by Trevor Hopkins

I sent Nether back to his den under the bar, with strict instructions to keep himself out of sight. I handed him the remainder of the office bottle to keep him company along the way. Before he went, he told me that the bar was still operating normally. The assistant staff - all human, of course, or what passes for it in New York - were standing in, and nobody else knew that Rosie was gone. She was "just out of town for a few days, family business." That story might last a little longer, but I didn't have a great deal of time to track her down before people started getting suspicious.

All that whiskey was making me ravenously hungry. I soon left the office, having spent no more than ten minutes opening and binning the bulk of my mail. I also made a few phone calls - long distance, very long distance - and set up some arrangements for the following day. Then I made my way in the direction of my apartment, stopping at David's Diner on the corner of my block. David, the patron was standing by the door - his habitual place, I knew - when I arrived and welcomed me inside with much of his characteristic bustling bonhomie. I guess I am one of his more regular customers.

I was escorted to a small booth at the back - I like to keep out of the public eye - and presented with today's menu. I glanced over the standard items, all very familiar to me, then ordered the Daily Special without knowing exactly what it was. It turned out to be four kinds of fungi - in four iridescent colours - accompanying small kebabs of minced meat - no further definition was available on the menu - and soft baked biscuits. I washed it all down with a large glass of Goblin beer, strong and dark and flavourful, and not entirely dissimilar to the Irish stout served in Chill's Bar.

I lingered over my beer, smoked two cigarettes in quick succession - this was one vice that Nether did not seem to be indulging in, I noticed - them sauntered back to my little apartment. I sat in my favourite chair for a long time, thinking about Nether. Maybe he had mellowed a little with age. There was no sign of the animosity between us when we last separated. Clearly, he did not seriously expect me to say no to his request; on the contrary, he evidently expected me to drop everything and investigate on his behalf immediately. Not that I had a great deal of work on at the moment, so his money would come in useful.

Much later, I went to bed and slept soundly, dreamlessly.

*

The following morning, fortified by a light breakfast and much strong black coffee, I took a detour via the bank to pay in that cheque and, against my better judgement, a substantial fraction of the cash that Nether had so casually presented me with. The bank must have thought all their Christmases had come at once. Or maybe they wouldn't even notice, at least until my overdraft hit rock-bottom again.

After that, I took a series of transit tubes and presented myself at one of the official portals between the worlds. There are other, less official, ways to the surface, but most of these involved walking up several miles of stairs. No need for such efforts today; I was barely slowed down. The border guard glanced at my PI badge disinterestedly, as if he saw this kind of official documentation every day. Perhaps he did. In any case, he waved me through without hesitation.

Goblins prefer cool and dark places, and are generally more comfortable when surrounded by solid rock, or at least masonry. It is no surprise, then, that most exits from the Lower Realms open out in human cities in temperate northern zones. This is not universally true, of course, but if one takes a randomly-chosen portal, one is most likely to end up in some dark alley in an old and rundown part of town.

I had used this particular exit many times before. It was the closest one to the offices I needed to visit this morning.

Part 9 Part 11