As the three arrived at the noodle place, they were pleasantly surprised to find that not only had Timothy reserved a table, but that he had also managed to procure seating on the second-floor terrace. It was a rare treat, for such a busy restaurant. Even as they stepped upstairs to join him, the rush-hour crowds had already clogged up the streets.
“Hello, Anny,” said Timothy, a friendly smile on his face. “I heard you had fun last night.”
“Tons!” came her reply, as she took a place between Kit and Saphira. “The Ace of Clubs was amazing!”
“Even got a piece of the action herself,” said Kit. “It was pretty cool.”
Her smile faded for a moment. “Would’ve been cooler if I could remember it, but whatever…”
“What do you mean?” asked Saphira.
She shook her head. “Nothing. It was just this weird magic act.”
“Hmm,” said Timothy. “Magic. Always made me uneasy.”
“Really?” said Kit, raising an eyebrow.
He was about to explain when a waitress appeared at their table. “Ready to order?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Timothy. “Er, I suppose we’ll have the Liangpi noodles.” He paused and glanced around the table. “If that’s all right with everyone. I mean, we could order something different if you–”
“Yes, Liangpi noodles,” said Kit impatiently. “We’ll have that.”
“King-size,” added Timothy.
“And please don’t make it spicy!” said Saphira.
“Will that be all?” said the waitress.
“Can we have some water too?” asked Anny.
“Of course,” she said, jotting down their orders. “King-size Liangpi noodles, no spice, with water. It’ll just be a moment.”
“Thank you,” said Timothy.
When the waitress left, Kit turned to Saphira and snickered. “What’s the matter? Can’t handle the heat?”
“Actually, I’m all right with spicy foods.” She nudged Timothy. “It’s this one here who has trouble swallowing it.”
He blushed and raised his hands in defense. “Human.”
“Both of you?” said Anny, staring at the two in astonishment.
“That’s pretty rare,” said Kit. “You must be the only shop in the Market that isn’t run by goblins.”
“Yes,” agreed Saphira. “I was fortunate, bumping into Timothy. It’s good to have a fellow human to turn to once in a while. Goblins can be a bit much.” She bit her lip at this last remark, afraid she had been too blunt. “No offense.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Anny. “I know what you mean. We can be pretty unsympathetic sometimes.” She paused, realising she had finally included herself while talking about goblins.
“Speak for yourself!” said Kit. “I’m perfectly lovely!”
She laughed. “Pretty sure you’re worse than I am, crazy kid.”
The four continued in idle conversation, watching the flow of customers below. Rush hour was quite nice when you were seated on a second-floor terrace, away from the chaos.
It wasn’t long before the noodles arrived. The waitress hadn’t exaggerated when she had called it king-size. The food was practically falling off the plate! They all dug in, shoving the thick noodles in mouthfuls at a time. Kit looked to his right and laughed. Anny was struggling with her chopsticks.
“Ugh!” she exclaimed, pinning down a single noodle. “I was never good at using these. Maybe I should try stabbing them instead.”
“Mmm! These are good!” said Saphira. “I don’t think I’ve had this before. What did you say it was called?”
“Liangpi,” said Timothy, swallowing another mouthful.
“It’s weird how it’s all cold, but I like it,” said Anny. “That is, if I could get any in my mouth!” She managed to pull out another noodle, but it fell off the chopstick and onto the floor. “Aw, shoot!”
But Timothy reached for the noodle before she had a chance to clean up the mess. “Waste not, want not.”
“Nasty!” exclaimed Kit. “You’re not going to eat that, are you?”
He laughed. “Not me, no.”
They all watched as he brought the noodle closer. Saphira was curious too, until she realised what he was doing. “Oh,” she said. “It’s for your pocket monster.”
“Satchel monster,” he corrected, pulling up a small pouch slung around his shoulder. “And yes, this noodle’s for Klutz.”
“Who’s Klutz?” asked Anny.
Holding the satchel for everyone to see, Timothy brought the noodle close. Nothing happened, at first. But then, without warning, a little shadow peeked out of the bag and grasped the noodle, slurping it back inside.
“Gross!” said Anny, confused and disgusted. “Was that a tentacle?”
“Could have been,” he admitted. “Satchel monsters aren’t prone to taking a single shape. It could have been a claw or a talon, for all I know.”
“But… how does it work?” said Kit, looking at the tiny pouch. “Can you really fit anything in there?”
“Of course,” he said. “You see, the size of a satchel monster isn’t set in stone. If you let Klutz loose in a dark room, he can get quite big. However,” he held up the pouch again, “he would be sure to shrivel up in the open, with all these lights around. He’s happy in here so long as it’s dark. Let me show you.”
He lifted the flap of the pouch, as if to release the creature. But the moment the bag was opened, there was a hissing noise, and a tiny hand reached out to pull it back closed.
