by Trevor Hopkins

The driven and ambitious Doonira wasn't very far below the surface charm of the polished professional academic.

"You've had direct contact with the Old Ones?" she exploded.

I nodded.

"Only last night I was in the Hells," I explained, "Interviewing an Old One about a disappearance. One of their own, indeed. A crime may or may not have been committed, but everything I read - and confirmed by the Old One himself - says that it can't be done."

"I've been trying for a hundred years to arrange for a visit, without the slightest hint of success," she said angrily, "And you get invited down there on a whim."

"Oh, I don't think it was a whim," I replied placatingly, "In fact, I’m sure of it. I've been useful to the Old Ones before."

She shook her head slowly, getting a grip on her frustration. I don't think acceptance came easily for her, but she got there in the end.

"And I think they're taking the current situation very seriously," I added while Doonira tracked down her missing cool, "Otherwise they wouldn't have involved me. They like to keep a low profile."

"The Old Ones are said to be in constant contact with each other wherever they are," she said thoughtfully, reaching over to her desk for her notebook and pen, "Yet you say one has disappeared?"

"That's it," I assented, "In daylight, flying about on the surface."

"Yes, I see," she said, scribbling furiously and sounding not at all surprised, "I'd heard rumours that the Old Ones still fly above the surface sometimes. So that's true, is it?"

"The Old One said they sometimes feel the confines of the Hells too constraining, and one of their number gets to take a vacation."

"They do that often, do they?"

"Often? Probably, by their standards. But not by ours, I think."

Her pen had not ceased its crazy path across the paper. Then she looked up suddenly, her eyes boring into me.

"I think you know a lot about the Old Ones, from first-hand experience..."

"And from your books and papers, too, of course," I interrupted, "Although I have been to the lower Hells several times before."

"I'm beginning to think I know nothing at all," she fumed.

"I'm sure that's not true. Now," I resumed, holding up a hand to forestall the onslaught of questions I could practically see queuing up behind those beautiful and highly intelligent eyes, "You'll want to know a lot of things."

I stubbed out my cigarette butt and reached for my hat. I had been reminded by the rumbling of my stomach that I hadn't eaten anything very much for nearly twenty-four hours.

"Why don't you let me take you to dinner," I went on, "And I can tell you all about it."

Part 12 Part 14