**Author's Notes** We're jumping ahead quite a bit right here. Don't worry, Jareth will fill you in at some point. But just so you know, it's about late September where we pick up. It was approximately mid to late November where I left him in 'Smokes and Mirrors'.

I'm sorry about the hiatus on this story, I've been deliberating on where I wanted this one to go, but I've got it pretty much figured out, and I think you'll enjoy it.

I stepped off the bus and a warm breeze hit me full in the face. I took it in, breathing deeply, waiting for the familiar scent to hit me. It never came. Here I was, fast approaching October and not a single familiar scent of fall was in the air. Ye gods, how I despised being in the South. All of this autumn warmth was going to be the death of me.

I made my way across the parking lot, an oversized depot yard for cross-country bus service. Spotting the hotel, I walked at a leisurely pace. I was in no hurry, they would be expecting me, preparations had been made. I stepped in the door, and an older woman who had seen better years was behind the counter, not looking up from her talk shows as I stepped to the desk.

"I have a reservation."

She looked at me now, butting her cigarette in the ashtray as she pulled out a folder. "Name."

"Randall Waits." The alias was provided for me, just as it always was. It was a burden, having to go by the name "Randall", but the benefits were worth it.

She made a noise of recognition and removed a sheet from the folder. She handed me a pen and showed me where to sign. While I was looking over the paperwork, she pulled a key off the numbered hooks and set it before me. I signed at the bottom and pushed the paper back to her. I took the key, picked my duffel bag off the floor and turned toward the door.

"Mr. Waits, hold on." She called after me and disappeared into the back office. It's easy to respond to a name that isn't yours when you're the only one in the room. It's not always this easy.

She returned to the counter with a padded manilla envelope. Boss Man was one step ahead of me this time, good news for once.

I tucked the envelope under my arm and walked out the door. I found my room and slipped inside. I threw my bag on the spare bed and sat down on the bed I'd be sleeping on. Tearing open the envelope, I dumped the contents on the bed beside me and rummaged through them.

A thin stack of dollar bills, but adding up to far more than I was used to. A sealed, letter envelope with "Jareth" written on it, a locker key and a business card. I pulled the paperclip off the money and fingered through the currency. These were good times, and I was making some good money doing what came naturally to me. I turned my attention to the envelope. Inside was a single-spaced, typed letter. Just one page, with no signature. Boss Man never included a signature, so I knew it was from him:


Job well done in Savannah. This job's going to be even easier. Take the key to the address on the business card. Locker # 479. You'll find two packages inside. The briefcase is for your contact. The cardboard box is for you, a little "thank you" present from your Memphis contact. She also left her phone number, in case you come back through Memphis at some point. I've got it on file if you need it.

Call me when you're done reading.

The phone was already off the cradle by the time I had finished with the letter. I was used to this part of the routine. Hell, I didn't even have to think about the phone number anymore.

...Just let your fingers do the walking...

The phone rang twice on the other end, then three times. I smiled. For once, Boss Man wasn't sitting next to the phone, waiting for me to check in. Usually, he was like a father waiting for his daughter to get home from her first date. I hated being treated like that, but again, the benefits were worth it.

"Yeah, I'm here," The voice on the other end was out of breath.

"Hey, Boss Man, you sound like you ran a marathon just to answer this call. I'm touched."

"Shut up, Jareth," I could hear the smile slowly inching across his face. "And dammit, I told you not to call me Boss Man. You know I-"

"Yeah, I know you hate it when I call you that. But you know I hate referring to everyone we work with as 'the contact'."

"It's an old habit, and old habits die hard. Deal with it." He did his best to sound like the tough guy, even though I had gotten closer to him over the past few months than most ever had. I knew him far better than that facade delved.

"Whatever you say, Boss Man."

He groaned. I lit a cigarette and looked over the contents of the envelope again. He must have heard the rustling of the papers. "You get the package?"

"It's right here in front of me. This isn't my usual payment, though."

"I'm raising your allowance. You've done more than enough to deserve it. You're efficient, you're observant, and most importantly, you're effective." I could feel my chest puffing up as he spoke, it felt good to be admired, it had been some time.

