Mr. Brown pulled the collar of his coat up in an attempt to stop the rain from blowing in between his coat and hat and trickling down his neck. His other hand was clutching his hat to keep it from blowing off, but that led to water running into his coat sleeve and down his arm. He hated being in this part of town, and on a dark stormy night like this he hated it even more. He had a mind to turn around and go home. But he didn’t.
He stepped into a puddle and cursed the rain again, now he was certain there was not a dry part of his body left. He trudged another two blocks before he reached the old stone building where the meeting was being held tonight. He was told to knock on the basement door near the back of the building. It took another five minutes stumbling in near total darkness before he found a stairwell and descended.
The door opened before he knocked. The interior hallway was as dark inside as the night outside. A gravely sour sounding voice said, “You are late Mr. Brown, follow me.” They walked a short way down the hall, then down a long flight of stairs, made several turns then into a dimly lit room. Mr. Brown was now chilled from the cold rain, his wet clothes, and the cold room. The voice asked, “Your coat, sir?”
Mr. Brown shuffled out of his wet coat and hat and handed them toward the short individual he saw outlined in the shadows. The voice continued, “Come with me Mr. Brown,” and opened another door. This other room was large, with a fire in the large fireplace at one end. There was a long table in the center of the room, some distance from the fire, with nearly twenty persons already seated. The lighting in the room was from several small electric lights hanging from a very high ceiling. The poor lighting allowed him see bodies at the table, but not recognize faces. The voice pointed to a chair and Mr. Brown sat.
He recognized the voice of the next person who spoke, it was the president of the United Troll Workers Union. “Thank you for coming Mr. Brown, especially on such an unpleasant night.”
Mr. Brown nodded in recognition and was about to add a comment about the weather, but the union president continued. “Has the City agreed to our terms?”
“Yes, they have to most of them. There are several points they would like you to reconsider, section 125.A.3 and 388. They would also like you to consider adding two conditions to section 885 of the agreement.”
“Then explain,” said the president.
Mr. Brown was now weary and started shaking from the cold. He hoped he could negotiate the terms and be out of there quickly. “The city will agree to section 125.A.3 with stipulation you give them 24-hour notice. For section 388, they would agree with stipulations that the provision would be on a trial basis, and if successful would accept the union’s terms. But if issues arise, would stipulate for arbitration within two months.”
The president addressed the others at the table. “Do you wish to discuss or take a preliminary vote.” A vote was taken and the city’s terms were agreed upon.
The next two conditions took nearly an hour before terms were agreed upon. Mr. Brown had the city’s authority to negotiate the terms. He knew before they started he would give in to their demands, but needed to make them work for it, even if it was at his discomfort.
The meeting adjourned and the union president, Lodi Grugdenit, asked Mr. Brown if he would like to join him for a drink.
Mr. Brown did. His job paid well as the city’s negotiator with the Trolls who worked for the city. Not many humans tolerated being around Trolls, but he had grown used to them. They were careless in their appearance, never wore shoes, and their hair was wild and unkempt. Most humans couldn’t recognize a male from female Troll, not that many humans ever saw Trolls. They generally worked at night and were seen only in passing under city lights as they drove the street sweepers and garbage trucks, and patrolled as security guards for businesses and many residential areas.
Lodi took Mr. Brown into another smaller room, which was warm with a roaring fire in the fireplace and very well lit. Trolls love their creature comforts, such as warm fires, thick carpeting and soft furniture. Lodi handed a steaming mug of warm wine to Mr. Brown, who stood by the fire feeling the heat seep through his wet clothes. He took it but stayed in front of the fire.
“Looks like you got all you asked for Lodi, but you knew you would.”
The Troll grunted something under his breath, “Ya, but look what we do. No crime at night in the city, no one wants to bump into us on the streets. Cities without Troll workers have all sorts of crime. We do the jobs humans don’t like, pick up garbage, clean the streets.”
Mr. Brown didn’t reply, he sipped the hot spicy wine, and began to feel its warmth spread through his body, all the way down to his cold feet. He finally had the courage to ask Lodi the question that had been on his mind the last few weeks.
“Lodi, are you,” he paused and finished off the mug of wine, “are your boys part of what’s rumored, of what’s going on?”
Lodi looked at him innocently, as innocently as a Troll can look. “Going on, what do you mean?”
“I’m sure you have heard the rumors, it seems like everyone knows, but no one is admitting it. Seems like things aren’t real unless some guy reports it on the news. Okay, the rumors that the non-humans might be making demands for equal representation in government. Demands for equal rights with humans.”
“Equal rights with Humans?” Lodi snorted. “We aren’t stupid, why would we want to degrade ourselves to that? Come on Brown, we have known one another, what ten years, surely you can come up with something better than that?”
“The word is uprising.” Mr. Brown admitted.
“Power, that is what Humans are afraid of isn’t it?” Lodi whispered, “Power.”
Lodi refiled Mr. Brown’s mug then sat in one of the large green chairs next to the fire.
