Ever noticed how some places just seem to attract all the weirdness in the world? The bar I own is one
of them. Situated in once-blue collar part of Detroit, it’s called Draig Gwyn, or White Dragon in Welsh,
and the sign above the door is a hand painted white and silver drake. Most of the regulars just call the
lace Mort’s, after me. The bar is actually a fairly low key place—a simple cottage style building with
stucco walls, a beamed ceiling, and a stamped concrete floor that looks like stone. There’s an antique
oak bar and a big stone fireplace in the main room on the left, and six dartboards and high-top tables
in the smaller space on the right.
It was not quite midnight on Christmas Eve, and I was drinking Loch Dhu and throwing darts with
Mickey Finn—no, of course it’s not his real name, but the little bastard has a warped sense of humor.
Mickey’s a cantankerous wretch of a leprechaun, but he’s a regular customer and he throws a decent
game. Just don’t tease him about his height—he’s maybe five foot if he’s wearing biker boots—and
you’ll get along with him fine. Whatever you do, though, don’t ask for your pot of gold. Last guy who
did that ended up getting busted for possession of eight ounces of high-grade Mexican weed in his
car. Yeah, Mickey planted the Tijuana gold, then called the cops. I told you he was a twisted little fuck.
Just a handful of familiar faces littered the place. Most people have someplace better to be than a
working-class bar on a night like this—families, friends, you name it. Even though most of my
customers weren’t particularly religious, they typically celebrated the Season in one way or another;
Yule, Chanukah, Solstice, or something, and were tied up most nights this week. Any of the folks still
here didn’t have anywhere else to be, and I was glad to have someplace to offer them that felt at least
a little bit like home.
Silas, a one-armed, retired cop and my part-time bartender, was minding the taps and playing
checkers at the bar with Trent, a young werewolf musician who’d waited tables for us until recently. I
think I’d counted three or four others. All in all, it was a pretty low-key night, so I wasn’t paying much
attention to what was going on at the bar.
“I’m gonna kick your fat Irish ass, Mort.”
“He’s Welsh, ye retarded troll,” snarled Mickey, who was sitting at the high-top four feet behind me.
His lilting brogue made even the profanity sound almost sweet. “And don’t be fucking with him until
after the game. I’m winning.”
I hadn’t even noticed the big-ass biker stomping up behind me. A quick glance showed someone
about six foot eight, with bulging biceps and a shaved head. Oh, ducky.
“Turn around so I can kill you.” The big guy wasn’t exactly the patient type.
“Be with you in three seconds.” I tossed my last dart, landed a triple eighteen, and bared my teeth at
Mickey. “Who’s losing now, pipsqueak?” Since I was buying his beer tonight, and we’d been friends for
most of the last century, I was sometimes granted an exception to the “no short jokes” rule.
Mickey just rolled his green eyes and chugged the last of his Guinness. “Game’s not over yet, lad.
See to your friend here. Then I’ll wipe the floor with your sorry arse.”
“Why the hell is everyone so fixated on my hindquarters tonight?” My speech patterns, as Mickey
mentioned are indeed Welsh, though they’re occasionally mistaken for Irish here in Detroit. Turning to
the biker, who seethed quietly in the archway between the main pub and the darts room, I lifted my
Scotch off the high-top and toasted him. “I’m Mordecai Gwynn, owner of this fine establishment. What
can I do for you?”
“You stole my girl.”
I raised my eyebrow at that. “Girl? What girl? Last I heard, I was a single man.” Hadn’t had a date in
months, as a matter of fact. Come to think of it, that might be part of the reason for my
uncharacteristic restlessness. I normally saved the whisky for after closing time. “Don’t think I’ve made
off with any women lately.”
The big guy just glared, and I watched for the swing. Mind you I’m a solid six foot two, but he looked
like he honestly could wipe the floor with someone my size, all things being equal. They weren’t,
though. There’s a reason my bar attracts the strange and unusual—I have a few secrets of my own. I
checked his aura. The bruiser was a human, as mundane as they come. There was no trace of magic
at all. The bad news was there’s a downside to every fight, even one I knew I could win. It’s hard as
hell on the furniture, and I wasn’t in the mood to spend the rest of Christmas week doing drywall
“I want her back.” He tightened his meaty fist. “Don’t make me hurt you.”
