Heart and Hooves: An Urban Fantasy
by AJ

Chapter 2

The next time I saw that guy, I was sitting in a booth up at Mike’s, having a home cooked meal…or as close as I get to one, anyway. It was right around midnight. I was still flush from my last trick—now known as “dog kennel guy”— so I was treating myself to a real breakfast. I eat fast food a lot, so it was a pleasure to sit down to a real, honest-to-gods, eggs-bacon-and-toast meal for a change…until he walked in with a couple of his buddies.

One was a real pretty drag queen--not my type, but I can understand beauty, and she had it down to a science; the second was this huge, bodybuilder guy with long red hair—I figured the horse could take him, but as a guy, he could pull my arms and legs off without even breaking a sweat.

All three of ‘em were making my feydar do back flips, but I figured if I left now, I’d be really obvious. So I decided to brazen it out and just keep eating my meal, though it was about as tasty as dead grass now—don’t ask me how I know what dead grass tastes like, ok?

I saw the short dude lean over and whisper something to the pretty one, and indicate me with his eyes. I pretended to ignore the exchange and went on stuffing my face. Just as I was finishing, the short dude appeared at the corner of my booth. I hadn’t heard any footsteps as he approached, and my hearing is pretty good, so I was a little startled. I think I covered pretty well, though.

“Hello, my name is Ralph. May I sit?” His voice was quiet and sounded like one of those guys on public television, kinda British or something. He pronounced his name like 'Rafe,' and it wasn't till later that I found out he spelled it like the dorky kid's name.

“I’m sorry, I was just finishing up. Maybe another time…look for me outside the Hellhole, john.” Yeah, I know…kinda rude, but I didn’t want him to be under any illusions.

“I know you hang out there, Bryon…” His deliberate use of my name made me can the attitude real fast. “I’m not in the market for a rent boy. I just thought we could talk a little, is all.”

“It’s a free country, Ralph. Help yourself.”

“Your time is worth something, Bryon. May I pay for your meal? No obligation beyond that, you understand.”

I nodded and passed him the tab. Usually something like that would have pissed me off, but I was a little curious about this guy, against my better judgment. I mean, if the guy had gone to the trouble of finding out my name, the least I could do was let him pay for my meal, right?

He waved Everett over and handed him the ticket, telling him to add it to his tab. Everett nodded and very politely asked him if there would be anything else. He raised an inquiring eyebrow at me, but I shook my head.

“No thank you, Everett. We’ll just sit and chat for a while, I think. We could have a little change of mood music-wise, though.”

Everett grinned and winked just before leaving. Pretty soon, the “classic rock” that had been playing over the sound system changed to deep, dark blues—I recognized the voice of a local artist, Ernestine Anderson.

Ralph smiled. “I love that guy! Never have to tell him what I want to hear. So, Bryon…I remember seeing you outside the Hellhole the other night. What was odd was that I almost didn’t see you. I’ve got pretty sharp eyes, you know. You’re quite accomplished at hiding in plain sight.”

I shrugged modestly. “It’s a skill I learned awhile back. Helps with the police pretty well.”

“Yes, it would have fooled a policeman entirely, I imagine. I bet you’re wondering what I mean by coming over here, interrupting your meal and taking up your time like this, aren’t you?”

I didn’t say anything, just nodded for him to continue.

“Well, consider me the welcome wagon. You’re relatively new to the neighborhood, and my two friends and I like to keep track of those who are out and about and just a bit…hmm, uncanny might be a good way of putting it.”

“Thanks,” I murmured. “I like it here. I might be around for awhile.”

“Or you might not,” he said gently. “Your profession and the particular clientele you work with does not lend itself to longevity, young Bryon. I say this not as a criticism, but only as a statement of fact, you understand.”

It was an honest assessment, given that he didn’t know I rejuvenated after each “session” with a little horse time. My unblemished skin would have surprised him, I think. I nodded again, to let him know I was listening, and he continued.

“If it would be all right with you, I’d like to ask my two friends to join us and meet you. I think you’ll find them most interesting.”

“Sure. Can’t know too many people, right?”

“Oh yes, Bryon. One can certainly know too many people if they’re not the right sort. But let me introduce you to my brothers—by adoption, if not by blood.” He waved at the other two, and they made their way to the booth, one slipping in on either side of us. The big redhead sat next to me. This close, I could practically smell the fey-ness rolling off of him. This one was way, way more than he looked like. When I turned to look at the drag queen up close, I got the same sense. I winced inside—I was in very deep here. But I kept my face still and neutral, not giving a thing away.

Peter, the redhead, had hands so enormous that mine all but disappeared when he shook it. He acted shy and somehow kind of sweet, which surprised me. I should know better than to judge anyone by their looks, I guess.

The drag queen was Sandy. There was none of the affected manners that I’d seen in the few drag queens I’d ever met. This guy looked me right in the eye and his handshake was strong and masculine, even with the perfectly painted and manicured nails. We shared a few minutes of small talk, introducing ourselves and being politely social. Nothing more was said of my…err, choice of professions. The other two treated me as an equal; none of that talking down to me because I’m only sixteen that I hate so much. I relaxed a little and was just starting to enjoy myself when Ralph mentioned that they had to go. Apparently, Sandy was slated to do an after hours show at a nearby bar. After a quick glance at the other two, and a minute nod from each, Ralph extended an invitation to me.

