A Game of Cards

“No, absolutely not!” Flynn said.

The hulking boggart facing him grinned. “You need the information. I have the information. You give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want.” The grin widened. “And what can go wrong with a game of cards?”

“You’re planning on playing poker with the Rev Darren King,” Flynn said. “He’s an exorcist. He’s a vicar. He’s used to facing demons. I’m not sure he even knows the rules, Vernon.” He looked around the cavernous warehouse at the watching boggarts and wondered if facing demons would be easier.

“That’s what I thought,” Vernon said smugly.

“I know the rules,” Darren said, irritation rolling from him in waves. “What are the stakes. I won’t stake my soul or anything that will affect my mission.”

Vernon hunkered down on one side of the kitchen table pulled to the centre of the hall. “It’s easy. We both start with equal chips. If you win, I tell you all I know about Mercury. If I win, I still tell you about Mercury, but you owe me a favour. And I won’t breathe a word about anything if you don’t play.”

“You really need to see someone about your gambling addiction,” Darren said as he sat on the hard kitchen chair opposite Vernon. “What are the rules?”

“I thought you knew the rules.” Vernon scoffed.

“I mean, is it the Texas game that I’ve heard about?” Darren said. “And is it played with a standard deck or is it like piquet where some cards are removed?”

Vernon’s grin couldn’t get wider, but he looked a happy boggart as he picked up the cards. “It’s a standard deck, draw poker. Bring over the drink, boys.”

“I’m just on water,” Darren said. “You know what I face. And I’m always on call.”

“That’s fair enough,” Vernon begrudgingly agreed.

“Let me play instead,” Flynn said as he watched Vernon expertly riffle shuffle. “I can give you a good game.”

“But then I don’t get to boast that I played cards with Darren King,” Vernon said. He handed the cards over to Darren. “Deal.”

Darren shuffled the cards with a loose, overhand shuffle and frowned at Vernon. “This is a waste of time.”

“Not if you want that information,” Vernon said, watching a young boggart in a mini skirt and heels stack the chips in front of the players. She poured a large whisky for him and placed a bottle of water next to Darren. “Go on, padre, let’s play cards.”

Flynn didn’t want to look. Darren wasn’t exactly wholesome. He had what looked like a good relationship with his girlfriend, and was a working minister as well as an exorcist, but he wasn’t exactly a little ray of sunshine. Darren had no tolerance for fools, no time for idiots and was ruthlessly determined. He also lost the first two hands. He wasn’t the sort of man who played cards. He would be more likely to read an improving book. Why couldn’t he have taken Darren’s place? Of course, if Darren just lost the games then at least they would get the information quicker. They would still owe Vernon a favour, though, and he wasn’t a nice boggart. The rotting warehouse was cold and damp but Flynn could feel a trickle of sweat between his shoulder blades and his stomach was churning. He straightened up. He was an immortal elfen that could deal with any amount of boggarts and was not in the mood for nonsense. On the other hand, Darren was mortal and comparatively fragile. He helped himself to a glass of the cheap whiskey.

“This place is a mess,” Darren said as Vernon dealt the next hand. He unscrewed the cap on the water bottle. “You should get yourself a decent place.” He took a mouthful from the bottle and grimaced. “Really? You had to use cheap vodka? You could have at least used the decent stuff.”

Vernon’s eyes narrowed. “I thought vodka didn’t taste of anything,” he said.

“Neat vodka is hard to miss,” Darren said, picking up the cards and looking around. “Do you have rats here?”

“Do rats bother you?” Vernon asked hopefully.

Darren stared at him. “I wouldn’t last long as an exorcist if they did. I just thought I saw one.” He threw in a chip.

Vernon glanced down at his cards. “We don’t usually get them in. Perhaps they followed the scent of fresh meat?” His heart wasn’t in it, though, and Darren’s mocking smile wasn’t help. “And I’ll raise.”

Darren grunted. “I’m sure a lot of your boys would be better in somewhere warm out of the draughts,” he said, tossing in another chip. “Just halfway decent chairs would make a difference.”

