OGRE TOWN WAS QUIET AS DEATH—
Until we sprang our attack on the citadel of the human plug-ugly nicknamed Gorgeous. This cold-blooded killer's pack of ogres had been wiping out some people I'd had a personal interest in keeping alive.
Right from the start the battle seemed to be going just the way we'd planned. Then Gorgeous let loose with a roar that could wake the undead. I jumped him, but the damage was done. The stairs were already drumming to stamping feet. And then the ogre stampede arrived!
There must have been twenty in the first rush. They pushed across the room, into the far wall. Even my trolls, hammering ogre heads from above, scarcely slowed them. And more and more ogres kept coming.
It was looking really grim for my little army as Gorgeous shrieked hysterical, bloodthirsty orders. It was definitely time to try something desperate. . . .
Bitter Gold Hearts
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____ I ____
THERE WAS NOTHING to do after I wrapped up the Case of the Perilous Pixies. Two weeks of living with the Dead Man's grumblings and mutterings would try the patience of a saint. A saint I'm not. Worse, Tinnie was out of town indefinitely and the redhead refused to share me with anyone she didn't know. It was a trying time to be alive. Nothing to do with my evenings but keep the breweries from going into receivership.
It was early and a devil was doing some blacksmithing in my skull, so I wasn't at my best when
somebody came pounding on the door of our battered old house on Macunado Street. "Yeah?" I snapped when I yanked the door open. It didn't matter that the woman was wearing a thousand marks' worth of custom cloth or that the street was filled with guys in flashy livery. I've seen too much of the rich to be impressed.
"That's me." I lightened up a little. I'd had a chance to give her the up and down, and she was worth a second look. And a third and a fourth. There wasn't a lot of her, though nothing was missing, and what was there had been put together quite nicely. A phantom smile crossed her lips as my gaze drew north again.” I’m half fairy," she said, and for a moment music broke through the gravity of her voice. "Can you stop gaping long enough to let me in?"
"Of course. Can I ask your name? I don't recall you being on my appointment calendar. Though I'd love to jot you in as often as you want."
"I'm here on business, Mr. Garrett. Save that for your bar girls." She pushed past me a few steps, then stopped and glanced back with mild surprise.” The outside is camouflage," I told her. "We leave it looking like a dump so we don't strain the honesty of our neighbors." It wasn't the best section of the city. There was a war on, and it was hot, so there were plenty of jobs available, but some of our neighbors hadn't yet given in to the silly notion of personal gain through honest employment.
"We?" she repeated icily. "I wanted to consult with you on a matter that requires the greatest discretion."
Don't they all? They wouldn't come to me if they thought they could solve their problems through the usual channels.
"You can trust him," I replied, nodding toward the other room. "His lips are sealed. He's been dead for four hundred years."
I watched her face go through a series of changes. "He's Loghyr? The Dead Man?" So she wasn't such a lady after all. Anybody who knows the Dead Man has roots solidly anchored in the downhill end of TunFaire. "Yes. I think he ought to hear it."
I get around and hear a lot of things—some of them true, most of them not. I'd recognized the livery of the Stormwarden Raver Styx outside and thought I could guess what was eating her. It would be fun springing her on the heap of moth-eaten blubber who had become my permanent houseguest. "No."
I started toward his room. The routine is for me to wake him when I have a business caller. Not everyone who visits is friendly. He can provide powerful backup when the mood hits him. "What did you say your name was, miss?"
I was fishing and she knew it. She could have skipped right around it, but she hesitated in an odd way before confessing, "Amiranda Crest, Mr. Garrett. This is a critical matter." "They always are, Amiranda. I'll be with you in a minute."
She didn't walk out.
It was important enough that she would let herself be pushed.
