The car’s interior smelled new, as though it had just rolled off the assembly line. The license plate read HC-05. How big was this Holiday Consortium? And what did it do, besides knocking off rogue commercial gods? What that it? It couldn’t be.
And Santa Claus. There was an enigmatic figure whose existence seemed to unsettle people more than any implication of a God. He didn’t really make toys and distribute them, or so they said, but he was powerful.
Though I was still disappointed to find out there was no Rudolph. That had been the first question at his initial press conference.
“Get me out of this fucking basket,” something said on the seat beside me.
In the aftermath of talking to my mother, I’d forgotten that particular twist.
I reached over and flipped the lid open. A furry white head emerged to give me a glare.
“Explain to me again,” I said, “exactly how you’re going to ‘help’ me?”
“You,” my erstwhile assistant said, “have clearly never dealt with a magical rabbit before.”
“Not one with a name like Biggles, no.”
The basket had been a typical picnic one, the sort you might take on a romantic picnic for two. The rabbit seemed to grow as it emerged from the confines. By the time a three foot tall version of the Easter Bunny sat beside me on the seat’s bland beige leatherette, the basket had been reduced to shreds around it.
“Like we can choose our names,” he said, glaring at me. “You don’t hear me saying anything about people with weird palindromic last names, do you?”
“Technically, that’s exactly what I just heard.”
He waved a dismissive paw at me. “Let’s get going.”
Like the Easter Bunny, he was a humanoid rabbit, a modicum of dress, long floppy ears, whiskers, that sort of thing.
Unlike the Easter Bunny, he was cute, so sweet it made your teeth hurt just looking at the enormous dark eyes, the twitch of a nose, the soft fur a laundry-fresh, snowy white. He smelled of newly-mown grass and hyacinth.
“You’re doing it again,” he said. “Stop it. Just stop it.”
I closed my mouth to contain the involuntary “awwww” that was about to emerge. “There’s some kind of magic on you, isn’t there?” I said. “The cuteness.”
He stared out the window, watching an elderly woman making her way along the sidewalk, faltering forward with her walker. “You’re not as dumb as you look, are you, Boss?” he said. “Sorry, I forgot I had it on. It’s second nature.” Now he was still shiny white but somehow no longer compelling, captivating as he had been before. He looked at me.
“You’re supposed to explain all this to me,” I said.
He just nodded.
The three — Santa, the Fairy, and the Bunny — had argued over that, which one of them was going to give me an assistant. I wasn’t sure why — I couldn’t get a feel for whether it was because it was an effort or simply because it meant whoever did it was lowest on the totem pole, but they’d bullied the Bunny into doing it. He’d stubbed out his sixth cigarette, twisted his paws, and reached into a hole in the air. His arm disappeared as he did it, up to the shoulder as he fished around in that other space before pulling out the basket.
“Biggles can stay in there till you’re ready for him,” he’d said, handing it to me. It was much heavier than it looked. “He’ll help you out and answer questions.”
Like his creator, Biggles wore vest and bow tie and nothing else. His fluffy white tail rested on the folder they’d given me.
I reached and pulled it out from under him.
“Let’s start here. This is my trial monster?” Without waiting for an answer, I flipped it open and looked at the photo.
“It’s a pig,” I said, and felt the scorn in Biggles’ eyes as the words left my lips.
Indeed it was a pig. A large, anthropomorphic pig, pink as bubblegum, walking upright on its hind legs. It wore a white apron and a chef’s hat, tiled at a jaunty angle at odds with the pig’s morose expression.
“Yup,” Biggles said. “Meet Billy-Bob Barbecue, logo for the national chain by the same name. Usually this kind doesn’t last.”
He nodded at the photo. “Traitors to their race. Think about what a pig selling pork BBQ is really doing. Selling his own kind’s flesh in order to stay alive. There’s a lot of them – usually pigs, chickens, cows, a few fish.” He shrugged.
“Why don’t they usually last?”
“They off themselves out of guilt. Others, though, just a few…they turn mean instead. Really mean.”
I looked at the info sheet. “Says we’ll find him in Vegas.”
Biggles nodded. “That’s where the chain started. His birthplace.”
“How do we deal with him?”
The rabbit fished through a vest pocket. “You’ll want this.”
This was a silver disk, blank as an untooled coin.
“It’s called a drain. Put it against its skin, and the rest will be taken care of,” Biggles said. “It draws on the creature’s power, siphons it off for the Consortium’s use.”
That certainly helped explain why the Consortium might be devoting itself to this task.
“That’s all I have to do, slap that on it?”
“Oh, no.” Biggles looked incredulous. I hadn’t ever imagined a rabbit could look incredulous, but he managed it with ease. “You have to damage it enough to shake its reality, in order to activate the drain.”
I gestured down at the picture. “Damage it with what?”
“Pop the trunk so I can show you.”
I stared down at the neatly stocked trunk compartment. “Is any of this legal?”
“As a Consortium agent, technically you have diplomatic immunity — but they’d prefer that you not put that to the test. The lower a profile you can keep, the better.”
“These do not look like low profile weapons.”
Grenades, pistols, rifles, guns, guns, and more guns. Night-scopes, thermal-scopes, laser-scopes, enchanted scopes. Holy water and Fido-gas. Was that a mortar?
I shut the trunk before any of Villa Encantada’s inhabitants could come gawp at the contents.
The folder held a corporate credit card. I could buy what I needed along the way.
One gas station stop later, the car was fueled, Biggles had two grocery bags of candy, jerky, and bottled water on the seat beside him, and we were both wearing sunglasses as we left Seattle and headed east over the Cascades.
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