⌈Cartɘr & Abɘl—ruining witchɘs' days sincɘ 629⌋
It's a cute sign. Done in marker on cardboard, sure, rather than paint on wood, but there's something almost charming about that to Arlene's weary eyes.
Pity that building it's affixed to is such a disaster.
Once it was a handsome little store, with a wide-windowed ground floor and a little first floor perched atop it like a cat curled atop a stove; once ivy climbed its facade and flowers blossomed in pots beneath its windows. It must have been adorable!
It's not any more.
It looks rather like a star fell on it and proceeded to beat at it with flaming arms—not that recently, judging by the lack of smouldering and the ash streaked down its face by last week's rain, but too recently for repairs to begin (if they're going to at all). Really a pity.
Still, this is where Arlene was directed by one of her less responsible contacts, and she's not going to give up just because of a little destruction! Not when there's so much at stake—her life is far too important to her.
There's no door, so she knocks on the frame.
The doll which answers her is pastel-skinned; delicate traceries and ribbons twine about its surface in a confusion of bright blues and pinks and greens. It's the sort of pattern that a child-witch might be given as a birthday present, and utterly at odds with its expression.
The doll scowls up at her, a half-exhausted cigarette dangling from its cartoonishly puffy lips. Its eyes are little black specks, pits burning with ire, hardly visible beneath its dark and thin-rimmed hat; its clothing looks like it was pulled from the house's rubble.
"What d'you want?" it growls.
"Oh, can I see your witch? It's about a job."
The doll's glare is starting to get on Arlene's nerves. It itches.
"Don't have a witch, don't want one, fuck you."
She stares at it, and it keeps on glaring.
"... well, in any case, I am here about—"
"A job! Yes," another voice trills from somewhere inside, "of course, please come in."
"Yeah, what he said," the doll grumbles as if it would like nothing better than to try to rip Arlene's heart out (and, she uneasily thinks, she's not sure that it wouldn't succeed).
The second voice is also a child's doll, its delicate porcelain body adorned with a pristine navy suit (aside from some ash on its shoes) and a matching deerstalker perched atop its head. It's sitting at what was probably a lovely desk before whatever happened here.
There's no door to close behind her, and no seat for her to take; just shattered wood and scorched ruin. So she stands awkwardly before the chair as the horrible doll sarcastically suggests that she take a seat (she pretends not to see its gesture) and the other one hums softly.
"So ... what, are you Carter and Abel?"
"Ah, yes! Carter, didn't you introduce yourself ...?"
The surly doll pantomimes spitting on the ground. "Course not."
"Well! I apologize for my partner. I am Abel and that is Carter, and, as I'm sure you know, our business is mayhem!"
"Mayhem and japery. And murder."
"... yes, that too. But only sometimes!"
"Well, I suppose," Abel turns its face back towards Arlene, "but in any case! You are ...?"
"Arlene, formerly of HER. Not that that part matters. I run the apothecary and surgery over on—"
"Oh!" Abel interrupts, "the one on the corner of Syncope and Angel's Fall? I've heard such good things about your green tea incense."
"Always smells like shit outside," Carter mutters.
"Shush. And, Arlene," the dolls says, relishing the feel on its tongue, "what do you need?"
For a moment Arlene considers being offended; even a small-witch knows that dolls should not freely speak its name, much less with such enjoyment—but that can wait.
... possibly for quite a while, given what she infers about the damage to the shop and how uncaring the dolls are.
"I have an ... not exactly an enemy, not really? Maybe an enemy. Someone who hates me and might be preparing to come after me, but isn't yet able to."
"Oh," says Carter, "so y'want us to fuck 'em over?"
"We can do that!" Abel chirps.
"No, no. Not yet, anyway."
"Ruin their day, then? Make their spells crumble and their dolls misbehave?"
"No. Just watch them. I don't have my own dolls, and anyway I need something deniable. Distanced. That wouldn't come back to me if she notices."
"A stakeout? Ha, we can do that."
"Who's the target?"
"I'm not sure if she's taken a new name yet, and I'd be shocked if she already has a title, but, uh. Went by Florence." Arlene scratches the back of her head; she doesn't like admitting it. "A new witch, the result of blending between one of my customers and a dead witch-house."
"... your fault?"
Carter guffaws behind her and Arlene's hands twitch. She longs to grab the doll and crush, reduce it to nothing but ash and bone, but ... ugh. Fucking dolls.
"Is that one always this irritating?" she asks, pointedly not looking at Carter.
"It's part of our job," Abel answers with nothing resembling regret or conciliation. "Do you know where Florence is, Arlene? Or have a way to track her?"
Arlene winces as it speaks her name again, but that hardly matters in the face of the vial of thick red liquid in her hand.
She sets it on the table with a tap that echoes far more than it should, a tiny sound which somehow conspires to sound like it was right next to both her ears (and those of the dolls, if their little reactions are any judge) as it lingers in the room's air.
"Ah, may I ...?"
She slides it over to Abel, the vial's bottom scraping along the table with a sound that's no less present and that outstays its welcome for just as long—
"A sample I took from her a few days ago. Not all of it, of course, but I expect it's enough."
The doll carefully lifts and tilts the vial, squinting at the way the liquid slowly flows; it even sniffs it (though with the vial sealed as it is, Arlene would be shocked if it was able to smell anything—she certainly can't!).
"This will certainly work. Now, payment ..."
The rest of the meeting is smooth enough, though to her distress Arlene finds that the dolls are far, far better at haggling (and more aware of currency) than their looks suggest. She leaves dissatisfied, with a promise from Abel that it will update her on Florence's movements.
As she goes, she pauses just outside the door, out of sight; an old habit from when she was both less and more than she became. Just for a moment, perfectly deniable; but enough to catch a scrap of conversation.
"Really, working for a witch? We're disappointing Rosemary ..."
"Yes, well," Abel sighs, "when needs must. And we need a new roof."
She slips away as Carter's muttered reply dissolves into a startlingly wide and inventive selection of curses. On to her next task, she supposes: time to go back to the family.
(This story will continue, someday)