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Death's Blood Ch. Ten: Images

Ten: Images


    (It was late that same evening, having seen what Clement did. When I entered our less than humble home, there I saw my mother and Clement, both at the kitchen table, having blatantly wondered where I could have been for the rest of the day. It was my mother who asked, “All right, Love? Are you hungry?”
(I admitted, “I already ate. One o’ my classmates saw me, and pitied me.” It was one of those aggressively nice cats, and she talked her mother into making a ration for me as well.
(My mother asked, “Means that, you are open to making another friend?”
(I answered as I headed to my mattress, “Not really. I seldom speak to ‘er.” I ended up staring at the wall, just to avoid looking at Clement.
(My mother spoke, “You should look at me when you talk to me.”
(I don’t turn around or look over my shoulder when I retort, “Sorry, Mum, but I cannot look at…” She knew what I meant.
(It was still my mother who pressed. “I assume you have questions about… what you saw…”
(I sighed. “How long ‘as this bin happening?”
(Pause. “About a year”, my mother answered. “When you were a yearling, Clement was still in business as a… lender of sorts. He invested in businesses and got that money back gradually. He did stop lending, to settle fer an honest job, but people still owed ‘im money, and got aggressive about it.”
(I felt like crying again. “What abou’ the… smoll cuts on ‘im almost every week?”
(“Fight clubs.” Clement was the one to answer that. “There are workers who are willing to make a minimal bet, and fight anyone, simply to burn off anger. I did it for the money, of course.” I realised then how he was in a good mood despite the minor injuries; he would come home with some meat for my mother to cook.
(I finally turned around, and I stood up from the mattress. I said, “I cannot believe you Clement. Oll those lectures about attracting too much attention from committing crimes, but whot about you? Did you not care about the unwanted attention?” I didn’t wait for an answer. “I care not how much gambling you got away with and I care not how much theft you got away with. I always hated you, Clement. I always knew you’re not my father.”
(“But I love you and your mother”, Clement interrupted. “There is nothing t-change that.”
(I answered, “I know.” I took a long breath, feeling my eyes well up, before I continued, “But it changes nothing about you to me. If you truly love us, you would ‘ave given up on crime when I came along. You have made your last attempt to bring me close t-you. Never say a word t-me again.” I made that last statement with all venom that I could muster.)

    I wake in the morning in the inn. After stretching and feeling a strain, I check where I still have gauze clinging to me. I see that my wound is not infected. I run a finger over the skin break to know that. However, I realise that the wound is still tender and I note a bit of swelling. I wonder if it is natural of a wound, especially after I had to dig a bullet out. However, that cannot be my concern for the day. After I run a bath to start my day, I head to the butcher shop closest to the inn.
Only a few minutes after I had my breakfast, I realise that I know not what to do for the day. My best bet is to eavesdrop again for the time I have to wait for vital information from the child spies. I do just that: I head back to the square where the performers set up their tents for their routine street entertainment. I count the units again, to remember where my targets are, and establish my own spot. As I scale the townhouse, I see that dark clouds slowly move in on the area.

Before long, I see the black wolf with white ears and wearing a brown tailcoat, escorting the two rabbits, both of them wearing a suit with the same forest green. I hear the wolf speak, “Here we are.”
One of the rabbits comments, “You need not ‘ave escorted us.”
The wolf replies, “I wanted you to be on time and actually begin your performance on schedule.”
One of the rabbits says—I still cannot tell which— “You need not ‘ave bin so controlling.”
The wolf remarks to that, “I better get a pay out of this, regardless of how long I need be your bodyguard.”
The same kind of voice says, “Knowing that the vigilante is in town, it cannot be very long.” As before, I see the same officer, who I make out is a badger, goes no further than the distance of three units starting from where the rabbits are. Unlike him, the other officers, same ones from the yesterday, pace the full length of the square.
Before long, I hear wings flapping from next to me, and the familiar green-eyed and three-legged raven stands next to me on the same rooftop. I mutter to him, “I know not how long I need stay here, Michi. This will be a long day.” He just cocks his head, staring at me. I ask, “Did you find any other corvids with which you wish t-be familiar?” I pause. “Did you ever wonder if what you do best has a meaning?” He caws, but not loud enough to disturb the silver rabbits below me. The white-eared wolf must think that it’s nothing. I remember the letter that I keep. I remember that it is still in my inner breast pocket. I listen to the rabbits, to know that they have begun their performance. They would go nowhere in the day time. I climb down from the rooftop.
----- 

    I rely on Michi to bring me to the borough’s news publisher. I enter the workshop that takes up the ground level of the townhouse. I hear the printing presses whirring and the gears grinding to each other. I look around, seeing the complex contraptions of metal with rolls, bars, and spindle-like wheels. A white-tailed doe in a greyish white business shirt and black slacks approaches me and asks, “Can I ‘elp yeh with somethin’, Ma’am?”
I ask back, “Is the lead editor of Solmil Journal here?”
“She is in today.”
I look around before requesting, “May I speak to ‘er, please?” The doe leads me to the lead editor’s office. The one taking up the chair at the desk is another doe, also wearing a greyish white business shirt and black slacks. This doe is plump as I can tell by the face looking sort of round.
“What brings a wolf with one eye to printing guild?” she inquires.
I get right to it, saying, “I want t-know if yeh take freelance.”
She chuckles before responding, “Freelance is part of ‘ow the poor get by.”
I state, “I’ve a one-time request.” I pull out the letter that I have been keeping. I place it on the desk and add, “I believe, some deserve to know this story.”
The doe unfolds the page and reads it. I can make out some kind of sorrow as she reads through the life story of a man that I barely knew. She must feel something for how David’s mother and sister treated him in the past. Her mouth slightly open, I wonder if she wants to cry. She then takes a moment to collect herself. “I would like ter ask questions, so I kin get a story ‘ere.” I do not answer the doe, and yet I slowly sit down in front of the desk.
I say, “Tell me what y-want t-know.”
----- 

