Other-worldly (3)

Balan landed roughly upon the Whispering Reeds, several miles away from his intended target, The Hallow, one of the only few protected sanctuaries of The Keepers of Light left on Earth. He looked up at the waning moon, and sighed. Lucky it wasn’t a full moon. He was smack in the middle of the Southern Wolves territory. Had it been a full moon, he would have been shredded by now. Those nasty little buggers had a habit of hiding in the reeds as they approached the Quaint Town, hunting for those wayward teens out here on their Keeper training.
He felt something slimy and cold slither past his ankle and shivered. ‘Darned Nymphs!’ He dusted off his long leather coat and stomped his feet hard on the ground. The vibration rippling around him for a hundred meters or more, and he could hear the skittering of the beings. ‘That’s right. Keep away. Man on a mission here!’
By dawn, he knocked on the tall, wooden door, carved with centuries of history upon its face. A face whose carvings mysteriously moved up as new events took up space on the bottom. The older the stories, the higher up they went until the door disappeared with the air. Balan looked at the bottom most event, which was the coronation of King Antal, sometime a year ago. No major event had happened since that could change the course of the Veiled World. No event till now that was. He could see a new event beginning to take shape on the very bottom. A story that was vague and murky yet. 

Balan knocked again, harder this time and heard the faint vibrations run up the panel. 

‘Coming!’ A voice boomed from the other side. ‘What’s the impatience? You realize what time it is?’ 
The door swung open and there stood Monk Misser, garbed in nothing more than his pale gray shorts and shirt. It was a freezing morning but that didn’t seem to faze the old man. ‘What do you want Keeper Balan? What’s the meaning of this unholy hour’s visit?’

Balan quickly slipped inside the compound and the door swung closed silently. He always thought that was a weird thing, for a door as heavy and as thick as it was for it to be absolutely silent. 

He bowed to the Monk briskly. ‘Apologies my dear sir, it’s an emergency.’
The Monk stared at him. ‘I am no knight, Balan. And this isn’t the safest hour to be arriving.’
Balan looked around the courtyard they were standing in and a chill ran down his spine. The ancient trees were sleeping and he could hear them breathing. Eeriest sound he’d ever heard. He’d never much liked those trees at night even during his training as The Keeper of Light. 
‘Pardon me, Master Misser, I’ve travelled long to be here, and I would have been here hours ago, but I don’t know why I overshot The Sanctuary and landed at the Whispering Reeds. My compass must be off.’
Monk Misser faintly smiled. ‘So it’s working.’ Balan understood then that other wards must have been put up since his last visit. ‘Myra has been trying to conjure new wards for ages, and she’s been successful it seems in casting a deflection ward.’ He started walking off down the path, to the main entry of the building, and Balan followed. ‘Though it seems she wasn’t as successful in getting the ward to touch ground, otherwise you’d have never been able to get past the Reeds. I must tell her in the morning.’
Balan quick shuffled behind the surprisingly agile man, whose age must be nearing at least two centuries. 
‘Three,’ Monk Misser corrected as if Balan had said his thoughts aloud. ‘So what’s your emergency? The Keepers don’t normally come to us for help unless it’s for training, illness, or retirement.’
Balan took off his necklace and handed it over to the man as they walked through the main doors. 
‘Your Seeing stone?’ There was a hint of surprise in the Monk’s voice. 
‘I can’t not explain what I saw, nor how to report it. Best you watch it for yourself and advise me on the course of action, or even if caution is worthy. Though I doubt that would be the case.’
‘Who brings a Seeing Stone, Misser?’ the head of the Hallow walked out into the ante chamber from his chapel. ‘Ah, Keeper Balan. Long time.’
The man reached out for the stone and ushered the two men into his office further down the chamber. He looked like he’d been up for hours. But then again, Balan had always heard rumors that the Grand Monk did not sleep. He did not need to. 
‘What has you worried Balan?’ He put the stone on his desk in a small crystal abode. 
‘I believe it’s a Black Widow, Master.’
The two monks passed ever so slightly worried looks at each other before the Grand Monk asked them to pull up a chair and sit. 
‘There hasn’t been a Black Widow sighting in centuries.’ He mumbled an incantation and Balan’s stone began glowing a weak green. The Monks stared at it, their eyes flicking minutely as if they were watching something. No doubt the visions Balan had been gathering the last year as he followed the case of Mrs Bigum and her mysterious wealth and her equally mysterious home. 
It seemed a long while before the two men came out of their trance with measured looks.
‘We have a lot to do young, Balan. Send word to your hold. We need as many Keepers as the Red Fort can spare.’
Balan nodded, but his curiosity hadn’t abated. ‘What did you see, Master?’
‘Earth’s doom. Now go! Take the fastest wings and go. We have already lost so much time.’

