This story was written for Trifecta’s weekly prompt, which was to use the word “club” in a sentence, particularly the meaning that refers to a nightclub. I rather enjoyed this one. I’ve never written a murder mystery before.
Niles stumped into the smoky interior of Goldie’s and slid into his usual booth. The mole liked her place, particularly the dim lighting. Some places were so garish with neon that they made his poor eyes hurt for a week afterwards.
The club didn’t seem too busy that evening, and its patrons mostly huddled over their drinks, so no one noticed as a second figure came inside and sat opposite Niles. Beneath the trenchcoat and rumpled hat, Niles saw only a hint of piercing red eyes. “So?” a low voice growled, punctuated by a baleful grunt.
“Homicide,” Niles said. “Last week. Vic’s female, early twenties. M.E. says it’s poison apple, the usual. Suspect’s elderly female, black cloak.”
“Why come to me?”
“Because,” Niles whispered, “Something’s screwy. The girl didn’t have ID. I sent over her prints to the lab, but they won’t get back to me. They keep saying the prints will come. Eventually.”
“Well, I’ve got a few contacts in the underground, informants, you know. Last night one of ‘em called me. Said if I wanted to know who my vic was, I should look at the dearly departed. So I went down to the morgue, ran some records.” Niles slid a photo across the table. “That’s Snow.”
“Dead? That woods accident a couple years ago? Yeah. Exactly. So tell me how she turns up dead again. And tell me why my superiors are saying I should let this one go. They’re good people, usually. They’ve never pulled this crap on me. Not till now. Like I said, something’s screwy.”
“I’ll check it out.” The figure rose to leave.
“You know, ” Niles said tiredly, “you don’t have to keep this up. Everyone says the chimney thing was self-defense. You could turn yourself in, get your name cleared, everything’s over.”
The glare beneath the dingy hat made even Niles quail. “My brothers are dead. It’s never over.” And with that, the Third Little Pig disappeared quietly into the dark.
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had been confronted by officers of the Dolphin Expeditionary Reality Preservationists (“Ermahgerd! Derphins!”), who were trying to prevent her from restoring the world after she had inadvertently destroyed it by triggering the Norse apocalypse Ragnarok. Meanwhile, in Shmirmingard Castle several centuries back….
Perry paced back and forth along the top of the castle wall. The army outside was still holding their position, just as they had been the day before. And the day before that, and the day before that. Perry had read books about dramatic sieges of castles; oddly, none of the books had mentioned how boring the sieges actually were. The fighter planes weren’t even buzzing the castle anymore. Not one trebuchet had been fired since the first day. Mostly the various trolls, frost giants, knights, and other foul beasties milled about at a fair distance from the walls, and did nothing. Even Utgarda-Loki, their leader, didn’t seem inclined to action. He mostly seemed inclined to nap. Perry hadn’t thought naps were a part of traditional siegecraft.
He supposed he should do something about them. He was, after all, married to Princess Catrina, which made him…well, it made him something. Perry had been slightly dismayed to learn that, under the various succession laws and title statutes of Catrina’s realm, marrying a princess did not automatically make one a prince. It seemed he couldn’t be a prince until Catrina actually became queen in her own right, and since Catrina’s parents were quite healthy and showed no signs of sudden death, that probably wasn’t going to happen for a long while. Catrina had employed some legal advisers to see what title might be granted to Perry in the meantime, but nothing had come of that yet. At any rate, whatever his technical position was, the castle’s people were looking to him to provide some leadership. (Catrina’s parents were on vacation, but their cruise galleon had broken down near the Crispy Islands, so named because of a rather nasty infestation of dragons. Very unfortunate).
The problem, Perry mused on the wall top, was that he was only a sidekick. Catrina had all the adventures; he just popped in occasionally to lend advice. But Catrina had gone off on her own, as she often did, and here he was by himself. He didn’t have sword-fighting skills, or magical powers, or anything, of his own. All he’d ever been was an assistant to the castle’s librarian. They’d once had a pair of magical socks that a genie possessed, but of course Catrina had freed the genie, and the socks were pretty well useless now, except as socks. But that thought sent another thought scurrying in Perry’s mind. “I say,” he said to his cousin Percy, the elderly main librarian of the castle, , “do we have any other magical objects lying about that might be of some help?”
“Er, well…there are the trousers of Merlin….”
Perry had just taken a drink from some cocoa; he promptly spluttered and nearly choked. “The trousers of Merlin?”
“Why not?” The librarian answered, shrugging creakily. “There’s stories of sorcerers who possessed magical hats. If hats are magical, it stands to reason that trousers might be magical too.”
