Stealing the Elf-King's Roses
By Diane Duane
Published by Warner Books 
November 2002; 0446609838; 401 pages

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Stealing the Elf King's Roses by Diane DuaneOne

All rise for the right honorable Charles Redpath, magistrate," said the bailiff, "acting in and for the City and County of Los Angeles, in proceedings designated DL-5745-27 and to be enacted this day, April 27, 2004, in the City and County Circuit Court, session nine hundred and forty-five. Let all who desire Justice draw near, and Justice shall be done them."

Lee was still always amazed that the last sentence of the "blurb" didn't cause a rush for the doors. Nevertheless, everyone stayed where they were, and they all stood up, and in a flurry of black silk robes over that brown tweed suit, here came Charles out of his chambers and up the steps to the bench-a brisk, florid little dark-haired man, running slightly to stoutness now, with a short bristly mustache that could make him look extremely stern until he forgot himself and smiled. But he rarely forgot himself in the courtroom, and when he did, people were usually sorry afterward that they had tried to provoke the smile in the first place, or expected it to indicate humor. Lee kept her face very straight, and noticed that beside her, Gelert was for once not wagging his tail.

"Please be seated," Charles said, and in a rustle everyone sat down. The court was a little fuller than usual today, for this was sentencing, and the case had attracted some attention in the papers: more than usual, since Mr. Redpath had excused the cameras last week, citing only the traditional stricture (as was his right) that "the camera looks, but Justice sees." Now the magistrate shuffled through his paperwork and unlimbered his laptop, waiting a moment for the pertinent documents to display themselves. "All right," he said, "this is the continuation of Ellay City docket 88- 38715-4548, the People versus Lawrence J. Blair. . . ." He looked up from the papers, glanced around the courtroom.

"We'll resume as from our recess of last Friday," he said, "assuming no one has anything strictly procedural to add. Mr. Hess?"

"Nothing, Your Honor," said Alan: very prudently, Lee thought, since he had pretty much exhausted Mr. Redpath's patience last week with procedural interferences of various kinds, all apparently directed toward one purpose: stalling.

"Ms. Enfield? Madra Gelert?"

"Nothing, Your Honor," Lee said, and Gelert shook his head.

"Very well. Summations may commence," Mr. Redpath said. "Prosecution?"

 

Lee stood up, shrugging her own silks into place over the new light blue dress. As always on a summation and sentencing morning, she was nervous for no good reason, and her chain of office felt like it was askew, and twice as heavy as it really was. She knew she looked all right, knew that she looked polished and professional enough, knew what the jury and Charles Redpath and all the newsies were seeing: a woman of medium height and medium build, face with all the features in the usual order, figure not terrible for her age, and nice hair, for the new shorter cut and the blond streaking worked well. Yet she felt haggard, unprepared, clammy, tired from having stayed up late preparing, and unready for what she knew was about to happen.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Your Honor, and Justice here present-" she said. And all that preparation cut in and started to make her feel better, as it usually did. "You've heard the evidence which my colleague has presented to you. The defendant stands before you now accused of a chain of frauds which have finally caught up with him- several of them directly connected, as we have proven, to the one for which he has been brought before you in this proceeding. . . ."

Lawrence Blair was a promoter who put together concert packages for various popular and rock musicians, some famous, some just getting started and rather vulnerable, financially at least. Five years or so ago a concert involving several large bands appeared to have been badly undersold by the "packaging" company handling ticket sales. There had been allegations of ineptitude on the part of the packaging company, a couple of civil suits filed, later dropped when Blair entered into a gentleman's agreement with the debtors and promised to repay them their losses.

His debtors accepted the arrangement and settled back to wait a reasonable time to be paid what they were owed, and Blair went on to organize other gigs, some successful, some not. Some of his creditor "clients" got paid, and most did not. "Mr. Blair's defense," Lee said to the jury, "would like you to believe that the people who didn't get paid on time, or at all, were merely the victims of accidents: lost payments, misunderstandings with the bank, unavoidable cashflow difficulties. But we've shown that the cause of these nonpayments was Mr. Blair's own redirection of the funds owed these people into other projects destined to make him more money."

She reminded the jury of dates and names, while in the background hearing Gel lie down on his pad, the links of his chain sounding softly against each other-- not the normal gold a human practitioner might wear, but fairy gold-- lowcarat, but still an extravagance hidden in plain sight. Gel loved such extravagances, and not being caught at them. But that was typical of how he preferred to operate, letting Lee do the "front work" while he stepped softly around in the background, fading into it where necessary.