Other-worldly (Part II)

RECAP:  

‘What’s it doing this far out of its territory?’ 
‘Whatever it is, it bodes ill for that human.’ The sprite slunk back into the tree. ‘Last time one of these came out was almost 300 years ago. The most demonic thing I’ve seen all my life and that’s saying something. Almost killed them all off, those stupid humans.’
Balan stood by the edge of the footpath and studied the strange green gossamer tendrils whistling about the property, snaking out of windows and doors, and floating up from the chimney. ‘And how did they stop it?’ 
‘I have no idea. Seeing how I’m rooted to one spot, I can only tell you what I heard, and this far out, I wasn’t hearing much back then.’
Balan crossed the street and looked up at the facade of the double storey house. The lights had been off for a while now and he assumed they’d gone to bed. He took a few more steps towards the house only to have one of the tendrils flick him away viciously. He flew across the road and crashed into the bush at the front of the house there. The wind knocked out of him. It took him a while to catch his breath and get back up on his feet. 
He glared at the house sickly aware that those tendrils of gossamers were nothing akin to spiders, but a rather strong ward against the other side. His side. The Keepers of Light. As he came to once again stand under the sprite’s tree he couldn’t help but notice a figure by the top window, it’s slightly glowing eyes set on him with a mischievous grin on its black face.
‘Whatever magic that is, it’s not from our…’
‘Realm.’ Balan finished in awe. 



Part II 

For the next two days, Balan followed the Black Widow where ever he could. He changed disguises, put up wards to keep her from seeing him come a mile away. He made no ‘noise’ as this master had taught him, no lingering magic left behind, no stealth spell sent her way that she could smell. For all he knew, none of these mattered when dealing with a Black Widow. He knew so little of them. As far as he was aware, they had been exiled into the monster realm. They were the things even monsters feared. In fact, from how his ward tingled around its edges just mere feet away from his body, forever feeling like his skin prickled, the omens were bad. Horrendously bad. He knew a storm was coming. He could tell from the deepening darkness in the night sky. Energy swirled above that house, slight wind forever pushing down at him as if there were a swirling storm right above it. 

At the midnight stroke on the third night, Balan jumped off the tree branch with a sigh. ‘I got nothing.’


‘I got nothing either. My vision can’t get past the third layer of its ward.’


Balan turned. ‘Third layer?’


The sprite floated out and intently stared at the house. ‘As far as I can tell, that thing is wrapped up like an onion. I can’t tell how many layers it has up.’


This information startled and unnerved Balan. He’s never known anyone to be able to cast two wards with ease. Those skills were left for the Maestros, who are rumored to be able to put up at least five layers with not too much trouble, but no one had seen a Maestro in a millennia if not longer. The only thought that was left in his head was ‘What is this thing and how do I get rid of it?’ After all The Keepers weren’t just your regular fairies humans frumped them up to be. They were the last line of defense against countless demonic realms that eyed human realm as desired realty. The Keepers were the Sword-swingers, the bond breakers, and the annihilators of dark energies. The things that protected from the things that go bump in the night.


‘What do you see? In the other layers?’ He finally asked, goosebumps coursing through him. A semblance of fear lurking deep. 


‘Blood. I see blood. And a sense something coming.’


Balan could sense it too. He’d never mastered the Art of Sight, but he had mastered the Art of Energy, and he could sense the dark heavy ooze spluttering slowly underneath. He eyed the sky above the house and could just imagine the hole building. ‘I have to go.’ He blurted. 


‘You better hurry. You have a month, tops, to find out how to rid it. Once it anchors, I have a feeling it has bigger plans than just marrying a widow and and growing old with him. A storm’s coming.’


Balan nodded. That was an understatement. ‘Keep an eye on it for me.’ He placed a small ball of lapis lazuli in his palm and with an utterance fused it into the trunk of the tree. ‘For…’

‘Communication, I know. Not my first rodeo. You just go find a Maestro before the month.’


