“What’ve we got?”
“Tigers. Snakes. Alligators. Tears in the skin of the universe.” Susan shrugged. “I think I saw a kraken in the sink, too.”
Find a missing book. That was the job the woman in the Doc Martens gave us.
Easy money, right?
Only now it seems she’s actually an ancient, powerful sorcerer, and the book is a Book of Power that doesn’t want to be found.
It wants to tear reality apart at the seams, and it’ll use anyone it can to do it.
So now we’ve got one spectacularly displeased sorcerer, a hungry, still-missing book, a dentist with bad hygiene, and a neighbourhood having some reality issues to deal with.
Plus about a day before the book turns our world – and us – inside out.
We’ve totally got this.
Edit: A Scourge of Pleasantries, Gobbelino’s first tale, has, of course, been out for a while now. But that means you can jump straight over to your favourite retailer right now, and grab not just it, but the following books in the series too! Because more chaotic cats are better chaotic cats, right? Right. 😉
Okay, I kind of jumped right on in there with the blurb, because, well. It says all there is to say, right?
Lovely people, you may have heard me mention that I have a new book coming out at the end of the month. That would be the blurb up there, and below you’ll find the first chapter, all ready for your reading pleasure!
It’s up for pre-order in eBook at your favourite retailers, and is only 99p until release day! Although, as it’s a rather different book to Beaufort’s stories, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a taster first…
So, with all that said, jump in and … well, mind the cat hair.
Gobbelino London & a Scourge of Pleasantries
Chapter One – That Old Money Smell
If anyone had asked how business was going, I could have summed it up like this: currently, a very large man with a very bald head was waving a very heavy tyre iron around our office in a very threatening manner. And, our office being too small to swing the proverbial cat (and trust me, that’d better be proverbial. Cats do not take kindly to such treatment), he had already cracked the back of the rickety chair on his side of the desk, smashed one of our three remaining overhead fluorescent lights, and had come alarmingly close to my ears where I crouched on top of the rusty old filing cabinet. I bared my teeth at him, but he ignored me. Most of our clients do. All his attention was on Callum.
“I want my money back!” our visitor roared. He’d gone a quite startling shade of red, and it occurred to me that we might be saved any further trouble if he just keeled over of an aneurysm right here. But our luck was never that good. And then there was the fact that dead bodies can be kind of tricky to explain, so it was probably better if we got rid of him in a rather less final manner.
“We did the job you asked for,” Callum said again, his voice calm. He was still sitting in the slightly less rickety chair on his side of the desk, hands folded in front of him as if this were a perfectly normal client meeting – and, to be fair, it wasn’t that unusual for us. There was a reason we only had three lights left. Well . . . two, now.
I could have told Callum not to bother though, that the cool collected approach wasn’t going to work. Baldy wasn’t the sort of person who listened to reason. Baldy was the sort of person you bopped on the nose then fled while he was still confused. Of course, that was a bit hard when he was between us and the door, waving a tyre iron around like he had places he wanted to insert it. Actually, given the conversation of the last few minutes, that was exactly what he wanted.
“This wasn’t what I asked for!” the man bellowed. “You were meant to find out where the money was going!”
“Well, we did—” Callum started, which was evidently not what our delightful client wanted to hear.
An inarticulate roar ripped out of the big man’s throat, filled with all the pain and fury of an injured animal, and he brought the tyre iron down on the desk so hard I thought the wood was going to shatter. It would have, if it had been one of those flimsy modern desks. As it happened, our desk was an ancient artefact Callum had found in a charity shop, and the floor probably would’ve given way before it did. All that happened were a few more scars joined the rest on its surface and Callum finally jumped out of his chair, shoving it into the wall behind him.
“I want my money back!”
Well, at least he was consistent. Problem was, even if we’d wanted to give the money back, we couldn’t. We had this thing called rent, plus every now and then we liked to eat.
Callum put his hands out to the man like a lion tamer. “Sir, I’m sorry this wasn’t what you wanted to hear. But the problem with private investigations is that we rarely turn up things people do want to hear.”
The man roared again and flailed at the desk with the tyre iron, scattering pens, old paperbacks, a mug of tea and the folder of photographs to the floor while Callum watched with a resigned look on his face. I peered down at the photos. I was particularly proud of the one that showed the man’s business partner stripped naked except for a cap of leaves and flowers – well, two caps, but let’s not get into details – and being painted green by two older women in wellington boots and gardening gloves. Everything had actually been shot in video on one of those little action cameras, but I’d managed to hold position on the windowsill at the perfect angle to avoid reflection and catch the business partner’s rather blissful face. Apparently being rendered moss-green, adorned with daisies and walked on as if you were a lawn was both delightful and (given the vanishing funds) a pricey business. Humans.
With the desk empty, our client paused, glaring around the room. Callum took advantage of the man’s lull in hitting things and screaming to say, “I’m very sorry about this. But now that you have the evidence, you can press charges against him for embezzlement and misuse of company funds.”
