by Trevor Hopkins

I stubbed out my cigarette and swung into action, the swivel chair creaking alarmingly as I stood up. Everyone knows that I keep nothing that is important at the office and the cops had no doubt recently verified this knowledge by the professional forensic examination they had given my workplace over the past few days.

I tugged the chair away from the desk, knelt on the floor and pulled out the deep bottom drawer where until recently my office scotch bottle had been. I pulled it all the way out, fumbling it over the little catches which prevent the whole thing from dropping on your foot, then reached to recover a couple of glamours I had stashed behind the rear panel, fixed in place with strips of sticky tape.

There was no magic involved in this concealment, which was why the cops had not found it. They rely too much on anti-concealment glamours, I think, and seem to have almost forgotten that it is perfectly possible to hide things in an entirely mundane way. That, or they hadn't really been trying.

A naive visitor from the surface might have asked: "what does magic look like?" He might as well have asked: "what does air look like?" Obviously you can sometimes see the effects of magic - like the deliberately warning effects of the protective glamour which was until recently engaged around the briefcase - but generally it is quite invisible.

So, potential magic - the kind I usually get from specialist advertisements in the back of those low-budget trade magazines - is carefully packaged, usually in little boxes of brightly-coloured folded card. The activation, a unique expression for each one - and not a "spell" at all - is printed on the outside, alongside the warnings, limitations and disclaimers that the manufacturers are compelled to include.

It was obvious that I was being watched, followed extremely discreetly by an expert: one who I had not always been able to detect and one I could not be completely sure of shaking. The two glamours that now sat on the worn dragon-hide desk - one box striped in dark green and orange, the other a pale cloudy gray - were intended for just such a situation: one where I was staked out in my own office and where I needed to gain a little advantage over hidden or unknown opponents.

I returned the desk drawer to its place and carefully set the swivel chair exactly where it had been when I had been cogitating earlier. I placed the green-and-orange box on the seat of the chair, opened it with a fingernail and read aloud the incantation. The little box disappeared, replaced smoothly by an image of myself, looking studious - or maybe just bored. The glamour would project an image - for all senses, including magical ones - of the entire room as it had been ten minutes ago. The magic would last for half a day or so - it was the best I could expect from such a cheap device.

Moving as quickly as I could, I grabbed the second box, opened it and uttered the magic words. The slight dimming of my senses confirmed that the invisibility magic was working. This was a standard product, and probably just like the one Clathy had used when she followed me from the Starfield Club.

There were just a few seconds when it would have seemed that there were two Findo Gasks in the room and it would have taken a very sharp-eyed observer to notice that little blip of inconsistency. Walking as lightly and softly as I could, I opened the office door just enough to allow me through and closed it quietly behind me. Off I went to the Starfield Club, again.

Part 48 Part 50