Bonus Story: An Internal Matter – Ten Years Later

on November 9, 2008 in Other Tales

This is a sequel to An Internal Matter, set ten years later… i.e., “now”. When somebody asked me for this, I thought it was about the most random bonus story request I’ve heard yet… but it planted a seed, and it may yet tie into ongoing events. Enjoy!

“Hello, and welcome to the Crystal Palace,” the woman behind the desk said. “How may I help you?”

“Yeah, hi… I’d like to check in,” the man said.

“Certainly, sir,” the desk clerk said. “What’s the name?”

“Gregory… Michael,” he said.

“Is Gregory your first name or your last?”

“Agent Gregory, as I live and breathe!” a voice said from behind him. He turned to see the squat figure of a bald dwarf with a sable silver beard and a pair of platinum pince-nez spectacles. “I saw your name on the reservations list, but I couldn’t be sure it was the selfsame man.”

“Master Gebhard,” Gregory said.

“It’s Mr. Gebhard now,” the dwarf said. “I’m afraid I’m no longer the master of anything.”

“Oh, sorry… no offense meant,” Gregory said.

“None taken!” Gebhard said. He strode up towards the desk. “Allison, what room is Mr. Gregory down for?”

“312,” she said. “It’s a deluxe single.”

“Well, put him into a suite,” Gebhard said. “No charge.”

“Certainly, Mr. Gebhard,” Allison said. “How many keys do you need, Mr. Gregory?”

“Just two,” Gregory said. He turned to the dwarf. “What, you own this place or something?”

“Indeed I do,” Gebhard said. “I was most impressed with your handling of the Khersentide robbery, you know.”

“Were you?” Gregory asked.

“Certainly,” Gebhard said. “Most impressed.”

“That crime was never solved,” Gregory said.

“Still, you handled it impressively,” Gebhard said. “I hope the lack of progress was not held against you, at the bureau.”

“I think my superiors had a pretty fair understanding of the circumstances,” Gregory said.

The investigator and the dwarf had both reached the same conclusion about who was responsible for the theft of jewelry from Clan Sternbauer’s shop in Phale, but because Gregory had been made to wait for the man’s name and address to come from the dwarven embassy, the dwarves had gotten to him first and dealt with him in their own fashion. Because of their wealth and influence, the death had been ruled a suicide and was never officially connected to Clan Sternbauer or the robbery.

“How nice for you,” Gebhard said. He sniffed “My supervisors, on the other hand, were a tad less forgiving. If you’d care to meet me in the bar once you’re settled in, I should like to tell you about it.”

“I think I will,” Gregory said. He glanced at the timepiece on the desk. It was almost six. “Seven?”

“A most auspicious hour,” Gebhard said. “I will see you then.”

An hour later, after the Gregories had been installed in their suite and Mrs. Gregory had settled down for a nap, Mike Gregory made his way down to the bar. He found Gebhard waiting for him by a table, reading a book of runes.

“Ah, how very prompt,” Gebhard said, waving him over. “What would you like to drink? The mead, of course, is excellent, if you care for such things.”

“I’ll just have a gin and tonic, thanks,” Gregory said, and Gebhard had two brought out with startling speed.

“So, what brings you to the plains of Prax?” Gebhard asked.

“I’m not here for the bureau, if that’s what you mean,” Gregory replied. “I’m off-duty. The wife has family here. We’re on vacation.”

“How nice for you,” Gebhard said. “It is, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Gregory asked.

“Human marriage… odd custom,” Gebhard said, shaking his head. “I can never wrap my head around it. I last saw my wife in the year… let’s see, it’s 222 now, so that would be… 176. No, 166. I remember because that was the year the winter was… well, I didn’t ask you here to tell you about my wife.”

“So, they blamed you for the robbery?” Gregory asked. “You gave me the impression that the security arrangements were set by Clan Sternbauer, not individual store managers… er, masters.”

“True. But it’s almost a superstition, with us,” Gebhard said. “The failure happened on my watch. For me to remain would be to invite it to return.”

“So you were forced out.”

“I stepped down,” Gebhard said. “To avoid that sort of unpleasantness. I will do what needs doing, Mr. Gregory, but…”

“Sometimes you’ll do it twice,” Gregory said, thinking of a body with sixteen crossbow bolts in the back… as if eight wasn’t enough to kill any human.

“What? Ah, yes,” Gebhard said, and he chuckled. “The truth is, I have a most un-dwarven abhorrence of conflict. It’s why I only married the one time.”

“You told me you fought alongside Magisterion,” Gregory reminded him.

“Yes, well, as I said… I will do what needs doing,” Gebhard said, stroking his beard and drawing himself up to his full height. “I was a different dwarf then, as well… I don’t know as I would do the same thing today. I daresay if you live another two centuries, you might be surprised at the changes that come over you in that time.”

“I daresay you’re right,” Gregory said.

“The thing you have to realize, Mr. Gregory, is that Clan Sternbauer isn’t just a clan… it’s a corporation,” Gebhard said. “And the corporation holds a trademark on the Clan Sternbauer name. Young dwarves who are not inclined towards the jewelry business seek out another clan to pledge themselves to, but I am not such a young dwarf.”

“So now you really are just Gebhard,” Gregory said.

“I am afraid so,” the dwarf said, smiling ruefully beneath his silver whiskers. “Son of no father, of the Clan Unmentionable.”

“What happened with your father?”

