Characters: Harry, Murphy, faeries
Word count: 2,137
Summary: A string of art vandalism has plagued Chicago and Harry knows just who's behind it.
Author's notes: Written for the art challenge @ dresdenflashfic. Misc. faerie information as well as the nickname of 'Pizza Lord' come from the books, but there are no plot spoilers.
“Why can’t we eat the second pizza?” Murphy asked.
I turned around from where I was hiding behind a plinth in the Art Institute of Chicago Museum and glared at her. “Because we might need it. You already had a pizza, Murph, why did you need another one?”
“I didn’t have all of it,” she objected. “You ate half of it. Four hours ago. I’m hungry. And bored.”
“Shouldn’t you be used to stake-outs by now?” I said. I sat down with my back to the plinth, stretching my legs out beside hers. “You’re a cop. You’ve must have been on dozens of them.”
“Stake-outs are boring,” she said. “You sit and stare at some building for hours until the relief comes and you go home and sleep and come back and do it all again for days at a time, getting all excited when the object of observation comes out, only to realize he’s just hanging out his laundry or filling up the bird feeder. I hate stake-outs. Until those last moments when you realize you have him and you go and kick the door in and arrest the bastard. Then I love stake-outs.”
“You are an adrenaline junkie,” I said. I rummaged through my backpack and pulled out a Twinkie. I tossed it to her. “It’s unhealthy.”
“Says the man who runs into burning buildings and gets a limb broken every two months.”
“I don’t do it for the thrills,” I said. “I do it because I’m an idiot.”
She smirked and ate the Twinkie. I have to admire a girl who’ll eat half a pizza and a Twinkie in one night without hesitation. I peered around my plinth again, looking out at the unobtrusive circle I’d drawn on the floor, which had a slice of pizza in the middle of it. Nothing was happening.
There had been a string of ‘incidents’ at various Chicago art galleries and museums in the past week. Sometime during the night, unknown ‘hooligans’ had broken in and defaced works of art inside them. They had drawn mustaches and black eyes on paintings, placed glasses on statues, that sort of thing. It was all kind of funny, if you didn’t think about the thousands of dollars that had been lost from the now useless art. I decided to step in when a particularly priceless painting had been defaced and the manager of that gallery had a heart attack that put him in the hospital. Heart attacks aren’t funny.
“So, what’s with the pizza again?” Murphy asked.
“They like pizza,” I explained.
“’They’,” she said. I couldn’t see the air quotation marks, but I was sure they were there. “And who exactly are ‘they’, Harry?”
“You’ll see,” I said. She sighed behind me. “Hey, I am being open and honest, including you in my investigation and actions. I’m not being secretive. I haven’t gone behind your back. I am following all requirements for awesome wizard-cop relations.”
“You’re only including me because you couldn’t sneak in here with the upped security without getting yourself arrested,” she said.
“I could so,” I said.
I couldn’t see her tongue sticking out at me, but was sure it was.
“I don’t get art,” she said, after a few minutes of silence. “It’s a vase. I have a vase on my coffee table. The vase on my coffee table is not worth thousands of dollars. It’s worth 50 cents. I got it at a yard sale.”
I looked up at the offending vase on the plinth above me. “Maybe it’s one of those interpretative things? You know, like it’s a symbol of the existential angst of being a vase.”
“Is being a vase an angsty job?” Murphy asked, laughing.
“It could be, depending on what’s put in it,” I said. “Like someone’s ashes.”
“You put ashes in an urn,” she said.
“Pa-tate-to, pa-tah-to,” I said.
“Does anyone actually say pa-tah-to?” she asked.
“Shh!” I said.
Why do people always say that in response to ‘shh’? Isn’t it self-explanatory? I held a shushing hand behind my back and cocked my head to Listen. There was very faint giggling heading in our direction.
