Lovely people, I’m so glad to be able to share both the beautiful (wolfy) cover of Gobbelino’s fifth adventure with you, but also to tell you that it’ll be out in less than two weeks!
Two. Weeks. Less than.
Yes. Completely ready for that. Hmm. Yes.
And I know that you’re really not here for my rambling, but rather to find out what Yorkshire’s most eccentric PI team are up to, so I’ll get out of the way and let you read on! Except to say, of course, that ebooks are now available for pre-order at all your favourite retailers. So should you fancy having your e-reader abruptly overrun by snarky cats and modern wolves on Friday the 6th of May, you can get that lined up right now!
“Find Malcolm. His safety is your safety.”
Threat or promise, I wasn’t hanging around to find out. Not when the sorcerer making it had just yanked me straight out of my skin for a friendly chat.
But with our situation normal involving scheming magicians, lurking necromancers, and Callum’s long-lost family all competing to make my next out of body experience a permanent one, having a sorcerer on our side seemed like a pretty good option. Better than the alternative, anyway.
There’s only one problem. If we want her help, we need to find her dentist. And we’ve got one lead. One hairy, stinking lead.
Weres. Mouth-breathing, ravening monsters with too many teeth and no affection for my kind – or any other that I know of. Which is why dealing with them is completely against company policy.
But we’re going to have to make an exception, because we’re not just caught between a sorcerer and some drooling pack. Never mind our usual hazards of the job – there’s a hungry void stalking me and the Watch is closing in. We need all the help we can get.
Grab the chew toys. We’re going on a were hunt …
A Worry of Weres, Chapter One:
Rabies is the Least of Our Worries
The best thing you could say about the day so far was that I hadn’t been eaten yet. Unfortunately, emphasis was on the yet.
I skidded across the cracked tile floor of a discount supermarket, paws scrabbling for purchase, muscles bunching as I tried to turn the skid into a sprint. For one precarious moment I thought I was going to lose my footing entirely, then I recovered and did a hard turn into the next aisle. A snarl behind me would’ve set my hackles up if they hadn’t already been standing to attention, and I abandoned the floor as a bad job and leaped for the shelving.
I was going too fast to make the top in one jump, but I caught the edge of the next shelf down with my front paws and launched myself up again without pausing, packets of pork rinds scattering in my wake. The top shelf was crammed with bulk boxes waiting to be unpacked, and I briefly considered trying to hide in among them. I was panting from the chase, which had already taken us through the crowds of a Friday morning market (leaving the canvas wall of a fishmongers’ stall in tatters behind us, as well as an overturned cart of cabbages and a man screaming about damages to stock while his discounted post-Christmas puddings bounced across the pavement), in the front of one early-doors pub, out through the optimistically named beer garden, and over and around far too many parked cars to count. Hiding was starting to feel like a valid method of attack.
Heavy paws hit the shelves below me, and a long, snake-like tail tipped with a bristly tuft of hair plunged in among the boxes, flinging them away effortlessly.
“Bad dog!” I yelped. “Sit!”
The dog gave a snarl which indicated it was perfectly happy being a bad dog, and the tail lashed out, trying to get a grip on me.
I reverted to the run plan.
The video had showed a burly dog running through the streets of Leeds, howling. It wasn’t a particularly big dog – Rottweiler-size perhaps, all muscle and power, but nothing exciting. People video anything these days, and we probably wouldn’t have even watched the clip, but the magician who sent us the link had added the note, One of yours? Which, no, we’re not dog people. But we have been known to tidy up other people’s messes, and as the camera zoomed in, Callum and I said, “Ohhh,” together.
Because the dog had a few quirks. Namely, three more eyes than normal, a fang-filled overbite, a ridge of cartoon dinosaur spines down its back, and a tail that was three times longer than your average dog’s curling in the air behind it. The human who posted the video was wondering aloud if it was off a film set, or if it had escaped from some top-secret experimental lab – all while leaning out a window, apparently not interested enough in internet fame to get any closer to something with jaws like a Great White.
The dog loped off screen, still howling, and Callum said, “We’d better get that.”
To which I made various points about us not being monster handlers, as well as our current plans to keep a low profile, and also how a dog like that likely had the sort of owners who’d take a dim view of us snatching their prize monster off the streets. Callum countered that the dog was evidently not your average pooch, and was drawing attention to itself, which was no good for anyone. The average human just isn’t equipped to deal with the reality of a whole other magical world of non-human Folk existing alongside them, and though they’re very good at not seeing what’s right in front of them, you can’t rub their noses in it.
