There was quite a commotion in the dungeons this evening. It turned out that when Senga took the coins to buy her Christmas baubles, she failed to enter it in the dusty tomes kept for the purpose. Father’s weekly audit of the gold he still considers his, showed a discrepancy.
He was livid. So livid he could barely manifest. He’s been transparent often but this time he went all blurry at the edges too. By the time I released all the locks, disconnected the sprung spears and hauled open the last of the doors, he looked as if he was made of jelly rather than ectoplasm.
“We’ve been robbed!” He flitted from the coins to the books and back again. “Robbed, I tell you!”
“I hardly think that’s likely.” I picked my way over the trip wires and around the part of the floor that’s just painted paper hiding an oubliette, and took a look at the books.
“What’s the problem?” There was no way I was going to count all those coins myself. I never have. Father checks them weekly anyway so I never bother. Besides, I already had an inkling of what the problem might be. It was just a matter of finding the right way to tell him.
“Fifteen coins! Fifteen! Fifteen!” He held up his hands, fingers splayed, and manifested an extra one for the occasion. “Fifteen of my gold coins, including two of the really shiny ones. Someone has stolen them.”
“Fifteen?” I checked the book. The three I had given to Senga were accounted for. Above it, where there should have been an entry by Senga to show how much she had taken, was only my previous withdrawal, just over a year ago. Dizziness overcame me. Surely she had not spent fifteen gold coins on all that rubbish?
Father paced the floor. He’s lucky, he can walk right over the paper part without falling through.
“I’ll have to call Beryl,” he said. “I can’t watch this all the time. I still have to keep out of Death’s way when he visits. Beryl can look after the place whenever I have to hide.”
“Oh, I don’t think we need Beryl’s services.” I was in such a haste to calm him that I almost stepped into the oubliette myself. You have to keep your concentration in this room.
Beryl is the banshee I mentioned a while ago. When she last visited I tried to get Death to collect her soul but sadly, that’s impossible. She has already been collected and now works for what Death refers to as ‘the downstairs office’.
“Why not?” Father stopped pacing and glowered at me. “You know something, don’t you? Have you forgotten to log in a withdrawal?”
“Not me. You know me better than that. No, it was Senga. She bought a tree.” I gritted my teeth. It was bad enough that she had forgotten to log the amount, and that she had taken two of the shiniest coins. He didn’t need to know what she had spent it on.
Father’s face turned inside out six times before he brought it under control. When he spoke, it was with a voice so filled with menace it could have cleared the area of Ferals forever.
“She bought a tree? Doesn’t she look outside? The place is surrounded by trees and has been since your great-great-grandfather annoyed the local dryads. There is no tree shortage here and won’t be until one of us finds out what he did with the dryad’s amulet and gives it back. Tell me she didn’t spend fifteen gold coins on another damn tree?”
“I think she wanted one that doesn’t bite.” I braced myself for a difficult conversation. “It’s in the living room. It’s not that bad, she also bought shiny things to–“
“Shiny thngs?” Father resumed pacing. “She has been in the McStench’s shop, hasn’t she? There is absolutely nothing in that shop worth buying.”
“I suspect she has, yes. I don’t know how much she spent, there might be some left. Leave it with me. I’ll tell her not to take anything without recording it in future.”
“You tell her if she comes near my gold again I’ll squirt ectoplasm right up her nose.”
Technically, it became my gold when the old duffer died but this wasn’t the time to bring up that argument again. Besides, if he left, I’d have to count it myself. It seemed best to leave him to cool off for a while.
“Okay,” I said, “don’t get yourself all worked up. Think of your heart.” It’s in a jar of formalin, sealed behind the wall of the kitchen. Thinking about it relaxes him.
“Well…” He sulked hard enough to make his jowls meet at the bottom. “You get that wife of yours under control. I don’t want my books messed up.”
“I’ll deal with it. Don’t you worry.” I picked my way back to the door, over the trip wires. “I’ll find out what she’s done with the rest of the coins and explain the rules to her. You try to relax.” I narrowed my eyes and pointed my finger at him. “And forget about Beryl. I had tinnitis for weeks after the last time. If you bring her here again I swear I’ll tell Death where you hide.”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Don’t risk it.” I closed and locked the door, reset the sprung spears and made my way back through the traps and doors until I arrived in the main house.
Senga was in the living room, wearing a new dress. I drew a deep breath. This was a not the time to talk money.
“What do you think?” She twirled, then had to sit down for a minute.
It was exactly the same as the old dress but without the stains and the stench of old offal. Still, in time, it would settle in. This one was a little baggier so it disguised some of the more unsightly lumps.
“I like it.” I headed for the drinks cabinet. Usually the whisky in there is only for the Professor’s visits but today I decided to have a glass or two myself. If I had any cigars I’d have taken up smoking too.
As if on cue, Caligula started howling.
It couldn’t get any worse.
But it did.
I’ll tell you of that later. For the moment, I’m going to try the Professor’s favourite malts. The ones I can’t pronounce sober. Names like Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Bruaichladdich, sound like they come from the pages of fantasy books and as I understand it, if you drink enough of them they transport you into those books.
It’s worth a try.