Beakman showed up at dawn.
He didn’t knock or call out for Else. He just stood there at her door, silently waiting for her to notice him staring at her through the glass.
He was an oddity. Else wasn’t sure what kind.
The only form she’d ever seen him take was of a man’s body with a bird’s black beak and eyes. He reminded her of a heron, maybe a giant heron in a penguin suit. It wasn’t just his inhuman freakishness that unsettled her. The guy was an arrogant creep; from his beady little eyes right down to his sharp little toes.
He barged into her kitchen and took a seat at the table when she opened the door. He regarded Else expectantly, waiting while she grabbed the kettle and started filling it at the sink.
When she set the kettle down on the stove, Beakman leaned forward. “So, let me see it.”
Else sighed. She gripped the edges of her tee shirt, pulled it over her shoulders. She sat straddling one of the chairs at the table, so that Beakman could examine her back.
The pattern there looked like a tattoo, a very colorful glyph of a scarab spanning the breath of her torso. Its strangeness was apparent only because she knew what to look for. The pattern was slightly raised under the skin, giving the design a slightly three-dimensional feel. It was hot to the touch. The veiny color patterns kept changing. Clearly, the thing was very much alive.
“So, you met a scarab,” Beakman mused. “When?”
“Yesterday morning, I think.” Else tried not to cringe when his icy fingers poked at the flesh there. “It was on the ground, upside down. All I did was help it along a little.”
She pulled the ends of her shirt back down when he drew away. He took the lemon grass tea she offered. His spindly fingers coiled around the glass. She watched him dip his beak in. A thin, pink tongue came down, lapping at the warm liquid.
“A scarab in this climate is ludicrous, you know?”
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Else grumbled.
“Never met anyone who makes quite as many as you.” Beakman snorted. “There’s supposed to be something inside your brain that says: ‘one of these things is not like the others’ and you’re supposed to walk away.”
Whatever that certain thing inside the brain was, Else seemed to be in short supply. It was common sense, she knew that, dammit. At the same time, she wanted to grab her shady guest by the beak and snap it in half, for being obnoxious enough to keep pointing it out.
“What made you think something like that needed saving, anyhow?”
“It was belly up, Beakman.” She frowned over at him. “What else was I supposed to do?”
“I have a real name, you know?” He was staring at Else intently. It made her skin crawl. “Why don’t you use it?”
“Who the hell is that stupid? No thanks.” She shuddered. “Are you gonna help me get this bug off my back or not?”
“There’s a price.”
“Isn’t there always?” She countered.
She’d first met him when she was twelve years old. Beakman had noticed her and her penchant for attracting strange things, thereby needing to be rescued from them.
“What’ll it be this time?”
“I don’t know,” he smiled coldly. “Maybe an arm and a leg?”
“What?” Else set her cup down with a clatter. “Isn’t that more than your usual–”
“The price can only go up for the girl with the thick head.” Beakman pointed at her accusingly. “What have I told you about picking up strange things? At this rate you’ll probably go and become something else’s prey.”
She snorted and took another sip of tea. The fact was Beakman never denied being one of those strange things that were always out to get her, just for knowing they were there.
He’d apparently decided that she was more interesting to watch than whatever he could have planned for her, though. Presumably, he didn’t have any intention of collecting on this ridiculous debt anytime soon.
For the time being, at least, she could trust that Beakman would be content with just biding his time.