At about the same time Gideon was sipping tea in the Ohmdahls’ flat, Erasmus Ellison was cooling his heels in the outer lobby of the Ninth Precinct building.
The joint was crowded this morning, filled with citizens who were filled with complaints, waiting for an available officer to take their statements.
No few of those waiting were in from Marlboro Avenue and its neighboring streets, all witnesses to, or victims of, the brawl that had erupted the night before.
There were also the proprietor of Kit’s Diner (unaccountably a fellow named Sol), furious over the wreckage done to his place, and aiming to file a warrant against a missing employee. Seated near the furious Sol was the owner of an allegedly stolen Edsel Comet.
Add those to the usual swarm of crimes in a city this size, and the result was a full precinct.
Ellison wouldn’t have been cooling his heels with the rest of ‘em, except that DS Hama had insisted he should come to formally swear out a warrant against his alleged attacker, Gideon Quinn.
Ellison had agreed, not because he had any desire to assist Nike’s police force, but because to refuse would look suspicious.
Now here it was, well into the day, and his dodgers would be back at the hive, unsupervised, where Ellison was sure they’d be helping themselves to a portion of the night’s takings (it’s what he’d have done), leaving him just enough to avoid a beating.
Bad enough Mia was running loose with that thrice-damned draco, he’d not lose an entire night’s take just so the constabulary could officially search for this Gideon bleeding Quinn.
Disgusted, he rose from the narrow slice of bench he’d managed to hang on to for the night (he hadn’t even made it to standing before it was taken by a bleary-eyed tram conductor missing his coat) and stepped up to the arch leading to the foyer and sergeant’s desk.
He was just about to scarp for the exit when he spied Mia, oddly in the company of half a dozen coppers, including the two who’d questioned him at the Elysium.
Odder still, she wasn’t being hauled in, but rather leaving the precinct building in their company, chatting easily with a youth on the taller side of medium height and, most damning of all, that bloody draco on her shoulder.
Ellison, staring after them, was shocked, not so much by her presence, but by her attitude.
Standing tall, hands moving expressively, her face open and relaxed in a way he’d never seen.
It never once occurred to him this was what happiness looked like.
What did occur to him, once he was able to see past the red haze, was that she was going somewhere with the coppers.
Not twenty seconds later, he was out the door, watching her climb on the back of DS Hama’s mag-cycle, while the youth straddled Officer Prudawe’s vehicle. All around them, officers were hopping on their rides, checking their weapons, all practically glowing with eager efficiency.
Ellison hated every bleeding one of them.
As cycles hummed to quiet life, he glanced around and, oy! It looked as if some honest citizen had left their Edsel Comet right in front of the station, mistakenly assuming their property would be safe in front of the coppers’ house.
What honest citizens never thought, was how many criminals passed through the precinct on a daily basis—something the Comet’s owner learned when he finally finished his paperwork, and came out to find his car had been stolen.
Clive Wendell was not a happy man.
He’d a lump on the back of his head the size of an orange, his jaw ached, and his guts felt like someone had used them for a punching bag, which, in fact, someone had.
Wendell really wanted to see that someone again—to return the favor.
Unfortunately for Wendell, his crew was made up of…
“…a passel of morons what couldn’t find their own arses in a blackout!” he exclaimed, then winced because talking hurt his jaw. “One man,” he moaned, leaning his forehead on the bar in front of him. “One tall sodding bugger, and not a one of my boys can find ‘im.”
“Hard luck, that,” the man on the other side of the bar commiserated, though not very enthusiastically.
The lack of enthusiasm was due mostly to the fact that the bartender, Martin Soong, was also the owner of A Fine Mess, which was Lower Cadbury’s last pub standing and, as such, also required to pay Wendell for the privilege of not being burned to the ground.
“It’ll go a lot harder on him,” Wendell said, raising his head to stare expectantly at his empty glass.
Martin took the hint, and dug out the good stuff, which was only slightly less likely to eat a hole in one’s stomach lining than the bad stuff, and poured. “Never seen the fella before, then?”
“Didn’t I say that?” Wendell tossed the liquor back, and then coughed. “Bloody keepers, man, why can’t you serve somethin’ less lethal?”
