Hell to Pay

ONE

The Hall of the Mountain King

The boundaries of that dark and secret place, the Nightside, lie entirely contained within the city of London. And in that sick and magical place, gods and monsters, men and spirits, go about their very private business, chasing dreams and nightmares you won’t find anywhere else, marked down at sale price and only slightly shop-soiled. You want to summon up a demon or have sex with an angel? Sell your soul or someone else’s? Change the world for the better or just trade it in for something different? The Nightside lies waiting to oblige you, with open arms and a nasty smile. And yet within the Nightside there are many different lands and principalities, many private kingdoms and domains, and even more private heavens and hells.

One such place is Griffin Hall, where the immortals live.

My name is John Taylor. I’m a private eye, specialising in cases of the weird and uncanny. I don’t solve murders, I don’t do divorce work, and I wouldn’t recognise a clue if you held it up before my face and said Look, this is a clue. I do have a special gift for finding things, and people, so mostly that’s what I do. But basically I’m a man for hire, so sometimes that means I have to go where the money is.

I drove my car along the long, narrow road that spiralled up through the primordial jungle surrounding Griffin Hall. Except it wasn’t really my car, and I wasn’t actually driving. I’d borrowed Dead Boy’s futuristic car, to make a better impression. It was a long, silver bullet with many wondrous features, which had fallen into the Nightside from the future, via a Timeslip. It adopted Dead Boy as its owner and occasional driver. I get the impression he wasn’t given much of a choice. I just sat back in the driving seat, enjoyed the massage function, and let the car drive itself. Probably had faster reactions than me anyway. I knew better than to try to touch any of the controls; the last time I even let my hands rest on the steering wheel, the car gave me a warning electric shock.

Griffin Hall stood at the top of a great hill, in the middle of extensive grounds surrounded by high stone walls, protected by all the very latest scientific and magical defences. The huge wrought-iron gates were guaranteed impenetrable unless you had a current invitation, and you could get turned to stone just for leaning on the bell too hard. Griffin Hall, inside the Nightside, but not part of it. The Griffin family valued their privacy, and didn’t care whom they had to maim, mutilate, or murder to ensure it. Only the very important and the very privileged were ever invited to visit the Griffins at home. Their occasional parties were the biggest and brightest in the Nightside, the very height of the Social Scene; and you weren’t anybody if you didn’t have your invitation weeks in advance. I’d never been here before. For all my chequered and even infamous background, I’d never been important enough to catch the Griffins’ eye, until now. Until they needed me to do the one thing no-one else could do.

I wondered who or what had gone missing, so completely and so thoroughly that not even the mighty Griffins, with all their resources, could find it.

What had once been a truly massive and elegant garden, sprawling up the high sides of the hill, had been left neglected, then abandoned, possibly for centuries. It had fallen into a rioting jungle of assorted and unnatural vegetation, including