Spray Cream

Fiona stopped and ran back up the stairs of the converted house.  Yes, she had remembered to lock the door.  She turned around, half smiling, and knocked straight into a man.  She looked up and took a breath.  It wasn’t every day she bumped into someone tall, dark and handsome.  The last time she did that she had ended up running a shop with Kadogan.  This man seemed far more normal.  He was tall, at least six inches taller than her, and the arms that had grabbed her to stop her falling down the stairs were wonderfully solid.

“Sorry!” Fiona said.  “I didn’t see you.”

“I can never remember whether I’ve locked my door either.” He smiled and carefully stepped away.  “I’m Kayne Brooke, your new neighbour.”

“That’s right.  Tim left to go backpacking, didn’t he?” She smiled.  “I’m Fiona Greene.  It’s nice to meet you.”

“It’s nice to meet you too.” Kayne stepped away from the top of the stairs.  “After you.  You look in a rush.”

“I’m on my way to work.  I’ll see you later.” Fiona clattered down the stairs, still smiling.

Fiona enjoyed her walk to work.  Usually she was lost in thoughts of what she had waiting for her at the White Hart but today she was thinking about Kayne Brooke.  Something was nagging at her.  He looked familiar.  Her mind chased itself in circles as she cut along Gillygate and down towards the river.  Had she seen him before?  She didn’t remember him, and he was good looking so she would surely not have forgotten any encounter.  Perhaps she had seen him in a shop or a bar?  Inwardly she shook her head.  She had hardly been anywhere since before Christmas and the feeling she had was that they had met recently.  Perhaps she had seen him in the shop?  It clicked.  Kayne looked like Lord Ragnar.  He may even be the person Lord Ragnar stole his appearance from.  It wasn’t an exact copy.  Kayne’s hair was darker and his eyes were more grey than green, but it was quite close.  Fiona quickened her pace as she got nearer the White Hart.  Now she had got that out of the way she could concentrate on the shop.

She nodded at the brownies who were leaving and bustled into the back room.  Today was an Earl Grey sort of day, she thought, as she pulled out her teabag selection.  Kadogan was suddenly standing next to her.

“Fiona Greene, have you considered moving into the White Hart?  There are many rooms.”

“I’m happy where I am.” Fiona flicked on the kettle.  “Besides, there’s Dave, Ian and Mrs Tuesday already there.  We’re nearly full.  And where do you live?”

Kadogan looked shifty and shrugged.  “It’s an elfen thing.” He frowned.  “You would be safer here.”

“York is not a dangerous place.” Fiona pulled her laptop out of her bag.  “And I don’t live far at all.”

“It may be appropriate for someone to walk you to and from your rooms then.” Kadogan looked uncomfortable.  “I know Ian would be happy to do so.”

Fiona pulled out another mug for Kadogan, dropped another Earl Grey teabag into it and added three sugars.  “If I am worried I can always call Dave or Ian.  Dave’s giving me some self defence lessons tonight after the shop shuts.  I don’t think I’ll need them.”

“I cannot always escort you.” Kadogan paced up and down the small kitchenette at the back. “What would happen if you were to be hurt?  It would be my fault.”

“It would be the fault of the person who hurt me.” Fiona poured the boiling water into the mugs.  “How are we for candles.”

“We are adequately served for candles.” Kadogan took the mug of tea.  “But Mrs Tuesday said that stocks of mullein were becoming deficient.  When is Steve Adderson due to arrive?”

“He’ll be here soon.” Fiona took her mug and laptop out to the main desk.  “We’re sorting out the website.  Steve was talking about moving to York and there is a flat empty underneath me.  If he takes that he could walk me to and from the White Hart.”

“I never understand the rush to live under the same roof before marriage.” Kadogan grumbled.

“We’ll be in separate flats, just neighbours.” Fiona wasn’t paying much attention.

“I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to share space with that imp.” Kadogan sipped his tea and sighed with pleasure.  “You make a wonderful cup of tea.”  The door rattled and Kadogan took the large bundle of post from the postman.  “The catalogues seem to be doing well.”

