“We’ll do it,” Callum said.
“Of course we will,” I said. “Why would we not stalk the scary magician who might be trying to raise his son from the dead? For free?”
Like it or not, when a sorcerer asks you to track a magician, you track a magician. It’s that or spend life as a hamster. So we did.
But, turns out, the scary magician is the least of our worries. Between raging squirrel mobs, My Little Ravenous sewer monsters, and bungalow-dwelling necromancers with a good line in attack dogs, it’s all we can do to keep ourselves the right side of dead.
And that’s before we stumble onto something far more sinister. Something that makes one dead son look like small carrots. Something that’s going to raise an ancient almost-god and bring the world to its knees.
Unless G&C London, Yorkshire’s premier magical PIs – well, only magical PIs – can stop it first.
We definitely should’ve charged for this one.
Lovely people, Gobbelino London’s fourth adventure is almost here! I’m excited on so many levels about this. Firstly, I wrote a thing, which still has the capacity to surprise me (and is definitely exciting), and secondly, I’m starting to see the slightly sinister shape of Gobs’ overarching story in more and more detail (as someone who does not plan my stories, it’s always exciting when you suddenly realise why something happened in an earlier book – yay, subconscious!), and thirdly … well, thirdly, it’s been a bit of a rubbish time, hasn’t it? Just all round?
Obviously, for a lot of people it’s been a lot more than a bit rubbish. For many people it’s been devastating. Life-changing. And my heart is with all of them. But even for those of us who’ve got away reasonably lightly, things have been … not good. And while I will wholeheartedly cheer on all those creative types who dived into their art and left the world behind, and were wonderfully productive and generally all-round awesome, I was not one of them.
I spent a lot of time doing roughly the same thing with my creativity as I do with my knee when it won’t let me run. Which means poking it and swearing at it, and questioning why I even have it and what it’s even good for, and threatening to amputate.
I do not recommend this as an effective approach for malfunctioning body parts or creativity, but there we go. I also tried bribing both with chocolate digestives, but that didn’t work either.
What did work was that hardest, most challenging of achievements: being gentle with my seized parts. Resting them. Trying to resist the urge to force things. Once I restarted, moving at a slower pace, and for less time. Accepting (gah) the fact that things just weren’t working the way I was used to. Accepting that sometimes things just don’t work. At all. (Double gah).
And somewhere, somehow, far more slowly than usual, but with just as much joy (because it is a joy when it works), Gobbelino came back on his ornery cat feet with a whole lot of other felines in tow, and the story played out.
And I am happy.
Particularly about the cover. Do you see that cover? It’s delightful, and I love it.
And now you can read the first chapter. (Release details to follow – stay tuned!)
Read on, lovely people!
Edit: As this is, of course, an older post, Gobbelino London & a Melee of Mages is waiting for you at your favourite retailers! Just mind the taxidermy …
Gobbelino London & a Melee of Mages
Chapter One: The Logistics of Cat Chess
We were playing chess at our beaten-up old desk when a magician called to ask us about a dead man.
Which isn’t entirely outside our area of expertise, but still. Those are two things I’d rather not deal with again. Once bitten, twice as likely to get infected, or whatever.
Anyway, to be clear, Callum was playing chess. I was mostly pointing out that the rules were arbitrary and illogical, and that he shouldn’t complain so much. It was, after all, a cat’s natural instinct to knock stuff on the floor, and if he had so many objections to it then he should get himself a human chess partner.
“Don’t,” he said, pointing at me. “You said you knew how to play.”
“I do,” I insisted. “It doesn’t mean I agree with it. Human rules are ridiculous. I mean, the bishops I get – religious warriors are always tearing off in weird directions on a mission from their god of choice. But you can’t tell me knights ride into battle at right angles. That’s just impractical. And how would they ever finish a quest if they can’t go in a straight line?”
Callum glared at me. “Those are the rules. It’s a game, not an actual bloody battle.”
