There’s only one more Sunday in Story A Day May. Only one more Holly Jahangiri story. So I’m asking Holly Jahangiri (the real one) if she has any special requests for next week’s attempt — assuming I make it that far!
The planet Llannonn is one of my favorite places to revisit. When the cops go to the schools to talk to the kids, they always remind them, “Courtesy. It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law.” Their idea of justice tends to the draconian, but, whatever they do to you, they do it politely.
by Marian Allen
On the planet Llannonn, Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri hummed happily as she sat at her desk, updating the medical records of the Living Books she helped manage. Although Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) tended to hypochondria, everyone was in good health.
She wasn’t so engrossed in her task that she failed to hear the stair treads’ faint creak, although the person approaching her door was taking pains to do so silently.
When the bar of light cast beneath her door from the brightly lit hall was interrupted the shadows of someone’s feet, she said, “Yes, Chambermaid Tambar Miznalia? What can I do for you?”
The Living Library’s maid-of-all-work opened the door with an expression so sour Holly wondered if she could recruit the maid as a spare copy of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. It had been years since she had been able to creep up on Holly’s office and startle her by scratching suddenly at the door.
Magnanimous in victory, she said, “You nearly got me that time. Well done, you.”
Chambermaid Tambar Miznalia smirked and said, “You have a visitor. It’s that policing person who was here before.”
“Isn’t he here to see Head Librarian Devra Langsam?”
The chambermaid sniffed disdainfully. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But he asked to see you.”
“Send him straight up, then. Oh, and tell Head Librarian Devra Langsam he’s here. And bring tea and cake.”
With another sniff, Tambar Miznalia said, “I suppose you want it fresh.”
“Will there be anything else?”
“That will do, thank you.”
Holly ran a comb through her hair and straightened the purple feather boa around her neck. She bit her lips and pinched her cheeks to bring up the color, and fussily rearranged the visitors’ chairs, then waited by the door for her superior and her visitor.
The visitor arrived first.
Pel Darzin was inches shorter than she, but he held himself with an air of unconscious dignity that was both impressive and appealing. His eyes were, she had admitted to herself when assessing him dispassionately, a trifle on the buggy side. His face was as far from being symmetrical as it was possible for a face to be without being put together out of two different faces. Yet there was a simple charm about him that made one eager to assist him in his inquiries.
He stopped in the doorway, flashed his quick smile, scratched at the frame, and said, “May I come in?”
“Of course! And congratulations!” For his uniform had changed since the last time she had seen him, when he was a humble constable. “I take it you’re Detective Junior Inspector Pel Darzin now.”
He ran his fingers along the sash that proclaimed his rank and said, “Of the very lowest rank, but, yes.”
“Head Librarian Devra Langsam will be along shortly. Meanwhile, won’t you sit down?”
“I will. But I didn’t come to see the head librarian; I came to see you. Assistant Librarian Holly Jahangiri, we’re needed.”
Someone in Council City was running a black market in pressed flowers. Counterfeits of Meadow of Flowers District’s signature export were turning up all over the planet: pressed flowers sealed in plastic on bookmarks and greeting cards; sealed in glass on earrings, pendants, coasters, paperweights, and lightcatchers; and decoupaged on boxes of all sizes.
“The quality is poor,” Darzin said. “The counterfeiters skimp on the ferny bits, and the flowers are seldom perfect. They use cheap paper and discolored glass and wood with all knotholes in, but the price is cheap and people snap them up, especially tourists from outer space. It represents a sizable loss in revenue for Meadow of Flowers District, not to mention the bad reputation it gives our Guild of Flower Pressers.”
The news infuriated Holly. She had been born and reared out in the district. As a girl, she had gathered flowers for her Aunt Ardis, and knew the high standards the Guild demanded. For someone to undercut a reputation that had been centuries in the making was not only dishonest, it was discourteous – the worst crime of all!
“I’ve come to you,” said the junior inspector, “because you know the district and you know the craft. If anyone can help me catch this arch criminal, it’s you.”
