‘What news, Witny?’
‘Yes, them. They say an anthropologist has been seen scribbling notes not two doors up. His name is Phineas, or was it Phileas?’
Ol’ Witny, who runs The Jolly Strangler, has a terrible memory for names (or so he tells everyone).
‘And,’ Witny goes on, ‘they say the hum of machines can still be heard, even when the machines in The Print are still. The Print? You haven’t heard of The Print? Home of Gargantuan , and Jenkins - almost the size of his infernal machine?’
The stranger shakes her head.
‘No. Anyway, better drink up, it’s near closing.’
‘This place closes?’
‘Twixt the hours of 3 and 4, on any day of my choosing,’ says Witny, eyes brighter now. ‘I chose this day.’
The stranger throws the drink back, Witny watches her swallow. ‘There’s hear-tell of a book, too,’ he says.
The stranger places the glass down carefully. Leans forward. ‘Go on.’
‘A fable, something about a crocodile in Stringer’s Fen ,’ says Witny, eyes almost aglow. ‘Saw Septimus Tench clutching a copy not 2 hours ago. Probably crushing the life out of it to put in one of his potions.’
The stranger stands, nods and throws Ol’ Witny a few pieces of silver, ‘for your trouble’.
Witny scrapes the silver into one hand, and watches as the stranger strides steadily toward the door. He holds his breath, suddenly full of doubt until the stranger stumbles ever so slightly before she exits into The Lane. The spell always catches them.
A voice from the back room. ‘You’ll be caught one day, Witny. The Kraken doesn’t like his spies messed about.’
Witny grins, opens the till and throws the coins in, before turning his keen gaze on a thin man huddled in the far corner, scribbling notes into a journal. ‘She won’t remember a thing Marli , and you know it.’