He had nothing to do this morning except observe the verdict; all his work had been done with his usual skill in the discovery stage of the case. Lee thought sometimes that part of his success at eliciting testimony lay in the continuing fascination of many humans with the madrín. They hadn't been common in Lee's universe until twenty years or so ago, and there were lots of people who were charmed by the sound of a melliflous voice and courteous conversation coming out of what appeared to be a frizzy-coated white wolfhound the size of a small horse. If the big goofy-looking grin Gelert could produce while conducting an interview put people off their guard, Lee didn't mind. And if the lolling tongue and dingbat expression, or the way he twitched those big shell-pink ears around, made other people discount or entirely forget Gelert's expertise, Lee didn't mind that either . . . and she knew her partner, one of the first products of UCLA's doctorate program in litigative mantics, enjoyed taking advantage of the misapprehension. She threw a glance over her shoulder at him as she wound up her closing statement. Gelert opened those huge jaws in a gigantic, silent stage yawn, exhibiting entirely too many fangs: a private signal of profound confidence and a desire to cut to the chase.

"Joel Delaney's case brings us up to the present," said Lee, coming to a stand now at the foreman's end of the jury box. "Out of forty performers whom Mr. Blair has engaged to perform over the last three years, only ten have been paid in full: five have received partial payments, well short of what was promised: and the rest, still unpaid, have pooled a significant amount of funds in order to bring this case into the civil courts, so that Justice might be given a chance to operate where other agencies have failed. We ask you to look with us at the defendant and open the way for Justice to enter here; to see the truth of the matter, find him guilty as charged, and to participate in sentencing should the verdict so require."

Lee nodded to the foreman and to the other jurors, turned and went to sit down. In a few moments Alan was on his feet, and had begun addressing the jury with his usual smoothness. Right now he was making the whole case sound like a series of coincidences, complicated by incompetent accountants, accidents, and badly drawn-up contracts. He went on to make everything Lee had said sound either foolish or mischievous, and finally said, "We ask you to look with us at the defendant, opening the way for Justice; to see the truth of the matter and to find him innocent." He sat down.

"Thank you," said Mr. Redpath, and tapped at his laptop's keyboard briefly. He looked over at the jurors' box. "Before we proceed, do any of you ladies or gentlemen require a recess at this time?"

The foreman, a small round woman with long wavy blond hair, looked down the length of the box at her fellow jurors. Heads were shaken. "No, Your Honor," she said after a moment.

"Very well." Mr. Redpath glanced at the bailiff. "Secure the room," he said.

The bailiff nodded, went over to confirm the time with the clerk of the court: the clerk reached under her desk to touch the button that locked the doors. Mr. Redpath folded down his laptop's screen, then folded his hands in front of him. There was a spate of the usual brief shuffling and last chance- to-cough coughing. Then things got very still.

The prosaic courtroom-the slightly dusty windows through which the afternoon's sunlight was beginning to pour, the pale golden birch paneling of the walls, the terrazzo floor and the acoustic ceiling, now started to take on a strange, sharp-edged quality, as if another kind of light were starting to suffuse the place, different from the hot sunlight, harsher, clearer. A different view of human affairs began to superimpose itself over the merely human one, as the Other without whom no court was fully functional began to manifest.

Once such manifestations had taken much more work. In ancient Greece, men had compelled Justice's presence by sheer weight of numbers. As technique improved, the Romans and Byzantines managed it with tribunals of fifty, and medieval Europe with only "twelve good men and true." In this country, most jurisdictions kept the jury as a check on the judiciary process. But you really needed only two or three properly trained people, these days-- the two advocates, and the magistrate who maintained the structure which compelled the Power's attention. Once you had Justice's attention, everything else happened very quickly indeed.

That sense of the Other's presence deepened. Mr. Redpath just gazed down at his folded hands as the presence increased in the room, as everything became subtly more visible. Redpath wasn't one of those jurists who went in for voiced invocations or flamboyant gestures; he simply made room in the courtroom for Justice, and it arrived, without fuss, focused and fully empowered. Such matter-of-fact competence would probably push him into the Court of Appeal eventually, maybe even the State Supreme Court. But right now Lee was glad he was here, since with that matter-of- fact quality came the certainty of control. Justice might be a good thing, but if improperly mediated, a cardinal Virtue could get out of hand and affect everyone in a courtroom, not just those in whose cause it had been invoked.

