by Trevor Hopkins

Martin Gamshack was short for a human - although he still towered over me, of course - but very powerfully built. Even in late middle age, the bulky muscles of his shoulders flowed seamlessly into a thick neck. He kept his head shaved, presumably to disguise grey or receding hair, and tended to wear formal white cotton shirts to deemphasise his bulk. He habitually wore dark-coloured striped neckties too, but they soon became loosened, sagging below his unbuttoned shirt collar as the day wore on. His face was chubby and rarely flexed to show any emotion, although his eyes would glitter with amusement, delight or malice as the mood took him.

"Sit down," Gumshoe suggested, shutting the door behind me, "Make yourself comfortable."

I selected a human-scale office chair which some thoughtful person had lowered to its minimum setting. It was only very slightly too high and certainly reduced the feeling I often have when on the surface, that I am a child in an adult world. I took off my hat and tipped back my collar, but kept on my dark glasses. Gumshoe would understand; even with only the light from a desk lamp, the office was uncomfortably bright for one such as me.

Gumshoe threw himself into the other guest chair, which squeaked protestingly under the sudden load. Politely, he had chosen not to try and peer over his fabulously cluttered desk at me.

"Not much changed here," I remarked, looking around casually.

The walls were festooned with the mementoes of a sports jock: trophies for football from his college days, more recent pennants for golf and interspersed with just a few certificates for his qualifications, the most prominent of which was his Private Investigators licence in a lavish frame of polished wood.

"Yeah," Gumshoe growled, following my gaze, "Same office, same debts. Don't seem to be able to shake either of them."

He shuffled himself to a more comfortable position in the chair, then reached out and tilted the desk lamp away from my face.

"So what brings you to the surface?"

"I've got a job, and a client," I began, adding, "A client with money. I need your help."

He looked at me dubiously.

"Hmmm. I seem to remember falling foul of one or two of your assignments. Getting shot at, repeatedly; nearly breaking both my legs. Left me nursing a sore head one time, as I recall."

That was all very nearly true. But I protested anyway.

"They all worked out in the end," I said reasonably, "We got what the client wanted. And you did get paid."

"Eventually," he agreed grudgingly, "And maybe quicker than some clients I could mention."

I reached into my inside coat pocket and drew out a bundle of crisp green banknotes. This represented a smaller fraction of Nether’s money – the cash I had not deposited with the bank – converted into US Dollars just before I left the caverns. The Goblin currency is very hard; a little goes a long was in the human world.

I inspected the roll of greenbacks closely for a moment, then tossed it into Gumshoe’s lap.

"So here's a little deposit, on account," I suggested, "Are you interested?"

Gumshoe's eyes lit up. He picked up and thumbed through the fat wad of bills, then stood up suddenly, stepped over to the framed PI certificate and swung it aside. Behind it, fixed in the wall, was a modern safe with a keypad lock. He punched buttons until the safe opened with a click, threw the stack of notes inside then slammed it shut.

"Okay," he said, returning to his seat and looking satisfied, "Count me in."

Part 11 Part 13