The character SweetWitch/Molly Wens was used with permission of the author. As far as I know, DanielleKitten has never written a novella called "The Soul's Abyss." But if she did, I'm sure it would be excellent.
I managed to ignore the phone the first two times that it rang, on the theory that it must have been a wrong number. Anyone who knew me, anyone to whom I had given my phone number, would know that I had worked the late shift last night. They would know that I wouldn't have arrived home until nearly one o'clock, and wouldn't have fallen asleep until two-thirty. So they certainly wouldn't have started calling me just after eight-fifteen in the morning.
The third call, though, was just too much.
"Yeah?" I hissed into the phone.
"Al?" came the surprisingly thin, reedy voice of my corpulent boss, made even thinner and reedier by an unusual nervousness.
"Can you get down here?"
"I just left there," I whined.
"It's important," he lowered his voice. "We have a little problem."
"If it's just a little problem," I suggested, "then John and you can --"
"All right," he hissed. "It's a fucking big problem. And it's probably your fault. Now get your ass in here."
I hung up the phone, showered and shaved, and leisurely made my way back to the Literotica Café, which certainly hadn't had two police cars in front of it when I had left around one o'clock. I pushed through the door, vaguely noticing that something was blocking the window, and sleepily identified the boss with two policemen. Actually, one policeman and one policewoman. John, who worked the grill from eight until I came on at four, waved to me from behind the counter. Peaches, the mid-day waitress, gave me an affectionate kiss on the cheek as I walked past her. She was bustling from table to table taking orders.
"So what's the trouble?" I asked.
"What do you mean, what's the trouble?" the boss huffed. "How could you miss it?"
I looked around. Everything appeared to me to be pretty much where it had been the night before.
"I give up," I finally said.
"On the door?" he pointed.
"The big sign covering the window? You called the police for a sign?"
"Did you read it?"
"No, I didn't read it. What is it?"
"Just go read it."
I was back in about five minutes.
"Well?" the boss asked.
"I have no idea what that says," I told him. "It just kind of rambles on and on. I got the distinct impression he wasn't happy with something here. Is it a former customer? One of my regulars?"
The policewoman smiled and interrupted.
"We think it's a troll, sir," she said. "And Mr. Otica here says you had a run-in with a troll about a week ago."
"So? Just take it down."
"I can't just take it down," the boss said. "Free speech and all that crap."
"For trolls?" I was astonished.
"They do have a disproportionately high share of lawyers," the policeman chimed in.
"Then just arrest the fucking troll," I told him.
"Well, we could do a troll sweep," he said.
"Oh, great, a troll sweep," the boss said. "'Round up the usual suspects,' eh, Captain Renault?"
By now the officers had decided they would rather speak to me.
"But we can't charge anybody," the woman said. "He didn't break any laws."
"So what do can we do?" I asked.
"You could hire out," she said slowly.
"Hire out what?" asked the big cheese.
"A pro," she said. "To take care of your, uh, troll problem."
"And how much will that cost?" he demanded.
"The good ones aren't cheap," she acknowledged. "But the cheap ones aren't good."
"You got any names?"
"Sorry, sir, we're not allowed to give out any recommendations."
"I know somebody," I spoke quietly and looked directly at the woman. "Wens. Molly."
"When's Molly what?" the boss asked.
The lady cop and I both rolled our eyes.
"I think you're in good hands," she gave me a wink. "So we'll be on our way."
The boss repeated his question after they left.
"When's Molly what?"
I had been ready to quit before he repeated the question, just after the door closed behind the cops. My one goal in life is not to have people think that I'm so desperate that I have to accept employment with somebody who thinks Lou Costello is the acme of comedy. But I realized he was being serious.
"Molly Wens is the woman's name," I said slowly. "She's the best. The best at settin' 'em up, and the best at takin' 'em down. Good cop and bad cop all rolled into one. Sugar and Spice."
"I have heard of her," he snapped his fingers. "The Sweet Bitch."
"SweetWitch," I corrected him.
"Whatever, get her in here," he said. "How do you know so much anyway?"
"You ought to come in more," I said. "Talk to people, read the bulletin board. It's not just a bunch of amateur porn pics, you know."
He turned beet red. Apparently he hadn't known that.
We were waiting in the café the next day, sitting at the counter when a woman wearing a raincoat and a fedora claimed the seat next to me.
"What'll it be, hon?" Peaches asked.
"What time is it?" she answered in a sleep-deprived voice.
"Twelve-fifteen," Peaches glanced at the clock.
"Thank God," the woman sighed. "Tequila."
"I'm afraid we don't serve hard liquor, ma'am," the boss piped up from the other side of me.
"Christ," the woman shook her head. "Hot chocolate, then. You Al?"
It took me a second to realize that her last comment was directed at me."How'd you know?" I asked.
"You and tubby there are the only ones in here whose heads aren't buried in whatever they have in front of them."
"I'm Al. This is Mr. Otica."
"I understand you have a DOLT."
"A troll," the boss corrected her.
