By now it was raining.
Outside the row of houses, there stood a statue of a rather normal-looking family…each member of which had only a single eye. The statue was of cyclopean men and women. Beneath, the pedestal read ‘Here We Remember Our Arimaspean Allies.’
They’re all dead? Belle wondered with a start, before she went inside the detective’s door.
Sam Spade looked up at his now-open door, beholding the drenched young thing - feminine thing - standing in his doorway, dripping what rain wasn’t still pouring outside. Looking up from his copy of ‘Kate Beckett: a Novel’ by Derrick Storm, Sam said, "I can certainly help you, Miss." Nobody goes out in this cat-and-dogs without being at the end of their rope.
She - her lips redder than passion - shuddered. "Not the ‘help’ you’re fearing," Sam said.
Relief flowed over her. "I need to find someone. I may…" she said.
"You came to the right place. Don’t you worry yourself about payment." Even if she hadn’t been a knock-out and then some, she’d been driven enough to brave the storm. "Have a seat."
“Thank you. I - Wait, you’re human.”
Tom and Huck had run off once she reached this building. Two boys might be here seeking adventure and novelty. But… "Why do you live here, in the ogre lands?" Belle asked.
"Best place to apply the ol’ noggin," Spade said. "Problem-solving, adventure, everything a guy could want… without any of that pesky magic."
“Doesn’t stop people from lying, stealing, or killing each other. Just trips anyone trying to do their job looking into those things.” Sam smiled. “Anything else?”
"I need to find Irene Adler."
"Irene’s on a case. Could be gone a few hours. Course she’s had one or two cases that she hid herself away for a month. Give me a minute, let me see what I can do. Chat with my secretary, if you like.”
Belle talked with the blind secretary, who spoke of a world - ‘a valley’ she said her lover had called it - where blindness like hers was the norm. Secretary Medina-Sarote told Belle about what she and her lover Nunez went through over the course of their love…
As she listened, Belle thought, Apply pressure, persuasion, convince him to change… and never heard from or heard of him again; and Belle wasn’t sure who she was describing better - Nunez or Rumplestiltskin.
The door opened, and Sam poked his head in. “Thank you, Medina-Sarote,” he told her. “Follow me,” he said to Belle.
Belle followed Sam through to the back, which opened onto another street, which they ran across - Sam having draped his jacket over her. They were welcomed into a Brownstone building.
“They are not upstairs today,“ the butler informed them.
“Thank you, Fritz,” Sam said as he guided Belle to the sitting room, where -
“Phtooie! Why it is as plain as the function of your corset, woman, that the yateveo is kin to crocuses, not to oaks,” Nero Wolfe said.
“You are exaggerating the capacity of plants to acquire wood,” Irene Adler said.
“Nonsense. If your powers of observation were as keen as your reputation implied, you may have noticed a wooden stalk upon which the flowers of many a bulbous plant display.”
“What do you suggest?” Sherlock Holmes asked, curious. “That the conventional leaves atrophied to absence, leaving the flower petals to devolve into leaves?”
“Quite,” Nero said.
“What’re the tentacles, then?” Sam Spade asked, walking in with Belle following him. “Anther and stamen?”
“Trust you to think of sex, my friend,” Holmes jested.
“One of us has to.”
“And who is your friend? A client or beau?”
“Messenger,” Spade said.
“Are you Irene Adler?” Belle asked.
“I am she,” Irene said. “Are you Belle?”
“I am,” Belle said.
“Then I’m given to understand you have something for me.”
“I do,” Belle said, and pulled out the letter from the Nixie and handed it to Irene.
“Thank you, Belle,” Irene said. “Now tell us, what do you think?”
“Oh, I never really read much about plants.”
“And no garden for royalty?” Holmes asked.
I have soft hands, I know. “I was never interested,” Belle said. “Sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing? Stop it!” Wolfe said.
“We asked your opinion,” Adler said. “That is not a thing to apologize for.”
Spade nodded. “Opinions are like women.”
“Varied and a many-splendored thing?” Archie asked from the corner.
“Always worth listening to,” Sam said.
“Pardon,” said the - the butler, Belle assumed - “There is a carriage arriving.”
“Shall we wager who that could be?” Irene asked.
“Given the state of royalty these days, no,” Nero said. “Fritz, take this guest somewhere for now.”
“It’s okay,” Irene said to Belle before Fritz escorted her to the little room with the observational peephole.
Cinderella’s carriage let her out at the requested Brownstone. The home’s door opened before she could raise her hand to knock, and a formally-dressed man walked her to a sitting room where three sat, clearly expecting her.
"You are puzzled," Sherlock Holmes remarked with the utmost casualness. He sat to the right of the great man. "It was decided amongst ourselves to present a united front."