As if. I smiled, letting my teeth show. They’re a bit pointier than a human’s, which has a tendency to
scare the piss out of most blowhards if I let my glamour drop, which I did. “Look around you pal. There’
s not a woman in the place, and if I had one at home, I wouldn’t be here throwing darts. Go home,
sleep it off, and call whoever she is in the morning. If you apologize nicely, maybe she’ll take you
Rather than being frightened, he just grinned, though he didn’t show his teeth. Then he swung. I
ducked. The grapefruit-sized paw whistled over my head with the approximate force of a wrecking ball.
My counterpunch slammed into the big guy’s solar plexus, and for a moment, I thought I’d broken my
“Son of a bitch!” I dodged to the side as another blow tried to remove my head from my shoulders.
The right hook I swung at his jaw connected, but all the big bastard did was smirk some more. My arm
vibrated all the way up to my shoulder from the shock of the impact. New conclusion. No way in hell
was this guy a normal human. His fucking aura lied.
“Watch the beer there, laddies.” Mickey swooped his Guinness, which had somehow gotten refilled,
off the table, just as Meathead knocked me back into it. A quick glance around showed me there was
no one on this side of the bar who didn’t know what I was, so I let my glamour drop completely,
revealing the scale pattern that underlies my fair skin, and the vertical pupil slits in my ice-blue eyes.
I also muttered a spell under my breath. It looked like I could use a little extra protection against this
guy. I didn’t have time to wonder if he knew what I was doing. He charged at me like a freight train,
hitting me right as my shield spell went off. I might as well have been chanting “Happy Birthday.”
Nothing. He slammed into me and we both went barreling into the back wall, sending two stools flying
in the meanwhile. Good thing the furniture in here is solid oak. I shook my head, trying to ignore the
little birdies that chirped around me after he head-butted my skull into one of the timbers on the wall.
Okay, this wasn’t working. Time to fight dirty. I jammed the heel of my hand up into his nose as hard
as I could, grunting in satisfaction as I heard bone crack. About fucking time.
Blood dripped onto my own cheek as he loomed over me, straddling my legs. Blood that didn’t smell
quite right. Definitely not human. His bulging green-brown eyes crinkled as he laughed. While I
watched in horror, the nose realigned itself.
“I told ye he was a troll, laddie,” Mickey cackled.
Shit, that also explained why magic wouldn’t work, and how he’d gotten past the wards on the doors in
the first place. Trolls are nulls. They create a little anti-magic field around them wherever they go.
I heard a whoosh then a smack as Mickey swung the vintage Louisville Slugger I keep behind the bar
into the bastard’s skull.
The troll swayed a little on impact, then casually backhanded Mickey, sending the leprechaun
crashing back into a table.
“Get back, Mick.” I saw Silas rounding the archway with a sawed-off shotgun, but I didn’t want to have
to explain bullet holes to the cops, not if we could avoid it. Trent the werewolf stood next to him,
looking like he was thinking about getting furry, and a couple other regulars had picked up bottles or
stools. “You too, Silas, Trent. Everybody back off.” What I was about to do required a little more
space. I’d quit caring about the furniture, but I didn’t want to hurt any of my friends. Shocking a couple
of them—well, that couldn’t be avoided.
Looking straight into the troll’s eyes, I let the power flow through my body and felt myself change.
Fortunately, that’s not magic; it’s a part of who I am. The troll’s nullification effect couldn’t prevent me
Chairs and tables scattered, and suddenly the positions were reversed. Instead of the troll sitting on
me, pummeling me into oblivion, the big lug was lying on his back, looking up into the long, scaly face
of a pissed-off dragon.
“Fuck. You’re a gods-damned dragon.”
Ah, a master of the obvious. Well, no one had ever accused trolls of being bright. Sitting on my
haunches, I’m about seven feet high, and from snout to tail I’m nearly twenty feet long, with a fifteen-
foot wingspan. My scales are an iridescent opal, while my wings are leathery, with just a touch of a
silver shadow over the white. My longish white-blond hair morphs into a row of spikes on the back of
my head. And my teeth? Let’s just say I could pop off his head and swallow it like a grape, but I really
didn’t want to do that. Cleaning up bodies is messy. Cleaning up non-human bodies can be a real
pain in the ass. At the very least, it’s expensive.
