Read The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom Online

Authors: Leah Cutter

Tags: #dwarf, #fairies, #knotwork, #Makers, #Oregon, #paranormal, #shape shifters, #tinkers, #urban fantasy

The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom (6 page)

BOOK: The Clockwork Fairy Kingdom
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“Big impersonal stores with faceless clerks, uprooted
people,” Chris continued his diatribe. They made families, towns, and neighbors
less important, easier to split apart.

Chris was determined to bring his family back together. Not
Denise—Mama had been right to dislike her on the spot. Denise was
everything Mama wasn’t: college-educated, dark-colored, and frail.

Nora was as dark as her mother, but wild. She’d defied him,
daring him to knit something when he’d pointed out the flaws in what she’d just
finished. Lord knew how out of control she was now, three months away from his
influence.

No, it was his boy, Dale, that Chris intended to rescue.
With only women around him, what sort of a man would he grow up to be? It just
wasn’t right.

Like many other industries, business at Chris’ architecture
firm had been slow for a while due to the economy. Sure, they had a couple of
presentations coming up, but they were show-and-tells, not money-generating. He
didn’t need to be there.

However, Chris’ witch of a boss, Bonnie, hadn’t seen it that
way. Chris sneered as he changed lanes, back to the slower right lane,
determined to be a polite driver, another thing too many people forgot these
days. It wasn’t that Chris didn’t like women—just that they had their
place. He could never figure out why Dave had promoted Bonnie over him.

Her firing him just meant a new start for him and his boy.
Maybe they would go back to Georgia, after a bit, and see Mama.

Except Dale was the same age Chris had been when his dad had
died. That summer, his Mama had made him a man. She’d met Red in the fall, and
married him shortly after. She’d never looked at Chris like that again.

Still. Maybe it was better to wait until Dale was older
before going back south.

The radio blasted out a new song and Chris sang along
loudly, “Hold on. I’m coming. Hold on. I’m coming.”

***

“When did you learn how to do magic?” Dale said, an ugly pit
of jealousy blossoming in his gut. He looked toward the old house. The door
still stood open, the darkness promising cool shade away from the hot sun. The
ocean wind pushed at him and gulls in the distance cried their displeasure.

“She’s always known,” the man said. “Just as you’ve always
known clockwork.”

Dale’s cheeks grew warm. Nora had always praised his ability
and had never seemed envious. The man’s tone shamed him. “Who are you?” Dale
demanded of the man.

“I am
Kostya
,” he said, bowing
from his waist. “I am a dwarf, not a fairy.”

“I thought the polite term was
little person
,” Nora said.

Kostya
shrugged. “Maybe for
humans. I am not human.”

Dale edged closer to Nora. The guy’s eyes did look funny, a
golden color, and the pupils were long, like a cat’s.

“What did the fairies want with my brother?” Nora asked. Her
hands still shook. Dale finally reached out and squeezed one. It felt
unnaturally hot. He dropped it quickly.

“He’s a Tinker. The fairies lost their own Master Tinker, Thaddeus.”

“No, that’s not it,” Nora said, shaking her head. “Wait.”
She turned and told
Kostya
, “The fairy with the red
eye—”

“Bascom,” Dale told her.

“Bascom,” Nora continued. “He accused
you
of killing the Master Tinker.”

“When?” Dale asked.

“While you were supposed to be escaping to safety,” Nora
said, now glaring at Dale.

Kostya
sighed, deflating. He still
bled from his wounds, and looked pale and tired. “It’s a long story, this
misunderstanding between myself and the fairies. Sure, our peoples are natural
enemies, but that’s in the past. No reason why we can’t be friends now.” He
sighed again. “However, long stories are best heard over full bellies, seated
in comfortable chairs.”

“We should be getting home. Mom’s going to wonder where we
are,” Dale told Nora.

“Is it safe there?” Nora asked
Kostya
.
“Safe from the fairies?”

Kostya
smiled. “Aye. Old Eli put
up cold iron and magnets to repel the fairies.”

“He knows about the fairies?” Dale asked. It had all started
to seem like a bad dream, but if a grown-up also knew...

“I am not sure what he knows,”
Kostya
cautioned. “Humans also tell stories of our kind filled with nonsense. Like all
dwarfs have full beards,” he added, tugging on the scraggly hairs growing out
of his chin.

“Where should we meet you?” Nora asked.

Dale wanted to protest that there would be no
we
. He didn’t want to get any more
involved with this.

