Notes from Bitternut’s Casebook – A Bit of a Puzzle

Every now and then, someone decides they want to direct traffic.  Not one of my officers, whose job it may be.  Some citizen just feels the urge to wave their arms and make the carts go.  Or, more generally, not go.  There’s something about the idea that appeals to a certain sort of mind; often one a little bit sideways of most people’s reality.  Then again, this is Scalentine.  Flexible perceptions of reality can be useful.

It isn’t the sort of thing I usually deal with myself, since it doesn’t generally involve either murder or city politics.  But on this particular afternoon I’ve taken a break from the Barracks to go out for a stroll.  The constant click of game-tiles and the looks of guilt on people’s faces when I catch them playing Jorf instead of doing their jobs are driving me full-moon.  Besides, it’s good to walk the streets, catch any strange scents on the wind.

I get to the crossroads at Gravestone Yard and Sideways Street to find a state of confusion, and Officer Prokikk trying to persuade a citizen to stop waving his arms about and pointing, when said citizen shinnies halfway up a lamppost.  He looks about fourteen, and human, or mostly – I can tell due to the fact that he’s wearing not a stitch. It’s not that warm a day, either.

We don’t have laws about clothing in Scalentine.  With people from so many cultures living here, there’s little point – one person’s formal wear is another’s outrage, so everyone just has to get along and if they don’t like it they needn’t look.  However, we do have customs, and climbing lampposts in the nude while shouting at my officers violates several of them.

Officer Prokikk isn’t bothered by the nudity – for one thing she’s an Ikinchli.  They look a lot like handsome lizards and are generally as comfortable with skin – or scales – as with cloth.  For  another, she’s a good officer and isn’t going to let a little thing like that upset her.  However there’s already a fair old traffic jam forming and a few citizens getting hot under their various neck-apparel.  Along with gawpers and the ones who are stopping to see what everyone else is gawping at, things are getting potentially lively.  Officer Prokikk’s tail is beginning to twitch.

“You don’t understand!”  shouts lamppost-boy.  “I have to keep things moving….look, they’ve stopped!  They can’t stop!”  And he starts waving so vigorously I’m afraid he’ll fall off.

“Yes, well, sir, they’ve stopped because you’re there, you see,” Officer Prokikk says.  “Now if you’d just be kind enough to come along with me…”

“But they’re going the wrong way!”

“Generally, sir, they find their own way, and it just works out all right, as a rule,” she says, with the patience beginning to show in her voice.

“Can I be of assistance, Officer?”  I says.

“Well you see, Chief…well, you can see,” she says.

“Hmm.  All right Mr…”

“Legfrill.  Josephas Legfrill,” says the nude citizen.  “No, no no, not that way!”  He yells at a cart which is trying to manoeuvre its way past the lamppost.  “You’re the wrong colour!”

The cart-driver is one of Scalentine’s green-skinned citizens.  He gives Legfrill a look that suggests he is not happy with this description.  I do not need a riot.“Sir,” I says, “Could you explain to me exactly what it is you’re trying to do?”

“Well,” he says.  “That one’s red, you see, but it’s going crosswise.  There’s a blue one, look, that should be where that is, but it’s in front of a yellow one, and now that’s going backwards, yellow ones can’t go backwards!”

“I see,” I says.  And I do, suddenly.  “Is Sir purple or green?” I says.

“I’m purple,” he says, although frankly he’s pinkish with a tinge of blue and goosebumps for texture.

“Sir?” Officer Prokikk says, obviously worried that I’m going a bit sideways myself.

“It’s Jorf, Officer.  He’s playing Jorf.”

“That stupid game with the coloured tiles everyone’s been going mad over?”

“Well yes,” I say.  “Literally, it seems.  Now, Sir, if you’re purple, who’s playing green?”

For a moment he looks thoroughly confused.  “I…oh, my friend Prin.  He’s the one I usually play with.  Only he said he didn’t want to play with me any more…something about having a job…”

“Yes, well, I’ve just spoken to your friend Prin,” I said.  “He’s conceded the game.”

“He can’t do that!”