Mr. Brown remained standing and stared into the fire as he swallowed more of the warm sweet spicy wine. He thought about what Lodi had said, he had openly said it. Humans had never even considered those different from them, those so much smaller than themselves as a threat. Sure they had limited immigration to those they thought could serve them, kept out those they feared. But none of the non-humans stood, none of the tallest Trolls or Elves stood higher than four feet at the most. And Humans outnumbered them at least ten to one. So why would there be this fear?
Lodi waited quietly. He liked Mr. Brown, they had always been honest with one another. Oh sure they played the negotiation games as expected, but Brown was fair and respectful. That was it, he was respectful of the Trolls, didn’t ignore them like most Humans did.
“Uprising is a strong word Brown. My boys wouldn’t have anything to do with something like that. But we hear stuff, and humans never tell us the true stuff outright. You know we got our sources Brown, reliable sources.” He got up and poked at the fire, walked to a button near the door and pushed it; then returned to his chair with a simple question. “Hungry?”
Mr. Brown smiled to himself, Troll food was good. He wasn’t offered it often, but he never turned down an offer. He sat in the other chair now that he was nearly dried out.
“So tell me about this uprising.” Lodi said
“The mayor is concerned with rumors he hears from time to time. Mostly they are from radicals from the us versus them idiots who generally only make a lot of noise. With the rumors of extended draft from two to three years, some other folks are getting nervous. Some of the radicals are suggesting that non-humans will side with our enemies when and if our country gets invaded.”
“I’m not following you Brown; how would my boys have anything to do with that?”
“Organized resistance. Talk about putting all non-humans in security camps where they can be watched has resulted in talk about non-humans in arms resisting such an action.”
“Oh hell,” Mr. Brown shrugged his shoulders. “It’s the unknown that leads to stupid and sometimes violent stuff.”
The door opened and a large Troll, Brown suspected as being Lodi’s wife, rolled in a table ladened with covered dishes. She pushed it between the two chairs and pulled a bottle of wine from her pocket, grunted something in Troll, and left. Lodi did not introduce her.
Brown continued, “The mayor wants to know what would your boys do if a gang of humans came at them, perhaps armed?”
“Let us not mix business with pleasure, and pleasure awaits us. Come my friend, join me with a little repast.”
They both got up and went to the table. It was elegantly spread with a white cloth and covered with various silver containers, some covered and some open. There were platters of exotic cheeses, fresh breads still warm from the oven, a tureen of some type of fish soup with a tantalizing aroma, pastries stuffed with meats and fruit. Brown returned to his chair with a heaped plate of the delicacies. He wanted to try a small amount of everything, but there was too much for that attempt.
They discussed the cheeses and other dishes, Lodi explaining some of the ingredients.
“Where do you shop to even find some of these things?” Brown asked, “Some I’ve heard of, but don’t find them in even the best markets.”
“Troll markets, my boy, Troll markets, where else would I shop.”
Brown hadn’t thought much about where non-humans shop. Of course he knew they seldom mingled with humans and that they had their own sections of the city where they lived. Some humans, brave ones would venture into those neighborhoods to shop; they generally resold on-line for a profit, so were not always welcome.
“You know you could become wealthy selling some of these cheeses to humans.”
“I am wealthy, so why should I sell my cousin’s cheeses to humans. Then what would we eat?” He laughed heartily at his own remark.
The wonderful food, the fire, the wine, Brown almost forgot why he had come. Lodi spoke of it first.
“You ask what would my boys do. They would disappear before anyone could come at them.”
“What if they came to your part of town, where Trolls live?”
“Brown, we have lived here together hundreds of years. Non-humans have served the needs of humans all this time. We will not turn on humans. It is not our nature, no matter what the nature of humans might be. And Brown, we will protect you and your family, no matter what. We know where you live and keep a guard on you, don’t worry about what might happen. Tell the mayor we will not fight humans. He can depend on that. We will continue to serve and protect you as we always have.”
Brown felt his attention slipping as he pondered Lodi’s words and stared at the fire. He felt drowsy and wondered if his mind was finally putting many pieces together to make sense, or the opposite; was the world as he had imagined it been just that, imagination and not reality. He started up as he felt Lodi touch his shoulder.
“The storm is grown worse, call your home and say you are spending the night because of the storm.”
Brown pulled out his cell and called his wife, she agreed that it was a good idea as she heard power was out in many parts of the city already.
Lodi led Brown from the room into an elevator and ushered him into a room that looked very like any elegant hotel room. “Sleep well my friend,” and he left him.
Brown found human type pajamas in the bathroom, changed and crawled into the bed. His last thoughts were, “We have always served humans and protected them.” He wondered why most humans felt like they were somehow taking advantage of non-humans, treating them like slaves. The pay for work from non-humans was almost what would be considered slave wages. The negotiations he did between the City and the Troll Union was about hundreds of little things, not pay. He drifted off to sleep wondering exactly who was running the city anyway.