by Trevor Hopkins

After Luncardy had gone, I spent a few minutes tidying the office, emptying the ashtray and opening the rest of the mail. I might even consider paying some of these bills sometime soon. The domestic bliss was just a distraction, something to so with my hands; I was sunk in my own thoughts as I pottered about.

There was no point in rushing anywhere. Anybody who was watching me, keeping track of me in some way, would be alert - jumpy, even - after the departure of the police. I needed to give an hour or so to relax, become complacent, get bored. I decided to take a late lunch at the usual diner, then lingered over a cup of coffee and a second cigarette.

Finally, it was time to go. I had no idea whether I was still being followed, but I had to assume that I was; Drummond was too good with those invisibility glamours for me to be sure. Fortunately, at this hour, the transit tubes would be crowded enough to made it extremely difficult for an invisible person to move undetected, without being so crowded to prevent me from moving quickly if I wanted to.

I took a very roundabout route, hopping in and out of the tubes seemingly at random. I'm sure my destination was not at all obvious, at least at the outset. There was no sign that I was being tailed and, after seven or eight changes, I was confident enough to make for Clathy's apartment by a direct route.

The lobby of Clathy's fashionably smart apartment block was empty when I arrived. The decorative fungi in the vases were fresh and expensive-looking, and the marble tiles on the floor had been recently polished. I really must find myself a place like this one of these years. I'd have to come in to some money first, though. Which made me wonder: how could a cocktail waitress in a sleazy club and her crippled grandmother afford to live in surroundings like these?

I look the lift tube to the fourteenth floor and marched around to 1412. Once again, I took off my hat and composed my face into an expression of profound respect for one's elders and betters. Every little helps. Then I knocked loudly. Argaty game no sign of being deaf, but you can never be sure with the elderly. Or she might have been taking an afternoon nap.

As it turned out, I did not have to knock again. Sounds of slow and careful movement came from within almost as soon as I knocked. I waited patently as the peephole was opened and closed, and the locks and bolts were drawn back, and finally the broken-toothed smile of Argaty Dupplin appeared at the crack of the opened door.

"Mister Gask," she chirped, "How nice. I hadn't expected to see you again. Come in, shut the door behind you."

Leaving me to deal with the complexities of opening and closing the door, she hobbled across the room back to her favourite armchair with the aid of her stick, then carefully lowered herself into the seat. Today the fire burned more brightly, and the room was still shrouded in gloom from the closed curtains. It was stiflingly hot, but the ancient creature still carefully arranged her old blanket over her even older knees.

Unbidden, I sat where I had sat before, on the worn davenport. Argaty turned her alert grey eyes on me. For a moment, it looked like her eyes were embedded in an ancient tree root, the only things alive in the gnarled and fissured skin of her face.

"So what brings you here, Mister Gask?" she asked.

"I'm looking for Clathy."

"I suppose I should have guessed that. She's not here, you know."

"Have you seen her recently?" I asked, trying to get a touch of concern into my voice.

Argaty shrugged.

"She said she would be going away for a few days, staying with some friends. She packed a bag."

"What was in the bag?" I demanded.

"All the usual things," Argaty replied, looking puzzled, "Clothes and shoes and toiletry. Nothing out of the ordinary."

"And then she left?"

"Well, yes," the grandmother said, still confused, "Then she came back. She had forgotten her sunglasses. And to say goodbye properly."

"I see," I replied, adding solicitously, "I though Clunie looked after you. Are you able to cope by yourself?"

"Oh, I'm not as frail as you seem to think, sonny," Argaty bridled, "I can manage well enough, thank you all the same."

"I'm glad to hear it. So now I'll leave you to your book."

I stood up as if to leave, pushed my hat back on my head and started across the carpet.

"Close the door behind you, if you please," her voice came from behind me.

I stopped and turned to face her again.

"There's just one other question," I said, "If you wouldn't mind. Where's Clunie?"


"Clunie Ford. You must have heard the name."

"Oh, that silly floozy of a waitress that took up with Merton Vale," Argaty said airily, "I've no idea. Why should I?"

I nodded in thanks. She probably really didn't know where Clunie was. But her reaction to my questions was patently false. Of course she knew who Clunie was. And, although she tried to hide it, she was not really surprised by the questions. But I decided not to press the point any further. I wasn't going to beat up a grandma, was I?

Part 78 Part 80