Everyone was laughing now. “That’s so cool!” said Kit. “I want a pouch monster!”
“Satchel monster,” corrected Timothy. “And yes, they make admirable pets. I take him everywhere I go.” He replaced the leather strap around his shoulder, letting the satchel fall to his side. “Although, he can get a bit restless if I don’t let him out once in a while. The mines are a good place to do it.”
“There are mines around here?” asked Anny.
“Yeah,” said Kit. “Most Markets have access to the mines. There are some things you just can’t get aboveground.”
“Like certain tea leaves,” added Timothy. “I have to go pretty deep to find the right plants for my specialty teas.”
“Whoa, wait just a minute!” said Kit. “Exactly how far do you go? It’s pretty dangerous down there, ’specially for a human.”
“Oh, not that far,” he assured. “And like I mentioned before, I’ve got Klutz with me. He usually keeps the baddies away.”
Anny sat to attention. “What do you mean, ‘baddies’?”
Kit, seizing the opportunity, leaned in close and dropped his voice. “Real goblins!”
“What? Like purebreds?” Her eyes widened in disbelief. “Bellator told me they were extinct!”
“Well, Bellator was wrong,” he said. “There are hordes of them down there, whole colonies! Deep down in the recesses of rocks, they lie in wait. Creeping, crawling, waiting for some poor soul to wander in so they can–”
“Don’t scare her!” scolded Saphira. Turning to Anny, she shook her head. “It’s only a rumour. I mean, there are animals in the mines, but they only appear really far down.” She glared at Kit. “And I highly doubt they’re goblins. They could be bats for all we know. Besides, Timothy’s never seen any when he’s gone down, have you?”
He shrugged. “Can’t say I have. It’s the bugs that worry me, more than anything. Creeping, crawling, waiting for some poor soul to wander in so they can crawl up your pant leg!”
“Ew,” said Anny.
“My sentiments exactly.”
“What time is it?” asked Kit.
Timothy pulled out his pocket watch. “It’s almost one-thirty.”
“Jeepers!” he exclaimed. “I better get going!”
“Why?” said Anny. “Is there somewhere you’ve got to be?”
“Back at the club,” he said. “We won’t have another full show ’til next week, but I’m on duty for a couple acts tonight, just as background entertainment.”
She almost seemed timid as she asked, “Can I come too?”
“Heck, yeah! Whaddya think that backstage pass is for? Let’s go! Yin and Yang will be there, too.”
She jumped up and bolted after him. “Thanks for lunch!” she called. “It was great to see you two again!”
Saphira waved. “Great to see you, too!”
They watched the pair run down Main Street, disappearing into the crowd. “Looks like Anny’s adjusting just fine,” said Timothy.
“Yes,” agreed Saphira. “Did you see how excited she was? She’s curious rather than anxious now.” She sighed in relief. “I’m glad she’s not angry anymore.”
“I knew she wouldn’t stay that way for long,” he said. “Not with Kit and his antics. Quite the energetic fellow, isn’t he?”
“And I’m all the more thankful for it,” she said. “He’ll keep her occupied with all that excitement. Even after a single day, what a change! It’s wonderful to see.”
“I’m glad you’re happy, in any case.” Looking at the pile of noodles on the table, he frowned. “I don’t think we can finish this. Not today, anyway. Why don’t you ask to take it home?” He looked back at his watch. “We’ve missed rush hour, but our regulars will be coming in for tea soon.”
“Sounds good to me.” But as she waited for the waitress, Timothy rose from the table. “Wait, where are you going?”
“I have a rendezvous,” he explained, pulling out some coins to pay for the noodles. “You go back to the shop without me.”
“A rendezvous?” Her eyes lit up. “Is this about your son?”
“Er, well… yes,” he admitted. “But I didn’t want to say anything. It’s a weak lead, at best.”
“But it’s still something, isn’t it?” she said, unable to hide her excitement. “Who are you meeting with? What did they say?”
“I told you, it may be nothing,” he said. “All they said was that they had a name.”
She sat to attention. “A name? Do you mean the name of the man who abducted him?”
“Maybe,” he said. “But only maybe. There are many missing infants in the world. There’s no guarantee that this one will be my son.”
“But there’s always a chance,” she said, hoping to offer comfort. “Can I come along?”
“Er, no,” he said quietly. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Someone needs to look after the shop.”
She was about to argue, but the weary look in his eye held her back. “If that’s the help you’d like, I’ll give it to you. But you’ll let me know if there’s anything else I can do, right?”
“Absolutely.” With a deep breath, he assumed his old demeanour. It was remarkable, how he managed to hide his grief amongst others. Saphira admired his strength.
“Good luck,” she said. “I’ll see you back at home.”
He smiled, tipped his hat, and strode off to his rendezvous. Still at the table, she watched as he left the restaurant and continued down the street. In a matter of moments, the crowd had swallowed his lanky figure, and he had vanished from her sight.