by Trevor Hopkins

I had met Tarsapple before, in the course of various expeditions to the surface or, more usually, when hanging around the offices of the many and various law enforcement agencies that clutter up the human world as much as the caverns below. His distrust might have something to do with the time my unexpected arrival had distracted him, allowing the runaway he was attempting to persuade to come quietly - with the aid of a large pistol, of course - to escape his grasp. It wasn't quite my intent at the time, but the fact that I snagged the same perp a couple of hours later for a reward that kept me in whiskey and cigarettes for a good few months seemed to have soured any professional working relationship we might otherwise have established.

Goblins are generally awful drivers and the youngster Tarsapple had introduced as Glenshee was no exception. The Mini weaved it way along the back lanes with foliage scraping on the wing-mirrors and careering around blind corners as if the driver knew there was nothing coming the other way. There must be something about the sense of space and the need for speed which infects a certain minority of Goblin when they get behind the wheel of a car up here. Perhaps it is some reaction to the constrained spaces below; whatever it is, they become complete lunatics.

I gripped the seat fabric with grim determination as the vehicle slewed and slithered its way along the deserted country roads. I tried to avoid thinking about what would happen if we encountered a juggernaut coming the other way, or indeed what the violent and unpredictable motion was doing to the ache in my head and the contents of my stomach.

I was barely able to pay any attention to where we were going. Almost the only thing I recall was the gated entrance to the grounds of what was once a grand country house and now one of those Institutes invariably known locally as Sleepy Hollow Research Centre, the kind of place where neckties are unknown, beards are mandatory and, in winter, open-toed sandals are worn with socks.

The surroundings steadily declined from rural green to post-industrial grey, and we were soon driving through an industrial estate so depressed that the only buildings showing any signs of life offered a choice of Blind Spring Rivets or Janitorial Supplies. It could have been in any forgotten corner of England, although I suspected it was somewhere in the People's Republic of West Yorkshire.

Without warning, the Mini swung into the open entrance of a warehouse which looked long closed down, the frontage decorated with a wind-blown sign that read: "Industrial Unit to Let. High Roof Loading Bay". I stepped from the car still clutching my belly. I so hate surface transport. I was as green as an unripe tomato, my skin adopting the colouration ignorant humans normally ascribe to my people.

I suppose I had expected to be driven to the nearest town of decent size, to some anonymous back alley conveniently close to a hidden entrance to the lower world. Through the haze in my head and unwanted movement in my stomach, I looked around for the tell-tale signs of such an entrance. Nothing.

"What are we doing here?" I groaned.

"Someone wants to talk to you, Gask," Tarsapple said, a nasty tone in his voice.

He shoved me in the back, hard enough to make me stagger, encouraging me towards an interior door that might once have led to an office. The door hung loosely on its hinges, a tremor of movement hinting at some hidden person within.

"Findo Gask, at last," a familiar voice said.

Part 31 Part 33