by Trevor Hopkins

Not long after Dalgrin's trial, and entirely out of the blue, I received an unexpected phone call. It was late in the afternoon, and I was idling away my time sat in the squeaky swivel chair behind the worn dragonhide of my desk, toying fitfully with a few thoughts on cases past and present, and wondering whether I would be able to find the cash for this month's office rent.

When the phone rang, I jerked myself to full attention. Unanticipated calls are not entirely unheard of in my office, although days can go past without a single tinkle of the bell. It could be bad news, it could be a new job, it could be my landlord hassling me for money. As it turned out, it was none of these things: it was Detective Sergeant Mergie Tewel making me an offer.

"Gask!" I grunted brusquely into the receiver.

"Ah, Mister Gask," came Tewel's soft tones, "I hope I'm not interrupting anything important?"

"Sergeant Tewel," I acknowledged, moderating my tones to something approaching politeness, "No, nothing vital. How can I help you?"

"Well, I have a thought, a proposition I want to put to you," he said carefully, "Informally. So, why don't you let me buy you a drink?"

I smirked to myself. An off-the-record conversation with a police detective wasn't entirely unreasonable, even if it wasn't completely aligned with standard police procedures. He might want a favour - perhaps even one I would be happy to give - and which might be traded for a favourable reciprocal deal in the future.

"Sure," I replied promptly, "Where do you want to meet?"

He named a place, not far away, that I knew slightly.

"Ten minutes," I said, "See you there."

I hung up, grabbed my hat and coat and strode off down the stairs, the office door banging behind me.

Bars which are frequented by policemen when off-duty - or at least when acting in an informal capacity - are the same everywhere. Generally quiet, dimly-lit, with stools and seats and tables well spread out either to permit discreet conversations without being overheard, or to accommodate the occasional large and rowdy celebration party downing copious quantities of beer, on the excuse of having solved nasty crime or two.

There wasn't a party in progress when I arrived. Just a few solitary drinkers propping up the bar, and a couple of occupied booths whose occupants seemed intent on their own business. No sign of Tewel, I thought, as I made a minor performance of taking off my hat and looking over the joint.

"I hope I haven't kept you, ah, waiting," came Tewel's voice from behind me.

I turned slowly. Maybe he had been watching from outside until I arrived. I hadn't spotted any watchers, but with Tewel I suspected I couldn't have been sure there were none. Or perhaps it was just coincidence that he arrived thirty seconds after I did. Yeah, right, just what I thought.

So I didn't dignify his question with an answer. I just stood there, holding my hat in my hand, looking alertly polite until something a little more real came out of his mouth.

"OK, Gask, let's have a proper drink," he said, turning towards the bar, "What's your poison?"

On the whole, that was a question I felt I could answer this afternoon.

"Scotch," I said, "On the rocks."

Tewel signalled the bartender, who seemed to materialise in front of him without moving a muscle. The Sergeant said something I didn't hear to the barhop, then waved me in the direction of a booth slightly less discreet than most. I slid in around one side, tossing my hat on the table, while Tewel effortlessly positioned his wiry body on the other side.

I had a few seconds to wonder what was going to happen next before the bartender himself appeared at our table, carrying a tray. In short order, he deposited a large bucket of ice, a couple of coasters shortly obscured by tumblers, a large bowl of the salted toadstool bar snacks which are so popular down here and a very decent bottle of single malt whisky with the lead seal still intact. Now, both snacks and scotch are very much an acquired taste - although I have to say that I have taken some time and effort over the years to acquire the tastes in question. It seemed that Tewel had also spend some time achieving the same ends. Unhesitatingly, he swept the bottle from the table and effortlessly removed the foil cap with one fingernail. Uncharacteristically, he then pulled out the stopper with his teeth and spat the cork into a spittoon half-way across the bar. It looked like it was going to be a long evening.

Tewel poured a couple of generous measures and added two ice cubes to his own, using - I was only a little surprised to note - the tongs provided for this very purpose. I followed suit, then toasted him silently, meeting his eyes directly. The scotch was very good indeed.

It did turn out to be a long evening, one much enlivened by anecdotes and tall tales of the frailties of Goblin nature and law-enforcement derring-do, as well as a generous fraction of the whisky Tewel had bought. But, before we had finished our first drink, the Sergeant asked me, quite directly, for the favour I had been expecting. I agreed immediately; I probably would have done even without the not-quite-bribe of the very fine scotch. But it cleared the air and allowed for something of a meeting of minds, the establishment of a professional working relationship between one who worked entirely within the law, and one who could - just sometimes - be a little more flexible.

Part 104 Part 106