by Trevor Hopkins

The hard-eyed and blocky coppers who accompanied Tewel were clothed in what were possibly the most badly-presented uniforms I had seen in a long time. In the few short years when I had been a rookie cop, my ears would have been thoroughly chewed by the Sergeant if my shirt was not pressed, my jacket creased or I had so much evidence of food adhering to my tie.

At a gesture from Tewel, the two bulky and muscular coppers with him grabbed me by the arms. Not that I was making any attempt to get away, but that observation never discourages a certain kind of policeman from throwing his weight around. These two seemed to fit that particular mould. Talking of mould, close to, their lack of personal hygiene was very much apparent to the nose. All in all, these two bullyboys looked and acted more like thuggish bodyguards than trained coppers.

Tewel dismissed the two youngsters with a nod, who scurried back to their posts seemingly relieved to be putting some distance between themselves and the Sergeant. He had gained something of a scary reputation, it seemed, in recent years or perhaps something deeper and darker in his psyche had surfaced for some reason. Without further prompting, the twin heavies guided me into the house, holding on to me politely but in a way which made it clear that holding impolitely was an easy option should I make the smallest of motions unaligned with their directions. I played along. No virtue in causing a fuss if you don't have a good reason - which I hadn't, just yet.

In short order, I was deposited in a stiff-backed chair in a corner of the servants' hall. It was a large area - at least by below-stairs standards - where servants would congregate when there were no specific tasks to be undertaken, to take their meals and perhaps even snatch a few minutes of their own time to write letters or gossip. It was a spare chilly place, all hard edges and plain surfaces, and now completely deserted. My thoughts jumbled up on top of one another; I found myself distracted by the question of whether Lady Strowan had ever been down here.

The two scruffy goons stood one either side of me, making no move while Tewel regarded me coolly. There was no motion, no sign from the Sergeant, but all at once they grabbed me by the arms while the Sergeant swung an open-handed blow to my cheek. I saw it coming, of course, and moved as much as I could to kill the impact. It was enough to sting but nowhere near enough to loosen teeth.

"I don't seem to be getting through to you, Gask," he said in a voice which sounded curiously distracted for one who had just slapped me about the face, "This is my investigation. Of a murder. Two murders. And you keep getting in my way."

"Sergeant Tewel," I replied icily, "I'm not your enemy here. I want to help, I really do. Besides, there are people who have every reason to respect, even love, Lady Strowan and who have enough trust in me to engage my professional services, to find out who killed Strowan Westwood."

He stepped back looked at me strangely.

"Who's your client?" he demanded.

"Tibbermore."

"Huh," he snorted, "Tibbermore's dead. Much good that'll do you now."

"I guessed as much, judging by your presence in considerable force. How did he die?"

He shook his head. I didn't really expect an answer.

"So now you're without a client? So now you can stop getting under my feet. My feet have heavy boots."

"Sorry, no dice," I said, "I'm going nowhere. I'm now engaged by Mayfield Westwood."

A statement which I was treating as a given, even though strictly speaking she was yet to come up with the financial consideration or retainer which would legally seal the deal. Still, my expenses were still being covered by poor old Tibbermore for the time being. And I imagined that, even dead, Tibbermore would not have wanted me to cease my investigations.

There was a creak at the door behind Tewel. He glanced at the two big cops who instantly released my arms and took a synchronised pace backwards. I could just see a Captain of police in a sharply-pressed uniform putting his head around the door, scanning the room briefly and then spotting the tableaux in the far corner.

"Tewel," the Captain growled, "The Mayor's representative's here. I need you to give her a briefing, now."

"Am I under arrest, Sergeant Tewel?" I asked politely, raising my voice to make sure I was clearly heard from the doorway.

"No, no," Tewel replied, sounding exasperated, "Just get out of my sight. And stay out from under my boots, too."

Part 40 Part 42