Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
The two agents looked through the one way mirror at the gaunt figure who was seated in the interview room. The gnome’s hair was pure white, and his as he gazed toward the mirror they could see his eyes were a pale blue.
Grimby snorted at the sight. “That’s our informant?”
Fineflin raised an eyebrow. “That’s a little judgey, Grimby. Even for a dwarf.”
“Well… look at him. He looks like he could blow away in a strong breeze.”
“Oh please. I mean, yes, his fashion sense is criminal 1, but there’s got to be something to him. He survived an injunction round and survived long enough to get treated for the fade.”
“He served in the war? How old could he be?”
“Twenty-three,” chimed in a voice. The two agents turned to see a disheveled wizard entering the room. His long beard was dripping coffee, and he wore grey robes over his standard IBI uniform. He held a folder in his left hand. “His name’s Sinder Nocks. He hails from Great Roll and has a rather lengthy criminal record which he’s acquired over the last four years or so.”
Grimby motioned for the folder. “What for, agent…?”
“Billox Grevein, interview services, at your service,” replied the wizard as he handed the folder over. “And may I ask who you two are and why you’re in my observation room?”
“I’m Grimby, that’s Fineflin,” the elf offered a mock salute at the mention of his name. “The Director sent us down.”
“I see. So this is something big after all, then?”
“You haven’t heard about what’s going on in the city?” Fineflin asked.
Billox shrugged. “I don’t get out much. I go topside to get coffee when I run out, other than that I pretty much stay in my lab and keep the interview rooms tidy until someone gets sent down.”
Fineflin nodded in agreement, someone that shabby could not get out much. But he was still surprised by the wizard’s admission. “Grimby and I are down here all the time. How have we never met you?”
“Ah, well, I only do observations for the morning shift. The rest of my time I’m huddled in my lab working on my real project.”
“Which is?” interjected Grimby?
“Boots of super-high jumping. I figure agents can use them to get over obstacles, or leap over trains which conveniently appear to separate pursuers from fleeing suspects.”
Grimby nodded, impressed. “Not bad. How long have you been working on them?”
“About ten years or so. It was originally a defense project.”
Grimby’s eyes narrowed. “In ten years you haven’t gotten them to work, and they’re letting you still work on them?”
“Oh no, they work fine. Almost too well, in fact. After a five hundred foot leap landings can get rather… messy. I’m told the view at the apex is amazing though.”
“Ah,” Grimby nodded. “You keep on working on that, then.”
Fineflin rolled his eyes. The fashion, or lack there of, was getting to him. “But we’re here about Sinder Nocks.”
“Ah, yes. Sinder Nocks. He enlisted at eighteen right at the outbreak of the war, was promoted to corporal during basic training for his initiative and attention to detail, and was wounded during the second siege of University City–about a week before the Satire Shield was activated.”
Grimby whistled. “And he survived?”
Billox nodded. “He was treated for the Fade before it progressed too far. Yes.”
“So what happened to him after the war, then?” Fineflin inquired.
“According to that,” the wizard said as he pointed to the file. “He was discharged from service after he recovered and headed back to Great Roll. Not too long after that he ended up showing up in police reports for little stuff like small coffee heists. But he eventually found his niche as a small-time smuggler.”
“Smugling what?” the partners asked in unison.
“Mostly items which were on Great Roll’s banned shopping list. He specializes in paperback novels and remote controls.”
“So, that gnome went from a war hero to a… smuggler?” Grimby shook his head.
Billox offered another shrug. “It isn’t all that uncommon. Some folks never manage to come back from even a mild case of fading. He found a way to live, I guess I can’t knock him for that. ”
“Well I can if he’s upped his game to economic derailment,” the dwarf growled.
“I have an idea, Grimby,” Fineflin said as he placed an hand on his partner’s shoulder. “Why don’t we go ask Sinder Nocks what he’s been up to?”
“Yah, yah. Let’s go,” the dwarf snapped.
Billox offered a cockeyed smile. “I’ll stay here and see the recording is made.”
Fineflin turned back to the Billox before he left the room. “Sorry. But what did Mr. Nocks have with him when he arrived here? Any evidence?”
“No,” the wizard replied. “All he had was a sack full of chocolate.”
