Can you hear that? No, that. Singing, I’m almost sure. No, I am sure. Out there, in the waves and the wind and the sea. Someone’s singing.
Do you hear it now? Under the cries of the gulls, and the crash of the waves as they collapse on the sand, beyond the thrum and clang of wind in the rigging, somewhere out past the wharves and breakwaters and barricades of the port, out where the sea’s wild and building.
No, I don’t think it’s sirens. It sounds a bit more … hearty than that.
Shall we have a look?
Oh, I’m sure it’s fine. Come on, what could possibly go wrong …?
And here we should probably pop in the sound of a record scratching, since, as we all know, this is one phrase that Gobbelino London, PI, has no great love for. Mostly because his answer is everything, and that answer is usually right.
But we’re still going to have a look. Of course we are.
Because we want to know what happens next …
And since we do need to know what happens next, read on for chapter two! And if you missed chapter one, it’s up on the blog already, and you can read it here.
Publication day is coming up very fast now, so if you want to make sure you know what happens in the rest of this fishy tale, you can pre-order your ebook right now at all your favourite retailers. It’ll appear on your ereader like the best sort of magic on the 19th of May, and shouldn’t have any barnacles on it. I can’t make any promises regarding cat hair, though.
Paperbacks will also be available on or around release day – I have yet to find a way to set up pre-orders for them (the only time I tried they went live immediately and a few readers ended up with some very much unfinished covers on their books …).
And while you wait for the magic book delivery, read on for the second chapter in A Menace of Mermaids! (If you’re entirely new to the Gobbelino London world, then I recommend checking out A Scourge of Pleasantries, the first book – it’s not required to follow this book, but many things will become much, much clearer …)
Now, shall we get in the mood a little? You’ll have to provide the wet weather gear and salt spray (and rum) yourself, unfortunately, but I can bring the music …
“I was expecting a throne made from the skulls of your enemies.”
“It can be arranged.”
I’m not saying the entire magical population of North Yorkshire want us dead. Just the majority of them. Which is why we fled Leeds and have found ourselves working for a one-eyed pirate captain in Whitby.
But when one of our few remaining friends is taken by the sea, we can’t just ignore it. We’ve got to get her back. Especially as her partner is a reaper with a scythe that can slice through reality, and the whole situation might be a teeny, tiny bit our fault …
So, along with our pirate captain, a bloodthirsty parrot, and a deeply dodgy mermaid, we’re going after Emma, and not even the storm of the century can stop us. The Black Dogs, the kraken cult, and the Sea Witch are certainly going to try, though.
Leeds is looking better by the moment …
A Menace of Mermaids
Ch. 2: It’s Not Just the Smell That’s Fishy
Polly swung down toward the water as the dinghy’s stern popped suddenly up into the air, the engine giving its panicked screech. The bow dug down hard, pulled by something unseen, while Callum and the mermaid clung on desperately. I still didn’t know what the parrot was carrying, and I couldn’t see it from this distance, but he dropped it between the swimming mermaid and the dinghy. It barely even made a splash.
I turned to glare at the wheelhouse, wanting to ask Hilda if she had any better plans, and there was a dull, muted, doof. I felt it more than heard it, a pressure wave against my ears, and I spun back to see a fat column of water exploding upward toward the parrot. The dinghy crashed back down and shot forward as if someone had given it a slap on the bum, and both Callum and the mermaid ducked into the bottom. The fins surged into sight in an explosion of bubbles and turbulence. One rolled over, the creature flashing a white belly to the sky, bobbed for a moment, then recovered and fled for deeper water. The other turned in three circles, the giant fin leaning under its own momentum, then followed its buddy. The kelp-haired mermaid had both hands pressed to their ears, and they turned to stare at The Savage Squid. I could see the flash of white teeth from here, bared and furious. In the dinghy, our rescued mermaid sat up and clapped appreciatively, then waved at the parrot.
The parrot swept back to the boat, and as he went over me he called, “Polly want more than a pat on the head and a shortbread biscuit for this bollocks. Polly got their feet wet.”
Callum and the mermaid got the dinghy underway again, heading for the wharf with both of them spending more time looking over their shoulders than at where they were going. The Savage Squid bore down on the kelp-haired mermaid as they watched the dinghy go, still with their hands over their ears. For one moment I thought Kelpy was going to be tragically run down by a pirate ship, then the creature looked around at us, flashed a white-toothed, furious snarl, and slipped beneath the surface. They left a swirl of disturbed water in their wake, and I checked on the dinghy again, wondering if we had to keep the rescued mermaid now, and what we were meant to do with it if so. It was enough that we’d acquired a Green Snake. A mermaid seemed excessive.
