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Chapter 2


8:53 PM-958 PM

Mürgenstürm murmured something in a tongue that was not even remotely familiar to Mallory, and the two figures suddenly froze in mid-stride.

"What the hell did you do to them?" demanded the detective, cautiously getting up from behind his desk.

"I altered their subjectivity vis-à-vis Time," replied the elf with a modest shrug. "As far as they're concerned, Time has ground to a halt. The condition should last about five minutes."

"Magic?" asked Mallory.

"Advanced psychology," said Mürgenstürm.


"It's the truth, John Justin. I live in the same world you live in. Magic doesn't work here. This is totally in keeping with natural law."

"I heard you chanting a spell," persisted Mallory.

"Ancient Aramaic, nothing more," replied Mürgenstürm. "It appeals to their racial memory." He lowered his voice confidentially. "Jung was very close to it when he died."

"While we're at it, how did you pluck that money out of the air?" asked Mallory, waving a hand in front of the nearer gunman and getting no reaction.

"Sleight of hand."

Mallory stared at him disbelievingly, but said nothing.

"Come along, John Justin," said Mürgenstürm, walking to the door. "We have work to do."

"I don't think this one's breathing," said Mallory, indicating one of the gunmen.

"He will be, as soon as Time starts up for him again—which will be in less than three minutes. We really should be going before that happens."

"First things first," said Mallory. He picked the roll of bills off his desk and shoved it into a pocket.

"Hurry!" said the elf urgently.

"All right," said Mallory, walking around the two men and stepping out into the corridor.

"This way," said Mürgenstürm, racing ahead to the elevator.

"Let's take the stairs," suggested Mallory.

"The stairs?" repeated the elf. "But you're on the sixth floor!"

"Yeah. But the stairs don't let us out in the main lobby, and the elevator does. And whether this is a dream or a DT or reality, a green elf is just naturally going to look a little out of place getting out of the elevator and turning right at the tobacco stand."

Mürgenstürm smiled. "Not to worry, John Justin. We're not getting out on the main floor.''

"You think your unicorn is hiding between here and the lobby?" asked Mallory. "All we've got below us are two discount stockbrokers, a drunken one-eyed dentist, a stamp and coin dealer, a guy who handles hot jewelry, and—let me think—a tailor who can't speak English and an old lady who jobs artificial flowers."

"I know," said Mürgenstürm, stepping into the elevator cab.

"Okay," shrugged Mallory, following him. "What floor?"

"Just press DOWN," said the elf.

"There isn't any DOWN button," said Mallory. "Just floor numbers."

"Right there," said Mürgenstürm, pointing to the panel.

"Well, I'll be damned!" muttered Mallory. "I never noticed it before."

He reached out and pressed the button, and the elevator began descending slowly. A moment later it passed the second floor, and Mallory looked at the elf.

"I'd better press STOP," he said.


"We'll crash."

"No, we won't," said the elf.

"This building hasn't got a basement," said Mallory with a trace of panic in his voice. "If I don't hit the emergency stop button, they're going to spend the next two days scraping us off the ceiling."

"Trust me."

"Trust you? I don't even believe in you!"

"Then believe in the ten thousand dollars."

Mallory felt his pocket to make sure the money hadn't vanished. "If that's real, this is real. I'd better stop it now." He turned back to the panel.

"Don't bother," said Mürgenstürm. "We passed the main floor ten seconds ago."

Mallory looked up at the lights that denoted which floor the elevator was passing and saw that all of them were dark.

"Great!" he muttered. "We're stuck."

"No, we're not," said Mürgenstürm. "We're still moving. Can't you feel it, John Justin?"

And suddenly Mallory realized that they were moving.

"One of the lights must be on the blink," he suggested unsteadily.

"All the lights are working," answered the elf. "They just don't go this far down." He paused. "All right. You can stop us now."

Mallory hit the STOP button, and was about to press OPEN DOOR when the doors slid back on their own.

"Where are we?" he demanded as they stepped out into a plain, unfurnished, dimly lit foyer.

"In your building, of course," said Mürgenstürm. "Elevators don't leave their shafts."

"They also don't go below ground level in buildings that are erected on concrete slabs," said Mallory.

"That's our doing," said Mürgenstürm with a smile. "We visited the architect's office one night and made some changes."

"And nobody questioned it?"

"We did it with a very special ink. Let's just say that nobody who could read it questioned it."

"How far beneath the ground are we?" asked Mallory.

"Not very. An inch, a foot, a meter, a fathom, a mile—it all depends on where the ground is, doesn't it?"

"I suppose so." He looked around. "You expect to find your unicorn here?"

"If it were that easy, I wouldn't need a detective," replied Mürgenstürm.