“We’d like to meet you in a less public place, Bryon. We’ve decided that we like you, and we’d like to know more about you and let you know us a little more as well. Perhaps it would be convenient to come to a late supper at our home? Would this coming Friday work for you? I’m afraid it would have to be rather late. You might say that I work the night shift.” He smiled a little as he said it, and Peter guffawed while Sandy only looked amused. At my nod, he continued: “Here is my card. It has my name, address and telephone number on it. Please feel free to call at any time. If none of us are around, you can leave a message, as Sandy has bullied me into getting one of those ridiculous answering services on the line.” He assumed an expression of long suffering for a moment, and I couldn’t help but smile a little.

Sandy smiled at his companion, but spoke to me. “It’s been nice meeting you, Bryon. Please do come by for dinner on Friday. I’m sure we’ll find lots to talk about.”

“I’ll second that, Bryon. C’mon over—Sandy is a mean cook. Put’s the cooking here to shame. And mean too—he’s been teaching me to cook for two months and he’s still got me peeling potatoes.” Peter's voice was a low rumble, and he smiled a little at Sandy.

“He can’t be trusted with anything beyond a potato peeler, Bryon,” Sandy interjected. “It’s for his own safety. The last time he tried to use a real knife, he about cut his finger off.”

All three were laughing over the incident, and I felt a momentary twinge of envy at the way they were so comfortable with each other. But I shut that down ruthlessly. I had my lot in life, and I knew it. I had to be content with what I had. But, maybe for one night I could at least see what it was like…

“I’d like that,” I said, surprising myself. “How about right around nine o’clock?”

“That would do nicely, Bryon,” Ralph said. “We’ll look forward to it on Friday at nine, then. And now, we have to go. Have a lovely evening, Bryon.” The three of them each shook my hand again, and then walked out of the bar. I heard Sandy giving Ralph shit about acting like the lord of the manor just before they went out the door, and the two of them laughing about it. Everett came over just then and offered me an espresso of my choice, saying that it was Ralph’s treat. I had a mocha grande, with three shots and raspberry. Never look a gift horse…um, well, never mind.

Wednesday, I spent the day shopping. I didn’t want to show up at the trio’s place looking like a refugee from a skater convention. I like that look, and when I’m not conducting business it’s my usual. But I thought about how the three of them had been dressed, and realized I didn’t have a thing to wear. So it was off to Nordstrom for me, to buy a killer outfit and prove that I had as much fashion sense as the next nouveau fag. I decided to pick up some shoes for the outfit as well, and a bottle of cologne that I tried on a whim and really liked. By the time I was done, I’d put a serious dent in my cash, so I knew I was going to have to turn another trick that night or the next to top it off again.

It was cloudy and windy the next night, with just a little rain mixed in; standing outside the Hellhole in what I liked to think of as my “debauched skater punk” outfit, I couldn’t help shivering a little. The only constant in all my outfits is the dog collar. As I lounged against the wall, pretending to mind my own business, I didn’t even hear him until he was standing right next to me. I took one look at him and knew I was in trouble.

He was a tall, slender man with coal black skin and a handsome face. He wore his leathers like a tuxedo—very elegant, very tailored and very expensive. He positively reeked of fey energy.

“I heard there was an independent working the ‘hole…thought I’d come down for a little look. And lo and behold, here you are. Very accommodating, I must say. I think I might just try you out for the night. Could be entertaining, if nothing else.”

“What are you talkin’ about, mister? I’m just waiting for a bus,” I lied, nodding at the bus stop in front of us. Ok, not a very good lie, but it was all I could think of at the moment. This guy had me seriously rattled.

The guy laughed, and it gave me the shivers. “Oh no, youngster, that won’t do. You see, Jeffrey - who had the pleasure of having you a few nights ago - told me all about you. He said, and I quote ‘he ain’t cheap, but he plays hard…and he doesn’t use safewords.’ Does that sound familiar?”

Ah, shit. I knew I was going to regret saying that one of these days. But I decided to brazen it out.

“Naw, man. Never heard anything like that before. You got the wrong dude.”

“I don’t think so, little man,” he replied “or should I say little pooka? I know all about you. It’s been a very long time since I played with one of your kind, and I’m inclined to try you. So, be a good little boy and come with me.” He snapped his fingers in front of my eyes, and I felt my body go strangely distant, like I’d been shoved out of my own skull. When he started to walk away, I found myself walking behind him at three paces distance, whether I wanted to or not. I struggled to regain my body, but it was useless. I was along for the ride and that was all there was to it.

We walked about two blocks and turned onto a side street, and there was a huge BMW sedan waiting at the curb. At our approach, a man slid out of the driver’s seat, walked around and opened the rear door. My captor slid in and I followed him, sitting on the elegant leather upholstery. Dimly, I could feel it, cool against my back through my thin shirt. The driver shut the door, locking me into the nightmare. I was still struggling with the mind lock this bastard had on me, but it was more reflexive than anything—I knew he had me.