The man sucked an enormous breath in and screamed again, having apparently decided that was either more satisfying or more effective than hitting anything else. The woo-woo doctor upstairs pounded on the floor. For someone so into inner peace she wasn’t very patient with external noise.
The man stopped screaming and scowled at the ceiling, then thumped it with the tyre iron, sending a shower of plaster pattering down on me and turning my black fur a fetching but unnatural shade of grey. I shook the dust out of my ears with a huff as Woo-Woo pounded back. Our client hit the ceiling again, so hard I thought the tyre iron might pop straight through, and for a moment it looked like we were in for some sort of cross-ceiling war, but this time Woo-Woo didn’t respond. There was silence as plaster dust drifted around us, and Callum sighed.
“You … you divot,” the man said finally. “The money’s one thing. But I’m going to have to fricking break up with him now.”
Callum stared at the man, then at me. I shrugged. Okay, I suppose I should have picked up on the body language cues between big man and the business partner, but I hadn’t been looking for them. I’d just been interested in where the partner went after he left the office. When he didn’t go home to his wife and three children, that was. Seriously. Humans really have to complicate things. Why not just get on with what makes you happy?
“Well,” Callum said carefully. “I can see how that does make things more difficult. I’m sorry. But at least you know where the money was going, right?”
Our client covered his face with one hand, the tyre arm hanging limp at his side. Callum eyed it like he was going to make a grab for it. I hoped he didn’t. The NHS was all very well for stitches, but we spent a fortune on hydrogen peroxide and gauze. However, the man moved before Callum could do anything, picking up the fallen chair and setting it upright, then sinking into it with his head hanging low. The chair creaked even more threateningly than it usually did.
“I suspected,” the man said, his voice muffled as he wiped his face with one hand. “But then I thought it was maybe just his family, you know? Putting demands on him. That I could have understood. Mine does that, too.”
His does too? Gods. They didn’t need body painters and private investigators. They needed a good talking-to regarding happiness, the shortness of life, and the pointlessness of worrying about appearances. Although, if everyone worked that one out, we’d be out of work, so maybe it was just as well.
“Unfortunately, this sort of investigation can turn up things we’re not ready for,” Callum said, retrieving his mug from the floor. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
The man wiped his nose. “Do you have anything stronger?”
“Sure.” Callum went to the little cubby off the office where the kitchenette was crammed in, such as it was – nothing more than a sink with a cupboard above and another below it, and just enough counter space for the kettle and a one-ring electric hotplate. He fished out a scratched glass and ambled back to the desk with it and the bottle of decent whisky we kept for clients. It was amazing how often they needed a nip. I said we should charge for it, but Callum told me I had the heart of a sea snake. Not sure if that’s worse than a regular snake or not.
Callum let the man snivel and drink his whisky and tell a disjointed and not unfamiliar story of love and deception and loss in stilted sentences, while he made all the appropriate noises and nodded in all the appropriate places. He’s good at that. For someone who spends most of his time with a cat, he’s got the whole people thing down. The man’s voice got quieter and gentler and slower, and eventually he sat back in his chair, revealing a shining pink face and cheeks pinched with sorrow. He looked at the tyre iron as if not sure what to do with it, then got up a little unsteadily, holding a hand out to Callum to shake. Callum shook it, and I made a face – the big man had been wiping his nose with that paw just a moment before. And they call animals dirty.
Callum walked our subdued client to the door, which took all of two paces – our little office was sufficient, but that was probably the most you could say for it. There was exactly enough room for the desk and chairs, an armchair that folded out into a single bed (okay, so it was our home-slash-office, but who’s counting) and the set of filing cabinets where I kept my souvenirs, and which I felt lent us quite the air of legitimacy. Callum thanked the man for choosing G & C London for his investigative needs, patted him on the shoulder, and let him out before clicking the lock over firmly, for all the good it would do against even a small child with an ounce of determination. Then he gazed around the room, sighed, and started picking up the mess off the floor, tutting at a book that had spat pages all over the place. But I mean, what does he expect? He buys them in bulk at car boot sales and in the reject boxes of libraries. They’re tatty and old and I’m surprised he hasn’t caught something nasty from them yet.
“So what’s next?” I asked.
Callum finished stacking his paperbacks and went to get the laptop out of the desk drawer. We’d only made the mistake of leaving that on top of the desk once. “Nothing. We have nothing.”
He sighed. “Yes. Seriously.”
“Should we try advertising? I feel we’re not really giving ourselves the chance to achieve our full potential here.”
He set the laptop to fire up, and it squeaked and groaned like an ageing hippo while he went to put the kettle on. “Advertising takes money, Gobs. We only just made rent this month.”
I really wish he wouldn’t call me Gobs. My name is Gobbelino, but for some reason that mystifies me, humans can never leave well enough alone. They’ve got to shorten it, unless your name’s short, in which case they lengthen it. One of the many things about humans that make no sense whatsoever.
