by Trevor Hopkins

The two goons stood in silence in the half-light, trying to remain alert. After a minute or two, I leaned further back in my chair, stretched luxuriously and affected an enormous yawn. This was just as successful as I had hoped, since both of them were yawning hugely when Old Man Madderfy arrived. He looked distinctly displeased: me looking as bright and chirpy as a theme-park attendant while his henchmen were practically asleep on their feet. I could see him practically biting his tongue trying not to bellow at the two of them.

"Okay, you two," Madderfy said in a carefully controlled voice, the tinges of menace almost completely concealed, "We'll take it from here. Go outside and keep watch."

They stumbled out, almost falling over themselves to absent themselves from their boss's presence. I wouldn't want to be in their shoes when the Old Man got them alone.

Madderfy was accompanied by a third and larger black-garbed Goblin, one I didn't recognise. This one looked well-rested and alert, and infinitely more dangerous than the clowns that had just left. Treat with extreme caution. This newcomer took up a station by the door. I still wasn't planning on making a run for it, but there was a serious chance that I wouldn't be able to make it with this boy in the way.

Madderfy looked around my office disdainfully, then settled himself comfortably in the better of my visitor's chairs, presumably unaware that it was the one which Vale had occupied when he died. He picked up a couple of the envelopes that littered the desk, inspected them briefly, then tossed them aside. He appeared as unenamoured with the quality of the junk mail as I felt.

"So, Mister Gask," he began, looked at me down the length of his nose - a particularly effective tactic for a Goblin, "I asked you to come and see me when you had recovered from your, shall we say, temporary incapacitation."

"Well, I've not found out anything more about Vale's death," I said reasonably, and with a degree of truthfulness, "Which is what you said you wanted to know. Although you may not be aware that it was in that chair that he died."

To his credit, he did not leap out of the seat, although it did take a certain amount of the smugness out of his expression.

"And besides," I went on, "You didn't seem to be very keen to see me when I turned up at the wake at the Widow Vale's place."

He grimaced slightly.

"I admit I was a little hasty and unwelcoming on that occasion," he acknowledged with a degree of grudging graciousness, "After all, you did make yourself useful at the Court of Probate. Although it was strange that Merton went to all that trouble for an empty briefcase."

"Thank you," I said with feigned modesty, "All in a day’s work. I’ll send you my bill. Although you needn't worry about the contents of the briefcase. They had been stolen. But I managed to get them back, delivered them straight to Judge Kirkton in person yesterday morning. There was another will in there, a more recent one, and loads of other documents that kinda looked important. But they're all sorted out now. No need to worry at all."

I might have expected a reaction from Old Man Madderfy. He might have looked angry, or confused, or even relieved that I had done the right thing. Not a flicker. He must make quite a poker player.

"So why is it that you haven't been investigating what really happened to Merton?" he said, smoothly changing the subject.

"I have been investigating, actually," I responded, my cheerily helpful voice once again coming to the fore, "It's just that I'm no closer to finding out who killed him. If anybody did. The police are officially saying that it's a suicide, as I'm sure you will have heard from your friend Captain Wester. And I have had my hands full with certain other matters which keep getting in the way."

"And what other matters are these?" he purred.

"Well, another dead body turned up on my doorstep. On my lounge carpet, actually. Terriby inconvenient, not to mention distracting. The police ask so many questions."

His poker face definitely cracked on this one. He sat up straight and glared at me, a distinctly worried expression playing about his eyes.

"What? Who?" he spluttered.

"It was Monzie Hosh," I continued in a most reasonable voice, "You may not have heard of him, although both your son and your daughter certainly have. Indeed, they seem to have known him quite well. You might care to ask them. Some people would say he's a mobster, although I'm sure that can't be true. Just an ordinary honest businessman, used to run the Starfield Club. You may have heard of that place. But you can see why the police were so very interested when somebody ices him, then dumps his corpse in my apartment."

Old Man Madderfy took a few moments to pull himself together.

"Look, Gask," he began in a man-to-man kind of voice, "I don't want you talking to the police any more."

"And exactly why," came a voice from the doorway, "Don't you want Mister Gask to be talking to us?"

Part 75 Part 77