We drove out to a big place in Laurelhurst. It was surrounded by high stone walls, and a heavy iron gate slid aside as the car purred up the drive. Not that unusual in this neighborhood, I was guessing. Strangely, I wasn’t feeling a lot of fear. That changed when I looked at my host, though. Once through the gate, he dropped his glamour. I recognized him for what he was immediately—the tall, sharply pointed ears, dark complexion and narrow, uptilted eyes were a dead giveaway. He was a Drow, a dark elf. If I’d thought I was in trouble before, now I knew it.

When we entered the house, I heard the lock click behind me. I knew that lock was the least of my worries. That door was probably warded 'til Tuesday, and there was no way anyone was going in or out of that door till my captor wanted them to. No, the lock was for my benefit: the first round in the effort to break me down. I have to admit, it worked a little.

I stood there docilely as two enormous things shambled out of the shadows in the front hall and each took one of my arms in huge hands. They looked like someone had modeled titans in plastic and then hit them with a blowtorch - sort of melted and amorphous. There was nothing wrong with their grip, though. There was no way I was going anywhere. The Drow snapped his fingers in front of my face again, and I was back in my own mind, back in control, if you want to call it that. I was suddenly so afraid I nearly peed my pants. I struggled against the hands holding my arms, but it was useless. They were way too strong.

“Hmm, I like that, boy. Struggle some more, won’t you? Maybe you could scream a little too,” the Drow mocked me. Behind him, another dark elf walked out of a side door. “Arturo, take this young man downstairs to the playroom, would you? I think he’s going to make a lovely evening’s entertainment.”

The second drow bowed, then snapped his fingers at whatever the things holding my arms were, and they dragged me along behind his retreating back, further into the house.

In the basement, there was…well, there’s no easy way to put this: there was a torture chamber. It looked more like a surgery unit: all white, with big overhead lights and a table in the middle with movable parts, drapes laid over everything so neatly. But the instruments laid out on the side table didn’t look like anything I’d seen on ER, believe me. Nor do most surgical units have electric branding irons included.

Finally, the drow who brought me to the basement spoke, but not to me. He was thinking out loud:

“M’lord Braewynn insists on bringing home the dirtiest specimens, I swear. Where on earth does he find them? This one looks like he’s been rolling with pigs. Well, nothing for it but a bit of a wash.” With that, he turned and started for a door on the side of the room, waving my walking restraints along behind him.

My heart began to pound in my chest, but I kept the look of abject fear on my face. The room we entered was tiled all in white. There was an enormous, rectangular tub filled with water in the center of the room. Braewynn’s toady was about to make a serious mistake, but I didn’t say a word. The two dudes holding me lifted me up and plunged me face first into the freezing water in the tub.

The second the water closed over me, the change swept over my body like a tornado. No need to will it to come this time—the horse was desperate to come out and play. I lunged up out of that tub like a drow’s worst nightmare, and I had every intention of playing the part. I shook off the things holding me like rats, spun and kicked one into the far wall with a sickening thud. The other came at me again, and I bit it and shook it like a terrier.

Arturo tried the mind lock trick again, but the horse shrugged it off like so much rotten cheesecloth. I charged him, shouldered him out of the way and kicked him with a hind leg as I went by. Above me, I dimly heard Braewynn bellowing something about what a fool Arturo was, but that was none of my concern. I wanted out of there, and right now wasn’t soon enough.

One good kick was enough to account for the door at the top of the stairs leading up to the first floor, and I flowed out of the door and into the hall there like a dervish, hooves clattering and skidding on the marble floor. I knew I couldn’t get out the front door, but I was hoping there was a back door, so I turned left and headed deeper into the house.

That was when I met Braewynn. He was standing about ten feet away. He didn’t even try for pacifying measures: the moment he saw me, he cut loose with a levin bolt that would have fried me if it had hit, but I smoothly dodged it and was on him before he could whip up another. I hit him full on, and drove right on over him. I’d have liked to have paused and danced on him a little, but by now an alarm was screaming throughout the whole house and I could hear heavy footsteps coming down the stairs behind me. So, as much as the horse wanted to finish the job, I sprinted forward and smashed another door to find myself in a library, with tall windows overlooking a garden.

Two strides took me across the room, and I leaped like a hunter, right through those windows. They were warded as well, but mostly to keep things outside from getting in so I just got the tiniest effect, and I only got a little singed. In the garden, I spun back to the house and reared high on my hindquarters, screaming defiance, raking the air with my forelegs. Braewynn appeared at the broken window of the library, looking worse for the wear, and threw another levin bolt, but this one was a lot weaker and I dodged it easily. Then I spun around and galloped the length of the garden, gathering speed and power. When I reached the wall, I rose over it like a bird, and landed lightly on the other side. Without a glance back I hit the road, accelerating to a full, wild gallop within three strides and disappeared into the night, with only the triple beat of a racing stride to mark my passage.