"A Dull, Obfuscatory, Loquacious Troll," she explained. "A DOLT. I saw the sign in your window. Dead giveaway. Big words. Long run-on sentences. Disconnected paragraphs. No apparent point. What did you do to attract him?"
"We had a troll die in here last week," I suggested. "The cops seem to think it's connected."
"Die of what?"
"Sort of a general surfeit, I guess."
"Uh-huh," she said. "This is probably a troll out for vengeance, then. Tell me how you usually deal with trolls. I'm not really familiar with the south side here. I mostly work on the north and do some hunting out in the forest."
The boss spoke up eagerly.
"We try to hit them with a heavy dose of scathing satire. You know, ridicule, irony, sarcasm."
"Yeah, and how's that working for you? Not so good, huh? All right, boys, here's the deal. I get two-hundred and fifty a day plus expenses. You get my personal guarantee that when I'm done that this particular troll will never bother you again, and that your overall troll infestation will be reduced by fifty percent for the next six months."
"How are you gonna find him?" I asked.
"You'd be surprised how much you can learn on the 'Net," she said. "And good-old fashioned shoe leather, of course."
"So trolling and patrolling, huh?" I said.
She rolled her eyes.
The boss quibbled about the money for a while, but he finally gave in.
"And I want an assistant. Somebody who knows the area."
"Take Al," he volunteered me.
"Why me?" I asked.
"Basic expendability," he smiled. "When does he start?"
"Tomorrow evening, six o'clock sharp right here."
"Why so late?" I asked.
"Because they're trolls," she said with considerable exasperation. "You don't go hunting elk in the middle of New York City, do you?"
"What kind of troll did you have last week?"
"What kind?" I asked. "I didn't know they had kinds."
"Here, figure it out. You can give it back tomorrow."
She dug a dog-eared paperback out of her pocket and tossed it to me: A Field Guide to the Identification of Trolls.
"Couldn't get the Roger Trolly Peterson edition?" I asked her departing back.
"Christ," she muttered as she pushed open the door. "This is all I need. Why do I get all the weirdos?"
By six o'clock the next evening, I had learned more about trolls than I had suspected was even possible. The book was incredible, although it appeared to be directed more toward an audience of troll watchers (the ones with the binoculars and the life lists?) than hunters. But it had everything: signs, calls, habitats, ranges, identifying marks. And the variety! The Petty Egotistic Soliloquizing Troll. The First Amendment Reciting Troll. The Wannabe Author's Revenge Troll.
I was at the counter by ten of six. Molly arrived about half an hour later.
"Sorry," she said. "Overslept. Hot chocolate, hon."
Cherry stomped off to get the order. Normally I would have been behind the counter with her at this hour. But the boss had arranged a substitute in order to free me up to assist Molly, and Cherry clearly didn't get along with the new guy. She also apparently didn't care too much for my partner.
"What's with the raincoat?" she hissed when she came back with the hot chocolate and Molly was visiting the ladies' room. "Does she get off on flashing guys or something?"
It was the first time I'd ever seen Cherry's jealous side. I just shrugged. Molly was already making her way back toward the counter, and Cherry stomped off again.
"Does it smell like this in here all the time?" she wrinkled her nose.
"Uh, no," I said. "Shall we go?"
"I haven't even taken a sip yet," she sat down. "So what's with the smell?"
"It's, uh, today's special," I mumbled.
She waited for me to continue.
"'Toys and Masturbation.'"
"I'm outta here."
We were halfway down the block before she finally spoke to me.
"So what was it? Your troll."
"One of these," I pulled out the book. "A Short Order Troll."
"A SOT," she glanced at the picture. "They're pretty harmless. Why'd you kill him?"
"I didn't kill him," I protested.
"Yeah, right. I talked to your little friend Cherry last night. Trolls just don't jerk off and die unless someone's cooked up a little something extra for them. Hey, I don't blame you, Al. There's no laws against drilling Trolls. If there was, I'd be out of a job."
"You kill them?" I asked, wide-eyed.
"What did you think I did, reasoned with them?" she answered with a laugh. "Speaking of which, do you know how to use one of these?"
She pulled an ugly-looking weapon out of the right pocket of her raincoat.
"I work at a grill," I recoiled in horror.
"Well, grill boy, it's time to learn a new skill. This will stop a troll but probably won't kill him unless you get him in the heart. And that's so small your chances of hitting it are infinitesimal. So basically you'll just be backing me up."
"What do you have?"
She pulled an even more hideous weapon out from the inside of her coat, her eyes misting over with affection.
"My new baby. A semiautomatic Remington Trollblaster."
She put it away and we walked in silence for a while.
"We must be getting close, huh?" she asked as she looked around.
"Most of the trolls live over there," I pointed. "East of Fourth Street."
We spent the night knocking on doors. I had to give her credit; she had come up with a good angle. Not once did we mention the DOLT who had paid my employer a visit. Instead, we had been hired to look for SOT who had turned up missing and whose friends were very concerned about him.
We didn't knock on every door. Some houses she just skipped. After a while, I asked her how she decided which ones to interview and which ones to ignore. She shrugged.