‘I don’t even know where to start,’ Balan muttered. 

With a brisk nod and a blink, Balan was gone. All that was left was a sliver of gold smoke the height of him, lingering but for a fraction of a  second. 


‘If Maestros exist anymore.’ The sprite turned its attention back to the house. It had a job to do, and he was going to do it. The green ward rippled taunting. Flickering like an innocent candle flame. 



Epilogue: for those who requested

Epilogue: for those who requested

I don’t normally go back to a novel and muddle with it once published. But this time, I don’t see know I thought why not, an epilogue may be added, perhaps. 
Recently published, Charming Mr Stewart is already getting reviews from around the world from readers and I’ve had a one or two request, or express curiosity of ‘what happened next’.  So for those who have read the book and weren’t ready for it to end, here is a slice, or glimpse into the ever after. If your enjoy it, let me know, so I may be able to add this to the online version available on Kindle. 
Here we go. 
CHARMING MR STEWART

Epilogue: A Quiet Word

Elle stared at the pile of folders waiting for her attention. It grew inches taller every day she swore. Clients and potential clients applying for her to fit them into her busy schedule. Who would have thought that a year and half ago, as she covered one of the biggest weddings of her tiny career, that she would find herself amongst the elites. Whatever happened to Dean wanting to keep a low profile and family privacy? Guess he didn’t care anymore, and frankly neither did she.  


It had been close to a year and a half since her spontaneous trip to Paris to woo the man she kind of loved. After hours of restlessness and extended nausea, a handful of false reading on expired pregnancy tests later, Elle had managed to get in a room alone with Dean in one of the poshest hotels she’d ever seen, and what did she do? She stood there like a silly little girl who had no idea what she was even thinking. 


Fast forward to the present, and she’d moved back to her home town for now, living in her old room with Maya, who had wonderful grandparents to watch over her while mummy dearest was busy transitioning her business into a tiny empire, boutique that attracted all of Dean’s own circle and clients. 


‘You have got to centralize yourself, El. You’re only gonna burn out this way.’ Dean had frowned at the state of her ‘office’, a tiny room at the back of another shop front. ‘Move to Sydney. That’s where all the clients are. Get a bigger office, I can help you with that, and set up a proper studio.’


‘No.’ 


‘No?’


‘No.’ Elle had stood on her tip toes and kissed those gorgeous lips playfully before strutting away in an outfit she was already not comfortable wearing, a pencil skirt with heels. ‘You keep your money and your charms, Mr Stewart, and I shall keep my pride.’


Dean chuckled. ‘Is this about all those bloody awards pumping your head big? Chloe warned me.’


Utterly scandalous, Elle turned around and lowered her voice, for fear her newly hired secretary would hear. ‘I’m making something of myself ok. Do you know how hard I’ve worked for this? I don’t want to be that trophy thing that hangs around your arms. I’m not a trophy.’


Dean laughed his heart melting laugh. ‘Great, and now you get feisty.’ He leaned in and kissed her cheek. ‘You know I love you, but seriously, you pack up like a grandma.’


Elle returned his kiss. ‘So I’ll see you there then?’ He nodded, walking away. ‘Tell them I won’t be too long.’


Dean waved vaguely as he went. ‘Just makes sure you come before you miss everything.’


‘Of course, I’m the bloody photographer!’ Elle yelled off, watching his figure disappear through the front of the shop. ‘Right, Maureen, where’s my camera case?’



‘What a milf,’ Dean whispered into her ears as she cheerfully snapped away at the family. 


‘Excuse me,’ she turned around with a smile. ‘That’s my cousin you’re talking about.’ Elle spied Chloe and Peter from the corner of her eyes, little baby Symphony held loving in Peter’s arms, mingling with their guests in the garden.


‘I wasn’t talking about her, was I?’ He winked, eyeing her head to toe. ‘How about it?’


‘How about what?’


Dean pulled something out of his pocket in that moment and Elle’s heart began to ran. In the hubbub of people, no one seemed to be noticing and no one cared as Dean quietly slipped a ring on Elle’s finger. He leaned in with the sweetest smile on his face. ‘Can I have you for a wife? Say yes.’ 


The ring felt odd in her finger, somewhat home too though. It fit. They fit. 