The silence around Lee was no longer something that needed to be enforced. People felt it looking at them. Like small creatures caught suddenly under the regard of something with sharp eyes and sharp claws, people tended to hold still and try not to attract its notice. Yet soon enough that additional effect set in, the sense of the stately presence of an ancient and deserved grandeur, something intangible yet powerful and splendid; possibly what people spoke of when they mentioned "the majesty of the law." The bailiff, the court clerk, the security guards minding the doors, all stood up when they felt it. Others stood as well, some in a hurry, some more slowly. Finally, only Charles, already standing for Justice in his person, remained seated.

Lee looked into the "well," the empty space between the bench and the counsels' tables, and Saw edges-that twoedged sword with which the Power manifesting here was so often pictured, immaterial but multiplied many times over, a tangle or nest of potential enforcement, like so much barbed wire. Mr. Redpath swallowed once, a strained motion, and looked up. "Let the defendant come forward and be judged," he said.

Lawrence Blair came out from behind the defense table, exchanged a suddenly nervous glance with Alan Hess, and stepped out into the well. He stood there with a most neutral expression, one which for Lee didn't hide his feelings at all. Finally, this late in the proceeding, he had had the sense to become afraid.

Lee let her gaze rest on Lawrence Blair and concentrated on letting Justice here present see so clearly through her that others wouldn't be able to help seeing as well. Across the aisle, Alan Hess was doing the same. And leaning against them like sunlight made solid, heavy and intent, the Power looked at Blair.

Lee looked at the defendant, and waited, letting the Sight work, concentrating on keeping her own thoughts quiet and making of herself a transparent conduit through which Justice could gaze unimpeded. Trained and inured to the Regard as she was, it hurt somewhat. Lee was better than usual at bearing the discomfort, partly because she did so much work in the forensic side of Seeing-perceiving the truth about things. But things hurt less to look at than people, and Lee stood there and shook as the pain increased.

Standing there in the well, among swords of light that he could not see but was beginning to feel, Blair started to tremble too. . . and inside him, the Balance shook itself loose and wavered between rise and fall. In it lay his soul, and Justice's other tool, the sense of true right or wrong, even more powerful than the mind to work its will on the harboring body.

And the Balance began to sink. Lee Saw in Blair the swathing concealment of self-delusive good intention (. . . I'll pay them as soon as I have it. . .) and expediency (. . . I really need the funds more for this new project, they can wait a little longer. . .) and calculation (. . . If I don't pay this guy, he's powerful enough to make trouble down the line. . .). And from long ago, from sometime buried in his past, the image: his mother's words, when she first caught him stealing. "You little w-"

Even now he tried not to hear the word, to see the image. But Lee saw it as Justice, looking through her, did. She felt the Balance inside Blair shift with a groan-the soul admitting itself, in the unavoidable hot glare of Justice's regard, to have been found wanting, and weighing the scales hard down.

The first sound came from someone on the jury, the kind of angry gasp a man might make when he's cut himself. Then came another, someone wishing they could deny what they saw, and unable to. If only one juror failed to see what both the prosecution and Justice saw, the judgment would not take.

One last soft moan came from the jury box. Lee didn't see who it was, but she felt the mind behind the moan make the verdict unanimous. The Power in the room with them struck through her and Alan like lightning; and the nest of unseen swords rose up, surrounded Blair, and sliced him through.

Blair didn't have a throat for long enough to finish his scream-not a human throat, anyway. The "containment area" in the well, defined by the two-meter-wide, dull red square outline of forcefield on the floor, activated with the administration of the sentence. And in the middle of the square, crouching, stunned, was a weasel. It was a very large weasel, for though Justice might affect the soul in a body, and that body's shape, it had no effect on mass. Clenching its claws against the floor, staring around at its counsel, at Lee, at the magistrate and the jury, the weasel began to make a small, terrible rough sound in its throat, over and over, like a whispered screech.

The pressure of the Regard was gone, vanished like a dream or a nightmare. Alot of people sat down, shocked, but more kept standing, to see better. Lee and Alan both staggered, released, and made their way back to their tables.

Mr. Redpath looked down over his desk at the containment area. "Guilty as charged," said Mr. Redpath. "Defendant will retain this semblance during the pleasure of inward and outward Justice, here manifested. Upon the end of sentence, the court will be informed whether the defendant desires the optional restitutory stage. Otherwise, here and until the end of sentence, Justice is served."

