by Trevor Hopkins

I have had a load of contacts with various parts of the Underworld police forces, although many of them being the kind of contact between fist and jaw. I well knew that only a fraction would take kindly to any kind of approach from me. Fewer still owed me a favour and, in the end, I could think of only one who might conceivably react favourably to a dubious request from an underpaid and over-worked Private Eye.

Captain Harriet Luncardy sat behind her desk in her cool office. The grey dragon-hide of the desktop was unadorned except for a stone ashtray, a complex-looking telephone, a thin black-bound notebook and an elegant silver fountain pen. The entire office was uncluttered and calm, with everything in its place; the walls were bare except for a couple of certificates of commendation discreetly declaring her rank and her achievements.

Luncardy was cool and uncluttered, too. She was a tall skinny Goblin who wore mannish grey suits which entirely concealed any feminine curves she might have. She affected a smoking stick, a long tube flattened at one end to be more easily held between the teeth, and with a gasket at the other to retain a cigarette. Hers was finished in a high-gloss black lacquer with a single ring of gold paint by way of embellishment.

The Captain had quite a reputation around the 14th precinct, one that - perhaps inadvertently - I had helped to enhance. She was a stickler for the rules and procedures, completely dedicated to the job, but a good copper for all that: cautious, thoughtful and painfully honest. The police under her command probably didn't like her very much; she carefully displayed no hint of warmth or compassion even to her closest colleagues - as a deliberate pose, I was entirely sure - but they trusted her judgement. If she said jump, every Goblin in the place would levitate to ceiling level immediately.

She had reluctantly agreed to this interview after I had made a couple of calls on her office number. She probably felt badgered into it. As I entered, she was screwing a cigarette into the holder of her cigarette holder. She waved in the direction of the guest chairs while she took a polished silver lighter from her pocket, lit the cigarette, took a long drag and returned the lighter to her pocket. She didn't offer me one.

The young uniformed type who had guided me through the warren that was the police house waited at the door for instruction; Luncardy nodded once and the youngster backed out closing the door silently behind him.

"Findo Gask," she said coolly, "I wondered when I'd see you again."

"Luncardy," I nodded, throwing myself untidily into one of the chairs that stood on my side of the desk, "You're looking well, very well. Tip-top condition. Your elevated rank agrees with you."

She narrowed her eyes at my flattery and glared at me over the desk.

"You want something, don't you?" she said shrewdly.

You don't get to be a Captain of Police by being completely stupid. Luncardy was a sharp cookie, clearly destined for greater things, if something didn't take her down permanently on the way up.

"I do," I replied, suddenly serious, "I really need your help."

"Look, Gask," she said, leaning forward over the desk and waving her smoking stick about for emphasis, "I don't owe you any favours."

"I'm not asking for a favour," I said, lying only slightly, "I'm appealing to your better nature. I know you've got one in there somewhere. Just listen to me for a minute."

I told her Nether's story in shortened form, leaving nothing of significance out, and contrived to convey a degree of nervousness about his partial rehabilitation.

"I have a bad feeling about this case," I concluded, "And not just because it's my own flesh and blood who is somehow involved. There's something more complex going on, something with deep undertones. Something that the police might be interested in."

Luncardy looked at me silently for a long moment, not moving, the smoke from the cigarette in its holder lazily trailing its way to the ceiling undisturbed.

"Okay," she said eventually, unbending just a notch, "Let's for the sake of argument assume that you are on the level. What exactly do you want me to do?"

Part 16 Part 18