“It’s in the rules, I believe,” I say, hoping I’m right.

“I have a rule book somewhere, I’ll need to check, people always assume things about the rules and they don’t check…”

Apart from anything else I don’t want to discover where he’s keeping that rulebook, so I wave my notebook at him and say, “I’ve got it in here.  Why don’t you come and look?”

“No-one’s to move while I’m not looking,” he says.  “That would be cheating.”

“That’s all right, Sir,” I say.  “Officer Prokikk here will make sure no-one cheats.”

And down he comes meek as a lamb, and I give him my notebook and lead him to the station while he’s thumbing through it trying to read my handwriting.

I send one of the officers in ahead to make sure everyone gets their Jorf games out of sight.

We track down his mum.  I tell her to keep him away from Jorf boards and she says a few words I shan’t repeat and tells me she’s already thrown his out.

I ban the game from the Barracks. Not a problem since most of them have seen the state of poor Legfrill and the rest hear about it pretty quick.

Don’t understand it, myself. Trying to keep this city working’s a far more interesting game than moving some tiles about.  And I’ve never yet felt the need to take my clothes off to do it.


Dear Babylon – Safe or Sorry?

Dear Madame Steel

I do not usually write this sort of letter.  Normally I write to the Scalentine Chronicle (you may have seen some of my letters, they are signed ‘A Concerned Citizen’).  However I did not think this fell within their purview, and in any case they do not usually give advice.  Some of the other correspondents give advice but it is seldom helpful like telling me to jump off a bridge etc. when I am only concerned about i.e. public safety issues like people leaving stuff on the pavement where a person could easily trip over it.


I have heard that you are an expert on what might be called Romantic Matters.  Recently my lady wife has begun displaying an interest in what she refers to as ‘spicing up our marriage’ and has started to bring home Objects and coloured ropes etc. and woodcuts showing people engaged in Marital Activities with such things.

I am a great believer in keeping a marriage interesting and often entertain my wife with descriptions of local council meetings and the latest gossip about new safety regulations, some of which is definitely of a spicy nature!  And at her insistence we went to the burlesque show at the Flight of Fancy, though we were forced to leave by the management who did not appreciate my pointing out the many potential health and safety violations in the Flaming Balloons act.  So you can see I am not Averse to being Adventurous.

However I feel the sort of thing she is suggesting is in danger of violating a number of safety issues and I do not feel that having something wrenched beyond repair is going to do anything to improve our bedroom relations.  I would therefore be grateful for some sound and practical advice.


Concerned Citizen.


Dear Concerned

Babylon passed this to us as it is our area of expertise.

Safety is of course of great concern.  We think you and your wife should make an appointment to visit us; we will show you, as it were, the ropes.

We promise not to wrench anything you don’t want wrenched.  You may be surprised at what you end up asking for, however.

Or indeed begging for.

Yours in anticipation

Cruel and Unusual
The Basement
Red Lantern.

Extract from the small ads, Scalentine Chronicler

Berday, 5th Alster.
Free to good homes: puppies.  8 weeks old, friendly. Mother – Thrin Mountain Dog.  Father – unknown.  5 Lower Battle Street

Berday, 12th Alster.
Free to good homes: puppies.  9 weeks old, friendly, boisterous.  Lively home recommended. Mother – Thrin Mountain Dog. Father – unknown.  5 Lower Battle Street

Berday, 19th Alster.
Free to good homes: puppies.  10 weeks old, friendly, boisterous, unusual breed.  Suitable for energetic owner with lots of space. Mother – Thrin Mountain Dog. Father – unknown.  5 Lower Battle Street.

Berday, 27th Alster.
Free to good homes: large friendly unusual animals, suitable for riding. 5 Lower Battle Street

Berday, 5th Flor.
URGENT: Animal trainer required, circus experience preferred.  5 Lower Battle Street.

Inshday, 4th Frayet.
Marvello the Incredible and his Giant Performing Beasts!  Don’t miss the sight of Marvello bending these Huge Ferocious Creatures to his Will!  Nosticular’s Entertainments and Family Show, 29 The Brandings.  Gates open at noon.