* * *
He was indulging himself in what had become his favorite pastime, trying to outguess the generals and warlords in the Cantard. No matter that the information he got was scanty, out of date, and mostly filtered through me. He did as well as the geniuses who commanded the armies—better
than most of those Stormwarden’s and warlords whose main claim to the right of command was
He was a mountain of rigid yellow flesh sprawled on a massive wooden chair. The works had been moved several times but the flesh hadn't twitched since somebody stuck a knife in it four hundred years ago. He was getting a little ragged. Loghyr flesh doesn't corrupt quickly, but mice and whole species of insects consider it a delicacy.
The wall facing his chair had no doors or windows. He'd had an artist paint it with a large-scale map of the war zone. At that moment he had hosts of bugs trooping up and down the plaster landscape, recreating recent campaigns, trying to discover how the mercenary Glory Mooncalled had evaded not only the Venageti out to destroy him, but our own commanders, who wanted to catch and leash him before his string of triumphs made them look more foolish and inept than they already did.
Go away, Garrett.
"Who's winning? The ants or the roaches? Better watch out for those spiders down in the corner. They're sneaking up on your silverfish."
Quit pestering me, Garrett.
"I have a visitor, a prospective client. We need a client. I want you to hear her outpouring of woe." You brought a woman into my house again? Garrett, my good nature has limits wider than the ocean, but it does have limits.
"Whose house? Do we have to go back to talking about who's the landlord and who's the squatter?" The bugs scattered. Some of them jumped on others. That's life in the war zone.
/ almost had the pattern.
"He does it with mirrors. If there was a pattern, the Venageti War Council would have spotted it months ago. Finding Glory Mooncalled isn't a hobby for them. It's life or death." The mercenary was picking them off one by one. He had an old score to settle.
I take it this one is not that redheaded witch of yours?
"Tinnie? No. This one works for the Stormwarden Raver Styx. She has fairy blood. You'll love her at first sight."
Unlike you, who loves them all at first sight, I am no longer the victim of my flesh, Garrett. There are some advantages to being dead. One gains the ability to reason. . . .
I'd heard this before — several dozen times. "I'll bring her in." I stepped out, returned to the front room. "Miss Crest? If you'll come with me?"
She glowered. Even angry she was a gem, but there was a quiet desperation in her stance that gave me all the handle I needed. "Amiranda, haunter of my dreams. Please?"
She followed me. I think she knew she had no choice.
____ II ____
MIRANDA CREST STARTED shaking when she saw the Dead Man. I'm used to him and tend to forget A
the impact he has on those who never have seen a dead Loghyr. Her cute little nose wrinkled. She whispered, "It smells in here."
Well, yes, it did, but not much, and I was used to that, too. I ignored the remark. "This is Amiranda Crest, who comes to us from the Stormwarden Raver Styx."
Please pardon me for not rising, Miss Crest. I am capable of mental prodigies, but self-levitation is not among them. Meantime, Amiranda blurted, "Oh, no. Not from the Stormwarden. She's in the Cantard. Her secretary, the Domina Willa Dount, sent me. I'm her assistant. She wants you to see her about something she wants you to do, Mr. Garrett. For the family. Discreetly."
"Then you're not going to tell me what it is?"
"I don't know what it is. I was told to give you a hundred marks, gold, and tell you there is a thousand more if you'll do the job. But the hundred is yours if you'll just come and see her." She lies, Garrett. She knows what it is about.
He wasn't paying the rent with that. She had changed strategies while I was alerting the Dead Man. "That's all? Nothing to tell me why I'm sticking my neck out?"
She had begun counting ten-mark gold pieces into her left hand. I was startled. I'd never met anyone with fairy blood who was right-handed.” Save yourself the trouble, Miss Crest. If that's it, I'll stay here and help my friend hustle cockroaches."
She thought I was joking. A man of my class turning his back on a hundred marks gold? A man in my line? I ought to be sprinting uptown to find out who they wanted killed. Chances were she had
run uptown, bartering her good looks for the pretty things she wore.
She asked, "Couldn't you just take me on faith, and for the gold?"
