by Trevor Hopkins

I was just in time to catch Mister Angus at his office. The building itself was very impressive: a masterpiece of modern architecture and interior design, all plate-glass windows and furniture formed from angled lengths of chrome-plated tubing supporting black leather bolsters. The lights were on and at least some of the desks visible through the glass were occupied.

I marched straight up to the door, following the School of Ham Acting approach and attempting to give every impression that I had the wealth and influence which would make buying one of the properties on sale here a mere blip on my bank balance. It must have worked. The doorman opened the door for me and ushered me inside, his smart uniform and peaked cap not quite successfully disguising the crooked teeth, broken nose and slightly run-to-seed look that marked him out as a retired pugilist.

A young female Goblin sat behind the reception desk. She was dressed in a sharply-cut business suit set off by no more than the minimum of discreet but tastefully expensive jewellery. A trust-fund babe, I surmised, working while waiting to be introduced to her future husband, somewhere which required manners and class, but nothing much by way of vital business skills, like typing. The desk itself was formed from what appeared to be a single block of polished green granite and marked with a helpful sign which read "Reception" but was otherwise devoid of decoration or even an appointments book.

The youngster - surely no more than fifty - looked up as I sauntered in, a polite professional smile tightening her lips but somehow failing to quite reach her eyes.

"I'd like to see Coupar Angus, please," I announced breezily, looking around as if I had designs on buying the whole joint.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked primly.

"No," I replied, looking her up and down with a bare minimum of interest and the faintest of sneers, "But I'm quite certain he'll want to see me anyway. We have business to discuss."

"I'm not sure whether Mister Angus is available," she said, slightly more uncertainly, "Let me check."

She asked my name, which I gave, truthfully - false names always give rise to future misunderstandings, and I didn't want to get on the wrong side of those draconian Goblin laws about misrepresentation of identity - and suggested I take a seat for a moment.

I nodded my thanks and sat in one of the smart-looking but incredibly uncomfortable chairs in the waiting area. The receptionist toddled off to a door marked "Private", ducked inside for a few moments, then returned to her post, eyes downcast and careful to avoid acknowledging me in any way.

I wondered what tack Angus would take to get rid of me. It didn't take long for me to find out. A few moments later, Couper Angus himself bustled out of his office. He was a big Goblin, as tall as me and quite a lot heavier, and with what is usually described as a larger-than-life personality. I know the type: he probably liked to think he is coming across as avuncular, but ends up just being a bore. This particular sample sported a loud double-breasted suit with a waistcoat buttoned tightly over his expansive belly, complete with a fob-watch on a chain, booming voice and, as I was about to discover, a crushing handshake.

"Mister Gask," he cried, grasping my hand with unnecessary firmness as I levered myself from the chair.

I returning the handshake with slightly more than enough force to make it plain I wasn't intimidated by it.

"Mister Angus," I replied, "I'm sure we haven't met but I've heard good things about you. You may have just what I need."

"Well, delighted to meet you, dear boy, but I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Need to rush off now, don't'cha'know. But Belna, my receptionist will fit you in, tomorrow, perhaps the day after."

He glanced at the young female behind the desk, who took her cue flawlessly.

"Full diary tomorrow, sir," she interjected, "Three o'clock the day after?"

Angus's attention swung back to me.

"Works for you?"

I nodded amiably, as if I had all the time in the world.

"Sure. If it has to wait, too bad," I drawled, "Day after tomorrow. It's a date."

I swung on my heel and set off for the door, where the doorman tugged open the door for me with alacrity. Once on the pavement, I affected a jaunty swagger and set off in the direction of the nearest travel tube entrance. I glanced back just once; the doorman, the receptionist and Coupar Angus himself were watching me with more than casual interest.

Once definitely out of sight, I ducked into the shadows and doubled back, sticking to the narrowest of alleys until I reached a point with a decent view of the realtor's offices. I did not have long to wait. Within ten minutes, Mister Angus himself appeared at the front door, his bulk now swaddled in a heavy overcoat. He was followed out by a few of his workers, although not the snooty receptionist or the thuggish doorman. Left behind to secure the place, I imagined.

Angus was not hard to follow. His height meant that he stood out in a crowd and he appeared to be making no effort to lose anybody who might be following him. A perfect mark. I kept well back, merging with knots of pedestrians as much as I could and keeping to the shadows when I couldn't. I followed him to a bar called the Deepest Joy, a place where I had been before, just once and very recently. I wondered whether that was just a coincidence.

Part 40 Part 42