“Are the knights drunk? Is that why they can’t ride in a straight line? Or are the horses drunk? That could be it.” I patted one with a paw, knocking it over, and he made a frustrated noise.
“Can you play or not?”
“And then you’ve got castles running about the place. When has a castle ever actually got involved? Was it the human who came up with the rules who was drunk? Someone was definitely drunk.” I knocked over a pawn and watched with my ears pricked as it rolled to the edge of the desk.
“Right. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea,” Callum said, grabbing the tatty cardboard box the game had come in. It was missing one queen, and we were using his lighter instead, which made me think he’d got the set out of the bin rather than a charity shop, which was our usual shopping destination. The career path of the private investigator not as lucrative as one might imagine. Nor as glamorous. And it seems to involve a lot more running than I generally approve of, usually from someone or something that wants to do terrible things to us.
“I don’t know why you thought it was a good idea, either,” I said.
“I should’ve just asked Mrs Smith to play,” he told me. “Not that she’s any clearer on the rules, but at least she wouldn’t have whinged this much.”
“I’m not whingeing. And I totally know the rules. I just don’t agree with them.” I tapped another knight experimentally. “Cat chess makes much more sense.”
Callum paused with his hand raised to sweep the board clean. “Cat chess? That’s a thing?”
“Sure. It just involves fewer drunk knights and more actual fighting.” I considered it. “Also naps.”
“Custard, too, I suppose.”
“Oh, now that’s a good idea. Do we have any?”
Callum hmphed and abandoned the box. “I need a cuppa anyway. Or possibly some sort of cat tranquilliser.”
“You’re just grumpy from nicotine withdrawal,” I told him as he got up and padded into the little alcove that passed as our kitchenette. “Have a biscuit.”
He said something unrepeatable about my opinions and clattered around with the kettle, still muttering to himself. I was fairly sure it was less the health benefits that had convinced him to try quitting smoking than it was our rather dire lack of cases, and therefore income. We’d been dodging the landlady for the last month, and if it wasn’t for our extravagantly coiffed across-the-hall neighbour Mrs Smith accidentally making too much food and buying too many groceries on a regular basis we’d have been going pretty hungry. Of course, if Callum would stop taking cases that paid in knitted river weed scarves and rosehip foot tinctures we might be doing a bit better. Opening our books to Folk cases – magical cases – had not exactly filled our coffers the way I’d hoped.
But, thanks to Mrs Smith, there was custard. Callum put a bowl in front of me and sat down with his cup of tea, his fingers twitching toward the desk drawer where his last packet of cigarettes was stashed. He stopped himself, ran a hand back over his scruffy hair, and sighed.
“We need some work, Gobs.”
“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know,” I said, sampling the custard. We usually got what we could at the corner shop down the road, which meant weird off-off-brand products that were a month past their sell-by date. Mrs Smith went to the proper supermarket, and the custard was excellent, although she’d probably disapprove if she knew it was me eating it rather than Callum. “We need to get a bit more proactive, I think.”
Callum tapped his fingers restlessly on the mug. “More proactive. What do you recommend, then? Radio ads? A bit of an infomercial? A flyer drop regarding magical investigators for hire?”
“Your nicotine withdrawal is definitely showing.” I licked my chops. “I just mean we could get a little more inventive. Really find some cases. And not magical bloody ones that pay in moonlight in a bottle.”
Callum looked at the bottle resting on a pile of tatty paperbacks. It had once held cheap vodka, by the look of it, and was currently shedding a weak pool of silver light on the covers. It was more impressive at night, but we hadn’t been able to work out how to turn the damn thing off, so it spent most of its time in a drawer. “It’s a really nice light, though.”
“Which doesn’t pay the rent.”
“No, but how can we just find cases? It’s not like there’s a PI bulletin board anywhere.”
“Sure. But what if, say, a local pawnshop lost some stock, and we just happened to know how to get it back, and—”
“No.” He opened a packet of biscuits that were so far off brand I couldn’t even tell what they were meant to be. They were just called “Biz-Kit”. “We are absolutely not robbing a pawnshop.”