‘Maya already said yes, in case you are wondering.’ He squeezed her hand in his, nervous as ever. Elle looked around the gathering, people in their own worlds. Her gaze skimmed over how happy a Chloe looked. 


Elle turned to him, and nodded before Dean leaned in for their first kiss that day. ‘I almost thought you were about to get down on your knee.’ Elle laughed. They had talked about it before, perhaps once or twice, and she had been adamant no one should go down on their knee in public. It puts pressure on the whole thing. She wanted quiet. Quiet meant no noise could interfere with the biggest decision in your life. 


She kissed him once more, and squeezed his hand with her newly adorned hand. ‘We’ll tell them once the guests leave.’


Dean nodded and slipped out to mingle with the guests and let Elle get back to her photography.  



The Keeper (19)

Three whole days and nights had passed since Mona retuned home from her father’s funeral. Three whole days and nights had passed since she stayed in her bedroom, barely coming out to do chores her siblings demanded of her. They cursed her and called her lazy, everything they could do to get her to do the chores they’d rather not do, which was pretty much all the chores really. Mona didn’t care, not anymore. Her father had been right. They didn’t care about anyone other than themselves. No wonder he had wanted her to leave, to get away from the ‘leeches’ as he often referred to them in their absence.  It so happened one afternoon, Mona was called a ‘disgusting and selfish being’ for not attending to their every whim. She could barely believe they even realized or cared that their father was dead. From the moment they had come back from the funeral, they were far too busy dividing, fighting and bickering over who gets what. Belle had simply just grabbed her father’s favorite cap and walked in to her room, closing the door behind her and shutting out the hurt. 
Three days later, sitting there on the floor, she caught a glimpse of light skimming on something below the bed and fetched it, cutting her finger sharply on the broken glass of the mirror she’d missed when cleaning up her room. She stared at the sliver and broke down crying. Why had she even left the castle? Why had she left the Beast? Her father was happy and healthy when she was away, knowing she was finally free. Her coming back had caused him illness. 
She cried, gently stroking the reflection on the piece. ‘I wish I had never come back here. I wish I had never come back here!’ 
‘Belle,’ she heard the gentle, yet deep rumble of the voice she’d learned to love, though it now was filled with an unknown pain. ‘My dear, Belle.’
She looked up, half expecting that he were standing in front of her in her tiny room. In stead, she found herself in a dark, barely lit hall of some sort, all but a small candelabra on the mantle. She could feel a draft of cold icy wind sneaking in, and could barely see his outline against the dark. ‘Oh Beast, how I missed you!’ 
She pushed herself off the floor and ran to him. ‘Truly missed you, despite myself!’ She threw herself at him as if he were the closest thing she had. He winched as she did. ‘You’re hurt?’
He shook his head. ‘Just tired.’
‘I don’t believe you.’ She glared through the dark, unable to judge. She reached for the candelabra and brought it to closer to him, and watched him slink away. ‘Come into the light. Let me see you.’ And as he did, a gasp escaped her. ‘What have you done? You look different.’
‘He is dying.’ A voice beside her said, catching her with fright. She turned, suddenly to see the candelabra come to life in her hands. ‘But master is too proud to say this to you.’
Belle let out a squeak. She had heard that voice before, always thinking it belonged to ghosts that haunted the castle. ‘You speak?’

‘We all do.’ Lumiere said, wriggling out of her hands, and within his lights reach, more tools and ordinary objects began to come to life.

‘You must save our master, Belle. You must save our master.’
Belle could only stare in disbelief. 

Download for free EBook

Omg! Do I have good news for you?
Charming Mr Stewart, is one month old today, and to celebrate my little moment of happiness, I’m running a free kindle promotion for the next 48 hours.
If you love a good read, not too short, not overtly long, but just right, with a blend of drama, romance, and it’s own voice, why not download a complimentary Cooy for yourself and have a read.
Read, beautiful people, and by reading you’re helping a tiny author out in this vast landscape. A download goes a long way! And you won’t regret it.

Go to Amazon and get downloading. Of course, as alwaysc I’d love to hear what you thought of it, but obviously, no strings attached. 

This little gal needs a bit of sunshine right now. Sunshine!

