Here is the next installment of our Metallum Nocturne serialized story. If you need to catch up, all the previous episodes can be found here.
Claire was headed down the concrete stairs outside the Hall when she ran into Dawn coming the other way. A blast of fear shown across her face. She glanced backwards.
“You don’t want go there,” said Dawn.
“There are, like, five reporters waiting for you. They’re lurking behind the yoga studio.”
“This isn’t helpful,” said Claire.
“Where are you going?”
“Collection trip. Kentucky.” She shifted her mouth to the side. “After a visit to a lawyer Canterbury recommended.”
“Don’t you have classes?”
Dawn lifted a single shoulder. “Wolfe canceled Casting Art. Something about a meeting with an old friend in town. I don’t have another class for five days.”
Claire bit her lower lip. “I could totally use the help. Tracking down owl downy in the middle of the forest is not going to be easy.”
“Awesome,” said Dawn brightly. “Let me swing by my room and grab my stuff.”
“My car is at the garage. I’ll go by the back way then swing around and pick you up in front.”
Claire cut behind the yoga studio. She saw the backside of the five reporters, readying their ambush. Her car was an old Toyota truck that should have died a few decades ago, but miraculously had kept running.
She drove the truck out of the garage and waited in a parking spot until she saw Dawn, then surged forward. When the reporters didn’t see her, she honked her horn and waved as Dawn slid into the passenger seat.
“Why did you do that?” she asked as they pulled away.
“Got to keep it fun for them.”
“Where’s this lawyer?”
Claire checked the paper. “Eighth ward, near the zoo.”
She took the ring road then turned up the avenue that went by the zoo and the Animalians campus. The huge lawn was filled with students lounging on blankets, throwing frisbees, or reading books. A gorilla with glasses was speaking to a knot of students by a glass building.
“Do ever wish you were in another Hall?” asked Dawn.
Claire bit her lower lip. “I put a dozen on the list, including Animalians. But no regrets. I found my home in Metallum Nocturne.”
“I wanted Coterie, but you know, only for the rich and famous,” said Dawn.
“It looked glamorous from afar, but having met some of them, I have no regrets. Might as well join a cult of sociopaths,” said Dawn.
“Here’s the address. Looks like it’s above this ice cream shop.”
A narrow set of stairs went past the sweets business, leading to a hallway with four doors.
Claire knocked on the door. A muffled call reached them, but she couldn’t hear what he’d said.
“Canterbury said he was eccentric.”
“Could mean all sorts of things,” said Dawn, examining the hallway.
The noises approaching the door grew louder by the moment. It sounded like he was climbing through a junk pile to reach them.
“No solicitations!” came the call through the door.
“I’m not selling anything,” said Claire.
“Then you’ve got the wrong place. This is a private residence.”
Claire frowned. “Is this Lamar Jackson’s place? I’m a member of Metallum Nocturne. Patron Canterbury gave me your name. I need a lawyer.”
The sound of multiple unlocks was followed by the door opening enough that Lamar could stick his face into the gap. A chain bisected his coppery forehead, which sloped back to a bald head. To her utter surprise, he sniffed twice. Deeply. The gray hairs in his nose like a little porcupine vibrated with each inhale.
“You’re not creditors, are you? Nothing from the debt agency,” he said, eyes bulging with suspicion.
“Do I look like I work for a credit agency?” asked Claire, tugging on her bright pink hair. “We’re fifth years at Metallum Nocturne. Patron Canterbury sent us.”
His eyes widened. “Oh yes! Edward! I haven’t seen him in years. How’s he doing?”
“Mr. Jackson. May we come in?”
“Oh yes,” he said, closing the door. More unlocking followed, then the sliding of something large away from the door. When it opened finally, she was presented with a room that looked like a storage facility for a taxidermy shop.
“Lamar Antoine Jackson Esquire at your service,” he said, giving them a flourish bow. “Please follow me to my office. Careful, careful as you move, I’m in a bit of an awkward spot with my storage space. The damn creditors tracked down my hiding spot and tried to reclaim it so they could sell it.”
The entire front room was filled with dead, stuffed animals. An orange tabby with an arched back had been stuck to a wooden stand, but it was leaned against the ottoman precariously. A strange creature that looked like a cross between a lizard and a cougar with black horns had been mounted on a large stand, while a pair of t-shirts hung from the protrusions. An army of stuffed squirrels lined the windowsill and a collection of birds hung from hooks driven into the ceiling. It was a menagerie of death.
His office was mercifully absent the taxidermy nightmare, though it was so small that the desk barely fit in the room and her and Dawn were forced to share a single chair on the opposite side.
“What legal conundrum troubles you…?”
He scribbled a note on a pad and she was struck by how hairy he was from his knuckles to the tufts coming out his ears. Everywhere but his bald head. And his fingernails were thick and yellowed, almost claw-like.
Dawn gave her a worried glance, which only confirmed her feelings.
“Before we get into that, would it be rude to ask about what’s going on in the room back there? All the dead animals, and such?”
Lamar’s helpful expression hardened as a low growl slipped out. He squeezed the pen hard enough to snap it in half, leaving Claire wondering if she’d made a mistake.