Eunice’s words are drowned out by the static over the squawk box, but his tone is rushed either in excitement or fear. Even though I know it’s futile, I try and respond a couple of
Eunice’s words are drowned out by the static over the squawk box, but his tone is rushed either in excitement or fear. Even though I know it’s futile, I try and respond a couple of times, adjusting the frequency on the radio and requesting a callback. The static only grows stronger.
Holtz Hollow is deep in the Appalachians. On a good day, most radio and cell signals bounce off the hills and trees before hitting the little valley town. When the folk in the mountains get to stirring though, then the town might as well be a dead zone. Nothing gets in, and nothing gets out.
I swallow the sigh and reach for the cup of coffee and drain it in one gulp. If a ring’s been opened, that means it’s going to be a long night. After returning the cup to its holder, I turn on the red and blue lights and head to the north side of town. Communications may be dead, but the hollow ain’t a big place. Haven’t come across anything southside that would rile Eunice, so I retrace my steps back toward the station.
I find the disturbance at the hollow’s only watering hole, Robin’s Roost. Every couple of nights or so I get called out here on some routine police work. Alcohol and policing go hand in hand. Normally it’s just the same mean drunks engaged in a shouting match, and most of the time the whirling lights stop it from escalating further. This time though the roost’s regulars are outside, huddled around the bar. A couple of the regular drunken assholes are sporting black eyes and busted lips. They’re gathered together, reluctant adversaries against a common foe. A foe who looks to have been on the winning side of an ass-kicking contest.
I put the jeep into park and step out. A wave of drunken rabble crowd around me, their combined storytelling merging into gibberish. I put my hands up in a peaceful gesture and push past them toward the only sober person in the lot.
Robin paces a little way from the crowd, all three hundred pounds of him. He’s threatening to burst out from the suspenders tight across his bare flesh. A cheap cigar dangles from his lips, its red tip bobbles with his motion.
Robin comes to a sudden stop as he looks up in my direction. His flabby arms ripple in angry waves as he starts brandishing his hands. “You got to do something about this, Haze! You can’t just let these got-dang freaks come over here and ruin thing for us regular folk!”
“That’s why I’m here, Rob.” I gesture toward his place. “What kind of out-of-towners we dealing with?”
“How the hell should I know?” He turns and spits. “I’m supposed to know every ringer that comes trouncing out the hills?”
I allowed the “freak” comment to pass because someone had come in and upset his place of business. Most rational people are bound to forget their manners when something like that happens, and Rob is shorter on brains than most. But I shoot him a glare to remind him to consider his language carefully. He swallows, and his double-chins quiver. His eyes flicker to the slight points of my ears, my bright-colored eyes, and then to the gun at my hip.
“I didn’t mean—”
“I know what you meant. Give me something to go on. You’ve lived here your whole life, hell, you get Old Folk in the roost as often as you get locals. What are we dealing with, elves? Pixies?”
I start down the list of our most frequent visitors when the bar’s window shatters. Glass explodes into the parking lot as something big and metal bounces across the lot. The crowd shouts and retreats, some heading for their cars, but nobody leaves. Excitement like this doesn’t come to a small town often, not even in Holtz Hollow. I walk over and examine the projectile. A keg, completely drained of beer. Its top is popped off, and two massive dents on either side have crumpled it up like a beer can.
“You think one of them little folk can do something like this?” Rob waddles beside me, his face reddened and sweaty. “I ain’t never seen nothing like them before. Big and ugly. And mean, Haze. Real mean.”
“Looks like someone’s got themselves a troll problem.” A high-pitched voice says on the wind, followed by a hiccup and the smell of mixed booze.
Recognizing the voice, I open my hand. A light flickers in front of my eyes in an erratic zig-zag before crashing into my palm. The fairy bounces once before landing on his ass with another hiccup, lighting his whole body up in a flash of light. Black and yellow stripped clothes adorn his body with a matching tiny wool cap. Glossy wings stretch from his shoulders down to his feet. The entire length of his body is just a bit more than my pinky.
