by Trevor Hopkins

Once inside, I could see that the door had originally been meant for humans: wider than necessary and much too tall to be comfortable for even a big guy like me. It had probably been part of the original building, refitted at some point after Nether had moved in with Goblin style fixtures and the concealing magic.

I carefully closed the door behind me, then looked around cautiously. From the inside, the door was equally invisible, appearing to be just part of the grubby wall of a storeroom, one which gave every impression of not being used a great deal. Plastic crates, either empty or part-filled with dusty empty bottles, were piled in one corner, towering over my head. Elsewhere, there were cardboard boxes stacked on slightly rickety-looking shelving, whose labelling suggested they contained new drinks glasses of various shapes or assorted species of those bags of salty snacks that barkeepers the world over habitually deploy in order to encourage their customers to drink more booze.

The storeroom appeared to have just one door which led, I imagined to a corridor and thence the rest of the bar. I didn't believe it for a moment. Nether must have a private hiding-place nearby, somewhere which opened onto this room, some place were he would feel safe as well as having a convenient swift exit should the need arise. I studied the walls carefully, running my hands over their surface, seeking the slightest sign of an irregularity which might mark an entrance. Nether's inner sanctum would be much more carefully concealed than the tatty glamour on the outer door.

I was inspecting the plasterwork in one corner, kneeling on the floor, when a slight noise behind me made me jump up and spin around.

"Hello, Findo," a familiar voice said ironically, "Breaking and entering again? You could just have called, you know."

"Just trying to avoid attracting undesired attention," I said smoothly, "You wouldn't want me to make a conspicuous entrance, would you?"

"Excuses, excuses," he laughed wearily, then added, "You'd better come inside."

The wall behind Nether was unbroken, unmarked other than for the occasional scuff mark or grubby fingerprint. I had been over it with a fine-toothed comb already. Even so, as soon as Nether's hand touched a particular spot, the dirty plaster faded away and a Goblin-sized doorway stood in its place. This magic was expensive stuff, an entrance keyed to his own hand. I would have had to use a similarly expensive glamour even to detect the presence of such a well-concealed entrance and I doubted there was anything I could easily afford or even acquire legally which would have opened it without Nether's permission. Which begged the question: exactly where was Nether getting so much money from?

My brother ushered me inside and closed the door with a similar touch of his hand. From within, the door gave the appearance of intricately carved and polished wood, bound with shiny brass hinges and fittings. We stood in a spacious living room elegantly decorated in classical Goblin style: furniture of heavy carved wood and leather-covered chairs. It was all quite different from the appearance of his rooms on my first visit all those years ago. It spoke of much money and taste, and was entirely at odds with Nether's raggedy drunk demeanour.

Nether threw himself into an overstuffed armchair and waved at the davenport. I went and sat down where he indicated, holding my hat in my hands.

"Did you send a stooge into the bar yesterday?" he asked pointedly.

"Yeah," I replied, "Thought it would help, maybe shake something loose."

"Did it work?"

"Don't think so. Nobody would talk to him."

"Huh. The regulars thought he was another reporter. We get those from time to time. When rumours get out." I nodded. It seemed plausible.

"So what happened to Rosie?" I asked, changing the subject.

"She was locking up the front doors when she heard a noise behind her," Nether said, "Then, nothing until she woke up in an alley with an ache in her head."

"Which alley?"

"I don't know. Not very far away from here."

I nodded thoughtfully, unsure of whether it was worth trying to track down the exact place she woke up.

"Anyway," he resumed, "Somebody found her, dialled nine-one-one. The cops - humans, of course - took her to the precinct house, then into hospital. Unexplained amnesia. Held for a few hours for observation, then released when one of the waiting staff went to collect her."

"Hmm. So now you've got Rosie back, I guess you'll want a refund."

Nether's florid face was suddenly serious.

"No, I don't," he said quietly, "If anything, I think I need your services now more than ever."

"Why?" I asked, although I suspected I already knew the answer.

"She can't remember anything," Nether replied, "But she's clearly been treated with a glamour - quite definitely a Goblin magic - to make her forget. I need to find out, where she's been, who took her and, most importantly, why."

"Okay," I said slowly, "I need to see her myself, talk to her."

"Why? I've told you everything she's said," he replied warily, "You'll only upset her."

"It's what she's not said that interests me," I said, sounding more confident than I felt, "Just let me talk to her, okay?"

Part 25 Part 27