by Trevor Hopkins

I instructed Campsie to go home and get herself ready for her big performance tomorrow. She seemed all jazzed up and ready to go. I warned her, repeatedly, about the dangers of this kind of undercover work, that this was not a game, an exercise in a classroom. I reminded her that we already had one dead body on our hands and that Arditty Pickston, in particular, was a nasty piece of work who probably wouldn't hesitate to use violence if he could get away with it. I think she was listening to me.

It was too early for me to go home. I took in an early dinner at the Diner, then it was back to the Stalactite Saloon. This time, I approached the front entrance. The so-called Chief of Security wasn't on duty this evening, it seemed, and so to the bouncers on duty and the hat-check girl, I was just another lonely Joe looking for a little tasteful entertainment paid for by overpriced alcohol and a stiff entrance fee.

Down at the far end of the auditorium, the band was getting into the swing of things by blasting out some bouncy numbers, and one of the early dance numbers was occupying the stage. I imagined that the first of Miss Machany Fordun's sets wouldn't be for a while yet; always better to get the punters warmed up first and bring on the big guns later.

I bought myself a bourbon and branchwater - there was a different barkeep on duty this evening - and paid my check immediately. I picked up the glass of cheap spirits and ghosted around the darker parts of the room, trying to get an impression of the kind of clientele the Saloon attracted.

Most of the tables were already occupied, and bottles and glasses of all descriptions were very much in evidence. Waitresses were hurrying to and fro with trays covered with replacement drinks and those little bowls of salted snacks designed to increase the punter's thirst, to the profit of the management.

Nevertheless, it seemed to me that there were rather fewer drunken revellers than on my last visit front-of-house. The majority of tables were occupied by sober-suited Goblins - almost all of them male - who sipped their drinks slowly and engaged in occasional quiet conversation with their fellows, rather than the garrulous quaffing I had witnessed previously. Their eyes did not dwell on the energetic dancers in their fantastic costumes but watched the darker parts of the room, the other tables and those who were sitting there. They nodded politely and uttered a word or two of thanks when a waitress brought additional refreshments, rather than attempting to pinch their backsides or look down the front of their blouses. A very different crowd tonight, I concluded.

I kept moving, trying to give the impression I was merely seeking a quiet table to sit alone and drown my sorrows. Nobody seemed to be paying me any particular attention.

There were others moving between the tables, too. I watched their body language carefully; it was far too noisy to actually hear what was being said, at least from the distance I felt obliged to keep, but you can tell a great deal from how people move, if you look closely. The itinerant Goblins were similarly soberly dressed, and made their way slowly from table to table, greeting the occupants quietly and shaking hands with all present. There was a suggestion of earnest discussions being undertaken, some evidence of persuasion - not threats, more an appeal to a common cause - and, at least sometimes, signs of an agreement being struck.

All-in-all, the auditorium felt more like a boardroom, where serious Goblins met to conduct serious business, rather than the floor of a semi-sleazy nightclub.

I hung around in the club for several hours, nursing a couple of drinks and moving from table to table periodically. I waited until Miss Machany Fordun had done her last set to tumultuous applause, even from the staid crowd here tonight, then drained my drink and went outside.

I concealed myself by the stage door, tugging up my collar and pulling down my hat to keep out the chill of the late evening. Eventually, Fordun appeared in the company of Broxden and a surprising number of hangers-on, and set off into the night with much chattering and gaiety.

I tailed them for a while, without learning anything particularly surprising, then went home to bed.

Part 44 Part 46