So someone was going to have to Do Something, before some human tumbled to the fact that the dog was neither a film set escapee nor a genetic experiment. There’s an organisation called the Watch that ensures humans and Folk stay separate, of course, and this would technically be their job, but the last thing we needed was them sniffing around our neighbourhood because of a runaway pooch. Even though it was nothing to do with us, every party that declares itself to be the law needs someone to blame when things go wrong, and for some reason we seem to tick a lot of scapegoat boxes. Well, me, mostly. The Watch has a nasty habit of bringing my lives to a premature end, and I had no desire for yet another repeat performance.
I still wasn’t keen on tangling with a shark-toothed dog, but then Callum pointed out that there might be a reward for the beast’s safe return, and we were one day off being late on our rent again, which always has knock-on effects for the standard of tuna in our cupboards.
And so here I was, racing along the length of the shelf, swerving boxes and leaping multipacks, the dog keeping pace with me below while its tail tore at the shelves, leaving packets of crisps and corn chips and weird puffed soybean things in our wake. I was going to run out of shelf any moment, so I threw myself sideways instead, hurdling a box of Monster Munch and arriving in the next aisle over.
“Gobs!” Callum yelled. I couldn’t yell back, given all the humans in here, but it gave me somewhere to aim for. I leaped to the floor and took off down the aisle even as the dog surged around it from the other side of the shelf, colliding with a tower of Twiglets and sending them cascading across the shop floor, but not slowing it appreciably. It charged after me, eating up my narrow lead, and I hurtled out of the end of the aisle with a yowl, making a Lycra-clad man clutching a sports drink scream.
I tried for a hard left turn, hoping to head back out of the shop, but all I did was slide across the slick tiling, claws finding no grip at all. Paws thundered after me, and the monster dog gave a whuff of triumph, far too close for comfort. The man screamed again, a woman shouted something about wild animals, and Callum appeared out of the next aisle at a dead run. He snatched me up mid-sprint and legged it for the front of the shop, not even slowing. The dog’s bark gave way to a yelp as it slid across the floor behind us, having as much trouble as I’d had finding purchase, and as I peered around Callum I saw Lycra-man scramble up the shelves of tinned goods like an acrobat while the dog found its feet and plunged after us, foam flying from its toothy jaws.
Just another day for G&C London, Private Investigators.
The shop doors stood open on a cold grey day, grimy snow edging the streets and collecting in the gutters. Callum bolted past a handful of people filming the excitement from the shelter of the checkouts and straight across the pavement, diving between two parked cars and popping out directly into the path of a snub-nosed yellow Nissan that was luckily maintaining old-person cruising speed. I squawked, Callum yelped, and I caught a glimpse of a toothless old man staring at us over the wheel with his mouth and eyes wide in horror. I flew free of Callum’s grip as we bounced across the bonnet, twisting to spot my landing and dropping to my haunches without too much of a jolt next to someone’s half-eaten sausage roll. Callum rolled with the fall, coming back into a crouch just in time to look up and see the dog hurtling toward him.
“Oh—” he started, but before I could add to my store of human curse words (surprisingly few of which are to do with vegetables), the old man flung his car door open. The monster hit it with a startled yip and stumbled back a step or so as the impact slammed the door closed again. Callum started to straighten up, and the dog refocused on him, its head dropping low as it started to growl.
“Good dog,” he said. “Good dog.”
The old man opened his car door again, more cautiously this time, and the dog swung its heavy head toward him. He hesitated, and said, “Are you alright there?”
“Stay there,” Callum said, and I wasn’t sure if he was talking to the man or the dog. Only one of them listened, and unfortunately it wasn’t the one with all the teeth. The dog was advancing, shoulders hulking up, its snaky tail whipping from side to side irritably. Its growl was a terrible, heart-shaking thing, and Callum’s throat was far too close to its tooth-level for comfort.
“Hairballs,” I mumbled, gathering myself into a crouch. I was going to regret this. I really was. But one has responsibilities.
I launched forward, ears back, coming in fast from behind while the dog’s attention was still on Callum. I leaped straight to its back, my claws slipping on the slick hard surface of the spines, but I got in some good scratches and at least one nip before I went straight over the top and kept running. Behind me, the dog broke into a volley of barking so deep I could feel it in my bones, and tore after me.
