The moon was full that night, so Seamus the gnome didn't need artificial moonlight in order to remain active. He sat on a sat on the edge of a planter, just by Harry's House of Ethanol Based Beverages, his little ceramic legs dangling over the edge.
"Sure and so it be Ms Shan you were looking for?" he said. "Sure and I heard she was missing. Mind youse, there's a lot of that going around. Delia from Storage Universe is nowhere to be seen, and Alfred and Fanaka from the clock shop have…"
"I'm not interested in them," Karl said. The fellow had pulled himself together since Seamus had last seen him. He wore a clean white suit and a new straw hat, though he still seemed sunburned and emaciated. "Only Ms Shan."
Seamus sighed. "Why? What crazy conspiracy thing do you think she was involved in? Oh, I've been keeping me ear to the ground, Karl Wintergreen. I know ye've been running round with ideas even more tomfool than usual, bedad. Well, take it from me, Ms Shan has an advantage that a lot of you big folk lack, and that's that she's exactly as she seems. She's a bossy Indian lesbian who I wouldn't cross on a dare, and that's that. So you just leave her be."
Karl grunted. "How about you, short stuff?"
Seamus looked up to see Brownie, sitting in the lower branches of an ornamental tree. "I don't even know the woman," he said. "Never met her."
"So neither of you is going to be any help?"
Seamus looked at Brownie. Brownie shrugged. Seamus looked back to Karl.
"No," he said. "Of course not. Faith, when are either of us any help?"
"Oh!" Brownie yelped. "Have you asked her lady friend? Mrs Lebeaux? If anyone knows, she does."
Karl reddened between collar and hat brim. "Yeah… I don't know if she knows that Ms Shan is missing…"
"And you don't want to be the one to break it to her?" Seamus scoffed. "Coward!"
"Well, why don't you do it if you're so brave? Come on. The light's on in her office. She's right there."
"Faith and begorah, is that the time?" Seamus said, fiddling with the sculpted watch chain that ran across his enamel waistcoat. "I'd best be on me way."
Mrs Lebeaux' office was a little box of a room with a frosted glass door, right in between Carpets! Carpets! Carpets! and EarthLife Health Food. She poured a vodka and tonic for herself and another for her guest.
"…and that's where Ms Shan went and why," she said. "I hope that explains everything."
Her guest raised the glass to his lips and sipped hesitantly. "That's great, but I'm not really looking for her," he said. "I was only asking because I thought she might know where Alfred Pilbrook is. He… I hear he has something that might be useful to me.
"This magic watch?"
"Well, it's not really magic…" the guest began. "Well, it comes down to how you define magic, I suppose."
Mrs Lebeaux tilted her head. "I don't," she said.
"I don't define magic. I think that magic must defy definition, or how else could it be magic?"
Her guest nodded in thought and sipped his drink. "We've never talked much, have we?"
"Not so far."
"It's just that…"
"I wasn't directly useful to you in your plans?"
"No!" the man said. "Well, yes. I guess it was like that."
Mrs Lebeaux refilled his drink. "It still is. You only come to talk to me now because you want something, Axel."
Axel Platzoff sipped his drink. "Sorry. In my defense, it is important. Since the battle, I've been a time paradox. I'm alive and middle aged, even though I died at the age of twenty five. When I was in prison, I made myself catatonic in order to preserve my energy. Now I'm awake, the only thing keeping me from being sucked into the time/space vortex is willpower and I've only got a limited supply of that.
"Cats," Mrs Lebeaux sighed.
"Well, firstly I was telling you something about myself. I like cats. I have three."
"Oh, I like cats," Axel said.
"Good, we're practically besties already," Mrs Lebeaux sighed. "But also, I was talking about the weird cats that hang around the Super Centre… I'm pretty sure they know something about where Alfred is. Does that surprise you?"
Axel shrugged. "I once knew a spotted quoll that ran a heroin ring on the Gold Coast. Animals are weird. I don't judge."
They sat in awkward silence for a while. "So, are we friends now?" Mrs Lebeaux said. "Are we going to chat about stuff?"
"Did you… uh… did you see Boardwalk Empire?" Axel said.
"Try me on The Tudors," Mrs Lebeaux sighed.
Ms Jasu Shan's safari suit was drenched with sweat as she finished machete-ing her way out of the jungle. She stood panting in a clearing, took a huge swig from her canteen and looked up the mountain that stood before her.
She pressed her hand against her side, feeling another stitch coming on. Sitting in a basement for months had not been good for her fitness, and she hadn't been super fit before that. And now that she had crossed the river and hacked her way through the jungle, there was still this mountain to climb.
A small meal of fish and freeze-dried vegetables fortified her for the ascent. She readied her climbing gear and began. There then followed a rock climbing sequence of epic proportions. Had this been a movie, it could easily have eaten up ten to fifteen minutes of screen time. The part where she had to slowly move sideways across a narrow ledge before crossing a gorge on a fallen tree would have been particularly dramatic.
And then she was at the top – a craggy windswept peak covered with a light dusting of snow. A small, functional looking building stood in the middle. From a flagpole outside, a ragged, faded rainbow flag flew.
She stood tall, caught her breath, smoothed her jacket and knocked on the door of the little building.
"Who is without?" came a voice from within.
"I am Jasu Shan, of Sydney."
"Oh. Is it just me or has the Mardi Gras been getting boring in recent years?"
"I really couldn't say. Don't usually go. I don't care for crowds, and have to deal with too many in my day job."
"Sure, but you watch the SBS simulcast with Magda, right?"
"I am quite cold standing here in the snow," Ms Shan said, firmly. "And I need to speak to the Agenda."