Perry’s first instinct was to study the trousers of Merlin very carefully, do thorough research as to their provenance and magical abilities, make sure they really were the trousers of Merlin and not, say, the trousers of some half-rate wizard relegated to tricks involving rabbits and hats. But then he thought, what would Catrina do? Catrina would jolly well put those trousers on, wouldn’t she? Well, literally she wouldn’t, Catrina didn’t much care for men’s clothing in the technical sense, but it was the spirit of the thing. So Perry, without any further hesitation, demanded to see the trousers of Merlin.
He had thought that they might be kept in some chamber deep underground, with an enchanted door and a golden key, as befitting their magical nature. It turned out that the trousers of Merlin were kept exactly where a normal person would keep his trousers: in the bottom drawer of a standard dresser. It wasn’t terribly hard to find; Perry found it on his search of the castle’s third spare room. He pulled open the drawer, and gasped.
There they were. The trousers of Merlin, Merlinus Ambrosius, the most powerful wizard ever known. Adviser to Arthur, and all that. The last Perry had heard, the poor man had gotten himself enchanted by the Lady of the Lake, who apparently hadn’t stopped at lying in ponds distributing swords, but had gone on to other things. Merlin was now rumored to be lying somewhere magically asleep. Perry hoped he wouldn’t miss his trousers.
They were solid blue, dotted about with dimly glowing silver stars. Perry could practically feel the power emanating from them (or at least he thought he could; whether or not power was really emanating was an open question). Slowly he stretched out his hand towards them. His fingers brushed the fabric, ever so gently, and then suddenly there was a flash, and Perry was thrown clean across the room into a chamber pot. Fortunately the maids had cleaned the chamber pot that morning and scented it with daises, and it hadn’t been used since, so nothing icky or untoward happened. Still, it was terribly embarrassing.
“Oh, dear,” Percy the librarian commented, “I’m afraid we might have a problem.”
“I’ll say we have,” Perry said, scrambling out of the remains of the chamber pot, very red-faced.
“You see, those trousers are not ordinary trousers.”
“I know. That’s the whole reason I wanted to put them on,” Perry said, wondering why his cousin was pointing out the obvious.
“Well, they can only be put on by someone pure in spirit, and particularly by someone who’s not otherwise enchanted in some way. If someone who’s under an enchantment touches the magical trousers, then, well, there’s rather a frightful clash of magics. And…” the librarian gestured to the wrecked chamber pot.
Perry was staggered. “So…I’m under an enchantment? I could be a prince in disguise or something, not just a sidekick?”
“Er, the thing is, for the trousers to react that violently, it couldn’t be just an ordinary prince in disguise enchantment. It seems more like the enchantment that’s put on princes who are changed into hideous beasts. Or possibly werewolves.”
Suddenly Perry felt an uncomfortableness. “Ah…Percy?”
“Although…” the librarian mused, “even a werewolf wouldn’t cause a reaction quite that startling…hm…”
“Percy? I say? I think something’s happening!” Perry’s shirt ripped. Fur ran everywhere. His head shot towards the ceiling. His hands warped into immensely powerful paws.
The librarian glanced up, slightly irritated. “Perry, I am trying to consider for a moment…” He went pale as a linen sheet in a snowstorm. “A BEAR!” he shrieked, achieving remarkably high notes for a man of his years. “A BEAR! A BEAR!”
Indeed it was a bear, and he was very much put out, as any bear would be if the bear’s maiden fair had gone off to the 21st century and started a Norse apocalypse. With one swipe of his massive paw, the Perry-bear shattered the dressed into wooden bits. The trousers of Merlin narrowly escaped being ripped into shreds, but many other trousers hadn’t. Then the bear stormed roaring out of the room and down the halls of the castle, in instinctive search of whatever bears want to search for. Possibly other bears, or honey. In its wake, Percy the librarian attempted to cope with the fact that his cousin was, it seemed, an enchanted bear. “I think I need to lie down,” he said, and tottered off towards his room.
This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. For previous episodes, go here. For the two novels I’ve written starring Catrina (well, Catrina in Space stars her, in Nuclear Family she has a prominent cameo), go here. Thanks for reading!
This week’s entry for the Trifecta weekly prompt is later than I would’ve liked, but I’ve been terribly busy. I was scrambling for an idea, but then I remembered the fascinating audiobook I was listening to earlier this week, and voila. Roll film!
Blink went a light on the MedDetector Mark Three. Ben paid no attention to it. The whole thing was a silly formality, a box to be checked off before he could start his glorious new Lunar Fleet career. Admiral Enfield had already promised him a first officer’s post on the Utterson. And from there…
His train of thought went flying off the tracks as the robot attendant gave a startled chirp. It looked at him, then the blinky light, then him again, then scurried away to fetch its supervisor. Ben sighed. First-generation robots were so easily distressed.