“What, and all nice covers and that?” Vernon sneered. “These are street boggarts. What sort of boggarts are you used to?” He threw in another chip.

“I used to have Mr and Mrs Appuck in my parish, and I see quite a bit of Mrs Tuesday,” Darren said, throwing his chip in. “Their houses were immaculate.”

Vernon grunted as he tried to ignore the reference to some of the most feared boggarts in the country. “That’s the old ways, though. We don’t need any of that.” He checked the diminished stack of chips and his hand. “I call.”

Flynn kept his face carefully neutral as Darren’s flush beat Vernon’s two pair. A suspicion started to grow as Darren bickered over the water that was brought to replace the vodka. Darren wasn’t paying that much attention to his cards, apparently, just throwing in the chips as he grumbled. Vernon was insisting that the water was fine and suddenly found himself once again running his decent full house into a straight that Darren had given no sign of holding.

“I suppose I do have the advantage,” Vernon said, ignoring his dwindling stack of chips and dealing the next hand. “Normals can’t read boggarts. It’s a well known fact.”

“Fold,” Darren said after a glance, pushing his cards away from him and taking a drink of the water. “That’s better, and nice and cold. I don’t suppose you need a fridge down here.”

“There is nothing wrong with this place,” Vernon said, scowling as he pulled in the tiny stake. “And it’s discreet.”

Darren sighed as he took the cards and shuffled. “Did you never think that activity in an abandoned warehouse would look suspicious?” He dealt the cards. “You’re going to get more attention here than a nice bar or restaurant where you expect to see people coming or going.”

“A restaurant?” Vernon stared at Darren in disbelief, then checked his cards. He glanced at the small pile of chips at his hand. “I raise.”

Darren pushed in his chips. “And you get a nice bit of cash from the business. Of course, you have to have a bit about you to do the wages and all that, but it’s surprising how it can work. You could even open a casino. The bank always wins.”

“I know my way around a poker table,” Vernon said. “All in.” He pushed the last of his chips towards the centre.

Darren pushed his chips in. “You would be better off supervising,” he said.

“Full house,” Vernon said, placing down his cards.

“Straight flush,” Darren said, placing his own cards down. “Now, tell me all about Mercury.”

Flynn was uneasily aware of the boggarts crowding around. It was an odd atmosphere. On one hand, this cocky vicar had just beaten their leader without apparently paying attention. On the other hand, Flynn got a sense that the gambling was becoming a problem. He breathed a little easier. They were probably going to get out of here in one piece.

Vernon smiled ruefully at Darren and held out his hand. “I’ve got it all typed up and I’ll send it to the usual email,” he said. “Thank you for the game.”

“Thanks,” Darren said. He hesitated. “What favour were you going to ask?”

Vernon shrugged. “My youngest is getting married in a few months, and it would have looked good to have someone like yourself tying the knot.”

Darren stared at him for a moment and then laughed. “I love doing weddings. Let me know and I’ll see what I can do. I hardly ever get to do weddings.”

Vernon nodded. “I guess you get too many funerals.”

“More than you can imagine,” Darren said with a grimace. “But that’s the nature of the work.”

Flynn interrupted. “We need to get on,” he said. He nodded to Vernon. “Good game to watch.”

Vernon snorted. “Watch me get beat. I’ll get the info to you.” He thought for a moment and then shrugged. “Mercury is a bastard. I’m not saying I’m helping out an elfen and a normal, but give us a call if you need some back up. Just don’t tell anyone.” There were nods around the room. Mercury had no friends here.

They had driven a few miles before Flynn turned to Darren. “Where did you learn to play cards like that?”

Darren didn’t glance from the road. “I used to be in the Navy, remember, in the Royal Marines. I learned to play cards there. And it came in very useful when I sat up with Mrs Tuesday for a week when she had pneumonia. She really knows how to play cards.” He flicked a quick glance at Flynn and then turned back to driving. “Mrs Tuesday is an elderly boggart with an evil sense of humour and makes Vernon looks like a toothless pussycat. She’d have had those boggarts cleaning so that you could eat your dinner off any surface in the place and left them grateful to her. After that, Vernon wasn’t so tough.”

