The fairy flits into the bank. She spirals around the artificial tree. She perches atop a chair. She talks to the loan officer. The loan officer’s name is Mr. Banks. He examines the fairy’s assets. He takes her statement. Then he leans back.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Bell,” he says. He looks smug. “But there’s nothing we can do.”
“I do have an alternate plan,” she says. She sounds weary and disillusioned. “I can kidnap the young heir to a great fortune and show him the wonders of Neverland. Then when he comes of age, I will command all the wealth you could dream of.”
“Bah,” he says. “Fairy gold.”
The fairy narrows her eyes angrily. She flicks a few specks of fairy dust onto Mr. Banks’ shadow. It thwaps him on the back of his head. He looks irritable.
“I’m afraid,” he says, snootily, “that violence won’t help your application.”
He takes out a big red stamp. It says “DENIED.” He stamps her application. She turns to go. With a sadistic smile, he stamps her back. She flutters furiously, hanging in midair, trying to shake the heavy red ink off her wings so she can fly. She turns to him, boiling with rage, but he’s turned his coat inside out and her magics can’t touch him.
“We don’t like fairies in this town,” he says.
Tone low and dangerous, she curses him. “You will lose your fortune and your sanity, and in less than a month you shall die at your own angel’s hands.”
He sneers, and she storms out of the bank. Above its stairs, she tries to find her emotional balance again; and a young boy, in the shadows, speaks.
She spins. “Who are you?”
“The name’s Daniel,” he says. “I’ve been looking for a fairy.” He affects nonchalance, but there’s a hard edge of excitement in his voice. “I was beginning to wonder if you really existed.”
“Don’t mess with me,” she warns. “I’m in a foul mood. If you play me wrong, you’re going to find yourself flying so high you won’t ever come down.”
Daniel looks sourly at her. Hair flops into his eyes. He’s wearing a jacket. “I’m afraid,” he says, “that playing you wrong is exactly what I intend to do.”
It’s 1976, and the sky is gray, and the parking lot is windy. There’s a touch of the sea in the air. Mr. Banks walks out of the building at the end of the day. He stretches. He’s glad of a job well done. Then he sees the boy.
“Hey,” he says. “Get out of here.”
Daniel looks up. Brown hair hoods his eyes. “There was a fairy,” he says. Wonder and bitterness war in his voice.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Banks says, pettishly. “Little pest.”
“I tried to talk to her,” he says, “but she just threw some papers in my face and stormed off. Cursed me to fly away and never come down, too. Will it happen, do you think?”
Mr. Banks pauses. He thinks for a moment. Then he smiles. It’s painfully fake. He kneels down. “It’s just superstition,” he says. “They’re liars and freaks. You have to believe. They can’t hurt you if you don’t.”
“Ah,” Daniel says.
“What kind of papers?”
Daniel hugs them protectively. “They’re mine. I need magic, and maybe they’re magic. They’re from a fairy.”
“Could I see?” Mr. Banks asks. His tone is charming. Or at least smarming. It’s still painfully fake.
Daniel hesitates. Then, slowly, warily, he extends the bundle of papers out. “You can look. But it’s still mine.”
Mr. Banks looks through the papers. “It’s here,” Mr. Banks says. His eyes light up. “It’s the deed.”
Daniel’s eyes sharpen. “Deed?”
Mr. Banks thinks. He’s deep in thought. Then he ushers Daniel into the bank. It’s past bank hours, but the security guard nods and lets them in. Mr. Banks works there, after all. Plus, he’s named Banks. The security guard likes words, so that impresses him a lot.
“She was thinking about a second mortgage on Neverland,” he says, and Daniel takes a seat across from the loan officer’s desk. “Something to supplement the tiend. She brought the deed so I could process the application.”
Daniel stands up. He looks triumphant. “So now it’s mine!”
“. . . slow down, boy, slow down.” Mr. Banks smiles thinly.
“I know how fairy law works,” Daniel says. “If she throws it to me, and I accept it, and hold it tightly in my heart, it’s mine. Give it back.”
“Greedy boy.” Mr. Banks’ smile is sugar and spice. “But I don’t hold by fairy law. And by mortal law, you’re not old enough to own property; and I’m the one who has the deed in my hands.”
Daniel frowns. He leans back in his chair. Then, slowly, he smiles. His teeth are a little crooked. “And what good will that claim do you when she says you stole it from her while she was here?”
Mr. Banks’ eyes narrow. “You knew.”
“Maybe. But there’s no way I can take possession on my own. Like you said, I’m too young. I need a partner.”
Mr. Banks calculates. “The property’s worth about twenty million,” he says. “There are always idle rich who’d love to fly around in a fantasy world and live forever. You can have five. When it sells.”
“I’ve got to eat, gov. Two, and I get it now.”
Mr. Banks snorts. “You’ve got meat on you. You’ll last a few months.”
Daniel winces. “At least a place to stay?”
