Gavy isn't here right now. He's busy. He's handling a case for Heather so I guess it's up to me to tell you about the little to-do that happened last week.
Now, I know that Gavy-pooh writes these stories--he calls them "case files"--as if they were happening while he's telling you about them. I asked him why he does that and he said it was like he was talking to a buddy in a bar over a couple of beers.
Don't get me wrong. I think it's cute the way he does it. But I never liked beer and I'm not into that good-ol'-boy stuff, so I'm just gonna write this in the usual way.
Did I mention that I'm Melody? Gavy's wife? Sorry. Should have cleared that up right away. Hi.
Anyway, I was ghosting the phone and the office while my bublichka was away when this sluggy thingee came through the office door.
A sluggy thingee. That would be unusual even for the Seven Counties but it got wierder fast.
"They're gone!" he . . . she . . . it shouted (a good trick because I couldn't really see a mouth) oozing into one of the office chairs. "They can't be gone, but they are! Are they dead? Again? Am I next? I thought McQue fixed this already! Where is he? He has to help me!"
And it started to -- I guess -- cry!
Well, all of this seemed a bit more serious than the standard office visit. I'd never seen a slug cry and I wasn't sure I had enough tissues to catch the blubbery weepy icking from it (it was everywhere after all). I shoved a box of them toward it anyway and began empathizing. Being a ghost, I don't get the vapors when a potential client begins to wail (I've been wailed at by the best), but this one obviously needed soothing.
(Another oops. Should have explained that "ghost" thing for newbies. Died a while ago. Married Gavy later. It's complicated).
"Mr. McQue is currently on another assignment," I cooed. "But I'm sure we can help you, Mr . . ?"
"You don't know who I am. Well, how could you? Nobody really does. I mean . . . " it said, blowing its . . . nose? . . . "Why should you? Why should anybody care about the god of plumbing?"
"Oh yes!" I replied. "Now I remember. You're one of those cute little gods Gavy helped a while ago out in Death Valley!"
"Cute little . . ." it spluttered, then gathered itself. "Thank you. That's the first time anyone's ever referred to me as 'cute.' Anyway, I thought that McQue solved the problem. But now I can't find any of the others. And that's a big deal! You oughta be able to find a lot of them without really trying. Finding Kali, for example. That should be easy. I mean, how hard can it be to find her? Go down on the street. Ask anyone: 'Pardon me, miss. Have you seen a four-armed, purple giant dancing on her boyfriend recently? She's usually holding a decapitated head by the hair in one of her hands.'"
"And did you try that?" I asked.
"Of course I did! And all I got were strange looks and the local SWAT unit." It shrugs. "Had to send a few of those down a manhole or two. I'm so flustered I didn't know what else to do. So I came here."
"Understandable, " I lied. "When did you first notice that the others were missing?"
"A few days ago," it said. "At first, I thought nothing of it. They're gods. They can do anything they want. Then, I found that they weren't answering their phones, their texts, their social media posts. I started visiting their homes, their churches, their ashrams, their temples. Nobody. Nothing. Finally I tried a Summoning."
"A Summoning. That works for some of the dark-siders. Nothing too ootzy; I'm not dumb. Tried to summon Eshu . . ."
"What? Oh. No. I didn't sneeze." It smiled. "Believe me, if I sneezed, you'd know it. No, I tried for Eshu. He's known as the Trickster in the Yoruba religion. He's not a bad sort, really, but he is the Yoruba deity of accident and unpredictability."
"And nothing. No Summoning. No accidents. No unpredictable. Stood there in a summoning circle with a snoot full of cumin and tamarind. Then I sneezed, you better believe. Goo everywhere. They'll take a week scrubbing the lampposts"
I cut to the chase. "Five hudred per day plus expenses. Two week retainer."
"Done," it said. "Check your account."
I keystroked our bank's websike. All there. Nice change from some of the dead (and I DO mean DEAD) beats Gavy sometimes works for.
"Find 'em before two weeks, keep the lot anyway," it -- sort of -- stood. "Worth it, provided you find them." It started to leave.
"One thing, before you go," I said. It stopped, dripped some splurge onto the office rug. "I need a list of the places you looked. Save some time."
"Better you should ask where I didn't look," it says. "And that'd be nowhere."
"Might have missed some . . ." I started.
It sneered: "Me; god; omniscient." It leaned toward me. "Means "all-knowing." It opened the office door.
