by Trevor Hopkins

Findo Gask business card Perhaps I should introduce myself. Findo Gask, at your service: Private Eye, Discreet Investigator and (occasionally) Bounty Hunter. Let me present my card. You might think it's blank, although it's actually printed in old-fashioned goblin lettering only visible in moonlight. An affectation, a little quirk of mine, I admit, but a useful precaution for one who visits the surface more often than he might like.

I am indeed a genuine private detective, licenced for both the underworld and the surface by the corresponding District Attorney, although the human authorities don't quite know to whom - or what - they have issued the licence. The work is erratic, to say the least, but mostly interesting, and keeps me (mostly) legally employed.

I am large for a goblin, grossing one-twenty pounds and four feet ten in bare feet. I can pass for human above-ground, if I have to, although the lift shoes are a pain, quite literally, in the ass and in the thigh muscles too. With a long coat to disguise my elegant goblin body - humans would think my legs too short and my arms and torso too long - and a turned-up collar and brimmed hat to shadow my face, I can get by on the surface, at least in the dim light that surface dwellers think of as darkness.

Contrary to popular opinion, goblin skin is not actually green - except occasionally, when too many alcoholic beverages have been consumed. Normally, it is a dark chestnut brown, slightly shiny like stained wood, and smooth and polished when young, although growing increasingly gnarled after two or three hundred years.

By the way, goblins do not have pointy ears or noses; it's just that humans have such stubby excuses for these appendages. My teeth are indeed sharp and pointed - goblins are carnivores, like most humans - but not the drooling fangs that overheated imagination would ascribe to them. My eyes are, in fact, green - but that's just a coincidence, my mother's eyes were a deep purple - and I usually need to wear sunglasses on the surface, the glare of the sun being far too much for my sensitive eyes.


I made my way downtown, taking a crowded transit tube and practically elbowed my way through the crowd to the exit. From there, it was just a ten minute walk to my low-rent office, off a side-street of a warren built against one side of a less-than-fashionable cavern. I collected my mail from the box by the front door, then walked up four flights of stairs - there are no lift-tubes here, sonny.

It seemed I had a visitor. The office door stood open; I don't bother locking it - this saves on door repairs and, besides, anything in the least valuable is stored elsewhere. A pair of highly-polished black wingtips, crossed casually at the ankle, were adorning the worn green dragon hide of the desk. They were resting next to a burgundy briefcase, both self-evidently locked and sparkling with the kind of anti-tamper glamour likely to explode in your face at the slightest provocation. A pawl of smoke crossed the desk from out of my line of sight, some of which was emanating from the bowl of a long thin pipe of white clay.

I stepped over the threshold, my own threshold - or at least the one for which I was usually able to pay the rent - and made a show of not noticing the visitor for a moment. He coughed carefully, once, and I turned around slowly, a smile crossing my face - or at least showing my teeth.

The stranger wore a well-tailored doubled breasted grey pin-stripe suit over a severe white shirt with diamond-studded gold cufflinks and an old school tie of sober colours held in place by a matching tie-pin. His face, the full face of a healthy and well-fed goblin still in his second century, wore an expression of permanent and rather smug self-satisfaction, an impression enhanced by the gold and diamond studs in his earlobes. Only his eyes looked out of place, cold hard grey eyes that had seen a lot, and weren't telling, with just a hint of worry tingeing their corners.

Accountants, I thought, they think they own the world.

I tossed my un-opened mail on the dragon hide surface next to his shoes and sat down heavily in the squeaky swivel chair on my side of the desk.

"Good afternoon," I said politely, "How can I help you?"

"Hmm," the stranger responded, removing his shoes from my desk and sitting only slightly less casually in my guest chair, "I'm not yet sure you can."

He looked around my office with an expression compounded of mild disinterest and vague distaste. I followed his gaze, glancing over the desk, the three four-drawer filing cabinets pushed back against the rock walls on one side, and a coffee table and two slightly saggy easy chairs lining the other side. All were plainly visible to goblin eyes in the gently glowing illumination from the airshaft and the bioluminescent fungi which grow everywhere down here.

"All right," he said finally, dragging his attention back to me, "What's your rate?"

"I get twenty-five dollars a day," I replied levelly, "Plus expenses. Take it or leave it."

He snorted, as if suppressing a laugh, and took a long pull on his pipe and let out the white smoke in a thin stream directed at the airshaft.

"I could probably find the dough somewhere," he said sardonically, "But can I trust you to keep your trap shut?"

"Sure, if you pay me," I said, "So quit wasting my time and tell me what's your beef?"

He snorted again, then took a slim pocket-book of black leather with gold fastenings from his jacket pocket, flipped it open, pulled out a couple of bills, leaned forward to place them carefully on the desk, returned the wallet to his pocket and sat back as casually as before.

I looked at the money, didn't touch it or reach for it. Two C-notes.

"Okay, you've got my attention," I said levelly, "So tell me what I have to do to earn that money?"

Part 1 Part 3