by Trevor Hopkins

I checked the desk clock-cum-calendar and made a few mental calculations. It was late fall and it would still be daylight for a couple of hours upstairs. My disguise as a human was by no means perfect and I always felt more comfortable in the surface world when there are plenty of shadows to hide in. No rush, then.

I made a few phone calls to various contacts and sorted the mail into the usual categories: junk, straight into the bin, and bills, carefully filed in the desk drawer where I could ignore them for a little longer. I retrieved a couple of useful items from their hiding-places, on a just-in-case basis, and checked over my disguise.

I picked up my hat and screwed it onto my head at a jaunty angle. It was cut at a larger than normal size to cover my ears, which would otherwise be hard to disguise. Goblins don't really have fangs or claws, despite the myths and rumours which still circulate on the surface, although both teeth and nails are large and strong. As always, I would just have to wear gloves and keep my mouth closed. I briefly checked the numerous and capacious pockets of my old overcoat, mainly to check that I did still have my sunglasses, which I would need up there even in conditions the humans would think of as darkness. All present and correct. Time to go.

The borders between the caverns of the Goblins and the world of the humans are carefully policed, although there are remarkably few formalities to be observed. I've suspected for a long time that the informality is deliberate, to encourage the use of the official portals, the authorities having long ago given up any attempt to close all the unofficial ones. Mind you, using the less-observed routes to the surface require a more privacy-conscious visitor to traverse several miles of stairs in the darkness.

I was going the easy way. Transportation between the numerous deep underground caverns is provided - free for everybody - using what are euphemistically called "Transit Tubes". The Tubes are no such thing: millennia ago, the ancient magic of the Goblins was used to set up point-to-point portals. You just step into what appears to be an entrance archway at one place, and you re-appear almost instantly at the exit, miles and miles away. It's efficient and no more unpleasant, or even noticeable, than stepping off a kerb, and these old glamours never wear out. We Goblins build things to last.

The transport to and from the surface is simply a vertical version of the transit tubes. There's a bit more of a bump on arrival, but padded mats make the transition painless enough. The departure point is simply a featureless circular room with a conical roof, except for a circular flat section in the centre of the ceiling. It's much like the inside of a giant furnace, except there's no actual chimney to let the smoke escape - just the faint glow of the transit glamour in operation.

So, my travel to New York consisted of a short walk from my office building to the nearest transit tube entrance - with a couple of detours to deposit Killin's check at the bank and grab a leisurely breakfast - a series of transits delayed only slightly by a certain amount of queuing, another short walk from tube exit to surface portal, a wave of my PI licence and buzzer to the uniformed border guard and finally a step into the departure room.

I emerged in a narrow alleyway in a quiet part of mid-town Manhattan, in the gathering gloom of nightfall. I had timed things well. Behind me on the featureless brick wall, the Goblin runes which announced the presence of the portal entrance were disguised, as they often are, with the overlapping sprawl of enthusiastically-executed and brightly-coloured graffiti.

I adjusted my sunglasses, straightened my spine to an uncomfortable but more human-looking poise and strode off confidently in the direction of the alley mouth. Things to do, Goblins to see - even Goblins up here.

Part 12 Part 14