“Are you ready to leave now?” I rumbled. My voice in this form puts the contrabass from Sha-Na-Na to
shame. “Or do I have to…hurt you?”
“I need the woman,” he growled. “I need her magic.” Then he actually licked his lips.
I hissed out a little puff of icy mist. “There. Is. No. Woman. Here.”
“I found this address hidden in her room,” he said. “And I can smell her. She’s here.”
The troll was stubborn, I’d give him that. Too bad I didn’t care. “As I see it, you have two choices.
Either I let you go, you stand up, and you walk out of this bar, never to return, or, I rip your fucking
head off and we see if you can regenerate that.”
He actually had to stop and think about it. Damn. Finally he nodded. “I’ll go.”
“Good answer.” I shifted a little to let him up, just in time to hear Silas bark out my name. I ducked,
barely missing the knife—closer to machete—that the damn troll had pulled out of nowhere and
swung at my throat.
My roar shook the rafters of the bar as I swiveled my head and caught his between my teeth.
Grabbing onto his torso with the claws of both forelegs, I bit down hard, then tugged.
His head popped free of his neck, spilling a spray of acid down my throat and all over the room. It was
by far the most disgusting slime I’d ever tasted. I spit the head back out and saw it bounce on the
floor, the bulging eyes still wide with shock.
“Call Walker,” I said to Trent. “Tell him we’ve got an emergency clean up. Silas, lock the doors and
close the blinds.” Angus Walker, a regular of mine, is a brownie, who runs a paranormal—disposal
service. He’d also have a good idea how to get troll blood out of the walls, floors and furniture, I
hoped, though I knew it would cost me most of this month’s profit. Meanwhile, I hoped like hell I could
get the stuff off my skin. While it wasn’t doing serious damage, the burn was a whole lot less than
comfortable. If I was lucky, it wouldn’t etch the concrete floor, but I’d definitely have to touch up the
stucco and drywall.
“Already done, boss” Silas reported. To his credit, his voice only shook a little. While Silas knew I was
a shapeshifter, this was the first time he’d actually seen it. Not many humans ever had. He was
holding up remarkably well. “I told these boys their tab is covered for the night.” He nodded at Trent
and the two others who had stuck around, wielding makeshift weapons. One was a shifter of some
sort, I thought. The other might have been a novice mage.
Both met my eyes as I smiled at them. “Thanks. You guys want to start checking the furniture, that
would be useful.”
I looked around the dart room. About half the tables and chairs were overturned or shoved aside.
There was one crack in the stucco, thanks to my skull, and one dartboard busted. Good thing I kept a
few spares in the back. Trent and Silas started righting stools and tables, setting the damaged ones
aside. There weren’t many. I’d learned pretty quickly to invest in the heavy-duty stuff, once the
paranormal crowd had started hanging out here. Mickey just watched the whole thing, quaffed stout,
and laughed. I’d have kicked the little shit out, but he paid his bill at the end of each month in gold.
Hard to argue with that.
Since there were only guys in the place, I went ahead and shifted back, even though my clothing was
pretty much a pile of rags on the floor. The waistband of my boxers was still around my waist, though
both legs had ripped out. I twisted it a bit, leaving myself with a black and white striped loincloth.
“Nice buttflap,” observed Trent. “And the one-sock look is really you.” For being barely thirty, the kid
has no problem holding his own.
I looked down at my feet. Sure enough, one sock was still there, though it was now a leg warmer,
wrapped around my ankle. My Green Day concert T-shirt was toast, however, along with my black
Converse high-tops and a pair of jeans almost old enough to drink. Damn it, I was pissed about the
shirt. I’d bought that in London, back when Green Day was an obscure band the mainstream world
had never heard of.
“There’s a reason I keep a change in the office,” I said. There are also reasons for having a shower in
the employee restroom. I headed into the kitchen which was between the dart room and the office.
Halfway through the kitchen, which wasn’t very big—we don’t serve much more than soup and
sandwiches—I heard a noise.