"You brought Time to a standstill and took us to a floor that doesn't exist," said Mallory. "If that's easy, I hate to think about what's hard."

"Hard is finding the unicorn." Mürgenstürm sighed. "I suppose I ought to take you to the scene of the crime."

"That's usually a pretty good place to start," agreed Mallory sardonically. "Where is it?"

"This way," said the elf, walking into the shadows.

Mallory fell into step behind him, and a moment later they came to a door that had been invisible from the elevator. They walked through it, proceeded about twenty feet, and came to a concrete staircase. They walked up two flights and stopped at a large landing.

"Where to now?" asked Mallory.

"Down," said Mürgenstürm, crossing the landing and starting down another flight of stairs.

"Hold it," said Mallory. "We just climbed up two flights."

"That's right."

"Then why are we going back down?"

"This is a different staircase," said the elf, as if that explained everything.

They climbed down three flights, came to another landing, and then climbed up a flight.

"Give me a second to rest," said Mallory, leaning on a banister and panting heavily. He looked around and saw no other stairs. "By my count, we're right back where we started from."

Mürgenstürm smiled. "Not at all."

"Two minus three plus one," said Mallory, pulling a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopping his face. "We're back at the beginning."

"Look around you," said Mürgenstürm. "Does this look like anyplace we've already been?"

Mallory peered into the gloom and saw an array of lights leading off into the distance, lining what appeared to be a narrow, domed corridor.

"Maybe I'd better not write this up and send it off to one of the magazines after all," he said at last. "They'd probably lock me away."

"Have you rested enough, John Justin?" asked the elf. "We really haven't much time."

Mallory nodded, and Mürgenstürm started off down the long corridor, his footsteps echoing in the stillness.

"This is a hell of a place to keep a unicorn," remarked Mallory. "Don't they need sunlight and grass and things like that?"

"We're just arranging for transportation."

"I wondered what we were doing," muttered the detective.

Suddenly the corridor took a hard right, and after another fifty feet they emerged onto a subway platform.

"It's just a subway station," said Mallory. "There were easier ways to get here."

"Not really," replied Mürgenstürm. "Not many trains run on this route."

"What station is this?" asked Mallory.

"Fourth Avenue."

"There isn't any Fourth Avenue."

"Don't take my word for it," said Mürgenstürm, pointing to a sign above the platform.

"Fourth Avenue," said Mallory, reading the sign. "Come to think of it, it looks different from the other stations."

"In what way?"

"It's cleaner, for one thing." He sniffed the air. "It doesn't stink of urine, either."

"It doesn't get much use," replied Mürgenstürm.

"No graffiti, either," said Mallory, looking around. He paused. "I wish the rest of them looked like this."

"They did once."

"Must have been before my time." Suddenly Mallory tensed. "What was that?"

"What was what?"

He peered into the darkness. "I saw something moving in the shadows."

"It must be your imagination," said Mürgenstürm.

"You're my imagination!" snapped Mallory. "That was something moving. Something dark."

"Ah! I see them now!"

"Them?" asked Mallory. "I only saw one thing."

"There are four of them," replied Mürgenstürm. "Have you any subway tokens?''

"Subway tokens?" repeated Mallory.

Mürgenstürm nodded. "Coins will do, but subway tokens really are best."

Mallory fumbled through his pockets and came up with two tokens.

"Toss them over there," said Mürgenstürm, indicating the spot where Mallory had seen the movement.


"Just do it."

Mallory shrugged and flipped the two tokens into the shadows. A moment later he heard a series of shuffling noises, and then two loud crunching sounds.

"Well?" demanded Mallory after a moment's silence.

"Well what?"

"I'm waiting for an explanation."

"Can't you see them?" asked Mürgenstürm.

Mallory peered into the shadows and shook his head. "I can't see a damned thing."

"Cock your head to the right," suggested the elf.

"What for?"

"Like this," said Mürgenstürm, demonstrating. "Maybe it will help."

"It's not going to make the place any brighter."

"Try it anyway."

Mallory shrugged and cocked his head—and suddenly he could see four dark hulking figures, their hairy hands almost dragging the ground, squatting against a tile wall and staring at him with red, unblinking eyes.

"You see?" said Mürgenstürm, watching his reaction. "Nothing to it."

"What the hell are they?" asked Mallory, wishing for the second time that evening that he carried a gun.

"They're the Gnomes of the Subway," replied Mürgenstürm. "Don't worry; they won't bother you."

"They're already bothering me," said Mallory.

"They're not used to seeing men down here," explained the elf. "On the other hand, I'm not used to seeing them here, either. Usually they spend their time at Times Square or Union Square or down at the Eighth Avenue station in the Village."

"I suppose there's a reason."

