by Trevor Hopkins

It was time to call on an old friend - well, not as old as I am, obviously, but one who has lived a long life to the full, at least by human standards. Yes, a human, and an experienced Private Investigator as well. His name is Martin Gamshack but he is always known as Gumshoe to those unfortunate enough to have made his acquaintance. As far as I knew, he still ran a little company called Gamshack and Associates, although I never had known him to have any actual associates, human or otherwise.

I emerged into an alley which most humans would have thought a dead-end. Behind me, a high brick wall, featureless apart from a rickety drainpipe. The brickwork was lavishly decorated with graffiti, overlapping primary colours, reaching higher than even a human could easily reach and more than enough to disguise the secret runes which identified this place as an entrance to the Lower Realm.

The weather was misty and damp, a sullen drizzle enough to keep most humans of the streets. Low clouds overhead made it grey and overcast, although it was still bright enough for me to need to wear the dark glasses which Goblins find essential in any visit to the surface. I turned up my collar, pulled down the brim of my hat and set off in the rain.

My objective was a little more than three blocks from the alley entrance, and eight floors up. I elected to walk up the fire stairs; getting stuck in an elevator, even though highly unlikely, would make it very difficult for me to retain my disguise. Besides, approaching by a less obvious route gets to be something of a habit for somebody in my line of business. The stairwell was faintly dusty, and the concrete steps and walls were painted some dingy institutional shade of cream.

My footsteps were soft - Goblins are light-footed by nature, and I have had a lot of practice in stealthy movement over the years - and I was breathing through an open mouth. Nobody could have heard me approaching. My target was behind the first door on the left along the corridor from the fire-door. The door itself was heavy wood, darkened with age and infrequent coats of varnish, and marked out with a tarnished brass plate which confirmed, as if I really needed it, that I have come to the right place.

I straightened up and was just about to knock when the door was yanked open from the inside by a large figure.

"Findo Gask," he boomed, "What an unexpected pleasure."

"Gumshoe," I replied sardonically, recovering from my surprise, "You seem to be expecting me, even so."

"Come in, come in," he said, less loudly, "You certainly haven't forgotten how to move silently. But nobody with a legitimate purpose walks up eight flights of stairs when there is a perfectly serviceable elevator right there in the lobby."

"So how did you detect my approach?" I asked, my tone light but with unfeigned interest.

"Ah, hah," Gumshoe grunted, "You really ought to keep up with technology."

He indicated a large screen on corner of his desk; at least, it was large in height and width, but measuring only a couple of inches deep. I was sure the last time I was here, such screens - for "computers", I believe - would have occupied the whole desk.

"I like to keep an eye on what's going on nearby," he explained, his face breaking into a wry grin, "I put a few hidden cameras in the stairwell and along the corridor. They're really tiny. And I installed movement detection software on my computer, so any change in an image sounds an alert. Simple."

I guess I had learned a lesson: trying to sneak up on a well-prepared human was pointless if I wasn’t going to be bothered with an expensive invisibility glamour. Sometimes I think these humans are getting just a bit too smart for comfort.

Part 10 Part 12