"So I wouldn’t have to drive from one to another?" Cinderella asked. "Thank you."
"Phooie," Nero Wolfe said, sitting in the center. "You had hoped to play us off one another."
"I wouldn’t -"
"Confound it, woman! Waste none of our time."
Irene Adler smiled at Cinderella. "Shall I tell you why you are here? Or do you fancy explaining your situation?"
"My husband has disappeared," Cinderella said.
"By which you refer to Prince Sean," Holmes said.
Cinderella nodded. "I need your help in recovering him."
"No doubt," Wolfe said. "But what we wish to know is, what precipitated your dear husband’s absence?"
Easily a dozen excuses came to mind, but she dismissed them all in favor of, "We captured Rumplestiltskin." A statement as bald and naked as a newborn, yet plump with all the implicits.
"Did you tell him to be captured?" Adler asked after a very long minute.
"Then you used magic. Idiot," Wolfe said, followed by something in Serbo-Croatian.
"You obviously captured him for either a reason or a whimsy," Holmes said, "which was what?"
"To do with your present pregnancy?" Adler asked.
I’ve barely begun to bulge, Cinderella thought. "Yes. He wanted my firstborn."
"Strange," Wolfe said, though his voice said he found it not strange at all. "The more-so as he only asks for those as payment for services rendered."
"Your majesty?" Adler asked when Cinderella said nothing.
Cinderella wept, covering her face with her hands until she felt able to admit that, "Yes! Yes, he offered me a way to attend the Ball. I thought he would want money, or jewels, or land."
"As you assume we do," Wolfe said.
Cinderella sniffled. "Wh- What *do* you want?"
"In short, letters of marque," Holmes said.
"We want, in writing," Wolfe said, "your authority granting us the freedom to travel wherever we require, to question *anyone* -"
"Regardless of your feeling for them," Adler spelled out for Cinderella.
"Quite. You must also agree that we will work at our own pace."
Holmes added, "Your majesty cannot have us hassled or pressured by yourself or agents of your will, and may not object or interfere with any other cases any of us may take up prior to the completion of your case."
Cinderella nodded. "Yes! I agree! I will have it written within the day."
"You do that," Adler said. "Return it to any of us, and it will reach the others."
“It happens,” Fritz said to Belle. “People come to us if they want a way out of a deal they have agreed to. Sometimes it is before they feel driven to break the deal; rarer, such as now, they attempt the break before asking us for our assistance.”
Belle continued to look through, at Cinderella.
“They are afraid,” Fritz said, answering an unspoken question. “Never underestimate the value of fear. People do most anything because of it. King White is a good example - he did not abandon his first family out of fear; but everything he did after that was born of fear. When he was between marriages, the Oracle told him his demon-related actions would kill him. So he made a deal with the Nixie, and King White married his second wife and forbade Princess Snow from learning her inheritance.”
“Because the King thought she would kill him if she knew?” Belle asked.
“Or might invite someone to tell her of her mother, so she could know what ‘dear mama’ was like.”
“Did it work?”
“The Oracle’s words came to pass.”
“Could he have done anything which might have saved him?”
“Reconciliation, perhaps; but unlikely.”
“Why? I’m sorry, but why would it be unlikely?”
Fritz didn’t look happy.
“Does it have to do with how King White wanted everyone in his kingdom to be happy?”
“It does,” Fritz said.
“And if you’re forcing someone to do something, any reconciliation with that person isn’t believable.”
Soon enough, Irene popped her head in and said, “Thank you, Fritz. Belle, come with me.”
“Can I ask where we’re going?” Belle asked.
“Asking’s easy,” Irene joked.
“I’m escorting you to meet royalty. Not the strangest job I’ve ever had. Grab a coat - any that fits, really.”
No matter how hard she tried, Belle couldn’t entirely stop thinking about the confluence. Cinderella’s deal with Rumplestiltskin had been only two months before Belle had agreed to go with him. And she recalled her words to him so long ago and so recently: ‘If I’m never to know another human being, can’t I at least know you?’
Belle looked up at the inky vastnesses between zodiac signs. Was the baby for me, something to fill my time when I finished my chores, so I wouldn’t be underfoot and inquisitive?
On impulse, Belle asked the first thing that came to mind that didn‘t have to do with babies: “Are you a snark?”
“By birth, yes I am,” Irene said. My mother was captured and impressed into the musical profession. I inherited her operatic voice. “But as I never underwent the change, I can perform none of the feats of snarks.”
“How many changes do snarks undergo?”
“Two. Not counting birth or death.”
“And the first makes you a snark?” Belle asked. “Able to hide in shadows and whatnot.”