"The last time I trusted somebody from up the Hill I got stuck in the Marines. I spent five years trying to kill Venageti conscripts who didn't know any better than I did what we were fighting about. I didn't figure that out till I came back home, and then I liked your lords and ladies of the Hill even less. Good day, Miss Crest. Unless you'd be interested in some more personal business? I know a little place that serves seafood you could kill for."
I watched her think it over, looking for angles she could use. Finally, she said, "Domina will be very angry with me if I don't bring you."
"How sad. But that's not my problem. If you don't mind? Your boys out front are probably baking in the sun, anyway."
She stomped out of the room, snarling, "You're throwing away the easiest hundred marks of your life, Mr. Garrett."
I followed her to make sure she used the door for its intended purpose. "If your boss wants to see me so bad, tell her to come down here."
She paused, opened her mouth to say something, then shook her head and slipped outside. I caught a glimpse of the sweltering guards jumping to their feet before the door closed. I went back to the Dead Man.
You were a little stubborn, were you not?
"She'll be back."
/ know. But what temper will possess her?
"Maybe she'll be ready to lay it out straight, without the games."
She is a female, Garrett. Why do you persist in such unreasonable optimism where that alien species is concerned? This was one of our running arguments. He was a misogynist to the marrow. This time I refused to play. He gave up.
Are you interested in the job, Garrett?
"My heart won't be broken if it doesn't develop. You know I told the truth when I said I don't have much use for the lords of the Hill. And I particularly have no use for sorcerers. We don't need the money, anyway."
You always need money, Garrett, the way you drink beer and chase skirts.
He exaggerated, of course. His envy was talking. His single greatest regret about being dead was his inability to guzzle beer. Someone is hammering on the door.
"I hear it. It's probably old Dean, early for work."
The Dead Man would not endure a female housekeeper, and my tolerance for housework is minimal. I'd only been able to find one old man—who moved with the flash and style of a
tortoise—willing to come in, pick up, cook, and clear the vermin from the Dead Man's room. I was surprised to find Amiranda back already. "Quick trip. Come in. I didn't know I was so irresistible."
She strode past me, then turned, hands on hips. "All right, Mr. Garrett. You get it your way. The reason Domina wants you is because my . . . because the Stormwarden's son Karl has been kidnapped. If you insist on getting more than that, we're both out of luck. Because that's all I've been told."
And you certainly are worried about it, I thought.
She started for the door.
"Hold it." I squinted at her. "Give me the hundred."
She handed it over without a smirk of triumph. One point for Amiranda Crest. I decided she might be worth liking.
"I'll be back in a minute."
I took the gold to the Dead Man. There was no safer place on earth. "You heard?" / did.
"What do you think?"
Kidnapping is your area of expertise.
I rejoined Amiranda Crest. "Let us fair forth, fair fairy lady."
That failed to put a smile on her face.
Not everyone appreciates a great sense of humor.
WE MARCHED OFF like a parody of a military outfit. Amiranda's companions were clad in uniforms. That seemed to be the limit of their familiarity with the military concept. At a guess I would have said their only use was to keep their livery from collapsing into the dust. I tried a few conversational sallies. Amiranda was done talking. I was one of the hired help now.
The Dead Man was right. Kidnapping was my area of expertise, mostly by circumstance. Time and again I get stuck doing the in-between. Each time I deliver the ransom and bring the body home alive the word gets around a little more. Both sides in a swap know where they stand with me. I play
it straight, no tricks, and heaven help the bad boys if they deliver damaged goods and my principals want their heads. Which they always do in that case.
I loathe kidnapping and kidnappers. Abduction is a major underground industry in TunFaire. I'd as soon see all kidnappers sent down the river floating facedown, but sound business practice makes me play the game by live-and-let-live rules. Unless they cheat first.
The Hill is a good deal more than a piece of high ground looking down its nose at the sprawl of TunFaire, the beast upon whose back it rides. It is a state of mind, and one I don't like. But their coin is as good as any down below, and they have a lot more of it. I register my disapproval by refusing jobs that might help the Hill tribe close their grip even tighter on the rest of us. Usually when they try to hire me it's because they want dirty work done. I turn them down. They find somebody less morally fastidious. So it goes.