“How about flyers?” I asked him. “You could do that, right? Print out a bunch of ad-type things.”
“I could,” he agreed. “It doesn’t seem very professional, though. Not very subtle for a private investigation firm.”
I eyed him. “Starving seems pretty unprofessional, too.”
“Fair point.” He poked the computer, but it was still spluttering through its start up. “We’re going to need a new one of these soon, too.”
“You know I can make that happen.”
I sighed. The thing is, I’m not a -own-brand type of cat. I like top shelf. And when one is small and subtle and knows how to get into places unnoticed (or how to bribe rats with a weakness for pork pies to do it for one), it’s possible to live quite well on very little cash. Callum, unfortunately, has both a patchy history with the law and a shiny new conscience. The end result is that he’s maddeningly resistant to even a whiff of rule-bending. So while I may still liberate the odd tray of less-fresh-than-it-could-be white fish from the local corner shop, I keep it very much on the sly. If he finds out, he goes and pays for it with money we can’t spare.
There was a knock at the door, a cheery little tap-tap, tap-tap that we both recognised.
“Come in, Mrs Smith,” Callum called. I was 99 percent certain the woman’s name wasn’t Jane Smith, but who cares, right? A name’s just a name, and we all have things we’d prefer to leave behind us. Besides, she makes me custard with that fancy cat-milk.
“Hello, loves,” she said, peering around the door. “You knew it was me! You’re terribly good at this, you know.”
Callum grinned at her. “I’ve just put the kettle on. Can I make you a cuppa?”
“Don’t mind if I do,” she said, patting her mane of tight white curls into place. She had it styled into plaited sections by her face today, with butterflies clipped to the top and flowers stuck rather haphazardly all over it. “I made far too much shepherd’s pie last night, so I thought I’d bring some over. And then I thought, well, if I’m coming over anyway, I’ll bring you some lunch too.” She hefted a frankly enormous carrier bag onto the desk, and fished around inside until she came out with a Tupperware, stuffed to bursting. “You must be so busy chasing down criminals and so on,” she continued, opening the container and setting it on top of the desk. “You can’t have any time to make your own meals!”
I jumped off the filing cabinet and onto the desk, investigating the Tupperware while Mrs Smith scritched between my ears rather pleasurably. I rewarded her with some purrs then set to munching chicken hearts in gravy. The woman was a gourmet.
Callum stepped back in from the kitchenette with two mugs of tea, and Mrs Smith set a giant sandwich on crusty brown bread in front of him. “You really must let me give you something for this,” he told her.
She waved a hand and unwrapped her own sandwich, which was roughly a third the size of his. “No, no. I feel so much safer having an officer of the law across the hall. And what would I do with all this food, anyway?”
Callum didn’t correct her regarding the officer of the law bit. He’d tried to before, but she resolutely refused to grasp the difference between a PI and a police officer. And who were we to disabuse her?
Especially when she kept coming around with chicken hearts.
The afternoon was long and rainy, heavy with the promise of colder weather to come. Callum leaned back in the creaking desk chair with his boots on the desk and some battered book with a trench-coated gumshoe on the cover in his hand, flicking steadily through the pages and helping himself to chocolate digestives. I sprawled on the desk, watching the rain chasing down the windowpanes, smelling damp streets and drifting lives and silence creeping in through the single glazing.
I was glad I wasn’t out there. Being a street cat has its advantages, but rainy days demand central heating and soft beds, in my mind. Or small fan heaters and malfunctioning radiators in our case, but it was still better than being out there with wet feet and one eye open for the next young tom coming in on your patch. Or worse. I’d had a rough run of things in those days. Humans can be downright vicious, but they’re not even the worst of what a young cat can come up against. And sometimes even your own kind won’t step in to help you out. Sometimes they do rather the opposite. Young junkie kids, on the other hand, can be the most surprising of creatures.
I don’t know how long the afternoon stretched, while Callum read and I wandered the cat-paths that run between memory and meditation, my eyes half-closed against the dim day. Until something tickled me. I looked up. Callum had almost finished his book, and the biscuits were almost gone. The light outside was grey and heavy, and the air seeping in around the window frame was cold and sharp. I yawned, stretched, and pricked my ears.
There. Someone was coming down the hall. I could smell them already, a heavy floral musk of perfume washing ahead of them. It seemed at odds with the muted thud of boots on the threadbare carpets, the delicacy of the scent more suited to high heels and slick dresses. The visitor brought the breath of the rain with them as well, and, under the perfume, the strange dull reek of leather chairs and wool carpets and high, still rooms wrought in brass and dark wood.
They smelt of money, in other words.
Still not convinced? Then head on over and read chapter two!
Now, lovely people, let me know – would anyone in your fur family make a good PI? What would their strengths be? Let me know below!
Then you can jump to your favourite retailer to grab your copy of Scourge in ebook and paperback today. The kraken awaits!
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