“Well, we wouldn’t do the robbing. That’s just silly. We’d—”
“No.” He examined a Biz-Kit dubiously.
“Oh, come on! Your family was like the last great criminal enterprise of the north. I’m just talking about borrowing some stuff from a pawnshop and giving it back again.”
“And I got out of all that, remember?”
“I’m not suggesting we expand into G&C London, Criminal Endeavours. Just a little dabble before we end up starving and living in the car.”
“We’re not starving,” Callum said, and we both watched a moth crawl out of the Biz-Kits and venture off across the room. He sighed, pushed the packet away, and pulled the desk drawer open.
“No!” I snapped. “Come on – you’ve almost done a week!”
“I can’t have no biscuits and no cigarettes,” he said, in the sort of tone that indicated he was going to descend into the depths of despair without them. That, or break something.
“Then stop being so bloody moral and let’s go and find some money for biscuits!”
He pulled the cigarette pack out of the drawer, accompanied by a small green snake who was clinging grimly to one corner with his teeth. Callum sighed and set both the snake and the packet on the desk. “I’m not robbing a pawn shop to pay for biscuits.”
“You’re being ridiculous,” I complained. “I’m not saying we rob it. We just make an arrangement—”
“No.” He pried a corner of the packet open while the snake hissed at him, and extricated a cigarette.
“Don’t do it.”
“Just leave it, Gobs,” he said, the words a sigh. He flicked the lighter, the flame lighting his face and turning the shadows under his eyes into bruises. These days it seemed as though every time I woke up in the night he’d be sitting at the desk reading another cheap paperback with a torn cover, or staring out the window with a mug in one hand. I mean, given our cases – and often our clientele – a little insomnia was to be expected. Personally, I had regular nightmares about Komodo dragons chasing me through endless sewers while oversized land crabs nipped my toes and creatures from the void dribbled on my neck, but I don’t think Callum slept enough for nightmares. I think some of his memories filled that gap for him, and they were from older times than our cases.
Now he inhaled on the cigarette and started to lean back in his chair, and I launched myself over the abandoned chessboard. He yelped and tried to shove the chair away, but I barely touched down on the desk in front of him before jumping again. I hit his chest, swiped the cigarette out of his mouth and onto the scarred lino floor, then flung myself back again. Callum lunged forward, but I was ahead of him, skittering across the old desk and snatching up the packet of cigarettes before I shot straight off the other side and onto the floor. Green Snake watched me go with a bemused tilt to his head.
“Gobs!” Callum yelled, and grabbed the Biz-Kits, waving them at me threateningly. “Give them back!”
“You told me not to let you have them,” I said around the pack, rather indistinctly.
“I’ve rethought that. Give them here.” He came around the desk and beckoned to me with his free hand, not lowering the Biz-Kits.
I eyed them warily and edged toward the window, keeping the desk between us. “Nope.”
“I’ll give you more custard.”
Tempting. “No,” I repeated, jumping onto the windowsill.
“Tuna. I’ll get some tuna.”
“With what money?” I managed.
He waved a little helplessly. “I’ll get some.”
I examined the window. It was open just enough that I thought I’d be able to force the packet through the gap. “How?”
“Don’t do that,” Callum said. “Don’t just throw them out.”
I stared at him. “You should’ve thrown them out. Why’d you even keep them?”
“What’s that? I can’t understand you.”
I almost dropped the packet to repeat myself, then narrowed my eyes at him. “Ha.”
“Come on, Gobs. Give them to me and we’ll talk about the pawnshop thing.”
“Talk now,” I said, and snuffled. The stink of the damn things was getting up my nose.
“Jesus, just put them down,” he snapped, and shook the Biz-Kits. “Don’t make me do this.”
“You won’t,” I said, and he hurled the pack at me. I squawked and leaped off the windowsill, bolting for the kitchenette as the biscuits bounced off the glass behind me. “You turnip!”
