by Trevor Hopkins

I looked steadily over the table at Dunsinan. His story seemed genuine enough, as far as it went. He wasn't telling me the whole truth, of course. In my business, clients never do. They always seem to hold something back, something they are afraid to reveal, or maybe just plain embarrassed to tell me. I wish they wouldn't bother: these days, I'm mostly unshockable and, in any case, I almost always end up finding out rather more about my customers’ habits and history than either of us expect.

"Okay. I'll look into it for you," I said, sitting back in the chair.

He looked relieved. I swept up my beer glass and raised it in a silent toast, then drained the remaining mouthfuls in one pull.

"There's just one little matter," I went on, putting the now-empty glass back on the table, "You know my rates: twenty-five dollars a day, plus expenses."

The Goblin currency is extremely hard and a little goes a long way. Even so, a guy's gotta eat, and drink, and there are always expenses which cannot forever rely on smooth talking to avoid or the miniscule overdraft grudgingly provided by a suspicious bank manager.

"I don't have the cash on me right now," Dunsinan admitted.

Somehow I wasn't surprised, despite his well-dressed and affluent facade. Somebody was keeping him on a tight leash. He had the appearance of one for whom money tended to burn a hole in his pocket: cash would flow out of his wallet in a never-ending stream, frittered away on clothes and jewellery and booze. Since he was presently sober, I concluded that he had only pocket money about his person at present. I resigned myself to paying for my own dinner this evening.

"No money, no contract," I said severely, "And without a contract, I can't work for you. You know the rules." The law in the Lower Realms in entirely clear in this regard. Private Investigators have a special legal position, much like lawyers, in their relationship with their clients. If the client insists of secrecy, then the PI is absolved from the responsibility of speaking the truth, or at all, to cops and judges. But this important - indeed, vital, in my experience - protection only applies if actual money has changed hands.

"Yeah, I know," Dunsinan muttered, "But I'll have it in a few days."

"What's the delay? You don't look like you're short of a few dollars."

"Right now, I can't get at my money very easily," he explained with a certain amount of embarrassment, "Above a certain amount, it requires two signatures on the cheques to make a withdrawal. I'd have to report Burnbank missing, and get a police report, then persuade the bank to change the rules. And I can't do that just now."

I shrugged, always an expressive gesture for a Goblin.

"Maybe," I acceded, "When you get it, look me up. But this time just come around the office? Less of this cloak and dagger stuff, okay?"

Dunsinan grinned and drained his own beer glass.

"Sure thing, buddy," he said affably, looking relieved, "It'd be good to be working together again."

In all honesty, I would be happy enough to take on Dunsinan's commission. It sure sounded more interesting than another day of process serving, which is what I otherwise had to look forward tomorrow. Another boring task, but it would put a few coins in my own pocket. Enough to keep my bank manager and landlord pacified for another week or two. But I could probably deliver the legal documents quickly enough to make a few enquiries while I was up there in the Surface World.

Part 8 Part 10