“Don’t move,” I said, spinning toward the walk-in pantry. “I am really not in the mood for this right now.”
I stalked over to the pantry entrance, arms crossed over my chest.
“Sorry.” A small figure stepped out from behind a shelf. “It seemed like a good idea to hide until Kord
left the building.”
“Kord? That would be the troll who just tried to take my head off out there?”
She nodded, her wide dark eyes looking down at the floor. She was tiny, probably just a shade over
five feet, though she had a woman’s curves instead of a little girl’s angles. Her black hair was cut in
choppy layers, ranging from chin length to the middle of her back. The bottom two inches of each
layer were dyed purple, matching the eye shadow smudged on her lids—and the dark circles under
“I recognize you.” The realization sunk in. “You’ve been sitting in the back corner of the bar for the
last two days, reading Tarot cards.” Of course I’d checked her out, but she’d seemed pretty harmless,
and wasn’t bothering any of my customers, so I’d left her alone.
The woman nodded again. “Never for money—I only had them buy me drinks or food.”
There was an Eastern European flair to her speech, and a sadness in her expression I’d seen on
many faces in war zones. She wore a pair of black leggings under a pink and black sweater that had
seen better days. The sweater fell to mid-thigh, showing some unraveling at the hem and a few holes
on the sleeves. Close to her chest, she clutched a big black crocheted purse like it was her only friend.
“What’s your name?”
I started to ask her where she was from then I noticed she was shaking. Time for a quick check of her
aura. Ah. Hunger and fatigue overlain by fear. There was magic, too—strong and pure, but somehow
weakened. “Dita, have you eaten today?”
She smiled wanly. “I ate lunch. Then I hid back here between lunch and dinner, and fell asleep.”
Had she been living in my bar? How could no one have noticed? How could I not have noticed? Again,
I started to question, but stopped myself when I saw her eyes stray downward to my shredded boxers.
Her cheeks turned as pink as the chipped polish on her ragged fingernails.
“Oh hell. Here.” I stepped out of the pantry, motioning her to one of the stools drawn up to the
worktable in the kitchen. “Sit.” When she did, still nervous as hell and leaning away from me, I called
Silas into the kitchen. “She doesn’t move from this spot. Feed her anything she wants to eat, but no
liquor, and don’t let her leave.”
Silas nodded. “You got it, boss.” Turning around with as much dignity as I could muster while the
family jewels swung in the breeze, I stalked off to my office for a change of clothes.
When I returned, with my wounds taped up and wearing a fresh pair of jeans and a clean denim shirt,
Dita was sitting out at the bar, instead of in the kitchen, surrounded by the others, and daintily
polishing off a roast beef sandwich that judging by the thickness had probably started out as big as
her head. I waved off Silas, but he shook his silvery mane. He pointed to the stool next to our visitor.
So much for loyalty. Silas had a weakness for damsels in distress. I looked at the young woman, sat
down, and sighed. So do I, unfortunately.
Dita swallowed the last bite of her sandwich, then crunched up a pickle before licking her fingers and
polishing off a glass of orange juice. When she was done, she looked at me, squared her shoulders,
and met my eyes. “Thank you.”
“For the food?”
“Yes, for the food. Also for Kord. I am sorry about the damages. I will pay for them—if I can.” Her thin
“I’d rather have an explanation at this point.” I poured a shot of the Scotch Silas handed me and
sipped. “Why was Kord looking for you?”
“Kord cannot—could not—do magic.” She fidgeted with her napkin.
“On account of his being a troll,” I said. “I’d figured that much.”
“But he wanted power. So he found a way to…absorb the powers of others. For a very short time after
doing so, he would be able to benefit from spells.”
“So he kept you prisoner? Is that it?” I wasn’t really sorry I’d killed the bastard, but now I was even less
“Yes.” She nodded. “He would…feed off my magic, then force me to cast spells. I was losing power at
a rapid pace.”
“What kind of spells could a troll need cast?” I wondered out loud. I knew my tone was skeptical, but I
still wasn’t one hundred percent sure she hadn’t just set me up to do her dirty work for her. I also didn’
t want to think about just how a troll might psychically feed off a witch’s power.