The courtroom was very quiet now, that initial rustle of shock and horror having died away. Lee was still blinking hard and trying to get her normal, unaugmented vision back. Boy, she thought, some of the sketch artists in here are going to have a field day with this verdict.

"Your Honor," said Blair's counsel, "we desire to lodge an appeal at once, on the grounds that the sentence is excessively severe."

Mr. Redpath looked down again into the containment area, where the weasel was now trying to sit up on its haunches, and failing. It came down hard on its forefeet again, staring at the long delicate claws and breathing fast. "I so allow. See the court clerk for scheduling. However, Mr. Hess," said Mr. Redpath, looking down at him rather dryly, "I think the verdict's severity is secondary to your client having perjured himself. You may want to take advice from your client's family to discover whether they really want to proceed."

"Yes, Your Honor," said Hess, looking glum. "Then I declare this proceeding to be complete, and I adjourn it sine die," Mr. Redpath said, and banged his gavel on the desk. "Open the doors; and thank you, ladies and gentlemen." He got up and headed for his chamber, shrugging his gown back into kilter as he went.

"Please clear the court for the next proceeding," the bailiff shouted, and people started to file out. In the middle of the courtroom, a uniformed security officer arrived with a large wheeled protective carrier, and there followed an unfortunately humorous interlude while the court security staff tried to get the weasel, presently flinging itself against the walls of the containment area, into the carrier and out of the court.

Lee had been bracing herself against their table. Now Gelert came up beside her and put his cold nose against her neck.

"Stop that," she said, and pushed his snout away, not half as hard as she would have under less casual circumstances, or if she'd had the strength. She wobbled. "You need the retiring room?" he said privately, implant to implant.

Lee shook her head, still trying to get her breath back. She would pay the price tonight, in sleep, when the reaction set in and her dreams reflected that inexorable gaze concentrating, not on Blair, but on her. Tomorrow, abashed and sore with yet another reminder of her own many failings, she'd ache all over and not be good for much. But the price was worth paying.

From the other side of the aisle came the shuffle and snap of paperwork and a laptop being put away. She glanced over at Hess, stood up straight as her breathing got back to normal, and reflected that at least she wasn't the only one here who looked completely wrecked. Alan was pale under his tan, and the resultant color made him look very unwell. But "Nice one, Lee," said Hess to her, polite as always, despite the circumstances.

Lee nodded to him. "Thanks, Al. Look, you did good work, too. . . Good luck with the appeal." He nodded back, went out. "Give me five minutes for the ladies' room," Lee said to Gelert.

It was closer to ten, for Lee's mascara was nowhere near as waterproof as the manufacturer claimed. But the repairs would suffice for the waiting cameras. She slipped out of her silks with a sigh of relief, took off her chain, folded the silks around it, and stowed everything in her briefcase.

Shortly Lee was out in the echoing glass-and-terrazzo main hall again, where Gelert awaited her, and together they went out through the glass doors into the blinding light of a ferocious afternoon, the temperature now pushing above a hundred. The Santa Ana wind was up, blowing so fiercely that the palm trees around New Parker Plaza were bending in the force of it, and the feather-duster tops hissed and rattled, each individual frond glinting as if wet in the harsh bright sun. Dust flew everywhere. Lee winced a little at the light but could do nothing about it for the moment; for here were the newsies already, two cameras and a few print people, waiting on the courthouse steps to take a statement from them.

"Good afternoon, folks," Gelert said amiably, sitting down on the top step.

Lee, pausing beside him, sneezed. "Afternoon, all," she said. "Please forgive me, it's the dust. . ."

"Do you have a prepared statement?" said one of the waiting reporters, not one of the familiar ones. Lee thought she was possibly from Variety or the Reporter.

"No," Lee said. "We thought we'd just ad-lib today."

Gelert sneezed too. "Sorry," he said. "Can everybody hear me okay? My implant's speaker's been acting up lately when the volume's turned up out in the open."

"No problem," said the Variety reporter, and the others shook their heads.

"Right," said a third reporter, a little, casually dressed man with dimples and a deceptively innocent face. "Ms. Enfield, this has been the sixth high-profile case your firm has been assigned to in the last four months. How do you answer the charge that the DA's Office is showing favoritism to you because of your former relationship with-"

"If it was a charge," Lee said, interrupting him and doing her best to keep her smile casual, "I'd suggest that the person making it should look at the results in the cases involved. Our firm appears to produce results, as this is our fifth 'win' out of those six cases. If we're 'favorites' with the DA's Office at the moment, it seems we're favorites with Justice as well. . . and there's no way to buy or influence that. Unless you've found one?" She gave the reporter what she hoped would pass for an amused look.

