Robert Allen Lupton
A woman walking the downtown streets at two in the morning is considered to be a hooker by default. Unfortunately, it’s mostly true. Thousands of hardworking ladies were put out of work when the men came home from Europe and the Pacific after World War Two. I know, I’m one of them.
The song about the soldiers was ‘how you gonna keep ‘em down of the farm after they’ve seen Paree.’ If someone wrote a song about former women defense plant workers, the chorus would have been, “How you gonna keep ‘em under your thumb after they’ve earned their own money.”
I’m not under any man’s thumb. I carry a Colt forty-five, a leather sap, brass knuckles and a bad attitude. It says Louise Blaine on my private investigator license. I work the streets on my terms and I only take jobs from women. It’s not that I don’t like men. I do. Men have their uses, but they won’t shut the hell up and leave when they should.
When the defense plants closed and the discharged servicemen took every decent job west of the Rocky Mountains, a newly unemployed woman had to find whatever work she could. I chose to be a PI. That’s why I was hidden in a doorway soaked from the cold rain on a dreary September night. It’s my job.
The war widow, Carla Aragon, and her sisters operate a small bodega, basically a neighborhood grocery, on the corner. She refused to pay protection to the neighborhood rabble or the police. Her windows kept getting broken and her twelve year old daughter got roughed up on the way home from school. She came to me and I told her, “It’s cheaper to pay the Sargent Murphy or the Bandits than it is to hire me.”
She said, “My sisters and I didn’t drive a rivet gun for five years and save every damn dime so we could give our money to some assholes. Louise, please make them leave us alone.”
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Fifty bucks a day and expenses. Call me Lou.”
Carla counted out three hundred and fifty dollars. “Thank you.”
On the first day of spring in 1948, I staked out Carla’s Bodega for the third consecutive night. At three in the morning, a ramped up Model T stopped half a block down the street and two thugs sat in the front seat. I put the brass knuckles on my left hand and held the sap in my right.
The car door opened and I stood to confront the two Bandits, but something grabbed my belt and pulled me onto the muddy ground behind the dumpster. I muttered, “What the hell?”
I spun and swung my sap through empty air above the head of a little man about three feet tall. He was dressed in a dapper three piece suit and wore a leather pilot’s helmet. He pushed his goggles up on his forehead, exhaled a perfect smoke ring, and blew on the tip of his cigar. He said, “Down here, Sweet Cheeks. Watch where you swing that leather sap. I’m sensitive and not good at defending myself.
“You’re damn lucky I don’t beat you to death.”
“Calm down, Lou. I’m here to help. First, this is a trap. There’s two cars around the corner. The Bandits know you’re here. Maybe you can take two of them, but I don’t think you can whip eight men. You look more like a half-drowned cat than a super woman.”
He had a point. I decided to hear him out. “Who are you and why do you care?”
“Name’s Marvin and I don’t care. However, this is my job. I’m an inden-tured servant to POOPHEADS, the Pixie Order Of Pixiated Helpfulness and Direct Succor. Apparently, they want Carla and her sisters to remain safe for some unknown reason. They said something about the Twelfth Street Park being a haven for the Fae. They’re never really clear about what they want, but here I am.”
“You’re an indentured servant and a pixie.”
“Poor choice of words. I was given the choice of enlisting or spending a few years in pixie purgatory, so here I am. I turned a pixie princess into a poodle and she ran off with a Shetland pony. Their wedding was a real dog and pony show. The Shetdoodle puppies are cute, but you have to keep a tight rein on them. When they piddle, they piddle.”
“I don’t believe in fairies.”
“Tinkerbell will be so sad. I’m a pixie, not a fairy. Turn around, they’re coming for you.”
I peeked over the trash and eight of the East Side Bandits splashed toward me. They carried tire irons and knives. I pulled my gun.
Marvin said, “You need to know what you’re fighting. This is important. Fairies, elves, trolls, ogres, and witches – they’re all real.”
I said, “I do believe in leprechauns. You look like a leprechaun.”
“Don’t be rude. Thirty-three years old and you still believe in leprechauns. That’s good because leprechauns are real. Mean little hoarders, but they’re real. Hold still.” Marvin sneezed into his hand and wiped the snot on my face.
