Fine." He took a deep breath and sang in a rich baritone:
Elmadora, my innamorata,
My love for you is like mad for a hatter!
Like the color black for a case of gangrene,
The dark of the stones beneath a deadly rushing stream!
Elmadora, you make my heart swell
Like the stomach of a man who's not feeling so well
He saw a dark shadow appear at the top of the grand staircase and put his heart into the final line:
Elmadora, won't you hear my plea?
Give me your treats, and I'll have no trick for thee!
"Bravo, Orenimous!" Elbow-length satin gloves muffled her claps, but she applauded as she came down the stairs, her long, layered skirts trailing behind her.
Raven caught his breath and forgot resent at her use of his given, rather than preferred, name. Her face, magically frozen at twenty-five when she'd been at the height of her looks but only the beginning of her career, held little expression except her violet eyes. Her long ash blond hair had been piled on top of her head, and the corset beneath her black satin gown accentuated her tiny waist.
She held out her hand out, and he helped her down the last few stairs.
"You look gorgeous, as always, my dear." He crooked an elbow, and she took it.
She looked up and sideways at him from beneath her lashes. "You're a flatterer, Orenimous. But for a song, I am willing to listen."
Even her voice had been preserved, one of the benefits of retirement from the OCD. In truth, she was older than he, and he didn't mind her gentle pressure that brought them to the lounge and the large ruby-colored chaise in front of the fireplace.
"Put your arm around me, Orenimous," she said. "These preservation spells hinder circulation, and I find myself to be perpetually chilly."
"Yes, Milady." In truth, he was glad to comply, for she was shorter than he, and it gave him the perfect view of her breasts, which her corset plumped like two white doves snuggled in ebony satin.
"So tell me," she said, "what is it you need?"
The front of his trousers was telling him what he needed, and he hoped she didn’t notice. For a moment, he forgot what he had come for. He tore his gaze away from her and looked at the fire.
"I've opened a pub…"
He filled her in on the lizard's visit.
"The dragons don't give up easily," she said. "I am willing to help you in exchange for one thing."
"What?" he asked.
"I want you to bring Bert the Catfish to me. I need to speak with him, but he has refused my invitation."
"Is that all?" he asked. "Bert and I are friends, so that should be easy."
"Well, maybe not all." She turned pulled his face to hers so only a breath separated their lips. "I would like for you to warm me up."
Onesimus Raven was most happy to comply.
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