“Mostly ones to make him stronger or faster.” Her fingers were never quite still, either pleating the
napkin, tapping her leg, or twirling her hair.
I barely saw Silas move, but somehow a plate of Christmas cookies appeared on the bar between us.
Silas is in his late sixties, and not very quick. Obviously I was too focused on the girl to have all my
wits about me.
“Why did he need to be stronger or faster?” The thought of a super-powered troll was a kind of scary
one, even to me.
“He robs businesses. Jewelry stores, electronics.” She repeated it glumly and mechanically, as if she’d
said it before, but not been listened to.
“There has been a rash of burglaries lately,” Silas mentioned. He was still in touch with a handful of
his old cop buddies. “Ones where whole safes or cabinets have been lifted and removed. A troll would
account for that.”
I growled. “So he was holding you captive and forcing you to cast spells for him?”
Silas can be gentle when he wants to be. He pushed the plate of cookies toward her as she nodded.
“Do you have any family or friends we can call?”
“Not in this country.” She shook her head, her hand stopping with a cookie halfway to her mouth as
her big brown eyes filled up with tears. “I came here to be with my sister, but she was gone when I
arrived. Kord met me at the airport--she'd written me that she had a new boyfriend. He told me she
“Your sister was also a witch?” I forced back my instinctive urge to get up and hold her. It was still
possible this was all just an elaborate act. If it wasn’t though, that meant Kord had probably used up
and discarded the sister. There wasn’t really any hope that she was alive.
“And where are you from?” That was Silas again, still speaking in the soft tones I assume he’d have
used for his grandkids, if he’d had any.
Yeah, that explained the haunted look I’d seen in her eyes. Shit. I squeezed my eyes shut, but when I
opened them she was still there.
“And what made you come here, to my bar?”
“Kord mentioned this place—that other…not-humans came here sometimes.”
“How long?” I asked. “How long have you been living here? And where did you sleep?”
“Since yesterday only,” she said. “I slept in your office, on the couch, then hid in the ladies’ room until
you were open again today.”
“Do you need medical attention?” In the back of my head I heard the cleaning crew arrive and start
dealing with the corpse of the troll in the other room.
“No. The bruises will heal. And I went to the doctor before I left home for a shot. Kord did not...” she
shuddered, swallowed hard. “He could not make me pregnant when he fed.”
Okay that answered the question I hadn’t wanted to ask. Any regret I’d had for ripping the bastard’s
head off vanished. I was only pissed that I couldn’t do it again. Judging by the way Silas’s knuckles
went white on the bar, he felt the same.
“Well, the first thing we need to do is find you a place to sleep, young lady.” Silas got himself together
before I did, and he gave me a sharp look. “We can figure out the rest in the morning.”
"One more thing," I said.“Are you okay legally to be in this country?”
“For a little longer,” she said with a sigh. “I was supposed to find a job—but I haven’t had a chance. I
also have no place to stay.”
“There’s that empty room above the bar,” Trent mentioned. He’d know, having used it a time or two
himself before he’d found a job.
I nodded my agreement.
“Thank you,” Dita said. “Now I just need to find work.”
“What do you do?” I asked.
“I was a waitress,” she replied. “I should be able to find work, and a place to stay, and then I can repay
I looked at Silas, who’d quirked one bushy eyebrow in my direction. I tipped my chin a fraction of an
inch, but he caught the move. Taking a black apron out from under the bar, he tossed it to Dita.
She peered up at us both, head cocked to the side, her big brown eyes wide. I felt a stirring of
interest, just the merest hint of what might someday be, and I saw that spark answered, albeit warily,
in her dark gaze. The new year was looking a whole lot more interesting.
I shrugged. “Been needing a new waitress,” I said. “Welcome to Mort’s.”
The clock over the bar chimed midnight, and I looked around at the friends—family really—who were
gathered here. I raised my glass. “Happy Christmas,” I toasted, making sure to clink glasses with each
and every one.
Dita’s eyes watered as she clinked glasses with me and grinned. “Funny,” she said. “You don’t look a
thing like I imagined Father Christmas.”
|CHRISTMAS AT MORT’S
By Cindy Spencer Pape
Please enjoy this story as a gift from me to you!