Xoxo

The Keeper (17)

Something was falling gently from an ornate ceiling and Mona was mesmerized. She lay in her bed knowing that she was hallucinating but she didn’t care. She’d been inclined to day dreaming a lot since she got her freedom back. Yet something didn’t feel right. Part of her wished she was back in Lucifer’s strange but wonderful home. Part of her thought she was crazy, and that part was probably right.

Instead of forcing herself to snap out of the day dream, she embraced it. All its magic, all it’s obscurity that there could be beautiful red rose petals falling down towards her from the dark ceilings but never quite reach her. She’d extend her arms up to reach them part way but they’d vanish before they ever touched her. Strange, she thought. She was not much of a rose fan and here she was, enchanted by a hallucination that somehow made her think about beast.

‘I wonder what you’re doing right now.’

An image of a lonely man walking around the grounds of Lucifer’s home pierced the floating image above her briefly. The man languished away from her vision, assisted by a cane. Mona followed as if she were walking right behind him. ‘Master, it’s time. You need to ask her. Maybe she will say yes.’

The man turned partially. ‘I will not put this on her.’ He looked a little familiar.
‘But master. Beauty may say yes.’

She stopped. Were they talking about her? But who were they? The man rested by the dying apple trees in the orchard. He turned, a hopeless smile on his handsome, yet tired young face. It was the man from her dreams, the one that asked her to marry him for he only had a fortnight, whatever that meant. ‘And what are the chances of that, Mr Lighthouse, for a monster like me?’
‘But you’re not a monster,’ Mona uttered under her breath as she stared at the young man floating above her bed, and for a moment there she thought he heard, for the look in his eyes intensified. Something familiar about them, like she’d seen those eyes before. But where?

‘Belle!’ Came the frantic screaming of her sisters and as much as Mona wanted to stay there and look into the eyes of her dream she had to leave. ‘Something’s happening to daddy!’
The dream bubble burst immediately and though she felt torn, Mona ran out her room double quick to find her siblings hovering over their fitting father instead of calling for an ambulance.
Mona paced to and fro of the disinfectant smelling corridor. She’d had countless teas and coffee from the waiting lounge. She couldn’t sit and wait, nor calmly go home like her brothers and sisters had done. It was their father in an ICU recovering from a massive heart attack.

‘You’re father is asking for you Miss.’
Mona nodded at the nurse who’d come out just to let her know. She wiped her tear streaked face dry and calmed down before going in.

‘Quiet a scare you gave us.’

Her father stared at her a long moment. ‘Tell me about this Beast. Is he truly terrifying?’

‘Daddy. You should be resting.’

‘Did he treat you well? Gave you food? Clothed you?’ He stared at her. ‘My dear Belle, was he kind to you?’

Something made Mona burst into tears. Perhaps it was that she had almost lost her father, or perhaps it was that what her father asks were all true and so she suddenly missed her friend very much so, missed him like never before.

‘He was too kind, daddy.’ She cried into his palm. ‘Too kind.’

‘Then what are you doing here my child?’ He wiped her tears. ‘You have very little time.’

Her father smiled at her reassuringly and fell into a gentle sleep, leaving Mona wondering. What did he mean by she had very little time? Little time to do what?

‘I only have a fortnight…’ The young man’s voice echoed in her head and his eyes covered her vision, those familiar honey coloured eyes.

‘Who are you?’ She muttered that night in bed as sleep took hold of her. ‘Tell me who you are? Why do I feel like I know you?’

‘It’s me, Belle.’ He said in that familiar voice. If only she knew where she’d heard it before. ‘It’s me.’

‘Beast?’ Into the night she spoke. ‘Is that truly you?’