Berday, 19th Frayet
Wanted: Veterinarian, experience of neutering Thrin Mountain Dogs.  5 Lower Battle Street.

Notes from Bitternut’s Casebook – Body of Evidence

After weeks of rain, everyone’s grumpy and dull. I’m almost hoping for something to shake my officers up a bit. But it’s never good when someone turns up at the front desk looking seasick. Especially if they’re with Officer Ranil, who can break up a bar-fight just by flexing in a meaningful way, and he’s also looking like his breakfast’s fighting back.
The citizen is a plump furry sort in a slightly bloodstained shirt.
“Are you injured?” I ask.
“What?” he says.
I point to the blood on his shirt.  “Oh!  That!  That’s not mine.  Oh, dear…”
“Officer Ranil?” I says.
Ranil says, “Yessir, sorry, Chief.  This gentleman’s a butcher, name of Cheesewold-ptaK. Looked out his window and saw a body in his neighbour’s garden. Grabbed me as I was on patrol. We went and looked.  It’s bodies all right, sir.”
Ranil swallows. “Yes, Chief. Bits of. A lot.”
“Who’s the owner of the property?”
“Old wizard, name of Thrane. Quiet.  Lives alone,” Cheesewold –ptaK says.  “I was just looking out to see if the rain had stopped and saw a hand. Well, I wasn’t sure, so I went and peered through the fence, and… there’s more. Sticking out of the mud.”
So off we trot, after picking up a few protective amulets and suchlike.
The butcher’s shop looks clean and pleasant. Cheesewold-ptaK shakes his head. “This will be the finish of me,” he says, “as though business weren’t bad enough, with meat so pricey.” He points at the house on the left.  “I don’t have to come in, do I?”
“No, Sir, you just sit tight,” I says.
There’s a small plaque by the door. ‘Erfinal Thrane, Wizard. Specialist in Animations and Devices.’ I loosen my sword and Ranil gives the door a good bashing, yelling, “Militia! Open up!”
But there’s no answer, so Ranil kicks the door in which obviously relieves his feelings somewhat, since it ends up off its hinges and six feet down the hall.
“Calm down,” I says. “We don’t know anything yet.”
“Sir,” he says.
“You stay here, and yell if you see him coming.”
The house has a dry, empty smell, but there’s a pan soaking in the sink and a banked fire in the grate.
The rooms are fussily well-kept and there’s one full of amulets, bottles of liquid and jars of herbs, and a number of dolls lying about in states of dismemberment.  Which is disturbing, considering.
Or maybe not.  I’m about to go and ask Ranil whether he’s sure what he saw were actually limbs and not bits of doll, when the wind changes and I catch the smell of rotting meat.
Doesn’t have to be a full moon for me to recognise that one.
So out I go to the back garden.
It’s not pretty.  Some attempt has been made at burial but mostly someone just dumped the pieces and mounded earth over.  All this rain’s uncovered them.
And it’s…odd.  There’s no injuries on the limbs I can see.  The joint ends are smooth, like they’ve healed over, which even in this city isn’t usual in a severed limb.
Then Ranil calls and I nip out front where an elderly gent with a pair of small round glasses perched on a snub nose, snuff on his weskit and a string bag in either hand is staring at the place where his door used to be.
“I say,” he says.  “What’s going on?”
Which is exactly what I want to know.   So we bring him in and I ask him about the bodies.
“Oh, those,” Mr Thrane says.  “They aren’t bodies.  Not in the usual sense.”
“Would you explain to me, Sir, what they are?”  I say, half expecting to hear how they’re demons disguised as people which the voices in his head told him to disposed of.
“Failed experiments,” he says. “I’ve been branching out. Animating dolls and so forth, it’s all very well, but people want something new. I’ve been trying to create a sort of living doll, with flesh, and so forth, purely for healthy family entertainment purposes you understand, but I’m having dreadful trouble. I think I shall have to give it up. I can get as far as arms or legs but the torso…and as for the head, that’s probably years away.” He pushes his glasses up on his nose and sighs. “I’m too old, and the price of ingredients! If I just wanted to build cow-legs it would be much cheaper.”
“Cow-legs?” I say.
“Oh, yes, that’s what I started off with. And sheep. They’re the real thing – and at least when things go wrong you can eat them,” he said.  “Legs are easy. It’s putting them together with all the other bits that gets complicated.”
Obviously we can’t take his word for it, and get him to show us. Watching a human leg form before your eyes is strangely troubling, but undeniable. Then we have a little chat about which City Ordinances he’s violated, organise a cleanup, and charge him a fine. Which he pays, once Ranil leans over him.
We pop next door and explain to Cheesewold-ptaK the butcher. Who looks relieved, then somewhat thoughtful. “He can make cow’s legs?” he says.
I make a note to keep an eye on what goes on Cheesewold-ptaK’s shelves over the next few weeks. Still, eating the stuff doesn’t seem to have done  the wizard any harm.
Not yet, at least.
Somehow I didn’t fancy any lunch.

