Today’s blog is a section from The Darned Conspiracy, the sequel to my first novel In The Land of the Penny Gnomes
“I need protective detail for this material witness,” Grimby grumbled 1 to the hostile-looking gnomish IBI agent at the witness protection desk at Great Roll’s IBI Office.
The gnome looked over Brill Gnat, and then glared at his escorts. “You’re a dwarf, and you’ve got an elf bringing in a gnome under arrest? Cut him loose and be glad I’m not reporting you two up the chain for abuse of authority.”
“Well, seeing as ‘up the chain’ ends with my wife, how about you get these agents what they’ve requested so a material witness can get the protection he requires,” Bug growled as he shuffled up to the desk.
“Mr. Moume, I… didn’t know they were with you!” The gnome leaned in and lowered his voice to a whisper, “I know you’re not too popular around here, but I’m a big fan. A big fan. You saved my brother’s life during the war. You got him to safety before the injunction could spread too far.”
“Oh? Who’s your brother?”
“Private Jason Smelthead, sir. He took a round during an ambush you guys came under late in the war. The way he tells it, you took command and kept you all from being wiped out!”
Bug smirked, “It didn’t happen quite like that, but I’m glad your brother remembers me. He was a gunner, right? I remember helping get him out of his transport once we reached safety.”
Agent Smelthead beamed. “He was! He’ll be thrilled you remember him!”
“Does he have any side effects from Fading?”
“He can’t feel the heat from spicy peppers, is all. It’s not big deal though because he’s used it to win a few bets with folks who think he can’t eat a Pristined Cobalt whole 2.”
Bug grinned. “Well, that’s nice, tell him I said hi.”
“Oh. I will, sir! But… what are you doing escorting a dwarf and an elf around Great Roll. If you don’t mind my asking.”
Bug’s smile remained, but the warmth drained from it. “Well, son. Here’s the thing. I do mind. This elf and dwarf are IBI agents sent here by Director Sills herself on a matter of Highest Realmian Security. And these agents are following protocol by trying to establish protective custody for a witness, but instead of being a professional you decided you’d get a bit snooty and throw your weight around–gnomish pride and all that. Am I right?”
“Well, sir…” the gnome stammered.
“And, not that it’s any of your business, but these two agents were there with me at the very same ambush your brother credits me for saving him from. And it’s Agent Overshoot here who first warned us there was even an ambush happening. That elf is as responsible for saving your brother’s life as I am.”
Grimby cleared his throat. “And I helped to,” he offered.
Bug jabbed a finger in his direction, “And Agent Headsmelter 3 helped too. So instead of being an isolationist, how about you say, ‘Thank you agents,’ and then do what they’ve asked you do to you ignorant gnome!”
Agent Smelthead almost fell out of his chair in shock before stammering, “Y-y-yes sir!” He picked up a phone and tapped a button, “Hello, this is Agent Smelthead with witness protection. I require protective custody to be established for a material witness just brought in. The paperwork will be coming, but I wanted to get the wheels moving. This is,” he made sure he got Bug’s attention, “top priority. Thank you.”
With that the gnome placed the receiver back on the phone and looked back over to Grimby and Fineflin. “If you’ll leave the witness with me, agents, I’ll make sure he’s looked after until the protection detail comes. I’ll fill out his paperwork in the meantime.”
Fineflin nodded, “Thank you agent.” He motioned for Brill Gnat to sit in a nearby chair. As the gnome did so Fineflin continued, “Make sure he gives a detailed statement before he’s moved. We’ll need it.”
“Yes, sir. And… sorry for the mix up. I don’t know what came over me.”
Bug snorted. “Be honest, agent. You, like a lot of gnomes who live in Great Roll, think the rest of The Realm doesn’t really affect the Mountains. But it does. And times are changing, so get with the program or get out. Understand?”
Smelthead nodded. “Yessir.”
The warmth returned to Bug’s smile. “Good. Now, we’ve got work to do. Please be good to our witness. And if you’ve got any chewing gum on you,” Bug held out his hands as Smelthead began to protest. “No judgement! Some of those import laws are downright stupid, and chewing gum is a proper passtime! I just wanted to let you know it might help him calm down a bit, is all.”
Brill grinned, “Bless you, sir! I could use a good chew!”
With that, Bug led the agents down the hallway to an office that had been set aside for their use while in town. As they settled in Grimby broke the silence, “Do you think Mr. Gnat will give up any more information when he makes his statement? I could head back up there.”
Fineflin shook his head. “I doubt it.” The elf pull out his notebook and flipped to a recent page. After doing so he began to write the names Gnat had provided on a whiteboard. “This is a pretty good list. Certainly enough to keep us busy until Brill gets settled in. Let’s try to track these companies down and see if we can find anything unusual.
The trio set off to work, but after a few hours of searching they hadn’t turned up anything odd with any of the companies Brill had named. It wasn’t until after they’d ordered dinner that Fineflin pointed to his screen. “Oh, well look at this!” The elf pointed at his screen and the other two joined him.
“Regal Imports?” Bug said. “Never heard of it, what’s weird about them?”
“Well,” Fineflin began as he opened up another browser tab, “They didn’t exist until six months ago, but since they’ve been formed the company’s picked up some rather lucrative government contracts for energy transfer. They’ve never released their business plan, financials, or passed a security check as far as I can tell. Also, for a company which is moving some serious energy, they don’t have a lot of staff.”
“Fineflin, it’s getting dark and I’m hungry” blurted Grimby. “Don’t play games, what do you mean?”
“They have one employee on the books. That’s it.”
Grimby shook his head. “So a lame shell company. Great. How on earth did they get these contracts?”
Fineflin shrugged. “You know what the Governor’s bureaucracy is like. If you have a couple of Governors in your pocket you can pretty much get anything through.”
“And whoever’s behind this mess has at least two in their pocket,” Grimby growled back.
Bug whistled, “Well, I supposed Regal Imports is the next stop, then. Where are they headquartered?”
Fineflin sighed, “The Royal Port of Merchants.”
“Great, on top of everything else we’re gonna have to deal with RPM hell.”
At that moment Agent Smelthead burst into the room, causing the trio to jump in their seats. “I’m sorry, agents. I am! Mr. Gnat was put into custody, just like you said but…” The gnome’s eyes widened with anxiety.
“But, what, agent?” Grimby managed to ask.
“Brill Gnat is dead. The agents on scene think it was a suicide!”
- I do try to avoid alliteration. I really do. But Do you have any idea how many words which can be used to depict a sour disposition begin with the letter “G?” ↩
- An electric blue nobby pepper which flourishes in The Pristined Lands. It’s considered the hottest pepper in all of unreality. ↩
- The similarity in names is pure coincidence. ↩