Mürgenstürm nodded. "They live on subway tokens, so naturally they tend to congregate in those areas where tokens are most plentiful. They're probably just slumming."

"What kind of creature eats subway tokens?" asked Mallory, staring intently at the Gnomes.

"That kind," answered Mürgenstürm. "Didn't you ever wonder why the New York Transit Authority continues to make millions of tokens every year? After all, they don't wear out, and they're absolutely no use anywhere else. Theoretically there should be billions of tokens in circulation, but of course there aren't. You might view the Gnomes of the Subway as ecologists of a sort: they stop Manhattan from sinking under the weight of subway tokens, and provide work for hundreds of people who labor all year to create new ones."

"What do they do when they're not eating?" asked Mallory.

"Oh, they're perfectly harmless, if that's what you mean," replied the elf.

"That was what I meant."

"In fact, they graze for fifteen or twenty hours a day," continued Mürgenstürm. "It takes quite a lot of tokens to fill one of them up." He lowered his voice confidentially. "I heard that a number of them emigrated to Connecticut when they started making look-alike bus tokens up there, but evidently they weren't as nourishing, since most of the Gnomes have come back home."

"What would they have done if I hadn't tossed them the tokens?" asked Mallory, eyeing them warily.

"That all depends. I'm told they can sniff out a token at two hundred yards. If you hadn't had any, they would have left you alone."

"But I had some. What would have happened if I didn't turn them over?"

"I really don't know," admitted Mürgenstürm. "I suppose we could ask them."

He took a step toward the Gnomes, but Mallory placed a restraining hand on his shoulder.

"It's not that important," he said.

"You're sure?" asked Mürgenstürm.

"Some other time."

"Perhaps it's just as well. We're operating on a very tight schedule."

"Maybe you should tell that to the Transit Authority. I haven't seen any sign of a train."

Mürgenstürm leaned over the edge of the platform. "I can't imagine what's delaying it. It should have been here two or three minutes ago."

"I'll bring it here right now, if you'd like," offered Mallory.

"You?" said the elf. "How?"

"You can bring Time to a halt," said Mallory. "Well, I can make it speed up." He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it. Just as he took a long puff and exhaled it, the train sounded its horn and pulled up to the platform.

"Never fails," remarked Mallory, tossing the cigarette to the floor and stepping on it.

The doors slid open and they got into the subway car, the first in a line of four. Instead of the usual rows of worn-out and uncomfortable seats that Mallory was used to, the surprisingly clean interior of the car consisted of half a dozen curving leather booths. The floor was covered by a carpet of intricate design, and crushed velvet paper lined the walls.

"We get a better class of service on the Fourth Avenue line," commented Mürgenstürm, observing the detective's reaction.

"You don't seem to get any customers, though," replied Mallory.

"I'm sure the others are in the diner."

"There's a diner car?" asked Mallory, surprised.

Mürgenstürm nodded. "And a cocktail lounge as well."

"Then what are we waiting for?" said Mallory, getting to his feet.

"I need you sober," said the elf.

"If I was sober, you'd vanish into thin air and I'd be back in my office."

"I wish you'd stop saying that," complained Mürgenstürm. "Pretty soon you'll convince yourself it's the truth."

"So what?"

"So when we face certain dangers, you won't believe in them and won't take the proper precautions."

"What dangers?" demanded Mallory.

"If I knew, I'd be more than happy to tell you."

"Take a guess."

The elf shrugged. "I really have no idea. I just have a feeling that when we close in on Larkspur, whoever stole him is not going to be very happy about it."


"That's the unicorn's name."

"What the hell were you doing with a unicorn that wasn't yours in the first place?" asked Mallory.

"Protecting him."

"Against what?"

"Against whoever wanted to steal him."

"Why would anyone want to steal a unicorn?"

"Greed, villainy, an unreasoning hatred of myself—who knows?"

"You're not being very helpful," said Mallory.

"If I knew all the answers, I wouldn't need a detective, would I?" demanded Mürgenstürm irritably.

"All right," said Mallory. "Let's try a different approach. Who owns the unicorn?"

"Very good, John Justin!" said Mürgenstürm enthusiastically. "That's a much better question."

"Then answer it."

"I can't."

"You don't know who owns the unicorn?"

"That's right."

"Then how do you know he'll kill you if you don't get it back by sunrise?"

"Oh, he won't kill me," said Mürgenstürm. "He won't get the chance."

"Then who will?"

"My guild."

"Your guild?"

The little elf nodded. "We guard valuable possessions—precious stones, illuminated manuscripts, that sort of thing—and our lives are forfeit if we fail in our duties." He grimaced. "That's why I had to hire you. I couldn't very well go to my guild and tell them what happened. They would have cut me to pieces."

