by Trevor Hopkins

I leaned forward over the bar to repeat my order.

"Scotch on the rocks. Make it a double."

I had to shout to make myself heard over the thundering music, loud enough to nearly drown out the buzz and whirl of conversations going on all around me, not to mention the applause and cat-calls from those enjoying the show. The dim lighting around the bar was in contrast with the gyrating dancers in their tight-fitting leotards and flamboyant costumes on the stage at the far end of the room, pinned in the bright lights of the spots like exotically-coloured insects caught in amber.

To his credit, the barkeep got the message at the second attempt, although I suspect he was reading my lips rather than hearing my words. Goblins have very good hearing, but the noise in here was more than enough to overload the delicate sensory apparatus behind pointed and prehensile ears.

"Sure thing, bud," he yelled at my face, then turned and reached for a lo-ball glass from one of the lower shelves and rattled the ice theatrically.

I was in the Stalactite Saloon, an industriously disreputable nightclub and bar which has managed in recent decades to get itself onto the list of joints recommended for nights out for middle-management types. Inevitably, therefore, it was full to bursting with those who like to think they work hard during the week and therefore consider that they should be allowed to play hard at the weekend. This requires that the club management allow just the right amount of disreputable behaviour, permitting the paying clientele to let their metaphorical hair down - Goblins don't actually have hair, of course - but making sure the enforcers are able to step in before anything seriously bad happens. Very much in their best interests, of course. All it would take is one well-publicised court case or enthusiastically reported incident in the newspapers, and years of careful marketing would be entirely undone.

The bartender placed a tumbler of brown fluid and translucent cubes on a monogrammed paper coaster in front of me followed a few seconds later by a printed paper check. He clearly knew his customers. I picked up the scotch and rattled the ice, ignoring the bill for the moment. Maybe I could persuade somebody else to pick up the tab on this one.

I sipped the whiskey, which could charitably be described as barely adequate, and looked around at the environs. The ceiling high above my head was artfully decorated with hanging cones of all shapes and sizes. Some of them might actually have been real stalactites, but I suspected that some lucky interior designer had worked wonders with a job lot of high-grade waterproof plaster.

Below the line of the cones was a real stream of water, trickling its way between the tables, artfully pooling here and there, and craftily lit from below with coloured lights that flickered like candles under the surface. The chilly rivulet provided, I supposed, a convenient means to sober somebody up damn quickly or to cool the ardour of an over-enamoured - or maybe just drunk - reveller en-route to a more spectacular ejection.

I took a second pull from my glass and smiled thinly at my reflection in the mirror behind the bottle-jockey. This was my kind of joint.

Part 2