My husband came into my office.
I looked up from the computer screen and saw a big frown on his usually cheery face. “Uh-oh. What did my characters do now?”
Miles laughed. “It isn’t your characters this time.”
“An historic moment! You’re frowning, and it isn’t because of anything my characters did!” I smiled. “So, what is the trouble?”
“The heat element in the rain gutters out front doesn’t seem to be working. We’ve got icicles hanging from the gutters, and the beginning of an ice dam on the roof. There’s already a six-inch-thick glacier in the roof valley over the front porch, and I don’t think today’s temperatures will be high enough to melt it.”
“Hmmmm…that’s not a good way to start our morning. An ice dam can cause serious damage to the roof.” I sighed, as images of dollar signs waving goodbye danced through my head. “I’ll see if I can find the paperwork for the company that installed the gutter covers and heat element, and I’ll give them a call.”
About two hours later, I located the correct paperwork in my rather disorganized file cabinet, and made the call. I was quickly connected to their automated phone system. After navigating through all the correct options, I heard a recorded voice sweetly advise me that all service representatives were helping other customers. All? How many service reps can they possibly have? They only have about a dozen employees, total, including Skit and Skat, co-vice-presidents in charge of rodent control in their warehouse.
The disembodied voice went on to inform me that all calls were taken in the order received, and cautioned me to remain on the line. Then I was treated to some soothing music (I think it might have been a crossover thrash version of the 1812 Overture, accompanied by yowling dogs and cats, during a car crash). The music was blessedly interrupted at regular intervals by the sweet voice endlessly repeating how much they appreciated my business and assuring me that a customer service representative would be with me shortly.
Ninety minutes later, I was finally connected with a live being, whose tired, irritated voice contrasted sharply with the sweet tones of the recorded voice on their automated system. After taking all the pertinent information, the representative assured me that one of their technicians would be dispatched immediately. He should arrive within the hour. I went to find Miles and let him know help was on the way.
Three hours later, I was in the kitchen when I heard a truck pull into our driveway. I looked out the window and watched the driver get out and head up the walkway to the front door. Before he could ring the doorbell, the door flew open, and my Old Dwarf burst out, holding his battle axe.
“Oh, no!” I raced for the stairway, but couldn’t get there fast enough. I heard my Old Dwarf bellowing at the man.
“Be ye tha laddie who be fixin’ tha mess wit’ tha ice on tha roof?”
As I raced down the stairs, I glanced through the open front door and saw the man nod.
I heard my Old Dwarf again. “Ye be late, laddie! Tha lass an’ ’er lad be expectin’ ye hours ago.”
I pushed my way out the door and tried to move my Old Dwarf aside, but it was like trying to move a house. The old reprobate just stood there.
“Last job took longer than expected.” I saw the man frown and size up my Old Dwarf. “You don’t want to use that axe on the ice. You could damage the roof shingles and the rain gutters.”
“I do na be plannin’ ta be usin’ it on the ice, laddie.” My Old Dwarf narrowed his eyes and glared at the stranger.
“Well then, Gramps, I suggest you be a good little dwarf and put it away. Aren’t you kinda old for Cosplay?”
I heaved a huge sigh of relief. He thinks my Old Dwarf is in costume for a game. Maybe we can get this job done without my characters causing any problems.
“Good little dwarf?” The outraged warrior’s voice shook the windows of our house, and probably those of every house on the block. “Gramps? Why, ye cocky little striplin’! I be teachin’ ye some manners!” He squared his shoulders and raised the battleaxe.
I shrugged. Or maybe not.
“All right, enough of that! Why don’t you go in the house? I think your fellow Cosplayers are waiting for you.” As I spoke, I managed to finally push my way past the rotund figure.
My Old Dwarf lowered his axe and looked at me, brow furrowed. “Tha what players? What be ye talkin’ aboot, lass?”
“Never mind. Just go find Miles and tell him the service tech is here.” I gave my Old Dwarf a hard shove toward the house. Then I turned and greeted the man, who was frowning at the departing figure. “Hi, I’m Marge. I called your company today about a malfunction in the heating element.”
“Nice to meet you, ma’am. I’m Guy. My assistant, Bill, is in the truck, phoning in the report from our last job. He’ll be with us shortly.” He spoke to me, but his eyes remained on my Old Dwarf, who was shuffling through the front door. “Hey, that old geezer isn’t dangerous, is he?”
“Who, Gramps?” I felt beads of sweat start to form on my brow. “Nah, he’s harmless as a kitten.”
“Glad to hear it. Now, before we get started, let’s go over the checklist.”
“Yeah. Now it’s obvious by the icicles and the start of an ice dam on your roof, the heating element inside the gutters isn’t working.”
“Eh, the lad be real sharp. He be seein’ right aways there be a problem.” My Old Dwarf was back, snickering.
“Or maybe he is just very good at repeating things?” My Gypsy joined us. He gave Guy a sidelong glance, then leaned against the porch railing and started cleaning under his fingernails with his stiletto.
“Another Cosplayer?” Guy looked my Gypsy over head to toe. “At least you’re more the age for it, though your costume isn’t nearly as good as his.”
I turned to face my characters, counting to ten under my breath. “Where’s Miles?”
“Here I am.” Miles was pulling on a jacket as he walked out of the house.
“Good.” I turned back to my characters. “Now, why don’t you go back inside?”
“I be thinkin’ we be stayin’ right here, lass.”
“That’s a good idea, Gramps.” Guy patted my Old Dwarf on the back as he maneuvered past him toward the door. “You and the Gypsy can keep an eye on my truck. When Bill gets off the phone, tell him I had to go inside with Marge and Miles to check on some things.”
