Big Trouble

Episode 2

Arilin Thorferra

Stakeouts are the bread and butter of any shamus’s job, but don’t let pulp stories kid you into thinking they’re fun. If you’re lucky, you get a few minutes of taking notes or snapshots of people who’ll flip their lid if they catch you gawking. The rest of the time, it’s about as exciting as watching grass die.

As Elsa told it, Edgar Lambert married into the life of the idle rich rather than being born to it, but the fox had taken to it like a dung beetle to its namesake. In the three days I’d been watching their uptown estate, he’d left with his wife one morning to go out to brunch at a tony café—and left alone every afternoon to hit a posh private club. There, he met up with friends to smoke cigars and drink whiskey, to neither obvious excess nor obvious appreciation. He shot pool and played backgammon, neither for money.

What he hadn’t done was stop off at a bank or a bookie’s, make a furtive phone call, or hook up with a stranger for either business or pleasure. He went straight to the club, had his drinks and his chats, then straight back home. It was so much the man-of-leisure stereotype I’d started to wonder if he was on to me somehow, playing it straighter than straight. I don’t think he ever caught sight of me, though, even as one of the rare girls at the boys’ club. I liked to fancy my favorite look—fedora, buttoned-up vest over buttoned-down blouse—helped me blend in with mostly male crowds, at least when I dared slacks rather than skirt. Slacks or no slacks, though, I filled out that vest in a way that one of the guys definitely wouldn’t.

So to get closer, on the third day, I ditched the hat and put on a maid’s apron. To the staff I’d still stick out like a sore claw, but to the high society stiffs I’d be all but invisible. I doubted drinks and games with his club buddies would turn into solid leads, but it’s not like I had a better hand to play. I got to overhear him as I pretended to dust furniture nearby, and it was just as dull as I’d imagined.

On the fourth day, though, when young Eddie showed up for drinks and games, he wasn’t much for the games part. After his driver dropped him off outside, he paced a full minute before going in. When he got inside he went straight to the bar, ordered a double rye on the rocks instead of his usual Manhattan, and headed to a table in the back by floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, full of the kind of dusty hardbacks rich people mostly use as decor. I wandered toward the back, too, waving my feather duster over a floor lamp every so often.

He nursed his drink alone for about fifteen minutes. Then someone walked over and sat down across from him, holding a big manila envelope and tapping it idly on the table. Not just anyone, either. I knew that reedy weasel, knew his smirk, and knew he definitely didn’t belong to this club. Bud had defended Joey “Knives” Meloni once on some assault charge he was absolutely guilty of and absolutely committed on somebody else’s orders, although he didn’t trust attorney-client privilege enough to let us know who. Bud was a good enough lawyer to get him off with time served, and a good enough person to feel bad about it.

Edgar looked up at him, his expression growing even darker. Joey’s smirk grew, too. They started talking in tones low enough that I couldn’t make them out. I needed to get closer, close enough to eavesdrop and, with any luck, get a gander at whatever was in that envelope.

No one was looking my way. I set down the duster, took off my flats so I’d be extra quiet when I started running, and shrank.

Changing size in public without attracting any attention requires both practice and good fortune. The most fortunate thing that can happen is to find out you’re one of the maybe one in twelve or thirteen shifters who can change the size of what they’re wearing or holding with them. I am. Even so, that still left me about two inches high in a room that had just become incredibly dangerous. I could be flattened by an errant step or just an idle shift of a shoe, and if I wanted to stay hidden, I couldn’t scream “watch your paws” at the top of my thimble-sized lungs. And while I only had five and a half yards of floor space to cross to get to the bookshelf beside their table, in scale that was running two football fields just to tackle a vertical cliff. I dashed toward, then along, the base of the shelves.

When you’re this size, you know what the thing you really notice is? It’s not how regular-sized joes are giants, or the magnified wonder of the natural world, or even how an overturned pint glass can trap you. (You can knock it over by growing if nothing’s holding it down, but you can’t break it by growing: you’ll crack before that thick glass does.) No, what you notice is what a bad job most people do at cleaning. My run kicked up a sandstorm of dust and, worse, cigarette ash. Fortunately, I didn’t see the kind of grime that attracted insects. Take it from me, you do not want to meet a bug that’s bigger than you are.

Even more fortunately, the run only took me about half a minute. And, when you’re barepawed—and a cat—you can climb up the edge of a wooden bookcase pretty easy, as long as you don’t look down. Once I reached the fourth shelf, I caught my breath, wiped my paws off on the spine of Gulliver’s Travels, and crept closer to Joey and Eddie’s little heart-to-heart.

The weasel was reaching into the envelope; the fox gripped the side of the table with his free hand, his ears folding back. “Stop,” he hissed. “I don’t need to see them again.”

“Oh, I think you do, my friend,” Joey said. “Because if you remembered just what these pictures show, you would understand that we tell you when you’ve paid enough, not the other way around.” Waving the envelope around like he was signaling semaphore, he raised his voice a couple decibels, making Edgar glance around frantically. “How many of your companions at this posh club have seen these? I bet, oh…” He pulled out a glossy photo with a stage magician’s flourish. “This one would be a huge hit, don’t you think? Accent on huge.”

I could see enough of the image that I could feel my eyes trying to bug out like a cartoon. I expected it to show Edgar with another woman, and boy, did it ever. Not just any woman. A giantess.