We docked up without any more strange fins getting in the way, and, as far as I could tell, without running over Kelpy. There was no unexpected bump in our passage, and no one bobbing in our wake, at least, although I wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not. Callum had already tied the dinghy up, and he jumped to The Savage Squid from the wharf as Hilda kissed the big boat softly alongside. He grabbed the mooring lines and threw them up to the mermaid, who trussed the boat up with a couple of easy turns around the big metal bollards on the dock, making it look effortless. I suppose he was used to tying up sailors with seaweed, or whatever mermaids get up to.
The pirate party were ushered off, mostly by Hilda standing on the deck and bellowing that if every single scallywag didn’t walk the plank in the next five minutes they’d be fish chum. The party cheered good-naturedly and tottered off the gangway without anyone ending up in the harbour, and after a few minutes of Callum trying not to get his bum pinched again they finally accepted he wasn’t coming with them. I padded up the gangway and jumped to the top of the nearest bollard to watch Callum putting his dimples to good use as he waved them off, which resulted in quite a few ten-pound notes being tucked into his pockets with varying degrees of affection. The parrot sat on the crosstrees of one of the sail-less masts and every now and then squawked in a bored tone, “Arr, pieces of eight, me hearties.”
Hilda stumped about checking the mooring lines with her collar turned up and a pipe stuck unlit in the corner of her mouth – she had to have a peg leg, I was sure of it – and arr-ed a bit as well, throwing in the odd “yo ho ho” for good measure, until finally the boat was empty but for a load of discarded plastic cups and bits of sausage roll and fish fingers trodden into the deck. Callum looked at it and sighed, then dug his tips out of his pockets and handed them to Hilda.
“Arr,” she said absently, shuffling through the notes. “Should bloody well keep the lot. You invited a mermaid on board. Bloody pests, they are.”
“We are not,” the mermaid said from the dock. “And you’ll notice I’m not on your boat.”
“Not for want of trying,” Hilda said, popping her false eye out and shoving another one in its place. It was an angry green, and she used it to glare at the mermaid.
“Polly want some pineapple,” the parrot said.
“There’s some fruit left in the jugs still,” Hilda said, waving vaguely.
“Polly doesn’t want canned fruit.”
“Polly will eat what they’re given or it’ll be roast bird for Sunday dinner,” Hilda replied, tapping her pipe out on the rail.
“Polly want a new human.”
“We’ve all been there,” I said to the parrot, who looked at the sky.
“Thanks for the … whatever you did,” Callum said. “Those things were close.”
“Just a bit of light explosives,” Hilda said. “Not allowed to use it for fishing anymore, but I’ve still got some lying around.”
“That’s reassuring,” I said, more to myself than anyone else.
“Right, well. Thanks anyway,” Callum said, fishing his cigarettes out of his coat pocket.
“Eh. You’d be a decent deckhand if you stopped trying to drag mermaids on board.”
“It was the first time,” he protested.
“He was following the code of the sea,” the mermaid put in. “Helping out a fellow seaman in peril.”
“You’re a mermaid, and I’m certain the peril was entirely your own making,” Hilda said, scowling.
“What was chasing you?” Callum asked. “Those fins?”
“Orcas,” the mermaid said. “Some mermaids use them for a bit of speed.”
“You mean the law keepers use them,” Hilda said. “What’ve you been up to, then? Thieving? Smuggling? Murdering?”
“Harsh. Also pot, kettle, and all that.”
Hilda crossed her arms. “I’m a legitimate businesswoman.”
“You’re a pirate.”
“It’s all just a bloody gimmick,” she snapped. “Anyway, no one’s setting orcas on me.”
The mermaid shrugged. “It’s not my fault some people in power have taken a dislike to me.” He hesitated. “Although there may have been a teeny bit of redistribution of wealth. But that’s just because some people like to hoard it.” He raised his eyebrows at Hilda, who hmph-ed and inspected her pipe.
“Cool,” I said. “So we just helped an outlaw mermaid? Does that mean we’re in the mermaid bad books now? Banned from the sea?” That wouldn’t be so terrible. I’d been happy to be out of the boarding house, but the boat was already starting to wear thin. My fur carried a permanent whiff of seaweed, and Callum was adding a layer of engine oil and dead fish to his usual scents of old cigarettes and strange losses.
“I doubt it,” the mermaid said. “They were after me. You’d have just been collateral.”
Callum lit his cigarette and offered the pack to the mermaid, who made a face. Callum tucked them away again and said, “You can’t complain, Gobs. You’re very familiar with people taking a dislike to you.”