"The Ellay District Attorney's Office assigns cases to the pool of qualified prosecuting teams on an availability basis," Gelert said, "as you can confirm by checking the court calendar. Our last five cases have been assigned us because in each case we'd just finished another proceeding, and were available. The luck of the draw. But it helps to know what to do with luck."

A mutter as some of the reporters paused to take notes. "What message would you send to Mr. Blair's wife and children?" said another.

"That Mr. Blair, like every other defendant," Lee said, "has himself chosen the form of his punishment. And that we, like his family, look forward to the day when the Justice living inside him, as it lives inside everyone, decides that he's served his sentence and can go free. He, and Justice, will work that out for themselves."

Another mutter from the reporters. "The case is going to appeal," said another one. "That's right," Gelert said. "And we wish the defendant well. However, we feel that this time out, Justice has prevailed. But then it always does."

"Dr. Gelert," said another reporter, a small trim woman with long blond hair tied back, "what's your reaction to the statement made by one of your people recently that direct judicial intervention is a 'blunt instrument' in this time of increased understanding of criminal motivation?"

Gelert dropped that big fringed jaw and showed many more of his teeth than Lee thought strictly necessary. "'Cruel and unusual punishment' again?" Gelert said. "How can Justice's own self be cruel? And if it's unusual, that's our fault, not Its. 'Hers,' if you prefer to see Justice that way; lots of humans do. My people, too, actually." A gust of wind blew a great swirl of dust across the entrance of the courthouse, Lee sneezed, and so did several of the reporters. Gelert shook himself all over, and his chain rang softly. "My people," Gelert added, "have no crime. No murder, no assault, no theft, nothing of the kind. Certainly no fraud. It colors some of our opinions about the judicial system here. Me, I'll wait until Councillor Dynef's been mugged for his earrings some night, coming home from the movies in Westwood. After he's needed to go through the courts himself, we'll see how 'blunt' he thinks the Hoodwinked Lady's sword is."

There was some chuckling at that. "Anything else, ladies and gentlemen?" Lee said. "We've got places to be." Heads were shaken. "Thanks, then," Lee said, and she and Gelert turned away. The reporters went off down the stairs.

Lee sneezed again. "Places to be," Gelert said softly. "What a fibber you are."

"Huh." Lee paused to open her briefcase and rummage around in it for her sunglasses. "They keep asking about that," she muttered. "Why can't they just let it drop?"

"What? The DA's Office? Because they're newsies, as a result of their moms putting scandal in their baby bottles instead of milk. Because it's obvious, and some of them are only good at obvious."

Lee sighed. "Yeah, but all they have to do is check the facts to find out-"

"Lee, if it was facts they were after, they wouldn't be on the courthouse steps. They would have been inside. That guy from the Times, he's just after evidence to support his pet theory. When he can't find any, he'll stop bothering us."

She found the sunglasses, then put them on and made a face. "Yeah, okay, you're right," she said. "It's just this wind getting to me, I guess. . . ."

"So come on, let's get out of it," Gelert said. "Let's go eat. I've got a table booked."

"Absolutely. Where?"

"Perdu."

She blinked at him. "What, New York? For lunch?We're late for that already. And anyway, nobody could get a booking at that place on the same day they call!"

"I reserved it a week ago. And not lunch. Dinner. If we get our tails up to the port instead of standing here chewing over the dry bones, we'll be just in time for seven-thirty."

"How did you- Gel," Lee said, "sometimes I think you're holding out on me. You're a forward clairvoyant, and you've never bothered to register."

"Too much paperwork," Gelert said, as they headed for the Metro. "And all clairvoyants get a squint. I refuse to ruin my youthful good looks."

"Then again, maybe you're just delusional," Lee said. "You think you're a millionaire, all of a sudden, to drop the price of a transcontinental jump for a dinner?"

"We deserve it," Gelert said, and grinned with all those teeth. "Besides, I dumped a bunch of Oklahoma munis over the weekend and scored thirty percent on the deal. If I keep the money, it'll only burn a hole in my pocket."

"What pocket?!"

"Pedant. Come on, or they'll give away our table."