“You learned to play like that from an old lady?” Flynn asked sceptically.

“From an older boggart card sharp with a dirty mind,” Darren said. A notification rang from his phone. “It sounds like Vernon has kept his word. Let’s see how close we can get to Mercury now.”

Just One Day

cupcake
Image from Unsplash, taken by Melissa Walker Horn

It’s just one day.

Getting ready in this household is never a calm, ordered procedure. I don’t know anyone with organised mornings, and they’re certainly chaotic here. But finding the missing school book and digging out the car keys seem to float past me this morning. I don’t say anything – it wouldn’t be fair. I just carry on as usual.

It’s just one day.

I’ve done the school run so many times, that it’s on autopilot. Even the the frankly erratic driving of the vans and the chaos of the roadworks seem somehow muffled, like the teenage texting happening next to me.

It’s just one day.

And I’ve washing to do, dinner to make, errands to run, and it’s all in the same quiet bubble. I remember to pick up the small cake, just like last year, but keep it quiet. I don’t want to make a fuss. I don’t want to upset anyone. It’s personal, and private to me.

It’s just one day.

And now the hustle and bustle of the day has passed, and I have a few moments alone, I can look at that cake. Your cake. Your birthday cake. I lost you, my baby, far too early to know whether to get a pink cake or a blue cake. I never saw a smile or heard a giggle. I never soothed you or comforted you. You left before you arrived. Today, if you stuck to the due date (and babies never do) would be your birthday.

It’s just one day.

And, though you normally rest quietly in the shadows, today I remember. Just one day to think of what could have been. Then I leave you once again to rest until next year. I love you, my darling.

Movement

brown house surrounded white trees
Image from Unsplash, taken by Craig Cooper

The day is without motion, all is quiet

The smoke across the valley rises straight

And in the silent room that is my kitchen

I sit and nurse my tea and slowly wait.

I careful move, not to disturb the silence

The frost is hard and the brittle grass is white

I sit and chill within the silent garden

The sunshine has no heat, just frozen light

As slow as moss, I move back to the kitchen

And breathe while waiting for my heart to fill

One day I’ll thaw and rattle through the hours

Till then the light, the day and I are still.

My Room

Image from Unsplash, taken by Clint Patterson

I thought I heard your voice,

But it was just an echo.

Outside a car door slammed.

It was spilling laughter around it,

People were shouting across it,

And I think it reminded me.

And that is all the noise I hear.

The room is silent.

I stopped the clock

As its loud ticking hurt me.

The shadows through the curtains

Rise and fall with the daylight.

My room is dark and paused.

I should light a candle.

I should eat some food.

I should breathe carefully.

I should get some sleep.

I should push myself out of here.

I am here, quiet in the dark.

You have gone and are elsewhere,

In the daylight and warmth.

And that is all.

There Should Be Storms

There should be storms, not the calm, still sky.

There should be storms, and dark castle walls.

This faded coffee shop, half empty, in the shade,

Is not the place to watch your life crash down.

I wait for you, and you are late again.

In the corner, reading a cheap magazine,

A woman droops and, trying not to yawn,

Turns the page to new adulteries.

I check my phone, there’s nothing new from you,

Just half an hour wait and waiting still.

I wonder if you know what waits here, crouching,

In this faded, shaded, tired coffee shop

Two girls behind the counter, talking low

Of boys and school and last week’s hair.

They bend the paper clip from next week’s hours

To try and free the block in the machine

They sound so young and earnest, taking care

Warning each other about the burning pipes

Promising to be there at the club

And one will lend the other their new dress

The woman yawns again and leaves the place

Out into the bright and shining mall

Past the old rabbi playing careful chess

Facetiming with his friend in Tel Aviv

The two old men talk with kindness, they are kind

And measure the words they use across the miles

What words can I use to you so close

When I stare across the table at your face.

The old rabbi taps his hearing aid and shouts

A gentle, kind goodbye across the miles.

