by Trevor Hopkins

Vale's estate was represented by a youngster introduced as Millearme, a very earnest-looked Goblin in suit and tie from Pane and Pickles Associates, Attorneys at Law. He looked slightly uncomfortable in this company, or perhaps it was just that his collar was too tight.

Introductions completed, Millearme read aloud, sounding nervous and stumbling occasionally, from a document he produced from a folder. The Judge produced what I assumed was a copy of the same document from his own folder and made notes on a yellow legal pad.

"Additional Instructions on the Reading of my Last Will and Testament," Millearme said, emphasising the capital letters, "Before the will is read, my personal briefcase is to be opened in the Probate Court, in the presence of my family and Executers, and also in the presence of Findo Gask, Private Detective."

"And it's signed and witnessed," he added quickly.

"Who witnessed it?" the Judge asked.

"Well, um, myself," Millearme stuttered, "And Mister Pickles himself. In our offices. Just a few days ago."

"Indeed," Kirkton said, scribbling on his pad, "And how did Mister Vale seem when he wrote this document?"

"What do you mean, sir?"

"Well, did he seem in sound mind, for example?"

"Um, well, I suppose so," the youngster blathered, "He seemed to have a lot on his mind."

This would have been just after the time when he discovered he was being blackmailed, and after he'd come to see me. No wonder he was a smidgen distracted. All consistent with what Madderfy had told me, anyway.

"Well, let's have this briefcase open, then," the Judge sighed. I sympathised. I had been given quite a run-around over the last few days thanks to that damn case.

One of the clerks stood, walked around the table and made to grasp the case. There was a sudden howling noise like a klaxon, accompanied by lights flaring up from the bindings as the magical protections came to high alert. The clerk jumped back about four feet, shocked - although perhaps not as shocked as if he had actually touched the handle. There was a shriek from Alva, and another from Clunie. Logan clamped his hands over his ears, wincing in pain. Then, the noise shut off abruptly, although coloured lights continued to flicker and pulse around the locks and hinges.

"Ah," Judge Kirkton said calmly, "Perhaps Mister Gask would be so kind."

"Of course, sir," I said, trying to keep the smirk off my face.

I brought the case around to the Judge's side of the table, placing it in front of him, the startled clerk keeping a safe distance this time. The Judge studied the briefcase for a moment.

"You have the key?" Kirkton asked the young lawyer.

"Yes, sir," Millearme replied.

He fumbled in his folder for a few moments then drew out a sealed envelope. He glanced at the Judge, who nodded, then slit the envelope open with a fingernail. Inside was a circular token whose surface seemed to shimmer and change from moment to moment, and a slip of paper. Millearme squinted at the paper, then held up the token and read aloud the spell. The words were inaudible, as is the nature of Goblin magic, but the double-click of the briefcase suddenly unlocking itself was heard by everyone. The warning lights flicked off at the same moment, followed by the tinkle of the token, now just a piece of inert metal, on the table-top.

"Let's see what we have here, then," Kirkton said.

The Judge reached forward cautiously, then with growing confidence lifted the lid of the case.

Part 44 Part 46