Hex and the City

Hex and the City

Nightside 4

Simon R. Green

One

The Psychenauts

You can find anything in the Nightside, from the sacred to the profane and back again, but I don't recommend attending the auctions there unless you've got a strong stomach and nerves of steel. I don't normally go to auctions any more, even though most people are afraid to bid against me. I always end up saddled with a crateful of junk, just to get the one thing I do want. One time I accidentally acquired a Pookah, and for a few months I was followed around the Nightside by a Playboy Bunny Girl invisible to everyone except me. Fun, but distracting.

However, when you work as a private investigator in the Nightside, that hidden magical heart of London, where gods and monsters walk side by side, and sometimes attend the same self-help groups, some cases almost inevitably lead you to the most unpleasant places. The head auctioneer of the Night side's Great Auction Hall hired me to stand watch over one particularly contentious auction, to keep the bidders in line. It sounded straight forward enough, which should have been a warning. Nothing's ever straight forward in my life.

I turned up nice and early, so I could look the place over. It had been several years since I was last there, and in between I'd left the Nightside on the run, with a bullet in my back, and reluctantly returned to stage a semi-triumphant comeback. The doorman at the Hall took one look at me and didn't want to let me in, but I gave him my name, and he turned satisfyingly pale and stepped back to wave me in. A good, or rather bad, reputation will get you into places that a battalion of troops wouldn't.

The head auctioneer stopped pacing nervously up and down and came striding across the great empty Hall to greet me. She grudged me a brief smile and crushed my hand in an over-firm handshake. Lucretia Grave was a short, sturdy woman in an old-fashioned tweedy outfit, surmounted by a monocle screwed firmly into one dark, beady eye. She appeared to be in her early fifties, with a brutal bulldog face and grey hair scraped back into a really severe bun on the back of her head. She looked like she could punch her weight. She glared at me like it was all my fault, and got stuck right in.

"About time you got here, Taylor, old thing. I haven't felt safe in me own Hall since the damned thing arrived. I've had piles that gave me less problems. I know we say we'll auction anything you can find, capture, or manhandle through the doors, but some things are just more trouble than they're worth. I wouldn't have anything to do with the bloody thing, if I wasn't on commission. I've been playing the doggies again, you know how it is. Rotten an imals only have to hear I've put good money on them and they immediately develop back problems and heart conditions. Still, you mark my words, old thing; this particular item is going to go for serious money." She scowled unhappily and sniffed loudly. "It's days like this I wish I was back at me old job, at Christie's. I'd go back in a second if only I could be sure the police weren't still looking for me."

I was about to ask, politely but very firmly, what the hell we were talking about, when we were interrupted by a whole bunch of six-foot-tall teddy bears, carrying in the various items up for auction that session. The bears swept straight