by Trevor Hopkins

I grinned over the table at Dunsinan.

"Sure, I'll listen to your story," I drawled, relaxing back on the chair, "And I sure don't doubt you want to tell it whatever I might think. And you'll probably want something from me, too. So why don't you give it your best shot?"

He looked at me over the table and smiled a little sheepishly.

"Still as sharp as ever, eh, Gask?" he muttered sullenly, "Some day you might cut yourself on your own tongue."

I eased up a little. The guy was obviously under the cosh in some way, if he had felt the necessity of tracking me down after all these years. He had something on his chest, something to unburden himself of. It was best if I just listened, especially if it meant I could eat my dinner at the same time.

"I left the force in something of a hurry," he began.

"Yes, I heard that you had," I interjected, "Not that you've ever mentioned it before. I was curious; asked around at the precincts a bit. Nobody seemed to know why."

Dunsinan snorted.

"That's because I never told anybody why," he said gruffly.

"And you're going to tell me now? This better be good."

"It's simple, really. I came into some money. Actually, quite a bit of money, from an aged and frankly potty Aunt who I hadn't seen in years. Seems she remembered me as a boy, or something. Anyway, it struck me that I didn't have to carry on risking life and limb in the police force, but I could retire and live a good life. And that's what I did."

"Well, good luck to you," I murmured, "But why not let people know of your windfall?"

Dunsinan twisted his lip wryly.

"Oh, come on. You know what it's like. You suddenly have money and every Tom Dick and Harry feels they have the right to touch you up for a 'loan'. And not one that they ever expect to repay, either."

I nodded sagely. This is exactly the kind of behaviour I would have expected from most of my acquaintances, too.

"So I said my goodbyes and left quickly and quietly," he went on, "Best decision I ever made. Never regretted it once."

Just at that moment, David himself bustled over with two beers, placing them with some little ceremony on coasters on the table. The glasses were large, the dark ale cooled but not refrigerated to the point of tastelessness, and poured skilfully to have a pleasant head without me risking drowning in a face-full of coloured foam.

I politely nodded my thanks to the patron, who took the hint immediately and padded away in the direction of the kitchens.

Dunsinan swept up his glass and tasted it, pushed the beer thoughtfully around his mouth for a few moments, then said: "Hey, not bad. Not bad at all. I should come down here more often."

Whether he meant this particular down-market cavern, or the Lower Realms as a whole was not immediately clear to me. I took a long pull from my own glass - the beer was everything I had expected - and motioned Dunsinan to continue.

Part 4 Part 6