“We should be under G.” Sable leant over the stand
The doorman remained unmoved “I’m sorry, I don’t see it.”
“It must be a mix-up. Let me just ring the office.”
“If you could step out of the queue?”
Other groups filed past, security checking them off the list. Sable turned a shade of red, her phone ringing out.
Ben’s tone was gentle “It’s alright, I didn’t really want to go anyway.”
Sable turned away “I am so sorry for wasting your time.”
He patted her on the shoulder, eyes drawn to the people filing through. One caught his eye, a lanky business man with long, greasy hair. Recognition kicked in “Xac?”
“Alright, Safeway? You waited for me.” Xac stepped up to the door, flashing a card from his wallet “These pozzers are with me, Jack.”
The doorman frowned, forgetting he had a name tag on “Of course Mr...”
Xac leaned over the clipboard running his finger down the list “Ah! There we are.”
“The Matlock Agency?”
Xac winked “That’s us. Alright if I tip you, Jack? You’re looking bang up.”
“That’s alright Mr Musonius,” said Jack, waving them through.
“Peachy keen!”

Beyond the gate lay Fitzwilliam Square. The grass was cut to frightening perfection. The flowerbeds shone, fringing the treeline with glossy rows. Across the green stretched a medieval faire. Knights and entertainers strolled between catering tents. Fire eaters rubbed shoulders with executives. In the foreground guests collected drinking horns from a long table, watched over by a tree with a face.
“If ye be thirsty, drink of me, for I am the honeymaker!” It was one of the trees who called. His skin was bark and flowers grew from his beard. His hair was a tangle of branches that shaded those slaking their thirst. Sable nabbed two drinks, passing one to Ben.
He sighed “It’s wine.”
“Fruit of the vine!” sang the treeman.
“It’s just when you said honey I thought it’d be mead.”
Sable curtsied “Thank you, horned god.”
Ben looked for somewhere to put down the horn. Xac took it only to empty it over the grass. “Did you know bees are dying out? Now there’s a business opportunity!”
Branches ruffled their hair the great head turned to greet another party. He began singing the ancient song of the ents, much to their delight. Sable moved away, she’d heard it before.
“Xac, what are you doing here?”
Xac slicked back his hair, offering a business card to a passing acrobat “I was not here before.”
Sable looked suspicious “This better not be another scheme.”
“Relax, Safeway. We’re not here as Genealogy experts.”
Xac strolled right past the queue for the buffet. Laughing at a consultant’s joke he installed himself at the oyster table. With faint horror Sable noticed something wriggling in his pants.

Minutes passed as Sable drank in the atmosphere. Ben stood behind her, reflecting on how much it cost.
“Why didn’t you ask Xac?”
He started at the question “Uh, Wilde and him don’t get along.”
“Don’t they run in the same circles?”
“Used to… Wilde really seemed out of it.”
Sable turned in his direction but her gaze went over his shoulder “There.”
She dragged him over to a tent. An aluminium frame with ragged curtains, amidst the artisan, bespoke stalls it looked all the more authentic. A handwritten sign hung over the entry.


Beneath the sign sprawled a woman, wearing something like a dress with a fur back. Even to Ben it seemed intentionally unfashionable.
The woman jerked to a sitting position “Sable! Have you come to accept True Death?”
“I hope that’s not a cult,” muttered Ben.
“Actually, I need your help with something.” Sable squatted beside her.
“Oh,” Farrlacia did not quite frown, leaning back on her elbows.
Sable waved her purse “I’d be happy compensate you.”
“So you enter into my house and think to buy me?”
Sable did frown, glancing at the tent “This is my party.”
Ben bore witness to the stand-off, until the laughter from the oyster table distracted him. Xac chortled heartily, slapping a consultant on the back. Caught in the act of sucking down an oyster, the young man doubled over.
Farrlacia rose “Excuse me.”
She drifted toward the oyster table, betraying no concern as the consultant heaved.
“He’s choking!”
Sable followed, Ben caught up in her wake. Farrlacia grasped the boy from behind. Even though he had a few inches on her, she lifted him like a child.
She clenched him around the abdomen.
“Accept the inevitable.”
“You are responsible for your suffering.”
Ben offered his own comfort “It’s hopeless.”
The young man turned blue his friends looking on in distress. Farrlacia bent him over and delivered a series of slaps to the back. Sable however, crouched before him and whispered something. He looked at her through teary eyes as Farrlacia struck one more time. A lump of drooling oyster flesh splattered Sable’s face. She stood up smiling and dabbed her cheek with a handkerchief “It’s my party.”

