by Trevor Hopkins

So, someone wanted to play, did they? I know those games, too. I'm good at those games.

My tail seemed to be using some kind of cheap glamour which made them more-or-less invisible when looked at directly, but somehow the movements still caught the edges of vision. Someone less familiar with the workings of the underworld might not have noticed the subtle signs. Most humans would have just become aware of an uneasy feeling of being watched, something to cause them to glance nervously over their shoulder but keep finding there is nothing to see.

I sauntered along the streets, pausing to look in the shop windows as if considering the purchase of the goods they advertised. Furniture, female undergarments, fake fur clothing; I must have appeared to have suddenly acquired a window-shopping habit. My tail was smart enough to keep out of the reflections - the effectiveness of some glamours is reduced in a mirror - but the sense of a dark shadow following me did not abate, getting stronger as I reached the archways and flight of steps which marked the entrance to the transit tube system.

The travel tube system is one of the oldest parts of our world; people get bored with their buildings after only a couple of hundred years, and there are always works going on to extend the caverns. But, for the most part, the tubes run under the common level of the caverns and have been unchanged for millennia. Inevitably, there are forgotten side-tunnels and alcoves everywhere, ideal for the pursued private eye to duck into unobserved.

Invisibility glamours only make you invisible, obviously, you still have to move quietly to avoid detection. My tail was not an expert in walking softly and breathing through an open mouth. In the stillness of the tube entrance, away from the passers-by in the street, the approach of my shadow was clearly audible. I lunged forward, using the open-armed grab necessary to catch an invisible person. Fortunately, the figure within the glamour was slight and bony - grabbing an invisible person who is twice your height and weight engenders its own problems, of course - then the glamour wrapped itself around me too, and I could finally see my pursuer.

"Gotcha," I said.

The response was an inarticulate squeak - a distinctly feminine inarticulate squeak. I resisted the gentlemanly urge - I'm trying to wean myself off those - to release the lady from my close embrace: my arms clasped at her back and my chin practically resting on her domed head. Instead, I leaned back to get a better view. It was the other waitress from the Starfield Club, the one who had brought me the second bourbon.

"So, try to slip me a Mickey Finn, would you?" I growled.

"I had to," she replied in a panicky voice, "Otherwise Hosh would have beat me again."

There was a soft pop as the glamour extinguished itself, so that we would both be visible to any passer-by. I took the risk of releasing her - damn those urges - but she made no attempt to get away. She just stood there, not looking at me, like a schoolgirl expecting a dressing-down, or worse, from the teacher. Goblins don't bruise easily or, more precisely, we don't show marks like a human would do, but the girl's careworn eyes and cringing manner made it clear she had been beaten up more than once in the recent past.

I put two fingers under her chin - she barely flinched - and lifted her face so I could look into her eyes. Nice eyes, lilac, perhaps eyes to enjoy if she wasn't so tired and frightened. I steeled myself and glared at her.

"Who are you?" I demanded, "And why are you following me?"

"Clathy Dupplin," she muttered in response, "Hosh wanted to find out where you live. He said you were a private dick, snooping around."

"If he wants to get in touch with me, he can look up my office number in the telephone directory like anyone else," I muttered, watching her warily in case he made a move to re-start the invisibility magic. She was attired the same short-skirt and open blouse uniform that Clunie had been wearing. The outfit was tautly, abundantly filled by Clunie; on Clathy, it hung loose, making her look like the schoolgirl her demeanour suggested. This close, her perfume was distinctively evident, a scent I didn't recognise.

"You might want to think about suggesting that to him yourself," she said, bridling slightly.

Evidently she had not lost all her spirit, just yet. But why her? Surely Hosh must have a whole string of tough hombres, tight-lipped hoodlums with much more practice in sneaking around. Hosh must have wanted me to catch the clumsy tail.

"If Hosh treats you so badly, why do you still work at the Club?" I said, more gently, "What's he got on you?"

"He wants people he can trust around him" - people he could frighten, more like - "It's my old Granny. She's housebound and very frail. I live with her, look after her. When I started talking about leaving, she had a visit; a scary bunch, she said. All very polite and soft-spoken, but she was terrified."

I was aware that we were getting curious looks from the late-night travellers entering and leaving the transit tubes.

"Look, sister," I said wearily, "You could just scoot off now, report to Hosh - although I doubt he'll like what you have to say. Or, you could come have a drink with me."

She looked at me wide-eyed for a long moment.

"Drink," she said, so quietly I barely caught the word.

Part 8 Part 10