by Trevor Hopkins

City back alleyways are the same the world over. This one was in New York, as squalid and uninviting as any I had experienced. I looked over my sunglasses down the short passage, lit solely by broken shards of sodium lighting from the street behind me. I scanned the shadows, distracted only momentarily by the busy rustle of rats investigating the contents of the foul-smelling bin I was leaning against.

In the gloom I could make out a quivering punk cowered at the end of the alley, a short gaunt figure in an oversize anorak with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes. He was trapped by the featureless brick walls on either side and the high wire fence blocking the end of the passage.

"You're going down," I snarled, standing up straight and putting my hands in my trench-coat pockets.

""No," he quailed, "You won’t make me. You'll never take me alive."

The perp pulled a black automatic from under his coat and waved it around in a fashion that suggested he wasn't exactly sure what to do with it.

"Punk," I spat, "Don't make me do this the hard way."

I walked steadily towards him, my eyes fixed on his face, not even glancing at the ugly black pistol. He was a weedy little specimen, half my weight and a head shorter. He looked nervous, twitchy; he might do anything.

The gun wavered more wildly, then clicked once, twice. No shots. That was the result of one of my better investments: a glamour that disables firearms close to me. True, it was a cut-price job, purchased mail-order from a company that advertised in the Classified Ads sections of the trade press, one whose reputation was more spotty than saintly. I try not to rely on it but, right now, my desire to collect a little eating and walking-around money overrode my worry that the cheap magic might fail me.

I reached forward suddenly, my long arms taking him by surprise, and snatched the inert weapon from his grasp. I casually tossed the toy aside, then picked him up by his shirt front and held him against the featureless brickwork.

"Say goodbye to your surface friends," I said softly, my face close to his ear.

The wall opened suddenly behind him, much to his surprise. But not to mine; I had spotted the faint outline and cryptic runes - often mistaken for graffiti by the surface-dwellers - that marked an entrance to the Lower Realms. It was a vertical transit. We fell together at the same speed; he was going nowhere fast. I bounced off the landing mat and grabbed him again with one hand before he could move more than three feet.

Three border guards approached, hands already reaching for their stun-sticks. With my free hand, I flipped open my wallet and showed the buzzer to the police, the licence badge gleaming gold in the dim light, then pointed at a dog-eared "Wanted" poster pinned to the notice-board behind them.

The guards looked at each other, then grabbed the punk by the arms. In short order we were wheeled off to see the shift Captain, the punk already handcuffed and snivelling, and escorted between two of them. The cops had evidently decided it was not worth their while even trying to cuff me.

The perp had skipped bail on a felony rap and had made it to the surface using one of the tunnels the cops still haven’t shut down. Probably some brown envelopes of anonymous cash changing hands somewhere. Still, I was comforted by the fact that he had probably done it the hard way: walked up miles of stairs unaided. Serves him right.

An hour later, I emerged from the Captain's office, stuffing a very decent wad of folded green bills into my pocket. Once on the street, I stopped to take in the atmosphere, tapping a cigarette from a crumpled packet I managed to track down in the pockets of my raincoat. I scraped the match, lit up and tossed the flame in the gutter where it flared blue for a moment. I adjusted the brim of my hat to a more rakish angle, turned up my collar and walked quickly away.

Another bounty successfully collected. Just another day on the job.

Part 2