"When was the unicorn stolen?"

"About noon. This was the first unicorn I'd ever been entrusted with. I thought it would be safe to leave it alone for a few minutes."

"Where did you go off to?" asked Mallory.

Mürgenstürm blushed a dark green. "I'd really rather not say."

"So even elves get laid."

"I beg your pardon!" exploded the elf furiously. "It was a beautiful and deeply moving romantic tryst! I won't have you making it sound cheap and tawdry."

"What it mostly was was stupid," commented Mallory wryly. "They wouldn't have paid you to guard the damned animal if they didn't think someone might steal it."

"That thought has occurred to me," said Mürgenstürm unhappily.

"After the fact, no doubt."

"As I was returning to Larkspur," admitted the elf.

"Dumb," said Mallory.

"How was I to know?" demanded Mürgenstürm. "Nothing happened the first six times I went off to answer the siren song of romance."

"Just how long was this unicorn in your charge?" asked Mallory.

"Not quite five hours."

"During which time you went off on seven romantic trysts?"

"I may look unapproachable and formidable," said the little elf, "but I have needs just like anybody else."

"You've got needs like nobody else," replied Mallory, impressed.

"All right!" exploded Mürgenstürm. "I'm not perfect! Sue me!"

Mallory winced. "Don't yell," he said. "It's been a long day, and I've had a lot to drink."

"Then stop belittling me."

"I can do better than that," said Mallory. "Give me a hard time, and I can stop helping you."

"No!" yelled the elf, causing Mallory to flinch in pain. "Please," he continued, lowering his voice. "I apologize for losing my temper. It's just my passionate nature. It won't happen again."

"Until the next time."

"I promise," said Mürgenstürm.

Suddenly the train slowed down and came to a stop.

"Are we there?" asked Mallory as the doors slid open.

"Next station," replied the elf.

Mallory turned to the door and watched the passengers enter the car. There were three elves, a ruddy little man with a red handlebar moustache whose long overcoat could not totally conceal his twitching reptilian tail, and a smartly dressed elderly woman who had a small, maned, scaled animal on a leash. A Gnome of the Subway raced into the car just as the doors were closing and, disdaining the leather booths, leaned against the far wall and slid slowly to the floor, staring at Mallory all the while. "I do wish we wouldn't let them ride first class," complained Mürgenstürm softly, nodding his head toward the Gnome. "They just ruin the ambience."

"On the other hand," remarked Mallory, "the old lady looks perfectly normal."

"Why shouldn't she?"

"She looks like she belongs in my Manhattan, not yours."

"That's Mrs. Hayden-Finch," whispered Mürgenstürm. "She used to breed miniature poodles." He sighed sadly. "Twenty-six years and not so much as a blue ribbon." His face brightened. "Now she breeds miniature chimeras, and she's quite a success. In fact, she took Best in Show at the Garden last winter."

"I don't remember reading about any chimeras at Westminster," said Mallory.

"Northminster," corrected the elf. "It's much older and more prestigious."

"That brings up an interesting question," said Mallory.

"About chimeras?"

"About unicorns. Why was this particular one so valuable? Was he a show specimen, or a breeding animal, or what?"

"Another excellent question! Oh, I hired the right man, no doubt about it!"

"I assume that means you don't have an answer."

"I'm afraid not, John Justin," said Mürgenstürm. "If he wasn't valuable, he wouldn't have been placed in my keeping  . . . but beyond that, I know as little about him as you do."

"What do you know about unicorns in general?"

"Well," said Mürgenstürm uncomfortably, "they're usually white, and they have horns that I am told are quite valuable. And they mess their stalls with shocking regularity."

"Anything else?"

The little elf shook his head. "Usually I just guard jewels and amulets and things like that. To be perfectly honest, I don't even know what unicorns eat."

"Then has the thought occurred to you that maybe Larkspur just wandered off on his own to grab a little snack?" asked Mallory.

"As a matter of fact, it hadn't," admitted Mürgenstürm. "That would make him much easier to find, wouldn't it? I mean, once we know what unicorns eat."

Mallory nodded. "Yes, I'd have to say that it would." He paused. "You're not much good at your work, are you?"

"No worse than yourself, I daresay," responded the elf. "If I were a detective, the criminals I caught would stay caught."

"You haven't had much experience with the New York municipal court system, have you?" asked Mallory.

"What has one to do with the other?" demanded Mürgenstürm.

"Not a hell of a lot," replied Mallory with some distaste.

The train began slowing down again, and Mürgenstürm got to his feet and walked over to the door.

"Come on," he said to Mallory.

The detective got up, made a wide semicircle around the miniature chimera, which was hooting at him with an odd expression on its face, and joined the elf just as the train stopped and the doors slid open.

