It didn’t look like a troll at first. But since this is San Francisco, all sorts of varieties of the weird, the wild, the wonderful and the far-from-wonderful can be found here, and I can assure you that I’ve seen plenty of city folk who could pass for troll. Well, ok…troll-ish; sure, they didn’t have the tusks or the olive-green knobby skin, but they certainly had the personality, the facial hair and the size, and some of them were men. This one…troll, absolutely sure.
I had just left a bar I frequented, the Summersault, and was heading towards the corner where Polk intersects with Eddy, when this long arm reached out of an alley and dragged me into the shadows.
Trolls have two outstanding weaknesses—sunlight and magic. Unfortunately, I don’t usually carry a copy of the compendium de migkal with me into bars. As for sunlight, there is a reason why trolls love the city by the bay; a nice thick layer of high fog tends to cut sunlight down to a tolerable level, especially if you’re a troll.
With strength capable of ripping a solid-core door right off its hinges, the troll heaved me further into the alley.
I tried to roll as I hit, but it’s kind of hard to do that when you’re bouncing off an old rusty dumpster.
It’s funny how the mind works in times of stress. Mine decided to go for gallows humor, the phrase, that’s going to leave a mark, popped into my head as I slammed into the pavement.
Trolls, unlike vampires, are thankfully slow even if they are, excuse the pun, monstrously strong. Any human with even a bit of coordination can dodge a troll’s attack.
That is, if that human wasn’t covered in brand new bumps, bruises and contusions. I think I sensed, more than anything else, the descending foot and rolled out of the way just in time. The troll’s heel thudded into the blacktop and continued on for several inches. I got lucky and the foot got stuck.
Unlike concrete, blacktop is flexible and under pressure it can become gooey. The troll being trapped gave me the time I needed to collect my thoughts and scrabble out of range.
With a final grunting heave the troll pulled its foot free, along with a good-sized chunk of blacktop, but by that time I was at the alley mouth and accelerating. Sure, there was a danger of it chasing after me, but its best run was my jogging speed. And then there were the pedestrians. San Francisco’s sidewalks almost always have crowds during the day, and Trolls don’t do crowds. Lucky me.
My name is Tony Mandolin and up until last year I was an ordinary, run of the mill private investigator with a penchant for being able to find things for my clients. I have no super powers, extrasensory perception, magic or special fighting ability. What I do have is a very annoying stubborn streak and a tendency to cheat when backed into a corner. Nothing stops an aggressor faster than a quick knee to the tender moments. I don’t hit girls.
Some people would consider me tall, but on the not too odd occasion my 6’3″ has looked pretty puny in comparison to the other guy…like a certain troll for example. In my younger days I was tending toward blonde with a reddish beard, when I forgot to shave. Now the temples are turning gray, the beard is more white than red and the eyes have an ever growing set of carry-on’s. I do keep in shape, but it takes more these days to get the same result. The ladies don’t run screaming when they see me, but the current crop of Tom Sellecks are in no danger.
About a year ago I was thrust into a world I had no idea existed. According to a certain alcoholic pixie I know, my human eyes were opened when I decided to take on a case that eventually involved a vampire with ties to the police commissioner’s office. How my eyes were opened is still unclear, but now I can see the world of faerie. That’s right; the world of the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and all the other writers of bedtime stories intended to give little boys and girls bad dreams.
Faeries aren’t nice. In fact, in most cases they aren’t even cordial. Most of them tend to think of humanity as an irritant at best and a food source at worst. Some, such as my booze-loving pixie, can be bargained with, as long as you understand that the penalties for violating the terms of a faerie contract are far more severe than those imposed by, say, the IRS. At least the government doesn’t turn you inside out to think about how badly you screwed up.
The other thing about faeries is that they can’t lie, but that just means they have had millennia to figure out ways of twisting the truth. They make used car salesmen, stock brokers and lawyers look like rank amateurs. That makes bargaining with them about as safe as step dancing on quicksand.
The one good thing about the vampire case was it earned me enough green to buy myself a house. It was no mansion, but it was certainly better than a third floor walk-up overlooking an alley. Not to mention that, being paid off and all, the monthly breakdown of taxes made my house a lot cheaper than rent. I didn’t have a Pacific Heights address by any means, but my front porch did look out on a nice neighborhood park right across the street and it even came with a garage, a rarity in the city. Now all I needed was enough scratch to afford a car and some driving lessons.
I still kept my office. There was a nice comfortable feeling about having a spot in one of the seedier parts of the city with a glass door that had my name on it. It felt like tradition, and ever since last year, for me, tradition had become rather important.
I’d also picked up a partner, of sorts. One Franklin Amadeus Jackson, Frankie to everyone else except the police and a certain billionaire and crime lord we’d helped out.
Frankie, besides being a black man, was the size of one of your average draft horses, incredibly strong and a raging cross-dressing diva…when the mood took him. Imagine a Cher impersonator wearing size 16 pumps and you get the picture.
Ever since the vampire case, Frankie had taken to dressing more like Sam Spade rather than Samantha. I have to say, his Bogart was a better impersonation than his Shatner.
Even though I was able to see all the assorted dwellers in the world of faerie, that didn’t mean I had an automatic ticket to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It does exist, you know, but that gold belongs to the Leprechauns, and Leps tend to get rather possessive about their gilt. You know that series of horror movies about a certain Irish fae? They are closer to the truth than is comfortable.
The last big case I’d had brought in enough of a payday to buy the house, but it had also been the last big payday. It seems the police commissioner never forgave me for being partially responsible for the capture of her meal ticket, even if that meal ticket happened to be an electrolyte-sucking vampire responsible for the deaths of literally hundreds of innocent humans. Since then the lovely Ms. Commissioner had managed to scare off every whale in the ocean. Sure, I still got the occasional cheating husband/wife case, and finding lost poodles kept the utilities paid, but I was getting damned tired of subsisting on pot noodles and coffee.
Ex-police Lieutenant Rorche, a mustachioed, blonde, slightly overweight mass of corruption who had tried to kill me…twice… continued to cool his heels in an orange jumpsuit while reflecting on his various sins. I was almost becoming used to the idea of not having to look over my shoulder. But…Rorche wasn’t the reason for my problem with the commissioner. Neither were Randal Driver, the wealthiest man in the state, nor Antonio Luccesi, the top crime boss in the city, even though they were mostly responsible for forcing the commissioner to back off when she tried to put a wedge in the investigation I had involving her favorite vampire. Driver’s twin daughters were killed by the vampire and, through no little effort on the part of yours truly said vampire was delivered into Mr. Driver’s loving hands. However, the world of politics being what it is, my two favorite whales were occupied with protecting their own assets; pun intended.
So, Tony Mandolin, private eye with one foot into the world of faerie, is forced to pay his bills finding lost fidos and proving whether or not so and so is cheating on so and so.