The sizzle of another fireball turned to a deafening crack as it collided with the rock face behind me. It just barely missed my hat, making me grimace. I'm very fond of that old hat. By now, I was getting fed up of having to duck or deflect the magical projectiles. If he carried on chucking them in my direction, I might just get annoyed and take him out with a shot from my trusty automatic. And that would seriously ruin his day, and mine too: the cops would make me fill in all kinds of paperwork if I turned up with a prisoner with a hole in him.
He wasn't very good with the fireballs anyway. Not enough practice. He wasn't the type. He was a fussy little Goblin with highly-polished dragon-hide shoes and trousers ironed with so sharp a crease you could cut yourself. The diamond cufflinks at his wrists were tastefully designed, if not particularly expensive, and matched both his tie-clip and the fob-watch that rested in his waistcoat pocket. It was the kind of look I might expect to see sneering at me politely in an expensive gentleman's outfitter.
The perp looked uncomfortably out of place in this part of the Lower Realms, the deep caves that we Goblins have inhabited for thousands of years. I had tracked him down to a warehouse in one of the seedier caverns. It was a vast rambling building built, as many constructions down here are, partially into the rock face itself. The stuff in here had been in storage undisturbed for decades, judging by the dust and grit underfoot. Such light as there was came from colonies of luminescent fungi that are widely cultivated in these regions. It's cheap enough - just buy a tin and paint it on - and Goblins see well in conditions that those poor humans would think of as darkness.
The Goblin who was hiding in the gloom of the warehouse was a confidence trickster, one well-known in certain quarters at the police precinct stations. I had been asked by a representative of a very important family to retrieve some documents which he had tricked them out of and was now holding to ransom. Important documents, ones whose existence, let alone contents, could change history, and ruin lives and reputations. And some people would be very embarrassed if that were to happen.
No, I'm not going to give you any names or details. Not because I'm worried about litigational entanglements, although of course I try and avoid the attentions of lawyers, as any sensible person would. Nor is it because I hold some high moral position about client confidentially. Frankly, if you are reading these memoirs, then you can be assured that nobody is left alive who would be disturbed anyway. But this particular grand family had been very kind and generous just when I needed it the most. They had earned my respect and my trust, and I'm not going to betray that trust here.
The perp's pointed ears and nervous-looking eyes appeared over the edge of a heavy wooden packing crate, stencilled with descriptive runes in black paint. His head swivelled as he sought out my location. I had shifted from my hiding-place alongside the back wall and now, I hoped, he wasn't sure where I was.
"Drop the weapons!"
My voice came from behind a large metal drum. He didn't reply, but just ducked down behind his crate.
"Don't make me do this the hard way."
My tone was firm but fair: he would have only himself to blame if he kept trying to maim me with burning flame.
"Stay away!" he shouted.
He deigned to reply this time, popping up again with another fireball fizzing in his fingers. He must have been running low on those by now; they're quite expensive and there's only so many you can fit into your pockets.
"I'm coming in!"
My shout was louder, as if amplified by the metal of the barrel. Which it was, actually. I'd deployed a subtle little glamour of my own: one which projected my own voice in a realistic fashion. A neat way to keep the perp distracted for a few minutes.
"Don't say I didn't warn you!"
The confidence trickster threw the fireball wildly. It streaked across the warehouse and struck the metal barrel with a deafening bang, puncturing one side and hurling the whole thing fully twenty feet across the floor. Black smoke belched from the drum, making it more difficult to see and smelling strongly of badly overcooked meat.
"Freeze!" I said softly in his ear, pressing the barrel of my automatic firmly into the back of his neck.
He squeaked, perhaps shocked by the sudden feeling of cold metal on his neck. I didn't give him a chance to wriggle. I just thumped him hard in the back so that his face bounced off the unyielding edge of the packing crate. He fell to the floor and lay stunned, his nose bleeding profusely on the dusty concrete.
With my boot on his neck, I used my free hand to search his pockets. It didn't take long to turn up a fat packet of papers wrapped in a leather folder. I backed away and shook out the wallet. All the documents seemed to be there. Bingo. I stuffed the file untidily in one of the capacious pockets which line the long raincoat I habitually wear.
The perp groaned and tried to move. I kicked him, hard enough so that he took the hint.
"Next time," I said with a carefully calculated tone of menace in my voice, "Think twice about who you're trying to rip off."