by Trevor Hopkins

It was still very early - at least, by the late-night timekeeping standards of nightclubs everywhere - and the backstage passageways were very quiet. I took it upon myself to take a second tour of the corridors, on the grounds that I didn't really have any other avenues of investigation to pursue at the moment. There could have been anything going on behind closed doors at the Stalactite Saloon, for all I knew; provided it wasn't very noisy and didn't smell too bad, I doubt anybody would have noticed a thing.

I passed the double doors of the dance studio where even now a few of the dancers, dressed in the mandatory uniform of leotards and woolly leg-warmers, were going through some rehearsal activities. I guessed that the show here must be in a state of continuous change, with new acts and new routines being added and other retired on a regular basis. I wondered how Miss Machany Fordun had been introduced to the stage at the Stalactite Saloon. Had she started in some minor role, supporting a song-and-dance routine? Or, had she been announced at the top of the bill with a grand fanfare introducing a new star?

As I walked, I saw that several of the more distant corridors seemed entirely deserted. I was being to wonder whether it might be able to deploy my favourite lock-picks on some of the locks. None of them seemed particularly sophisticated. But there were quite a variety of doors to choose from, and I was standing quietly just wondering which one to pick when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

"Ah, Mister Gask," came the menacing tones of Arditty Pickston, "Now what are you doing back here?"

I turned around, smiling. It seemed that Pickston had just appeared from another one of the anonymous doors which he was in the process of locking behind him. I made a careful note of exactly which one he was stood in front of.

"Well, I'm lost," I lied, "I was looking for the way out, but I seem to have taken a wrong turn."

Pickston looked at me with suspicion, but he declined to challenge me outright. Generally, I'm considered a good liar - a skill I've honed over the years, as part of my professional armoury - so I guessed he must just be generally suspicious as a matter of principle.

"Oh, how unfortunate," he said insincerely, "But no matter. I can walk you to the stage door."

"Well, if it's not too much trouble...." I began.

"It most certainly is no trouble at all," Pickston replied with clear emphasis, "I wouldn't want you to get yourself lost again. So, straight on, and first corridor on your left."

Without taking his eyes off me for a second, Pickston made sure I was back at the stage door and out on the street in three minutes flat. He really didn't want me hanging around.

I'd just have to come back when he wasn't about and have a closer look at things.

Part 48 Part 50