Lorel Clayton is now on tour with CLP Blog Tours and Tangle of Thornes. Please enjoy an excerpt from the book!
I’ve read a few of those hardboiled detective novels. You know, The Maltese Griffin, Murder on the Troll Road … the classics. But none of them ever mentioned the smell. Mr. Hylar, my last hope, smelled like old sweat mixed with fermented stomach contents, some of which stained his shirt collar. City elves were like their country cousins: filthy.
The detective lounged at his desk, cigar in his mouth, glass of whisky at his elbow. When he took a swig from the bottle instead of the glass, the caramel alcohol scent swirled with the cloud of cheap cologne he wore and I thought I might pass out. That would complete the picture. Me, sprawled out in a high class outfit that didn’t belong to me, wavy black hair fanned across the grimy wood floor of an office in elf town, while Mr. Hylar told me again he wouldn’t take the case.
I pinched my nose shut and tried to bat my eyelashes like every femme fatale should, but either the effect was ruined by the hand clamped over my nose and how green I was turning or I just didn’t make a good femme fatale. That’s another thing those detective stories never told you—how tough it was to be the dame with a problem.
“I’m in trouble,” I said nasally.
Mr. Hylar continued to ignore me and turned his full attention to the near empty glass, seeming to wonder if he should bother with the sip remaining. He shrugged and chugged it back, decision made.
“Look,” I tried again. “When my brother died, he left me a fortune.” All my life I’d been told to keep Thorne troubles in the family, not to show weakness. Yet, here I was asking for help and hating it.
“A fortune? How is that bad? Other than your brother being deceased of course. Though, with you people, it might not be.” The detective curled his lip. I was accustomed to the expression and the way he said ‘you people’. He didn’t only mean humans: he meant Solhans like me. We were a whole different category of human. One that most other races tended to hate. Not that there wasn’t good reason, but I kept my usual retort in check. I needed the elf.
Mr. Hylar was a Citizen, and he could go places and talk to people that would be barred to me, so I closed my nose tighter and went on. “Viktor was attacked in an alley, his… his heart cut out.”
Finally perking with professional interest, he said, “Odd for a robbery.”
“Nothing stolen, not even his jeweled dagger. Where did Viktor get that anyway? My brother’s always had the same vow of poverty as me.”
“You’re broke?” The detective sat up, obviously ready to see me out.
“Not anymore. Remember?”
He slouched back in his chair and eyed me head to toe, not like he was appraising a client but more like he was looking to buy property. “Right. I’m listening. What’s your name, gorgeous?”
“Thorne.” He stood all the way up this time, crossed the room, and opened the door behind me. “Sorry.”
I couldn’t believe he was kicking me out. “Look, my brother was murdered. People are saying it was me, but I loved him. I need to find out who killed him. You are a private investigator?”
“Private means I choose my clients. I don’t choose you or your troubles.”
I tried to keep my anger in check. As much as I would love to smash that cigar into his face, it wouldn’t help me right now. “What should I do then?”
“Talk to the City Guard.” He took my arm, but I pulled away, not about to let him push me around.
“Why won’t you help me?”
“I’m not the first person you came to.”
I looked down, feeling sheepish. I should have known. These jerks were all in the same business and talked to one another. “But the other guy took off with my money. He never got back to me.”
“Your last detective, Oberon, is dead, murdered, and he was better than me. Whoever killed your brother is making sure no one finds out. I advise you to go home, have a good cry, and be done with it. Your brother isn’t coming back, assuming he was cremated. He was, I hope?”
“Of course.” I was off balance from hearing that the dwarf I’d hired was dead, Gypsum’s brother-in-law. She would be upset when she found out.
“Good. Best if we all get on with our lives.” The detective took advantage of my daze to usher me into the doorway.
I was still stunned. Other people were dying? What had Viktor been into? The elf nudged me the last few inches out the door. I wobbled on unfamiliar heels and then there was nothing but unvarnished wood in my face. The lock clicked.
The shock wore off along with any desire to keep up the pretense that I was a lady. I was mad. I kicked off the heels, tore the large, decorative pin out of my hair, and stabbed it right into the ‘P’ of ‘Stanley Hylar Private Detective’ painted on the door. It thunked like a throwing knife hitting its target.
“If you’re going to sit around all day and do nothing, Stanley, you might as well take a bath,” I screamed, making sure he heard me. I turned on my bare toes and fumed down the hall and all the way out to the street.
Talk to a guard? Some advice that was. Guards were mostly elves and dwarves, paid by the Three Crowns to police the central city, which meant no profit, no incentive to help those of us who lived in the Outskirts. What I needed was a human guard, but that was impossible…. I paused, remembering something. Karolyne’s cousin. That would be my next stop, after I grabbed a pair of decent shoes of course.