"Where are we now?" asked Mallory, looking around the unmarked platform.

"Unicorn Square."

"New York hasn't got a Unicorn Square."

"I know," replied the elf. "That's my pet name for it." Suddenly he giggled. "That's quite a pun—pet name!"

"Hilarious," muttered Mallory, looking around for a staircase. "How do we get out of here?"

"The escalator."

"There isn't one."

"It'll be along any minute," said Mürgenstürm. "Try lighting a cigarette. Oh, and you might step about three paces to your left."


"Because you're in the way."

Mallory moved aside. "In the way of what?"

"The escalator," answered the elf.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than a shining silver ramp was lowered into place, coming to rest exactly where Mallory had been standing. It hummed mechanically as the stairs began moving upward.

"Where does this take us?" asked Mallory, stepping onto a stair just behind Mürgenstürm.

"Up, of course."

They rode in silence for a few minutes.

"How high up?" asked Mallory at last.

"Ground level."

"We've been riding for three or four minutes," said Mallory. "Where did we start from?"

"The subway level."


They emerged into the open air in another minute. It was chilly and drizzling, and Mallory pulled the lapels of his suit jacket up.

"Looks deserted," he commented. "Where are we?"

"Fifth Avenue and 57th Street."

Mallory looked around him. The buildings seemed vaguely familiar, but somehow the angles were slightly askew. He cocked his head to the right. It didn't help.

"Where are all the cars?" he asked.

"Who'd go driving in this weather?" asked Mürgenstürm, shivering noticeably.

"What about cabs?"

"Here comes one," answered the elf, pointing south on Fifth Avenue, where a large elephant decked out in sparkling finery was walking up the street toward them. It carried a howdah on its broad back, and in it an elf with a megaphone was pointing out the wonders of Manhattan to a number of other elves who listened with rapt attention. The elephant suddenly spotted Mallory and Mürgenstürm, spread its ears out, extended its trunk toward them, and trumpeted.

"I meant like Yellow Cabs," said Mallory, stepping back around the corner and out of the elephant's sight.

"Yellow Cab at your service, sir," cried a voice, and Mallory turned just in time to avoid bumping into a bright yellow elephant, also resplendent in its trappings. "Nonstop to Fifth Avenue and Central Park," continued the elf who perched on its back. "Guaranteed arrival before midnight."

"That's only two blocks from here," said Mallory.

"Not the way old Jumbo goes," replied the cabbie. "He zigs and zags and backtracks like crazy. Not fast, mind you—it's a perfectly smooth ride, and much better than some of those modern, stripped-down models—but determined. There's a fruit stand at 58th and Broadway that he hasn't missed in twenty years. Great memory!"

"Why don't you train him better?"

"Break his spirit?" said the outraged cabbie. "I wouldn't think of it!"

"It seems to me that there ought to be a happy medium between breaking his spirit and spending two hours to travel a hundred yards."

"We travel miles!" protested the cabbie. "Of course, we don't go in a very straight line  . . . but then, getting there is half the fun." He glared at Mallory. "It's New Year's Eve and I'm a busy man, a very busy man. Now, do you want a ride or not?"

"We'll walk," replied Mallory.

"Your loss," said the cabbie. He kicked the yellow elephant with a tiny foot. "Come on, Jumbo—mush!"

The elephant squealed, pivoted 180 degrees, and headed off at a trot, ignoring his rider's frantic instructions.

"Does everyone around here make as little sense as you and that elephant driver?" asked Mallory.

"I thought he made perfect sense," replied Mürgenstürm.

"You would," said Mallory. "Let's get going."

"Right," agreed Mürgenstürm, heading off across Fifth Avenue.

As Mallory stepped away from the building he saw that the broad street had suddenly become filled with traffic as elephants, horses, and oversized dogs, all brightly colored and brilliantly harnessed, moved up and down the thoroughfare, either carrying passengers on their backs or pulling them in gaily decorated open-air carriages.

They reached the far side of the street, and then began following a complex and circuitous route between buildings and through alleys, up twisting ramps and down spiraling stairwells, into and out of strange-smelling basements, until Mallory, who was trying to remember which way he had come, was thoroughly confused. Finally they halted at a small, grass-covered, fenced yard.

"Here we are," said the elf.

"What's the address here?" asked Mallory.

"Fifth Avenue and 57th Street."

"Come on!" said Mallory irritably. "We've walked at least a mile since we were there."

"A mile and a quarter, I should imagine," agreed Mürgenstürm.

"Then how can we be back where we started? Where are the streets and the stores?"

"They're here. We just approached from a different direction."

"That's crazy."