“Unfair,” I said. “And I didn’t try to pull anyone overboard.” I glared at the mermaid, and he shrugged.
“I was panicking. I wasn’t really trying to pull you in.”
Callum nodded as if it didn’t matter one way or the other. He really had to learn how to carry a better grudge, simply as a matter of survival. “What’s your name?” he asked instead.
“Murchadh,” the mermaid said. “But Murty’s fine.”
Callum offered his hand and they shook, although I’d think that having outrun the mermaid authorities and their hungry panda fish together, they could probably skip the formal introductions.
“You’re not permitted on board,” Hilda said, pointing her pipe stem at Murty. “You keep your slimy little flippers on land.”
“Sure, sure.” He leaned against the back of one of the sheds that lined the wharf. “I’m not interested in your petty wee boat. It doesn’t even have sails.”
“And what good would they do where you’d take her, anyway?”
“It’s a question of appearances.”
Hilda arr-ed again, and held a handful of notes out to Callum. I was fairly sure it was less than half what we’d taken, but at least it was something. “Make sure you don’t let him on board. And you”—she jabbed her pipe at me—“catch some damn rats, can’t you?”
“Sure,” I said. “They’re a bit sneaky is all. Ship’s rats, you know. Clever.”
“I know they’re clever. They won’t eat the damn poison or get in the traps. But I can’t be having them aboard. That’s why you’re here.”
“I mean, I get that it’s probably a bad look for the tourists, but is the odd rat so awful?” I asked.
“These ones are,” Hilda said, fixing her false eye on me fiercely. “So you catch them, or there’ll be no more kibble.”
“Oh, woe,” I said, and Callum poked me. I gave him a dirty look. The one thing Whitby had going for it was how easy it was to cadge fish off the locals. That, and the fact that it had turned out to be a good place to be unnoticed. No one noticed weird in Whitby.
Hilda looked from me to Callum. “You just stay in town, right? No matter what bloody mermaids tell you.”
“Of course,” Callum said, and we watched Hilda lurch away, the parrot fluttering after her and announcing, “Polly want a go on the fruit machines.”
“Polly can bugger off and all,” Hilda said, vanishing into the patchy mid-afternoon crowds drifting up and down the wharf. The amusement arcades dinged and sang, and the scent of vinegar and hot oil drifted from the fish’n’chip shops, and across the water, on the other side of the harbour, pubs and houses glowed with golden light, forcing back the winter dimness.
“O Captain, my captain,” Murty said and grinned.
“She’s pretty decent, really,” Callum said.
“Oh, I know. The eye’s a nice touch.”
“Yeah.” Callum looked at the rubbish-strewn deck and sighed. “I best get on.”
“I can help,” the mermaid offered.
“And I suppose we’d have to invite you on board for that?” I said.
Murty snorted. “I could just carry your bin bags or something. It wasn’t a ploy.”
“It’s not just your smell that’s fishy,” I said, arching my whiskers at him, and he pressed a hand to his chest in mock horror.
“Gobs,” Callum said, and I lifted my lip to show him a tooth. He looked at Murty. “Best not, though.”
Murty shrugged. “Fair enough.” He got up and stretched, and I had that disconcerting impression again, that he was just a well-built man with his shoulders stretching at the seams of his grey top, and that at the same time I was looking at the rippling pelt of a beast built for cold, deep seas. He winked at me, his eyes too big and black, and said to Callum, “I owe you a favour, though.”
“It’s fine,” Callum said. “Are you alright now? Will they be waiting for you?”
“Maybe. But I can stay ashore for a bit. Move down the coast before I go back to sea. I need to see a dwarf about a chicken, anyway.”
Callum nodded. “Alright, then.”
Murty nodded back and said, “I’ll repay that favour,” then ambled off, his hands in the pockets of his grey trousers – and that seemed wrong, too, as if his hands were simply tucked into the folds of his own serene, curving body – and Callum went to dig the bin bags out from behind the bar. I followed, mostly to see if there were any sausage rolls left.
There had been sausage rolls left, but now there were just three satisfied-looking rats. I was starting to see Hilda’s point.
“Oh, it’s the mighty hunter,” one said. “Quick, run!” They all snickered, and I looked at Green Snake, who had escaped Callum’s pocket while we were on the dock and had got himself into a mostly empty rum punch jug. He’d discovered a glacé cherry, and was flicking his tongue at it in a lazy sort of manner. He snatched it up quick enough when Callum lifted him out, though.
“Stop eating the fruit,” Callum said to Green Snake. “It’s not good for you.”