“Gobs!” Callum shouted, but I was already sprinting down the street, brakes screeching and horns blaring as cars tried to avoid us. This really was the very definition of not keeping a low profile, but it totally wasn’t our fault. The dog started it.
An alley loomed to one side, a couple of big commercial bins on wheels leaning against one wall, and I dived into it, not stopping until I was under the nearest one, smelling stale grease and spoiled meat. The dog shoved its nose after me, growling, but while the bin shook and rocked, it didn’t move from its spot. The dog heaved, trying to get its shoulders under the bin, but it was too low and too heavy. So the beast just sat there panting and snarling, drool dripping from its jaws and smearing the cobbles. I was surprised it wasn’t burning holes in them, to be honest. Given the other weird body modifications, it had to be some sort of damn pixie dog, and it was a bit uncharacteristic for them to miss the chance of giving it acid drool.
The dog backed off suddenly, and I heard Callum. “Gobs?”
“Here,” I called back. “Uneaten.”
“Could be better.”
“Fair point.” He made smooching noises, and the dog growled.
“Don’t smooch at the thing. It’s not a bloody chihuahua.”
“Here girl,” he said, and I heard the unmistakable sound of biscuits being shaken in a bag. “Good girl.”
The dog stopped growling and gave a questioning little whine.
“Are those my biscuits?” I demanded. “They better not be my biscuits.”
“What other biscuits would I be carrying?”
“That’s my lunch!”
“Would you rather be her lunch?”
I huffed. “Her, now, is it? You can’t adopt a pixie dog. Or any dog. I refuse.”
“It’s a bit rude to keep calling her it.” He shook the biscuits again. “Come on. Yummy bikkies!”
“No dogs or weres. Company policy.”
“You also said it was company policy not to take imp or pixie cases.”
“Yeah, and look what ignoring that got us. A trashed apartment and an infected bite on your hand.”
He sighed. “Well, I’m not adopting her anyway. I’m just trying to get hold of her.”
The dog whined, shuffling back so her bum was pressed right against to the bin. For one moment I wondered if she had some sort of noxious gas attack planned, then her tail snaked in through the debris with the tip lifted off the ground, pointing as if it could see me. For all I knew it could. The pixies could’ve put infrared sensors or anything in among the weird tuft of hair at the end. I scooted back until I hit the wall behind the bins, and yowled, “Callum!”
The tail couldn’t quite touch me. It danced across the ground, curling around a slimy lettuce leaf and discarding it, investigating a crusty can of baked beans and dropping it again. I shuffled to my left, and it slid after me. I went right, and it did the same. If I ran, it’d know exactly where I was going, and the damn dog’d be right there waiting for me. So I did the only other thing I could think of.
I bit it.
The dog squalled like a goblin having its toes pinched, and shot away. Callum thoroughly expanded my vocabulary, and I charged out from under the bin with every hair pouffed out to its fullest extent, yowling the fury of a cat who’s trodden in at least two rotting potatoes and has a fermenting tomato stuck to their belly. Callum had his tatty old coat gripped like a matador’s cape as he lunged side to side, trying to keep the dog trapped in the alley, while the monster dashed about with her tail lashing wildly, alternately howling and whining. A woman paused on the street outside and said, “What on earth are you doing to that poor dog?”
Callum yelled, “RSPCA! I think it’s rabid!” and the woman’s concerns for the dog’s well-being vanished even more quickly than she did. Which was lucky, as the dog chose that moment to try to rush past Callum. He tackled the beast, bundling her up in the coat while she thrashed and howled to the accompaniment of tearing cloth. He added a few more swear words to things, then the dog’s tail socked him in the face. He yelped, his grip faltering, and rolled to the ground as she surged away, still wearing his coat.
I leaped over Callum, planting myself in the dog’s path and putting everything into a good snarl. Gratifyingly – and somewhat unexpectedly – the dog stopped dead in her tracks, wobbling and rolling her five eyes. Slobber still dripped from her jaws, shining up that excessive collection of teeth, and, as if reminded that she weighed about ten times what I did, the monster opened her massive jaws and lunged for me.
There was no time to run, so I made use of my new words of the day, rising on my hind legs to meet the beast with my claws out and my teeth bared, and decided that I had to do more to enforce company policy. This was ridiculous.
