by Trevor Hopkins

I interviewed the Old One at considerable length, smoking many cigarettes and with any thought of a good night's sleep long forgotten. Despite all my efforts, and the Old One's infinite patience at my repetition and rambling detours, I added little to the insights I had already gathered. It was increasingly clear that they really did have no idea of what happened: one moment, their esteemed colleague was soaring majestically over the corries and glaciers, the next, gone completely, disappeared without trace and with a sudden psychic loss felt by every one of their kind.

I asked every question I could think of, although later I would learn that there were a couple of fairly obvious enquiries which simply didn't occur to me. I would have saved myself a lot of time and effort if I had scraped together enough insight to ask the really important questions.

Finally, exhausted, the Old One sent me back to the Lower Realms, returning me in the same way I had arrived. A column of solid stone rose smoothly from the floor beneath my feet which deposited me on the street from whence I had departed not five minutes walk from my apartment.

Once over my own threshold, I flung my hat and raincoat at the stand by the door - miraculously, they hung on the pegs more-or-less perfectly - and set about my first task: giving Gumshoe a call. I used a service I used regularly: one which will, for a price, allow telephone calls between the Lower Realms and the surface world. He didn't answer, of course; he was probably driving or, more likely, sleeping. I had no option but to leave him a message, asking him to call me and saying it was urgent, then in a fit of mischievousness, I added: "One of the Dragons is missing."

It would take Gumshoe days to get back to New York and his own office, crawling across the surface of the planet. Of course, he might well pick up his messages on a regular basis, but it was equally possible he would treat the road trip as a - no doubt well-earned - vacation and just amble along, stopping off wherever he fancied and enjoying the local cuisine and the offerings of the local bar. Maybe he'd get my message in the morning.

There was nothing more useful I could do at this hour. I undressed, took a long shower, wrapped myself in my favourite bathrobe and poured myself a small nightcap. It was going to be a long hard investigation and I would need my sleep. I set the alarm clock for an hour which might coincide with Gumshoe's wakeup call. Then I sat for half an hour trying to put my thoughts in order and sipping the scotch slowly. There was much that was worrying me about this whole business. In particular, I wondered if it was really a coincidence that Gumshoe would shortly be driving through the very region that I now knew needed to be investigated.

Part 8 Part 10