Murphy crawled up beside me. I could feel her hovering somewhere to my left, her breath on the back of my head. We waited, the giggling growing louder until a small pack of glowing lights appeared down the hallway, dancing around each other and tittering away. I quickly turned around to get behind the plinth and somehow managed to knock Murphy off her knees into my lap. I caught her before she hit the plinth. I was getting very special treatment to be in the Museum after hours - I didn’t think breaking a priceless vase would endear me any.
“What the hell are those?” she mouthed.
“Faeries,” I mouthed back.
“Dresden!” she mouthed.
“They are!” I mouthed.
“Come on!” she hissed.
I put a finger to my lips and shook my head. She rolled her eyes, but shut up. We sat where we were, Murphy still half in my lap, listening. The giggles stopped suddenly and were replaced with excited whispers. It was hard to make out individual words but there was definitely a delighted cry of ‘pizza!’ I watched the reflections of the lights on the shiny tile floor, waiting until they converged in my circle.
I carefully extricated myself from Murphy, indicating that she should stay where she was. I raked my fingernail across my gums, collecting some blood and crawled around the plinth. The lights were devouring the pizza with disturbing speed. It was like termites eat wood in cartoons – it just disappeared. I reached out, slowly, and tapped the edge of my circle with my bloody finger. It closed with a soft pop and chaos ensued.
The lights dropped the pizza and several tiny cries of dismay could be heard. The lights bounced off the edge of the circle, throwing themselves at the walls and screaming in fright. I always feel bad when I reach that point of a circle. Fortunately, faeries are annoying enough that I never feel bad for long.
“Hey!” I called. “Hey, you!”
The lights swooped together in a solid pack again, flying to the farthest wall from where I was. I got to my feet and approached the edge of the circle. There was some frantic whispering and then one light flew forward, bravely, and hovered up by my face.
“You let us go!” it demanded. “You is not nice!”
“Not nice!” the crowd of lights behind it agreed.
Up close, I could make out the figure inside of the light. It was a male, somewhere between a boy and man. All faeries have a sort of ambiguous age to them. He sported a loin cloth that looked like it might be made out of a piece of paper napkin and one of those little Sharpies that you attach to a key chain was strapped to his back like a sword.
“I need to talk to you,” I said.
“Harry?” Murphy asked.
I looked over to her. She was staring at the faeries with a bit of an open mouth expression. The lights from the faeries cast a golden glow on her face and sparkled in her very wide eyes. I touched her shoulder and had her take a step back.
“What are they?” she asked.
“Faeries,” I said. “Don’t talk to them. Don’t cross the circle.”
She nodded, dumbly.
“So, Harry,” the Sharpie faerie said, emphasizing my name. “What do you wants to talk ‘bout?”
“And don’t say my name,” I added to Murphy. “We need to talk about this game you have going in the museums.”
“Hehe!” he giggled and all the faeries behind him giggled too. “It’s a fun game! We like The Game.”
“Like The Game!” the faeries echoed.
“I know, but it’s gotta stop,” I said.
“Na-uh!” Sharpie interjected. He put his hands on his hips and struck a bossy pose. “You can’t make us!”
“Make us!” the faeries said.
“Oh, would you stop that!” I snapped at them. “What are you, a Greek chorus?” This earned me another round of giggles and a few echoes of ‘Greek chorus’. “You have to stop The Game. It’s costing a lot of money.”
Sharpie gave me a blank stare. “So?”
“Money,” I said. “It’s important.”
He laughed. “Not to us!”
“To us,” The chorus agreed.
I racked my brain to come up with something that would be important to a faerie. They like possessions, but they just take them if they want them. Money isn’t interesting to them. Death is a foreign concept as well, so I decided not to try the ‘people are getting hurt’ guilt trip.
“Money...” I said. “Money buys pizza.”
“Pizza!” the chorus whispered, reverently.
I jumped on the in. “That’s right. When you play The Game, the people who own the museums lose money, which means they can’t buy pizza. There is less pizza in the world, because of your game. And, you made someone so sick that he can’t have pizza – maybe ever again if you keep playing.”