"Why must everything look the same from every angle?" asked Mürgenstürm. "Do both sides of a door look the same? Is the interior of a Black Forest torte identical to the exterior? Believe me, John Justin, we're really at the corner of Fifth and 57th. We're simply backstage."

"Where's the front of the stage?"

"Ah," smiled the elf. "To see that, we'd have to retrace our steps."

"I wouldn't know where to begin," said Mallory.

"At the beginning, of course."

"You know," said Mallory, "I'm beginning to dislike you intensely. You've always got a slick answer, and nothing you say makes any sense."

"It will," Mürgenstürm assured him. "Wait until you've been here awhile."

"I don't plan to be here awhile," said Mallory. He turned his attention to the yard, which was about fifty feet on a side and thoroughly overgrown with weeds. "This is where you kept the unicorn?"

"That's right," said the elf, opening the gate. "Watch your step."

"More Subway Gnomes?" asked Mallory.

Mürgenstürm shook his head. "Larkspur wasn't exactly what one would call housebroken." He walked gingerly to a gnarled tree, and the detective followed him. "I had him tethered right here."

Mallory looked at the weathered brownstone house at the far end of the yard. Many of the windows were boarded over, all the lights were out, and a storm door swung noisily back and forth on a single rusty hinge.

"That house goes with this yard?" asked Mallory.


"Does anyone live there?"

"It's been empty for more than a year," replied Mürgenstürm. "That's why I used the yard; I knew there was nobody around to object."

"Almost nobody," Mallory corrected him dryly. He squatted down and examined the ground.

"Did you find anything?" asked the elf after a moment.

"Just unicorn tracks."

"Are there any signs of a struggle?" suggested Mürgenstürm.

"You think maybe someone stopped to wrestle Larkspur two out of three falls before leading him away?" said Mallory irritably.

"I'm just trying to be helpful," apologized Mürgenstürm.

"You can start by shutting up," said Mallory. He straightened up, then began a systematic search of the yard.

"What are you looking for?" asked Mürgenstürm.

"I don't know," replied Mallory. "Footprints that don't belong to you or Larkspur, a scrap of clothing, anything that looks out of place." He walked through the knee-high weeds and grass for another minute, then shook his head, grimaced, and returned to the tree.

"No clues at all?" asked the elf.

"I have a horrible feeling that we're going to have to follow a trail of unicorn shit to solve this case," said Mallory. He walked carefully to the gate, followed by Mürgenstürm. "Think now!" he said. "Who else knew Larkspur was here?''

"No one."

"Someone had to know. Someone stole him. Who owns this place?"

"I have no idea. I suppose I could find out," said the elf. Suddenly his narrow shoulders slumped. "But not until the city offices open tomorrow morning, and then it'll be too late."

Mallory's eyes darted to the shadows, then focused again on Mürgenstürm. "Keep talking," he said in a low voice.

"About what?" asked the elf.

"Anything. It doesn't matter. We're being watched."

"You're sure?"

Mallory nodded.

"I wasn't aware of it. It must be your long experience as a detective."

"It's my long experience dodging bill collectors," replied Mallory. "Start talking about unicorns. Whoever it is, he's coming closer."

Mürgenstürm's face went blank, "I don't know what to say."

"Ten minutes ago I couldn't shut you up!" hissed Mallory. "Now talk!"

"I feel silly," said the elf.

"You're going to feel a lot worse than silly if you don't say something!"

"Give me a hint," said Mürgenstürm desperately.

Mallory cursed, and suddenly hurled himself into the darkness.

"Got you!" he cried triumphantly, and emerged a moment later with a scratching, spitting, clawing girl in his arms.

"Let me go!" she snarled.

Mallory felt her twisting free and released his grip. She hissed at him, then sprang lightly to the top of the fence and crouched there. "Who are you?" demanded Mallory. "I know her," said Mürgenstürm. "She's Felina." "What are you doing here?" persisted Mallory.

"I have as much right to be here as you!" she replied hotly. "Maybe more!"

"She was probably just rummaging through the house, looking for garbage," said Mürgenstürm.

"Then why was she hiding?"

"I don't like people!"

As Mallory studied her more closely, he found to his surprise that she wasn't a girl after all—at least, not like any girl he had ever seen. She was young and slender, and her limbs were covered with a fine orange down faintly striped with black, while her face, neck, and chest were cream-colored. Her orange irises were those of a cat, her canines were quite pronounced, and she had whiskers—feline, not human—growing out of her upper lip. Her ears were a little too rounded, her face a touch too oval, her nails long and lethal-looking. She wore a single garment, a short tan dress that looked like it had been found on one of her garbage-hunting expeditions. "What are you?" asked Mallory, genuinely curious.

"Felinis majoris," she answered defiantly.