My Old Dwarf turned red as a beet and started stammering. “Gramps? Who be ye callin’ Gramps?” But Guy had already ushered Miles and me through the door, which he closed in the dwarf’s face.
“That’s some pretty nice armor your Gramps has. Better than a lot of Cosplayers I’ve seen at conventions. Nice weapon, too. The Gypsy’s not that great, though. Now, let’s go over this checklist.” Guy looked at his clipboard. “When you discovered the icicles, did you check to see if the heating element switch was in the on position?”
Before I could answer, my Arrogant One and my Bounty Hunter came hurrying up the steps. My Arrogant One bumped into Guy.
“Imbecile! Watch where you are going!” The annoying elf acted as if he were the injured party. “You could have ripped my robes.”
“Now that’s another impressive costume. Is it real silk?” Guy made the mistake of reaching out to touch my Arrogant One’s cloak.
The way the elf screeched, you’d think Guy had thrown acid on his clothes. “How dare you? Do not lay a finger on these robes! Do you know who I am?” He rocked back on his heels, grasped his cloak with both hands, and looked down his nose at Guy.
“Oh, sorry, didn’t know you were in character.” Guy turned back to Miles and me. “They usually don’t act like that until they’re at a convention. Now where were we?”
Sorceress and Cleric had come upstairs to see what the commotion was all about. Cleric looked at Guy and tilted her head. “Why, I believe you were standing right here in the entryway.”
Guy just blinked.
“Okay, everyone, upstairs, please, so Miles and I can finish going over this checklist with Guy?”
Cleric and Sorceress looked disappointed; my Bounty Hunter and his elf sidekick looked belligerent. I gave them one of my patented glares, and the four of them scurried up the stairs.
For the next half hour, Miles and I walked around the house with Guy, checking on switches, outlets, ground-fault circuit interrupters, circuit breakers, and a bunch of other things, as the repair technician marked off each item on his checklist. Then he excused himself when his cell phone rang.
“Bill’s ready. Let’s go out and look at the heating element.”
Miles and I followed Guy back outside. My Foreman and my Young Hero had joined my Old Dwarf and my Gypsy, and they were all watching Bill.
“Okay, why doesn’t everyone go back inside, so Guy and Bill can work?”
My Old Dwarf stayed where he was, but my Foreman and the lads filed past me and into the house. The three of them lowered their heads and tried to hide identical smirks. I frowned, wondering what they were up to, but decided I didn’t have time to find out. I turned toward Bill, who glanced up and smiled. “Well, the switch is on, and the outlet is working.”
I raked my hand through my hair in frustration. “I believe we’ve already determined that, Bill. We just spent the last half-hour going over all that on Guy’s checklist!”
Bill smiled. “Yeah? Well what did you decide, Guy?”
“I think the heating element isn’t working.”
“Ya think?” My voice was sharper than I had intended. “That’s what I told your receptionist when I called, five hours ago! I’m so glad we’re all in agreement. Now what do you plan to do about it?”
Bill smiled. “Well, what do you think, Guy?”
“First thing we’ll have to do is get all that ice out of there, so we can examine the heating element and see where the problem is.”
Bill smiled. “I’ll get the equipment and a ladder.”
My Old Dwarf hefted his axe. “Ye be needin’ some help wit thet?”
Bill smiled. “What do you think, Guy?”
Guy frowned. “I told you, Gramps, you can’t use that axe on the ice. It will damage the roof shingles or the gutters.”
I expected another outraged outburst from the old reprobate over the use of the term gramps. Instead, my Old Dwarf just smirked. “Oh, I do na be needin’ no axe. Mm friend here be an expert at meltin’ ice.”
Dragon, in her familiar guise of an elf maiden, stepped around the side of the porch. Guy gawked at her. “Wow! Your costume is even better than the dwarf’s!”
Dragon simpered at Guy. “You should see my other costume.” She started to shimmer.
Miles grabbed my arm. “Honey, do something!” But all I could do was watch in morbid fascination, the way people do at car wrecks.
Moments later, Bill wasn’t smiling any more. He and Guy were screaming so loud I think people three states away could hear them. They made a mad dash for their truck.
Within seconds, Dragon managed to melt all the icicles and eliminate the ice dam without damaging anything. Then, she transformed back into an elf and approached the truck.
“Now about that heating element.”
Bill smiled. Granted, his eyes looked a bit glazed, and he was babbling incoherently, but he was smiling. Guy was just trying to keep his eyes from popping out of their sockets.
Miles and I rushed over to the truck. Guy quickly locked the doors against us.
“Hey, it’s all right! It was all an illusion!” Miles pointed at Dragon and my Old Dwarf. “These two aren’t mere Cosplayers, they’re also magicians . . . illusionists of the highest order!”
Thank goodness for my quick-thinking husband!
“Yeah, you know.” I nodded. “Like Copperfield or Blackstone or Penn and Teller.”
It took a lot of talking for Miles and I to convince Guy and Bill that what they saw was merely an illusion. Even after we had convinced them, they seemed wary of Dragon and my Old Dwarf. Finally, Guy opened the door of the truck just a crack. “Why don’t all of you . . .” he gave Dragon and my Old Dwarf a sharp look. “Why don’t all of you go back in the house? Bill and I will let you know when we’re done here.”
About an hour later, the doorbell rang. My husband went to the door as I glared at my characters, daring them to make a move. Miles returned a few moments later. “They left the invoice in the storm door. They replaced the heating element.”
“What’s the cost?”
“It’s marked paid-in-full. Guy attached a note, though. It says if the heating element ever fails again, please call another company to deal with it.”
Ah, yes, the joys of having a house full of fictional medieval characters.
Be sure to come back and see what new troubles my characters can cause for me and my husband. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.