The supervisor, a more sober second-gen robot, arrived moments later, a grim look in its optical sensors. “Erm. Have you done much research into your ancestry?”
“My what?” Ben said. “Why would I?”
“Well, erm,” the supervisor said, “the hypo-genetic scan matrix seems to have detected an…abnormality. And it doesn’t match any of the standard abnormality identifiers. This will require some further study, research into ancestor records, and so forth. Until then, I’m very sorry, but we’ll have to put your application on hold.”
“But…the Utterson breaks atmo tomorrow. I was assured-”
“I’m so sorry,” the supervisor said, not sounding a bit of it. “Your application is on hold.”
Ben was going to thank it for its trouble, and walk sadly away. But then something flared inside him. His left fist shot out, and the supervisor went flying clean through five walls and a protein bar replicator, sparks and robot bits flying everywhere. A wild dark joy filled Ben’s mind, and lasers filled his eyes. This was going to get fun.
It took thirty-two lunar colony police officers to take him down, a process involving massive property damage and a full-scale deployment of a robot medical team. Lunar Fleet authorities released sombre communiques explaining their regret at this unfortunate incident, disavowing all responsibility, and wondering in grave tones what possibly could have upset Cadet Benjamin Jekyll so.
Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had unleashed the dragon Niddhog, Ripper of Corpses with the unholy power of the Green Sporky Force, thereby triggering the Norse apocalypse Ragnarok. Oops. We rejoin our apocalypse, already in progress….
The universe was glemmening. Rain poured down from the grey heavens, lashing the surface of an endless sea. Asgard had gone, along with Midgard and a good many other ‘gards. The only sign of life anywhere was a single figure clinging to a makeshift raft, tossed about on the waves as lightly as a potato chip.
Catrina was in a foul mood. It was all Edmund’s fault, of course. He hadn’t told her that freeing the dragon would end the world. That seemed a fairly important detail to leave out. But had he mentioned it? No, he most certainly had not. So when she had freed Niddhog and caused Ragnarok, it had definitely been his fault. Not hers. The worst of it was, it had all been for nothing. When Catrina had finally reached the Asgardian tool shed where the Shovel of Thor was supposed to be, it hadn’t been there. She’d barely had time to pull the tool shed down and make a raft out of it before Asgard and everything else dropped into an eternal sea.
On the bright side, this wasn’t Catrina’s first ride on the apocalypse merry-go-round. She’d survived two Zombie Penguin Apocalypses, plus endless fights with Susan, ex-mistress of Character Hell. She was pretty sure there had to be a way to undo this. There were probably several ways. Time travel. Wormholes. Alternate realities. Maybe it was all just a dream?
Rain lashed Catrina’s face, thoroughly soaking her dress. She was fairly certain this wasn’t a dream. Of course, technically she was a fictional character in a story, so in one sense it really was all a dream, one made up by her author, but it wasn’t her dream as a character. Catrina smacked herself in the forehead. “Quit going meta,” she admonished herself sternly. “It won’t help. You’ve got to figure a way out of this.”
At that moment an elf materialized on her raft, causing it to wobble dangerously. “Oh, good,” Catrina said, instantly recognizing Krystelle, her rogue elf friend who’d saved her from execution by laser rifle. “That was easy. You’ve probably just come from a spaceship, haven’t you? Well, excellent then, we’ll just teleport back up and you can find a wormhole or something like-OW!” *Splash*.
Krystelle, without any warning, had just karate-kicked Catrina very hard in her stomach, sending her flying off the raft and right into the turbulent sea. “Ya idiot!” Krystelle yelled. “Couldn’t try and get here the nice way, no, you had to go the bad way! Had to team up with a freakin’ dragon, didn’t you! Way to go, jerkface!”
Catrina scrambled out of the water, spluttering mad. “I did not team up with the dragon! I made a one-time temporary arrangement that let me get into Asgard so I could find the Shovel of Thor. I didn’t mean to start Ragnarok!”
“Well, ya did anyway!” Krystelle shot back. “You didn’t think maybe you should ask why the big guy was tied up in the first place? Nooooo! You just went and cut him loose! You wouldn’t have been worthy to hold Mlrning even if it had been there! It’s a good thing Connecticut Smith rescued it, otherwise it would’ve been drowned like the rest of Asgard!”
“Wait…” Catrina said. “You have it?”
“Yeah, duh, weren’t you listening?”
Catrina’s eyes lit with sudden hope. “Krystelle! That’s it! I’ve read about the powers of Mlrning, what it can do. With just one scoop of dirt, the Shovel of Thor can make a new world, or bring back an old one! We can save everything! If you just go and get me the Shovel, I can-”
“Ohhhh no, Princess Tightpants, I’m not going to hand Mlrning over to someone who just caused Ragnarok!”
