'scuse me, Ma'am, but someone from this phone number called us less than ten minutes ago, but we forgot to ask: Do you want anchovies on it?


"No, no. I'm sorry, there's been a mistake. Please cancel the order."

Pythia set the phone down very gently, making a concerted effort not to slam it. She counted to ten, taking deep breaths. Then, drawing her colt .45, she walked into the kitchen.

"GAR! Woman, where's my dinner?!"

The troll was sitting at his rough-hewn table, pounding on the surface with an over-sized fork and knife. She pointed the gun at the troll's temple. Over the last week, she'd found this mode of communication to be most effective with her 'employer'.

"I just got another call from the organ bank."

"What are you talking about? Put that blasted thing away!"

"In addition to being bad-tempered, foul-smelling, stupid, and cheaper than day-old bagels, you're also hard of hearing. What did I tell you about trying to get human take-away?"

"Gar."

"Well?"

"You said if I did it again you'd feed me tofu for a week."

"Put your coat on, we're going to 'The Dainty Sprout'."

"ARRGH! It was a prank, damn you!! A prank!!"

There was a knock at the door. Pythia did not take her eyes off the troll.

"Aren't you going to answer that, woman?"

"All right. But if you're not here, with your coat AND galoshes on when I get back, I'll start tearing the house apart, and when I find you, you're next. Capiche?"

"Nnng.. capricorn."

"What? Never mind..."

Pythia backed out of the kitchen, keeping the grimacing troll covered. Just before she reached the cottage's front door, she pocketed the gun.

When she opened the door, a short, stout, grandmotherly woman with an umbrella and an enormous handbag was standing on the doorstep.

"What is it, then?"

"Good evening. Is this the home of Mr. Sanditon?"

"Right, this is the troll's house."

"You must be Pythia. I'm Sister Mary Celeste, from Our Lady of Perpetual Perpetuity."

Pythia's eyes narrowed. Her hand strayed near her gun.

"Oh yeah?"

"The Mother Superior sent me -- Ms. Stojay said you needed a housekeeper?"

Pythia blinked. Her face broke into a preposterous grin.

"Too right! Sorry, Sister, come right in."

She ushered the little woman into the cottage.

"Right, the little beggar's in there. He's getting bean curd for dinner tonight, no arguments."

"Has he been giving you trouble dear?"

"He's a curmudgeonly little blighter, that's the truth."

"Anything I should watch out for?"

"What shouldn't you watch out for? Every morning at breakfast he screams for twelve Athenian virgins. He gets oatmeal, and complains if it ain't just bloody right. He's always chasing cats, dogs, mice, the neighbor's livestock - once in a while he'll catch one and they'll be a bloody row. He's always pullin' up the plants in the garden and sneakin' off to do his business in the armoire. And once in a while he'll try to order takeout from the organ bank."

"Oh dear."

"WHO IS IT, WOMAN?! SEND THEM AWAY, THEY'RE AFTER MY GOLD!!!"

"There's the little love now."

"HURRY UP, WOMAN!! I'LL RIP YOUR BLASTED THROAT OUT IF I'M NOT FED INSTANTER!"

Pythia looked the diminutive woman up and down. Although she claimed to be a nun - and one of Sister Mary Theresa's gang, at that - she had nagging doubts about the woman.

"Look, you sure you're up to this, Sister? Here - " she took out her pistol and handed it over. " - you might find this useful."

The nun waved it away. "Not needed. I assure you. Thank you, Pythia - I will take it from here."

She dropped her handbag on the ground and handed her hat over to Pythia. Her face dropped its genial expression and assumed one which was calculated to frighten even a rampaging Somali warlord into behaving like a gentleman. She headed for the kitchen, brandishing the umbrella.

A few moments later, what sounded like the Battle of Waterloo as re-enacted by several hundred baritone cats erupted from the kitchen. From what Pythia could make out, the troll was getting the worst of it.

Her smile was almost beatific as she slipped out the cottage door.