“Yes.” Though normal snarks prefer professions, leaving the hiding to the next stage in life.
“And the second?”
“There is a special collective name for super-snarks.”
As the two women walked to the door, Belle said, “Thank you. I…”
“Needed to know,” Irene said, understanding the feeling very well, from personal and professional experience.
They walked down the at-times cobbled street in a companionable silence until they were joined in their walk by - “Good afternoon, Othello,” Irene said.
“Irene,” Othello said cheerfully, “and Irene’s friend.”
“Did that Capulet job pan out?” she asked.
“I got to the bottom of it,” Othello said.
Belle walked in silence as they talked a while. I never had friends, Belle thought, watching how they were. Except Rumplestiltskin.
“And what do you think?” Othello asked.
It took Belle a moment to realize he was asking her, not asking Miss Adler. “I’m sorry?”
“Finish these sentences, in your mind if not with your lips. Are you ready?” Othello asked.
“Ready,” Belle said.
“Someone who prevents another from doing evil is…”
“Good,” Belle said.
“It is better to be lonely than…”
Belle considered that. “Alone.”
“She who does not deserve friends is…” Othello asked.
“It is better to have loved than…”
“To not,” Belle said.
“It is better to have loved and lost…”
“But only if you try not to lose.”
“It is not worth winning when…”
“It costs you your friends.”
“Here we are,” Irene Adler said, the two of them standing before a door with a vaguely goat-shaped knocker. By the time they reached this door, Othello had been called away to consult with Sam Spade on a case.
Belle watched as Irene went up the few front porch steps to knock on the door, and wait.
The door opened. To Belle’s eyes, the three young women at the doorway talking to Irene looked like sisters… But for one detail.
“You’re the Belle?” Three-Eyes asked Belle once Irene finished talking.
“I am,” Belle said.
“Well,” Two-Eyes said, “looks like we’re in the presence of royalty. Again.”
“She doesn’t look the type to smear the reputation of us and our late goat,” One-Eye said.
“Never know. She might take offense faster than that prince did.”
“I would never do that,” Belle said.
“Who are your friends?” Three-Eye asked.
Um… and answered with the only name that came close. “Rumplestiltskin.”
The three sisters tensed.
Did you cross him, or did he cross you? Belle wondered. “You’ve met?”
“Yes, we know Rumplestiltskin,” Two-Eyes said. “Our father fought Rumplestiltskin’s squad in the War. Your friend earned a stay of execution, and a limp, so he lived to return to his pregnant wife.”
One-Eye picked up the accounting: “Then your Rumplestiltskin changed his occupation, and came back and smote our father, father’s friends, and father’s rivals.”
“That’s why,” Three-Eyes said to Belle, “we told you to be thankful we don’t follow heroic traditions such as guilt by association.”
“And after killing all of them, Rumplestiltskin then turned to our mother and set a curse on her,” One-Eye said.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Belle said sympathetically. “Is she okay now?”
“Mother died,” Three-Eyes said. “The curse focused in her womb, changing the three of us.”
“Our family are Arimaspeans,” One-Eye said.
Belle knew that name and said as much. “The one-eyed people who fight griffins and dig for gold.”
“Those were the traditional occupations of the pre-Heroic Age, yes.”
Oh, dear, Belle thought, as it occurred to her that having two eyes was not a normal thing for a cyclopean race.
“Well, let’s go,” Three-Eyes said.
“This’s a strange request, but we’ll accompany the both of you,” One-Eye said to Adler.
“How far?” Adler asked.
“Until we leave.”
Emma arrived at the town library promptly. “Thanks for the call,” she said to Ms. Scope, the head librarian, who nodded.
“I asked One-Eye to summon you,” the Nixie said absently to Emma.
“You mean Mrs. Scope?”
“Names…” Nixie said, looking at the titles on display. Plucking a thick book from the shelf, she held it up. “A man lost his wife to death. When he went hunting, he passed through a hole, and found himself in the land of the dead. He found his wife, and they were happy once more. But he fled the other dead, who chased him back through the hole, and they sealed the hole so nobody else could pass through from either side.”
“Nice story,” Emma said. “Or is that true too?”
“I don’t know if it happened before. But I know it’s my task now.”
“To chase people?” Emma asked, deliberately misinterpreting so as to force May to reveal what was going on.
Herding, not chasing. “Only those who want to go home.” And Belle is to bring the magic back with us all. “And your predecessor is going to help.”
“Graham’s dead,” Emma said.
“Physics argues otherwise,” May said.
From reading May Noapte’s file, Emma knew that her gang had been so successful in part because of using physical laws to their advantage. “Which part of physics?” Emma asked. I don’t remember Shroedinger’s Cat being in Henry’s book.
“Come and see.”