The client stared at Steve, stared at the Tiny, and screamed.
She had a window-shattering caterwaul that would make stronger men than Steve wince; he sheltered the Tiny man under an insulated cup and waited for her to be done.
“Kill it,” she screeched, “kill the horrid little thing, what is it, don’t show it to me, no, just kill it!”
He stared at her. The Tiny stared at her. He was pretty sure the cat was staring at her. Cats did that, though. “Ma’am, this is a sentient being. Tinies are covered under the Finch-Thompson-Harris Convention.”
“The what?” She’d come down to a low yowl by this point, but she still couldn’t bring herself to look at the Tiny.
Steve boggled. “You really haven’t heard of the FTH? The Convention of 1949 that dictated the direction of human-nonhuman relations? The laws that state that, for instance, killing a dragon has the same legal consequence as killing another human?”
“Or a Tiny,” the Tiny man piped up.
The woman stared at them. “That piece of toilet paper? You can’t seriously expect me to know that shit.”
“Mrs. Anderson,” Steve replied, as patiently as he could make himself be, “the FTH is one of the most important documents in the world. And, if you don’t expect to follow it, then you can’t very well expect the ogres and dragons to mind it, either, can you? Did you know that, before the FTH…”
“Are you a history professor or an exterminator?” she interrupted. “Look, I hired you to deal with the problem in my walls.”
“You hired me to kill bugs. These are not bugs.” He set the Tiny man down near the entryway to his home. “They are sentient species. At the worst, they owe you rent, or you can move to evict them for non-notification. Sorry,” he added to the Tiny man, “but that’s the law.”
“We notified,” the man squeaked. “My grand-dad notified, he did. We have a hundred-year lease, as is standard.”
Mrs. Anderson sat down in her overly floral settee with a thump. “They have a lease? The crea… they have a lease? There was nothing about that in the paperwork when we bought this house. What can we do about that?”
Steve shook his head. “Ma’am, you need a lawyer, a good one. And, like I said, a co-habitation councilor or a cross-species translator. And maybe a read up on the FTH.”
She looked over at the Tiny man. “My father… I really shouldn’t say that, should I?”
“Probably not,” he agreed. His job was clearly done here; he began packing up his tools.
“Ey,” the Tiny called up to him, “ain’t you gonna help?”
“I’m an exterminator. There’s nothing to exterminate, is there?”
“What, like bugs or mice? No, we don’t tolerate that kind of shit in our walls. Begging your pardon, ma’am.”
“No offense taken,” Mrs. Anderson answered weakly. “You really have a hundred-year lease on my walls?”
“Just this wall. There’s another family living over by the bedroom.” The Tiny man leered at her. “Pricey land, Upstairs. My grand-dad couldn’t afford all that.”
Mrs. Anderson looked like she was going to cry. “There’s more creatures… in my bedroom?”
“In your bedroom walls,” Steve corrected. “It’s fairly common practice. I have three clans living in my house.” He smirked, amused at himself. “They like the quiet.”
“It’s not all that quiet here,” she offered weakly.
“Nah, but we’re willing to overlook a little bit of shoutin’ now and then on account of the low rent.”
That got Mrs. Anderson’s attention. “Rent?”
“Well, of course. You don’t think we just freeload, do you? Now, there are those that do, but they’re not what you’d call respectable Tinies. No, no, We pay rent, first of every month, have since my granddad’s time.”
“To whom?” She stood again, pacing. “I would have noticed, I think. If the man who sold us this house, that horrid creature, has been collecting rent all these years after not telling me there were ‘Tinies’ in the walls, I will take him to court and not stop until he hasn’t a single red cent to his name.”
“Hey now, hey now, no need to get nasty again. Maybe he thought you knew? There’s Tinies in every house in the neighborhood. We have a carpool.” The small man smiled hopefully up at Mrs. Anderson. “We can move out, if that’s what you want, but it will be hard for us to find a place as nice as this one.”
She sat back down, and then sat further down, on the floor, so she could look at the Tiny. “You think my place is nice? My walls?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s ancestral land in there, which helps, but you have a lovely set of walls here, ma’am. We’d hate to move.” The Tiny paused. “And about the rent. We been dropping it in the drop box all these years. You never went to look?”
“The drop box?” She shook her head slowly. “No, I never knew of such a thing.”
“Well, then, I oughta show you.”
Steve stood up, content that his work was done. “I won’t bill you for the trip, Mrs. Anderson, if you can promise me you’ll work things out with this nice man and his family.”
She stood, shaking his hand. “Oh, no, at least let me pay your mileage. They pay rent,” she added, “that’s hard to find these days. And he thinks my walls are nice.”
“They’re very nice walls,” Steve agreed. He wasn’t going to work too hard at turning down money. “I’ll send you the names of some good inter-species translators. I know a gremlin who does good work.”
“I’d appreciate that. And, Mr. Canson… Thank you.”
Steve felt a grin spreading across his face. This one would turn out good, he knew it would. “The pleasure was all mine, ma’am. The pleasure was all mine.”
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