Mr. Banks evaluates him. Better to keep him in sight, he thinks. “Sure,” he says aloud. “You can stay with me a few days. Heck, I’ll throw in meals.”
Daniel looks down. “Thank you. Hey,” he adds. “What’s ‘collateral?'”
Mr. Banks frowns. “Huh?”
Daniel gestures, with his head, towards the papers on Mr. Banks’ desk. “I read the papers. I didn’t understand that word.” Defensively, he adds, “I’m pretty good with words, you know. For my age. Just, not that one.”
“You should be proud,” rumbles the security guard. He places his hand on Daniel’s shoulder. “Words are important.”
Daniel squints up at him. “Um, private conversation, gov.”
The hand withdraws. The security guard looks down at him. He’s a lean tall man. He’s wearing a jacket. His voice is deep. Then he winks. “Sorry.”
Daniel looks around in confusion, then shrugs. He turns his attention back to Mr. Banks. “So . . .”
Mr. Banks is furiously scanning the papers. He ignores Daniel for five long minutes. Then he throws the papers down in disgust. “Rear of a dog!” he mutters. “That fairy scut glamoured me.”
“She wasn’t looking for a second mortgage,” Mr. Banks explains. “It’s a third mortgage. And the second’s to a mortal agency. This property’s tied up tight, and it won’t be any good to anyone unless the other loan’s paid off in two days’ time.”
“What?” Daniel’s voice is shrill. He sits bolt upright.
“She’s tricksy,” Mr. Banks says. He gestures at the papers. “Clouded it all over so I couldn’t see it in the papers. They can make you see what you expect to see, sometimes, you know.” He hit the table with his clenched fists. “Filthy fairy scut!”
“Unless we come up with a million now,” Mr. Banks hisses. Then he decides. He sits up. “It’s coming out of your share, boyo. But I’ll find some way to front it. Blast if I know how. Maybe if I put up the house.”
Daniel looks around lazily. “If only,” he says, “there were some kind of . . . financial institution . . . that could help.”
“Don’t be a clod,” Mr. Banks snaps. “I can’t loan myself money! I’d lose my job and queer the deal to boot.”
“Not you,” Daniel says. “Me.”
Mr. Banks hesitates.
“You know I’m good for it,” Daniel says. “You’re going to be paying me five million your own self, on a property worth twenty.”
“It’s not that easy,” Mr. Banks says, dismissively. “But . . . it might be possible.” He sat, deep in thought. “We’d have to bring my manager in on it. But we can spin it. We can make it sound like a backroom deal, not a shady one. ‘Exigencies and circumstances,’ we’ll say. Then he won’t need a cut. Just a high interest rate on the loan. Maybe a little palm greasing.”
It was 1976, and the sky black as pitch, when they emerge from the bank and get in Mr. Banks’ car. They drive. Mr. Banks takes Daniel in. He feeds him. Stingily, but it’s food. Then he puts Daniel to bed in the guest bedroom and goes to pour a glass of brandy of himself.
Daniel opens the window. “Come in,” he says. The fairy spirals in.
“He suspects something,” Daniel says. “But he doesn’t know what.”
The fairy lifts a finger to her lips and flies off into the house. A few minutes pass. Then she returns. She sits on his pillow.
“He’s got ash and rowan in his bed,” she says. “I’ll need you to remove them. He’s got salt and holy water on the windows. I’ll need you to deal with that, too. Afterwards, he won’t suspect a thing.”
“A million,” Daniel says. “That’s the deal. Split between you and me.”
She smiles sadly. “Child, I could offer you eternal youth and power beyond your dreams. Why are you so eager for cash?”
“I have a sister,” Daniel says.
“Bring her with you.”
“I can’t,” Daniel says. “It’s against the rules.”
The fairy eyes him. “You’re not human,” she says.
“Probably not,” he agrees.
“Can I see?”
He shrugs. She licks her finger and then pokes it in his ear. He tenses, expecting a wet willy, but she just hovers there, abstractedly.
“You’re an A,” she says.
He shrugs again. “If you say so. Is it a problem?”
“Not mine,” she says. “Clean out the anti-fairy ammo, and we’ve got a deal.”
It’s 1976. Two nights have passed, and a day, and the sun shines brightly. It’s morning, and Mr. Banks hustles Daniel to work with him.
“This the boy?” Mr. Manager says.
Mr. Manager kneels down. “Now, boy, you understand what you’re doing here? Signing away your rights under fairy law?” He smiles genially.
“Signing away?” Daniel looks up, ashen. “Wait. I didn’t agree to . . .”
“It was the only way,” Mr. Banks stresses. “The deed becomes yours under mortal law, but the bank’s under fairy law. Otherwise, we can’t repossess, and there’s no way to make the loan.”
“But . . .” Daniel looks helplessly around.
Mr. Banks shrugs. “It’s up to you at this point, Daniel.”
Trust me, his eyes say. They’re painfully fake.