"She's one of the cat-people," explained Mürgenstürm. "There aren't very many of them left anymore."

"Why don't you like humans?" continued Mallory.

"They don't like anybody," said Mürgenstürm before Felina could answer. "Dogs hunt them, humans shun them, real cats ignore them."

"I can speak for myself," said Felina haughtily.

"Then start speaking," said Mallory. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for food."

"Do cat-people eat unicorns?"

"No." Suddenly her eyes widened and she smiled a very feline smile. "It was your unicorn that was stolen!"

"His," said Mallory, jerking a thumb in the elf's direction. "I'm just helping him look for it."

She turned to Mürgenstürm. "They'll kill you at sunrise," she said, amused.

"Not if we find it first," said Mallory.

"You won't."

"How do you know?"

"Because I know who stole it," said the cat-girl.


She purred and licked a forearm. "I'm hungry."

"Tell me who stole it and I'll buy you any dinner you want," said Mallory.

"I never buy dinners," she said, stretching languorously. "It's so much more fun to hunt for them."

"Then name your price."

"My price?" she said, as if the notion of selling anything was totally new to her. Suddenly she smiled. "My price is that I want to watch his face"—she pointed to Mürgenstürm—"when I tell you."

"Fine," said Mallory. "Take a good look at him."

"Your unicorn, little elf," she said, watching Mürgenstürm as a cat watches a mouse, "was stolen by the Grundy."

Mürgenstürm turned a pale green and reacted as if he'd been hit with a sledgehammer.

"No!" he whispered, collapsing cross-legged with his back to the fence.

She grinned and nodded her head slowly.

"What's going on?" demanded Mallory. "Who is this Grundy?"

"He's the most powerful demon in New York!" moaned Mürgenstürm.

"Maybe on the whole East Coast," added Felina, delighted with the elf's reaction. "He uses magic?" asked Mallory apprehensively. "Magic doesn't work, John Justin," said Mürgenstürm in a dull voice. "You know that." "Then what makes him a demon?"

"Nothing makes him a demon. It's what he is."

"All right," said Mallory. "What is a demon?"

"A malevolent entity of incomparable power."

"So is an IRS auditor," said Mallory irritably. "Be more specific. What does he look like? Has he got horns? A tail? Does he breathe smoke and belch fire?"

"All that and more," moaned Mürgenstürm.

"Much more," added Felina happily.

Mallory turned to Felina. "You're sure that it was this Grundy who stole the unicorn?" he asked. "You actually saw him do it?"

She nodded, grinning from ear to ear.

"Suppose you tell me exactly what happened."

"The Grundy and Flypaper Gillespie came up to the fence—"

"Just a minute," interrupted Mallory. "The Grundy and who?"

"Flypaper Gillespie," said Mürgenstürm. "He's a leprechaun who works for the Grundy. They call him that because things stick to him."

"What kinds of things?" asked Mallory.

"Wallets, jewelry, amulets—things like that," answered Felina. "Go on."

"The Grundy opened the gate, pointed to the unicorn, and said, 'There he is. You know what to do.' And Flypaper Gillespie said that he sure did know what to do, and then the Grundy vanished, and Flypaper Gillespie untied the unicorn and led him away." Felina paused. "That's everything that happened."

"You're sure?" persisted Mallory.


"Where were you all this time?"

She pointed to a second-floor window.

"What were you doing there?"


"Hunting what?"

"Something tasty," she replied.

"You say the Grundy vanished," noted Mallory. "Are you sure he didn't just walk away while you were watching the unicorn?"

"He vanished," Felina repeated firmly.

Mallory turned to Mürgenstürm. "Tell me more about this Grundy."

"What do you want to know?"


"Nobody knows that much about him," replied Miirgen-stiirm, "except that he's a malevolent entity who is the cause of most of the misery and despair in my Manhattan. He appears, and terrible things happen."

"What kinds of things?"

"Terrible things!" repeated Mürgenstürm with a shudder.

"Like what?"

"Don't ask!"

"It's my business to ask."

"He's responsible for everything bad that happens here. If there's a natural disaster, he caused it; if there's an unsolved crime, he committed it; if there's an epidemic, he spread it."


"He's a demon. It's his nature."

"How does he vanish into thin air?"

"He is a master of illusion and misdirection."

"But not of magic?"

"No. Although," added the elf, "he is capable of feats that, even to the experienced eye, are indistinguishable from magic."

"What are his weaknesses?" asked Mallory.

"I don't know if he has any."

"He must, or he'd own the whole city by now."

"I suppose so," said Mürgenstürm dubiously.

Mallory turned back to the cat-girl. "Think hard, Felina. Did the Grundy say anything else? Did he tell Flypaper Gillespie where to take the unicorn?" Felina shook her head.