Ten minutes later Xac had moved onto the entrees. Farrlacia folded a discharge form. The choking victim had returned to the party, insisting he was fine.
“Drink plenty of water and think about what I said.” she said, her heart not in it.
Ben ambushed Sable on her return from the bathrooms.
“What’d you say?”
Sable shook her head “You would never believe me.”
They re-approached the tent, where Farrlacia filed her paperwork
“You’ll pay for this,” Her lips were pursed, tone flat “I mean I’ll charge you for the consultation.”
Sable nodded “That’s fine, do you need anything?”
“Well, ordinarily to speak with dead you must first have access to said dead. Which I would in fact have access to right now, were you not so committed to undermining yourself.”
Ben did his best to be diplomatic “Can I help in any way?”
Sable regarded Ben with his weedy arms “We’ll put you killing someone down as option B.”
“It is well you take this false life so lightly,” Farrlacia folded herself into a lotus position, her expression one of strained serenity “Indulging your whims and fancies without a care, knowing only the pale joys that entrap us. Have you ever comforted a dying soldier as he called for his mother? Have you stood vigil as a child died, with no one to care for their passing?”
“I’ve heard all this before.” Sable rummaged in her purse.
“And what was your answer?”
She rolled her eyes “Is this chargeable? You think I seek only the good in life? Death is an experience too.”
“It is the only experience. Death seeking, death denying. It gives us meaning to continue and reason to give up.”
“What do you think, Ben?”
The two turned their eyes upon poor Ben. Caught off guard, he could only answer honestly
“It must be nice, believing something has meaning.”
Farrlacia raised an eyebrow.

A commotion by catering broke their impasse. Shrieks punctuated a clatter of cutlery. Of course Xac was in the centre of it. He dived through the crowd cackling. Pink underwear flashed maidens too innocent for such sights. His pants were gone. As the people parted it became apparent they were on the table. Sitting atop them was a ferret. It stuffed its face with salmon, while hurling razor sharp crackers at anyone unlucky enough to be in range. “Oh, here we go,” said Ben mournfully.
Sable looked calculating “This is a false life, right Fally?”
Farrlacia reached for her med-kit “We are all dead. This false life binds us to-”
Sable was gone. She flew toward catering. Heaving on a table cloth, she pulled it clear, disgorging cream cakes.
“Come on you apes, do you want to live forever?”
At her prompting one of the catering staff grabbed a corner. A man-at-arms and a dwarf on stilts joined them. Together the brave volunteers marched on the chattering ferret, holding up the cloth for cover. The ferret first hurled crackers, then cocktail sticks, finally grabbing plastic forks with its teeth and shot-putting them. When the four were close enough they hurled the cloth. The ferret shrieked as it leapt to escape, too late. Furrows appeared in the thick table cloth and its head appeared near the man-at-arms. He tried to shove it back under then fell back, blood dripping from his hand. The other three tied up the corners and the beast was trapped.
There was a polite smattering of applause.

Farrlacia and Ben approached, lugging medical supplies. They went to the aid of the fallen soldier.
“No!” Sable swooped down “This man gave his life for Ireland.”
Channelling the sean bhean bhocht she clutched him to her breast. Ben couldn’t help but notice his pleased expression. He looked away in time to witness Xac being apprehended.
Farrlacia took up the soldier’s hand “It’s a superficial bite. He’ll be fine. Maybe a tetanus shot.”
“Dying calling for his mother,” prompted Sable.
The soldier obliged “Mammy! Oh Kathleen!”
Farrlacia closed her eyes for a moment, then with a sigh passed her hand over him “You who have passed beyond. You who know true death. We ask you to return to the nothing and confusion. Bring us enlightenment. Bring us serenity. Bring us truth.”
There were no fireworks, no black star on a horizon of fire. The soldier looked agreeably vacant “Ask and I shall answer. Three questions and no more.”
“Remember what happened last time,” warned Farrlacia.
Sable nodded “Where is Gerry Holdam?”
“Here,” said the soldier.
“What kind of an answer is that?”
“The truth.”
Sable cursed carefully and without question marks. She glared at Farrlacia who shrugged. Ben was the next victim. He frowned, deep in thought. Time slowed around them, the breeze dying away. Noise and commotion fell away until there was nothing left to muffle Ben’s voice
“There was a Patrick who saw Gerry Holdam down by the canal. What address is he at now?”
“Wilton Terrace,” said the soldier cheerfully. His head jerked once and he looked a little groggy. Farrlacia finished dressing his wound
“You owe me €250.”

The party wound down. Businessmen filed out of Fitzwilliam Square back to their jobs, their normal lives. Caterers piled high dirty dishes. The fire eaters extracted the treeman from his costume and munched on leftovers. The lawn was squashed and stained. Near the entrance Sable scanned Google Maps
“Of course that Patrick, why didn’t I think of him earlier?”
Ben watched Farrlacia pack her paperwork and supplies into a large black sack. With an air of finality she took down the sign and slung everything over her shoulder. She passed them on the way out. Her smile to Ben was secret and strange. It felt almost illegal. Ben glanced at Sable
Security came by next, dragging a kicking and screaming but otherwise congenial Xac
“Safeway! Tell ‘em it weren’t me! We were part of the show!”
It was unanimous “We don’t know this man.”

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