by Trevor Hopkins

I have to say that my respect for Inspector Harriet Luncardy increased immeasurably at that point, and was only slightly dented when she added: "Or, at least, work around a direct order from a superior officer."

I grinned at her wryly. I got the strong impression that she had never, ever, done anything other than following the rule book before. More worryingly, I also got the impression that she rather enjoyed the experience.

"Okay," she said, rising from her chair with an air of determination, "Let's go."

"What are we going to do?" I asked, also standing up.

"I'm not going to do anything," she replied, "You're going to talk to Old Man Madderfy. And, purely by coincidence, I'm going to be in the same room at the same time, and accidentally overhear what he says."

"Do you really think Madderfy with answer my questions?" I asked her.

"Maybe," she answered, "It depends on the way you ask him."

My grin widened so much my face ached. She was a smart cookie, that one.

*

The Madderfy mansion was an elegant palace of polished white stone and soaring columns, set in its own walled grounds on a terraced ridge in the most desirable of caverns. It made the late Merton Vale's residence look like a hovel fit only for a domesticated animal.

The grounds themselves spoke volumes about great wealth. Living space is at such a premium down here that using land simply to provide a degree of privacy from one's neighbours was almost unthinkable. Even Vale's place abutted its neighbours to left and right. Here, the outer walls surrounded manicured gardens on every side: raked gravel beds bordering white stone carvings in the classical Goblin style, and urns and planters overflowing with decorative fungi of every kind.

The front gate was open when I arrived, and I marched through it with Luncardy at my side. It was only ten yards or so to the front door - even the very wealthy can't afford very much space down here - which gave me quite enough time to inspect the portico and the stone pillars which held it up.

The front door was framed by more pillars, and was high and wide enough to admit even the biggest human without stooping. The bell-pull was an enormous chunk of ornately wrought iron, which I pulled just for something to do; the distant chimes of the doorbell rang out somewhere on the other side.

"Mister Findo Gask to see Mister Madderfy," I announced formally to the uniformed flunky who opened the door.

"Come in, sir, madam," he replied smoothly, glancing from me to Luncardy and back again, "And I'll see if Mister Madderfy is at home."

The butler was a middle-aged Goblin with smooth dark skin and calm lilac eyes who moved as if he was entirely constructed from carefully-polished and well-oiled machine parts. He took my hat, directed us to a cluster of chairs in the entrance hall, then silently padded off to find out if Old Man Madderfy would deign to see poor old PI Gask.

I sat in one of the chairs. Luncardy seemed too fidgety to sit and instead paced up and down like a caged animal waiting for lunch. I offered her a cigarette, but she declined. Too tense to be pacified by tobacco. I took one myself and lit it, and smoked it down to the filter in no time at all. Just as well I was the calm one.

The butler returned after ten minutes or so. Luncardy stopped her pacing and turned to face him.

"Mister Madderfy will see you now, sir," he intoned, "If you would so good as to follow me."

I stood up and followed him. Luncardy followed me.

The butler opened the double doors which led to a room set up as a library. The number and variety of books would challenge even Professor Garrick's private library. The difference was that Garrick used his books - read them, or referred to them frequently - so that the bindings were bent and damaged. These books here were just for show. They had probably been bought by the yard just to give this room the right ambience of old leather and fusty learning.

Old Man Madderfy was seated behind a large desk whose polished surface was inlaid with rare woods, rare minerals and the harder portions of rare animals. It was probably supposed to be impressive, or at least impressively expensive, but the overall effect was one of garish tastelessness.

"Mister Findo Gask, sir."

Madderfy looked up as I was announced, smiling. The big black-garbed Goblin who had accompanied him to my office had been standing quietly in one corner of the room. He stepped forward when I entered, then stopped dead when he saw who was behind me. The smile - sneer, really - on Madderfy's face froze as Luncardy followed me in. The butler ignored the reactions in the manner of professional staff everywhere, bowed politely and backed out, closing the door behind him.

"Mister Gask. How nice, what a pleasure," Madderfy rallied, "And Inspector Luncardy. I hadn't expected to see you here."

Luncardy showed no sign of having heard the Old Man speak. It was up to me to do all the talking.

I strode over to the desk and plonked myself in one of the chairs on the side opposite Madderfy, without waiting to be invited. Luncardy remained standing, her hands clasped behind her back and her legs very slightly apart. The very image of the patient copper at ease.

"Mister Madderfy, so good of you to see me," I burbled, "You once said that we could help each other, and that I should feel free to come and see you any time."

"I did say those things, yes," Madderfy replied smoothly, steepling his fingers and cranking the urbane suavity dial up to eleven, "So how can I help you today?"

I mimed a frown of simple-minded puzzlement.

"Oh, I think I'm here to help you," I replied, "Although I might have one question for you, too, afterwards."

"Well, then. What is it you have to tell me?"

I held up a hand with three fingers extended, and touched the first with my thumb.

"Did you know that both Creagan and Alva have been visiting the Starfield Club?"

"Ye-es," Madderfy said with a waver that was not quite undetectable, and glancing at the motionless copper beside the door, "I do. It's a place of public entertainment. Why shouldn't they go there?"

"No reason, no reason at all," I agreed amicably, "Although both of them seem to be quite friendly with one Monzie Hosh, the proprietor. I'm told the police seem to think he's something of a shady character."

Madderfy snorted without much humour.

"The police have no proof," he retorted, "Otherwise he would be in jail."

It was a good act. If I didn't know better, I'd have sworn that Madderfy didn't know that Hosh was dead, murdered, and his body found in my apartment. Either that, or the brown-envelope payments he was making to certain members of the police force were not good value for money.

I shrugged - another expression particularly effective for a Goblin. Then I touched my second finger.

"Did you know that your son Mister Creagan Madderfy has been associating with a certain old scholar, one with a dubious reputation, one who was excluded from a very fine university many years ago, one Professor Urquhart Garrick?"

"Garrick," he dissembled, "I don't know anyone by that name."

Again, I shrugged.

"Okay," I said cheerily, "Although I know Garrick quite well - he was a tutor of mine once. And still an unrepentant old rogue."

The third and final finger. Old Man Madderfy seemed to have developed a twitch in the eye.

"Are you aware that Creagan Madderfy and Professor Garrick were interrupted handling certain papers," I said gravely, "Certain confidential papers which were the property of your late son-in-law Mister Merton Vale?"

Rather than answer, Madderfy blew his stack, in spite of the silent presence of Inspector Luncardy. Or perhaps he had no choice. Otherwise I would have made an accusation of wrong-doing about his son, in front of a police officer.

"Out! Get out!" he bellowed, "Out of my house, now. Both of you."

He must have pressed a hidden button to summon the butler. In less than a minute we were both on the outside of the front door which closed behind us with a slam. Impressively, I had got my hat back, too.

I glanced at Luncardy. Her grin was threatening to take off the top of her head.


Part 89 Part 91