I was at least 99 percent sure that I was about to be a cat-sized serving of Pedigree Chum, but I did harbour a smidgen of hope that Callum would get his gangly great form off the ground in time to tackle SharkDog before she removed my head. I mean, that’s what partners are for, right? But even as those terrible teeth bore down on me, powered by what looked from my point of view to be about an ox’s worth of muscle, something shifted.
I don’t mean I did. Cats can shift, can step out of this world into the space that runs between all things and back out again somewhere else entirely, a metre or a mile or a country over, in the time it takes to draw breath. But due to one of my unfortunate altercations with the Watch – the one that ended my last life – the beasts that roam the Inbetween have my scent. They follow me on their side of the fragile membrane that holds our world, and if I step out of it, I’ll end up as Pedigree Monster Chum. Which, having done it once, I had no desire to repeat, even if SharkDog was the alternative. So no, I didn’t shift. But something did.
Reality rippled. The traffic beyond the alley, Callum’s shouts, even the snarling of the monster dog became abruptly muffled, as if someone had thrown a blanket over the world. Everything dimmed, the colour running out until all was shades of grey, and movement slowed. SharkDog was still moving toward me, but I could see a thread of drool swinging from one of her great fangs, moving with the slow ponderousness of a glacier cruising toward the sea. Callum was behind her, in some sort of half scramble, half lunge, drifting to the ground with his face twisted in a shout and his overlong hair moving like sea anemones. Despite the stuffy sounds of the world my ears were clear, and I caught a whisper of soft movement, bare feet or cloth or gentle paws on hard floor. There was the catch of an indrawn breath, all of it somewhere three times removed from where I was, and someone hissed, “Gobbelino.”
But I wasn’t really listening. Fear surged in my chest, something unrooted and all encompassing, because what if it was the Watch? There was no logical reason for it to be, not right now, on this snow-stained winter day in a filthy alley in Leeds when we were just trying to help, but who else could it be? And the Watch didn’t need logical. They just needed because. I knew that somewhere in the centre of my horrified being, knew that no matter how careful I was, I could never be careful enough, because authority has its own rules. They could simply decide I’d been wrong, in this life or a previous one. Just as they always did.
Maybe the dog was a trap, to draw me out or place me at fault for interfering. To give them a reason they could show to others, like a note for the teacher. It didn’t need to be truthful, it was just something to have. And now they were going to grab me, drag me off to the Inbetween again, hold me to the beasts a second time and punish me for this life’s indiscretions and my last lives’ rebellions, to stop me before … before whatever had happened to cause their fury happened again. I could taste the memory but not see it. Not that it mattered – this could be the time they took all my lives. I could taste the cold and the nothingness and the hot acid of my own blood.
And then, bizarrely, with my head still racing in hamster-ball panic, I hit the ground. I’d been mid-jump when the change had come over the world, and everyone else was still in achingly slow motion, but I’d been leaping up to meet the dog, and now I plummeted back onto my hindlegs, staggered, and plopped to the ground on my side. I had time for two hard, sharp breaths, then someone said, “Gobbelino,” again and there was a touch on my back, cold and feather-soft.
I surged to my feet, shooting sideways, my mouth dry and wordless but my head screaming nononononono, the panic too raw and metallic to form anything more coherent. There was another sound, a door slamming or a chair falling, and a curse that was sharp and short and vaguely familiar, then colour and movement rushed back into the world.
I’d fetched up with my flank pressed into the wall of the alley, the brick rough and cold and beautifully, wonderfully real, and the dog’s snarl turned into a startled yelp as she realised I wasn’t in front of her anymore. Callum fell after her, managing to grab her back legs with both hands and jerk her to a halt, while the snake tail ignored him entirely, casting about the place in search of me. It finally spotted me, and pointed so hard it looked physically painful, but by that point Callum had both arms wrapped around the dog’s hindquarters, holding her in place. Or trying to, because she scrabbled at the cobbles wildly, claws like talons tearing dusty streaks from the stone, and started to drag herself toward me with him in tow.
I’d never been so happy to be under attack by a pixie dog.
Lovely people, it’s not long now until things get distinctly hairy (heh) for Gobs. And you can check back next week to read chapter two!
And should you decide that two chapters of cat-based mayhem is not enough (and you wish to find out just how they’re going to deal with SharkDog), you can get your pre-order in at your favourite retailers now!