The Dame Don’t Whimper starts, as all good gumshoe stories should, with a hail of bullets and a little green man. Hot on the trail of a missing person, our down-at-heel detective leaves behind the dubious comfort of String City and crosses the Styx to Little Carthage, where the rabid bankers eat you alive.
But it isn’t the bankers he’s worried about. Between meeting old flame Rosie (who’s got cute pointy ears and more curves than a geometry textbook) and fending off Martha du Chasse (the most intimidating client he’s ever had) he soon realises this whole case hinges on something far more terrifying: dames.
Extract from The Dame Don’t Whimper
Bullets ripped through the door and took the bottom step out from under me. I tightened my grip on my companion’s beard and used it to drag him up the stairs. He didn’t protest. The bullets chased us all the way. By the time we reached the top, the whole staircase had turned to matchwood.
‘Any other way out of here?’ I said.
Blood bubbled in his mouth. He grunted something I couldn’t make out. I shook him, hoping the grunts would turn into words. They didn’t.
Outside, the shooting stopped. All that meant was the gunman was moving position. Closing in, most likely.
‘Is there a back stair?’ I said.
More grunts, more bubbles of blood. Green eyes rolled in their sockets.
I checked the tablecloth I’d wrapped round his chest. It was white when I’d started. It wasn’t any more. The bullets were still in him – at least two, maybe four. Sooner or later they’d have to come out.
Before then, I had to come up with a way for us both to live.
I knotted my hand in his beard again, hauled him along the landing. He was smaller than a man, so it wasn’t too hard.
The house was as ramshackle upstairs as it was down. The walls were thin clapboard; the ceiling was stained and sagging. Pictures hung askew. The bullet-holes almost classed as home improvement.
Leading off the landing were countless doors. Most were smashed or hanging on their hinges. I pushed open the first. Beyond was a tiny washroom with a cracked bath and a lavatory pan the colour of Caliban’s codpiece. The room smelt like chemical warfare.
The second door opened on a bedroom. There was a broken bed frame swamped by a waterlogged mattress, and a wardrobe without doors. Also rat droppings and a hole in the ceiling. What interested me most, though, was the balcony.
I left my companion by the bed and crawled through the dust and dung. A broken glass door led to the balcony, which was stacked with plant pots filled with dead flowers. Good cover. The balcony was at the front of the house, which was where the bullets were coming from. The side of the house was overgrown with lethal blackthorn and the back was blocked by the pier of the bridge it was built up against. Which meant that if the gunman wanted to storm the place, there was only one way in.
And the balcony overlooked it.
I drew my Colt 46, hesitated, put it back in my pocket. Maybe I could still get us both out without a firefight.
I threw a last glance outside. Nothing was moving but the rain. Good enough.
I took off my coat, turned it inside-out three times until it was made of needlecord, put it back on and buttoned it tight. I went to the bed, sat cross-legged beside my wounded companion and unzipped the skin of the cosmos.
The branes opened like rose petals, revealing an interdimensional snag exactly the size of a grown man. Beyond the snag, sheaves of cosmic string writhed like angry cottonmouths. There was a muffled rumbling, like the parliament of the gods.
I stuck my head through the snag, to see if anything had changed since I’d been there last.
Hot wind whipped my face. The wind was full of dust that stung like pepper. The strings reared up, not cottonmouths now but cobras, ready to strike. The dimensions crowded towards me, tried to suck me through the hole I’d made in reality’s weave.
Nobody sucks me anywhere.
The String City Mysteries