A woman in black stood in the frame, grinning crookedly. “Boris Rhodof?” she asked, extending a hand. Boris took it, blinked at the strength of the thin fingers. He noted the woman’s cropped black hair, her belted gun, her backpack bulging with nets and steel. He swallowed.
“Master Kavanagh, I presume?”
“Call me Stoat. Yes, and...” she said, peering over the man’s shoulder. “It looks as though you are indeed in need of my skills.” The parlor beyond was a wreck. Books lay about, open and torn. The shelves were bare. Laundry was draped everywhere. Anything not on the floor had been thrown to it. The man himself appeared to have raw egg-white behind his ear.
“Well,” said Boris, releasing her hand. “I wouldn’t have need of your skill set if the problem could be remedied with a swatter and some harsh language.” He leaned, turned his head to see around the shrubbery. A long-nosed neighbor, some two rows down and across, was staring at the eclectic Stoat. Boris ushered the cutter in, frowning.
“Bugger me, Boris. Don’t need to act like you’re letting in a wandering whore” said Stoat, making a face. Boris shut the door, peered through the glass paneling. “My apologies, Master Kavanagh. My neighbors are of a conspiratorial variety.”
“Stoat,” insisted Stoat. “And so, what? You’ve hired me as an exterminator.”
“Well, yes” said Boris, turning. “That’s the thing.”
There was a bang from the upper floor. Stoat squinted. A crystal vase bounced down the stairs, shattered on the final step. Boris flinched.
“They have no reckoning of the seriousness of this.”
“Tits,” exclaimed Stoat. She listened to further crashes and shattering. “Sounds like they're big. How many?”
Boris looked miserable. “I’ve seen just two at a time, but I fear the attic is full. They’ve been…” he said, tugging a cigarillo from his robe pocket. “Lurking up there.”
“Really?” said Stoat, indicating the dart.
“Allow me my ironies and my vices, and you’ll get the gold you want, Cutter,” said Boris, indignant. He clicked a lighter.
Stoat rolled her eyes. “How long’s it been going on? They do sound huge.”
“Not long, but they’ve tugged the hair off the cats. Found a taxidermized ox head in the attic, too.”
“Thought you might have been saving your toenails, or something.”
Boris frowned, took a drag. Tiny doxbells flew from burning straight, scurried away on fluttering wings. “Would you get up there?” he said, waving an arm.
Stoat made a face, pulled off her backpack. She produced a net with iron beads sewn into the knots. “Let’s see what we’ve got” she said, swinging it idly. It clinked heavily. The stairs creaked under her hobnailed boots. Boris watched her go.
The bootsteps ceased. “Oh, would you look at you,” said Stoat, above, muffled. There was a crash, a squeal, a shout of “oh, bollocks.” The ceiling shook. Boris sighed. He looked around for an ashtray, found one under a pair of pants. Smoke and flying, living puffballs rose from the crushed cigarillo end. Boris sneezed.
Stoat stomped back down the stairs. Her hair was a mess, concealed what was likely to turn into a black eye. Her net was missing. “These,” she said, reaching for her sword belt. “Are the strongest little shits I’ve ever seen.” She produced the blade, gritted her teeth.
An incredible crash of furniture emanated upstairs. “You’re paying me double.”
Boris pursed his lips, took another cigarillo from his robe. “Fine, Mercenary” he said. There was a sound of breaking window glass. He flinched.
“Just get rid of these awful topples!”