It’s a hot summer’s day in Allan’s Crossing. The sunlight fills the streets, but just barely makes it into the second floor window of the Hayes Detective Agency, due to the close proximity of the building next door. While the wonderful view out the window may cause the sunlight issues getting in, it provides no such difficulties for the smells from the alley below.
Kylie Fiero sits at ease, her ankles crossed and resting on the corner of her desk. She’s wearing soft leather shoes with only a small arch. Long red legs lead up to a pencil skirt that’s cut just above her knees. Stacks of paper are piled up in several places on the floor, many shoved against the walls of the small office. Over her shoulder is a wooden door with fogged glass sporting fading lettering that reads “DETECTIVE HAYES.”
Behind the glass, a misshapen figure is seen stomping about the room; throwing its hands up occasionally and grumbling in non-distinct guttural tones.
All of a sudden, the front door bursts open, kicked in by a Halfling whose face is obscured by the wooden crate he is desperately trying not to drop. As he stumbles into the office, the Tiefling casually looks up from her nails and gestures toward an open spot on the floor.
“Just set them there. He wants you to go through these case files and organize them by date.”
The Halfling sets the case down in a corner, the contents clink together.
She gestures around the room.
“Whaa?” The beefy Halfling puts his hands to his disheveled sweaty brow, his eyes beginning to widen. In the back room, there’s a crash followed by some muttering. “He’s mad. Most people don’t see this much paper in their life. Where does he get it all? All these scribblings, and for what?”
Kylie only shakes her head. “You know what he says.”
“Yeah,” the Halfling said.
From the back room, Hayes shouts, “Ya gotta keep proper records, lest ye forget!”
“It’d be nice if you kept them organized,” the Halfling muttered. Kylie went on filing her nails, unconcerned.
The door to the back room opened, and a grizzled old halfling with a glass eye peered out. “Ha! That’s what I hired YOU fer! Takin’ yeh in was a favor to yer mum! Don’t yeh ferget it!”
Huckleberry McFadden did indeed owe his meager earnings to his uncle. Without him, he wasn’t sure where he could have gone. His mum could not afford to feed him; he was a growing boy, his appetite was just too much. He needed a new job after being drummed out of the local militia. When he heard he’d be spending the summer with his uncle Gwynn, he thought it would be full of adventure, not sorting papers.
“C’mon Uncle Gwynn! When are you gonna let me work on a case?”
“A case? You? HAH!” Gwynn stepped into the office and shut the door. He made as if to spit, then seemed to remember he was in his own office. Kylie had exchanged the file for an emery board and began buffing her nails.
“Why not? I can handle it,” Huck said.
“Yeh lack the sophistication and guile that real detective work requires,” Gwynn said as he poked a finger at his nephew. “Yer a blunt instrument, Huckleberry. It ain’t a bad thing, but yer not ready fer investigative inquiries. Now, I ain’t sayin yeh ne’er gonna be a detective, just not right now.”
“I bet if you gave me a chance, you’d see things different,” Huck said.
Gwynn stroked his chin. “Maybe. Mayhap I’d see yeh ain’t cut out for it a’tall! Har! Sure, yeh may have drive, but that don’t make you any less green in my eyes. I’ll tell yeh when yer ready.”
“I’d bet you I’m ready right now,” Huck said. Inside, he felt a chill. Gambling’s what landed him here in the first place. His uncle might not take too kindly to him stepping into that arena again.
“I see,” Gwynn said, narrowing his eyes. The glass one still looked askew. “I’ll tell you what, next one comes through that door is yours. Since I already own yer arse, if you flub it, I own yer mouth, too. That means you gotta zip it up if I say so. Hell, before I say so, would be preferable.”
“Fine. And if I don’t flub it?” Huck said.
“If yeh don’t? Hell, I dunno. I guess I might let you follow me along on my next case. Maybe.”
They stood there, eyeing each other for a moment. Then Gwynn nodded, grunted, and headed back into his office. Kylie put the emery board away, pulled out a silk fan, switched ankles and began fanning herself lazily.
Huck turned and looked at the front door. A shadow appeared under the door. Could it be? So soon? There was a brief rap at the door. Gwynn opened his office door a crack.
