"Every fucking time." He set the plate down and headed for the closet to get his axe. "Who is it?"
"I seek sanctuary!" came the frantic response. "In the name of the Elder Gods, please, let me in!"
Howard sighed again. There went his plans of watching the game over a couple of beers tonight. He opened the door a crack and peered out. "How did you find out about me?"
His visitor was a thin, short man with a wispy white beard and pale eyes magnified by thick glasses. Despite the warm summer evening, he was wearing a wool cap pulled down over his ears. Glancing up and down the hallway anxiously, he hissed: "Harry. He said you could help me disappear. Now please can I come in?"
Howard rolled his eyes and stepped aside to open the door further and let his nervous visitor in. "I swear, Harry needs to learn some discretion," he muttered, closing the door behind the man and putting his axe back in the closet. "Yeah, I can help. It'll cost ya, though."
"Money is no object." Safely inside, the man pulled off his hat, revealing ears that tapered to long points against his bald head.
"None of that fairie gold crap, either." Howard returned to the kitchen to get his cooling food. "I want something that doesn't disappear next sunrise."
"Of course, of course." The man smoothed his beard and tried to calm himself. "I thank you for your aid, troll."
"Howard." It came out as a rumble. "Or Mr. Jensen if you want to be polite. I don't go 'round calling you 'wizard' or 'pointy-eared freak' now, do I?"
"O-o-of course. Please, forgive me. Old traditions die hard."
"Yeah, well, it's old traditions that lost us the war with the humans and put you on my doorstep needing sanctuary in the middle of the night." Howard grabbed a beer from the fridge and stomped back to his favourite chair, plate in hand. "Sit down, you're making the place look cluttered."
"I doubt that's the case," the wizard muttered, but obeyed, perching gingerly on the edge of the moth eaten couch. "Mr. Jensen, I do appreciate your aid. Our kind must set aside old feuds and help each other in these hard times. Harry said you could get me to one of the Havens?"
"Harry's exaggerating." Howard stuffed a forkful of mashed potato in his mouth and chewed meditatively. "I can't get you to the Havens. But I can get you out of New York and to some of our people in Maine. They can get you to the Gate."
"That's fine, that's fine. I'm not without resources of my own." The wizard hastened to agree with the plan. "I just need to get clear of this dreadful place and away from the humans. There's a price on my head."
"'M not surprised. Magic users are on the Most Wanted list since you took down the White House." Howard snorted. "You're as bad as the damn elves, holding grudges, fighting a war you've already lost, no effort to assimilate. Take us trolls. We blend in, keep our heads down, make new lives. We adapt. Me, I've got a job, same as any human. Sure I have to hide my feet, but that's why I went into construction - no-one ever asks you to take your boots off."
"Have you no pride?" The magic user turned flashing eyes on Howard, his beard bristling. "You happily deny your heritage, bow to our conquerers? Have you forgotten what they did to us?"
"We attacked first, you wanna-be Merlin." Howard's tone was still calm, but a sense of menace hung about him. "Got too greedy, thought we could annex this dimension and make it part of ours. Well, those humans showed us, didn't they? With their steel and their weapons and their computers. We lost. Time to move on." He drained his beer. "Just remember that you need me to get you out of the mess you made before you give me that racial loyalty crap."
The wizard opened and closed his mouth a few times. "We will have to agree to disagree," he said stiffly.
"Damn straight we do."