I replaced the letter carefully in the envelope, took up the sealing wax, and, by
judiciously applying a tiny burst of heat, melted its underside. Then I stuck the seal
down again and—presto! Good as new.
Next, I opened the second envelope. Inside was a small slip of paper, inscribed
with a brief message.
The tickets remain lost. We may have to cancel the performance.
Please consider our options. Will see you at P. tonight.
Now, this was more like it! Much more suspicious: no addressee, no signature
at the bottom, everything nice and vague. And, like all the best secret messages, its
true meaning was concealed. Or at least, it would have been for any human numb-
skull who'd chanced to read it. I, on the other hand, instantly saw through all the
tripe about lost tickets. Lovelace was quietly discussing his missing amulet again. It
looked as if the kid was right: perhaps the magician did have something to hide. It
was time to ask my friend the imp a few straight questions.
"Right," I said, "this blank envelope. Where are you taking it?"
"To the residence of Mr. Schyler, O Most Awful One. He lives in Greenwich."
"And who is Mr. Schyler?"
"I believe, O Light of All Djinn, that he is Mr. Lovelace's old master. I regularly
take correspondence between them. They are both ministers in the Government."
"I see." This was something to go on, if not much. What were they up to?
What was this "performance" that might have to be canceled? From the clues in
both letters, it seemed that Lovelace and Schyler would meet to discuss their affairs
this evening at Parliament. It would be well worth being there to hear what they
had to say.
In the meantime, I resumed my enquiries. "Simon Lovelace. What do you
know about him? What's this conference he's organizing?"
The imp gave a forlorn cry. "O Brilliant Ray of Starlight, it grieves me, but I do
not know! May I be toasted for my ignorance! I simply carry messages, worthless as
I am. I go where I'm directed and bring replies by return, never deviating from my
course and never pausing—unless I am so fortunate as to be waylaid by your good
grace and squashed under a stone."
"Indeed. Well, who is Lovelace closest to? Who do you carry messages to most
"O Most Glorious Person of High Repute, perhaps Mr. Schyler is his most fre-
quent correspondent. Otherwise, no one stands out. They are mainly politicians and
people of stature in London society. All magicians, of course, but they vary greatly.
Only the other day, for instance, I carried messages to Tim Hildick, Minister for the
Regions, to Sholto Pinn of Pinn's Accoutrements and to and from Quentin Make-
peace, the theatrical impresario. That is a typical cross-section."
"Pinn's Accoutrements—what's that?"
"If anyone else asked that question, O He Who is Terrible and Great, I would
have said they were an ignorant fool; in you it is a sign of that disarming simplicity
which is the fount of all virtue. Pinn's Accoutrements is the most prestigious sup-
plier of magical artifacts in London. It is situated on Piccadilly. Sholto Pinn is the
"Interesting. So if a magician wanted to buy an artifact he would go to Pinn's?"
"I'm sorry, Miraculous One, it's difficult to think of new titles for you when
you ask short questions."
"We'll let it pass this time. So, other than Schyler, no one stands out among all
his contacts? You're sure?"
"Yes, Exalted Being. He has many friends. I cannot single one out."
"I could not say, O Ace One. Perhaps she is his wife. I have never taken mes-
sages to her."
" ' O Ace One.' You really are struggling, aren't you? All right. Two last ques-
tions coming up. First: have you ever seen or delivered messages to a tall, dark-
bearded man wearing a travel-stained cloak and gloves? Glowering, mysterious.
Second: What servants does Simon Lovelace employ? I don't mean squirts like
yourself, but potent ones like me. Look sharp and I might remove this pebble be-
fore I go."
The imp's voice was doleful. "I wish I could satisfy your every whim, Lord of
All You Survey, but first, I fear I have never set eyes on such a bearded person, and
second, I do not have access to any of the magician's inner chambers. There are
formidable entities within; I sense their power, but fortunately I have never met
them. All I know is that this morning the master installed thirteen ravenous krels in
his grounds. Thirteen! One would be bad enough. They always go for my leg when
I arrive with a letter."
I debated for a moment. My biggest lead was the Schyler connection. He and
Lovelace were up to something, no doubt about it, and if I eavesdropped at Parlia-
ment that evening, I might very well find out what. But that meeting was hours
away; in the meantime, I thought I would call in on Pinn's Accoutrements of Picca-
dilly. For sure, Lovelace hadn't got his Amulet there, but I might learn something
about the bauble's recent past if I checked the place out.
There was a slight wriggling under the stone.
"If you are finished, O Lenient One, might I be allowed to proceed on my way?
I suffer the Red-hot Stipples if I am late delivering my messages."
"Very well." It is not uncommon to swallow lesser imps that fall into one's
power, but that wasn't really my style.
I removed myself from the boulder and
tossed it to one side. A paper-thin messenger folded himself in a couple of places
and got painfully to his feet.
 Besides, it would have given me a stitch when flying.
"Here're your letters. Don't worry, I haven't doctored them."
"Nothing to do with me if you had, O Glorious Meteor of the East. I simply
carry the envelopes. Don't know nuffin about what's in 'em, do I?" The crisis over,
the imp was already reverting to his obnoxious type.