“It’s still all test purchases.”  Fiona took the stack, grabbed a paper knife and started opening them.  “We’ll have to wait and see if we get repeat business.”

“Are you sure you’re ready for living with Steve Adderson?” Kadogan tentatively tried Mrs Tuesday’s tactic.  “I mean, you hardly know him.”

“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona quickly sorted the post into piles.  “He’ll be in a different flat in the same building.”

“You saw what Armani was like when he had rum.” Kadogan was almost mesmerised a Fiona’s hands flicked the post between the stacks.  “I believe he is worse when he has gin.  He cries.”

“I won’t be living with him.” Fiona flicked through the orders.  “There’s plenty to keep Ian going here.”

“You mean you’ll move here?” Kadogan brightened up.

“No, I mean that I’ll be in a separate flat, just in the same building.  We’ll be neighbours.  I’ll just take these orders to the back.”

The orders were in two stacks.  The largest stack was the one with the pre printed forms.  Fiona could confidently leave those for Ian.  The others were the long and rambling hand written letters, often in strange ink, which had to be picked through and Ian was still learning the ropes.  She glanced up at the clock.  It was twenty minutes before opening.  She switched on the coffee machines and hot water urns in the café so that they would be ready for the first customer before settling down with the letters.  The first one was on pink paper, in violet ink, written in exquisite copperplate and incredibly badly spelled.

She was half way through and frowning over a particularly awkward word when Dave clattered downstairs for his run.  She looked up at him.  “Can you read this?”

Dave bent over and looked.  He shook his head.  “I have no idea.  Are you still on for tonight?”

“I’m looking forward to it – I think.” Fiona smiled.

“I’ve got some mats down in a corner of the cellar.” Dave tried to phrase the next question carefully.  “Do you work out much?”

“Not at all.” Fiona said cheerfully, “I am a couch potato.  Does that mean that you’re likely to get me to the gym?”

“It wouldn’t hurt, but I just wanted to work out where to aim the lesson.” Dave checked the appointment book.  “Looks like I’ve got the morning off.  I’m off to the gym and I’ll be back around lunchtime.”  He hesitated.  “Perhaps you can get Ian to have a look around your flat, make sure it’s secure.”

Fiona looked up.  “Have you been talking to Kadogan?”

Dave didn’t smile.  “It could get scary.  Just be careful.”

Fiona turned back to the orders.  Most were straightforward but all of the handwritten ones had something in common – spray cream.  Elfen from Kirkwall on Orkney to Bexhill on the South Coast were asking for spray cream.  It didn’t make sense.  You could get it in almost every corner shop.  The door jangled as Louise came in.  Fiona looked up.

“Why is everyone ordering spray cream?” she asked in bewilderment.  “You can get it anywhere.”

Louise grinned as she hung up her coat in the back.  “But they’re not sure about anywhere else.  They don’t trust normal shops, remember.  Half the elfen don’t speak to normals from one year’s end to the other.  Why do you think Steve does such good business in tinsel?  It’s sold by the yard in supermarkets.  It’s just elfen don’t trust normal shops.”

Fiona frowned.  “We keep our spray cream in the fridge.  Does it need to be kept cold?” Louise shrugged then looked at the door.  “Hang on, it’s the bread man.  I’ll take the delivery then I’ll check the tin.”

They manhandled the trays in as Mrs Tuesday came down, smoothing down her clean apron and setting up the chairs.  Fiona was worrying about the spray cream.  “We can’t sell it mail order if it has to be kept cool.” She placed the crumpets at the back of the shelf.  “There are enough rules about sending aerosols as it is.”

“It may depend on the brand.” Louise recounted the loaves.  “We’re half a dozen brown sliced short.  I’ll give them a ring.”

Fiona stacked the trays and looked at Mrs Tuesday who was refilling the sauces.  “Mrs Tuesday, are we paying you?”