The Stormwarden Raver Styx's place was typical of those on the High Hill. It was huge, tall, walled, brooding, dark, and just a shade more friendly than death. It was one of those places with an invisible "Abandon Hope" sign over the gateway. Maybe there were protective spells involved. I got a strong case of nerves the last fifty feet, the little watchman inside telling me I didn't want to go in there.
I went anyway. One hundred marks gold can shout down the watchman any time.
The inside reminded me of a haunted castle. There were cobwebs everywhere. Amiranda and I, after shedding our escort, were the only people tracking the shadowed halls. "Cheerful little bungalow. Where is everybody?"
"The Stormwarden took most of the household with her."
"But she left her secretary behind?"
Which told me there was some truth in the things I'd heard about the Stormwarden's husband and son, both named Karl. Put charitably, they needed a shepherd.
At first glance Willa Dount looked like a woman who could keep them in line. Her eyes could chill beer, and she had the charm of a stone. I knew a little about her from whispers in the shadows and alleys. She arranged dirty deeds done for the Stormwarden.
She was about five feet two, early forties, chunky without being fat. Her gray eyes matched her hair. She dressed, shall we say, sensibly. She smiled about twice as often as the Man in the Moon, and then without sincerity.
Amiranda said, "Mr. Garrett, Domina."
The woman looked at me like I was either a potentially contagious disease or an especially curious specimen in the zoo. One of the uglier ones, like a thunder lizard.
There are times when I feel like I belong to one of the dying breeds.
"Thank you, Amiranda. Have a seat, Mr. Garrett." The "mister" left her jaws aching. She wasn't used to being nice to people like me.
I sat. So did she. Amiranda hovered.
"That will be all, Amiranda."
"That will be all."
Amiranda left, furious and hurt. I scanned the clutter on the secretary's desk while she glared the girl from the room.
"What do you think of our Amiranda, Mr. Garrett?" Again she got a jaw ache.
I tried putting it delicately. "A man could dream dreams about a woman with her—"
"I'm sure." She scowled at me. I had failed some test.
I didn't care. I'd decided I wouldn't like the Domina Willa Dount very much. "You had a reason for asking me to come here?"
"How much did Amiranda tell you?"
"Enough to get me to listen." She tried to stare me down. I stared back. "I don't usually have much grief to spare for uptown folks. When the fates want to stick them I say more power to them. But to kidnapping I take exception."
She scowled. I give the woman this—her scowl was first rate. Any gorgon would have been proud
to own it. "What else did she tell you?"
"That was it, and getting it took some work. Maybe you can tell me more."
"Yes. As Amiranda told you, the younger Karl has been abducted."
"From what I've heard, there aren't many more deserving guys around." Karl Junior had a reputation for being twenty-three going on a willful and very spoiled three. There was no doubt which side of the family Junior favored. Domina Dount had been left to keep it civilized or to cover it up.
Willa Dount's mouth tightened until it was little more than a white point. "Be that as it may. We aren't here to exercise your opinions of your betters, Mr. Garrett."
"What are we here for?"
"The Stormwarden will be returning soon. I don't want her to walk into a situation like this. I want to get it settled and forgotten before she arrives. Do you wish to take notes, Mr. Garrett?" She pushed writing materials my way. I figured she supposed me illiterate and wanted to enjoy feeling superior when I confessed it.
"Not till there's something worth noting. I take it you've heard from the kidnappers? That you know Junior hasn't just gone off on one of his adventures?"
By way of answering me she lifted a rag-wrapped bun- die from behind the desk and pushed it across. "This was left with the gateman during the night."
I unwrapped a pair of silver-buckled shoes. A folded piece of paper lay inside one. "His?" "Yes."
"What you would expect. A street urchin of seven or eight. The gateman didn't bring me the bundle till after breakfast. By then the child was too far ahead to catch."