"Tell no one about our meeting, or I'll be waiting for you next time you set
"What, d'you think I'd go looking for trouble? No way. Well, if my drubbing's
over, I'm out of here."
With a few weary beats of his leathery wings, the imp rose into the air and dis-
appeared over the trees. I gave him a few minutes to get clear, then I turned into a
pigeon again and flew off myself, heading southward over the lonely heath to dis-
Pinn's Accoutrements was the sort of shop that only the very rich or brave dare
enter. Occupying an advantageous position at the corner of Duke Street and Picca-
dilly, it gave the impression that a palace of some kind had been dropped there by a
gang of knackered djinn, and then been soldered on to the drabber buildings along-
side. Its illuminated windows and fluted golden pillars stood out among the magi-
cians' bookshops and the caviar-and-pâté houses that lined the wide, gray boule-
vard; even when seen from the air, its aura of refined elegance stood out almost a
I had to be careful when landing—many of the ledges had been spiked or
painted with sticky lime to deter no-good pigeons such as me—but I finally settled
on the top of a road sign with a good view of Pinn's and proceeded to case the joint.
Each window was a monument to the pretension and vulgarity to which all
magicians secretly aspired: jeweled staffs rotated on stands; giant magnifying glasses
were trained on sparkling arrays of rings and bracelets; automated mannequins
jerked back and forth wearing swanky Italian suits with diamond pins in the lapels.
On the pavement outside, ordinary magicians trudged along in their shabby work
attire, gazed longingly at the displays and went away dreaming of wealth and fame.
There were very few nonmagicians to be seen. It wasn't a commoner's part of town.
Through one of the windows I could see a high counter of polished wood at
which sat an immensely fat man dressed all in white. Perched precariously on a
stool, he was busy issuing orders to a pile of boxes that wobbled and teetered be-
side him. A final command was given, the fat man looked away and the pile of
boxes set off uncertainly across the room. A moment later they turned and I
glimpsed a small stumpy foliot
laboring beneath them. When he arrived at a set
of shelves in one corner of the shop, he extended a particularly long tail and, with a
series of deft movements, scooped the boxes one by one from the top of the pile
and set them carefully on the shelf.
 Foliot: a cut-price djinni.
The fat man I took to be Sholto Pinn himself, the owner of the shop. The mes-
senger imp had said he was a magician, and I noticed that he had a gold-rimmed
monocle stuffed against one eye. No doubt it was this that enabled him to observe
his servant's true shape, since on the first plane the foliot wore the semblance of a
youth to prevent startling nonmagical passersby. As humans went, Sholto looked to
be a formidable fellow; for all his size, his movements were fluid and powerful, and
his eyes were quick and piercing. Something told me he would be difficult to fool,
so I abandoned my first plan of adopting a human disguise and trying to draw in-
formation out of him.
The small foliot looked a better bet. I waited patiently for my chance.
When lunch time came, the trickle of well-heeled customers entering Pinn's
swelled a little. Sholto fawned and scraped; at his command the foliot scampered to
and fro about the shop, gathering boxes, capes, umbrellas, or any other item that
A few sales were made, then the lunch hour drew to a close and the customers
departed. Now Sholto's thoughts turned to his belly. He gave the foliot a few in-
structions, put on a thick black overcoat, and left his shop. I watched him hail a cab
and be driven off into the traffic. This was good. He was going to be some time.
Behind him, the foliot had put up a closed sign on the door and had retired to
the stool beside the counter, where, in mimicry of Sholto, he puffed himself out
Now was my chance. I changed my guise. Gone was the pigeon; instead a
humble messenger imp, modeled on the one I'd beaten up at Hampstead, came a-
knocking on Pinn's door. The foliot looked up in surprise, gave me a glare and sig-
naled for me to be gone. I knocked again, only louder. With a cry of exasperation,
the foliot hopped off the stool, trotted across to the door, and opened it a crack.
The shop bell tinkled.
"Message here for Mr. Sholto."
"He's out. Come back later."
"It can't wait, guv'nor. Urgent. When's he due back?"
"In an hour or so. The master has gone for lunch."
"Where's he gone?"
"He did not furnish me with that information." This foliot had a haughty, supe-
rior sort of manner; he evidently considered himself too good to talk to imps such
"Don't matter. I'll wait." And with a wriggle and a slide I rounded the door,
ducked under his arm, and entered the shop.
"Coo, this is posh, innit?"
The foliot hurried after me in a panic. "Get out! Get out! Mr. Pinn has given
me strict instructions not to allow anyone—"
"Don't get so steamed up, matey, I won't nick nuffin."
The foliot positioned himself between me and the nearest rack of silver pocket
watches. "I should think not! With one stamp of my foot I can call up a horla to
devour any thief or intruder! Now please leave!"
"All right, all right." My shoulders slumped as I turned for the door. "You're too
powerful for me. And too highly favored. It's not everyone gets to run a posh place
"You're right there." The foliot was prickly, but also vain and weak.
"Bet you don't get any beatings, or the Red-hot Stipples neither."
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