"Not quite," I demurred.
"You don't know where they are."
"Just find them," it spluttered, and slammed the door as it left.
Huh-uh. I know Gavey uses those three little asterisks to indicate that time passed. Usually, he solves the puzzle during that time and tells you how he solved it. Not me. I just dropped my pencil on the keyboard. Coincidence.
After the sluggy thingee left, I decided I'd do some networking. First, I called Heather.
"Angel of Death, speaking."
"Heather, it's Melody."
"Hi Mel. No recent news from Gavin, sweetie."
"Not why I called," I said. Then, I told her about the sluggy thingee's visit.
"Sorry. Can't help you."
I was stunned.
"What? I thought . . ."
"Actually," Heather continued, "I'm being completely truthful. It's not that I don't want to help you. I simply can't help you. My Boss won't let me."
"Your Boss won't . . . why?"
"He's the jealous type. Says so pretty often in the first part of that Book of His. He's not likely to go out of His way for some Johnny-Come-Lately small g. Especially for the god of sewage . . ."
"You know, god, small g. He's the Big G and, every now and then, He likes to make sure everyone knows it."
"He won't be mad at me if I . . ."
"Nah. He likes you. He likes everybody . . . except for small gs, of course. He doesn't mind if you do your job. Knock yourself out."
"See you there."
We ended the call. I dialed Ump.
"Hey sweetie," he growled. Ump growls a lot. "Bout time ya called me."
I wasn't surprised that Ump knew about the sluggy thingee's visit. I was surprised at what he said next.
"Can't help ya, though."
"What," I said, "Your boss won't let you . . ."
"Ain't had a boss since I started sellin' punch cards at five," he replied. "I can't help ya 'cause I gotta go save your hubby. The nitwit's tied up in a warehouse with six bozos tryin' to discourage him. Seems like that bimbo he's tryin' to help don't want helpin' and she's got some persuasive friends."
"Go. Go now!"
"On my way, Mel. Don't worry." A beat. "Try Stan." And he was gone.
I've gotta stop holding pencils when I type. Dropped it on the keyboard again. Darn it. Called Stan.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't my favorite hottie haunt! What say, beauiful? Ready to drop that loser you're married to and enjoy yourself for a couple thousand years?"
"Hi, Stan," I ignored the innuendo; he does it all the time, but doesn't really mean it. And he knows better. "Just calling to ask a question or two."
"Yeah, yeah. I know where they are."
"You . . ."
"Course I do. I'm supposed to be with them."
"Supposed . . ."
"Sure sweet stuff. After all, I'm a small g too. Gettin' bigger alla time, though."
"You're a . . ."
"You know, you been hangin' around McQue too much. You're startin' to sound like him. I know you're sharper than that."
I counted to ten. Stan can be cryptic and Stan can be caustic. He also usually knows what's going on. Being the Supreme Ruler of the Underworld has its perks.
"OK," I said, "I guess there are a lot of folks out there who sort of follow you . . ."
"Twitter account chock full, Instagrams out the wazoo, Snapchats too many to count, and I had to shut down my FB because it was encroaching on the server space. To quote the Beatles, I'm more popular than . . ."
I stopped him. "So why aren't you with the other g's?"
"That crew of losers?" he chuckled. "Why would I waste my time with them? Get this . . . they're havin' a big shindig in Detroit! Detroit! Can you believe it?"
"Yeah, some feast day or other. Maybe more than one. As many of the little g's as there are, they could have a feast-day shindig every stinkin' day. So no, I ain't interested in bein' a small g and attendin' some no-goddy's feast day. I ain't no small g, babe. I'm the Big D--and I don't mean that city in Texas."
That's Stan. Ego the size of several dimensions. I smiled and asked the right question: "So, why did they leave my client out?"
"Wouldn't you rather hear why sludge-boy doesn't know?"
That stopped me. He went on: "Hah! That got your attention. You got a problem, ghosty-girl. Knowing how you are, I figure it's a big one. See, nobody likes Galoosh. He's godda-non-grata in the deity set."
"Galoosh?" I asked.
"That's slug thingee's name. Something to do with the sound you get when you . . .
"I get it," I said, "So why is he . . .".
"Hey, he just left your office and you gotta ask?"
"Well . . ."
"I mean, c'mon. A slug? That wouldn't be so bad if he didn't dress the way he does. The sort of thing he wears has been out of style since forever. And that's not the worst of it, is it?"