Head Librarian Devra Langsam, seated now in the other visitors’ chair, balancing a cup of tea and a plate of cake on her lap, nodded and said, “You’re released from your duties here for as long as you need.”
Days later, Holly and Darzin were seated by a jolly fire in the Mom and Pop Bed and Breakfast Inn, deep in the Meadow of Flowers rural district. It was strictly a tourist stop, just a wide place in the trade trunk that meandered in a loop around the district’s interior. The bootleg pressed flowers had to pass along the trunk road to get to Council City, where the distribution center had been identified. If Holly and Darzin could determine where along the trunk the counterfeits came online, they’d be that much closer to tracing them to their origin.
This was their fifth night on the road, and they had settled into a comfortable camaraderie. They sat on opposite sides of the fire, near enough to chat but far enough apart to welcome company – especially opportunistic company.
Holly was fiddling with a ball of string and a small metal bar with a hook on the end. When she saw Darzin looking on curiously, she said, “This is called crochet. One of our books taught it to me. There’s another thing called knitting, but I like this better.” She showed him the thick string she had created out of the thin string.
“Ah,” said Darzin.
A tall, thin man dressed in a Rural tunic and sash approached the fire, sweeping the straw hat from his head as he reached the two.
“Mind if I join you?”
“Please do,” said Darzin, and Holly nodded, counting stitches.
The man sat with a heavy sigh. “The name’s Flower Farmer Squit Massas,” he said. When Darzin and Holly had supplied the false names they were using for this operation, he sighed again. “I oughtn’t to burden you fine folks with my troubles, but I need to talk to somebody. If you don’t mind?”
Naturally, they invited him to speak.
He said, “It’s been a hard year for us. The blue beetles are eating everything in sight, just a bite here and a bite there, but it’s enough to spoil the crop.” He shook his head. “The things you do to survive.”
Holly put down her crochet work and said, “What are you doing to survive, Flower Farmer Squit Massas?”
He stood and clapped his hat back on his head.
Holly stood, too, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you selling sub-standard flowers to a shady character? You needn’t answer if you don’t want to, of course.”
As if mesmerized, the farmer nodded. “How did you know? How could you possibly know?”
“My aunt was a flower farmer,” Holly said. “Blue beetle is a curse.”
Flower Farmer Squit Massas gritted his teeth. “They are that, missy. What else could I do?”
Junior Inspector Pel Darzin rose and said, “How would you like to supplement your income by becoming Police Informer Squit Massas on the side?”
A month later, Junior Inspector Pel Darzin was once again seated in Holly’s office, tea and cake (fresh) in hand, Head Librarian Devra Langsam in attendance.
Holly showed him the results of her crochet work: headbands and neckties with the Living Library’s logo worked into them, for the Living Books to wear while on assignment, to show which branch they were from. She called them “bookmarks.”
After he had admired the concept and its execution, he said, “We’ve apprehended all the bootleggers.”
“You’ve shut down a major illegal operation,” Head Librarian Devra Langsam said. “That should put you firmly in line for a promotion.”
“Oh, we didn’t shut it down,” he said. “We gave it a license to operate. It’s now known as Second-Rate Pressed Flower Products. It pays the farmers and manufacturers decent prices and, naturally, pays taxes.”
“And they accepted this?” Devra was wise in the ways of Living Books, but, like most honest citizens, had only the haziest idea of how the criminal justice system works.
“Their only other choice was a lifetime of turning dried pratty dung into fertilizer. They chose legitimacy and a lower profit margin.”
The junior inspector put his tea things on the nearby trolly and rose. He hooked thumbs with the head librarian first, as was proper, then with Holly.
“If you ever decide to get your nose out of Books,” he said, “you could have a career in law enforcement.”
Holly chuckled. “Not much chance of that. But,” she said, ever mindful of her manners, “I’ll bear it in mind.”
MY PROMPTS TODAY: arch, knitting, pressed petals