Kostya
opened his mouth, then
closed it. “The fairies destroyed my home,” he said mournfully.

“Then you’re coming with us,” Nora said firmly.

“Nor—where are we going to put him?” Dale asked. He
didn’t trust this
Kostya
. He was turning his sister
into someone Dale didn’t recognize.

“He can hide in my room for tonight.”

Dale shook his head. “Mom will kill you when she finds out
you let a strange guy spend the night with you in your bedroom.”

“Young man,”
Kostya
said, holding
himself stiffly. “I am an honorable dwarf. Nothing untoward will happen between
your sister and me.”

The dwarf’s formal insistence on honor didn’t do much to
reassure Dale. He looked at Nora, who looked back at him, with her arms crossed
stubbornly over her chest. Dale sighed. He knew he’d never be able to change
his sister’s mind, so, bowing to the inevitable, he said, “Okay. How do we
sneak him in?”

***

Monday morning, Robert waited in Kitty’s Diner, on the
highway at the far northern edge of town. The black and white squares that made
up the floor weren’t real tile, but vinyl. Cheap red plastic covered the seats
in the booths. The counter gleamed too brightly, falsely new. Three kids
lounged behind it in perky uniforms.

Still, Robert liked to eat there. The fries were good and
crispy, and no one looked at him funny when he asked for no lettuce, onion,
pickle, or tomato on his burger. They also left him in peace with his
newspapers and his numbers, working the stats for the regional races and games.

Today, though, Robert had his bets already picked out. He
just needed the money that his client owed him. Instead of his papers, Robert
had a set of folders on the table, his primary evidence. The top folder
contained photos of Denise and the kids. One additional folder stayed out of
sight on the seat next to Robert. It contained their address. He knew that the
information he had about the kids and their school schedules was almost expired—tomorrow
was the last day of school. However, he didn’t plan to share that with Chris
unless forced.

Robert remembered Chris when he came in: blond hair artfully
cut and carelessly styled, soulful blue eyes, and a generous mouth. He smiled
easily when he saw Robert.

Robert examined Chris carefully as he walked over. No
telltale bulges of a gun. Probably didn’t have a knife in his boot—guys
like Chris would think that impolite. Still, it never hurt to be too cautious.

“Hey there,” Chris said, holding out his hand. Robert shook
it without getting up, pleased that Chris had remembered the rule about no
first names in public.

One of the desultory teens wandered their direction as Chris
sat down. Must have smelled money—Robert tipped adequately, but Chris, as
always, was well dressed, wearing designer jeans, a fancy blue shirt, and a
nicely fitting beige suit jacket.

Chris took the menu from the boy, flipped through it. “Y’all
wouldn’t happen to have actual sweet tea, would you?”

“Yeah, we got that. Anything else?”

Chris looked at Robert. “The fries are good,” he suggested.

“An order of fries for us to split.”

The waiter collected the menu and drifted away.

“So how are you doing?” Chris asked, looking as if he had
all the time in the world.

Robert, however, needed to put in his bets before the first
race of the afternoon. “I found them,” he said.

“All right,” Chris drawled. “I reckon we can get down to
business.”

Robert stifled his sigh. Chris thought of himself as a Southern
gentleman. He always delayed business for “niceties.” Robert pulled the three
best pictures from the top folder. One of Denise, alone, standing by the side
of her car. Robert had finally been able to follow her into town. The other
pictures were of the three of them, waiting at the bus stop.

Chris glanced at the first two, then picked up the third. It
had the best shot of the boy. “How is he?” Chris demanded, staring at the
picture.

“They all seem fine,” Robert told him.

Chris turned the other pictures over and kept the one close
to his chest when their waiter returned with the sweet tea and fries. “Thank
you, son,” Chris said. He didn’t put the picture down until the waiter had
left.

“I have to see my boy,” Chris told Robert earnestly.

“I thought you wanted to be reunited with your whole family,”
Robert said. It was one of the reasons why he’d agreed to take the case: Families
belonged together.

“Yes, yes,” Chris said breezily. “Of course. But first I
need to see Dale. Make sure he’s okay.”

Robert picked up another folder, thumbed through the papers
it contained, then handed Chris a computer printout. “Turns out the school’s
main secretary was single. And bored,” Robert added with a grin. Not very
imaginative, either—her password was her birthday.

Chris read through Dale’s report card eagerly. “Fitting in,
fast learner, gets along well with others—that’s my boy. Look at those A’s!”
Chris concluded proudly.

