by Trevor Hopkins

It had been a long and exhausting investigation. Neither of us had been shot at - well, not very much anyway - but it had been good to be working with my human partner again. "Gamshack and Gask", at least up here in the surface world. In the Lower Realms, we go by "Gask and Gamshack", but only because that way it sounds better, in my humble opinion, in the language of the Goblins.

Martin Gamshack - a.k.a. Gumshoe - was a Private Investigator with whom I had had dealings for many years. After a complex and dangerous investigation and a desperately tragic incident a few years ago, we agreed to form a loose partnership. This had worked well enough. We had picked up a fair number of challenging and occasionally highly lucrative cases where the interests of humans and Goblins overlapped.

This had been just such a case: a scam involving high-rolling gamblers in Las Vegas casinos. Somebody had started deploying a Goblin-made glamour which predicted - most of the time - the roll of the dice and the fall of the cards. This would have been far too obvious if a single individual had started winning large sums consistently, so the person behind it had engaged a series of proxies, most of whom were not aware of what they were really doing. These stand-ins were recruited from the legion of broke gamblers and long-term losers that can be found hanging around in every casino in the world.

Roulette wheel It seemed that these patsies had been approached with a weird offer, an offer that sounded too good to be true.

"Your luck has changed, we want to help," the offer went, "So, we'll give you some money to go and play at your favourite tables. If you lose, well, that's just our bad luck. No hard feelings. But today, just today, we feel it will be your lucky day. So, if you win, we want our money back, and three-quarters of what you win. The rest is yours to keep."

Few gamblers could resist an offer like that, human nature being what it is.

The perpetrator had been clever and cautious, taking a long view, making a profit slowly and carefully. The scam had gone unnoticed for a long time, even under the eagle eyes of the casino bosses who, naturally enough, take great care to make sure that, on average, the money flows from punter to casino and not the other way around. But eventually the strange phenomenon was picked up: an outbreak of gamblers who had previously lost consistently, all suddenly having a spectacularly lucky day and, inexplicably, handfuls of ready cash to indulge their luck.

By the way, these good-luck glamours really only work properly with a narrow range of possible outcomes - one of six for the throw of a dice, for example - but are cheap enough and readily available in the Lower Realms, despite being against the law. Gambling joints for Goblins take extra care to ensure that the odds are not being bent by freeloaders with a couple of cheap glamours in their pockets. And very few are foolish enough to put anything of value at risk without making sure such protections are in place.

The weak point, as is so often the case with these kind of operations, was the HUMINT aspect - human intelligence - the almost invariable characteristics of people to be unable to keep their secrets to themselves. Our approach had involved Gumshoe hanging around in bars - for a change, sophisticated and expensive casino bars, rather than the seedy joints I normally get to frequent - and buying far too many drinks with the clients' expense money. And listening carefully, of course.

The PI heard a great many wild tales, not all of which had anything to do with this investigation, but he was eventually able to pull together a consistent description: a short man with a strange foreign accent who always wore the collar of his raincoat turned up, a hat pressed down over his forehead and dark glasses over his eyes, even in the warmth of the Nevada desert night time and the dim cavernous expanses of the casinos themselves.

Goblins can't easily pass for human, at least in anything that the surface people would regard as normal lighting conditions. I know, I've tried it myself on more than one occasion. We are shorter than humans, with bald heads and large, slightly prehensile ears. Our arms are longer, our legs shorter, our teeth sharper and more numerous, and our eyesight adapted to the darkness of our underground caverns. Our mysterious mastermind was almost certainly a Goblin in disguise.

Posing as a down-on-his-luck gambler, Gumshoe managed to arrange a face-to-face meeting. He had no difficulty in pulling off the necessary careworn look and his eyes naturally told a tale of ill-fortune and gambles lost. He accepted the offer of a stake with only slightly more than the necessary amount of persuasion and, while finding no visible identifying marks, he was able to confirm our suspicion that somebody from the Lower Realms was ripping off the casinos. Instead of enjoying his luck on the roulette wheels and blackjack tables, Gumshoe was even able to follow the mysterious individual to one of the many entrances to the caverns of the Goblins which, in cities at least, are marked with runes which most people mistake for extravagantly executed graffiti.

Meanwhile, I set about tracking down the route by which the predictive glamours were being acquired and exported within the Lower Realms. Anybody in my line of work soon acquires a large number of contacts in underworld dealing. A few discreet enquiries soon identified an individual who was buying large numbers of cheap glamours on the black-market and furnished me with several undisguised descriptions of the Goblin in question.

Once I found out from Gumshoe which portal to the Lower Realms the mark was using and staked it out, I simply followed him from the portal through the network of transit tubes which link the vast caves that we call home. I took watch outside the cheap doss-house he was using as a base. All too easy. Easy enough that I was not sufficiently careful. The perp spotted me, panicked and let rip with a cheap knock-off handgun. Those things never shoot straight, which is just as well as one bullet ricocheted off the stone column I was sheltering behind.

I scurried round the back of the hostel and hid outside the kitchen door, sheltered by a dumpster enlivened by the busy scurry of rats investigating yesterday's leftovers. As I expected, the perp stuck his head out of the door, saw nobody and set off down the alley. It was simplicity itself to grab his gun with one hand and stick the muzzle of my own to his head. I just need to secure him with a pair of handcuffs, then it was a short walk to the nearest police station armed with enough evidence to make sure he would be locked up for a very long time.

All in a day's work for Findo Gask, Goblin Detective.

Part 2