by Trevor Hopkins

I spent a little more time with Gamshack in the bar than perhaps I should. I was just trying to find out more about him, in a low-key kind of way, and I'm quite sure he was playing the same kind of games. Still, it was a surprisingly convivial first meeting, I suppose, no doubt assisted by a certain amount of strong drink.

Once the beer and whisky was gone, I stood up, sliding off the oversized human chair as athletically as I could manage.

"I'll call you tomorrow," I said, tugging my hat down even further over my eyes. Always better for me to leave first, to avoid any unpleasantness about who follows whom.

"Sure," Gamshack nodded amiably, "I'll be expecting it. Leave a message if I'm out."

I hurried outside, into what a human would consider the late-evening darkness although, for Goblin eyes, there was more than enough light scattered from the streetlamps to make me very glad I was still wearing my sunglasses. There were only a few passers-by, each seemingly focussed on their own concerns and showing no signs of being remotely interested in me. Just the way I like it.

It was a brisk twenty minute walk to the nearest alleyway which contained a concealed entrance to the Lower Realms - to the best of my knowledge, anyway. Actually, I took much longer than that, having decided that a more roundabout route would represent a prudent degree of caution.

Which was just as well. It took me only a minute or two until the metaphorical hairs on the back of my neck - actually Goblins are entirely hairless - began to stand up. I was being followed, I was sure of it, by somebody who knew what they were doing. Somebody who had done this sort of thing before, knew how to hug the shadows and darker places, how to react when the subject changed their pace or direction suddenly, how to avoid being spotted in reflections from shop windows. Somebody who might actually be difficult to shake off. And, most worrying of all, somebody who might - just might - be another Goblin.

I wasn't going anywhere particularly private or secret. My immediate target was just the entrance to the caverns, something that would be well-known to any Goblin wandering around up here. If it was a Goblin, of course. So, PI 101 dictated that I should let him just follow me, giving me the opportunity to find out more about my tail.

He was too good for that, though; not a single miss-step despite my feigned indifference to his presence. I strode on, paced by my unseen follower, on an indirect path to the entry to the Lower Realms. Even at the entrance to the squalid alley where the markings indicating the portal where obscured, to the casual observer, by a more-than-average application of the graffiti which adorns so many of the vertical surfaces in the surface world, he managed to stay out of sight.

I approached the entrance proper, muttered the few words which activated the portal glamour and stepped into the wall. A moment later, I landed, only slightly inelegantly, on the welcome mat. Again, I flashed my PI licence at the border guard - who waved me through with barely a glance - and hurried off.

Once outside, I managed to find myself a handy spot to hide, hoping to catch a glimpse of my tail. No dice. Bored, and slightly chilled despite my coat, I made an extremely cautious way back to my apartment. But there was no sign of anybody following me. Whoever it was, it looked like they had stayed on the surface.

Interesting.

Part 16 Part 18