“Give them to me!” he shouted, and lunged forward, trying to block the door and trap me in the tiny kitchen area (I harboured suspicions that what the landlady described on our legally questionable lease as a “full service kitchen” had once been an airing cupboard. It was that sort of size). I shot between his legs, teeth still clamped firmly onto the cigarette packet, and headed for the window again. Callum spun and threw himself after me. His hand slipped off my hindquarters and I growled, leaping onto the desk then to the windowsill, struggling to force the packet through the gap. It caught on one corner, and Callum scrambled to his feet. He slammed the window down, almost catching my paw.
“Hey!” I yelled, and he hesitated, a horrified look on his face. I snatched the packet up again and jumped for the desk. Callum almost caught me as I leaped, but I slipped away. I landed badly and slid across the chessboard, scattering pieces everywhere, then shot straight off the other side with a muffled squawk. Callum threw himself over the desk, yelping as he landed on the chess pieces, and plunged after me, catching himself on his hands before he could faceplant onto the floor.
“Gobs!” he shouted. “Stop it!”
I dropped the packet so I could shout back. “You stop it! I’m saving you from yourself, you … you battered squash.”
“You what?” he asked, peered at me through the mess of hair falling in his eyes. It needed a cut. It always needed a cut, even after Mrs Smith had just attacked it with her kitchen scissors.
“Pancake,” I said, and we stared at each other for a moment, then he dived off the desk, reaching for the cigarettes. I tried to grab them at the same time and bit his finger instead – which was an accident, in my defence.
“Hey!” he yelped. “Agreement, remember? No biting!”
“Sorry,” I said, letting go, then lunged at his hand and wrapped all four paws around it. “Drop them. Drop them!”
“Gobs, let go,” he said, and tried to pry me off with his free hand.
“Never!” I yelled, suddenly enraged by the twitching of his arm. I tightened my grip, my tail lashing furiously, and yowled, “You’ll never get them!” Then I buried my teeth in his thumb, agreement or no agreement.
“Ow! I will take you to the bloody rescue, you MUTT!” Callum shouted, trying to shake me off. I just gripped harder, growling.
And things could’ve got really out of hand, but at that point the phone rang.
Saved by the ringtone and all that.
We stared at each other, me still wrapped around his arm and him with one hand dangerously close to grabbing me by the scruff of the neck. Admittedly, that one wasn’t explicitly banned, but it shouldn’t need to be. No one can imagine it to be anything but painful and undignified for an adult cat of my standing to be lugged about like a recalcitrant kitten.
I freed my teeth from his thumb and said, “Are you going to get that?”
“Are you letting go?” he countered.
“Are you going to get the phone or the cigarettes?”
He shot a sideways look at the packet, lying half-crushed next to us while the phone continued to blare joyfully. “Both.”
“Then no.” I dug my claws more firmly into the sleeve of his hoody.
He sighed and sat up, grabbing the cigarettes with his free hand then scrabbling around in the wreckage on the desk.
“Hurry up!” I said. “It’ll ring out. And it might actually be a case.”
“It’d help not to have a cat attached to me.” He found the mobile under a toppled pile of books and thumbed the screen, tucking it between his shoulder and cheek as he shook a cigarette out of the packet one-handed. “G&C London, Private Investigators.”
I couldn’t hear the voice on the other end, but I watched the angle of Callum’s shoulders stiffen, his hand pausing with the cigarette halfway to his mouth.
“Callum North, yes,” he said, using the family name he’d abandoned around the same time he’d shaken off his hometown of Dimly. That had been before we’d met, and until recently I’d never wondered why he’d been happy enough to use my name. I mean, London’s a good name. I didn’t blame him for borrowing it.
Callum wasn’t looking at me, his gaze on the desk without seeing it.
“Who is it?” I asked, and he shook his head slightly, taking the phone from his shoulder. I let go, rolling onto the desk, and he started to rub a finger over the thumbnail of the same hand, smearing the blood where I’d bitten him.
