by Trevor Hopkins

I was being followed; I was sure of it. Of course, this is always an occupational hazard in my game, although I'd admit I wasn't expecting it just at the moment. This tail was good too; keeping well back, making good use of the shadows, a text-book example straight out of PI Class 101.

Whoever it was, they were effectively invisible, even without the aid of the kind of illegal-but-readily available magic that they might have employed. But those kinds of black-market glamours are expensive and it looked like this guy was working on a budget. Or maybe he was confident enough not to need it.

The streets and boulevards of this particular cavern were more-or-less deserted at this hour, the caves still and quiet, the lighting low - but more than good enough for us Goblins, who can see well in conditions that the surface-dwelling humans would think of as darkness. Apart from the faint noises that my follower was being careful to minimise, the only thing I could hear was the occasional busy scurry of rats in the alleyways, the squeak of bats and various more difficult-to-describe noises from the other creatures that share our underground demesne.

It was quite possible that the only reason my instincts - honed to a state of near-paranoia under normal circumstances - had picked up on my shadow was just blind habit. I've been in the Private Investigations business for a long time, and managed to survive the experience with no more than the minimum number of bullet holes and blows to the head. I was understandably keen to avoid any more of that kind of experience.

I had taken on a short-term job serving legal papers from the central courts - the kinds which need to be delivered in person to ensure the proper due process. This is one of the chores I get engaged when business is otherwise slack. It's boring work, sure thing, and not very well paid, but it's easy enough and puts a little cash in my wallet to defer the more serious attentions of the bank manager fretting about my overdraft.

The task was made just a little more interesting by the fact that the particular Goblins to whom I had to deliver the papers were resident on the surface. It's not exactly illegal to live up there - although it is semi-officially discouraged - and, in any case, these days most Goblins are profoundly nervous in an environment without a solid ceiling over their head. Those who did choose to stay in the sunlit world were almost invariably outcasts, recluses and general weirdoes.

For reasons too involved to go into right now, I had spent rather more time than most wandering the cities of the humans. I've even had enough practice at disguise that I can pass for one of them if I have to, at least in low lighting conditions. So, while I was not exactly comfortable on the surface, I was at least able to function without risk of the blind panic or even catatonia that some of my countrymen would suffer under the same circumstances. Maybe I was a bit of a weirdo myself. It also meant that I was able to hold out for a modest additional fee.

I could see no particular reason why I should have attracted enough interest to be worth following. My office is well-known - at least to those with an intimate working knowledge of the telephone directory or the small-ads pages in the cheaper newspapers - my private apartment is not exactly hidden from the world, and the lucky persons receiving summons and statements were a matter of public record in the court proceedings.

The immediate questions for me just at the moment were: who was it following me so closely? And, was it worth the bother of even trying to lose him?

Part 2