I put the barrel of my gun right between his eyes and cocked it.
He said, “Slow down, Annie Oakley. It’s magic. Pixie snot is magic. Look around. It defeats illusions, witches curses, fairy spells, and lets you see things as they really are. Look at the Bandits.”
The eight Bandits weren’t boys in a street gang, they were shorter. They were ugly before, but now their noses were longer and their hair unkempt. Warts, there were lots of warts. Their bandy-legged gait was uneven and they were about three feet tall. I was surprised the little men didn’t sing, “Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho.”
“What are they?”
“Goblins. They’re goblins.”
“How the hell do I fight goblins?”
“Don’t know. I’m more of a consultant than a fighter.”
The police station was three blocks away. The cops could be here in four or five minutes. I pointed my pistol in the air.
Marvin put one damp hand on my wrist and said, “The snot only works while it’s wet. If it dries or the rain washes it off it won’t help you. Think of it as viewing the world through snot goggles.”
I said, “Got it, booger boy.” I fired one shot in the air and charged the goblins. I shot three of them while I ran. One jumped at me and I smashed him in the face with my brass knuckles. Two of them tackled my legs and I went down. One stomped on my wrist and my Colt slid into the gutter. Four of us fought in the mud and snot. I’d like to say I held my own, but four against one is long odds, even for me.
I blocked a tire iron with my right arm. It hurt like hell, but at least it wasn’t broken. The goblin drew back for a second swing and the police screamed into the street. A dozen cops piled out of their cars. They shot while they ran and I tried to make myself small. The cops had a simple attitude. “We’re going home after work. Shoot everyone that might be a problem and let God sort it out.”
The goblins ran and the three I shot weren’t in the street. I was alone except for several testosterone fueled officers of the law. Three of the cops looked strange. They had hunched shoulders, long arms, and bad teeth. Things were blurry in the pouring rain and a herd of goblins had just kicked my ass. I wiped my face on my sleeve and the cops came into focus. They looked as stupid and mean as ever.
Sargent Murphy arrested me and charged me with solicitation, discharging a firearm, resisting arrest, and curfew violation.
I said, “There hasn’t been a curfew since we bombed Hiroshima.”
He sneered, “We’ll let the court be the judge of that.”
At least it was dry in jail. The cops dropped the charges the next morning and I claimed my belongings. Marvin met me on the steps and handed me coffee in a cardboard cup. The outside of the cup was slimy.
I started to complain, but the police walking in and out of the station looked differently. Not all of them, some were normal people, but some were ogres and some were trolls.
Marvin said, “Some Fae gravitate to positions of authority, like policemen or military officers. You can see them as long as you have wet pixie snot on your skin. Red fairies cast illusions. Glamours, if you will, to make themselves and other Fae look like normal folks. They charge other creatures, goblins, ogres, and trolls, for the glamours. Trolls like to work as police and they do especially well as prison guards.”
He sneezed and rubbed it on my arm. “Lou, don’t stare at the nice officers. Just walk away. You’re buying breakfast.”
We walked to a diner down the street. I swallowed a fork full of hard-scrambled eggs and said, “Tell me how you’re going to help protect Carla. Do you do anything except sneeze on people?”
“Tough words from a woman who spent half the night behind a dumpster. I can travel anywhere and anywhen POOPHEADS sends me. Agents like me are charged with protecting pixies and other Fae. Sometimes, I have to help humans. I’ll warn you and keep you sheltered from spells and enchantments. I can turn into a parrot, but I don’t fight no matter what form I use. Girls think I’m hot when I’m a parrot. I’m a lover not a fighter.” He spit the end of a fresh cigar on the floor and rubbed his runny nose. He applied fresh snot to the back of my hand. Apparently pixies have different standards for lovers than I do.
“Is anywhen a word?”