So she had a sense of humor after all. I gave the shoes the full eyeball treatment. It never works out, but you always look for that speck of rare purple mud or the weird yellow grass stain that will make you look like a genius. I didn't find it this time, either. I unfolded the note. We have yore Karl. If you
want him back you do what yore told. Don’t tell nobody about this. You be told what to do later.
A snippet of hair had been folded into the paper. I held it to the light falling through the window behind the secretary's desk. It was the color I recalled Junior's hair being the few times I had seen him. "Nice touch, this."
Willa Dount gave me another of her scowls.
I ignored her and examined the note. The paper itself told me nothing except that it was a scrap torn from something else, possibly a book. I could go around town for a century trying to match it to torn pages. But the handwriting was interesting. It was small but loose, confident, the penmanship almost perfect, not in keeping with the apparent education of the writer. "You don't recognize this hand?"
"Of course not. That needn't concern you, anyway."
"When did you see him last?"
"Yesterday morning. I sent him down to our warehouse on the waterfront to check reports of pilferage. The foreman claimed it was brownies. I had a feeling he was the brownie in the woodpile
and he was selling the Stormwarden's supplies to somebody here on the Hill. Possibly even to one of our neighbors."
"It's always reassuring to know the better classes stand above the sins and temptations of us common folks. You weren't concerned when he didn't come home?"
"I told you I'm not interested in your social attitudes or opinions. Save them for someone who agrees with you. No, I wasn't concerned. He sometimes stays out for weeks. He's a grown man." "But the Stormwarden left you here to ride herd on him and his father. And you must have done the job till now because there hasn't been a hint of scandal since the old girl left town." One more scowl.
The door sprang open and a man stomped into the room. "Willa, has there been any more word about. . . ?" He spotted me and pulled up. His eyebrows crawled halfway up his forehead, a trick for which he was famous. To hear some tell it, that was his only talent. "Who the hell is that?" He was renowned for being rude, too, though among people of his class that was a trait the rest of us expected.
WILLA DOUNT SPOKE up. "There hasn't been anything yet. I expect we won't be contacted for a while." She looked at me, her expression making that a question. "They like to let the anxiety level
rise before they come after you. It makes you more eager to cooperate."
"This is Mr. Garrett," she said. "Mr. Garrett is an expert on kidnappers and kidnappings." "My god, Willa! Are you mad? They said don't tell anybody."
She ignored his outburst. "Mr. Garrett, this is the Stormwarden's consort, the Baronet daPena, the father of the victim."
How he twitched and jerked! Without changing her tone or expression, Domina Dount had hit him with a fat double shot, calling him consort (which labeled him a drone) and mentioning his baronetcy (which wasn't hereditary and purely an honor because he was the fourth son of a cadet of the royal house). She may even have gotten in a sly third shot there, if, as you sometimes heard whispered, Junior wasn't really a seed fallen from the senior.
"How do you do, Lord? He has a good question, Domina." I'd been working up to it when he burst in. "Why bring me in when the kidnappers said don't tell anybody? A man with my reputation, and you sent out what amounted to a platoon of clowns, with the girl dressed flashy enough to catch a blind man's eye. It's not likely the kidnappers won't hear about it."
"That was the point. I want them to."
"Karl, be quiet. I'm explaining to Mr. Garrett."
He turned white. He was furious. She'd made it clear who stood where, who was in charge, in front of a lowlife from down the Hill. But he contained himself. I pretended blindness. It isn't smart to see things like that. Willa Dount said, "I want them to know I've brought you in, Mr. Garrett." "Why?"
"For young Karl's sake. To improve his chances of getting through this alive. Would you say they're less likely to harm him if they know about you?"
"If they're professionals. Professionals know me. If they're not, chances are they'll go the other way. You may have moved too soon."
"Time will tell. It seemed the best bet to me."
"Exactly what do you want me to do?"
She blind-sided me there. "What?"
"You've done what I needed you to do. You've been seen coming here to confer with me. You've lent me your reputation. Hopefully, Karl's chances have been improved."