Hargur Bitternut, Chief

Dear Babylon – Coming Clean

Dear Babylon

My boyfriend took me to meet his mother last week.  She’s dead. That is, she’s a ghost.
I wouldn’t mind but she floated around while he was kissing me and she was making
gestures. Encouraging ones. It put me right off. Also rattling the dirty pans and stuff.


Dear Haunted

There’s normally a reason why someone hangs about when they should have moved on.  You mention dirty pans.  Has your boyfriend done any cleaning since she died?


Dear Babylon

I don’t think so. There’s cobwebs you could knit jumpers of. 


Dear Haunted

I suspect your boyfriend’s mum can’t leave because your boyfriend hasn’t let her go. He’s still expecting her to look after him. I think she’s encouraging you to get amorous in the hopes that you’ll take over the job. Which is fine if you don’t mind being stuck with all his cleaning. (Also stuck with a man who fails to run screaming from the room when his dead mum starts making ‘encouraging gestures’. I mean, really?)
I’d tell him to do his own cleaning. With luck that will allow his mum to move on – or shock her so much she disintegrates.
If he can’t or won’t clean up, I’d suggest you do the moving on, sharpish.
Good luck



Dear Confused
Please see enclosed diagram. Ignore the moustaches, I’m afraid Jivrais got hold of the drawing.

Dear Exhausted
Did you go to that alchemist in Little Ferret Street? If so, do not take any more of the green pills. He’s a nice man but overenthusiastic with his dosage. It should go down in about a week.

Dear Lovelorn
I’m afraid not everyone appreciates a necklace made of your enemies’ dried…parts. Try some nice beads instead. Made of glass or precious stones, preferably. (Gallstones don’t count, by the way).


Extract from the small ads, Scalentine Chronicler

Stoneday, 1st of Glister
Wizard seeks assistant.
Training provided.  1 silver/week and meals.

Inshday, 4th of Glister
Wizard seeks assistant.
Requires sensible person with steady hands.  Training provided.  1 silver/week and meals.

Berday, 12th of Glister
Wizard seeks assistant. 
Requires sensible person with steady hands, stolid disposition, and no tendency to panic.  Training provided.  1 silver/week and meals.

Fasday, 20th of Glister
Wizard seeks assistant. 
Requires steady hands, stolid disposition, no tendency to panic, and preferably not flammable.  Training provided. 1 silver/week and meals.

Rivday, 2nd of Loth
Wizard seeks assistant. 
Requires steady hands, stolid disposition, no tendency to panic, not easily flammable and experience of dealing with large dangerous animals.  Training provided. 1 silver/week and meals.

Rivday, 16th of Loth
Wizard seeks assistant. 
Requires steady hands, stolid disposition, no tendency to panic, not easily  flammable, experience with large dangerous animals and immune to the blandishments of female demons however attractive.  Training provided. 1 silver/week and meals.

Inshday, 11th of Prend
Wizard seeks assistant. 
Requires steady hands, stolid disposition, no tendency to panic, not easily flammable, experience with large dangerous animals, immune to the blandishments of attractive demons of any gender.  Training provided. 1 silver/week and meals.