Two hours later, when Lee glanced up from her fondue and suddenly noticed the King of all the Elves sitting across the room, perusing the wine list, it came as a surprise, but not a huge one-an amusing end to a long day. After all, Le Chalet Perdu was (very quietly) one of the best restaurants in Manhattan. Given the Elf-king's reputation, and the restaurant's, sooner or later someone was bound to have brought the two together in an attempt to impress each with the other. And here the Elf-king sat, in a dark blazer and tie and charcoal twills, surrounded by calm-voiced men in Cardin or Botany double-breasted suits-men wearing their mature assurance, or their smoldering youthful cleverness, as if they were weapons. Lee looked away after a first glance, much amused by their talk of wines and entrées. To someone with her training, the lighthearted conversation across the room had a distinct sound of nervous saber rattling. She turned her attention back to her meal.

"Gel," she said, holding out his fondue fork to him, "you smell anything interesting?"

Gelert nipped the cheese-dipped bread cube off the fork, chewed, swallowed, and paused long enough to put his tongue out and lick an escaped blob of Emmenthaler off his whiskers. "Too much nutmeg," he said, "not enough kirsch."

"In Konni's fondue? Hardly. Something else." Gelert's nose twitched. "Elves."

"Huh-uh. Elf. The Elf. Laurin."

Her partner's pink ears went straight up. "Really. Thought he was supposed to be in The Hague for that conference."

"Maybe he's on his way," Lee said. She speared a chunk of bread for herself, dunked it, waved it in the air, munched. "There isn't too much nutmeg, either."

"I was kidding, Lee." Gelert paused and ducked his head to lap at his bowl of Perrier. "Who else is he with?"

"I don't recognize any of them. Not that I'd have reason to. We could ask Konni."

"Right." Gelert busied himself with finishing his drink. Lee took the opportunity to steal another glance at the table by the far wall. Le Chalet was a small place, done in creampale stucco and warmly, brightly lit, so that there was no trouble seeing. The slim, dark man in the elegantly understated jacket and tie put the wine list aside with a gesture that would have been much too graceful, if not for the thoughtless strength inherent in it. Then, all courtesy and attention, he settled down to listen to one of his dinner companions' remarks about business.

Yet there was something else going on over there. Lee dipped another cube of bread, watching it. The three other well-dressed men, for all their apparent casualness, looked stiff and strained. Their ease was artificial, applied. And the quiet-eyed man who listened to them, though physically alert and erect enough, at the same time seemed inwardly to be lounging-watching their nervousness from a carefully maintained distance, aloof and ever so faintly amused. It was a look that Lee had seen before in Elves. Hell, she thought, everybody's seen it. It's one of the ways you tell an Elf in the first place. But in this Elf, the Elf, the effect was both more subtle and more concentrated. Lee looked away and speared more bread.

Gelert lifted his head from his drink, and within a few seconds--neither too quickly nor too slowly-Konrad Egli made his way over to their banquette table. Herr Egli was a great, gray, craggy block of a man, like a small Alp; forty years the master of this house and long past being ruffled by anything, even the presence of the absolute master of an entire otherworld. Mortal kings and princesses, and rock stars and politicos and chairmen of the board, all the lesser sorts of royalty, had been dining in his restaurant for years. He treated them all with the same benevolent, ruthless hospitality that he bestowed on first-timers just in off the street, and nothing any of them said or did ever seemed to catch him off guard. Now Herr Egli leaned down beside Gelert-not too far: even sitting on the floor, Gelert was tall enough to have to look slightly downward at Lee-and nodded at the empty Waterford bowl. "Another one, madra?"

"Please."

"Konni," Lee said, keeping her voice low, "does he come here often?" She nodded at the far side of the room, where jocund voices were rising in discreet merriment at some carefully witty remark.

Herr Egli shook his head. "A few times a year. Always business dinners, or lunches." He glanced over his shoulder for a second, then added with a smile and a fatherly scowl, "His guests-they never seem to finish what they order." Lee smiled wryly. Herr Egli took his role of patron seriously, and was not above scolding his favorite customers in friendly fashion if they seemed to need it.

"You notice," she said in mock-daughterly respect, "that I ate all my spinach."

"Good girl. Another glass of wine?"

"Yes, Konni, thank you."

He picked up her wineglass and Gelert's bowl and carried them away to the bar; then, at the thump the inner front door made when the outer door was opened, turned to greet an arriving guest. Lee dunked another chunk of bread for Gelert and offered it to him. He accepted it with eyes half-closed, a sybarite's lazy look, and thumped his tail gently on the wine-colored carpet as he chewed. "I'm glad we came," he said. "Even if you think you can't afford it."

