Big Trouble

Episode 14

Arilin Thorferra

Between being squeezed in Tawny’s fist and hung from a chain by my arms, I was laid up for the next day. I spent most of it in an easy chair with a brandy toddy or three, trying to think.

Before she ate—ate!—Waterman, that rabbit said his shenanigans risked “everything we’ve set up here.” Just what had they set up, and with who? Samuel Cross was in this up to his well-groomed ear-tips; the number of prints they kept “for private viewings” that just so happened to involve people on Cross’s enemy list was no coincidence. Maybe blackmailing Lambert had been a side hustle the late wolf cooked up, but that didn’t explain the others.

And next: just who was “we”? I’d been assuming that whatever was going on, Starling was the mastermind, the guy getting paid to get—or set up—those compromising pics, whether they involved giants or not. He just liked surrounding himself with attractive giantesses, a perk of being a top photographer for a niche girlie mag. Yet I’d had first-hand experience now of just how persuasive Miss Thorne could be—and he’d looked distinctly nervous around the rabbit. While I didn’t have reason to think the other models were literal killers, I doubted a single one had any reservations about bossing around little men. (Or little women.) Maybe playboy Bob hadn’t been joking about their wish being his command.

Tawny’s threats were bringing out my stubborn streak, but poking around Starling Studios again was asking for a fight. A brawl between me and a group of scantily clad giantesses might be damn cinematic, but it also might end with me on someone’s appetizer plate. Again, all roads were leading to East-West, and again, I still had no idea what I was getting into.

One person who might, though? Joey “Knives” Meloni. If I could get to him, I could make him talk. I didn’t know how to get to him, but I knew someone else who might. If I could get to him.

The next morning I still didn’t feel great, but I felt well enough to get behind the wheel and drive out to the Lambert’s. When I reached the front door, I pushed it lightly. It stayed closed. I gave the doorbell a couple rings.

After about a minute, the mouse maid answered the door. She stared at me, then narrowed her eyes.

I tipped my hat. “Good morning. Is Mr. Lambert in?”

“If you come back, I’ll call the police.” She slammed the door.

I raised my hand for another knock, then hesitated. Did I have the energy today for schmoozing hostile rodents? No. I walked around the house, looking for where the second-floor library would be. There. Those windows.

I stepped back and grew to about thirty feet high, then reached forward and rapped on the window with a finger. No response. I rapped again, hard enough to rattle it.

After a few seconds, I could see movement. Then Lambert threw the window open, stuck his head out, and gaped.

“Mr. Lambert.” I tipped my hat. “Sorry for the dramatic entrance, but I didn’t have the patience to try and talk my way past your maid.”

The fox opened his muzzle and closed it soundlessly several times, ears flipping back and forth like he was trying to send semaphore. Then he just sagged and whined, staring up and down at me.

I sighed heavily. The movement made his gaze lock onto my chest for a second before a blush overtook his ears and he closed his eyes, vibrating.

“Edgar.” I snapped my fingers a few feet away from him. “Focus on my voice, not my boobs. I’m trying to keep you out of jail.”

He took a deep breath, opening his eyes again, and nodded. “I…uh…if that’s true, then I appreciate that, Miss Mallory, although I confess I don’t understand why you would. But I’m taking a plea agreement.”

“I’m doing it because I have an overdeveloped sense of justice. We both know you didn’t kill your wife.”

His ears colored again, but his expression grew pained. “My lawyers tell me that they’ll be able to convince the judge it was as much an accident as a crime of passion, that I didn’t…” He looked away again. “That I shot her by accident.”

“She was shot twice. That doesn’t happen by accident. And your lawyers know it.”

That got him to look back at me. His ears skewed again. “Why…why would they lie to me?”

“Because if your blackmail story comes out, people might start looking at Starling Studios more closely. And East-West Global Imports. And Samuel Cross.”

As I kept speaking, he looked ever more bewildered. “I don’t understand.”

“Joey Meloni will, and I think you know how—”

Someone shrieked angrily. “Shoo! Off this property—” The mouse maid was running toward me, but came to an abrupt stop when she saw me. A pot-bellied skunk followed more slowly behind her, holding a toolbox.

He stopped, too, staring up at me and then giving the maid an accusing look. “You didn’t say she was a she, and you damn sure didn’t say she was a giant.”

“Go in and call the police!” she hissed, starting to back away.

“No,” Lambert said, speaking loudly enough for them to hear. “Please don’t, Mr. Dunham. Mrs. Abernathy.”

The mouse huffed. The skunk ran a hand through his short hair, staring up at me again.

I looked back at Lambert. “So how did you get in touch with Meloni when you had to?”

“We had arranged meeting times. But I do have a number. I’ve only called it once.”

“That’ll do.”

“What will I say? He surely knows I’ve been arrested. The whole state does.”

“You don’t have to say anything, you just have to give me the number. Don’t worry about Meloni. He’s going to be too worried about his life being in danger to come after you.”

The maid huffed again, hands on her hips. “Are you asking Mr. Lambert to help you threaten someone?”

“Yes, Mrs. Abernathy, I most certainly am.”

“Hold on,” Lambert said after a moment, and disappeared back into the library.

I turned to look down at Dunham, and leaned over, gesturing at his toolbox. “You the handyman?”

“Uh. Yeah.” He swallowed nervously, shuffling back and forth.

“Did you fix the latch on the front door?”

“Hmm? Yeah, sure, after the police left.”

“What was wrong with it?”

“Somebody tried to pick the lock with somethin’ that broke off inside it. Stuck it open.”

“Did the cops ever ask either of you about it?” I looked between Dunham and Abernathy.

He shook his head. “Nope.” The mouse shook her head curtly, too.

I sighed. “Figures.”

“I have it,” Lambert called.

I straightened up, getting out my notebook.

“Highland 5-7824.”

“Got it.” I put the notebook away. “Thanks.”

Lambert nodded, then hesitated. “I didn’t know you were a size-shifter, Miss Mallory.”

I half-grinned. “I’m not the type who can pose for a girlie mag.”

“Perhaps you’re not the type who would, but I assure you…” He trailed off, ears coloring, and looked away. “I apologize. You already must rather think less of me for…everything.”

“What I think is that you trusted the wrong people and made some bad choices. But there’s nothing wrong with finding giants attractive. We like what we like. Just try not to fall for a giant criminal next time.”

He smiled weakly.

I stepped back and returned to my normal size, then tipped my hat. “Thank you for your help, Mr. Lambert, and you too, Mr. Dunham.” I flashed Mrs. Abernathy a pointed smile and headed back to my car.