Dreammaker: 2

Dr Ruiz stared at Ryan for a long moment before he spoke another word. ‘How long have you been having these dreams?’
‘I don’t know. A year, maybe.’
‘Since when did you notice that they were special perhaps?’ As he jotted down few things on the notepad. 
Ryan got off his seat and reached for the scratch on the leg of the coffee table. He licked his thumb and started rubbing at the defect as if he could erase it. 
‘Ryan?’
‘It’s just a little scratch. Easy fix doctor. I can bring my kit next week and fill it up.’
‘Please sit back down, Ryan. I would like you to focus on our session right now. The table can wait.’ Ryan did as he was told and sat there staring at the glaring damage only he could see. ‘When did you notice, or rather what made you notice that these dreams were perhaps special?’
Ryan twitched, and squirmed in his seat. ‘I had a few drinks at a friends party and I saw a murder that night…’
‘A murder?’
Ryan met his gaze for the first time. Transfixed. As if a thousand thoughts were running through his head. ‘Yes,’ he began calmly. ‘She was walking home at night. She walks home every night. Takes her exactly 5 minutes from door to door. That night she closed up shop and started walking but never reached home.’
Ryan stood up uncertain. ‘He came up behind her. Too dark to see. And there was something shinny in his hand. She never heard him coming.’ He fisted his hand and brought it up slowly, high above his head, and plunged it down suddenly, as if stabbing at something. ‘Like this. He kept going till she collapsed.’
Ryan fell quiet and stared at a spot on the floor as if in search of something. ‘He severed her artery.’
It all made Dr Ruiz uneasy but he said nothing. Ryan broke his gaze from the floor and slumped back onto the sofa, only to remember his manners and straighten up. 
Dr Ruiz cleared his throat. ‘So you saw a girl get stabbed in your dream, minutes away from her home, which according to you, only takes her 5 minutes to reach?’ Ryan nodded. ‘How do you know it takes her exactly 5 minutes, Ryan?’
Ryan reached inside his jacket and brought out a notebook. He flipped through a few pages and then handed it over to the doctor. 
It was a newspaper clipping from 1997, about a young girl found 10 houses down from her home with several deep stab wounds around her neck and chest: Darling Daughter brutally slain meters from home. All the details were there, how long it took her to get home normally, what shift she was doing, the style of stabbing and the cause of death.
‘I saw the dream a year before it happened.’ Ryan volunteered. ‘I was nine years old.’ He saw the disbelief on the doctor’s face. ‘The girl’s name was Magda.’
‘Your first special dream?’ Dr Ruiz scanned the article again to try and confirm the information but there were no names mentioned in it. ‘The police never revealed her name.’

 

Dr Ruiz cleared his throat, trying not to look shaken at all. ‘Ok. Say it is the same girl you saw in your dreams. You still haven’t told me what made you think the dream was somewhat special?’
Ruiz scratched at his wrist, just below the leather band of his watch. It itches so bad some days he wished he could take it off, but then again it was the only thing of his dad he had left. 
‘Ryan?’
‘I saw it.’
Dr Ruiz nodded. ‘That you said.’
Ryan shook his head. ‘No. I mean I saw it.’ He pointed at his two eyes with his finger. ‘I saw it.’
For the first time, Dr Ruiz felt a strange curiosity. ‘You mean, you saw it through the eyes of the attacker?’
‘No, I was the eyes.’
Dr Ruiz nodded. ‘How do you know her name, Ryan?’
‘She told me.’ He pointed at the lapel of his shirt. 
‘She wore a badge?’ The doctor noted a few things down on his note pad. 
‘Every time I saw her.’
‘So you knew her?’
‘Kinda.’
‘Kinda?’
For the third time that day, Ryan Priestly hesitated. ‘Yes sir. I used to dream about her.’ He waited for the doctor to say something, but then a moment later continued. ‘For a whole month.’
Dr Ruiz scribbled some more on his note pad before looking up, just in time for his secretary to pop her head in. 
‘Are you almost done, Dr Ruiz? You next patient is waiting.’
Doctor nodded at her and she closed the door. ‘Ok. Say everything is as you say, you see a dream and it comes true. Perhaps articles like these are not helping you. What I want you to do Ryan for the next month is to make a diary of every dream you have. Every single one, and on your way out, ask the receptionist to book you in for another session in a month.’
‘I need you to make them stop Doc.’
‘Yes we will. But we need to get to the bottom of these dreams and find out why you see them before that happens.’
‘But doc…’
By the time Ryan got up, Dr Ruiz was already at the door. ‘I am really sorry Ryan but we cannot extend this session out. Next time, let’s book the last session and we can go over the hour then. Good day, Ryan. Don’t forget to keep that diary and bring it with you.’
‘But doc.’
Dr Ruiz led Ryan to the foyer and collected his next patient. ‘Book in, Ryan.’
That evening, as Dr Ruiz packed up for the night, Ryan’s article suddenly came to mind. Magda? He dialed a number and waited for it to connect. 
‘Hello.’
‘Hello,’ Dr Ruiz responded. ‘I need to talk to Harry. Is he there?’