Work In Progress Chapter One
If you’ve never had to deal with a horny leprechaun,you don’t know how lucky you are.
Over the last few weeks, a lot of middle-aged men had been turning up suddenly dead, with their pants round their ankles and a smile on their face — sometimes, but not always, in the company of their wives. It had confused the mundane cops for a while, but then someone thought of turning the case over to us.
I’m Sergeant Bill Wallace, and I’m with the Anomalous Occurences Department, or as everyone calls us Peculiar Branch. We deal with the unusual kinds of crimes, the ones that don’t get reported in the newspapers. When someone entered a unicorn with its horn filed off in the Grand National, it was us who investigated. When a mad magus started animating shop-window dummies, we stopped him (though we don’t like to talk about that one… one of them had actually managed to become Chancellor of the Exchequer before anyone realised anything was up). In short, we make sure that the laws of nature are actual laws, not just guidelines.
So when it was realised that these stiff stiffs were getting into that state because they’d been sniffing powdered unicorn horn, we’d been called in. Unfortunately, the bust hadn’t gone quite according to plan — the leprechaun who’d been dealing the stuff had seen us coming, and had swallowed the lot. When you’re trying to put handcuffs on a three-foot tall bloke with a ginger beard who keeps trying to hump your leg, you start wondering about the life choices you’ve made.
We’d stuck shorty in an interview room, and three hours later he’d finally stopped grinding against the table legs, and was merely sitting there cross-legged and hunched over, with a look of agony on his face.
“Me name be Seamus O’Reilly O’Patrick McGinty, begorrah”
“Cut the crap. You don’t have to do the Oirish bit with us, we do know where leprechauns come from.”
He straightened up, very slightly. “You do?”
“Yes. And unless you want to get sent back to the Queen’s tender mercies, you’ll start being straight with us.”
“OK, well, my name’s Vadrillian, then.”
“That’s more like it. And do you have a valid visa allowing you to be present in this plane of existence?”
“I seem somehow to have misplaced it, just at the moment.”
“In which case I must now warn you that you are under arrest. As a non-human sapient lifeform, you have no rights except the right to choose your deportation destination. Of course, if you’re not going to play nice with us, we might accidentally send you back to Fairyland, rather than letting you choose somewhere nicer like Faraway And Longago. So unless you want to count on the Queen suddenly deciding she likes runaways, you might want to be very careful how you answer the next few questions.”
Vadrillian looked suitably chastened, so I began.
“Firstly, who was selling you the Horn?”
“A wizard. Don’t know his name.”
“Tell me more.”
“Well, he’s one of the local dealers. Mostly sells fairy dust to kids — he works as a teacher at St Cymian’s School — but he got hold of a big score of Horn a couple of months back, and didn’t know what to do with it, so he sold it to me cheap, like. Not much call for Horn among fifteen year old boys — most of them need something to keep it down, not get it up.”
“Did he say where he got it?”
“Says he has a gobboe mate who works in an abbatoir in the Misty Worlds, says they just throw the horns away after using the rest of it for unicorn burgers.”
“And you believe him?”
“Course not. It was just his way of saying for me to not ask questions, wasn’t it?”
“So, what’s this wizard’s name?”
“Everyone calls him Derek, but it’s obviously not his real name, and I wasn’t going to ask. You ask a wiz his True Name and see how long it takes him to turn you into something ‘orrible and squish you.”
“But he definitely works at St Cymian’s?”
“Would I lie to you?”
“Do you know anything else about him?”
“I know he sometimes drinks at the Frog And Kettle, down Knightsgate way, but you won’t find him there this week. It’s Freshers Week and he really hates students.”
I left him to squirm for a while and went out to get a coffee. I bumped into my mate Charlie — PC Briggs — at the machine.
“Right, Bill? How’s tricks?”
“Don’t ask. Got a Horn dealer banged up in number two, trying to find out who his supplier is.”
“Your wife started complaining then? Funny, she never complains when I’m around…”
Charlie thinks he’s a funny bloke, but most of his ‘jokes’ are about how he’s younger and better looking than I am. Which is true enough. I’m thirty-five, but look more like forty-five, and what I’ve got isn’t so much male pattern baldness as lack-of-pattern baldness, just random chunks of my hair missing. Charlie, on the other hand, is thirty and looks more like twenty. He has dark brown hair, while I’ve got dark brown teeth.
“Funny man. You won’t be laughing so much in a minute.”
“Why not? You going to tell a joke?”
“Keep digging, mate. No, I’m going to put you forward for a bit of undercover work.”
