“I do know ASL, so it’s not necessary for you to be here.” The man sitting on the other side of the booth, tall and lithe and poured into a suit it would have taken Bunkin two months to afford, stared with a raised eyebrow. He brought his hands together, sleeves pulling back to show an obscenely-large gold watch. “I would feel more comfortable if I could discuss my problem in private with the man I’d like to solve it.”
Bunkin leaned forward to mimic the well-dressed man’s posture, though he had to lean around Sergei’s bulk to do it. “Sir Kolov appreciates that you prepared so well for this meeting, but he would like to remind you that I am his squire and assistant in all things. I am as much a part of your solution as he is.”
He stole a glance at Sergei, who looked down at him with a smile. After a pause, he nodded. Bunkin beamed, then remembered his composure. Still, he couldn’t help keeping a triumphant grin on his face as he turned back to their client. “So, Mr. Washington, what can we do for you?”
Mr. Washington frowned at Bunkin, looked pleadingly for some give on the part of Sergei, and sighed when he found none. “Very well. I need your word that what I’m about to tell you will be held in the strictest confidence. You cannot divulge any of this to anyone — not even to other members of any motley or freehold you belong to. Do I have your promise, Sergei Kolov and Bunkin Johnson?”
Sergei nodded immediately; Bunkin could feel it in the shift of that great arm jamming him into the wall. The pooka, on the other hand, closed his eyes and forced himself to swallow the multitude of interesting possibilities he could have offered as an answer. He took a deep breath, forced himself to look at the boring grey brick of truth, and coughed it up out of his throat. “I promise. You have my word.”
He slumped and looked down at the table. Suddenly, his burger was just a mess of processed beef and a slop of condiments. His shake tasted more like chemicals and less like strawberries. The sheen that made Mr. Washington’s skin glow wasn’t some fine grooming product, but nothing more than a two-dollar coat of cocoa butter. Bunkin resented this man for making him see things as they are. It left an awful taste in his mouth that lingered.
Mr. Washington, however, relaxed with a sigh. “Good,” he said.
He drew himself up, attracting Bunkin’s attention once more. Under his flawless brown skin and tailored suit was an even more supernaturally-perfect sidhe with robes of spider-silk and woven silver, spun rubies and emeralds. Mr. Washington allowed his disguise to fall, revealing himself as Count Akkin, ruler of the Freehold of Essex.
“I have a small problem with a…chimera…who seems to have become rather obsessed with me. It’s causing disruptions at my court, and I’m afraid it’s gotten to the point that I need it to be removed.”
“How do you mean, removed? Do you want us to destroy it?” Bunkin’s long ears perked and swung forward. The pooka relaxed his mortal seeming as well, revealing his large dark eyes, the suggestion of a muzzle on his face, the fine coating of fur on clawed hands. His green tunic, emblazoned with the crest he himself made for Sir Kolov, felt shabby and rough on his shoulders as he looked at Count Akkin’s fine dress.
“I would rather it not come to that, of course.” The Count spoke carefully, glancing to Bunkin before focusing on Sergei. “I believe that it could be persuaded to go elsewhere, if the right Kithain of noble intent were to intervene.”
Sergei shifted in his seat uncomfortably. Bunkin said, “Sir Kolov would like to know why you would like to be rid of this chimera. What sort of disruption is it causing?”
The Count coughed. “Well, you see…as you know, I have recently been engaged to Lady Tenithia and our wedding will be held in four weeks. This chimera did not take the news of my betrothal very well and it seeks to, er, persuade me to reconsider.”
The fur on the back of Bunkin’s neck bristled and a bolt of delight struck right down his spine. “You mean this chimera is jealous of your fiancee?”
If the Count were less composed, Bunkin was sure he would have seen the blush. He glanced at Sergei, and gave a short nod. “Yes.”
“Sir Kolov would like to know if you have any personal history with this chimera.” Bunkin pounced immediately, wiggling around Sergei’s elbow when it threatened to pin his chest.
“We might have…there is history, yes.”
“Could you elaborate?” Bunkin felt himself being compacted further into his corner of the booth by the Silent Knight, but he couldn’t let this go.
“I may have…created her.” The Count was not looking at either of them now. He was staring at his hands.
Bunkin’s chest felt tight and light at the same time. He had never seen a sidhe so uncomfortable. His ear flicked, and he felt his smile grow so big it stretched his entire face. “Her?”
Sergei’s elbow slammed into Bunkin’s chest. It was a short, almost subtle movement, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him and force him to leave off the chase. The pooka coughed and rubbed the point of impact. He was sure there would be a bruise.
I apologize for my squire, Sergei signed. He is still learning the etiquette of gentlemen. Of course I’ll help your chimera find a new freehold to call home.
Count Akkin took a moment while the troll signed, deciphering the movement of those massive hands. “Thank you,” he said, after he was sure he understood.
Think nothing of it. How will we recognize the chimera when we arrive?
The Count took another minute to translate the movements, and when he understood an indecipherable expression crossed his face. “She is…quite recognizable. You shouldn’t have any trouble spotting her.”
“Could you give us a description?” Bunkin recovered enough to resume his function, doing his best to keep his composure.
“She…uh…she looks like Beyonce.” The Count’s lanky frame slunk into its seat. His shoulders hunched further at the sound of Bunkin’s long, loud laughter as it echoed through the restaurant.
“Beyonce?!?” The pooka shouted giddily, and caught another elbow in the ribs. This time, the air left him with an audible whoosh; but he kept giggling around wheezes of breath.
Sergei arranged a time to arrive at the Freehold, and the Count offered an official title in exchange for his services. The troll, in the interest of shortening the meeting as much as possible, told him he’d think about it; Akkin left before Bunkin could get his breath back, darting out of the booth and walking out of the restaurant as quickly as his dignity would allow him.
Bunkin caught Sergei’s disapproving glare and folded his ears with appropriate abashedness. “Oh come on, though, you have to admit that is hilarious. Dude dreams up Beyonce to love on him and tries to kick her to the curb, and we’re supposed to think he’s the victim here? What a fucking idiot.”
Sergei’s glare melted into exasperation, then the slightest hint of amusement.