Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
Last week’s entry had the agents called to the power plant, but the narrator got confused because he didn’t hear the actual call. They were really called to back to IBI HQ. Narrators can be unreliable, but don’t tell him I said that. I’ve got a novel to write.
A set of elevator doors opened up in the lobby in the IBI Headquarters, Grimby and Fineflin stepped in. As the car made its way to the upper floors music started playing.
The mustard was good, but it’s allgone now!
Fineflin grimaced, “Now that song is going to be in my head for the rest of the day.”
Grimby was scowling. “I don’t get it.”
“Well, the tune is catchy, and the words just sort of drill into my short term memory. And I don’t even like mustard 1.”
“Not that,” Grimby spat. “If there’s something going on at the power plant why aren’t we going there?”
“Perhaps the Director just wanted to hear your cheery voice, Grimby.”
“Don’t take that tone, elf. I’m not in the mood. Something’s up, I can feel it.”
Fineflin rolled his eyes. “Well, if you can feel it something must be up. Though, I don’t feel it, and of the two of us I’m the one with the danger sense.”
“Yah, well, it ain’t perfect. Is it? Didn’t stop us from getting ambushed back in the war.”
“How many times do I have to tell you the Satire Shield scrambled my brain? At the moment we were ambushed I was trying to convince myself I wasn’t a heavily armed turnip.”
“Sure you were.” Grimby’s tone betrayed an overwhelming aroma of doubt 2.
“Honestly, why do I tolerate you? Your fashion sense is non-existent, and you show no respect for me as an agent.”
“Fineflin, I got all respect in The Realm for you as an agent.”
“But elves are snobbish idiots, and you know it.”
Fineflin sighed. “I know. We can’t help having overwhelming fashion sense and superior poise, but it does make our relationships with other Realmians rather stained.”
“That’s an understatement,” Grimby huffed. He then pointed at his partner’s head. “Did you know you had some chicken poop in you hair?”
The elf rolled his eyes 3. “Do you honestly think, after last week’s tarnished button trick, that I’d fall for something that obvious?”
“Suit yourself,” the dwarf shrugged.
The elevator dinged and the doors opened. The office space was in a sate of chaos, beings were shouting into phone, papers were being shuffled from desk to desk, and two wizards were in the kitchenette screaming at each other about leaving the coffee pot on too long.
“I need an update on the efforts to put out the fire!”
“No. Not this building. I need the blueprints for the power plant!”
“I don’t care if it’s busy, you do not leave the coffee on to burn. Now we need a whole new pot!”
The elf and dwarf stepped out of the car, and then stepped back a bit while a caravan of paper-toting agents hustled past them down the hallway. The door tried to close but was met with Grimby’s arm. It backed up and tried again, after four repetitions of this cycle the car gave up and decided to wait for the indecisive passengers to make up their minds 4. When it was safe to step on to the floor they did so, and the elevator doors slammed shut behind them.
“Grimby! Fineflin! My office, now!”
They didn’t see who had shouted at them. Indeed, with all the tables and desks and papers stacks on the floor there was no way for them to see who had called them over. But they didn’t need to. It belonged to a three and a half foot tall gnome named Sills Masterful, and she was the Director of the Imaginary Bureau of Investigation. Grimby and Fineflin navigated over to her office and went straight through the open door.
“Close it behind you.”
“Sure, Boss,” Grimby grinned.
“And stop calling me ‘Boss,’ Grimby,” Sills snapped. “You know I hate it.”
“OK, the two of you, sit.”
The pair sat in the two chairs which were position opposite the Director’s desk. Sills looked tired. She also looked bothered, but that was her normal expression and so it didn’t mean much. Like the other agents, the Director wore the new IBI uniform–khaki’s, and open collar shirt 5, and a dark sports coat. Like Grimby, Sills had made culturally appropriate head gear part of her uniform–though her pointy red hat may have been a bit shorter than those worn by the gnomes who slaved away in the penny mines. Unlike many other “city gnomes,” however, Sills continued to wear a fake beard when out in public 6.
