by Trevor Hopkins

Nether nodded calmly at us from his comfortable seat.

"Morning all," he murmured nonchalantly, "You can put the power tools away if you like."

Instinctively, both Gumshoe and I found ourselves with our handguns drawn and our hearts racing, swinging the weapons around wildly in search of secondary targets. There was nothing, nobody else in the place. Gumshoe slipped into the bedroom to take a look, but came out again a few moments later shaking his head. Rosie had squeaked in surprise when Nether had announced himself but she was the first to recover from the shock.

"Nether!" she cried, rushing over to where he had been lounging and sliding onto the couch next to him, "What are you doing here?"

I put my automatic back in its holster and glared at my older brother.

"Yeah," I drawled, "That's a very good question. What are you doing here, Neth?"

"Well, it’s all rather surprising. I heard that you had popped up again in New York City," he began.

"How did you hear about that?" I interrupted, upping my glare another notch.

"Hey, I have a few contacts of my own, you know," he replied smoothly, "And one of them was keeping an eye on Mister Gamshack's car. So I knew you were back in circulation. It soon became clear that you were not going to the Bar," adding quickly as Rosie swung around sharply with a pained expression on her face, "Which isn't too badly damaged, by the way. Your staff worked hard at getting the place cleaned up, and even arranged for the window to be repaired. Open as usual yesterday. You could hardly tell that there had been anything going on."

Rosie breathed a huge sigh of relief and slumped back on the couch. I knew how much the place meant to her, and to her father and grandfather, too.

"And you sensibly stayed away from Mister Gamshack's apartment and offices," Nether went on, "Which are being discreetly if effectively staked out by some very shady-looking hoodlums. So there weren't a great many other places you could go. A few reports on the location of your car told me your direction, so I thought it best to be here to welcome you."

It was Gumshoe's turn to glower in Nether's direction.

"Very few people know about this place," he said slowly, turning his automatic over in his hands, "I didn't think you were one of them."

Nether laughed casually.

"I guess that would be true, in the general scheme of things," he replied, "But, in your case, certain Goblins - certain official Goblins, shall we say - have been interested in you for some time, thanks to your long association with my brother."

I nodded. I'm fairly certain that the comings and goings of Goblins who visit the surface frequently attract a degree of scrutiny. I did wonder how Nether would have access to that information, although it had already become clear that he had more connections than I had ever imagined.

Gumshoe shrugged and put his gun away. He moved softly around the familiar room, flipping on the electrical power using the circuit breaker in the corner of the kitchenette and filling a kettle from the tap. "Coffee anyone?" he asked casually.

There was a general chorus on the theme of "yes" from around the room. Soon he was handing out mugs of hot drinks. There were no chips in any of them - Gumshoe was more house-proud than you might expect from his appearance and profession.

Meanwhile I told Nether about recent events: being chased by Rigg and his crew, being intercepted by a suddenly-appearing portal to the Hells and the unnerving interview with the Old One. I didn't mention the even more unnerving prediction that I would encounter the Old One again. Nether came back to the question of Dulelm Hollows again and again, chewing on it like a particularly fine pickled toadstool. Finally he fell silent.

"We're going back to Dulelm," I said firmly.

"When are we going?" Nether asked, leaning forward and suddenly looking keenly interested.

"I meant Gumshoe and me," I replied curtly, "You've got to look after Rosie. Keep her safe. And, to answer your question, we're going tonight."

Part 80 Part 82