“Got-dangit, Billy Bee!” Rob pokes one of his sausage fingers towards my hand, and I move it out of his way. “You’re banned from this here establishment!”
“Better barkeeps than you have tried, fat boy.” Billy climbs to a wobbly stance and raises his fists.
I turn away from Rob and march back to the jeep before the situation escalates further. Billy Bee has been a constant thorn in Rob’s side. A literal barfly, Billy floats from drink to drink, siphoning off his weight in alcohol. A lot of the fights I’ve been called out to stop had been instigated by him, distracting the patrons for better access to their glasses. Still, Billy has been through more rings than anyone else in the hollow. His information makes up for the public disturbances.
“Trolls?” I lean against the jeep. “You sure about that, Billy?”
“Sure as I am Rob waters down his drinks.”
“Huh.” I glance toward the bar. “Never dealt with them before. Heard a few stories from my mamaw, though. They as bad as she said?”
“Worse.” He shivers. “Much as I hate to give Rob any credit he ain’t wrong. Rough, tough, and mean. Especially when they’ve been drinking.”
“Ought to fit right in at the roost then.”
“Hazel,” A note of seriousness sounds through Billy’s usual drunken reverie, forcing me to look down at him. “They’re earth-folk. Incredibly strong and damned near invincible. You don’t want to fight them alone. Hell, you don’t want to fight them with an army.”
A table comes flying through the broken window. It arcs high in the air, and I trace its downward path to my direction. Turning my head, I raise my free hand over Billy as the table crashes just short of my jeep. It lands in a crash loud as thunder and showers me with a light mist of splinters.
Two booming sets of harsh laughter echo throughout the parking lot. The assembled drunks mutter in complaints laced with anger, and Rob is glaring in my direction. Holtz Hollow’s law enforcement consists of me and Eunice on the radio. Far short of the army that Billy recommends. But the accords that let the Old Folk cross over like my family had generations ago hinge on the people of Holtz Hollow. If they don’t feel safe, they can rescind the accords. And while people like Rob may think that they get the short end of the stick, the fact is that without the Old Folk the hollow would’ve died out along with the coal in the mountains. Both people need me to step up and do my job.
“You said damn near invincible.” I look down at Billy. “That ain’t invincible.”
Billy’s pleading gaze melts into concern. “Sunlight. Big bastards turn to stone in the morning.”
Night is heavy on the town. The sun had fallen just a couple of hours ago. It would be another ten hours or so before it peeked out over the mountains. Robin’s Roost would be rubble by then.
“Leave that to me. You sober enough to fly?”
Billy hiccupped again. “I fly better drunk.”
“Going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” I rub my eyes with my free hand. “All right, I’m going to need you to run a few messages for me. Let Eunice know that I’m responding to the call. Then get word to the ring keepers. We ain’t ever had trolls before, and I need to know whose ass to kick for letting these drunks cross. See if they can scrounge up any backup from the accords too while you’re at it.”
“So,” A grin rises across Billy’s face. “does this mean I’m being deputized?”
“Just for the night.”
“Great.” He clears his throat. “I believe there’s supposed to be an exchange of words.”
Fairies. Always a stickler for ceremony.
“I, Hazel Brown, Constable of Holtz Hollow and the Crossroad Accords hereby deputize you, Billy Bee, for the duration of the night to carry out the duties of the office.”
“I won’t let you down, Haze.” Billy fires off a quick salute and disappears in another hiccupping puff of light.
I pop the hood of my trunk and undo the ten pounds of utility belt around my waist. After storing it for safekeeping, I put on a different belt. Instead of a baton, a short sword hangs on one hip, and a wooden gun on the other. After fastening it tight, I drape the shield across my back. Properly geared up, I head towards Robin’s Roost and the trolls inside, the eyes of the crowd bearing down on me.