by Trevor Hopkins

This was all getting worse and worse. A missing brother - who might or might not be dead - an over-attentive and unwanted fiancé, a human live-in lover - young Mayfield had certainly managed to be right in the centre of a whirlpool of attention. And old retainer Tibbermore conveniently omitting important facts from my attention.

Still, none of these factors and relationships need be related to the murder of Lady Strowan - although they all cried out for being carefully investigated - nor need any of this be at all connected to the disappearance of the expensive necklace. The theft - if that's what it was - may have been an opportunistic act by a lucky criminal. Or perhaps it really had simply been mislaid and even now it was laying unregarded in some dusty drawer.

Tibbermore himself showed me out, walking with me across the kitchen courtyard.

"Come in this way anytime, sir," I said politely, "Molly or one of the others will direct you to me, night or day."

I elected against a return to my office. It was unlikely that there was anything there to interest me, although I did make a point of checking in with my message service. No dice.

Instead I undertook some research on Cairnie Westwood, visiting the public library whose worn steps and dusty windows are such a feature of the main square in the next-door cavern but one. The aged librarian recognised me immediately when I arrived and was more than helpful in directing me to the appropriate stack. She fussed around me like an old mother hen. I think I must spend too much time in that building.

With the librarian's slightly over-eager assistance, I found a small number of newspaper reports and accounts of court proceedings. Not that there was much to report, it seemed. The young Goblin had been quite a tearaway, rebelling against the society of his parents and the expensive schools he had been expected to attend. He had been considered smart but lazy, bored by the lessons and much preferred the excitement of breaking the rules. He had been arrested on minor charges half-a-dozen times, but somehow the charges were dropped before they made it to the courts. Family money at work, no doubt.

But eventually the family patience wore thin and there was a good old-fashioned stand-up argument between Cairnie and his parents. The youngster stormed out, vowing never to return and slamming the door behind him. Initially his parents were moderately unperturbed: Cairnie had stamped off before, eventually returning displaying at least a hint of remorse and promising to reform.

Then the hours turned into days, and the days turned into weeks, and still Cairnie did not show up. His parents, by now racked with remorse, alerted the police and, when the coppers were unable to discover anything, made appeals in the newspapers, offered a substantial reward and even engaged the services of an expensive firm of private investigators. But nothing definitive was ever found, just a few unconfirmed sightings and third-hand reports which hinted he was still alive.

It was getting late by the time I left the library. I made my way to the little apartment I maintain in one of the more downmarket caverns, making a detour to take in a quick bite at David's Diner. Once home, I sat in my favourite chair, nursing a tot of the cheap whiskey I use to hold down dinner and mulled over the case. There were still too many threads which needed to be unravelled to make any kind of sense. But at least I actually had some threads to tease apart - people to track down and talk to, leads to follow up. Also, I should make a report to my other client, if I could figure out a way to track her down. Another task for tomorrow.

I finished the whiskey and went to bed. I didn't remember any dreams.

Part 32 Part 34