Rivday, 2nd of Alster
Wizard seeks trained assistant. 
3 silver/week, meals and accommodation provided.


Notes from Bitternut’s Casebook – Something Fishy

Hargur’s Casebook, Rivday, 16th of Prend

Mid-morning at the Barracks and Prethin Claivitch turns up with his son Brolin, who is looking very sulky. The Claivitch family are old gentry; but Prethin decided to turn fisherman.
“I found a ring in a fish,” Prethin says.  “A stolen ring. My son is a thief. I want him arrested and the ring returned to its owners. I know where he got it.”
“How about you come into my office and tell me all about it,” I say, so off we go.
“It’s a sign,” young Brolin says. “You find a family heirloom in a fish, how can it be anything except a sign?”
“Why don’t you start at the beginning?” I say.
“Dad walked out on grandpa and grandma Claivitch, and said we had to have this horrible life…” Brolin says.
“An honest working life where you earn what you…” says Prethin.
“…and today we’re bringing in the catch and we pick out one for our tea and this ring turns up, it was a sign, that it was all wrong and he should go back to being a gentleman, you can’t argue with mystic!”
“Nothing mystic about it,” says Prethin. “You shoved it down the fish’s throat for me to find. He stole that ring off his own grandparents!”
“I never!” Brolin says. “Ask them, go on!”
“Oh, I know what they’ll say,” Prethin says. “’The boy just wants what’s his by right, he’s only young…’ How am I supposed to teach him right from wrong? I want you to arrest him. I want him to find out that actions have consequences.”
“You have proof of the origin?” I say.
Prethin sighs and hands me the ring, saying, “I recognise it.”
I look at it. It’s engraved, in lettering almost too fancy to read: ‘Hold Steadfast’.
Brolin doesn’t even look, up, he’s glowering at his hands.
“And it turned up in a fish,” I say.
“No, it turned up in my son’s pocket and he put it in a fish.”
Well, I’ve seen more than a few odd things in my time, but this definitely seemed the most likely explanation.  So I pop the lad in a cell overnight and send a message to the grandparents.

Next morning they turn up. Lord and Lady Claivitch, looking around as though they’ve never seen anything so horrifying as the Barracks on, frankly, a pretty quiet morning with no-one bleeding out all over the floor for once. And as Prethin thought they would, they say no ring’s been stolen; just lost. So I can hardly hold Brolin for theft, and I’ve just sent someone down to let him out when his dad turns up, and a fine old family spat starts.
“I just want him to learn an honest trade, stand on his own feet, can’t you understand that?” Prethin says.
“But he’s a gentleman,” says Lord Claivitch.
“He’s a thief,” Prethin says. “You think that’s all right, do you? You think stealing’s proper behaviour for a gentleman?”
“Certainly not,” Lord Claivitch says, and he gets flustered and pink and I think, oh ho. “He didn’t steal that ring.”
“Of course he…” then Prethin gets it.  “You gave it to him!  You told him to stuff it in that fish for me to find! Father, you shameless old…Well you can just take it back.”
I unlock the evidence box and hand the ring to Lady Claivitch, who frowns.  “But we gave him…” she blushes all the way to her painted-on eyebrows.
“So you did give it to him?”  Prethin says.
“We gave him a ring, yes,” Lady Claivitch says.  “It was a signet ring with a dark red stone.  This ring is one that got lost when we were out hunting, about three years ago.”
At which interesting point young Brolin arrives from the cells.  Seems he never actually looked at the ring that his father found, having made the not unreasonable assumption that if he’d stuffed a ring down a fish’s throat, that would be the ring his father found while gutting a fish for their tea.
Only it wasn’t.
“Well,” Lord Claivitch says, recovering from the shock remarkable fast, “seems obvious Fate has Intervened. Can’t argue with that.”
For a moment Prethin looks downright miserable. Then he starts to grin. “No,” he says, “you can’t.”
“You’ll be giving up this fishing nonsense then?” Says Lord Claivitch.
“No, I won’t,” Prethin says.
“Look at what it says on the ring. Our family motto. Hold steadfast. Your signet, the one you gave Brolin, didn’t have a motto, did it? This one did. I got a message from the mystic, all right. Just wasn’t the one you meant me to get.”
And I have to hide a grin myself.
“Until he’s sixteen,” Prethin says, “the boy stays with me and learns to earn his living. Then if he’s of a mind to turn gentleman, that’s up to him. I guess he’s got the right to choose his life; but neither he nor you has the right to choose mine.”
And no word they can say will change his mind.
So I see everyone out. As Prethin’s leaving he says to me, “I wonder what happened to the signet ring. All the rest of the fish has gone to market by now.”
“Maybe there’s a lost Claivitch heir somewhere out there who’s just bought a nice bit of fish for their tea,” I say.
Prethin looks thoughtful, then he starts to laugh. “You never know your luck,” he says.
Which is true enough.

