Author: Chris Cook
"Oh please sir, do hurry!" the girl urged the stout woodsman on, as they approached the tumbledown cottage in its little clearing in the woods. "My poor grandmama..." She sniffled, her ruby red lips trembling as her big, imploring brown eyes filled with tears.
"Don't you worry, lass," the woodsman said, patting her reassuringly on the shoulder while in his other hand he hefted a sturdy and above all very sharp axe. "By my oath, that big bad wolf won't be troubling anyone ever again!"
Red Riding Hood gave him a grateful smile, then allowed him to take the lead as they walked up the old garden path towards the front door, which was still slightly ajar from her earlier flight.
"Please be careful sir," she whispered, as the woodsman nudged the door with his steel-capped boot, swinging it slowly open with a drawn-out creak. A shadow moved inside, and he raised his axe, tensed, and leapt forward, swinging as he went, hitting his target with a solid 'thunk'.
"Take that, wol-"
Red Riding Hood reeled in shock as two blasts of pink fire momentarily blinded her, then she dashed forward through the door, finding the woodsman in the process of slumping to the floor, a snore already starting to rumble from his throat, while his axe floated harmlessly away. Across the room was a young blonde in subdued black robes, with a badge in one hand and an outstretched wand in the other, still trailing sparks.
Red Riding Hood said a very bad word that her demeanour up to this point wouldn't have suggested would be in her vocabulary, and grabbed at the wand stuck in the back of her belt, concealed beneath the cloak attached to her namesake.
"Fairytale Bureau of Investigation!" the blonde snapped, aiming her wand at Red Riding Hood. "Hands where I can see them, now!" Red's fingers began, ever so slightly, to close around the hidden wand, until she felt a telltale pressure on the back of her neck, and a quiet, measured voice spoke uncomfortably close behind her.
"This is a thirty-four centimetre cherry wood wand with copper filigree," it said, "the most powerful wand in the world. It'll hex you clear into next week. So go ahead, lass - make my happy ending."
"M-make my happy ending?" the blonde asked back at the station, as she and the owner of the alleged most powerful wand in the world, a redhead in identical black robes, watched Red Riding Hood sulking in the interview room through a two-way mirror.
"I thought it up while we were waiting for her to get back from the woods," the redhead shrugged. "It's always handy to have a couple of catchphrases ready, in case you need to unnerve a suspect." The blonde listened attentively. "You don't want to go overboard and totally freak them out, cuz if they panic completely they might do something stupid. Just unsettle them, make them feel that they're out of their comfort zone and right in yours."
"Better to have them surrender on their own than make you hex them?" the blonde nodded.
"You get less paperwork that way," the redhead smiled. "And it's less chancy." She gave her companion a glance, suddenly serious. "But if you see a wand even start to be drawn, zap 'em, don't hesitate. And remember "sleep" only works on civilians - anyone we're likely to be arresting will have charms against that sort of thing. What did you have loaded to hex her with, if I hadn't got her?"
"Whirlwind," the blonde replied promptly.
"Good choice." The redhead nodded her approval. "You can usually rely on kinetic force, at least with mortals, and throwing off their aim is vital if you get in a hexing match."
"Agent Rosenberg!" a whiplash of a voice interrupted the pair from behind them.
"Morgan," Rosenberg said flatly, as Tara took a step back from the bundle of indignant brunette anger approaching them. "Tara Maclay, Lilah Morgan," Rosenberg added, waving a hand as if to introduce them. "When you hear someone around here say 'Damn it, they're lawyering up!', expect her to appear like someone's rubbed her lamp the wrong way." Lilah ignored Tara completely.
"Ambushing a humble woodsman and a little girl?" she hissed at Rosenberg. "That's low even for you, Rosenberg."
