Chapter 1: The Meeting
It was a night like any other—unless, of course, you count the fact that I was on my way to a meeting with a talking clock and his candlestick partner. This jurisdiction has really been throwing my sanity for a loop lately. I used to work cases on missing children, escaped killers, thieves, and bank robbers. And now, ever since I accidently discharged my weapon during a deadly game of hot potato, pistol-style with the chief, I’d been investigating cases like the mute redhead’s stolen voice box, the odd sleep patterns of a teenage princess, and the death of seven midget miners’ housemaid. Honestly, that last one wigged me out—all through the case, some crazy mug in a glittery outfit kept riding in on a horse to try and score a smooch with the corpse.
Anyway, I was hoping this was going to be my last case in this goofy place, and that the lobotomy I’d inadvertently given the chief would prove to have eliminated enough brain cells to get me back on his good side—I’d slipped the doc an extra twenty to poke around a little in his short-term memory, just to be on the safe side.
They’d called me in a panic. One said he was so scared he was melting, and the other just kept chiming in—chime, chime, chime. We’d agreed to meet at a local pub, not far from the enchanted castle where they’d claimed to be living. As much as I hate to admit it, I kind of liked the poor, provincial town in which we met. The people there seemed pretty laid-back and lively. There was even a theater group doing a song and dance routine about some local celebrity, at the other end of the pub.
We sat in a lonely, corner booth, where snooping ears were scarce and the light was about as low as my high school girlfriend’s IQ. I usually don’t do names, but these scrubs insisted. From under their hoods, I heard one mutter the tag Cogsworth; and then the other whispered Lumière just as his cloak burst into flame. They said they’d reached out to me because they’d heard I was the best. They’d heard right. But I wonder from whom they’d heard. I’ll bet it was Andy. Loudmouth daisy.
The lackeys sitting before me both apologized for not inviting me to be their guest at the castle—said it was far too dangerous there for anyone to be snooping around. I opened my mouth to ask why; but apparently these enchanted minions knew how to read minds. They proceeded to offer me the answer to my unasked question. Mind readers. I know their kind. We call ‘em wives back home. Honestly, how they know you blew off date night to see the ballgame just by lookin’ at the mustard stain on your lapel and the Cracker Jack box in your pocket is beyond me.
“What’s the trouble, boys?” I asked, beating my deck of Luckies against my palm and pulling out a coffin nail. The candlestick was good enough to offer me a light.
For a few moments, the air between us was as silent as a stool-pigeon in concrete shoes.
“Tell him,” hissed the clock, nudging the candlestick. His speech was refined, proper, like a man who walks around with an inflated chest and a skyward chin.
“All right, all right!” barked the candlestick in a thick, French accent. “You needn’t get all wound up!”
“I, sir, am perfectly calm!” he snapped back! “You’re the one getting all hot-headed!”
I’d had enough of the puns.
“Hey!” I shouted. “You cats wanna settle old scores, do it on your own time, all right?”
“Forgive me, monsieur,” begged the candlestick, composing himself.
“Yes,” followed the clock. “He and I are just a bit on edge, as of late. You see, the business we wish to discuss with you regards an evil long unchecked, a monster most sinister. Our silence has kept us alive all these years—just being here threatens to land us in hot water.”
I sensed another pun.
“Enough fancy talk, mister,” I said, blowing smoke across the table. “I’m not too sure this is my kinda dance. Sounds like you boys are more in the market for a dropper.”
The clock reached into his cloak. Wap! Twenty large, neatly bound together, fell onto the table.
I took a moment to thumb through the stack, reacquainting with my old pal Benjamin. He and I hadn’t been seeing too much of each other lately, not since I’d added my girl’s name to the checking account.
“I’m listening,” I said, sniffing the greenbacks.
July 3, 2015
C. K. Conners
©2015 by C. K. Conners