“Nice one, sarge! But why me?”
“You know how to Metamorphus, don’t you?”
“A bit. I can make myself look younger or older, or change the colour of my hair, but that’s about it.”
“That’s all we need. How did you like school, Charlie?”
A look of dread appeared on Charlie’s face. “Sarge?”
“Best days of your life, right? Well, you’re going to get to live them all over again!”
After dropping that bombshell on Charlie, I tried to get some more information from Vadrillian, but he was doing an “I know nozzing” routine, saying all of us big buggers looked alike to him and so on. Couldn’t really blame him, though. We were, after all, asking him to grass up a powerful magic-user, with no possible reward for him if he co-operated. It happens all the time — we have no real bargaining chips with magical types, because we all know that they are going to get deported no matter what, thanks to our “tough on crime and tougher on immigration” political masters. I’d like to think that the people in the Ministry don’t know how hard they’re making life for those of us on the ground, but I suspect they know all too well.
So I sent Vadrillian on a one-way trip to the Misty Worlds, the destination of choice for all discerning drug-dealing priapic leprechauns, and went to drop my report off at the desk, when Liz — Sergeant Burton — told me that the Chief Inspector wanted to see me. Swearing under my breath, I made my way to her office.
To say that me and the CI don’t get on would be a slight exaggeration — we have a working relationship. But that working relationship consists of her telling me to do things I don’t want to do, and me doing them. Whenever I end up talking to her, it’s usually because I’m going to have to spend the next six months up to my waist in shit, while she sits in her office and tells me to plunge in as far as my neck.
But when I got to her office, I found things were even worse than I expected. The CI wasn’t alone, the Chief Constable for the county was there. That meant politics was happening.
“You wanted to see me, ma’am?”
“Sit down, Sergeant Wallace,” not Bill, notice. That meant something was definitely up. I sat down. “I take it you recognise the Chief Constable.”
“Of course. Good afternoon, sir.”
“Now, the Chief Constable has been giving me some highly confidential news. Do you pay much attention to the news from the magical realms, Sergeant Wallace?”
“Not as much as I should, I suppose. I read the emails you send out, of course,” that was a lie, but I couldn’t very well say anything else, “but I tend to concentrate on the job in front of me, rather than worrying about things that are out of my hands.”
The Chief Constable butted in at this point. “You’ve got the serenity to accept those things you can’t change, so you can have the strength to change those things you can?”
“Er…yes, sir. That sounds about right.”
“Well,” said the CI, “you may not have realised that we may be heading towards Mage War II. Nobody’s actually talking in those terms in public, of course — no-one wants to elevate tensions any more than they have to — but it’s looking ever more likely.”
“And are we taking sides?”
“No,” said the Chief Constable. “And a good thing too. The less we get involved in that kind of devilry, the better. We are remaining scrupulously neutral. Frankly, I hope the lot of them wipe each other out and leave us God-fearing types to get on with things.”
“That’s not quite the official line we’re taking,” said the CI, “but unofficially, it’s not far off. However, what we don’t want is for things to heat up to the point where we’re getting fallout from the war affecting us here.”
“So…and pardon me for putting this quite so bluntly, ma’am, sir, but what does this have to do with me?”
“There’s going to be a peace conference next week, and they’ve chosen this world, as a neutral third party, to hold it.” I began to get a sinking feeling in my gut. “Specifically, they’ve chosen the new conference centre just outside town.”
“Naturally, “ the Chief Constable said, “as a matter of interuniverse security, most of the security for the venue will be handled by the anti-terrorist squad, MI6 and so on. We don’t expect you to deal with all this yourself. But we do need some local lads on the ground. And you’re one of them.”
“More specifically,” said the CI, “you’re going to be the bodyguard for the Chief Panjandrum from the Misty Worlds.”
“Is this just a bodyguarding job, or…?”
“Bright lad,” said the Chief Constable, who was getting more and more on my nerves with every passing sentence. “We would absolutely never, under any circumstances, want you to break any confidences you might enter into as a result of this placement. We would certainly not want you to pass secrets on to us, even if us not knowing those secrets should endanger Her Majesty’s Government, the Earth or even this whole plane of existence. We will not give you any such orders, and will deny, under truth spells if necessary, that you were asked to do so. I trust I have made myself clear?”
“Absolutely, sir.” I said, while wishing death and destruction on his fat beardy face in the privacy of my own skull. “I must not, under any circumstances, be seen to pass on any secrets with which the Chief Panjandrum entrusts me.”
“Good boy. Dismissed.”
I hate politics.