"The humble woodsman is fully recovered and free to go," Rosenberg replied, smiling with her mouth alone. "And your 'little girl' was carrying a compressed vellum wand, the sort that doesn't show up on ordinary scrying spells - kind of sophisticated for a girl going to visit her grandma, don't you think? Then again, how many grandmas have mysteriously been eaten around her in the past three years...?"
"This is persecution. You've got nothing." Lilah barged past them into the interview room.
"Ignore her," Rosenberg said quietly to Tara. "She's all bluster. C'mon, let's go put a pea under her mattress. You ready to take the lead?" The blonde nodded, white-faced but with resolve.
"My client's done nothing wrong," Lilah said without preamble as Tara sat down across the table from her and a sullen Red Riding Hood.
"Your client charms old ladies with no other family, then as soon as the will's been rewritten in her favour she gets her friend the Big Bad Wolf to come along and hurry up the inheritance process," Tara said, her voice steady. Rosenberg stood behind her, glaring at Red Riding Hood.
"That's ridiculous," Lilah sneered. "Big bad wolves are a known danger to people in remote areas. The eating up of the woman my client was caring for-"
"The sixth," Rosenberg piped up.
"-out of the kindness of her own heart is a tragedy that has her heartbroken, and the last thing she needs is you trying to pin these ridiculous charges on her."
"You can't prove nuthin'," Red Riding Hood snarled. "That wolf, he ate the old lady, and I ain't never seen him before in my life."
"That's not what he says," Rosenberg grinned.
"He ain't sayin' squat, not with an axe in him!" Red managed to protest, with Lilah gripping her arm tightly in a wordless appeal to shut up.
"My client isn't saying anything further," she said, with a fragile smile.
"I-I suppose she didn't get a good look at the crime scene, then?" Tara said.
"Understandable, with all the excitement going on," Rosenberg added.
"At a glance, I suppose it's easy to mistake a hatstand covered in a shaggy bathmat and a dress as a wolf in an old lady's clothes," the blonde continued. "The real Big Bad Wolf was very upset when he learned that you'd gone to find a woodsman to get rid of him."
"Very upset," Rosenberg piped up again. "He said a lot of interesting things after he heard what the woodsman had to say about your little performance. 'Oh sir, please kill the big bad wolf for me, so I don't have to share the spoils.' Decided to get out of the game while the going was good, did you? Pity you left it too late."
"Nobody will convict her on the testimony of a wolf," Lilah muttered.
"And the woodsman," Tara said. "And her latest adopted grandmother - oh yeah," she went on, as Red jolted in her seat, "we were on your trail since you crossed the border from the Dark Scary Forest. She wasn't even in her cottage today, and we arrested the wolf as soon as he showed up."
"Multiple counts of Breaking and Eating," Rosenberg said. "But his cooperation today might knock a couple of years off his sentence."
"I got powerful friends," Red Riding Hood fumed. "I ain't going down for no grandmama job."
"Do these 'friends' have names?" Tara asked.
"Don't say anything," Lilah muttered.
"Have it your way," Rosenberg shrugged. "See you in court."
"So how'd you like your first day in the field?" Rosenberg asked Tara, as they watched Red Riding Hood being led away in preparation for her transformation into Blue Prison Overalls.
"Uh, eventful," the blonde said, after a thoughtful pause.
"Yeah," Rosenberg chuckled. "Don't worry, it's not always like this - most days it's just asking dull questions, following dull leads, and doing paperwork which I'm sure I don't have to tell you the dullness status of. You did good though," she added.
"Th-thanks, Agent Rosenberg," Tara said, ducking slightly and blushing. "I've never, you know... been involved in this kind of thing before."
"Your magic tests were exceptional," the redhead noted. "The rest is just experience, you'll pick it up - I think you'll work out just fine. And I'll be there all the way. By the way, if we're going to be partners, you might as well call me Willow."
"Willow," Tara repeated.
"I mean, unless you like 'Agent Rosenberg'," Willow added. "It's your choice."
"I like Willow," Tara said.