by Trevor Hopkins

The heavy front door closed behind me. I was once again out on the street in front of the imposing Vale mansion. I confess to have been unsurprised by this development. Why is it that so many females believe that vampish and wanton behaviour is a guaranteed route to trust and favours from anybody male?

After my revelation that I had - astonishingly - turned over the papers to the proper authorities, Alva Vale's interest in me waned rapidly, like someone switching off a light, her appetite for sex disappearing as if it had never been. She was quite an actress. Maybe it had been a talent she had perfected at the exclusive little private school where she had no doubt been educated. Or perhaps it was a skill she had acquired in later life, evidenced by her ability to ensnare a rich husband like Vale. I wondered what she really thought about anything: her leisured lifestyle, her close friend Mister Monzie Hosh, her dear-departed husband. Who could tell?

Alva Vale had turned away from me, then swept up the little silver bell that stood next to her drink and rang it impatiently. The housekeeper had appeared almost immediately in the doorway. She stopped and looked from Alva to me and back again, her face professionally expressionless - although I thought I could detect a hint of surprise. Perhaps I wasn't exactly where I was expected to be when she re-entered the room.

"Mister Gask will be leaving now," Alva said imperiously, her face a carefully bland mask.

I nodded politely to the widow Vale, then followed the housekeeper out of the room and back to the front door.


I turned on my heel and once again made my way down the terraced hillside to the less stylish and more heavily-populated regions of this cavern. I felt at home almost immediately. I dodged my way through the crowds on the streets, checking instinctively for anyone following me - I can't help being this paranoid, it just comes naturally to me - and then took the transit tubes back to more familiar caves.

Once in my home cavern, I approached my office building via a roundabout route. This was one of several I had very carefully scouted out before I selected this particular location for my business address. My path allowed me to get close to the building entrance with little chance of being observed. I stopped in the deep shadow of an alleyway entrance so narrow that few people would even realise it was there, the mere slit in the walls almost completely hidden behind a more than usually noisome trash bin.

I stood quietly for a long moment, watching and listening for anything in the stillness of the street. Finally, I caught a movement in the corner of my eye. On the opposite side of the road, not quite directly across from the main entrance to the apartment block, a dark figure leaned casually against a wall. He was positioned so that he was not visible to a casual observer and, to a less-casual observer, he might have been mistaken as someone who was just having a crafty smoke in a secluded place.

As I watched, I identified a second dark-clothed figure, and perhaps a third - it was hard to be sure at this range - concealing themselves in different doorways in other directions, all carefully ignoring each other. It seemed that Madderfy's goons were staking out my office. It was not a particularly imaginative ploy, more something straight out of PI School Class 201: "When you lose somebody you are tailing, go and wait for them somewhere they are likely to return to."

There wasn't anything vital for me in my office, no need to go there at all. I quietly backed away from the alleyway entrance, then turned on my heel and strode off in the direction of the transit tubes, leaving the goons to enjoy a long and fruitless wait.

Part 64 Part 66