The professionally manicured lawn on the corner of Waverly and Longfellow was routinely sprayed down in order to eliminate any weeds or imperfections. The homeowner - a proud, portly man - stood like a jiggly lawn ornament and canvassed his property with great prejudice. He spent each and every weekend seeding, weeding, watering, and landscaping. Everything, as far as his sweaty eyelids allowed him to see, was green.
Except for the front right corner.
A ring of aggressive and resilient mushrooms popped up on the lawn and refused to leave. Red and orange little caps stood short albeit resilient. No amount of weed killers, trips to Home Depot, or manual mushroom extraction could keep the fungi at bay for more than a few hours. That’s why we’re here.
“Fairy ring.” I rubbed my hand along my stubble. I hadn’t been home in over twenty-four hours, but who am I kidding? I hadn’t shaved in three days.
“Son of a bitch.” Marshall reached into the inner breast pocket of his blazer and thumbed around for a few seconds. I knew he was he was searching for but I didn't plan to ask; I wanted him to show me. It didn't take a detective to see his anxiety. Marshall pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“I thought you quit.”
“I did.” He blindly slapped the pack onto his palm a few times. Like riding a bicycle, I thought. Marshall flipped the box open and picked a cigarette from the dozen or so left over since the last time he quit. He pinched it delicately between his lips and returned the pack to his blazer while his free hand fished around for a lighter. So prepared. He never really quit. I looked back down at the mushrooms.
“On a front lawn, no less. Very suspicious.”
“Must be a turf war,” Marshall replied. He inhaled his cigarette like an old lover and blew her out, smooth and steady. Marshall hated fairy rings.
“Reckon we should call the new guy down,” he said.
“Who? Gallagher? Green horns have no business meddling with fairies. They never take them seriously.”
Marshall only scoffed. He wanted to get a new guy on a fairy case ever since our last rookie went into a ring and didn’t come back. Cocky. I’m not sure if he just didn’t like new guys, or if it was his way of fighting off the guilt of that morning, like pretending nothing happened.
“Three years,” Marshall said. “Three years since a rookie came on a fairy ring case.”
“They don’t have the experience to withstand them —”
“Pssh.” He waved his cigarette hand. “Don’t tell them your name. It isn’t hard.” Marshall shifted his weight to one side and put his hand in his jacket pocket to double check for his pack of cigarettes. His safety blanket. I knew this kind of talk made him uncomfortable.
“It’s more than that and you know it.” I raised my left hand in front of my face and gave Marshall a reminder of why we stopped bringing new guys on fairy problems.
He grimaced a little at the sight of my hand. He always grimaces at the sight of my hand. It isn't my fault that it looks the way it does. Marshall and I are together on the beat of magical and mythical management case almost every day, but he never really looks at my hand unless I make him. And to be honest, I often revel in forcing him to look at me. Three fingers — gone. Munched right down to the bone from those tiny, magical assholes. Marshall shut up and looked at my pointer finger and thumb.
“Well,” he said cooly, “nobody told you to go in after that rookie.”