by Trevor Hopkins

There was no need to rush the following morning. I'd slept late, dressed at a leisurely pace and strolled down the street to David's diner for a substantial late breakfast assisted by three cups of strong coffee and a unhurried wander though the morning newspapers. Well, that's what I had in mind when I went to sleep. Needless to say, what actually transpired was nothing like that at all.

I was woken in what felt like the middle of the night by the phone ringing. I was awake enough to snatch it from its hook by the fourth ring. It was Gumshoe. I had long ago trusted him with one of the telephone numbers which allowed the redirection of calls from the surface world to the Lower Realms, although with a strict admonishment to use that facility only when absolutely necessary.

Gumshoe's opening gambit brought me to full alertness in an instant, exactly as if somebody had thrown a large bucket of ice-cold water over my bed-sheets.

"Gask? It's Gamshack. There's a suspicious guy hanging around Chill's Bar," he said without preamble, "He’s been there all night. Been badgering the regulars."

"A human?" I asked, answered by Gumshoe's immediate affirmative grunt, "What's he look like?"

"A big man, muscular, late thirties maybe," the other detective replied, "Looks like he might have been in the military at some point. Speaks with a distinct British accent. Oh, and he has shoulder-length blond hair."

Goblins are naturally entirely hairless, and it takes a certain twist of the average Goblin mind to fully comprehend the hirsute nature of the surface dwellers, and the implications of a feature that so often appears in human descriptions of other humans. We’re much better at languages, though.

"It's Rigg!" I breathed.

"What's that?"

I explained to Gumshoe at some length. Rigg was a guy I had tangled with before. He even got the drop on me once. I wasn't about to let that happen again in a hurry. Besides, I had a score to settle with that particular man.

"Well, he's back," Gumshoe said bluntly, "And definitively making a nuisance of himself. Though I think I scared him off."

From his description, it seemed that a few hours after I had left Chill's Bar, a stranger had appeared; one with an apparently bottomless wallet, intent on striking up conversations with anyone who would entertain him and buying drinks for the most chance acquaintance. All in all, the man was behaving much as Gumshoe himself had attempted on his first visit to the pub, although with less subtlety and a great deal more pushiness.

I sat on the side of the bed in my nightshirt and quizzed Gamshack carefully enough to piece together the whole story.

Rosie had felt well enough to return to her familiar place behind the bar, chatting to the regulars, and enjoying the warmth and humour of their company. Gumshoe himself had been keeping a lookout in the shadows, sipping a light beer on a bar stool at the far end of the counter, although it was clear to the more observant of the clientele that, rather than being an unwanted interloper, he was now in a position of some trust. Nether had been staying completely out of sight, holed up in his secret room, presumably out of some hyper-developed sense of caution.

Rigg had appeared at the door, shaking raindrops off his expensive yet fashionably understated leather coat. He was at first perceived as harmless, just another passer-by, but he soon set about buttonholing everyone present in a determined fashion. Even the resident bore who had persuaded Gumshoe to depart on his first visit seemed unable to upset Rigg, and the threat of unreasonable violence had noticeably zero effect on the hard man with what looked like a background in Special Forces.

Rosie, seeing what was happening, closed the bar at the earliest acceptable hour, the regulars taking the hint and slinking off to their homes, or whatever passed for that establishment, with a minimum of fuss. Rigg made no attempt to out-stay his welcome but gave every appearance of finishing his last drink, extending a cheery goodnight to all his new best friends and wandering off - apparently slightly unsteadily - into the night.

Gumshoe wasn't fooled. After the bar was locked up and the lights turned right down, he kept watch from behind the closed blinds of the bar and through the hidden observation lenses that prudent publicans in both worlds deploy to ensure that no undesirables are hanging around after closing time. For a long time, all was silent, as silent as the grave, maybe – or at least some graves.

Part 44 Part 46