by Trevor Hopkins

I walked Harriet Luncardy back to her door and declined her repeated offer to come inside. She took the hint eventually, pecking me on the cheek just once before turning on her heel. The last I saw of her that night was her bright eyes looking sadly in my direction as she shut her front door.

I stood on the sidewalk for a long minute, staring at her closed door. Maybe I should have gone in. Luncardy sure wanted the company, and she'd have made for a jazzy few days, and nights. But I would have ended up hating myself, if not in the morning, then in a week or two's time. Oh, I would see her again, I was sure of it. Some professional context or another, no doubt. And, when we met, both of us would carefully not mention this night, and we would remain coolly distant and excruciatingly polite to each other.

So I went home to my quiet little apartment, following a secretive and roundabout route that was second-nature to me, although the chance to walk and think uninterrupted was a boon. Not even the ghost of Monzie Hosh seemed to be at home, no restless ghosts left here.

Shot glass of whiskey I switched on a few lights, and hung up my coat and hat on the peg by the door. Off-duty at last. Then I poured myself a nightcap from the still-sealed bottle I keep for just such emergencies - having managed to track it down in the back of a cupboard in the kitchenette - and slumped in my favourite armchair. Somehow the scotch I had drunk with Luncardy had evaporated before it ever reached my brain. I doubted that one more would make any difference, but it was a comfort just to hold it in my hand while I thought.

All of the females in the case - and many of the males, too - seemed to have taken me in, bamboozled me. I had no desire for the experience to be repeated. Most of the males were dead, and Drummond seemed to have so little going on between his ears that he barely counted. Madderfy father and son were just trying to protect their position, although they would have done better if they had levelled with me in the first place. And as for Professor Urquhart Garrick, well, he was an amoral old bastard of the first water and I doubted I had seen the last of him.

As for the females, Clathy and her grandmother had lost big-time: one now dead and the other under twenty-four hour monitoring in a secure mental institution. Clathy had at least been partially honest with me - perhaps more than she should have - when I forced her to have that drink in the bar. But she hid her motivation well - a high-octane blend of revenge and greed - and I had been entirely taken in by her charms.

Alva Vale motives were still something of mystery to me. She was a rich Goblin's daughter and another rich Goblin's wife: prividged, pampered, never wanted for anything. Why did she get involved in something like this? Bored, perhaps? Wanted a degree of independence? I would never know for sure. But she seemed to like riding on the wild side of life; she might have taken up with a hoodlum like Monzie Hosh just for the hell of it.

Even Harriet Luncardy had come out on top, clearing up a murder case - two murder cases, even - and being promoted into the shoes of the disgraced Fowlis Wester. She was being very gracious about it, freely acknowledging that I had been no little help in solving the crimes, although I had asked to keep my name out of the newspapers. But she had ridden rough-shod over my objections, my better judgement. If she had listened to me, at least one innocent - Argaty - would still be alive.

As for Clunie Ford, the new Madame of the Starfield Club, there I had been taken for a prime sucker. She had used me to keep track of what was going on, making sure the real Last Will and Testament would be found and presented at the right time - even though I eventually had to retrieve the damn thing myself. Sure, I had been paid for my services, handsomely, but I had been lied to, as well. I hate that in a client.

There was nothing I could point at that she had done wrong, nothing illegal I could identify. What she had now was what Merton Vale had wanted for her, although personally I'm pretty certain he expected that the Club would be his to run for a long time.

How Clunie persuaded Vale to put her into his will I could not be sure, although I'm sure her ample feminine charms had a lot to do with it. Perhaps it was supposed to be a token, proof that he really did intend to leave his wife and set up with house with her. Only she would know for sure, and she wasn't saying. How much she had manipulated the situation, plotting to keep me, and Alva, and Clathy - and even Drummond - off-balance and confused, it was impossible to for me to know. Maybe it was all luck, coincidence. But I doubted it. She was a lot smarter than anyone thought, even me.

Oh, sure, I was well ahead financially. I still had more of Clunie's money - and Merton Vale's, for that matter - than I was owed for the days I had actually worked, and my expenses had been very modest - mostly in clothing repairs and dry cleaning. I had been over-paid for my services.

But I wasn't going to return any money - the dead don't need it anyway, and there was no way I was going to see Clunie again. Write it down as extraordinary expenses, I told myself, wear and tear on clothes and shoe-leather, on my body and on my mind.

I drained the last of my nightcap and went to bed. Maybe, in the morning, things would be clearer. Or maybe just a little bit closer to being forgotten.

-- The End --

Part 107

Findo Gask - Deadly Enchantment book cover Findo Gask - Moonlight Shamus book cover Findo Gask - Dragon Sleuth book cover Findo Gask - Gumshoe Glamours book cover Findo Gask - Graveyard Flatfoot book cover Findo Gask - Underworld Investigations book cover Findo Gask - Backstreet Magics book cover Findo Gask - Goblin Detective is the very first book in the Findo Gask series.

The series currently comprises eight books, all in various stages of completion:

New Bridge to Lyndesfarne Book Cover Bridge at War Book Cover Death on the New Bridge Book Cover Bridge of Stone and Magic Book Cover Why not take a look at my Lyndesfarne Bridge series of novels: New Bridge to Lyndesfarne, Bridge at War, Death on the New Bridge and Bridge of Stone and Magic.

Four Square Less One Book Cover You may also like my collection of fifteen interlinked fantasy and science fiction short stories under the title Four Square Less One. Can you work out the connection between the stories?