Packs up his chess and leaves into the mall.

I am reading the left magazine

The coffee shop is shutting with the mall,

The sun is draining down the peaceful sky

There should be storms.  I text you, ‘It is over

Do not contact me again.  Goodbye.’

Another blast from the past, first published in 2016

Candlemas

Fiona watched Steve light the candles ranged across the mantelpiece and then along the windowsill. “It’s Candlemas. What does that mean?”

Steve slotted the lighter back on the shelf. “Candlemas, Imbolc, Feast of Lights. It’s a funny time of year. It’s one of the big festivals, you know. Lady Freydis has her realm lit up like a fairground.” He picked up his glass of wine. “I’ve heard it described as the first day of spring.” He shrugged and looked out at the snow outside. “I suppose you could say that it’s a little glimpse of hope. It’s still dark at breakfast and dinner time, but the nights are getting a minute or two shorter every day. It’s still foul weather, but there are snowdrops out there and the first stirrings of spring are around, like buds and shoots tucked away in the corners. It’s dark, but there’s hope of light. It’s cold, but there’s hope of spring.”

Fiona took her glass and gently touched it to his. “Cheers. It doesn’t feel like it’s getting better.”

Steve shook his head. “But all we can do is hold on to the hope that the darkness will pass. Because without that hope, it’s a very dark place indeed.”

It’s Here!

It’s here, the sequel to Out of the London Mist. I had such fun writing it.

John Farnley, reluctant Lord and Peer, agrees to fly Professor Entwistle and Miss Sylvia Armley on their expedition, for the usual fees. It was planned as a straightforward trip to Sudan searching under the Saharan sky for obscure Nubian pyramids where they would hopefully unearth new archaeological remains.

But first they find a desperate woman, a dying man, and the ominous threat of mercenaries left leaderless after the recent colonial wars, mercenaries who are also interested in the treasures that might be hidden within the pyramids. And what could this have to do with the stories of djinn?

Trapped by an aether storm that left their aether flyer powerless, the companions work desperately to find out the secrets of the pyramids as the threat of the mercenaries grows.

Could this have anything to do with the forbidden knowledge of Hammerhand’s creation? Will the courage of John Farnley, the knowledge of Professor Entwistle, and the sharpshooting skills of Sylvia Armley save them? Or will it be the secret locked in the bronze figures?

It’s available at Amazon and all sorts of wonderful places, including the amazing Three Furies Press.

Thank you to all who have encouraged me. It has always been appreciated. And now I’m going to do a few laps of excitement around the living room!

Lady Clara’s Interview – Getting Ready for Under the Bright Saharan Sky!

pen on white lined paper selective focus photography
Image from Unsplash, taken by Aaron Burden

With the publication of Under the Bright Saharan Sky only three sleeps away, here’s a little insight about how Lady Clara is feeling…

“Good afternoon, won’t you sit down?” Lady Clara Farnley indicated a chintz covered chair and turned to the butler. “Please could you bring tea and refreshments.”

Miss Adelia Davenport took a seat and pulled a notebook and pen from her commodious reticule. “Thank you for agreeing to see me, Lady Farnley, especially after your recent loss.”

Clara managed a smile. Her mother had braved the new-fangled telephone and spent several hours explaining to Clara why she would help out the daughter of an old friend with an interview with The Lady magazine. She hadn’t mentioned it to her brother-in-law, the new Lord Farnley, and she wasn’t sure what he would think. “My mother spoke very highly of you.”

Adelia readied her pen. “Your late husband died very suddenly I believe.”

“Yes, it was a great shock.” Lady Clara kept her composure with an effort. The reminders of the loss of her husband still stung. 

“How did it happen?” Adelia asked with a blandly enquiring expression.

