by Trevor Hopkins


I waited patiently on the doorstep of Merton Vale's homestead. I thought a visit to his widow in person would be best, since many people find it easier to brush off a phone call but are less likely to risk offence face-to-face. No answer. I rang again, then leaned against the frame of the heavy old-fashioned wooden door and took in the splendid view down the sweeping slopes to the floor of the cavern.

The Vale residence graced one of the finer parts of this up-market suburb. It was set up against the curving wall of white polished stone which bounded the cavern, closer to the top than not. Up here, the air is usually fresher and clearer, to the point where it is sometimes possible to see all the way over the far side wall.

Bracket fungus The house itself was built of ornately carved sandstone blocks over two floors, with balconies accessible from the upper level and a decorative portico over the front door. It was adjoined to neighbouring buildings on either side and, in the traditional goblin fashion, the residents' privacy was aided by curving walls partially surrounding a paved courtyard. This private area was lavishly decorated with fungal gardens on the walls and in a variety of stone planters and urns. There were some outrageously exotic varieties of fungi, most of which would have been unfamiliar to surface dwellers, and all were clearly grown primarily for appearance and only secondarily as food.

I rang the door bell again. There was no response to the summons. The house was entirely quiet and still, the drapes drawn at all of the windows. It seemed that Mrs Vale was absent, taken in by relatives or neighbours for tea and sympathy, perhaps. Understandable, under the circumstances. Perhaps I should have relied on the telephone after all.

It had taken me an hour to reach the Vale homestead, including a ten minute stroll up-hill in the fresh air from the transit tube exit. I didn't have any kind of a feeling that someone was following me although my professional instincts were still on high alert. As I stood there, taking in the view, I caught a movement in the corner of my eye. I spun around. The twitch was from behind a closed curtain on the upper floor. I could just make out the slightest movement, as if someone had looked out to see who was persistently ringing the doorbell and then carelessly leaving the drapes swinging.

Someone was in, but not answering the door, it seemed. I made a show of ringing the doorbell one last time, standing around looking irritated for another couple of minutes, then walking off with every appearance of frustration. As soon as I was out of sight around the corner, I slipped into a side-street and hung around for fifteen minutes or so. It's just as well this job makes you very tolerant of boring waiting.

Then, of course, I snuck back to the Vale residence, moving swiftly and silently and keeping to the shadows as much as possible. I made it under the portico without spotting any movement behind the windows. I'm big for a Goblin, and my reach makes it easy enough for me to climb places which most could not manage. It was the work of a moment to clamber up one of the stone pillars which supported the portico and haul myself onto the flat roof. From there, I edged my way along a protruding ledge and made a short jump onto the balustrade of the balcony around the window where I had seen the curtain twitching.

I froze at a crouch, breathing as quietly as I could through opened mouth. Goblin houses are well soundproofed - they have to be, since we have such sensitive hearing - but I had just heard a sound. It was a cry, not of pain or sorrow or fright, but one of pleasure - distinctly carnal pleasure. I crawled forward, keeping low, and found a spot where the drapes did not quite meet in the middle. I pressed my eye to the narrow gap. Within, despite the dimness of the room, I could see two goblins, both quite naked and clearly enjoying each other's most intimate company.

One, the female, I had never seen before in person, although I recognised her from a photograph. The tanned and trimmed form of Merton Vale's wife stood grinning widely, her eyes flashing with excitement and pleasure. The other I knew from a recent encounter. Monzie Hosh was being entertained by the lovely Mrs Vale, in her own home, with her husband barely cold in the morgue. It was an affair that had probably been going on for quite some time, while the cuckolded husband was being distracted by a floozy at the club.

Interesting development...

Part 12 Part 14