Because I can’t afford it, Martin thought. Because all my profits go to making sure you and your lot don’t burn my joint and break my fingers. “Inflation,” he said with a shrug.
“Swarmin’ economy’ll bleed us all t’death,” Wendell griped, downing the rest of the shot.
Martin, wisely, said nothing, and poured another shot.
“I’ll tell you what, though,” Wendell said as he eyed the glass greedily. “I’ll be payin’ a visit to yon Doc Hama, I will. It was ‘im yapping that brought the tall bugger, so’s maybe I get ‘im yappin’ again, the tall bugger’ll make another appearance. Only this time it’ll be me and my boys waiting.”
“And won’t that be fun,” Martin murmured.
“Nothing,” Martin said, tipping another slosh into the glass. “Only, you do know Tiago Hama’s father is a cop?”
Wendell was apparently unimpressed. At least the pfffft-like noise he made sounded unimpressed. “What good are coppers in Lower Cadbury?”
What good, indeed, Martin thought.
“Only law here,” Wendell continued, on a roll, “is mine.”
Maybe I could pack up shop and move, Martin thought. I hear Edsel’s nice this time of year.
“What?” Wendell started to stand.
“What?” Martin asked, afraid he’d used his outside voice, until he realized that Wendell wasn’t talking to him, but to the man who’d just walked in. “Hello?”
“Good day to you, Mr. Bartender,” Ulf Ohmdahl said. “Ulf Ohmdahl, at your service. But excuse me, for I am speaking to this piece of mammoth dropping here.”
Wendell started to stand, tiny eyes glittering with menace. “Are you talkin’ to me?”
“Did I not say this?” Ulf beamed. “For you, Mr. Wendell, I have a message from my good friend, Gideon Quinn.”
“And who the flamin’ turd is Gideon Quinn?”
Martin, with that uncanny instinct of bartenders from ancient Earth to modern Fortune, removed Wendell’s glass, the bottle, and any other incidental breakables from the bar.
“Gideon Quinn is…” Here Ulf paused, his mighty forehead screwing up in thought. “Ah yes, Gideon Quinn says to say, he is man who pounded your sorry ass into pavement early this morning, and if you know what is good for you, you will be taking yourself and your bottom-feeding enforcers out of Lower Cadbury by sundown.”
“Know what’s good for me?” Wendell asked, visibly shocked.
Martin could understand this, as thus far no one had dared stand up to Wendell.
Well, that one gal had, an ex-corpsman, she’d been.
Her body had been found floating in the Avon the next day.
“So he says,” Ulf nodded.
“And does this Gideon Quinn say what’ll happen if I don’t know what’s good for me?”
“Wait, I must think,” Ulf said, looking a bit troubled. “Ah!” He pointed a massive finger upwards as if remembering something, “Yes. He says if you unwilling to take easy way, you should be going to Nine Hundred Nineteen Penelope Street, at sixteen hundred hours, that is being two in the afternoon, for you civilians,” he added helpfully.
“I know what swarming sixteen hundred hours is,” Wendell snarled with enough vehemence Martin knew he was lying.
Wendell had never enlisted, preferring to hide out in the bombed-out ruins of Lower Cadbury and make war on the survivors.
“Then you will be prompt,” Ulf said with a smile. “Or you will be gone, yes?”
“Yes,” Wendell said. “Wait, I mean no! No, I will not be gone from Cadbury. I’ll bleedin’ burn Cadbury to the ground before I leaves it.”
“Funny,” Ulf said, though now he was absolutely not smiling, “that is what Quinn says you would say.” He looked over to Martin, “Goodbye, Mr. Bartender.”
“Bye?” Martin said, half-raising the soiled bar rag at the departing Ulf, not entirely certain what had happened here.
“Two o’clock,” Wendell muttered, rising from the stool and heading for the door. “I’ll be ready before two o’clock. Me and my bottom-feedin’ enforcers will take ‘im by surprise, and then we’ll see what’s good for me.”
Martin watched Wendell stalk—well, limp, really—away, and decided it would be wise to close up shop for the day, if not the week. He could visit his sister, who worked the Avon docks.
He didn’t much like his sister, and she forever smelled of fish, but better a day in the company of old salmon breath than stay here and wait for whatever fallout fell out from Wendell’s visit to 919 Penelope Street.