“OK, first. Good job on that raid. Those chickens were estimated to have a value of almost 300,000 Pennies, and had they bred them with Realmian birds there’s no telling what would have happened.”
“I’m glad The Realm is safe from good tasting poultry, ma’am,” Grimby smirked.
Sills sighed. “Fineflin?”
“Just following orders,” the elf smiled.
“Well you didn’t have to smack my helmet down so hard, I still need to file down the bolts some. You know that!”
“Must have slipped my mind.”
“I’ll slip your mind, you… fashionista!”
Sills thumped the table. “Gentlemen, that’s enough. You did good work today. You always do good work, but the bickering gets old. Even for me. Now, can we focus?”
“Yes ma’am,” the pair echoed in unison.
“Great. There has been an explosion at the powerplant, I need you to out there to investigate things and see if you can find a cause.”
“What kind of explosion?” inquired Fineflin.
“The kind that goes, ‘boom,’ Fineflin. No one was hurt, but preliminary reports say injection chamber three is a wreck. I want to know why.”
“An injection chamber?” Grimby chimed in. “Those things are built like bank vaults, what could have wrecked that?”
“That, Agent Grimby, is what I want you to investigate.”
“But why us? No offense to us, but we got forensic folks who can do this stuff in their sleep.”
Sills shrugged. “Well, first–this looks like it might get messy. I want people I can trust on it. We served together, I trust you.
“Second, Nobody requested you two personally.”
The dwarf smiled, Fineflin did not.
“The last time we got together with Nobody he fed me the most ghastly chips.”
Even in her wearied state, Sills grinned. “Really? What were they?”
“Salt and Vinegar.”
The Director whistled disbelief. “That seems rather outlandish, even for Nobody.”
“I know, my lips were puckered for hours. My self-portraits looked ridiculous.”
“Well, he’ll be too busy to try some absurd flavor on you this time, Fineflin,” Grimby chimed in. “On account of being at an investigation. But why call us here first, Sills? We could have been at the Power Plant before they even got the fire under control.”
Sills Nodded. “And you’d follow every protocol?”
“No you wouldn’t,” Fineflin huffed. “But I would.”
A grin slide up Sills’ face. “And would that include not allowing a certain mad scientist to try out any newly invented gizmos on a potential crime scene?”
Dwarf, elf, and gnome let the question hang in silence. Professor Cooly Nobody was not, in fact, part of the IBI. He was more of a freelance operator and the Sovereign had given rather strict orders about letting “that unhinged nutter” test out his toys when the Throne had to pick up the tab for all explosions he tended to cause 7. But most Agents liked it when Nobody showed up. Things tended to be more interesting 8.
After a beat, Grimby nodded. “We’ll be sure to do a bit of patrolling on our way over to the Power Plant. We good to go, Boss?”
Sills’ eyes narrowed, “Sure thing agent, the fire should be under control by the time you get there. And I’m sure Nobody will just mind his own business.”
Grimby flashed a mischievous smile. “He is known for that.” The partners stood up in unison, and shared a glance which dared the other’s mouth to point this out. As they turned to leave, however, Sills pointed a finger in Fineflin’s direction.
“Uh, Fineflin. You may want to stop in the bathroom on your way out. I think there’s something in your hair.”
The elf sighed. “Really, Director. I’m not falling for it any more. Game over. OK?”
Sills shrugged. “Suit yourself. Try to not let Nobody blow up the plant more.”
- It stains. ↩
- He wasn’t being fair, if I’m quite honest. Satire Shields can do funny things to the psyche. Also, I have it on good authority that at that moment Grimby was convinced he was fourteen small rocks and a shiny quarter. ↩
- Elves roll their eyes a lot. I’ll try not to point it out too much. ↩
- Elevators have a simple worldview. It’s summed up by the phrase “in or out.” ↩
- Bright green, with a small embroidered pick axe pattern. ↩
- In the mines the beards served as ready sweat mops, which then became a cultural fashion statment. It’s a gnome thing, best not to ask too many questions. ↩
- There had been only one explosion, but for Sindy that was enough. ↩
- And, often, more colorful. ↩