I demurred, but I knew where Stan was going. "He does sort of have an . . . aura about him."
"He smells . . . no, you smell . . . he stinks. He stinks like . . ."
"Don't be crude."
"Hey," he laughed, "Crude's my middle name. Cruel's in there somewhere, too. Anyway, howdja like stinky sluggy to show up in the middle of a celebratory feast? Like a whiff of him while you're walkin' a buffet? Put you right off your nectar and ambrosia."
"Oh dear is right, gorgeous. So the other small g's are in Detroit. Not as nutty as you might think, by the way. Can you think of a better place for a buncha gods who don't wanna be found to hide? Hotel and party rates are cheaper there. Anyway, you tell sewer breath where they are. He goes there. The rest of them split to other parts unknown.
"Bad!" I said.
" And it gets worse. I know you're smart enough to realize that, sooner or later, your smelly client's gonna figure out why the others exclude him, avoid him, reject him. That'll hurt his feelings. And you don't like that one little bit."
"You're enjoying this," I said, a little upset, I admit. "You're enjoying my problem."
"Told ya that cruel was in there somewhere," he replied. "Hey, remember who you're talkin' to. I like you, kiddo, and I even like that lug you decided to hitch yourself to. But that don't mean I won't tweak your chops when I get a chance."
"Just for that," I said, "I won't tell you how I'm going to solve this."
And I hung up the phone.
At 11:30 I met Heather at Capistranos.
Oh. Yes. This time, I used the three asterisks the way Gavy-pooh does.
"So you figured it out?" Heather asked after ordering the pollo appolodia.
I told the waiter. "I'll take the avacado en brochet. Heavy on the marmalade." I turned to her as the waiter left. "Yes I did. No thanks to you or Stan."
"Well, you know why I couldn't help you," she said, glomming a roll. "And what else would you expect from Stan."
"At least he told me where the small g's were meeting. That actually helped me solve the case."
I sipped some water. "It all hinged on why the client came to us in the first place. The key was when it asked if it was next. It wasn't so much worried about the other small g's. It was scared they were all dead and that it was next."
"So the others excluding it didn't have anything to do with . . ."
"Its BO?" I said, giggling. "C'mon. Think about it. Our client's not the only smelly small g out there. No. I did some canvassing among the small g's in Detroit. Seems sluggy has been paranoid since that thing out in Death Valley . . ."
"You mean when Gavin investigated the phony god killings; the bogus deicide scare?"
"Yes. The sluggy thingee wasn't out there either. Too dry for a god of plumbing. So it didn't know that the whole thing was a hoax. And the other small g's thought it was funny to pretend that some of them had been murdered. Really amped up sluggy's sludge pressure . . ."
"You mean blood pre . . . of course you don't. Never mind. But wasn't that sort of mean? Kind of . . ."
"Cruel," I added. "Sure was. And that was another clue Stan gave me." The lunches arrived and we dug in. "I wonder, " I mused, "if Stan was actually being . . . helpful."
"Don't bet on it," Heather said, cutting into her chicken. "So, did you tell your client where the small g's were?"
"No," I said. "Wasn't a good idea. Especially since the others were in Detroit. Not the safest place on the planet. Sluggy goes there, the others'll have a field day scaring it. They'll make its life even worse than it is in the sewers."
"So, how come it wasn't invited in the first place?"
"They didn't think it'd come. They figured sluggy'd be too scared to party in the Motor City. Too bad, but like I said, there's more than a few smelly small g's in the pantheon. One fewer sweetens the air at least a little bit," I skewered a piece of avocado. "At least I was able to reassure sluggy that there was no danger - which was really the only concern. I refunded the retainer, of course."
Heather stopped her fork halfway to her lips. "But you solved the case," she said.
I shook my head. "But I didn't satisfy the contract. I didn't tell the client where the small g's were. I couldn't, in good conscience, keep the fee."
"You're a sweet, sweet girl," Heather said, chewing. "I'm proud of you."
"Thanks," I said. "I hope Gavy agrees with you."
"He will," Heather replies, raising her glass. "I'm sure of it."
An assurance from the Angel of Death; as Gavy might say: make book on it.
x x x
Thought I'd give this a try as I write more Gavin McQue stories. I'm scribbling them out-of-sequence as they come to me. Let me know if you like this approach and I'll ask Melody to help again. Meanwhile, look for a new Gavin McQue story - or two - soon. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. - GM