"That's it, Mr. Garrett. Do you think a hundred marks adequate recompense for the loan of your reputation?"
It was fine with me, but I ignored the question. "What about the payoff?" Usually they want me to handle that for them.
"I believe I can handle that. It's basically a matter of following instructions, isn't it?" "Explicitly. The payoff is when they're most nervous. That's when you'll have to be most careful. For your own safety as well as the boy's."
Senior snorted and huffed and stamped, wanting to get his hand into the action. Willa Dount kept him quiet with an occasional touch of her icicle eyes.
I wondered what the Stormwarden had left her in the way of leashes and whips. She sure had the old boy buffaloed. Karl Senior was still a handsome man though he was running away from forty—if
he had not already sneaked past fifty. Time had dealt him a few wrinkles but no extra pounds. His hair was all there, curly and slickly black, the kind that might not start graying for another decade. He was a little short, I thought, but that didn't hold him back. He looked like a fancy man, and word was that he did night work best.
Age had apparently not slowed him down. Those looks, a smooth tongue, his toy title, those magical eyebrows, and soulful big blue eyes all conspired to drop into his lap the sort of soft morsels we ordinary mortals have to scheme and fight just to get near.
It was a certainty he was no use in a crisis. He danced and twitched like a desperate kid awaiting his turn at the loo. He would have panicked if Domina Dount would have let him. He was a member of the royal house, those wonderfully firm and decisive folks who had blessed the Karentine people with their war against the Venageti.
Natural son or not, Karl Junior was a seed that had not fallen far from the tree. He was the image of Karl Senior in body and character, and to that menace to feminine virtue, he had added a generous
helping of arrogance based on the fact that his mommy was the Stormwarden Raver Styx and he was her precious one and only, whose misdeeds would never be called to account.
Senior didn't like my being there. Maybe he didn't like me. If so, the feeling was mutual. I've been busting my butt since I was eight and I don't have any use for drones of any sort, and those from the Hill least of all. Their idleness got them into the kind of mischief that resulted in sending a whole generation south to fight over the silver mines of the Cantard.
Maybe Glory Mooncalled would turn on his Karentine employers once he polished off the Venageti Warlords. It wouldn't hurt.
I said, "If you've had your way with me, then I'll be running along. Best of luck getting the boy back." Her expression said she doubted my sincerity. "You can find your way to the street?" "I learned scouting when I was in the Marines."
"Good day, then, Mr. Garrett."
Karl Senior exploded the second I closed the door. It was a good door. I couldn't decipher his yells even when I put my ear to the wood. But he was having a good time working the panic and frustration out.
MIRANDA CAUGHT ME just before I reached the gate. I caught my breath, then chewed on my tongue A
a little so I could still fake being a gentleman. She'd changed from the show ensemble she'd worn to fetch me and now, in her every days, looked like something I find only under the covers of midnight fantasies. She looked good, but she also looked worried. I told myself this was no time for one of my routines. My sometime-associate Morley Dotes tells me I'm a sucker for a damsel in distress. He tells me many things about myself, most of them wrong and unwelcome, but he has me on the damsels. A good-looking gal turns on the tears and Garrett is a knight ready to tilt with dragons. "What did she say, Mr. Garrett? What does she want you to do?"
"She said a lot of not much at all. What she wants me to do is nothing."
"I don't understand." Did she look disappointed? I couldn't tell.
"I'm not sure I do, either. She said she wanted the kidnappers to see me around the edges of the thing. So my reputation will shade him and maybe give him a better chance."
"Oh. Maybe she's right." She looked relieved. I wondered what her stake was. I'd formed a suspicion and didn't like it. "So do you think he'll be all right, Mr. Garrett?" "I don't know. But Domina Dount is a formidable woman. I wouldn't want her on my back trail." A black-haired looker of the late teens or early twenties variety left a doorway about thirty feet away, caught sight of us, gave me a once-over she followed up with a come-and-get-it smile, then walked off with a sway to still the tumult of battles.
