The being sitting across the table from Helen wasn’t human. Thomas Caine was thin and pale, his alabaster skin offset by emerald green eyes, and his pointed ears set too high up on his head. John realized that Helen was staring at Thomas and stood up to ask if anyone wanted dessert. He hadn’t enough time to bake something, but there was ice cream in the freezer.
Thomas rose and said, “No, thanks, I really need to be going. There’s something that I need to do.”
“Are you sure you won’t stay?” Helen asked. Thomas nodded and let himself out. After he had closed the door, Helen remarked, “I have so many questions for him.”
John sat down at the table with refills for their coffee. “You saw something that wasn’t human, didn’t you? You need to tell me what he looked like.” Helen described what she saw to John.
“That explains a lot,” John commented. “Everything about his apartment is weird. I must have wandered through a half-dozen dimensional shifts looking the place over.”
“Why were you in his apartment?” Helen asked. Before John could reply, Helen spoke again. “Ah, he’s the one you are doing the background check on.”
“If I didn’t know better, I’d think him an Elf,” John said. “But the Elves left long ago. It’s been nearly four hundred years or so.”
“Should I be worried?” Helen asked.
“You, no. He, on the other hand, had better behave or he’s likely to end up as a pile of ashes,” John teased.
“We could go next door and ask him,” Helen suggested.
“I wouldn’t. He seemed a bit cranky. If he is an Elf, we might end up having to kill him and then where would we be?” John said as he washed the dinner dishes. “It’s best to give him some time to calm down.”
By the time Thomas crossed his threshold he was in a blind rage. Helen had never mentioned John before. In fact, she hadn’t talked much about her past or her family. He had been relieved that the topic hadn’t come up in conversation until tonight. He stomped across the floor of his apartment, opened the door to his pantry closet, and pushed against the back wall of shelves.
Thomas stepped into the one room that his visitor had not found. It was his safe-room. He entered a series of keywords into the remains of the ship’s database. A plethora of information came back about the Daemon of Hell and the Hellion species. Thomas felt confident of his ability to defeat the intruder should a confrontation come to blows.
As Thomas pondered the question of why the intruder had been through his apartment apparently to just look around, it occurred to him that Helen’s old friend might be the answer to who the intruder was. Thomas didn’t like John Smith. The man could take the most mundane of ingredients and turn it into a gourmet delight. He probably cleaned up afterward too. There were so many reasons to not like the tall, muscular, blue-eyed intruder. But the most important reason was the possibility of a romantic rival. And Thomas was having none of that.
Thomas decided that he needed to show Helen that he could hold his own in a kitchen. Fortunately, elves were fast learners and after watching a few videos on the internet, he had gained enough knowledge to cook a gourmet meal. He ordered a box of ingredients from one of the online delivery services. He also sought out a source of irises to decorate his apartment. And sometime during the day, he planned to interrogate Lois about Helen.
The next morning, as Thomas was about to knock on Helen’s door, she opened it and stood there smiling at him. “Come in,” she said. “I was worried about you. You’re a whole minute late.”
Thomas laughed. “Sorry, my tie wouldn’t co-operate this morning.”
“Come in before breakfast gets cold,” Helen said as she stepped away from the door. Thomas followed her inside and closed the door behind him.
“Where’s your friend?” Thomas asked.
“John?” Helen asked. “He left last night after he cleaned up the dishes. He said that he needed to get an early start in the morning.”
“An early flight home?” Thomas asked hopefully.
“No, not yet. He expects to be finished by the end of the week though. He said something about confirming a few details before reporting the results to his client. Then spending some time catching up,” Helen replied.
Thomas watched Helen pile the breakfast dishes in the sink. He wondered if her friend had been in her apartment as well. “It must have killed him to leave her dirty dishes in the sink,” he thought. Thomas decided that he needed to come around earlier in the morning for breakfast. That would give him time to wash Helen’s dishes before they left for work.
The ride in to work was quieter than it usually is. Helen didn’t seem to mind the lack of conversation. Thomas had a busy day ahead and he didn’t want to tip off his surprise for her. Helen was busy making her own plans. She was grateful that they would not be meeting for lunch today. She wanted to learn everything she could about elf lore and that meant spending some time at the local library during lunch hour.
Thomas looked over last week’s account reports looking for a reason to call people in to his office. He didn’t want to single out Lois as that would raise suspicions. He decided to proceed alphabetically through the accounts list, giving them ten minutes each to answer random questions about how they were handling their added responsibilities. Part of the questioning would include how their new workload impacted their social lives, family, and friends.