Daniel shrugs. “I guess. If I have to.” He signs.
“Done!” Mr. Manager beams. He goes to his office. He returns a few moments later. “I’ve paid off the second mortgage. For just a few small payments over the next five years, the deed’s yours, free and clear.” He clears his throat. “Except for that whole tiend thing. Ghastly business. Rather your own affair, now, though.”
Daniel smiles. “I’ll make the payments,” he says.
“If you don’t, I suppose it all becomes Mr. Banks’ problem,” says Mr. Manager, and walks away, whistling.
Daniel turns. He looks suddenly small, and cold, and cunning.
“Mr. Banks’ problem?” he says.
“I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“What happens if I don’t make payments?”
Mr. Banks’ gaze is a mix of shark-like hunger and a kind of gentleness. “Don’t worry, kid. I still owe you. You won’t be penniless.”
Daniel relaxes slightly. “So that’s the kind of person you are,” he says. “But . . . I suppose it doesn’t matter. Either way.”
A breeze picks up in the room, and the deed blows off of Mr. Banks’ desk. The door opens. A fairy spirals in. The deed flies into the hands of Ms. Bell.
“You can’t do that!” Mr. Banks jumps to his feet. “The deed belongs to the bank! Under fairy law!”
“It’s invalid,” says the fairy. “The boy never owned it. But thank you for the million you wired.”
Mr. Banks pales. “You can’t do this.”
“She can,” Daniel says, placidly. “She gave me the deed in trust; signing away my rights to it doesn’t mean anything.”
“That’s right,” asserts the fairy.
“Of course,” Daniel says, in the tone of a young boy in a very strong negotiating position, “Based on that agreement, which she can’t rescind until she pays me, I could sign away her rights. To you, at least, if no one else.”
“That’s cheating!” the fairy declares. “You can’t just cheat!”
Daniel snorts. “I told you in advance I was going to play you wrong.”
The fairy blinks. It’s true. He did. She makes a face. “So it’s a bidding war?” she says. “Both of us over the barrel? You can sell off my deed, or leave Mr. Banks cosignatory to a dead million-dollar loan? Nasty game, boy; you’ll have both the banks and the fae after you for sure.”
Daniel brushes the hair away from his face. “I want to hire you.”
Mr. Banks snarls and springs at Daniel. His arms wrap around the boy. “You’ll sign it now.”
“Don’t!” the fairy warns, sharply. “He’s an A!”
Mr. Banks’ grip tightens. His eyes are mad. Daniel winces.
“Please,” Daniel says, to the fairy.
“What,” Mr. Banks grinds out between clenched teeth, “is an A?”
“Let me go,” Daniel says. He’s quiet now.
“An A is a kind of isn’t,” the fairy says. “Like fairies. But more so.”
“Should have known,” Mr. Banks whispers. “Should have known. Too smart for his age. Too cunning. Stupid fairy. What’s an A? A hobgoblin, then? A brownie? A kobold?”
The fairy looks thoughtfully at Daniel. “You need magic, don’t you.”
“More than half a million could buy?”
“You wouldn’t’ve taken this deal.”
“I’m sorry,” says the fairy. “But it’s your own lookout. You won’t sign away Neverland now.”
“Because you’re a nice boy,” she says. “It gets in your way, doesn’t it? It makes you burn inside? All the scheming, all the nastiness, but at the bottom of it all, you don’t want your fairy patsy getting hurt.”
He frowns at her. “Big chance to take,” he says, ignoring the older man grappling him from behind.
“No,” she says. “Because, see, there’s a curse; and because of the curse, your time like a human is up.”
Ms. Bell leaves the bank. Mr. Banks howls like a madman. The guard glances over and raises an eyebrow.
“Words, sir,” the guard encourages him. “Use words.”
Mr. Banks splits the air with profanity.
“I’ll kill you,” Mr. Banks amends. “Unless you sign.”
Daniel’s head is low. His face is sad. “She’s right,” he says. “I won’t do at all.”
Effortlessly, he slips from Mr. Banks’ arms. He curls in on himself. He glows. A hole opens in his jacket. Wings burst from his back. He no longer seems human.
“It’s my special power,” he explains. “I know what it takes. To get what I want. But that doesn’t mean that I can do it.”
Lightly, the angel launches himself from the floor; and flies; and his hands come out to push the revolving door around. Mr. Banks chases after him. As Daniel ascends to the sky outside the bank, he looks down to see two hands closed around his ankles.
“Sir,” he says, urgently. “Sir, let go.”
“You’re mine, boy.”
“My trajectory . . .” Daniel says helplessly, trying to adjust his course. Mr. Banks swings about like the end of a pendulum. His head hits the building opposite the bank. The stone strikes him straight in the temple, and he falls. There are no fewer than three sickening snaps as Mr. Banks lands.
Daniel looks back. Mr. Manager is gaping at him out the window.
“I can’t go home,” he realizes.
He flies very high; and he will never come down.