"Who was that?" I asked.
"You needn't pant, Mr. Garrett. You'd be wasting your time. You don't dare touch her with your imagination. That's the Stormwarden's daughter, Amber."
"I see. Yes. Hmmm."
Amiranda placed herself in front of me. "Put your eyes back in, mister. You made a big show of wanting to see me outside of all this. All right. Tonight at eight. At the Iron Liar." "The Iron Liar? I'm not from uptown. How could I afford . . . ?" I had to put that excuse away. This was the same little gem that had counted the hundred gold marks into my paw a couple hours ago. "Eight, then. I'll spend the rest of the day breathless with anticipation."
I smiled smugly after I hit the street.
I wandered down the Hill wondering why I'd never heard of daughter Amber when the Stormwarden and her family played such a big part in TunFaire's news and gossip. We had obviously been missing the best part.
______ VI ______
STRANGE NOISES WERE coming from the Dead Man's room. I went into the kitchen, where old Dean was cooking sausages over charcoal with one eye on an apple pie that was about ready to come out of the oven. When he saw me, he began hoisting a pony keg out of the cold well I'd had installed with the proceeds of the Starke case. By damn, I was going to have cold brew whenever the whim
hit while I could afford it.
Dean asked, "A good day today, Mr. Garrett?" as he drew me a mug.
"Interesting." I tipped my head back and swallowed a pint. "And profitable. What's he up to in there? I've never heard him make such a racket."
"I don't know, Mr. Garrett. He wouldn't let me in to clean."
"We'll see about that after I wrap myself around another one of these." I eyed the sausages and pie. If he expected me to eat that much, he was more optimistic than I thought. "Did you invite a niece over again?"
I just shook my head and said, "I have to go out this evening. Part of the job." There was a little troll blood on all sides of his family. I don't have any particular prejudices—who
was going out with a part-fairy girl?—but those poor women had gotten a double dose of the troll
ugly from their parents. Like they say, personality plus, but horses shied and dogs howled when they passed. I wished old Dean would stop matchmaking. I had given up hope that he would run out of eligible female relatives to parade past me.
Three sausages, two pieces of the world's best apple pie, and several beers later I was ready to beard the Loghyr in his den. So to speak. "Food fit for the gods as usual, Dean. I'm going in after him. If I'm not out by the weekend, send Saucerhead Tharpe to the rescue. His skull is so thick he'd never know Old Bones was thinking at him." I thought about recommending Saucerhead to Dean's eligibles. But no, I couldn't. I liked Saucerhead.
The Dead Man sensed me coming. Get away from here, Garrett.
I went on in. It was war in the Cantard again, and this time the god of the wall had all the hordes of bug Dom enlisted in his enterprise. It was the combined racket of their creepy little feet and wings that I had been hearing.
"Caught him yet?"
He ignored me.
"That Glory Mooncalled is a tricky bastard, isn't he?" I wondered if he meant to clean up the entire bug population of TunFaire. For a service like that, we should find some way to get paid. He ignored me. His bugs got busier. I sat in the only chair available to me and watched the campaign for a while. He was experimenting, not re-creating. It was no campaign I recognized. Maybe he was even making war upon himself. The Loghyr can section up their brains into two or three discrete parts when they want.
"Had an interesting day today."
He didn't respond. He was going to punish my impertinence by pretending I didn't exist. But he was listening. The only adventures he truly had were the ones I lived for him.
I gave him all the details, chronicling even the most trivial. Somewhere down the line I might have to call on his genius.
I finished and watched him play general for a while. I got the feeling there was a hidden pattern that I was too dense to see.
It was nearing time to meet Amiranda. I pried myself from the chair and headed for the door. "See you when I see you, Old Bones."
Garrett. If you get lucky, don't you bring her back here. I will not endure such foolishness in my house. I seldom did, though occasionally circumstances insisted. It seemed too much like mocking his handicap. In life the Loghyr are as randy as a pack of seventeen- year-old boys. It was my suspicion that his misogyny was his way of compensating.