Clara took a deep breath. That was an incredibly impertinent question, but how to answer? The woman in front of her, barely older than a schoolgirl, had relentlessly pursued this interview and now was demanding inappropriate answers. She was saved as Leighton returned with the tea tray. “Thank you, Leighton.” She watched as Leighton set the tray down on a mahogany side table and poured the tea before leaving. “It was a dreadful shock when my late husband died so unexpectedly. Fortunately my brother-in-law, Lord John Farnley, was able to return home immediately. He was a very successful aether pilot and he flew all over the world.” Clara gently stirred her tea. “He has frequently been out of the range of telegrams, but fortunately our man of business managed to track Lord John down in Munich.” She watched Adelia add two large sugar lumps to her tea. “I believe he was returning from piloting an academic expedition to Greece. Would you like a petit four?”

Adelia made some notes before helping herself to a tiny cake. “You must miss your late husband very much. How did you meet him?”

“I was helping at a village fete in support of missionary work in East Africa.” Clara smiled at the memory. She had been hot, flustered and exasperated when she had dashed towards the tea tent with a box of tea and collided with someone so handsome that it had made her blink. “He takes, that is, he took a great interest in the local charitable causes.” She hadn’t recognised him at first, as she had only seen him at a distance, and had scolded him for being in the way like she would have scolded any ordinary gentleman. “He had the most exquisite manners.” He had insisted on carrying the box of tea for her, saying that a delicate creature should not carry such burdens. “I couldn’t but help have a favourable impression of him.”

Adelia made some notes. “But you were used to moving in the same social circles, I believe.”

Clara kept her face blandly polite with an effort. “Indeed. My late husband had a title and considerable estates. I was the second daughter of a country doctor. In fact, it proves my point about Lord Nicholas’ excellent manners. He never alluded to the differences in our backgrounds.”

“He sounds a perfect gentleman,” Adelia said, scribbling furiously. 

“Indeed he was,” Clara said, with a strained smile. She was not going to discuss her dead husband’s flaws.

“And he asked you to marry him?” Adelia said. “You must have been grateful.”

Clara felt a strong urge to dump her earl grey tea over Adelia’s wretched notebook. “I was very much in love with Lord Nicholas. When he was so kind as to propose to me, I did not feel gratitude, I felt loved and adored.” She watched Adelia’s pen race over the page with some misgiving.

“You were not blessed with children,” Adelia said. She looked carefully over Clara’s tightly corseted waist and drew her own conclusions. “So your brother-in-law inherits everything.”

“Lord John inherits the title, yes.” Clara said, refusing to be drawn on any details.

“And what is your role now?” Adelia asked. “What does your future hold?”

“My role will remain the same,” Clara said, “At least for the foreseeable future. It is of greatest importance that a household such as Farnley Grange has strong direction for the household staff. The staff take their tone from the family, as you know. When Lord Nicholas was alive, I was the captain of the domestic ship, the leader of the home and I provided a haven in a hostile world, just as any wife would do, regardless of rank. As Lord John may still be called away on his pilot duties, it is of utmost importance that I continue the direction of the household.” 

In the air hung the unsaid words, ‘until Lord John marries’. Adelia made some more notes. “I can see the evidence of Lord John’s travels. Is that vase Chinese?”

“It’s Japanese,” Clara said. She always adored the rich colours and delicate gilding. “It’s Satsuma Ware. I believe Lord John actually received it as a gift in Malaya.”

“And that looks American.” Adelia stared at the richly coloured rug that was thrown so casually over a footstool.”

“It came from Chile, when Lord John had a stayover in Santiago,” Clara said. “It’s very hardwearing, and made from wool from the native alpaca.” She smiled. “I am not merely the one giving direction to the cook and housekeeper as the leader of the household. I am a curator of treasures.”

“Lord John is quite the adventurer, isn’t he?” Adelia said. “He must be grateful to know that he will be coming back to a well-tended home. Are you close?”

The blatant question of whether Lord John would now inherit Clara as a wife along with the lands and title was a little too much for Clara. She stood. “It has been such a pleasure speaking with you, Miss Davenport. It is such a shame that I have so little time to spare under these circumstances. I shall ring for our butler to show you out.”

“Perhaps we could arrange another time?” Adelia said, quickly stuffing her pen and notepad back into her reticule. 

