by Trevor Hopkins

I woke early with the aid of an old-fashioned but highly reliable alarm clock. I guess it would have to be reliable given the way I habitually smote it when it rang in what felt like the middle of the night. Thirty-five minutes later, and fortified with much strong black coffee, I was making my way through the as-yet uncrowded transit tubes to the cavern that lay closest to the human city of New York. Not quite underneath it, in fact, although most of the portals which link the world above with the Lower Realms are close to vertical, if only for engineering convenience.

I completed the border controls with the flash of my PI's licence, and soon emerged from the same seedy alley in one of the less fashionable parts of the island of Manhattan. It was still the dead of night in East Coast America, which suited me just fine; my disguise would not withstand close scrutiny from close range or in bright light. I habitually wore a brimmed hat and a long dark raincoat with a great many pockets in which I keep necessities, like my packet of cigarettes and book of matches, as well as a number of more dangerous things I sincerely hope I will never have to use in anger.

This morning, since I knew I would be travelling to the surface, I made sure I had packed a pair of sunglasses; so much of the human world is so brightly lit that Goblins need eye protection and, besides, my eyes are so unlike the average human's that I needed to hide them anyway. I had also donned a heavy pair of lift shoes which discreetly add a couple of inches to my height, thereby bringing me just a little closer to the human norm as well as making my legs look longer. It felt like I was walking on stilts; it takes a certain amount of practice to learn how to move in the jerky and angular gait that is the human version of a walk.

I tucked my ears into my hat and turned up my collar against the night, then set off through the early morning gloom.


I knew that Chill's Bar would be closed at this hour, shut up tight. Not even the most hardened drinkers would still be conscious at this time of the morning. I would not want to try and wake Rosie: it would make far too much noise and draw attention I could well do without. But there were other possibilities for entry, means available only to those from the Lower Realms which, I imagined, would be more than likely at the long-term residence of even the most solitary Goblin.

Chill's place was set in the middle of a block with a narrow alley down one side; the other abutted a store of some kind, its windows shuttered tightly against the night and those who might be abroad in the dark hours. Like me. I entered the alley which was graffiti’d lavishly, as so much of the darker parts of the urban landscape are wont to be. The wall on the side where Chill's Bar was located was featureless brick, with no windows or doors that the eye could see. The wall opposite contained a couple of heavy steel doors, of the kind which could only be opened from the inside, each framed by large wheeled dumpsters which smelled loathsome to my Goblin senses, and which would probably have offended any nearby humans, too.

I knew what I was looking for, and I was not disappointed. Towards the end of the alley, I could make out the sign which read, simply, "door", the runes concealed by the angular and stylised artwork of the graffiti. I reached out at a natural height for a Goblin - about eighteen inches below where a human would expect. My questing hand found the cold metal of a handle, even though my eyes saw only the energetically painted brick.

It was a simple concealment glamour. Cheap stuff. I did not even need to disable it; indeed, better not, in case some iterant bum came along and took it into his head to try the lock. Ignoring the vibrant paintwork, I lifted and turned the handle and stepped into the doorway.

Part 24 Part 26