“He opposed the human revolution,” Gebhard said. “Thought it would be more profitable to deal with an established power than with a bunch of raggedy colonies. He didn’t think the cross-ocean trade would survive, you see. We might have agreed to disagree, but when I enlisted in the human army, it was the final pebble. He disowned me.”

“And now your clan has, too.”

“Yes, for all intents and purposes. They gave me a severance package, of sorts,” Gebhard said. “A master’s wages for one hundred years.”

“That’s what you call generous,” Gregory said.

“Is it?” Gebhard said. “I may live another two centuries or more. I’m legally enjoined from working in the only trade that I know, and far too old to learn a new one. Do you know what it’s like to be a dwarf who’s out of work? What it feels like? I tell you, before I purchased this establishment, many was the time I considered taking elven leave of the world.”

“Elven leave?” Gregory repeated blankly.

Gebhard put a hand up by his neck and mimed the jerking of a noose.

“Oh, I got you,” Gregory said. “What stops you? The last time I saw you, you were all ready to throw yourself on a sword.”

“For my clan, Mr. Gregory, for my clan,” Gebhard said. “Such isn’t counted as suicide… dying to protect the clan is akin to falling in battle, whatever the circumstances. Ending one’s life for no greater cause, or out of boredom or dissatisfaction… well, when we call that ‘elven leave’, you must not imagine that it is because of the great esteem in which we hold the undying folk.”

“I didn’t figure,” Gregory said.

“It was in a room in this very inn that I finally resolved to do it,” Gebhard said. “I was going to hang myself. I climbed up on a table, threw a noose over the rafter, but before I could slip it on… well, the table was wobbly to begin with, and one of the legs broke.”

“And I suppose you took that as a sign from your gods that your life wasn’t over?” Gregory asked.

“Not a bit, Mr. Gregory,” Gebhard said. “I took it as a sign that the inn required new management. I had the funds available and, while my capitalizing on my skills in jewelry and metalworking was verboten, as we say, I had learned something of the arts of management, accounting, and the like in my time overseeing the Clan’s shop. I was able to turn this place around in no time… and of course, the first thing I did was to replace all of the rickety furniture.”

“I’m sure the next poor sap who goes to hang himself will thank you for that,” Gregory said.

“I daresay he won’t, but under the circumstances I’ll be inclined to forgive the discourtesy, ” Gebhard said.

“Can I ask a question?”


“I wouldn’t expect you’d be happy to see me,” Gregory said. “So what gives?”

“Well, now,” the dwarf said, tilting his head and peering at the investigator over the tops of his glasses. “Exactly how off-duty are you at the moment?”

“Completely,” Gregory said. “The case is closed and closed hard. Don’t think for a minute that you put one over on the imperial government, Gebhard. I could walk back into the bureau next month with your signed confession in the slaying of the golem-maker, and my boss would wipe his ass with it.”

“Then I don’t mind saying that I owe you a great deal,” Gebhard said. “Because the thief was discovered and punished, and the stolen merchandise recovered, I was able to part company with the clan amicably and with the funds which bankrolled my current venture. Without your help, your insight, I would have remained ignorant of the crucial blind spot in our security until the miscreant had made good his escape… and that would truly have been the end for me, and my apprentices would have been viewed as irredeemably tainted. But you solved the case, Mr. Gregory, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Mike Gregory smiled.

“Say that again, Gebhard,” he said.

“I will be forever grateful,” Gebhard said.

“No, not that… the other part.”

“You solved the case?”

“Yeah,” Gregory said, his weathered face cracking a thin smile. “You know, I’ve been waiting ten years to hear somebody say that.”

Gebhard laughed.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get any official recognition…” he said.

“Oh, it wasn’t exactly a black eye,” Gregory said. “I got a reputation for sensitivity and discretion, if you can believe that… they actually attached me to the dwarven embassy for a while. It was a good career move, but I transferred out three years later. Being paid to not investigate things isn’t exactly my thing.”

“No, I can’t imagine that it is,” Gebhard said. He leaned forward over the table. “There’s another reason I’m grateful to you, you know.”


“Your warning,” Gebhard said. “Against killing the boy… attacking a child isn’t ‘exactly my thing’, but because he was used in the commission of the crime, our way would have been to consider him an accomplice. Because I was able to point to your specific warning on the subject when I discussed the matter with the Clan, cooler heads prevailed. Even if you consider a thief’s murder to be justice thwarted, you should know that you accomplished some good that day.”

“I do consider it justice thwarted, actually,” Gregory said. “But I’m a realist. I have to be, in my job.”

“I expect that you do,” Gebhard said. “I send him a little money, from time to time… the boy, I mean.”

“That’s nice,” Gregory said.

“So, how long are you in town for?” Gebhard asked.

“Two weeks,” Gregory said.

“That long?”

“It’s been years since I had a real vacation and they practically threw me out the door,” he said.

“Well, I hope to see you again,” Gebhard said. “And my inn is yours for the duration. We have an excellent restaurant. Whatever you want, it’s on the house.”

“Really, that’s too much,” Gregory said. “The room’s enough.”

“You don’t want my hospitality?” Gebhard asked, bristling with mock umbrage.

“No,” Gregory said. “But with what I make at the bureau, I don’t want my wife getting used to it.”

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One Response to “Bonus Story: An Internal Matter – Ten Years Later”

  1. pedestrian says:

    this is a very funny addendum

    Current score: 1