“I’ll be in touch,” Clara smiled politely. “Unfortunately I have found myself unexpectedly busy dealing with the aftermath of my husband’s passing. I will certainly let you know the next time I’m in London.”

Adelia managed an answering smile, knowing that Clara was unlikely to return to London for some time. “Thank you for seeing me, Lady Farnley. I look forward to our next interview.”

“As do I,” lied Clara. “Ah, here’s Leighton to show you out.” She waited until she heard the front door shut on Miss Adelia Davenport and then sagged back against the cushions. Now she was alone, she was able to cry.

Under the Bright Saharan Sky is the sequel to Out of the London Mist and is published on 21st January 2021!

Preparing for Travel

John ran his hand over the gazetteer. There was a lot less about Sudan than he would expect. He wondered what he was getting into. He poured himself a brandy and soda and read through the half column of text. The book was out of date, as it claimed that the country was still under the control of the Mahdi. Well, Kitchener had done his stuff, the British were now established in Khartoum and it was technically safe to travel. John took another sip of his brandy and soda. One part of the closely typed text struck him: it is estimated that since 1885 more than three-fifths of the population have perished through war, famine and slave-trading. They were headed away from the worst of the troubles, but what would they find? He closed the heavy book and stood, taking his glass in his hand and wandered over the window.

The London fog had fallen again. Thick tendrils wound their way around the streetlamp next to the window and the familiar, stinging smell crept in through the chinks in the casement. It would be good to get away from the damp of London. He peered down at the scurrying figures rushing home. It wasn’t even dinner time and it was already dark and dismal. John pulled the curtains across and went back to his desk.

He didn’t pick up the gazetteer, but instead watched the flames flickering in the hearth. He was going to be paid good money to fly Professor Entwistle out to find ancient Nubian pyramids, and he needed that money. He was getting away from the upheaval and chaos of his inheritance. And he was at least going to get some sun.

John poured himself another brandy and soda. He normally didn’t bother drinking until after dinner, but today had brought yet more bills left by his late brother. When would it end? Yesterday one of his late brother’s mistresses had visited at lunchtime and had screaming hysterics on the doorstep when barred from seeing his late brother’s widow. The journey to Sudan would not only mean sun, payment and possibly gold. It would be a welcome escape.

John looked back at the sparse information in the gazetteer. He felt a cad leaving Clara to deal with any intrusions, although she had dealt with hysterical ladies with greater aplomb than he had ever managed. It wasn’t just that nagging at him, though. Professor Entwistle was talking about the knowledge that could be there. Knowledge of the sort that had sent a monster into the London Mists only a few weeks ago and had led to the death of his brother, among many more.

John pushed aside the last half of his brandy and soda. Would any knowledge found be worth the fees and potential treasure? He wasn’t in a position to judge. He had some aether heaters in the attics and an hour before dinner. He could get them out and give them a quick look over before he needed to get changed. It was much better to stick to the practical. Anything mystical could wait.

A hint of what is coming in the sequel to Out of the London Mist, my new novel, Under Bright Saharan Sky out on 21st January 2021.

Extract 34

clear glass bottles on table
Image from Unsplash taken by Charl Folscher

Ian sat in the battered waiting room and tried to relax. Trent sat at his feet, panting and wild eyed. That was the problem. Trent was a werewolf, the same as Ian, but Trent was stuck in wolf form. He couldn’t change. As the leader of the pack, Ian had a duty to its members. However, he was in something close to a veterinarian’s office and his mouth was dry with the tension. But Trent needed help and it was beyond the home remedies of Jeanette and Mrs Tuesday. They had to turn to the one doctor in York that specialised in non-normals.

The icy, older lady who was busy behind the desk noted the flashing light above the scarred door. “Dr Williamson will see you now, Mr Tait.” She glared at Ian as he hesitated. “Please do not keep the doctor waiting.”

Ian forced himself to his feet and tugged at Trent. Trent whimpered but scuttled behind him, paws skidding wildly and his ears flat with fear. Ian knocked on the door and went in.