"Sweetie, when you've been doing this as long as I have, you can ID a troll just by its habitat. Take this house. Belongs to a TORT. That one's a SNOT, and that one's a SLUT.
"What?" she looked at my expression. "You thought they were all male?"
"Only ninety-five percent," she explained. "But she won't be any help to us. They don't tend to mix. Put a male troll in a room with a female troll and you know what you get?"
"A lot of little trolls?" I asked innocently.
She shook her head.
"A dead troll. Sometimes two."
We had no luck the first night, and none on the second. Only two things of interest happened on the second night. The first was my spotting an advertisement on a city bus. It was an ad for the Literotica, where tomorrow night would feature DanielleKitten offering a taste of her new novella, The Soul's Abyss, for public comment.
"DanielleKitten," I muttered.
"What's that?" Molly asked.
I pointed at the bus pulling away from the curve.
"I take off three days and get replaced with DanielleKitten. I'll be lucky to have a job to come back to."
"Asshole, she's not actually going to be there."
"How do you know?"
"'Cause I'm the one who asked her to cook up the novella. Why are you pouting?"
"I do a good novella," I shuffled my feet and looked at the sidewalk.
"First of all," Molly said, "She's a magnet for trolls. Second of all, she can churn out a decent novella, or enough of it to justify an ad like that, in a day and a half. And third, I've seen your work."
There was a long pause, of the kind that, if we were in a cartoon, would be accompanied by the sound of chirping crickets. In our case, it lasted long enough for entire generations of crickets to be born and die out. Finally, I swallowed my ego, and nodded for us to go on.
The second thing of interest happened at one of the houses. The door was opened by a troll who gave me a glance and then raked his eyes up and down Molly's raincoat-clad body.
"Lookin' good, honey," he said smoothly.
"Don't start, pallie," Molly said.
"Pretty face, attractive legs, nice pair o' --"
She whipped out her gun and shot him before he had a chance to let her know what pair he was talking about.
"What the hell did you do that for?" I asked, wiping the slime off of my face with a handkerchief.
"That was a Seeing Eye X-ray Troll. Normally they'll just leer at you and back off when you challenge 'em. This one was an over-SEXT. Now you know why I wear the raincoat."
I was back behind the counter on the third night, while Molly was taking Cherry's place. I have to say that without her raincoat on, she was one nice-looking woman. Pretty face, attractive legs, nice pair of -- I quickly returned to the grill. Anything called a TrollBlaster wouldn't leave much of me behind.
At eleven, she came to drop off an order and whispered in my ear.
"The troll at eleven just ordered the Kitten."
"There are fucking trolls all over the place, and they're all ordering the fucking Kitten," I groused.
"Yeah, but he's our boy."
"How can you tell?"
"Don't look at him," she hissed. "I'll tell you later."
"You're not going to kill him with all these other trolls around, are you?"
She gave me a smile.
"Don't worry. It won't come to that."
The reason it didn't come to that was that he was still sitting there when we ushered the last of the other customers out of the place shortly after twelve.
Molly began cleaning tables as she made her way over to the booth with the troll. My job was more important than usual tonight, so I pretended to wipe down that portion of the counter as close to him as I could get.
"Almost done, honey?" she asked nonchalantly.
"Minute," he grumbled.
"What's the book you're using, hon?" she said.
"Thesaurus," he snorted.
"Let's see what you got here," she snatched his comment card out of his hand. "'You amplify our feelings when the slack but talented wordmeister is brought to bear responsibility for her careless words of selfish demeanment of humans far and near for her own private self important churlish needs. Now at last there is indication that she seems to understand the why and how some feel when some of talent choose to abuse people and their rights to read even that which is carelessly spewed in indignant and harmful intention to offend any and all who have humanity but not a soulless vindictiveness towards any reality without consequence.' You know you misspelled the word "superciliously" on the note you left on the door."
"I did not," the troll took umbrage. "I didn't even use the word super --"
But by then I had tossed Molly the TrollBlaster that we had concealed behind the counter. In one swift move, she caught it, released the safety, and blasted the troll into a couple dozen pieces of slime.
Molly took some pictures to post on telephone poles and walls down in the troll neighborhoods, explaining it was the thesaurus that tipped her off.
"Are we just going to leave him?" I asked.
"Your boss said he'd be in early tomorrow to clean the place up," she said. "Tell him he can take the sign down now. Even if trolls have free speech rights, God forbid, dead ones don't have any."
"Speaking of cleaning up," I suddenly turned shy. "We have a nice-sized shower in the back. You want to, uh . . .?"
She looked at me with narrowed eyes and then gave me a small smile.
"Sorry, grill boy," she patted me on the cheek. "You're a nice guy and all, but I got a date with a bottle of tequila tonight. Why don't you give Cherry a call and get something cooking?"
She went in back and returned with her raincoat and fedora.
"It's been fun, grill boy. The hardest part of this business is that if you do your job right, you don't get invited back."
I watched her push through the door and leave. The hell with that, I thought. I planned on inviting her back, and soon. I'd make her a novella, too. Show her and that damn DanielleKitten.