by Trevor Hopkins

By the time I got to Chill's Bar, Gumshoe had been there for just about twenty minutes. An impressively speedy response; I suspected his New York traffic navigation skills had been tested to the limit. He had probably worn out his horn just getting here that quickly. And there was an unusually strong smell of burnt tyre rubber wafting around, too.

Gumshoe's first action had been to politely dismiss the man he had called in a favour to provide security at the bar, and his hired hands, reasoning correctly that none of us could take the risk of them observing me at close quarters. It would get too messy, too much risk of discovery. We would be better off without them, for all the additional manpower they provided. Besides, there were certain advantages - certain magical advantages - which I could use if there were fewer human around to observe the effects or, at the very least, human observers not on the receiving end of those effects.

Rosie was in her accustomed place behind the bar. Gumshoe was standing next to her when I made my way out of the hidden entrance. Very close, I thought, very close indeed. Practically touching. I was out of touch of human mores this century - they seem to change every fifty years or so anyway - but I got the distinct impression they were becoming emotionally close. But I'm a Goblin; what do I know about human relationships?

Rosie and Gumshoe were speaking in low voices, so quietly that few humans would have been able to pick out their words.

"But I don't know anything," she was objecting as I approached, "I've told you guys everything I can remember already. Twice."

"Maybe you don't know anything," Gumshoe's basso rumble replied, "But Rigg doesn't know that. Rigg's a ruthless man with a lot to lose. As long as he thinks you might know something, your life is in danger. And just because we've scared him off once already doesn't mean he won't be back. He's killed others. Recently. Today, I think."

Gumshoe sure knew how to lay it on thick. Very persuasive. Unfortunately, I suspected that his assessment wasn't too far from the truth. This was a dangerous situation.

Moving as quietly as only a cautious Goblin can, I walked up behind them and said "Hi" casually, which made them both jump, almost literally, out of their shoes.

"Findo!" Rosie squeaked girlishly, an attitude at odds with her normal pose of worldly-wise New York bar-keeper.

"Huh, at last," Gumshoe grunted, feigning a degree of coolness I felt sure he did not really feel.

"Evening, both," I returned chirpily, "Let's see if we can secure this joint, shall we?"

The rest of the barroom was fairly empty, even by the standards of an early midweek evening in New York. Rosie spoke briefly and individually to each member of the waiting staff, who themselves circulated quietly amongst the sparse crowd encouraging them to drink up and go home. Meanwhile I kept out of sight behind the bar.

"Anybody unusual in?" I asked Rosie urgently, "Any strangers, anyone you don't recognise?"

Rosie glanced around the emptying bar with the practiced eye of publicans everywhere.

"No," she replied quietly, "They're all regulars. Most of 'em have been coming in here for years."

One or two of the punters - men perhaps a little wiser than most, or more courageous, or maybe just more curious - sensed that there was something going on, some threat unspoken yet real, and approached Rosie directly with offers of help. Rosie, following Gumshoe's advice, thanked these few brave men profusely, but declined their offers, assuring them that all would be well and that they should put this evening out of their minds.

With the last of the paying customers - I could not help but think of them as witnesses in my own mind - having left the building, we sent the waiting staff on their way. Then we scurried around closing and bolting the remaining doors, and shuttering windows as best we could. We extinguished most of the remaining lights, and did everything we could think of to give the impression that Chill's bar had simply closed early for a want of paying customers on this particular evening. I don't think we would have fooled a close observer, but it was a ploy worth attempting.

Rosie was encouraged to hide in the storeroom, behind the steel barrels and heavy crates that might provide a little protection in the event of a fire-fight. I would have secreted her in Nether's carefully hidden lair, but - even after I knew exactly were it was - I found no way to open it. I took the precaution of reminding Rosie of the secret exit from that room, stressing that it was to be used if there seemed no other possibility. But she was not to put her own life in danger; she should run away, run anywhere, rather than allow Rigg and his goons to catch her. I really did not want another innocent death on my hands.

In the sudden silence of the empty bar, Gumshoe and I checked our handguns and other assets at our disposal, then settled down to wait. I reminded Gumshoe about the low-rent but surprisingly effective magic which should disable firearms in my close proximity. He should keep a good distance from me to ensure his gun wasn't affected. My own weapon is of course specifically proofed against such everyday glamours.

We didn't have to wait long.

Part 60 Part 62