by Trevor Hopkins

Before I got to the portal to the surface world, I found a public phone booth which seemed to be in working order. I fumbled in my pocket for a handful of metal coins and dialled a number from memory. The anonymous female voice from the answering service answered on the second ring. They're usually pretty good, which is just as well, given the amount of money they charge for their services.

I had just the one message. It was from Gumshoe. I had long ago entrusted him with the secret phone numbers which allowed access to the multi-lingual service I favoured. The message was brief and laconic: "Call me. Not urgent. Just an hunch." I decided I'd better call him; Gumshoe's hunches are usually good, even if they are usually based on deep but unarticulated reasoning. For reasons too complex to go into now, he just wasn't as lucky as me. And, yes, in the Lower Realms, luck is something which can be acquired accidentally or even given as a gift - whether one particularly wanted it or not.

After the deployment of quite a lot more of the shrapnel coinage from my pocket and a certain amount of patience while working through the tortuous connections and cut-outs, I finally got through to Gumshoe.

"What's up?" I demanded, once we had completed the usual coded exchanges of fake bonhomie.

"Relax," he replied, "Everything's fine. No problems here. Glen and Mayfield are keeping each other entertained. All I have to do is keep an eye to windward and make sure the catering is supplied on time."

I snorted in amusement. Gumshoe's situational summaries often demonstrated a mastery of understated observation.

"Fair enough. So what's this big idea of yours?"

"Well, indeed," I could practically see the expression of thoughtfulness settle over his face at the far end of the telephone, "I was thinking about the players in this case. Strowan and Tibbermore dead. Glen and Mayfield under close observation. They're not going anywhere anytime soon. And then Cairnie will be keeping his head down just now, I imagine, after the surprise you sprang on him."

"I've got a little news about Cairnie," I interjected, "Tewel's taking a proper interest in him. That'll keep him out of public circulation for a while."

I didn't add, once Tewel had caught up with his much-needed sleep. The police detective was good, really good, but he was in danger of burn-out just at the moment. A few hours down-time was just what the doctor ordered.

"Okay," I demurred, "But what's your point?"

"The point," Gumshoe responded promptly, "Is there's really nobody else involved, that we know about, at least. Except..."

"You mean Almon Methven?" I interjected.

"Yeah. He knows everybody involved, you tell me. He's really the only other person who's had lots of contact with Strowan before she died. And, I got the impression that your interviews with him ceased before you had really finished."

Gumshoe paused, then added, "I think he's worth talking to again."

"Hmmm."

I had to think for a moment. Methven had given the impression of being a busy professional with many calls on his time, one responding courteously to an unexpected demand on his time from a nosy PI with an agenda of his own. I couldn't be sure, but perhaps his excuses, his proclamations of prior engagements, maybe even his brush-offs, had been just a little bit too glib.

"Right," I said to Gumshoe, "Time to pay another visit to Almon Methven, Theatrical Agent."

"Good hunting," came the laconic reply.

Part 72 Part 74