by Trevor Hopkins

"Nice place you've got here," Trinity purred, inspecting me closely from her seat on the couch, "Discreet, and so very well hidden. You've spent your money on some useful glamours rather than the services of an interior designer, I can see."

"It suffices," I replied, "For my modest requirements."

She was right, of course. I had expended some considerable sums in acquiring magics which shield my home from prying eyes. They did not actually make the apartment invisible, of course; such glamours are unreliable and, in any case, people notice the absence of things nearly as easily as their presence. No, these glamours make things unremarkable; the eye just slides off the nondescript and focuses instead on something more relevant, more interesting.

It helps the magic considerably if the underlying mundane appearance does not itself stand out. My carefully-selected apartment is one of hundreds of similar places in a large tower block, one of a set of seven which decorate the sloping floor near the edge of one of the less fashionable caverns. Inside, the apartment was an uncluttered one room space doubling as a bedroom, a sitting area and a kitchenette, with a walk-in closet and bathroom. It was decorated unstylishly in shades of brown - I had not changed it since I had moved in, many years ago - and decorated with a small collection of memorabilia from cases old and new.

I shook my head at the clarity and directness of Trinity's insight. She would notice such things as a matter of course, much as I would do, and for much the same reason, too. She was, in truth, a highly-trained professional - at least as much as I am - although in a slightly different field to myself.

Over the years, Trinity had evolved an eclectic personal fashion sense. She usually dressed in black - of itself, not uncommon in the Lower Realms - but the glossy black cat-suit she wore was so tightly-fitting that the eye could follow every line of her powerfully sinewy body. She was tall and extravagantly muscular, bulky about the shoulders and thighs in a way that most females - even Goblin females - are not. The cat-suit was set off with heavy black boots - not the stiletto-heeled idiocies that overheated human imaginations might have suggested, but practical ankle-length laced boots which would undoubtedly protect her feet under almost any circumstances.

After Trinity's profoundly unsettling experience in so very nearly marrying an obviously exploitative bastard, she swore never to be so defenceless again, either emotionally or physically. She took up the study of a number of martial arts disciplines, undertook an intensive programme of firearms training and close-combat drills of a style that a human would undoubtedly recognise as para-military, or something close to it. She also worked on her physical strength and fitness with grim determination and supreme self-sacrifice, and was now capable of moving swiftly and decisively if the need arose.

And the need did occasionally arise. She has long undertaken the role of bodyguard for the rich and important - well, rich anyway, if my understanding of her daily rates were correct. By now, she had acquired quite a reputation, a reputation that said that she had never lost a client, that she had been injured twice in the line of duty, and that she had apprehended, disabled or, in two cases, killed those who threatened those she protected.

I sat heavily on my favourite armchair opposite her, leaning back and fumbling in my pockets for cigarettes and matches.

"So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?" I asked wryly.

"I've lost a client," she said flatly.

"That's a bit careless," I replied casually, "Somebody finally got past you. A sniper rifle at long range, perhaps?"

Trinity snorted derisively.

"No fucking way. He's still alive, at least as far as I know. He just stepped into his own bedroom for a moment, then disappeared. Gone completely. No traces, no clue, no glamours, nothing."

"Okay, okay," I said, placatingly, "So who is this mysteriously disappearing person?"

Part 19 Part 21