He was standing atop a formation of smaller sprites stacked up in a miniature human pyramid, and his hands rested on the wheel. Several weary-looking little wee folk were leaning against the gearshift, and several more were on the floor, holding the brake down in a dog pile of tiny bodies. They were all dressed in similar outfits of repurposed garbage.
The leader gave me a sharp salute, beaming. "Major General Toot-toot of the Sir Za Winter Lord Knight's Guard reporting for duty! It is good to see you, my lord!" His wings buzzed and he fluttered out of the hearse to hover in front of my face, spinning in circles. "Look, look! I got new gear!"
"We're all Winter and stuff!" piped up one of the smaller members of the guard. He brandished his shield, which was made out of a section of plastic that had come from a solid-stick deodorant container, bearing the words "Winter Clean."
"Go, Winter!" shouted Toot, thrusting a fist into the air.
"Go, pizza!" echoed the others.
Toot spun around and scowled at them. "No, no, no! We practiced this!"
"GO, PIZZA!" they bellowed, louder and more in unison.
Toot-toot sighed and shook his head. "This is why you're all kernels and I'm a major general. 'Cause you got corn silk in your ears."
Toot and company were kind of my minions. I'd gotten along well with the Little Folk over the years, mostly by virtue of bribing them with pizza. A few snitches and stool pigeons had developed into a band of cute little moochers, and then into an army-and at some point after that, Toot had somehow gotten the idea to make them into a real army. And they tried-they honestly did-but it's tough to form a disciplined military when most of the guys in it have an attention span about twenty seconds long. Discipline is boring.
"Guys, guys," I said. "Break it up and shove over. I'm in a hurry."
The wee folk complied at once, all of them scrambling into the passenger seat or over into the rear compartment. I got in as quickly as I could and shut the door behind me.
I buckled in and pulled out into the sparse traffic. The big Caddy moved out with a satisfied rumble and way more power than I was used to in an automobile. My last car had been a vintage VW Bug with an engine about the size of a deck of cards.
"Toot," I said, "have you grown?"
"Yes," Toot said, disgusted. "Even though I stand around with weights on my head for, like, twenty whole minutes every day. I even got laundered. Twice! And nothing!"
"I think you look dashing," I said.
He settled down at the center of the dashboard, his legs hanging off and kicking idly. "Thank you, my lord!"
"So the pizza came on schedule while I was, uh, away?"
"Yes, my lord! The Lady Leanansidhe provided it in your stead!" Toot lowered his voice and talked from between clenched teeth. "If she hadn't, these knuckleheads would have deserted!"
"Well, we do have a deal," I said. "That's what a deal means, right?"
"Right," Toot said firmly. "We trust you, Harry. You're barely like a human at all!"
I knew he meant it as a compliment, but something chilly slithered down my back at the statement. My faerie godmother, the Leanansidhe, had covered my obligations at home while I was gone? Man, that could get complicated. Among the Sidhe, favors are hard currency.
But I was glad to see Toot and his gang. They were damned handy, and could be far more dangerous and capable than most, even in the supernatural world, I realized.
"I never doubted you or the guard for a second, Major General."
Which was true: I had no doubt at all that as long as the pizza kept flowing, I'd have their absolute loyalty.
Toot beamed at the compliment, and his body pulsed with a gentle aura of cool blue light. "How can the guard serve you, my lord?"
They'd started off the evening nearly crashing the car, but it was impressive they'd managed it at all. "I'm on a case," I said seriously. "I'll need someone to watch my back."
"Lean forward a little, my lord," Toot said instantly, and shouted, "Hey, Kernel Purpleweed! Come watch the Za Winter Lord Knight's back!"
I fought not to smile. "No, that's a metaphor," I said.
Toot frowned and scratched his head. "I don't know what it's for."
Mustn't laugh. Mustn't. It would crush his little feelings. "In a minute, I'm going to pull over and go into a building. I want guards to stay inside and around the car, and I want a couple more to go with me and make sure no one sneaks up on me when I'm not looking."
"Oh!" Toot said. "That's easy!"
"Good," I said, as I pulled the car over. "Make it so."
Toot saluted, leapt into the air, and zipped back to the rear compartment, piping orders as he went.
I set the old Caddy's parking brake and got out, wasting no time. I didn't hold the door open any longer than I would have if I'd been alone. The Little Folk do not need that kind of coddling. They're not always bright, but they're fast, tough, and resourceful. I'd have had trouble keeping them in the car if I wanted to.
Once I was out and moving, I was to all appearances alone. Whoever Toot had sent to watch my back would be silent and nearly invisible, and I didn't bother rubbernecking around to try to spot them. One thing about the Little Folk that held as well with every faerie-when they made a deal, they stuck to it. They'd had my back before, and they had it now. Heck, since I was committing a felony, they probably thought it was fun to come along for the ride.
It's tough to get one of the Little Folk to care about discipline. On the other hand, they really aren't terribly impressed with danger, either.
I walked about a block to the right apartment building, a brownstone blockhouse that had all the flair and imaginative design of a brick of baking chocolate. It wasn't an upscale place like where my brother lived, but it wasn't one of the projects at their worst, either. It didn't have a doorman, and the security wouldn't be top-of-the-line, and that was, for now, the important thing.
I got a little bit lucky on the way in-a resident, a man in his twenties who had apparently been out drinking, opened the door on his way home, and I called out, "Hold that, please?"
He did. He probably shouldn't have, but guys in tuxes, even without a tie, don't strike anyone as a criminal upon first impression. I nodded to him and thanked him with a smile. He muttered something bleary and turned down a side hallway. I hit the elevators and took one up.
Once I was on the right floor, the rest wasn't too tough. I walked calmly down the hallway to the proper door and leaned against it.