“Time is flexible for pixies. I’m older than this country. POOPHEADS doesn’t find threats to pixiekind in a linear fashion. They don’t see things clearly, but like a man looking through a fog in an alcoholic haze. The sent me to fix a problem with Henry the Eighth. I did what I was told, but everything has consequences, intended or not.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Hypothetically, if I stopped Henry from divorcing his first wife, he would have never married the Boleyn woman and fathered Elizabeth the first. With no Queen Elizabeth, the Spanish Armada would have won and run the Fae out of England. I went back for a do-over.”
“Isn’t Armada some type of fruity red wine?”
“I pray for the future. Don’t you have schools in this country? Never mind. All you need to know is that Carla hired you and I’m here to help.”
“What’s the deal with Carla?”
“Carla and her sisters are dryads. Tree sprites, so to speak, but their trees were harvested for lumber during the war. They moved into town to survive. Dryads have limited powers, but they make plants grow and can glamourize themselves to appear human. Carla and the others planted new trees in a park on Twelfth Street and the pixie counsel wants that park to thrive. You can’t let the Bandit goblins or the troll cops run them out of town.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“I don’t do plans. I do snot, cigars, and beer. However, since you asked. You don’t look like you can whip a goblin horde by yourself, no offense. If I were you, I’d recruit some help. Gnomes hate goblins. Find some gnomes.”
“You can see them with your magic snot vision, but they won’t be standing in gardens wearing little red hats.”
“Crap.” I finished my coffee, refreshed my snot goggles and went to find some gnomes. I spotted a crew of little men at work on a broken water main on Fourteenth Street. I glanced at Marvin and he said, “Gnomes. The lady with the yellow hardhat is the HGIC, the head gnome in charge.”
Helga Gunderson told me to get the hell out of her work zone.
I stepped back so her bullhorn didn’t move my hair when she screamed at me and said, “The Twelfth Street Bandits are a goblin horde. I need help dealing with them.”
Helga took Marvin’s cigar with her stubby fingers, puffed it twice, put it out, and saved the stub in her work vest. “Goblins? I do like to kick some goblin butt.” She pointed at Marvin and said, “He’s a snot-nosed pixie. Did he tell you I was a gnome?”
I said, “Yes, his name is Marvin.”
Helga snorted, took off her dirty protective work goggles, and wiped a pair of glasses on her shirt to clean them. She put on her bifocals and squinted at my pixie partner. “Marvin, it is you? If I had a pickaxe, I’d kill you where you stand. You left me to buy us breakfast in that hotel in Ensenada and never came back. Not only did I not get an egg and a chorizo burrito, you stuck me with the room tab.”
“Helga, in my defense, POOPHEADS called me away on another case.”
“Yeah, right. It’s more likely your girlfriend, Inez, tracked you down. You ever marry that girl?”
“Yes, I did, but that wasn’t why I didn’t come back. POOPHEADS sent me to the Spanish Inquisition. Those were seriously unpleasant people.”
Helga laughed, “Don’t really care where you went. You were a good time, but I was trying to figure out how to dump you. You ever kiss a person with a runny nose. It spoils the moment. You still owe me for the room.”
“Fascinating,” I said. “I hate to interrupt this lover’s spat, but the goblins aren’t going away. We need do something so they don’t run the Aragon women out of town.”
Helga said, “You mean those poor dryads who run the bodega on Twelfth. Count us in. The boys and I will help after work. Today’s good, but Marvin has to buy a round afterwards.”
Helga left another gnome in charge and the three of us went to Carla’s. I tried to think of a plan on the way. Carla brought tea and the four of us sat at a sidewalk table.
Marvin slathered her arm with snot. She jerked away when she realized I was the only human at the table.
I asked, ‘Why do Fae disguise themselves? Why don’t they just let people see them as they are?”
Carla replied, “The Fae, gnomes, dryads, goblins, fairies, and all the rest of us survive by blending in with humans. Humans barely tolerate each other and the hardscrabble folks living in Los Angeles won’t share their streets with a bunch of creatures from fairy tales. They don’t even want to share with each other. People wear the same clothes, eat the same foods, and shop in the same stores. Everyone wants to fit in.”
Helga said, “That’s not completely true. Goblins, ogres, trolls, and red fairies disguise themselves so they can prey on humans and other Fae. Goblins are the cockroaches of the fairy folk.”