"Just doing my job."

"Oh, don't give me that crap. You enjoy the work and you know damn well you like the money." I laughed. He was right. It was the best job I could have landed, and almost luck that I did.

"Come on, what do we have this time. You said in the letter that this will be even easier than Savannah."

"This is going to be a cakewalk for you. Simple pick up and drop off. Go pick up the briefcase, and put it in the hotel room. You meet the contact-"

I interrupted. "The what, Boss Man?"

Another groan. "He goes by Aristotle. You're going to deliver the briefcase to him, alright?"

"How come he gets a cool alias, and I get stuck with Randall?"

"Because he's footing the bill. When you negotiate a contract with me, I'll let you call yourself whatever you want." I could hear clinking bottles in the background. He was rummaging in his fridge.

"Alright, but you'll be calling me 'El Conquistador'." He choked on the other end. Whatever he had been drinking at that moment, I could tell was now on the phone, and probably all over whatever else was in the way.

"I don't know where you come up with this crap," I could hear something pass over the mouthpiece on the phone, he was wiping it off. "Alright, so you're meeting Aristotle in six days. He'll be waiting for you at the Imperial Hotel, Seven p.m., you'll be having dinner with him. The reservations will be under 'Waits'."

I was absent-mindedly taking notes on the back of the letter. Most of my attention was now focused on finding something good on the television. These rundown hotels I stayed in never had the cartoon channel.

"Jareth, tell me something."

...Here it comes...

"What happened in Memphis?" I had kept things quiet for three weeks, Boss Man's curiosity was killing him.

"I rescued her kite from a tree. It was a haunted tree. Carnivorous. Very scary, kept singing showtunes while it tried to eat the kite. It's name was Audra 22. The tree's name, not the kite. I don't know if the kite had a name."

"Come on, Jareth, level with me. I saw what's in that package. You don't get gifts like that just doing your job. And no one drops their phone number unless something happened." He was right, there was always a catch in this world. But sometimes, you didn't want to admit to the reasons behind catches.

"She hired me as a test."

There was a pause. "What kind of test?"

"A fight to the death. Against some kind of demonic kitten."

"Nevermind, Jareth, I'll let off it-"

"No, seriously! Some weird spawn of Satan cat that they had trapped. They had heard all of the stories, about the previous contracts, and they wanted to see how tough I was."

The pause was longer this time, I was almost afraid he was going to laugh. "And?"

"And she got me into the arena because she went in, and she hired me to be her bodyguard. They dropped a cage around the arena, and then they let the kitten loose. But it didn't quite work out as a fight to the death."

"What happened?"

"It lunged at me, sniffed at the air, purred and fell asleep on my boot. Don't ask me why or how, it just did. And now, this lady's convinced that I'm the prince of fricking darkness or something and wants to have my kids."

He did laugh this time. Long and loud. I had to pull the reciever away from my ear till he calmed down. The laughter hadn't died away fully when I spoke again.

"Are you done?" The laughter redoubled over the phone. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself.

"That made my night, I swear."

"I'm glad you're enthused. So, what the hell am I going to do for the next six days?"

"Jareth, you're in New Orleans, do anything you want."

"You have a point. Alright, I'll call you when I've made the drop off." I was pulling the reciever from my ear to hang up when he called my name.

"You want her number?" His laughter resumed. He was still laughing when I hung up the phone.

"Goodnight, Leon."

**Author's Note** I need to give out some credit where it's due. I felt the need to throw in some references to some of my own pop culture heritage, and I just want to take a moment to recognize the brains behind the machines:
Charles Griffith and Roger Corman, for writing and directing Little Shop of Horrors, respectively.
Charles Schulz, for being a god to me from childhood on, and for creating the kite-eating tree.
Pete Abrams, for being one of my many heroes, and for writing Kitten. You can fill yourself in on Kitten and the rest of the story by checking out Pete's comic "Sluggy Freelance" at .com

More to come when it's written. I'm going to try to post on a regular basis, but be patient with me, as I actually found a day job again and have to put priorities first, so I can afford to do what I love and keep writing.