“So you see, he’s doing well,” Robert said.

“Good, good,” Chris said. “I just need their address.”

“And I just need my money,” Robert said in reply. He checked
his watch. Maybe he could still get in a bet on the second race.

Chris snorted. “Now, don’t go trying to cheat this old horse
trader. You could have
Photoshopped
those pictures,
and while you say that’s my boy’s report card, it could be a complete work of
fiction. No. You get your money after I see my boy.”

Robert checked his watch again. He wasn’t going to be able
to place any bets that day. “Come on,” he said, standing.

“Where?” Chris asked, taking a deliberate drag on his tea
and not moving.

“To the school. To see your boy.”

Chapter Five

When they approached the house, Dale saw their mom’s car sat
in the driveway. “We shouldn’t bring him in,” he hissed to Nora. Their plan
seemed absurd.
Kostya
looked out of place on the
road, still bleeding and, now, limping. “Maybe we should take him to a doctor
or something.”

“I’ll distract Mom in the kitchen. You bring him in through
the front door,” Nora whispered in return, ignoring his concerns. She walked
away from them and went into the house through the door in the garage that led
straight to the kitchen.

“Come on,” Dale said, with poor grace. He unlocked the front
door, pushed open the heavy wood, then stopped and listened. Nora was talking
with Mom in the kitchen. He listened for a moment. She was telling her about
the “painting” they’d done on the beach.

The dwarf gave an odd shudder as he stepped over the
threshold. “Human houses, eh?” he whispered, shivering again and looking
around.

That relieved Dale. It meant
Kostya
wouldn’t stick around, not if the house bothered him so much.
Kostya
looked around curiously as Dale led him past the
plain, gray couch they’d bought used, the mournfully empty bookcase built into
the far wall, then down the hall into Nora’s room. They stood there awkwardly
for a moment. “
Uhm
. You want a washcloth or something
to clean up with? And some Band-Aids?”

“Bandages are unnecessary,”
Kostya
told him. “But a washrag would be nice. You wouldn’t happen to have an old
shirt that would fit me, would you?”

“I’ll check,” Dale told him. “I’ll be right back.” He left
the room in a hurry. The dwarf seemed unreal standing in Nora’s messy bedroom.
Even though Dale had seen Nora do a little magic, it wasn’t until that moment that
he believed
Kostya
wasn’t human. He didn’t fit in Nora’s
room or in their house in some essential way, like a gear with a broken tooth,
almost running smoothly, just catching now and again.

First Dale grabbed a couple of T-shirts from his room that
were way too big for him, that he also didn’t care if they got ruined. Then he
went into the bathroom. While running a washcloth under warm water, he got
distracted looking at his neck. Bruises already blossomed in a line across his
throat. He swallowed. No wonder they were starting to hurt. They were going to
take a while to fade as well.

Kostya
had removed his shirt when
Dale got back. The guy had muscles everywhere. Dale’s anxiety renewed.
Kostya
could really hurt someone. He handed the dwarf the
washcloth.
Kostya
sighed in contentment at the
warmth, quickly cleaning the blood off his cuts. They looked to be healing
already. Yet another reminder that the dwarf wasn’t human.

When Dale came back from rinsing out the washcloth—his
mom would have freaked at finding it so bloody—he found
Kostya
looking around Nora’s room. He’d put Dale’s old
compass T-shirt on but tied it at the waist, because otherwise it would have fallen
to his knees. He looked so out of place, like frosting on the back of the couch.

“Ah, sorry for the junk everywhere,” Dale said. Unordered,
unlabeled bags lay scattered across the floor. The plastic box containing Nora’s
knitting needles was open, half the contents spilled out. Dirty clothes lay in
piles, as well as collections of rocks, books, papers, and other miscellaneous
things.

Kostya
smiled at Dale. “No apology
necessary. This feels like home.”

Dale shook his head. Great. Another freak. The door opened
and Dale froze, but it was just Nora.

“Dinner’s in five minutes.” Nora looked critically at the
shirt
Kostya
wore. “I can cut that down later, if you’d
like.”

“Tied is fine. Thank you, miss,”
Kostya
said.

Then Nora turned to Dale. “I have an idea.” She dove into
her closet and produced the black-and-white scarf she’d knit for Talk Like a Pirate
Day. “Put this on,” she instructed Dale.

“Mom’s going to ask just as many questions if she sees me
wearing this,” Dale said, holding it reluctantly.