Mrs Tuesday smiled at Fiona.  “Kadogan and I have come to an arrangement.  I help out here and in return I’m kept busy.” Her smile grew wider as she saw Fiona’s confusion.  “I’ve been moping, and that’s not like a boggart.  I had a bad time a few years ago.” For a moment a shadow passed across Mrs Tuesday’s face.  “I did my duty, and I’m not ashamed, but it wasn’t fun.  Kadogan asking me here has given me a new lease of life.  I’ll be back at fighting weight before you know it.”

Fiona looked doubtfully at the small, elderly lady in front of her.  She knew that Mrs Tuesday probably looked different under the glamour, but she felt old.  “As long as you are okay about it.”

“I’m fine.” Mrs Tuesday looked up.  “Another coach party – and we’ve hardly got the coffee hot!”

Fiona sagged as the coach party left and opened up her laptop.  “Mrs Tuesday, what does the spray cream say about keeping it cool?”

The old boggart stopped loading the dishwasher and checked.  “They all say, ‘Keep Chilled’,” she said.  “Is that a problem?”

Fiona shook her head and started searching the internet.  Suddenly aware of a shadow she looked up to find Steve leaning against the counter.  He grinned.

“I can hook you up with a good spray cream supplier,” he said, “But you have to keep it between ourselves.”

Fiona smiled back.  “I’d take it to the grave.”

“We need to get the website sorted out.” Steve said.  He casually turned the laptop so that he could lean towards Fiona.  “Don’t look surprised at what I’m saying.” Steve casually tapped in a ‘Build Your Own Website’ site.  “Listen, Lord Marius and Kadogan are determined to get us together.  It’s going to be hard to resist.  Why don’t we, I don’t know, try dating to see if they’re right.”

Fiona tried to glance casually up at Steve.  He was trying very hard to look unconcerned.  “It might be an idea,” she said quietly as she pointed at a particular template.  Mrs Tuesday looked like she was busy restocking the cakes but she had ears like a bat.

“But we don’t let them interfere.” Steve said.  “We keep it to ourselves and we can decide if it will work or not.  Then we can either let them gloat or tell them to back off.”

“I like that style.” Fiona pointed at a clean looking set up, then quietly said, “Will they ever back off.”

“Probably not.” Steve bookmarked a page.  “Listen, why don’t I come round tonight.  I’ll bring wine, we can watch a film, talk about the website and see how it works.”

“I’ll get pizza.” Fiona said.  “It won’t be quite the style that Kadogan set up, but I don’t think that matters.”

Dave felt restless as he ran back to the White Hart.  There seemed to be something nagging at the back of his mind and he couldn’t put his finger on it.  Both Kadogan and Ian seemed worried.  Mentally he frowned as he weaved through the stragglers in Rowntree Park.  A bit of a brawl at a taxi rank was one thing, but this was werewolves and vampires and who knew what else.  He ran out of the park and onto the pavement.  The trouble was, he didn’t know who he could trust.  Ian was pretty safe but he was working through his own demons.  Dave could remember the snarling ball of fur at the fight behind the allotments.  He slowed down.  It was happening again.

It looked like a kid barely able to shave had lost his temper.  Dave slowed down as he checked out the skinny frame and the thin face as the kid threw around the huge metal bins twice the size of him, crashing them against the wall and bouncing them around, cackling.  Dave blinked.  There seemed to be some sort of haze around the kid.  He really wanted to walk away from what looked like a seriously drugged up teen but he couldn’t help himself.  How did it go?  Make eye contact, keep the voice low and calm and trust your instincts.

“Are you okay?” he said, slowing down as he reached the lad.

The lad glared at him and casually swung a fist sideways against the metal bin next to him.  The row of cycles didn’t even slow it’s fall as it’s massive weight crushed them.  Dave glanced at the castors spinning wildly in the air and looked back at the lad just in time to duck out of the way.  Then he was ducking again and wondering what he was supposed to do now.

“It’s not fair,” the lad shouted.  “They think I’m stupid, but I’m not!”  He kicked out and his foot went through the painted fencing.  “They think they can rip me off, but I won’t let them get away with it.”

