by Trevor Hopkins

Some of the voices from the other room seemed familiar. Unsurprisingly, one was quite definitely Garrick's clipped tones, although I could not make out what he was saying. There was another voice which, after a few moments, I also recognised: Creagan Madderfy's laconic drawl. The third voice was a real surprise, although perhaps it shouldn't have been: it was the "potato stuck in the throat" tones of a human speaking the ancient Goblin tongue, although tolerably comprehensibly for all that.

Humans rarely speak the Goblin language well; their larynxes are not well shaped for it. Even those humans who know a great deal about the underworld are more often than not barely able to make themselves understood. Our language is complex, multi-faceted and extremely formal in structure, and it has not changed in millennia. Human languages are much cruder by comparison, not to mention likely to be changed to be incomprehensibly different after as little as a hundred years. I speak something of half a dozen human languages - enough to get by - although my accent and vocabulary would probably be thought of as old-fashioned and rather posh.

I crept forward towards the archway, using every bit of my training in stealthy movements - some of which I had received from Garrick himself. Pressing my back against the wall at the side of the arch, I cocked an ear - a literal movement, for a Goblin - to overhear the conversation in Garrick's study.

"So, Mister Madderfy," croaked the human voice, "I have done everything you and the Professor asked."

"Give Rigg his money, Madderfy," came Garrick's voice, "And let him get out of here."

There were a series of soft noises that suggested that a wallet was withdrawn from a pocket and opened. I risked a movement to bend to floor level and poked one eye around the door frame. I could see a large blocky human who was standing with his back to me with a distinctly military bearing, his head barely missing the stout wooden beams which supported the ceiling. He could manage that only because this space was cavernous by Goblin standards, presumably having been originally intended for human occupation.

Despite his upright stance, the human Garrick had called Rigg sported shoulder-length blond hair and wore a tee-shirt that showed off his broad shoulders and bulging biceps. As I watched, he reached out and took something from someone - the younger Madderfy, I assumed, although I could not see. A rustle of paper made me imagine a small bale of notes had just been handed over.

It should be no surprise that there are published exchange rates between most major currencies in the upper world and the dollars universally in use in the Lower Realms. After all, banks have to make money somehow. Below, there are official exchange kiosks in the vicinity of each of the surface entrances. There are also a few more discreet establishments in certain backstreets which will offer a much better rate, although one is advised to check each note carefully for forgeries, and to count the bills yourself in case they have been accidentally miscounted by the clerk.

The man named Rigg stuffed something into the back pocket of his jeans, then touched his head in a manner that looked like a casual salute. Without another word - the Goblin tongue is hard on human throats - he turned on his heel and strode towards the door - the entrance I had used the last time I was here. I heard the door swing open softly on oiled hinges, then a thump as it closed again, followed by footsteps on the steps outside. He had gone.

I knew I had to act fast, while Garrick and Madderfy were together. I withdrew from my coat pocket a small revolver, a snub-nose, another item I had retrieved from the hiding-place under the urn. I do not normally go about armed, although this was a weapon for which I do have a licence in the Lower Realms. Here in England, of course, possessing a gun was strictly illegal - not even the cops in this part of the upper world regularly carried firearms - although I doubted I would be observed, or even heard, if I were to fire a shot.

I pulled back and stood up slowly, silently. I advanced around the edge of the arch, holding the gun in the approved fashion: my old instructors would have been proud of me. The click as I cocked the revolver must have been clearly audible over the occasional crackling of the fire.

Garrick and Madderfy froze, each with a hand outstretched holding pieces of paper. I guessed that the Professor was in the process of handing over a stack of documents which had been in Vale's briefcase, judging by the legal-looking folders he was holding. It looked like he was receiving a great deal of money in return. Madderfy's hand held a fat manila envelope that looked hastily sealed, the paper distorted by the size of the contents.

"I think I'll take those now," I drawled.

Part 55 Part 57