"Excuse me," Lee said, "you're paying for this one, you said."

Gelert grinned, exhibiting many sharp white fangs. "But Lee, my portfolio-"

"-needs a forklift to pick it up. I'd ask you how you do it, except I'd be afraid we'd have the Securities and Exchange Commission after us about ten minutes later. And anyway, you're right, we do deserve it. We worked our butts off on that case. Here at least we can have dinner without the people from the local TV stations shoving cameras in our faces. So I will ever so gracefully, just this once, let you pay."

Gelert was still grinning. "Oh, well . . . it was worth a try."

Herr Egli came back with their drinks. "Konni," Lee said, "the great white pig here has, I would say 'single-handedly' if he had hands, finished off the fondue-"

"She starves me all day," Gelert said, dropping his ears down flat and attempting to look piteous. "Eating out's my only chance at sustenance. And look what I wind up with. Bread and water."

"How you suffer," Lee said. "Konni, how about dessert?"

"Fine. What would you like?"

"Chocolate fondue," said Gelert.

"Gel, no. You'll get it in your fur again. . . ."

The argument ran its predictable course, and Herr Egli went off to have them brought coffee, and to arrange for the chocolate fondue. Lee held out the next-to-last bit of bread and cheese to Gelert, looking over his shoulder as Konni paused by that one table across the room, checking on the guests seated there. One of them, the host of the Elf-King's party, was ordering, looking back and forth from Herr Egli to the trim blond woman in Swiss bodice and skirt who was actually taking the order. The Elf-king sat back in his chair, his malt-brown eyes shifting from one member of the party to another, lingering on them, unreadable. It was the typical Alfen gaze-that cool, easy regard, rooted in the kind of calm for which only an immortal had leisure...

Lee became aware that she was staring. Nonetheless she prolonged the examination just a bit, fascinated by the man's remoteness, his mild amusement, his too-perfect handsomeness. Her own fascination embarrassed and puzzled her a bit; though she delighted in good looks in men, gawking was hardly her style. Still, she thought, almost defiantly-and whom was she defying?-just a little exercise of curiosity on my own time. . . And then her embarrassment escalated, for those brown eyes were suddenly staring right back at her, a considering look: interested, and ever so slightly disturbed.

Still Lee wouldn't immediately look away, though she did start to blush at being caught staring at a celebrity like some tourist just in from the edgeworlds. There was something latent beneath that look of his, something rising like blood under skin, and it made her curious. Her Sight worried at it, fraying away at the edges of it, unraveling the seeming that overlay the truth. A few moments more and she would know the hidden thought, the answer to what was puzzling her-

The still, dark man wouldn't look away, and Lee's embarrassment finally got the better of her. She broke gaze, glanced away for something else to look at, anything, and took glad refuge in the arrival of the waitress with the coffee. Rude, Lee thought, annoyed with herself. And dumb. What if I'd gone judicial? Though that was unlikely. Both by training and intention Lee was enough of a professional not to look at other human beings in the normal course of daily life in the same way she looked at plaintiffs or the accused in the courtroom. Yet it was impossible ever to turn the Sight completely off, and insights did slip through. . . Oh, come on, she thought, annoyed at her own attempt to rationalize it. Eavesdropping at a perfect stranger like that. . . and this one, in particular. What's the matter with me?-

But when Lee looked up again, the Elf-king had turned his attention back to his dinner companions as if nothing had happened, and business went on uninterrupted on the other side of the room. Dessert arrived, and Gelert did get chocolate in his fur, and Herr Egli scolded him good-naturedly and sent to the kitchen for hot towels and club soda. Only much later, over the remains of the coffee and snifters of Grand Marnier, while the check was being reckoned up, did Gelert lean toward Lee, and say, "What was that about?" He flicked one ear backward, in the direction of the Elf-King's table.

"I don't know," Lee said. "Curiosity." And the first part of that was truer than the second. She snitched a final puff of toasted meringue off the dessert plate, ignoring Gelert's indignant growl. "Come on, better dig out your plastic, or we'll have nothing left to catch but the red-eye."