“Oh no!” a very tiny voice in the chorus said.
“So,” I summed up. “As long as you keep playing The Game, there will be no more pizza in Chicago.”
“We gots to talk,” Sharpie announced.
I made a gesture indicating that he should go to it and he swooped back to the chorus. They all formed a huddle, whispering. I looked over to Murphy, who still staring at them in shock.
“They’re lights who talk,” she said, slowly.
“They’re faeries,” I said. “Little People. Wee Folk. Wyldfae. Unaffliated Sidhe. Ti-”
“I get it,” she said. “I just...they’re lights who talk.”
“I know,” I soothed. “You’re doing very well.”
“Don’t patronize me,” she snapped.
“Sorry. You’re being a flailing idiot,” I corrected myself.
She laughed. “I’m not flailing.”
“An idle idiot.”
She stuck out her tongue at me. Sharpie pulled away from the group of fae and I put on my ‘business’ face again. He attempted to look very serious, which was hard for a faerie and I appreciated the effort.
“We have reached a division, Harry the Wizard,” he announced.
“Division,” the chorus said.
“Decision?” I said.
“That too,” Sharpie agreed. “We won’t play The Game no more, in the interest of pizza.”
“A wise division,” I said.
“But, in exchange, we want more pizza,” he continued. “From you.”
“More pizza!” the chorus shouted, gleefully.
“I think that can be arranged,” I said, in my best mafia boss voice. “But you have to promise to stop playing The Game tonight and to never play it again – ever. And neither can your friends.”
“We promise, promise, promise,” Sharpie said.
“Promise, promise, promise,” the chorus agreed.
Saying something three times was as close to a binding contract you will ever get from the faerie.
“Very well,” I accepted. “Bring forth the pizza!”
It would have been nice if Murphy was on the same wavelength as me and actually went and got the pizza at the right time. It would have been more dramatic that way. Instead, she was too busy trying to wrap her head around things. I looked to her and jerked my head backwards towards the plinth. She caught on and scurried back, emerging with the pizza.
“Hooray for the Pizza Lord!” Sharpie crowed.
“Pizza Lord!” the chorus shouted.
I scuffed out the circle and took the pizza box from Murphy, managing to set it down on the floor before I was swarmed with eager fae. They went to work and I backed away.
“There,” I said. “Mission accomplished.”
“You bought them with pizza,” Murphy said. “That’s bribery, Dr-” I widened my eyes at her. “Er, wizard.”
“You gonna arrest me?” I asked.
“And figure out how to get this in a report?” she replied. “It’s bad enough as it is. Faeries.”
“Faeries,” I agreed. “C’mon, Lieutenant, I’ll buy you...” I looked at my watch, which told me it was just after 2:00am. “Well, it’s too late for dinner and too early for breakfast. I’ll buy you dinfast.”
“Deal,” she said, still looking at the swarm of lights. “Just...no pizza?”
The next day, the papers reported that there had been no additional art vandalism in the night. However, it seemed the faeries had gotten a little overzealous in their attempt to rebalance the pizza scale as all the previously damaged art had been restored to its former state. The repaired art was genuine, not replicas, the papers said. The current theory was that the vandals stole the originals and replaced them with damaged replicas, then, for some reason, returned the originals. It was probably a prank, according to the police chief. If anyone had any information as to how it was accomplished, they would be rewarded.
The only piece of art that had been damaged was a designer garbage ‘urn’, which was in the Art Institute of Chicago Museum. It wasn’t expensive, merely put there as a stylish way for people to dispose of their gum, instead of leaving it under the benches. When the curators arrived in the morning, they found that someone had drawn on it with a black permanent marker. Beside a picture of a long-legged stick figure were the words ‘ALL HAIL THE PIZZA LORD!’
Police had yet to decipher just what this statement was trying to say.