Green Snake just swallowed the cherry, looking at Callum with unblinking eyes as the bulge of it made its way down his throat. Or body. It’s hard to tell where one ends and one begins with a snake.
Callum sighed, and binned the rest of the leftovers before we could have a drunken snake on our paws.
“Terrible behaviour,” I said to Green Snake, who just tilted his head at me. I turned my attention to the rats instead. “You couldn’t leave me a sausage roll?”
“’S’not good for you, is it?” the biggest one said. “Not cat food.”
“It’s not rat food, either,” I said, and investigated the rest of the platters, but there was nothing left. I opened my mouth to tell Callum I was hungry, but closed it again. He was shoving broken cups and discarded napkins into the bin bag with a weary sort of resignation, an unlit cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, waiting until he was outside again to light it.
This was how we lived now. We’d walked out of Leeds – or driven, rather – with nothing but what had been in the car at the time. Our flat was too dangerous to go back to, and the city too risky to stay in. Things were catching up. North things for Callum, Watch things for me, although I still couldn’t say what or why.
Our friend Gerry, the troll mayor of the pocket town of Dimly, had been the one to tell us we had to make ourselves scarce, but we hadn’t heard much from him since, other than a terse text telling us to stay in Whitby. We hadn’t heard much from anyone. We’d rocked up at an address Gerry had given us to find it was the sort of boarding house hotel inspectors would have nightmares about, if they ever knew it existed. Three skinny floors of individual rooms, with a shared bathroom and toilet on the middle floor, all of it smelling faintly of old onions, boiled meat, and damp.
With some grumbling, our heavily bearded landlord, Bob, had put us in the attic, where Callum could only stand straight if he was right in the middle of the room, and where the wind off the sea came in under the eaves like a thief. A really cold, persistent thief. We could never get into the bathroom because someone with a bright-sounding voice always sang out that they’d be done in just a minute, dears, no matter if we tried at midnight or six a.m. or half past two in the afternoon. I now suspected it was actually rented out to a retired mermaid, since we seemed to have a pod of them about the place.
Despite the conditions, the boarding house was full. Every door had strange smells seeping from beyond it, rose potpourri or paint thinners or two-minute noodles or hair spray, or other things that made my paws a bit twitchy. We only ever saw Bob and the fake medium, though, plus a strange, hunched form who scuttled around the corridors in the night. That made my tail bush out.
Bob lived on the bottom floor, and served us cold toast and slabs of perfectly cooked bacon and lightly poached eggs for breakfast. Well, served Callum. I lived mostly on the fish I begged off the wharf, which was ridiculously easy pickings. I just wandered past the fishers down on the dock every now and then and looked cute, and they’d throw me some herring that were too damaged to keep. I had to fight the gulls for it, but I’d found that fresh herring is good motivation. Although it was getting to the point where I was starting to crave a good tin of off-brand, processed-beyond-recognition meat. There’s such a thing as too much fresh fish, it seems.
Anyhow, the fake medium joined us for breakfast the first day, but she shrieked as soon as she saw me and shut herself in the pantry, and wouldn’t come out until I left the room. I watched her through the gap at the kitchen door, because people who hate cats are fascinating, and she kept crossing herself and beseeching the Great Flowering Spirit of Yorkshire to protect her. Then she read Callum’s tea leaves and declared there was death in our future (no surprise there), and wanted twenty quid to tell us how to avoid it.
Bob had just grunted, distracted her with a Danish pastry, and shoved us a note with an address on it. We’d spent the rest of the day weeding some little old lady’s garden.
Well, Callum had. I’d spent the day in more of a public relations role, being fed chicken scraps and so much cream that, in the aftermath, even I had to admit it wasn’t good for me. The following days had been more of the same, Callum putting up shelves or cutting grass or scrubbing patios while I supervised or entertained our clients. It was boring and exhausting, but no one tried to blow us up, eat us, or throw us into the void, so that made for a nice change.
Even so, it had been kind of a relief when Hilda offered us somewhere else to live and a chance to earn some actual money. Bob had been taking all the proceeds of our odd jobs as rent, and told us that if we needed extra cash we could clean the boarding house’s backyard. I was fairly certain that was basically danger pay, as the yard was so overgrown there could be a city of feral imps in there and we’d never know until we dug them out. Mermaids and orcas aside, the boat seemed a better option.
But it wasn’t home. Everything felt like it was on pause, and as much as I could still feel reality fracturing as whatever had been lying in wait at the flat tried to rip me out of this world and into the void, as much as I wanted to not be looking over my shoulder for weres or dodgy magicians or necromancers, this wasn’t the answer. And Callum knew it too.