Hargur Bitternut, Chief.

Look what I found…

Found this letter on the mat this morning. Now I don’t know who got the idea I’m the person to ask about matters of the heart – (yes, normally I deal with areas a little lower down, thank you, Jivrais, go read over someone else’s shoulder, why don’t you) – but I thought I’d try my best to help the poor lass out.

There were a couple of other notes as well, which didn’t seem to need long answers – I’ve stuck those below.

Dear Babylon

I have heard you are a good person to ask about Personal Matters so I am writing this to you in hope you can help me.

My boyfriend has been working late several nights a month and my friend Penn said he was up to something so we followed him.

He went to the Barracks to book himself a locked room, because it was coming up to full moon and he did not have a place that was safe. He is a Were.  (I do not know what he turns into I have been too Embarrassed to ask).

I do not mind that he is a Were, but you should tell a person that sort of thing it was a Shock. He said he was waiting for the right moment but we have been seeing each other six moons which I think is plenty of time for Moments.  We argued – well mostly I argued at him and he looked sad –  and now I do not know what to do.

The thing is I like him a lot and he is very nice and sweet and has a steady job, but Penn says it shows he is Deceptive and I should break it off.

Can you help?


Dear Upset

Oh, dear. Well, there are plenty of weres in Scalentine and some of us happen to be involved with ‘em.  I am myself.  Good men are worth holding onto even if they aren’t men all the time.

Perhaps he should have told you earlier, but he might have been afraid of losing you – not everyone can cope with the thought that their lover is a mindless beast for several days a month. (Some of us girls might feel extremely short-tempered several days a month – but it really isn’t the same thing).

It’s not easy for him either, what with the inconvenience, loss of identity and getting nasty pointy stuff aimed at you by the Militia if you haven’t had the sense to get yourself locked up in time.

I think it comes down to whether you care enough about him to give him another chance.  I would suggest you sit down (once he’s back to himself) and have a good long talk with him. And if, by any chance, there’s anything that you’ve been hiding from him, this might be a good time to let him know.  (Telling prospective honeys what I do for a living hasn’t always gone well, but it really is better to get it out of the way than have them find out later and get all in a froth about it).

Now, your friend Penn. She was concerned for you, which is good, but a bit eager to suggest you break up.  Maybe she’s a little jealous at having to share you?  Good friends are worth hanging onto as well, so I think you need to make sure you don’t neglect her if you get back together with your young man.

(On the other hand if she’s just prejudiced against weres…well. Tell you what, send her to me and I’ll explain a few things about All Living Together in Harmony. I promise not to break her. Much).

Good luck. I hope you get this all sorted out.


And replies to the notes…

Dear Caught – no one will know it was you unless he was watching long enough to make an engraving, love. A detailed one. Don’t worry about it.

Dear That Stung – I’m not surprised. I think you need some advice from Cruel and Unusual. Drop in for a chat, any time after midday tomorrow – no charge unless you’re there longer than twenty minutes. After that, usual rates.

Dear Itchy – no, dear, it shouldn’t. Go to a healer.

Welcome to Scalentine

My name’s Babylon Steel.  I’m going to be putting some stuff here about my activities with occasional contributions from friends and acquaintances.