by Trevor Hopkins

The speaker was Fowlis Wester the captain of police, although I had to check to be sure. His voice was calm and level, not the bellow I had experienced only yesterday, and he did not sound particularly angry - a state which hitherto I had assumed was a permanent condition.

"So kind of you to join us, Mister Private Detective," he added. His normal speaking voice, I was not surprised to learn, was a low growl, one which managed to convey more menace than when he was bawling in my face.

Wester nodded in the direction of Tarsapple, who grinned nastily; an expression, incidentally, which is particularly effective for a Goblin. It was the nod of a favour being acknowledged, the nod of one who appreciated that a quid pro quo would be forthcoming at some unspecified future time.

Tarsapple then turned on his heel and jerked his head at Glenshee, who was still standing by the open driver's door. The younger Goblin swung back into the vehicle and re-started the engine, while the other strode around to the passenger door. With much slamming of doors and a roar of the engine, the two Goblins drove off with a screech of tyres while watched unhurriedly by Wester.

I was still feeling extremely groggy, clutching my belly dramatically and wincing from the pain in my head. I'd like to be able to tell you that I was putting it on, exaggerating for effect, to unbalance my audience. Unfortunately, it wasn't true; I could barely stand and the riotous motion in my stomach was still threatening to overspill in an unfortunate fashion.

From the shadows further back in the room, another figure stepped forward. He was of medium height and with that portly appearance that often afflicts the well-fed Goblin in later years. The skin on his head yet retained the polished appearance that spoke of much expensive care and attention - oils and lotions carefully and frequently applied by young and tender hands, no doubt - but his face betrayed incipient wrinkles around eyes and mouth, lines which would soon deepen, if I was any judge.

The stranger was wearing a very well cut double-breasted suit - a good choice for one as rotund as he - with a low-key but obviously expensive silk tie held in place with a diamond tie-pin. His shoes were polished to a high shine, his nails - a Goblin's long, strong nails are not claws, by the way - were manicured and buffed, and his eyes bright with intelligence and perhaps just a little mischievousness.

"Mister Gask looks unwell," he purred, "Help him to a seat."

A couple of goons detached themselves from the shadows and moved cautiously towards me. The two silent and black-garbed Goblins caught me as I swayed, just before I actually fell over, picked me up under the armpits and deposited me with surprising gentleness on a chair in the centre of the inner room. They were private henchmen, I noted, not members of the police or the surface patrols.

"Better now?" Captain Wester enquired, with a noticeable lack of sincerity.

I grunted in the direction of Wester by way of a reply, unable to articulate anything more elaborate at the moment. I held my head in my hands, hoping against hope that the nausea would pass in a few moments. The pain came in waves, from my skull and my abdomen alternately. Eventually, I was able to look up groggily and take in more of my surroundings.

The office had been disused for months if not years, judging from the level of dust and dirt which had accumulated. Once, however, it had been a well-appointed workspace, with a large desk, new-looking filing cabinets and several of those modern complex-looking swivel chairs that are supposed to support all those body parts which needed supporting. Right now, one of them was supporting all of me.

The goons stepped back and stood silently and attentively, once near the office door and the other close enough to protect the older Goblin from harm even if I pulled a Uzi machine pistol from my coat pocket right this very second. Not that I could have aimed it straight anyway, in my current condition.

Part 32 Part 34