by Trevor Hopkins

"Of course," Nether agreed, "But not right away. Rosie needs her sleep."

It was still before dawn. Those who run pubs and bars for a living do not, as a rule, rise early. I doubted there would be any movement upstairs for an hour or two yet. There was no point in rushing things.

"Got any coffee?" I asked.

"Sure. Come with me."

Nether got up and went though an inner arched doorway. I followed. It was a compact kitchen with fittings suitable for a Goblin - a human would think them child-sized - which included a breakfast bar with two stools. I pulled one out, sat and watched Nether bustling around, rather surprised with his domesticity.

"Something to eat?" he asked casually.

"Sure," I replied. I was getting peckish. I had yet had nothing to eat this morning

Nether slid a plate of the hard flat biscuits that are so popular for breakfast in the Lower Realms. I picked one up and bit into it. It was fresh from the ovens, made very recently, possibly even this week. Nether must visit the Lower Realms more frequently than I thought.

A cup - human made, and big and clunky by Goblin standards - appeared next to my plate. It was filled with hot black coffee, thick and poisonously strong. Just how I like it.

"Splash of scotch in it?" Nether asked, waving a human-sized whiskey bottle languidly in my direction.

The bottle was opened, the metal foil long gone, and the amber fluid could be seen sloshing about inside. Still a fair bit left, I noted.

"Bit early for me," I said, shaking my head.

"Suit yourself."

I noticed he didn't pour himself one, just put the bottle back on the shelf.

We ate breakfast languidly, lingering over our coffee refills. Nether told me a little more about his life since I had seen him last; a selection of tales and anecdotes from his life in the bar. In exchange, I told him a few of my stories: some of my more hair-razing exploits as a Private Detective. I talked up the element of luck in my investigations and played down the importance of deduction. I also quizzed him again about Rosie’s predicament, although he came up with the same story as last time. He really didn't know how to ask the right questions.

Finally, Nether glanced at the kitchen clock set into the wall above the cooker.

"Rosie will be awake by now," he said, "Let's go talk to her, since you are so insistent."

I shrugged, then jammed my hat back on my head. Just force of habit - a good one to have in the surface world where ears like mine would attract far too much attention.

Nether guided out of the kitchen and to the hidden entrance to his private suite, which closed behind us at Nether's touch. We went through the mundane door which opened onto an even more mundane corridor and along the corridor to the stairwell. It was a short walk up two flights of stairs to the point where my brother tapped diffidently on a bedroom door.

Part 26 Part 28