“Good afternoon,” Dr Williamson said. “Take your time and get your bearings.” He stood and walked to the head of the table. “I never try and rush a nervous werewolf.”

“It’s okay, Trent,” Ian said. “It’ll be fine.” As Trent pressed himself against Ian’s legs, Ian looked around. It was definitely a specialised treatment room. Most doctors didn’t have a treatment table with restraints – some in strange places. Most doctors did not have a burly boggart keeping an eye on things in case things got out of hand. And most doctors did not have huge saws, knives and augurs ranged in the glass cabinets surrounding the room. On the other hand, most doctors did not have a tray of best quality dog treats on their desk and a patient expression. Ian ran a comforting hand over Trent’s flanks and turned to the doctor. “It’s Trent, here. He’s stuck as a wolf. I don’t know what to do.”

“Hmm,” Dr Williamson patted the table. “Just jump up on here and let me have a look.”

Trent whimpered again, but, after a stern look from Ian, jumped onto the table, skidding a little on the polished steel. Dr Williamson selected an instrument from his desk. “Let’s have a look at your eyes, hmm.”

Ian kept a firm hold of the collar around Trent’s neck to stop him from bolting. Collars were worn by werewolves when they were out and about ‘in fur’ to stop awkward questions, and Ian was glad of the handhold. “It’s okay. He’s not going to hurt you.”

Dr Williamson examined Trent’s eyes and ears and felt along his lupine rib cage. “You’re in great condition for a young lad,” he said. He slipped in the stethoscope’s ear pieces and listened to Trent’s heart. “But stressed.” He turned to Ian. “Was he part of the pack that brought down the stray last week?”

Ian nodded. “We all turned out for that. It was a bad business.”

Dr Williamson nodded. “I hear a lot about non-normal stuff, one way or another,” he said. “I patched up a few of the stray’s victims. He made quite a mess of them. I’m glad you took him out.” He looked closely at Trent. “That stray was a murderer. He was a killer. He left some kids with injuries that they would carry for the rest of their lives, if they weren’t suddenly plunged into being werewolves. He was the worst of strays and you and yours did your duty.” He held Trent’s terrified gaze. “You were a stray once, I know. You were without a pack. You scrounged and begged and hid in the shadows.” Dr Williamson leaned closer. “And I bet you never so much as snapped at anyone, no matter what the provocations. I bet you didn’t growl, you didn’t snarl, you didn’t bite. You kept your head down and did your best. That’s why you didn’t end up like that stray that you helped to stop. That’s why you would never end up like that stray.” Dr Williamson didn’t break eye contact. “Hand me extract 34 please.” He frowned in thought. “Fifteen millilitres, undiluted.”

“What’s that?” Ian asked, holding the young werewolf firm as Trent’s paws slid in panic across the steel bench.

“Thank you,” Dr Williamson took the tiny cup of brown fluid from his burly assistant, ignoring Ian. “Open wide.”

Trent fought frantically to escape but Ian, pushing aside his doubts, prised open Trent’s jaws to allow Dr Williamson to tip the medicine inside. Trent gasped, coughed, swallowed, coughed again and shuddered as he changed back into his human form.

“There are some spare clothes behind the screen,” Dr Williamson said as Trent sat up. “I’d like them back later.”

As Trent dived behind the screen, Ian leant in close to Dr Williamson. “Neat brandy?”

“In this case, it wasn’t what was delivered, but how,” Dr Williamson grinned. “Nice young cub, that. I’m sure he’ll do well. But it’s always the good ones that get hit by this stuff hardest. Good thing that he’s got you looking out for him.”

Ian relaxed. “Good thing that he had you treated him.” He nodded in approval as Trent emerged wearing joggers and sweatshirt a little too big for him. “Thank you, doctor, thank you so much.”

“My pleasure,” Dr Williamson said.

“I’ll pay on the way out,” Ian said. “Thank you for treating us.” He watched Trent almost dancing on the way out and winked at the doctor. “And to show our gratitude, I’ll send around some top quality extracts of our own, for you to sample.”

“I look forward to testing them,” the doctor grinned.