Marvin snickered, “They’re butt ugly little thieves and bullies.”
An idea was beginning to form. “So goblins are afraid to be exposed?”
“We all are,” said Carla. “Humanity drove us into hiding. There’s so many of you. You people breed like rabbits.”
I knew she was right. Half my PI work was catching people breeding with the wrong rabbit. “Okay, so if I understand, the worst thing we can do to the goblins is expose what they are.”
Marvin lit a cigar. Helga glared at him and he gave it to her and lit another for himself. ‘Not only are they ugly, they stink too. They’re not stupid. They won’t do anything to expose themselves.”
“They won’t have to. Carla has a mimeograph machine. We’ll print up flyers. At six o’clock tonight we’ll have a spring parade and a picnic in the dryads’ park. The Bandit’s live next to the park. When the goblins show up, we’ll splatter them with pixie snot and everyone can see what they are. Helga and the gnomes will start the fight. I’ll bet the whole neighborhood joins in.”
Carla sent her sisters to make the flyers. Helga ordered her gnomes to post them on every corner. Marvin asked, “How you gonna get snot on the goblins? I can turn into a parrot and fly over and sneeze on as many of them as I can. They’ll think its parrot poop and run like hell, but I’ll try.”
“Question. Once pixie snot is dry or washed away it stops working. I understand that, but can it be diluted? If I mix it in a bucket of water, will the whole bucket deglamorize the goblins?”
“You bet. Snot is powerful stuff, a little dab will do you.”
“You keep your nose running. I’ll need enough snot to activate ten or fifteen gallons of water.”
Marvin pointed to the Banshee’s Breath Tavern across the street. “Beer makes my nose run, but I don’t have any money. Front me a double sawbuck and I’ll dribble up a storm.”
I gave him a twenty and he disappeared into the tavern. The sign on the door says, “Banshee’s Breath is better than no breath at all.”
I cranked the mimeograph a couple hundred times and bought three hundred balloons from Carla. At four, I rescued the bar from Marvin and collected half a pint of the pixie’s finest.
I divided the snot into four buckets. We poured the buckets into a hand pumped sprayer and filled the balloons. We loaded snot balloons into clean trash cans.
A party is a party and over a thousand people joined our parade to the park. The Bandits stood front of their building. They looked like everyone else. I’d call their building a club house, but a street gang isn’t really a club.
Two Bandits crossed the street and stood on the sidewalk near the playground. Marvin tugged on my shirt to get my attention, put his goggles over his eyes, and sneezed into both hands. He shrunk to the size of a pigeon, but he didn’t turn into a parrot, he stayed in pixie form. He said, “Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play. Throw a fastball down the middle.”
I picked him up, took aim, and threw him at the two closest Bandits. He spread his arms and screamed, “Incoming.”
Marvin slathered both Bandits and changed into a green and gold parrot. He unfurled his wings, screeched in victory, and flew back to the park.
Helga pointed at the two goblins on the sidewalk and screamed. “Monsters. They’ve come for our children.” She and her gnomes threw snot balloons at the Bandits. Some balloons hit Bandits and some splattered snot-infused water on three or four goblins when they exploded on the asphalt.
It doesn’t take much to convince people to join a water balloon fight and in seconds every adult and child who could reach one of the barrels of snot balloons, grabbed two or three and pelted the Bandits. The snot balloon barrage soaked the Bandits.
In a the-emperor-has-no-clothes moment, Carla’s daughter shouted, “They’re not people. They’re little Rumpelstiltskins.”
The park and street went silent and dead calm. Mr. O’Bannon, the hardware store owner, put on his glasses and peered at the snot-dripping goblins. “Too ugly to be leprechauns, too short to be ogres or trolls. Goblins. The Bandits are goblins.”
Another man shoved O’Bannon. “Drunk, are you. Have you been mixing whiskey and fairy tales again? There’s no such thing as goblins.”
I pushed the man away from O’Bannon and picked up a large stick. I held the branch like Joan of Arc brandishing a sword and pointed the tip at the goblins. “Goblins or orcs, trolls or ogres – the Bandits aren’t good folks and they’ve terrorized us long enough.”