And he did, and they did, so that an hour or so later the two of them stepped from late evening at Kennedy to summer sunset at Los Angeles Intercontinual-a late-lingering volcano sunset that lowered red-hot over the Santa Susanas and turned Lake Val San Fernando to a sea of blood, flat and thick-looking under the breathless, baking air. They caught choppers for home in opposite directions-Lee, as soon as she'd recovered from the inevitable tummy-flutter that gating caused her, heading eastward to the park-and-fly and her house in Pasadena; Gelert heading west to his mate and pups and their condo in a madrín co-op at Malibu. Neither of them thought much of that dinner at Le Chalet in the days that followed.

But that night, as the late news came on, Lee thought about it for some time. "A fatal 'gangland'-style shooting late tonight in the Wilshire District," said the eleven o'clock anchor; and the camera cut from the studio to a remote of a murky scene lit in pink-yellow streetlights and the flashing reds and blues of ambulances and police black-and-whites. The on-scene newsman babbled on about names and circumstances and unclear motives. But what froze Lee in horror, blocking words away, was the quick shot of the slim, well-muscled form, all the Alfen elegance and strength gone out of it now, lying sprawled facedown on the pavement. Lee made a face. It was sweeps week, and all the stations' news coverage had become unusually sensational of late. But as they maneuvered the body onto the stretcher, she still couldn't look away from the handsome, cool, clean-chiseled face, pale and smudged with street grime, still beautiful in death. She did look away when the hastily tucked drape slipped just enough askew in the moving to show the wet pink-and-white gleam of ribs splintered by a shotgun blast to the back.

In the morning and in days to follow, Lee would read the conjectures in the Ellay Times about successful or unsuccessful attempts by the Mob to get one of the local Alfen to "play ball" in some unspecified racket. But right now Lee found herself thinking about the expression being slowly frozen by rigor into the dead Elf's face, and how very similar it was to the way the Elf-king had looked at his poor dinner companions. That aloof, gentle immortal's gaze; fearless, calmly certain, invulnerable to the petty machinations of those who knew far better than the Alfen how to die. . . .

Lee breathed out and settled back to wait for the weather report.

Copyright © 2002 Diane Duane
Reprinted with permission.
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Synopsis

"Lee!" Gelert barked, and threw himself from the rock spine, straight at Lee and the Elf-King. They tumbled over the stones, Gelert coming down on top of them; and blaster fire from the silent craft that had come down on them blew the top of the spire to chips and stinging splinters. Lee reached out to grab the Elf-King's arm, pulling him after her, but something held her still. He was looking at the Craft as it swung around for another pass, simply looking at it— Every part of Lee prickled intolerably, her eyes burned—and lightning came streaking down out of the tattered sky to strike the craft full on. Deafened, blinded, she was thrown back; it was some moments before her eyes cleared enough of the afterimage of the lightning to show her surroundings again.
"Nasty," Lee said softly.

"Were you expecting a coup d'etat?"

"For a century or so now," the Elf-King said.
-from STEALING THE ELF-KINGS ROSES

The highly acclaimed creator of many brilliantly realized worlds in fantasy and science fiction, New York Times bestselling author Diane Duane now presents a startlingly original new adventure—a gripping mystery that spans seven alternate universes...

THE CASE OF THE ELF KILLERS

Los Angeles prosecutor, sleuth, and forensic lanthanomancer Lee Enfield relies on her mystic Sight to gather the truth from suspects and crime scenes. But when she investigates the shooting death of an Alfen media exec, her powers, like those of her fayhound partner Gelert, uncover only deeper mysteries. The murder is revealed to be part of a deadly plot against Elves, and mounting evidence implicates the highest members of the Alfheim government...including the Elf-King himself. Now, to determine the truth, Lee and Gelert must secretly infiltrate Alfheim, a universe forbidden to mortals—and crack the case before an inter-dimensional war destroys all creation...

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Author

Diane DuaneDiane Duane was born in Manhattan in 1952. She graduated Pilgrim State Hospital School of Nursing in 1974 as a registered nurse with an honors specialty in psychiatry. And thus she worked as a psychiatric nurse before turning to writing full time in 1980. Since then she has published at least twenty novels, including several collaborations with her husband, Peter Morwood, some bestselling Star Trek novels, and some Tom Clancy Net Force novels. She also writes screenplays, served as senior writer for the BBC-TV education series "Science Challenge," and writes scripts for CD-ROM computer games.

In her spare time, Duane collects recipes and cookbooks, travels, studies German, dabbles in astronomy, and spends time weeding the garden. Duane lives with her husband in rural Ireland.

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