I was almost out the door when he sent, Garrett. Be careful.
I am careful. Always. When I'm paying attention and when I figure I have something to worry about. But how do you get into trouble just walking up the block to buy a bottle of stink-pretty from the neighborhood chemist?
Believe me, it can be done.
It was my lucky day in more ways than one, I smelled weed smoke and that got me curious. Not many in the neighborhood use weed, and this was less of a cloud than a minor storm. I started looking for the source.
Source was five breeds, all with a lot of ogre in them. Ogres are not fast at the best of times and these boys had spent their take getting so high their pointy heads were bumping the belly of the sky. Their professional sins were legion. They hadn't done their homework, either.
One asked me, "Your name Garrett?"
"Who wants to know?"
"It's him. Let's do it."
I did it first. I kicked the nearest in his daydreams, spun and punched another in the throat—then
tripped over my own damned big feet. The first guy bent over and started puking. The second lost interest and wobbled away holding his throat and sucking air.
I rolled and leg-whipped another one, catching him by such surprise that he fell on his back without trying to break his fall. His head bounced off the street. Lights out. It was a good start. I began thinking I might make it without getting hurt.
The other two stood around trying to get their muggy brains untangled. I got in the finishing licks on the two I had hit already. A crowd began gathering. The last two decided to get on with the job. They closed in. They were more careful. I was faster but they took advantage of superior numbers to keep me boxed. We waltzed for a while. I got in a few hits but it's hard to hurt guys like that when you can't get in a sucker punch. They got a few in on me, too.
The third such blow murdered my optimism. It left me seeing double and concentrating my considerable intellect on the age-old question: which way is up? One of them started saying something about me staying away from the Stormwarden's family while the other wound up to finish me off. I grabbed a big gnarly walking stick from an old bystander and smacked the one between the eyes before he could unwind. I went after the talker while the fighter was seeing stars and his hitting arm was flaccid. Yakety-yak did a good job holding me off, stick and all, until I got in a whack that broke his arm.
He was ready to call it quits. So was I. The bystanders were scattering. I returned the old guy's stick and scattered myself. What passed for minions of law and order in TunFaire were coming. I didn't want to get hauled in and charged with intent to commit self-defense, which is about the way the law worked when it worked at all. I left the ogre boys trying to figure out what had happened. My lucky day indeed.
The Dead Man was all enthusiasm when I told him about the incident. He gave me a good mental grumble about wishing the ogres had been a little more competent. But when I was about to leave, to get washed up and changed, he sent, / told you to be careful.
"I know. And I'm going to keep that a little more closely in mind. Watch the cockroaches. They're about to flank the silverfish at Yellow Dog Mesa."
He detached a part of his attention from his war and used it to levitate and throw a small stone Loghyr cult figure. It smacked the other side of the door as I shut it.
I decided to ease up. When he gets that irritable, he's hot on the spoor of a solution to a problem that has been bugging him for a long time.
______ VII ______
MIRANDA WAS WAITING and looking uncomfortable when I got to the Iron Liar. I wasn't late, she was A
early. In my experience a woman on time is a rarity to be treasured. I didn't remark on it. She asked, "What happened to you? You look like you were in a fight."
"First prize to the lady. You should see the other guys." She seemed excited by the idea of my getting into a fight. Point taken away from Amiranda Crest. I tried the story on her just to see how she would react. She appeared befuddled and frightened, but got control quickly. "Why would the kidnappers do that?"
"I don't know. It doesn't make sense." Then I turned to more interesting subjects, notably Amiranda Crest. "How did you get hooked up with the Stormwarden?"
"I was born to it."
"My father was a friend of her father. They worked together sometimes."
The brain had to run some numbers before I could say anything more. The Stormwarden's father had died before I was born. Fairy folk lived a long time and aged slowly. Could this morsel be old enough to be my mother?
"I'm twenty-one, Garrett."
I gave her the famous Garrett raised eyebrow.