“What the bloody blazes?” Gwynn said.
Huck looked at Gwynn, then back at the door.
“Well, answer it kid!” Gwynn said.
Huck tried to suppress his excitement, but his first step toward the door was more akin to a skip than walking.
He opened the door to reveal a a pale pudgy human with wisps of white hair around his temples. His robes were heavy and he was sweating from the day’s heat. Huck recognized that his tunic had some sort of heraldry on it. Huck turned toward his uncle whose one good eye had popped out of his head.
“Come in,” Huck said as he stepped aside. “Um, can I offer you something to drink?” He remembered his uncle had always started his meetings that way.
“Yes, please,” the man said.
Huck awkwardly bent over the case he’d carried in and opened the top. His uncle had recovered, and spoke up “Have a seat,” he said as he came into the office. Huck pulled out a bottle and began pouring a glass. Kylie had pulled her feet off the desk and put away the fan, Huck didn’t see when.
The man sunk in the chair across the desk from Kylie. “It’s so hot out,” he said.
“Sure is,” Gwynn said. Huck handed the man the glass of wine.
“Ah, thank you,” the man said.
“So, how ken we help yeh?” Gwynn said.
Huck shot his uncle a look over the man’s shoulder, but Gwynn ignored him.
“My name is Mathis. I represent Lord Corobaer,”
“Ah, he is a trader of some repute. I know of him,” Gwynn said. Again Huck frowned. They would have words later, he decided. It would be unprofessional to complain in front of a client. Don’t think I won’t mention that too, uncle!
“Yes, well. Apparently last night he was burgled of a very valuable painting.”
“Someone broke into his estate?”
“No. Not quite. Actually, before I get into any details, I must enquire after your rate,” Mathis said.
“Well—” Huck began, but was cut off by cold looks from both his uncle and Kylie. Mathis was busy burying his face in his wine glass.
“Five thousand crowns. Half up front,” Gwynn said.
“Done,” Mathis reached into his tunic and pulled out a parchment. “Have you got a pen?”
Kylie slid a pen and inkwell over to him, along with a vial of sand. Mathis scribbled the amount onto the bill and signed it with a flourish. He slid it to Kylie who finished setting the ink. Mathis finished his drink.
Gwynn pulled a paper from a stack, seemingly at random and set it on the desk. He scrawled his own figures and slid it to Mathis who signed it with that same practiced flourish.
“Well, Lord Corobaer will be expecting you tomorrow at ten. I’ll put you in the books for an appointment so that he may apprise you of the details.”
“No worries, I’ve got my best man on the case. Ole Huck here will be there, ten sharp.”
Mathis glanced briefly at Huck and gave an almost imperceptible sniff before heading out the front door.
“What’s this all about? I thought I was going to take the lead!” Huck said.
“Yer not ready fer negotiations. What would you have asked fer?” Gwynn said.
“I dunno, maybe—”
“No. Yeh gotta know. Ye gotta know before they walk in. Cuz they goan ask yeh and if you stammer and hem and haw, yer goan git nuthin.”
Huck looked dejected. Kylie’s glorious legs were back up on the desk.
“Here’s what yeh gotta do: we need some extra arms. Whomever took that paintin’ ain’t messin around. Could be there’s a pissin match between these nobles and merchants. I dunno. What I do know is that we need ta hire some tuffs ta keep an eye out while yeh do yer work.”
“So I’m heading this one up?” Huck said.
“Yeh. But yeh gotta make sure ya fill out me forms thoroughly. Proper paperwork is gonna help yeh in th’ long run. It helps ya keep track o’ what yeh can’t remember, and I’m a-gonna review it ev’ry night, and give yeh suggestions. So yeh better spell ev’rithin right and yeh better be thorough,” Gwynn took his hat and coat from the stand by the door. “Or so help me I’ll kick yer arse fer makin this agency look foolish.”
“Kylie, man the fort,” he said. At this, she saluted. “Huckleberry, come with me.”
“Where are we going?”
“To procure you some minders. I have a feeling I’m gonna have to call in a lotta favors to keep you outta trouble.”