Nora shrugged. “You lost a bet. You have to talk like a
pirate for the rest of the night.”

“Nor!” Dale complained. Then he got an idea. “Only if you
lost a bet as well.”

Puzzled, Nora nodded.

“Give me two minutes, and a hairband,” Dale instructed. Nora
handed him a wide plastic hairband. Dale wrapped the scarf carefully around his
neck, then snuck down the hall to his room.

Precisely two minutes later, Nora knocked on Dale’s door. He
presented her with mouse ears made out of spare clock parts and attached to the
hairband. “Your crown, my lady.”

Nora rolled her eyes, but put it on.

“Perfect,” Dale chortled. “Let’s go get some grub, argh,” he
continued in his best pirate’s voice.

Nora laughed and led the way.

The pair of them maintained the pirate and the mouse
princess routine all through dinner, making their mom laugh. They had leftovers
again that night, spaghetti from two nights before, with fresh garlic bread and
broccoli. Dale had two glasses of milk, as well as three servings of bread. He
was hungry all the time again—his mom predicted another growth spurt.

Dale and Nora sat on one side of the table while Mom sat on
the other. It had been uncomfortable when they’d spaced out more, sitting on
three sides of the table. The fourth spot had always felt empty, as if they
were expecting someone to join them. It let their mom tease Nora and Dale about
ganging up on her, as well as giving both the twins the opportunity for the
occasional kick under the table.

Finally, as they finished, Mom said, “I know tomorrow’s the
last day of school and we should do something special. However, I have a doctor’s
appointment.”

“That’s too bad,” Nora said.

“Is everything okay?” Dale asked. Mom did look a bit more
pale than usual.

“Yes, everything’s fine.”

“You always say that,” Dale accused.

Mom sighed. “I missed my semiannual appointment with my
cardiologist. It had been scheduled for just after we left. I just need to go
in and have my heart checked, as always. Really, it isn’t anything to worry
about.”

Dale looked at Nora, but she started talking about the
projects she’d planned for the rest of the summer. Dale restrained himself from
kicking her. Didn’t she see that Mom was lying? No, of course not. Nora never
wanted to see, not when Mom was sick, not when Dad was mean.

While Dale finished up the dishes, Nora snuck back into the
kitchen. She grabbed a couple hard-boiled eggs, some lunch meat, and an apple. “For
our guest,” she whispered before heading back to her room.

Kostya
wasn’t a guest. He was an
intruder, set on disrupting their lives as much as the move to Oregon had. Dale
thought for a moment about everything he’d left behind. He’d never said goodbye
to Steve or Derik or any of his friends. He’d never tried contacting them. They
had no idea what had happened. Dale figured they’d reason it out—both
Steve and Derik had told him they thought his dad was a jerk.

Nora had at least said goodbye in a way—she’d sent a
blast text to her friends, referring to the initials of a TV show about people
going into witness protection. Then she’d maintained radio silence, like Dale.

They both missed their friends. However, Nora seemed to meet
people more easily than Dale. She at least had girls she could eat lunch with, whom
she walked to classes with. Dale bit down on his lower lip, hard, trying to
distract himself. He was
not
going to
cry. He shook his head, wincing at the pain in his throat. Damn fairies. He
grew more angry, determined not to feel sorry for himself.

By the time Dale put away the last dish, he was grinding his
teeth. He didn’t want to hear about
Kostya’s
long
feud with the fairies. All he wanted to know was how to destroy them.

***

Chris could barely contain his excitement. He was going to
see his son! He hadn’t really doubted Robert, or thought the photos had been
spoofed. While a gentleman always paid his debts, it was all right to slide a
little when dealing with people like Robert. He looked like a crooked
accountant, with black-rimmed glasses and a cheap white shirt. The few times
Chris had gotten the private investigator to talk, it had been all about the
horses or the latest baseball scores. A gentleman might make a side bet, but
Robert had a problem. Chris paying him would be enabling Robert’s gambling
habit—so, by not paying him, Chris was actually helping him.

Robert’s car was both what Chris expected and a surprise: a
ratty old foreign-made vehicle, but meticulously clean on the inside, with an
engine that purred. Chris didn’t want to ride with Robert, but the man had
given him no choice. Plus, they had no time to argue. School let out at noon
that day.

“This will be the best way to see him,” Robert told Chris
earnestly as he tore out of the parking lot. “Last day of school. It’s going to
be a zoo.”