“Apparently it’s all he can taste.”
Fineflin nodded and left Billox along with his observation tools. The two agents made their way to the interview room and knocked.
“Come in?” Croaked a confused voice.
Grimby and Fineflin entered the room, all smiles, and took two seats opposite to Nocks. Grimby slapped the file down on the table and let the gnome see his name was emblazoned on it before speaking.
“I’m told you have some information for us, Corporal Nocks.” The gnome shrugged, though he did flick his eyes up a bit at the mention of his former rank.
“Not a corporal no more. Just a gnome trying to get by.”
“Though smuggling,” Fineflin added.
“Yah, well, I never said I was an angel. A gnome’s gotta eat, you know.”
“A lot of gnomes eat just fine without dealing in contraband,” the elf jabbed back.
Nocks banged his fists on the table. “What do you know about it, stupid elf! I took one for The Realm and all I got was a pat on the back and a ticket home! Every was so proud, but what jobs were there for someone like me?” He grabbed his white beard and held it up for the agents to see. “No one in the mines wanted me, they said I was unlucky. And other places just said my eyes made people uneasy. So take your condescending attitude agent and shove it down your well-tailored trousers. I’m living. All I can taste any more is chocolate, and my teeth are faling out from the sugar, but I’m living.”
Grimby threw out his hands, calling for calm. “Whoa there, sir. We’re all friends here. OK? My friend wasn’t making any judgements, just observations. You are a smuggler, correct?”
Nocks shrugged. “Sure. That’s one word for it. I get things people want when they aren’t supposed to have them. Nothing dangerous, just little things for the mantle that every gnome has but no one asks about. But the people who hired me to get pennies, they’re different.”
“Do you know who hired you?” Fineflin interjected.
“No,” Nocks shook his head. “Smuggling isn’t a face-to-face kind of deal. People leave messages, if I take the commission I send one back. But these folks, they didn’t let go.”
“What do you mean,” asked Grimby.
“Well, I don’t normally deal in real pennies, too hot for me. But money was tight and I was down to my last two chocolate bars so I took their commission. And they were… eager.”
“Eager how?” the dwarf was leaning in with anticipation.
“They wanted to know details about timing, and how many I could bring back with me at a time. I knew enough to ask what they wanted with all those real pennies, and they just said they wanted to start a market for eccentric collectors.”
“And you believed that?” Fineflin blurted out.
“Not really,” Nocks replied, throwing a glare toward the elf. “But real pennies aren’t really all that dangerous. So I didn’t care all that much. But after I got paid they sent me another note and that made me wish I’d never taken the deal.”
“What did it say?” Grimby inquired.
“It had my parents’ address on it, along with a new commission that offered me twice my normal rate. The money was good, but throwing my parents into the mix was not OK with me.”
“What did they want you to do?” Fineflin was now also leaning in.
“They wanted me to take a bunch of real pennies, more than I collected for them, and drop them off at an mining operation. If I did it, the note said I’d be paid. If not… it said my parents would be… made aware of things I’d rather they not know.” The gnome offered a pleading look toward the two agents. “Look, I know I’m not a good gnome. My parents know I’m not a good gnome. But that doesn’t mean I want them know what I’ve done to survive, OK? They’re good gnomes they just don’t… they deserve better than that. All right?”
Grimby straightened up. “I understand. How many pennies are you talking about?”
“About eleven thousand.”
The agent’s eyes widened. “OK. And where did you drop these off?”
“To a guy named Brill Gnat, at the Silverhome Penny Mine. I already knew him because he’s got a chewing gum addiction.”
“I see,” Grimby said. “Corporal Nocks, I’d like to thank you. You’ve been very cooperative.”
“I know my life isn’t great. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about The Realm. I came here looking for anyone who knew about the pennies. But when the power plant blew up and people started finding them in PAC Machines I figured I’d tell you all this. Did I do good?”
Fineflin nodded. “You did good, Corporal. Your parents will be proud. But for now, we’re going to place you all in protective custody. OK?”
Nocks nodded. “OK, fine. Just make sure I’ve got some chocolate to eat. OK?”
- Darned Elves considered fashion crime to be a felony. They’d introduced bills to the governors to that effect. For some reason they never got passed. ↩