chapter 10 - love at first sight and a dark warning

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"Castle?" Lionel turned off the engine.

"Arr, that be Castle Drog," explained the Captain. "Had a reputation for things that go bump in the night once upon a time. Strange goings on. Poltergeists moving things about some say, or piskies say others. They say the old Lord of the Manor, Arbuthnot Fumble, used to sleep in the east wing, but one morning they found his false teeth in the attic in a glass on the bedside table of the Mexican kitchen maid, one Lola 'Hot Stuff' Tabasco. No-one could ever explain it. Some of the other servants reported a-creaking of floorboards, thumping noises and strange cries. Lola herself seemed oddly changed in her mood and would not be drawn on what she had witnessed that night. Right peculiar."

"What did Lady Fumble have to say about it?" enquired Lionel, whose sharp accountant's mind had fastened on a theory.

"Lady Lucretia Fumble had passed on many years before," answered the Captain, "although no-one has ever seen her grave. The whole thing were a bit mysterious, because according to the Pengoggly Post her death certificate said she died o' The Twinge. The coroner did query it, not finding The Twinge in his medical encyclopaedia, but by that time the doctor who signed it, a Dr Squidtentacles, had disappeared without trace, so the coroner passed it and that was that."

The darkness was oppressive, and not much lifted by the dim light coming from the windows of the Piskie and Pasty. The loss of the mermaid felt like a weight on Lionel's chest when he didn't think about it, and a sharper pain when he did. He now felt that any adventure not involving his own problems would take him out of himself, which would be some relief. "Whatever your business with Castle Drog, I'd like to help if I can," he addressed Alf.

"Aye, count me in too. But I think we could all do with a drink first," said Captain Kipper.

There were few customers in the Piskie and Pasty, and they were all sat in corners, crouched over pints. As the three men walked in all eyes turned on them suspiciously. The landlord heaved himself up from his stool and leaned on the bar, hands resting on the beer-soaked mats, and stared at them.

"So... what be you doing in these parts?" The landlord spoke slowly, as though he had seen too many Westerns. His accent was local, but there was something about it that did not quite fit.

"My round," Lionel turned to the others. "Alf?"

"Just a single Antiguan rum to warm me up, thank you very much. Must keep my wits about me tonight. Oh, and a pasty if I may beg of your kindness."

"My pleasure. And a pint and a half of 'Hideous Pigsty,' please," Lionel added, knowing the Captain's taste in local bitter. The half was for himself, as he was driving.

The landlord did not move. "You bain't from around here," he stated in the same slow drawl, fixing Lionel with an emotionless gaze.

There was an uneasy silence. Then Captain Kipper spoke up. "I be a Cornishman as much as 'ee!"

The landlord appeared to ignore this. The men stood there, saying nothing more. Lionel felt a previously unknown courage surging within him, and held the landlord's stare. An unreasonable amount of time passed.

Finally the landlord appeared to waver. "Woman!" he cried loudly, his head jerked back in the direction of the back room.

Almost immediately emerged a woman who struck something deep within Captain Kipper. She seemed overwhelmingly sad, dressed in a simple off-white smock and a dull brown skirt, her eyes downcast and her face expressing defeat. Yet something about her lit a fire in his simple fisherman's heart. Her wavy raven hair framed a dark complexion and her finely chiseled features might have been somewhere between African and Hispanic. Her body, too, was well-formed.

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