by Trevor Hopkins

The following morning I woke early and clear-headed, despite the brandy I had consumed. I had plenty of time before my date with Balloch at the theatre. I got up, showered and dressed with more than usual care, donning some of my more flamboyant items of attire including a particularly fetching waistcoat in a striking shade of vermillion. I still wore my hat and the long overcoat, of course, the one where I professionally rely on the contents of the pockets on far too many occasions.

Once satisfied with my sartorial appearance, I made my way down the stairs of the quiet apartment block where I make my bed and lay my head, made the familiar but professionally roundabout way to the office block and then strolled the few yards for a leisurely breakfast at David's Diner. Once fortified with carbohydrates and caffeine - this took some time, given the lightness of my dinner the previous evening - I found I still had time to kill. I decided to call by at Tillyfor's place.

*

I stood in the narrow street looking up at the roughly-carved terraces and platforms rising halfway to the ceiling. It didn't look significantly different at this time of day. There was still nobody about, no-one coming or going from any of the tidy individual residences cut from the rock faces. It was quiet too, with no sounds of any kind to disturb the tranquillity; this deadening effect is one of the advantages of this particular form of construction.

I patrolled the streets and environs for a few minutes. There was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen. So I found myself once again at the foot of the steps which would lead up to Tillyfor's apartment. Something made me look up. I hesitated with one foot on the bottom step; there were faint sounds and signs of movement coming from her door.

My instincts made me step out of sight behind an arched support for an elevated walkway. My curiosity made me peer cautiously around the worn pillar. A Goblin slipped out of her doorway up on the terrace, moving in that furtive manner which is almost guaranteed to attract attention. It wasn't Tillyfor - this Goblin was definitely male - and it wasn't Balloch either. This Goblin was much younger, although not a stripling, and slender and fit-looking.

From my hiding-place, I watched him descent the steps into the street. He was swaddled in a long overcoat done up tight, so that it was impossible to divine anything about what he wore underneath. No hat, though, and no earrings or other decorations. He stood for a moment on the pavement, looking left and right as if unsure which was to go. I had plenty of time to study his face: pleasant and slightly anonymous-looking. It was one I recognised, although I could not, at that moment, work out where or when I had seen those features before.

Finally he made up his mind and scurried off while I shrank back into the shadows of the archway. I watched him go, then shrugged. I could easily imagine that a striking young female like Tillyfor would attract the attentions of any number of males. And it was equally beyond doubt that she might acquiesce to the blandishments of one or more of them. She didn't strike me as a girl who was easily led astray. Unless she wanted to be, of course.

I stood in the shadows a few moments longer and wondered how she had carried on such affairs when she shared a tiny apartment with her sister.

Part 16 Part 18