"Did he say how soon he'd be meeting him?"


"By the way, just for the record, what does a unicorn look like?"

"Just like a horse, only different," said Felina.

"Different how?" asked Mallory. "Just the horn?"

"Just the horn," she agreed. "And maybe the legs, and the face, and the flanks, and the tail."

"It looks like a horse except for the head, the body, and the horn?" suggested Mallory sardonically. She smiled and nodded.

Mallory glared at her for a moment, then shrugged. "All right. Can either of you tell me anything about Flypaper Gillespie?"

"He's a leprechaun," said Mürgenstürm.

"I know he's a leprechaun!" snapped Mallory. "You told me that already!"

"That totally defines him," said Mürgenstürm. "What else did you want to know?"

"I almost hesitate to ask, but what does a leprechaun look like?"

"They're sort of  . . . . well, small  . . . and they've got funny ears, though they're not really pointed  . . . and, um  . . ." began Mürgenstürm, struggling to come up with a description.

"They wear tweeds a lot," interjected Felina helpfully.

"Anyway, you'll know one when you see one," concluded Mürgenstürm confidently.

"How about behavior?" demanded Mallory, resisting the urge to snatch up the little elf and shake him. "What do leprechauns do?"

"They rob and steal and drink a lot," said Mürgenstürm. "Mostly Irish whiskey."

"And they lie," added Felina.

"Oh, yes," said Mürgenstürm. "They never tell the truth when they can tell a lie." He looked at Mallory. "You seem annoyed, John Justin."

"I can't imagine why," muttered Mallory. "I'll try once more. Where am I likely to find Flypaper Gillespie?"

"I don't know," said Mürgenstürm. "I apologize if my answers seem inadequate, but the truth of the matter is that nobody has ever tried to find the Grundy or Flypaper Gillespie before. Usually, people run in the opposite direction."

"So I gather," said Mallory. "In fact, I think it's contract renegotiation time. I've got a feeling that I'm being underpaid for this job."

"But you agreed to take the case!"

"The case didn't have a goddamned demon in it when I agreed!"

"All right," said the little elf with a sigh of resignation. "Twenty thousand."

"Twenty-five," said Mallory.


Mallory stared at him. "Thirty-five."

"But you said twenty-five thousand and I agreed!" protested the elf.

"You agreed too damned fast," said Mallory.

"Well, I'm certainly not going to agree to thirty-five thousand dollars—fast, slow, or otherwise."

"That's your privilege," said Mallory. "Find Larkspur yourself.''

"Twenty-eight and a half," said the elf quickly.



"Make it thirty-one and we're in business."

"You promise?" asked Mürgenstürm distrustfully.

"Word of honor."

The elf considered it for a minute, then nodded his assent.

"You're really going to try to find the unicorn?" asked Felina.

"That's right," said Mallory.

"Even knowing that the Grundy's behind it?"

"Even so."


"Because Mürgenstürm's paying me an awful lot of money," said Mallory. He paused. "Besides, I haven't been having much luck as a husband or a horseplayer or anything else lately. I think it's about time I got back to doing something I'm good at."

"I like you," said Felina, rubbing her hip against his and purring. "You're not like the others."

"Thank you," said Mallory. "I think."

"You're not like them at all," she repeated. "You're crazy! Imagine anyone wanting to fight the Grundy!"

"I didn't say I wanted to," replied Mallory. "I said that for the right price I was willing to."

She rubbed up against him again. "Can I come along?"

"I thought you were afraid of the Grundy."

"I am," she assured him. "I'll desert you in the end, but it'll be fun in the meantime."

Mallory stared at her for a moment. "Can you follow a unicorn's scent?" "I suppose so."

"Okay, you're hired. Now, let's get going. We're not going to find it by hanging around here talking."

She stared at the ground, nostrils twitching, then walked to the gate, opened it, and headed off down the twisting, deserted street.

"I'm sorry that events have taken this unexpected and distressing turn, John Justin," said Mürgenstürm as he and Mallory fell into step behind Felina.

"It could be worse. At least we know who we're looking for now—and we've still got most of the night ahead of us."

"True," said the elf. "But as you actively seek the Grundy, so he will actively defend himself." He paused. "Still, you're risking your life for me, and I'm grateful."

"You're overreacting," said Mallory. "The Grundy doesn't even know I'm here."

Suddenly there was a clap of thunder, and a flash of lightning momentarily illuminated the night sky.

"Don't bet on it, John Justin Mallory!" said a hollow voice from a nearby courtyard.

Mallory raced off in the direction of the voice, but found nothing except eerie shadows flickering on the stone gargoyles that stared down at him from a balcony overlooking the empty street.


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