“Who’s been ripping you off?” Dave tried to keep his voice calm.  “Is it a teacher or a friend?”

“Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m stupid.  They said they’d be here but suddenly the price is up and I’m not paying it.  Do you know what they called me?”

‘Great,’ thought Dave.  All he needed was a stressed out addict.  What was he doing?  He was a Tarot reader, not a policeman.  He tried to scrabble together his thoughts as he watched the lad punch another of the bins in frustration.  There was a visible dent in the solid steel.

“Evan Tuesday!  What do you think you are doing?”

The lad froze and Dave turned around slowly to see Mrs Tuesday stalking up to the boy like a small and elderly Sergeant Major.  She ignored Dave but glared at Evan who cowered.  Mrs Tuesday folded her arms.  “What’s the meaning of this mess.”

“I didn’t mean it, Auntie Jane.” The lad hunched down in his thin hoodie.

“What do you mean you didn’t mean it?  All these bins didn’t fall over because you tied your shoelace.”  Mrs Tuesday glared at Evan.  “Well, what are you waiting for?  A signed invitation.  Pick them all up.”

Dave watched in astonishment as Evan righted the bins with frequent, nervous glances at Mrs Tuesday.  He helped steady one of the bins, nearly buckling under the weight, as Evan carefully eased it back its slot.  Evan looked at him with a hunted expression.

“Sorry about shouting earlier.” Evan said politely.  He glanced quickly at Mrs Tuesday.  “I wouldn’t have hurt you really.”

“I should hope not.” Mrs Tuesday snapped.  She frowned.  “Are you working?”

“I’m on my lunch break.” Evan wiped his hands down his thin jogging bottoms.  “I came here to get some mullein, but the man was going to charge £3.50 for a little teabag.”  He hunched down even lower.  “I like a cup of mullein at night, I don’t do no harm.  But £3.50 was crazy.”

“Of course it was.” Mrs Tuesday shook her head.  “You can get 25 teabags for £5 at the White Hart.  Was it a boggart?”

For a moment a hint of something hairy and gangling showed through Evan’s glamour as he almost snarled.  “He’s a dirty leech and thinks he’s something special.”

“We don’t use the ‘L’ word.” Mrs Tuesday said sternly but her expression was a lot less fierce.  “Why don’t you come round after your shift and I’ll make you a proper dinner.  Something to stick to your ribs.  A growing lad like you needs a bit of feeding.  Come to the White Hart.”

The tension eased out of Evan.  “That’s great, Auntie Jane.  I’ll be round about seven.”

“It’s a mixed bunch there.” Mrs Tuesday said.  “But it’s a good bunch.  This is Dave, and there’s a werewolf and an elfen, but all good people.  I’ll see you at seven, don’t be late.”

“I won’t, Auntie Jane.” Dave watched with relief as Evan loped off towards the Business Park.  He jumped as Mrs Tuesday turned her attention towards him.

“You can eat with us,” she said firmly.  “You’re far too skinny.  You need a bit of meat on your bones.  But I need to have a word with you as soon as we’re back at the White Hart.”

“I’ve got a reading in an hour and I need a shower…” Dave stammered.

“That’s okay, I want to see you with your shirt off.”

Dave looked for a trace of humour, but Mrs Tuesday looked worried as she set a fast pace to the White Hart.

Fiona was getting sick of spray cream.  Half of the stuff needed to be refrigerated and the rest was an aerosol which needed care in shipping.  And every time she managed a coherent train of thought about the stuff she was interrupted.  All she needed now was a few moments.  Dave was taking a reading upstairs, Louise was in the cellar making lists, Ian had gone to the postal depot and Mrs Tuesday had taken Kadogan to her room for a serious talk.  She felt a presence at the till and quickly bookmarked the page while plastering on a professional smile.  The smile became real when she saw who it was.

“Hello,” said Kayne.  “I didn’t know you worked here.  I had you as someone who worked at an office.” He smiled.  “It’s nice to see you again, neighbour.”