“I’m not even wearing pants!” Catrina exclaimed. “Well, not in the American sense. In the British sense of course, yes. After all, I’m not going commando here, I am a decent person, but…why has this conversation moved to the topic of my undergarments? Can we get back to Ragnarok and the Shovel of Thor, please?”
Before they could, there was a flurry of blue-ish light, and a trio of dolphins wielding blaster pistols appeared surrounding the raft. “Right,” grunted the main dolphin wearily, “surrender the Shovel of Thor, and be quick about it. We haven’t got all day.”
“There isn’t any day that you haven’t got,” Catrina pointed out very reasonably. “Because we, er, I actually, ended the world. So time’s pretty much gone out on us too, wouldn’t you say? We’re hoping to get the world back, you see, once I get Krystelle here to let me have the Shovel, so…”
“Yeah, that’s the problem, innit?” the dolphin leader said. “We can’t let you bring the world back. We’re part of the Dolphin Expeditionary Reality Preservationists. There’s only one proper timeline, you see, and we make sure it stays that way. None of this time-traveling reset button and all. People can’t just go erasing apocalypses whenever they happen, can they, like a bloomin’ Etch-a-Sketch? It isn’t proper. Ragnarok’s happened, that’s all there is to it, and you’ve got to let it go. And if you don’t let it go, I’m afraid we’re going to have to confiscate your Shovel and any other methods of time-travel you might have. So, what’s it going to be?”
“I beg your pardon,” Catrina said, trying to hold back a snicker. “But whom did you say you were with?”
“The Dolphin Expeditionary Reality Preservationists.”
“DERP, in other words.”
“DERP,” Catrina repeated, and now she couldn’t quite hold the giggles in. “Ermahgerd! Derphins!”
“Are you…” the dolphin commander growled, leveling his blaster rifle, “mocking me?”
“Oh, no. I wouldn’t dream of it. See, I’m not giggling at you. I’m giggling with you.”
“We are not amused,” the dolphin commander said. “So, Princess Tightpants, you’ve got three seconds to hand over the Shovel of Thor before we blast you into tiny little bits, and then eat the bits like so much krill.”
“Again with the Princess Tightpants,” Catrina said, rolling her eyes in supreme irritation. “Honestly. Can’t any of you see that I’m wearing a skirt? A skirt is not pants. Isn’t that plain?”
“One,” said the dolphin commander.
“And what would you do with a shovel anyway? You don’t even have hands!”
“We’d improvise. Two.”
“Improvise how? What would you do, grip it with your flipper?”
“Three. Last chance.”
Catrina drew her Sporksaber. “You want the Shovel? Come and take it, DERP. And, incidentally, you need a better name.”
The blaster rifles powered up, in a thrilling cliffhanger and a wonderful place in which to end this week’s episode.
This has been another exciting adventure in the Catrina Chronicles. Tune in next week as Catrina’s battle with the dolphins continues. Meanwhile, for previous episodes, go here. Thanks for reading!
I was at a concert band performance this afternoon at my undergraduate alma mater. The performance itself was wonderful: among the selections were a medley of Civil War themes such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and then the theme from The Incredibles, and a symphonic suite from Star Trek. Brilliant. But as I was waiting for the performance, I saw a table with a “Free Books” sign on it. So naturally I went over, because, hey. Free books. That’s like catnip for a bookworm.
Most of them were textbooks and the like, which I’m sure were remarkably fascinating in their way, but….then I hit pay dirt. (Fun fact, incidentally; I first heard the expression “pay dirt” on a radio drama, only the character said it in such a way that I thought he was saying “Patered!”. When I realized some time later what he was actually saying, it made so much more sense. Anyway.) I found a copy of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, which I’m given to understand is the very first British detective novel ever. Precursor to Sherlock Holmes, Agathie Christie, all that. Cha-ching.
The moral of that story is: always check out the Free Books table. You never know what you may find. And speaking of free books, if you’ll indulge a moment of self-marketing, you can get an e-book download of Nuclear Family (a superhero novel starring Captain Happily Married, Super Soccer Mom, and their seven children) for free on Amazon, just by clicking here. But you can only do that through the end of today. And if you order right now, I’ll throw in a free set of Ginsu steak knives! (No, I won’t, really. But that sort of claim is tradition. And who am I to argue with tradition?)
This story was written for Trifecta’s weekend prompt, in which the challenge was to write a complete story in only three sentences. I had thought about doing the Three Little Pigs, but this came to mind instead. My imagination is an odd place. Anyway. Roll film!
“Launch torpedo tubes one through five.” Prince Robert knew his order would devastate Atlantica. But…that mermaid had killed his father.