Lois gushed about her new job being the best thing ever. Thomas thought that she was being a little too enthusiastic about it. When it came to the personal impact questions, she was very talkative. He asked about her relationship with Helen. “Oh, we’re still close friends. But you know that,” Lois replied. “I don’t see her nearly as often since the proposal, but she’s still like a sister to me.”
“So, you know her really well?” Thomas asked.
“As well as anyone can know her,” Lois replied. “She doesn’t share a lot about herself. I know that she didn’t see anyone special before she started going out with you. And she loves the color blue. And her favorite food is anything that doesn’t move on the plate. She said she had a bad experience once with being served a live octopus. And she has all sorts of really weird dreams about things like fighting demons and vampires and living in a large stone manor house. She says most of them seem so real.”
“Thank you, Lois,” Thomas said interrupting her. “Your time is up. Could you send in Richard? I believe he has the Yarrow account.”
“Yes,” Lois answered. “That was it?” she asked. Thomas nodded and she walked out of his office smiling, stopping by Richard’s desk to let him know he was next and there was nothing to worry about.
Thomas was disappointed that Lois knew even less than he did about Helen. He decided that he needed time to hang out with Helen’s former co-workers at Shady Estates. He arrived home in time to take in the food delivery that had been dropped at his door and unpacked the contents. His to-do list was growing faster than he could complete the tasks being added to it. Before he could leave, the potted irises arrived from the florist. He made them wait outside for a minute or so while he turned off the projector and returned the apartment to normal. As soon as the pots were all distributed about his apartment, he left with the florists.
There were literally hundreds of books on elves at the library. They were very popular in literature, especially fantasy novels. Even the occult books had chapters alluding to their ability to remain invisible and generally helpful beings. Some books mentioned that elves were temperamental beings and attracted, attractive, no – seductive to humans. Thomas was most certainly attempting to seduce Helen, but she had resisted the temptation.
Thomas was late returning from lunch. Helen had returned on time and decided to use her newly discovered ability to use to see if any other elves were working at Caine Accounting. Inside the room reserved for the special project, she could see the true visages of Abraham and his two eldest sons. The fourth person in the room was human. She saw an elf or two working in Human Relations. “Well, that certainly gives new meaning to the name,” she thought as she wandered through the building taking the long way to her workstation.
It was midafternoon when John arrived back at the sequoia grove where Tectumque was located. He wandered around for several minutes before he found an arrangement of trunks that was a close match to what he was looking for. He climbed the metal steps circling the tree behind him stopping at each landing to compare the view. Near the top of the stairs, he found the exact match. He examined the outside of the hatch looking for some way to open it. He found holes dug into the sides that allowed him to slip his fingers inside and pull the doorway out and slide it aside.
The quarters seemed different. This time the room didn’t open up into the hallway to Thomas’ apartment. It was cut off from it as though a gate had been closed. John took a close look at the decorations on the wall. Within seconds of calling out his name, Mammon arrived. “You weren’t kidding,” Mammon remarked upon seeing the images dancing on the walls of the redwood room. “This is definitely the den of an elf, although they aren’t known for sleeping on the floor.”
“He has an apartment that this room is normally attached to,” John replied. “He sleeps in a normal bed. And he has it bad for Lucy. Worst case of lust that I’ve ever seen.”
“Come again? What’s this about Lucy?” Mammon asked.
“She’s back, safe and sound. Calls herself Helen Zaranie and works as an accountant,” John replied, “with the elf.”
“Poor guy,” Mammon muttered shaking his head. “Does he know?”
“Thomas Caine hasn’t a clue,” John replied. He snapped a few stills of the more interesting images on the walls and announced, “Looks like I’m done here.”
“Break the news to him gently,” Mammon suggested just before walking out the hatch and disappearing.
The drive home with Helen was just as quiet as the drive to work had been. Helen seemed distracted by something she didn’t want to talk about. Thomas hoped that he could get her to open up to him later over dinner. As she stopped to open her front door, Thomas asked about dinner. “Sure,” Helen replied, where and when?”
“My place,” Thomas replied, “in about an hour.”
“It’s a date,” Helen said smiling as her deadbolt slid open.
An hour later, Helen was sitting across a candlelit table from Thomas eating apple braised pork chops, roasted baby potatoes, steamed carrot coins, and sautéed dandelion greens. Helen was impressed that he had pulled this off. Dessert consisted of two pieces of decadent chocolate cake made by a local bakery and served with champagne. Two bottles of champagne and a half-bottle of wine later, Helen was letting herself out Thomas’ front door.