“It’s nice to see you too.” Fiona relaxed a little.  There was something calming about dealing with someone normal, except…  “Can I help you with anything?  Do you need anything specialist?” How do you ask someone if they’re normal?

Kayne looked around.  “It looks a bit, umm…” He searched for a polite phrase.  “It’s more alternative than I’m used to.  I saw you did cards and I want one for my mother’s birthday.”

Fiona relaxed a little more.  “I’m not into a lot of this stuff.” She waved widely at the racks of herbs and arcane utensils.  “My partner deals with that side of the business.  I concentrate more on the gifts and cards.  What does your mother like?”

Kayne hesitated for a moment, then shrugged.  “She always seems to like something different.  What have you got?”

Fiona took him along the shelves of her handmade cards.  She made a mental note to work on some more.  There were plenty on the shelves but not so many in the back.  She picked up a traditional birthday card.  A delicate spray of pink quilled roses arched across a lilac and gilded background.  “How about this?”

“That looks great.” Kayne looked at it closely.  It’s beautifully done.”

“I like making that design.”  Fiona said.  “There’s something very soothing about making those roses.”

Kayne looked at her closely and then back to the card.  “You made this?  You’re incredibly talented.”

“Thanks.” Fiona felt a glow.  She had been so caught up in batches of fern seed and sourcing the spray cream and it was nice to go back to her main love.

“Your welcome.” Kayne watched Fiona slide the card into the custom printed paper bag and smiled as he paid.  “Do you take commissions?  I have some things coming up and it would be great to have custom made cards.”

“Of course.” Fiona took the payment and handed over the card.  “It would be fun to make something special.  Just make sure you give me enough time.  It may be quiet now, but it can get really busy here.”

“Sure.” Kayne tucked the card carefully inside his jacket.  “I’d better go, I’m due back at work, but I’ll let you know about cards.”

Fiona watched him leave and then went to study the cards.  She was barely covering costs, but she was getting so much satisfaction and now she was being asked about making cards to order.  Perhaps she could speak to Kadogan about customising cards for the Princes.  Still smiling, she went back to the spray cream.

Mrs Tuesday watched Kadogan pour his red wine and solemnly add three sugars.  She took a sip of her own tea and carefully placed it in front of her.  The meeting room looked bare and bleak.

“You said it was important.” Kadogan sat opposite his old comrade.

“Reynauld Baxter has been selling mullein teabags to the local young boggarts at inflated prices.  My sister in law’s youngest grandson, Evan, lives just over the river and he was getting stressed about it.”

Kadogan took a careful sip of the wine.  It was never a good idea to make young boggarts stressed.  “There is much uncertainty already in this domain.  It is not a crime as such to trying and get as much as you can for a commodity – we are doing business and making profits.”  Kadogan tapped his long, slim fingers against his glass.  “Howver it is not good to make young boggarts irritated and frustrated.”

“I need to speak to the Prince.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “People never bother much about boggarts.  We’re just expected to get on with it.  Most of the time we do because we don’t care but we shouldn’t be treated like idiots and second class citizens.  We have a value.”

Kadogan nodded.  “I’ll make an appointment for you to meet him.  I’m sure he’ll listen.”

“If he’s got stray werewolves forming into packs he’ll need us boggarts on his side.” Mrs Tuesday said firmly.  “He had better listen.  Evan was making a right mess and Dave was trying to calm him down when I turned up.  By the way, Dave’s the new paladin.  I saw the mark.”

“I am not surprised after the fight with the werewolves.” Kadogan said calmly.  “He was most competent.  Have you told him?”

“I said you would take him to the Templars.”  Mrs Tuesday grimaced.  “Young Dave is a good lad and it’s a shame he’s getting mixed up in the rat’s nest of the Templars, but I suppose it can’t be helped.”

“And afterwards I’ll set up a meeting between you and Lord Ragnar.”  Kadogan drained his glass.  “And then things will be calmer.”

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