“What’s this about?” he asked, the words stiff.
I lifted myself onto my hind legs, pawing at his arm. “Put it on speaker.”
He glanced at me finally, and shook his head again. He’d swapped to chewing on his thumbnail now. “Mr Lewis, what’s the job?”
Mr Lewis? That was familiar, and not in the way that brought warm fuzzy feelings. “Speaker,” I hissed, and when he ignored me again I tried to climb to his shoulder, but he just shook me off and stepped away from the desk.
“When?” he asked, then nodded. “Fine. See you then.” He put the phone down, blinked at it, then stuck the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and fished the lighter out from among the chess pieces on the floor. I watched him, my eyes narrowed, and Green Snake emerged from the mess of books and slithered up to me. We exchanged glances, then went back to looking at Callum. He lit the cigarette without looking at either of us.
“And?” I said finally.
“It was Lewis,” he said, starting to collect the debris from the floor.
“I got that. Who’s Lewis?”
He rubbed the corner of his mouth. “Ifan’s dad.”
“What did he want?” The last time we’d seen Lewis, we’d been hunting for the source of a zombie outbreak in Leeds, and he’d been less than helpful, to put it mildly.
“He has a job for us.”
“What is it?”
“He didn’t want to go into it over the phone. He wants us to go to the house.”
“Oh, that sounds good,” I said. “Let’s see, the last time we saw him he accused you of being a junkie who was just hoping for a handout. Now he suddenly thinks we can help him?”
He shrugged, knocking ash into an old tin on the desk. “I suppose there aren’t too many PI firms in Leeds specialising in Folk cases.”
“No, I imagine the rest of them charge in actual money.”
He almost smiled at that. “He said it was to do with Ifan.”
“Ifan’s dead.” I saw Callum’s mouth twitch slightly as I said it, and I suppose I should have used some human phrase like passed away or pushing up dandelionsor something, but it all came to the same thing. Ifan had been buried in the cemetery where the zombie outbreak had started, and at about the same time, too.
“He didn’t say he wasn’t. Maybe he just wants to find out what happened.”
“I thought it was an overdose.”
Callum shrugged, dropping into his chair and rubbing his face with one hand. “I don’t know, Gobs. But it’s a job, right?”
“It’s a magician’s job, and the magician in question didn’t like you too much. And the last time we went poking around looking for dead people we ended up dealing with zombie hordes. Do we have to repeat that?”
Callum stubbed his cigarette out and looked at me, those shadows looking darker than ever under his eyes. “Ifan was a friend. I at least owe it to him to find out what his dad wants.”
I sighed. “I thought we were done with your dodgy past after Dimly. How much of it do you have?”
“Well, less than you. I’ve only got one life’s worth.”
“So you should listen to wiser heads.”
“When you are stopping getting yourself killed in every life I’ll think about it,” he said, and picked up the Biz-Kits, releasing another moth. “We need the cash, anyway. And what’s the worst that can happen?”
“Well, now you’ve said that, anything. He could throw fireballs at us. Dump us in pits of snakes and spiders.” I looked at Green Snake. “No offence.”
Green Snake flicked his tongue at me, which could’ve meant anything.
“We’ll just go talk to him,” Callum said. “Nothing too bad can happen if we just talk to him.”
Which sounded like the sort of thing everyone says just before enchanted tadpoles start coming out of their ears, if you ask me.
Lovely people, I hope you’ve found your own way through the last year, and figured out what you need to do – or not do – in order to stay as safe, healthy, and cared-for as you possibly can. All I know is that you’re here, reading this, and that makes you pretty damn extraordinary in my book. Keep doing what you’re doing. Do more of the things that help, and less of the things that don’t. Look after you.
And there will be another chapter and release news coming soon!
Take care out there, lovely people – and let me know below one thing you’ve started doing just for you. One thing that makes your heart a little easier. And then go do more of it 😉