At some point we were going to have to face whatever was following us. And in the meantime, here we were, cleaning up drunk people’s rubbish. That had not been in our job descriptions as the best PI firm in Leeds. Well, best magical PI firm. Only one, really, but that made us doubly best.
So I decided it’d be strategic to keep my hungry stomach to myself, and looked at the rats instead. “Neecy,” I said, to the sleek, dark-furred rodent just outside the door, who was checking the contents of a paper bag before Callum could collect it, “Do us a favour. Make yourselves scarce for a few days? I’ll get Callum to pick up some cheese for you.”
She eyed me. “You’re a really weird ship’s cat.”
“I prefer to think of myself as openminded. Tolerant. That sort of thing.”
“Hilda’s not going to be super-tolerant when she finds you’re not chasing us off.”
I tipped my head. “Are you trying to persuade me to chase you or something?”
“Nah. Just find cats not being cats kind of strange. End of world strange, y’know?”
“I can throw in a bit of a spirited race around the decks if you pick me up some squid rings on your next shore excursion.”
Neecy snorted. “Don’t mention squid rings around here.”
“Why? Because it’s The Savage Squid?”
“No. We’re here because it’s The Savage Squid.” She nodded across the deck at a couple of other rats foraging for leftovers. One of them had milky eyes and twisted paws, and was staring at the sky blankly.
“What’s up with Merv? He always freaks me out a bit.”
“Merv ate the poison,” Neecy said “Not here, on a different boat. Now he sees things. Knows things. He chose this boat for us, and it’s the safest we’ve been.”
“He survived poison?” I’d seen rats that had eaten poison. It was a horrible way to go.
“He says the kraken saved him.”
“Yeah, it’s a whole thing.” She shrugged. “But he was right when he said we had to move to the Squid, and he’s been right about lots of things. The poison unlocked something in him. He’s no regular rat.”
I looked at Merv again. He’d turned to stare straight at me with those milky eyes, and I shivered. “Yeah, no baby goats.”
“Never mind. Just stay out of Hilda’s sight for a bit, alright?”
She eyed me. “Decent cheddar? I like a good mature cheddar. With the salty bits in.”
“I’ll get one with all the salty bits. Just so Hilda thinks I’m doing my job. Don’t fancy getting fired over not eating you.”
She considered it. “Proper mature cheddar with the salty bits, plus some seedless red grapes, and we’ll lay low for a week. You can tell her you saw us all off, and if she sees signs we could be entirely new rats.”
“Deal.” We touched noses, while I tried not to look at her tail. Rats are, in general, decent sorts, but the naked tails make my paws twitch. Plus they reminded me of a certain hairless cat who also had a naked tail, and who I hadn’t seen since our unceremonious departure from Leeds. I just hoped our vanishing act hadn’t put her or her large, mostly silent buddy Tam in any trouble. I was fairly certain that whoever was after us was no more bothered by the idea of collateral damage than mermaids apparently were.
Callum stopped to scritch the back of my neck as he picked up the bag Neecy had abandoned. “Hungry?” he asked.
“Won’t take long. We’ll get some fish’n’chips.“
“I hate to say it, but I might almost be sick of fish’n’chips.”
“Things really are getting to you,” he said, and went out onto the deck with his bag, grabbing up the debris of the party. I followed him, the fading afternoon wind-torn and filled with the calls of gulls, endlessly circling the lighthouses and hunting the tourists. The Abbey wasn’t visible from this angle, but I could feel it looming over the town, half protector, half beacon to the weird. It was that sort of place. Men talking to cats and woman talking to parrots weren’t even worth noticing. The cobbled streets rang with the boots of people dressed as vampires or Vikings or some sort of steampunk time travellers, and the shops that weren’t selling fish’n’chips and Whitby jet jewellery were selling Dracula memorabilia instead. There were more metres of lace and bouquets of corsets and sets of goggles and fake fangs in the tiny town centre than there were fish still left in the North Sea, as far as I could tell. No one noticed one skinny, needlessly tall man in a scruffy coat, even one accompanied by a small yet well-formed black cat.
Which was why we were here, of course.
Lovely people, I hope you’ve enjoyed the first two chapters of Gobbelino’s sixth adventure (and that playlist wasn’t too earworm-y). Things are getting trickier than ever for our scruffy heroes, and the mermaids may even be the least of their problems … There’s just over a week to go until you can read all about it, so head to your favourite retailer and get your pre-order in now!
And in the meantime – do you make playlists? For reading, or creating, or working, or anything else? Let me know what your favourite styles are below!