A dozen policemen ran down the street and formed a rough line between us and the goblins. Sargent Murphy yelled, “Calm down. There’ll be no gang fights on my watch. You should be ashamed. A thousand of you ganging up a few ugly children. Listen to yourselves. Goblins? What are you thinking? Go home.”
Marvin, the pixie parrot, swooped from a powerline and blasted Sargent Murphy with snot from the sky. The pixie was right. When he was in bird form, it did look like parrot poop.
The Sargent rubbed the side of his face with his uniform sleeve, but it was too late. The Sargent was an eight foot tall troll and I could smell him from where I stood. The squad of policemen closed around the Sargent, but not to protect him. Something about the way a troll smells makes people crazed.
Murphy spun in place as his squad encircled him. “Boys, I’m still the Sargent. Stay away from me. Protect the little ugly children from this mob.”
He poked one of the policemen with the end of his baton and it was like the little Dutch boy pulled his finger from the dike. One cop hit the troll and then another. The Sargent stopped speaking English and yelled and cursed in some unknown, but vaguely familiar, ancient tongue.
The Sargent disappeared under a blanket of policemen and the crowd of people charged the goblins. The goblins didn’t fight at all. Bullies never do. They vanished into the sewers and scampered down the streets. The good citizens of the Twelfth Street Neighborhood chased them for blocks. Gnomes followed them down the sewers.
The Banshee’s Breath rolled a dozen kegs of beer into the street and the party lasted all night. I slept late the next morning. The streets were clear when I staggered to Carla’s Bodega for a burrito and some coffee. The Bandits were gone and so was Marvin.
The neighborhood pitched in and bought the Bandit’s building. I run Enchanted Investigations from a storefront on the ground floor and I sleep in my back room. Carla’s sisters operate a women’s shelter in the rest of the building.
For a while, I was worried the goblins would come back or another troll would take Sargent Murphy’s place at the station. Without snot goggle vision, how would I know?
A couple of months later, the doorbell rang one morning. Strange, most people just walk right in. I answered the door and heard whines and snuffles from a basket on the step. Hell, someone left me a baby. I searched the sky, but there wasn’t a stork in sight.
I unwrapped the child and it wasn’t a child. It was a dog, a really big dog. I found an unsigned note. “She’s a Shetdoodle, half enchanted pixiated poodle and half Shetland pony. Rub her nose when you need to see things from a different point of view.
I didn’t see Marvin, but I smelled his cigar. I picked up the puppy and she nuzzled my neck. I saw dryads in the trees. Two nymphs swept the sidewalk in front of O’Bannon’s Hardware and a troll was washing windows at the Banshee’s Breath. He stopped and stared at me. I held eye contact and pointed two fingers at my eyes and then at the troll.
He nodded, cast his eyes toward the ground, and slopped soapy water onto the next window. I left him to his work.
I named the puppy, Snotsniffer. She grew larger than a wolfhound. Her feet are more like hooves than paws and her nose drips all the time. When I tell people she’s a Shetdoodle, they just smile and shake their heads.
The Twelfth Street neighborhood isn’t perfect, but we’ve got a nice park, a good bar, a hardware store, and a bodega. It’s a goblin free zone and the trolls and ogres do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
People come to me when they need help with trolls, fairies, or the occasional rogue leprechaun. I charge a hundred bucks a day, plus expenses. I go through a lot of dog food.
Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. He has been published in several anthologies and has short stories online at www.horrortree.com and www.crimsonstreets.com. His novel, Foxborn, was published in April 2017 and the sequel, Dragonborn, in June 2018. His collection of running themed horror, science fiction, and adventures stories,
Running Into Trouble, was published in October 2017.
Visit https://www.amazon.com/Robert-Allen-Lupton/e/B01GW77JY4/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 his Amazon page and www.goodreads.com/author/show/15292457.
Robert_Allen_Lupton, his Goodreads page and blog for current information about his stories and books. His Hometown Reads page is https://www.hometownreads.com/books/foxborn.
Fun story about magical creatures that appear human and the jobs they take on based on their nature.