Chris nodded. Robert was smarter than Chris had given him
credit. It wouldn’t matter if Chris knew where his son’s school was, not if
today was the last day.

“No getting out of the car. No talking with him,” Robert
warned.

Chris easily agreed, knowing there was nothing Robert could
do to stop him.

The town looked pretty enough. He knew Denise would love the
large planters of flowers on the sidewalk of Main Street, as well as the quaint
shops. They’d shared that love of small towns and quiet communities. It didn’t
surprise Chris that she’d landed here.

Just past the business district, Robert turned down a side
street. Houses with proper lawns lined the street, many flying the flag. Chris
approved. If only Denise had told him just how unhappy she’d been in L.A., he
would have moved to someplace like this, as long as he could have found a job
as high-paying as his one there.

After a few more turns, the streets grew wider, with
boulevards full of thick grass and huge old trees. Chris heard the school
before he saw it—a hundred exuberant voices shouting their freedom.

Big yellow school buses lined the long side of the street.
Robert drove past them, turned the corner, then pulled into an empty space. He
handed Chris a pair of binoculars. “Now, be careful. Cops in these parts get
twitchy about guys watching kids from their car. Dale’s bus is the second from
the end.”

Eagerly, Chris searched for his son. He was easy to pick out
from the milling boys, with his tow-blond hair—the same color Chris’ had
been when he’d been growing up.

Dale didn’t look any older, or even that much bigger than
the last time Chris had seen him. He talked earnestly with two of his
friends—a black kid and a tall, brooding boy. Chris smiled. Of course his
son could make friends with anyone. He might act shy or sensitive sometimes,
but that was just his mother’s bad influence.

Chris put down the binoculars and reached for the door. He
had to go see Dale, talk with him, now. However, the car was already moving.

“Cops,” Robert said shortly. “Saw one headed our way.”

Chris turned and looked through the rear window. A cop now
stood directly across the street from where they’d been parked, looking at
them. Deflated, Chris turned back. He’d really wanted to talk to Dale. However,
maybe it would be better if he could see his son alone, someplace more private,
first. He stayed deep in his thoughts on the way back to the restaurant,
considering and ditching plans for arranging such a meeting.

When they arrived, Robert grabbed his pile of folders from
the backseat. “Schedules, more photos, cell phone numbers, everything you need
to find your son, talk with him, and persuade him to come with you.”

Chris’ mouth watered. Everything he wanted was in his reach.
“Robert, you are doing the Lord’s work, you know that? I’m not only going to
write you a check, I’m giving you a ten-percent bonus as a finder’s fee.”

For a moment Chris thought Robert would protest. The
original fee had been a cashier’s check, and Robert had asked for the rest like
that as well. However, after a moment Robert smiled and nodded. “Sure, that’ll
be great.”

Chris pulled out the checkbook from his jacket pocket. He’d
closed the account when he’d left L.A., draining the balance. The check would
bounce harder than a rubber ball on concrete.

After Chris handed over the check, Robert handed over the
files.

“Son, I owe you one. You ever in L.A., you look me up.”
Chris handed Robert a business card from the job he no longer had. “Pleasure
doing business with you.” He shook Robert’s hand one last time, then got out of
the car.

As Chris walked back to his car, Robert rolled down his
window. “When the check clears, you’ll get the address to the house,” he called
out.

“You son of a—” Chris turned and ran back toward
Robert. However, Robert was already racing out of the parking lot.

Fuming, Chris sat in his car and leafed through the folders
Robert had given him. He should have expected the double cross. What good did
his son’s class schedule do him when school had let out for the summer?

Well, two of them could play the tracking game. How many
hotels were there in a town with fewer than ten thousand people? Chris would
just have to find Robert and take what was his.

***

Dale sat uncomfortably on Nora’s messy bed. The wall he
leaned against was too cold, but he didn’t want to sit up straight. When he
rested his head it relaxed his neck, which had started to thrum with pain. Nora
sat next to him, fiddling with some yarn.

“The kinds of magic humans can do is divided roughly into
three categories,”
Kostya
said as he walked, stopping
to pick up a battered bag from the floor and looking at it curiously. “Most are
Ghost Herders. They deal with the past. Haunted places and calling spirits.” He
put the bag down and wandered over to the pile of knitting needles, testing the
point of one. “The next largest group are the Fortune Tellers. They deal with
the future. They use palms, cards, entrails, candle wax, even clouds to see
what is coming.”

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