Main Offices, Fodor Publishing Co.

[There was a bang as a tall redhead slammed the office door against
the wall. Behind her, a flurried secretary was making noises.]

[The man behind the desk smiled.]

Varne: "I need to talk to you, Gaynor. I am not happy and Magnus is
totally pissed-off."

Gaynor: "How nice to see you, Varne. How are you? And how is Magnus?
It is alright, Miss Jackson. This is my cousin. Miss Jackson, please
calm security down and shut the door behind you."

Varne: "Look, you smarmy scumbag, it took me four hours of talking and
two bottles of gin before I got Magnus calm enough to agree to my
coming here. He was going to come himself. If it were not for the
fact that, unfortunately, you are family, I would have let him."

Gaynor: "I can't think what the problem is. By the way, fangs do not
really suit you."

[With an effort, Varne calmed herself. The fangs retracted and her
claws sheathed.]

Varne: "A simple job, one we could do at a discount, would only take
ten minutes of our time. That is what you said. I should have known
better, 'cousin dear'."

Gaynor: "All I asked for was a report on This Time Round for the next
edition of the Guidebook. A simple job."

Varne: "Really, if you had mentioned what had happened to the other
inspectors you sent, we might have reconsidered the job. We would
certainly have reconsidered the fee. After the action, Magnus did a
check. It was quite impressive: one disappeared without trace; one
is in a strait jacket; and two are in the local morgue."

[Varne chucked a large document onto the desk.]

Gaynor: "What's this?"

Varne: "Our report. And an itemised bill. Magnus said that if you
refused to accept it, he would be delighted to come and 'discuss' it
in person."

[Gaynor took the bill and looked at the total. He visibly paled.]

Gaynor: "But our budget can't cover this!"

Varne: "Yes, it can. We checked. After all, we have been doing
industrial espionage for the last twenty years."

[Varne smiled, showing far too many teeth.]

Varne: "What you mean, 'dear cousin', is that you can not pay this
unless you dip into your personal slush fund.

"To tell the truth, I have never liked you much, 'cousin dear'.
However, at some point I might want to go home. There is a remote
chance that _someone_ in the family likes you, though I consider that
unlikely. Unfortunately, that meant I had to talk Magnus out of what
he wanted to do to you. Although, it was the most original use of
molten lead I have ever heard of."

Gaynor: "But this is nearly ten times what we agreed on!"

Varne: "That is because we believed you. You got the Family Discount
on a minimum-risk job. This is the standard high-risk fee, plus
expenses. "

Gaynor: "Expenses? What expenses?"

Varne: "Repairs, mostly."

Gaynor: "All right. I will concede the fee, but I want to check the

[Gaynor put the cover sheet to one side and took up a sheaf of

Varne: "Should be something even your limited mind can understand.
Each sheet has the reason for the expenditure. The receipts for money
spent are stapled to that."

Gaynor: "What is this? A complete set of synthetic combat leathers?"

Varne: "Item two in the questionnaire: baby care facilities..."

Outside the Creche, TTR

Magnus: "Seems simple enough. Five questions and a visual inspection
of the facilities."

Varne: "We are *Outside*, Lord."

Magnus: "Enough of that, Varne. Just knock."


Magnus "That seems straightforward enough. Now, we just need to
inspect the playroom."

Izzy: "Oops. Are you sure that's required?"

Varne: "It is in the questionnaire. 'The inspector will observe
facilities provided.' 'Cousin dear' will not pay if he has any

Izzy: "It's just... that was where we lost the last one."

Magnus: "Last what?"

Izzy: "Oh, nobody important..."

Editorial Office

Varne: "...and that was where we lost the leathers. Apparently, none
of the brats had ever seen that material before. They subjected them
to destructive analysis. Oh, and slobber."

[Gaynor put a tick mark next to item two.]

Gaynor: "Item six, 'one Lotus Elan'?"

Varne: "We had parked that in the TTR car park and some idiot landed
a spaceship on it. Magnus sees no reason he should lose his No
Claims Bonus because of that, and the ship captain was not insured.
There is a sworn affidavit from the ship captain and the crew
attached, signed in their blood. Items seven and eight are the
sharpening costs on the instruments we needed to get the affidavit.
Skinning Ice Warriors plays havoc with edges."

[Gaynor carried on reading down the list ticking items.]

Gaynor : "Right, that leaves fifteen through twenty. Three windows,
one forty-square-foot mirror, and a bar."

Inside This Time Round

Magnus: "What have we got left on that damn thing, Varne?"

Varne: "Count the number of brands and specific beers and spirits on
sale, distinguishing between draft and keg. Oh, and make a note if
real cider is available."

Magnus: "I thought we were doing this for Fodor, not CAMRA. Anything

Varne: "Just a couple of questions about the food, Lord."

Magnus: "Don't call me Lord, Varne. Still, should be simple enough."

Varne: "I seem to have heard that one before, Lord."

Editorial Office

Varne: "That was when things went downhill. It turns out that the
cook is a relative of Francois's. Also, that your questions can be
considered insulting by a dedicated cook.

"I must say that it _was_ impressive. After Francois had put my Lord
through a window, and my Lord put Francois into the bar mirror, his
relative -- whose name I am sorry to say I never got -- put my Lord
through another window. Finally, my Lord, who by this time was
annoyed, put the cook through yet another window and Francois into the
bar. That was when the riot squad arrived."

Gaynor: "I suppose that explains twenty-one."

Varne: "Yes. Legal fees plus a settlement out-of-court. Now, 'cousin
dear', I do hope you are going to fail to pay up in full. I really do
want to see that use of molten lead, and if Magnus does not use it on
you, it might be years before he is sufficiently motivated to use it
on anybody else."

[Gaynor pulled a form out of his desk, filled in a figure, and signed

Gaynor: "Payment in full. Just take this to Accounts on your way
out. I really wish I could believe you were bluffing."

Varne: "That is an interesting problem and one you will never know
the answer to. That is, unless..."

[Varne moved to hand the form back to Gaynor. He waved it away.]

Gaynor: "You, /sweet/ cousin, might bluff. Unfortunately, Magnus does
not even understand that word. I prefer not to find out which of you
two is thinking about the lead. I like an occasional mystery."

--Ken Young