In honor of Texas Furry Fiesta, happening this weekend (come see me there!), here is the very first conbook story I wrote for them, starring my red wolf private detective Sean, who has starred in all the conbook stories since:
by Kyell Gold
“Hey, Sean, here's another one!” The weasel's feathered headdress bobbed in the alley. “Mardi Gras is sweet!”
A rangy red wolf lifted his head, setting a deck of cards down on an overturned cardboard box. “You think it's somethin' here,” he said, drawling out the “here” into two syllables, “y'oughta see it back home. Wouldn't be able to hear y'self think.” Dawn had chased most of the Las Vegas revelers back to their beds, leaving the streets bright and eerily empty except for a film of feathers, confetti, and bottles, whole and broken. At the head of the alley they sat in, people passed by in ones and twos, most of them either swinging a bottle or holding a paw to their foreheads.
“Who's thinkin'?” The weasel brought a styrofoam container to his nose, his oversized white t-shirt bouncing on his narrow frame all the way back to the box. “Mmm. Chicken jambalaya. Your cards tell you where to find that?”
“Didn't ask.” Sean picked up the cards again, running his fingers over them as the weasel set the container down on the box and flipped the lid open. “They just told me to stay here.”
“Sure they did.” The weasel sat cross-legged on the ground and scooped a pawful from the container into his mouth. “Mmmm. Stardust should serve this year round, man.”
Sean kept his eye on the mouth of the alley. He was pretty sure the jambalaya wasn't why the cards had told him to stay.
They'd barely finished when one of the people passing by the alley stopped, shaded his eyes, and walked toward them. Sean knew who it was from the lope of his walk and the square cut of his suit jacket even before he saw the short horns between the long ears. “Don't worry, Ty,” he said to the weasel, who was starting to get up. “He's here for me.”
“Hey, fortune-teller!” The jackalope raised a paw. “Damn, I knew it was you. Shoot, boy, you shoulda tole me you were down on your luck. Imagine that, fortune teller down on his luck! I'da taken ya to the buff-ay back at the Palace. All the steak you can eat.”
“As good as Texas steak?” Sean said, letting the cards flow from one paw to the other. Ty remained standing.
The jackalope straightened his silver bolo tie and laughed. “I oughta kick your ass down to Reno and back for that, son. That's about as close to a Texas steak as I am to Chase Buckley.”'
“Who the hell is Chase Buckley?” Ty demanded, kneeling down. He grabbed another mouthful of jambalaya without taking his eyes off the jackalope.
“Tiger,” Sean said. “New York billionaire. What can I do for you, sir?”
The jackalope scratched between his horns. “Well, y'all told me t'beware of a dark-furred woman, and danged if ah didn't spend last night in the company of the cutest li'l skunk y'ever did see. Didn't think nothin' of it, 'til, uh, ah woke up this mornin' minus a whole stack of my hard-earned dollars. So I was gonna ask if y'all could ask them cards o'yours if they happen t'know where my money went. I'll give ya twenny bucks t'get it back for me. Plus that steak dinner.”
Sean nodded. “You want to know where she is? Or just the money?”
“Ah reckon the money ain't far from her, son.”
“Never know.” Sean grinned. “What did she call herself? Describe her to me.” He closed his eyes and cupped both paws around the cards as he listened.
“Ah, she's about...” The jackalope held his paws out in front of him, describing curves in the air. “Five-six, built like this, big shock of white fur on her head, gold earrings.”
“How many earrings? What color eyes?” Sean said. His fingers thumbed through the deck of cards, feeling the familiar tingle in his fur.
“I wasn't exactly lookin' at those parts too long.”
Ty snorted. Sean just nodded. “What else do you remember 'bout her? What'd she smell like?”
“Skunk,” the jackalope said. “Do they got any other smell?” He held his paws out again, describing a larger area. “Nice big trailer on her.”
“Okay,” Sean said. He shuffled the cards quickly and held the image of the skunk in his mind. His fingers picked three cards out of the deck and laid them on the box in front of him. The Eight of Hearts, the Jack of Diamonds, and the Six of Clubs. He stared at them for a moment. The Eight was for a social gathering or party, the Jack was an unscrupulous young male, involving money, and the Six signified business dealings. “She's a prostitute.”
“Hell, boy, I knew that.”
“She's got a guy she works for,” Sean said, getting a warning look from Ty. “I wouldn't advise ya go lookin' for 'em.”
“So I should just give up?”
Sean shook his head. “Didn't say that. I figure's how the police are well-acquainted. You tell 'em you saw this skunk goin' into this address I'm gonna give ya, and they do the rest.”
The jackalope tugged on the lapel of his jacket. “An' what if she ain't there? I end up lookin' like a damn fool.”
Sean scooped the cards up. “Don't pay me 'til you get back. I tell ya, the cops know this place. If she ain't there, they figure she's out on a job.”
The jackalope crouched down. He had sour breath, but not unpleasant, and brown eyes that bored into Sean's. “You better not be shittin' me, boy.”
“No, sir.” Sean shook his head.
He nodded, mollified by the title. “You an' your hoodoo are a long way from home.”
Sean flicked his ears forward. “So're you.”
The jackalope gestured to the cards. “I knew an ol' wolf in N'awlins, usedta read the cards. She had fancy cards though.”
Sean grinned. “Ev'ry third wolf in N'awlins reads the cards.”
“Yeah, but she was real. You real?”
Sean pulled a pen from his pants and scribbled an address down on a corner of the box, with Ty craning his neck to see. He tore it off and handed it to the jackalope. “Find out.”
The jackalope read the address, then put the cardboard in a suit pocket and stood. “How old are ya?”
“Nineteen,” Sean lied.
“I tell you what. I'll be back here tomorrow, this time. You real, I'll give you more'n twenny.”
Ty chirped up. “Fifty?”
The jackalope ignored him. “We're puttin' up a shiny new casino, down Las Vegas Boulevard. Ah could use someone who knows how to find stuff. You real, you got a job.”
Sean nodded, and raised a paw in farewell, though the jackalope wasn't even looking at him any more, on his way back to the starkly lit street.
“Ha!” Ty said. “Y'know, ya gotta pretty good patter, but still needs work. Need to get the money in advance.”
“He'll give it to me tomorrow.” Sean looked down at the cards, shuffling them one by one through his fingers.
Ty stared. “You crazy? Yer not comin' back here tomorrow morning? He'll bring the cops if you guessed wrong!”
“I didn't guess,” Sean said.
“So you saw this skunk around somewhere, with Dex. Then he'll be here, with Slicy an' Dicy to take pieces outta yer fer givin' him up!”
“It ain't gonna be like that.”
“That's how they get ya!” Ty stood. “Keep comin' back to the same place like a damn fool. Ain't I taught ya nothin'?”
Sean tapped the cards. “They said 'stay'.”
“Oh, don't go tellin' me yer gonna throw 'way yer life because you think yer parlor trick told ya to stay in this alley.” Ty stood there, paws on his hips, waiting for Sean to reply. When he didn't, the weasel took his headdress off and threw it to the ground. “Fine. You wanna find me later, I'll be 'round.”
He stalked down the alley, away from the street where the jackalope had gone. Sean watched him go, and then set the deck of cards down on the box. The Queen of Hearts had come to the top, his fingers resting just below the wolf's gentle smile. “Thanks for the job, Ma,” he said. “Guess I'm gonna stay.” He grabbed a lump of sticky, spicy rice and chicken. It wasn't the same as back home, but it was good, and filling, and that was enough for now.
Thanks for reading Dispatches From Kyell! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I love stories about Sean - there seems so few of them.