    Near the hour of five, when everyone packs up, I am on the same roof again to pry, I see the pair of silver rabbits make haste, on which the black wolf comments, “Whot ‘as you two in such an ‘urry?”
“Our job”, one of the rabbits answers just as hastily.
The wolf presses, “Your roles in that play? But it’s not for three hours.”
“We just want time to get into character.”
I note a pause before I see the white-eared black wolf get close to them, to say, “I told you, I hate being lied to.”
I see the two rabbits looking away from him, avoiding his eyes, probably for their colour and not his possible scowl. “We’ve another duty”, I finally hear one of them answer. “We are on a payroll by the Lowell House. We play tricks on others, to force others into servitude fer them.”
“Then you’ll need me”, he replies. “I am still your bodyguard.”
Michi is next to me on the rooftop. I tell him, “Michibiku. Follow them. The rabbits might ‘ave their own place fer records, if not other con artists.” That is when I realise, I cannot be everywhere at once.

It is during my dinner, a few minutes after six, I hear the familiar sound of rapping on glass. I hastily head to the window and open it, to let the raven in. As I head back to the table, I ask, “Is their hideout near?” The raven caws once. So, I add, “Is the red-eyed black wolf with them?” He caws once again. By eight, the rabbits are in the theatre. By ten thirty, the rabbits will be heading out along with the rest of the audience. That is when I shall strike. However, my business is here is still unfinished after that.
----- 

    (“How much longer d-you intend to ignore me?” Clement told me. He tried for so long to get close to me, no matter how much I’d drive him away. Now, our relationship was nothing. Even on this day, my birthday, which I did not care for, I wanted to be away from him. My emotions still faffed even months after the day I saw Clement be someone completely different from my step-father, who came home from work and tried making a good chin wag.
(I just stayed quiet and read what book I had to read for the class. I may have made friends, but they weren’t close enough to being called that. I was too depressed to get close to any of them. Any of them could have been abused by their parents and afraid for their lives, and I wanted to not know.
(My mother spoke, “I know you’re mad at him, but y-need to understand”-
(I interrupted, “There’s nothing to understand. Clement is a bloody hypocrite. I don’t care that it was out of your love; you want me t-not fight, but Clement fights and steals as much as I do, and you know it.” I had no reason to cry. “I don’t want yer protection anymore. I need to be able to make a living. If I have t-do it through crime, then so be it. We have the nobles looking down on us and making us grovel for no more than ten pence. We have taxes but they don’t. If that doesn’t change, the poor will barely know living.”
(My mother sighed. She closed her book as she said, “I have my own secrets, too, which are the same reasons I want you to not commit crimes. But I am not ready to tell you. I just need you to trust me.”
(I was not fully convinced, but I did concede. I went up to my mother, to hug her. I chose to get out, to read the book that I was given.)
----- 

    Where I am led by my raven friend is in the eastern area of the borough, one of the constructs near the town square. I head in the backdoor of the flat-roofed and long shelter. It is with my lockpicks, I make the wooden backdoor open. The room that I enter is filthy with rot and decay on the wooden planks making the floor, green splotches decorating it. The space is taken up by only two simple desks, two chairs, and two vaults, all in the centre. Those and the floorboards around it are the only clean space. It is hard to tell what this place was before, let alone what once occupied the place.
The vaults are simple ones this time, relying on keys to unlock them. I dash toward the desk to my left, and use my lockpicks on the safe, this one’s lock relying on three pins. I open it after what feels like an hour, and a lot of patience. I find not just money, but also letters from… Agnarge Asylum… I read one, to know that it is written by the lead surgeon, Diefenbach. This one tells me how he appreciates their efforts. I read another, requesting “to do what you do to bring him to the Asylum, so I can experiment”. A third letter that I read informs them of an individual “who is a threat to my biggest payer and I believe that his middlemen would make for good subjects of my personal research. Furthermore, Lord Lowell might need me to get information out of them.” This is it: the evidence that I need.
I burn off excitement by flailing my arms before I pocket the few wads of cash, and then approach the second vault. Again, I test my own patience, but I make the lock open, and I find other documents, telling about Giffard’s jobs for the Tirrell sisters as well as recommendations to recruit agents. Based on the number of times he has apparently recommended such, the Tirrell sisters have been adamant against it all this time. I also find birth records, which prove that Rhonda is really the older sister by one year and Lauren is not a twin at all. I pocket a few of the letters for myself. The rest, I plan to give to police. I have my pockets so loaded that I have to head back to the inn.

I hang subtlety for this instance, to leave all the stolen cash in my suitcase. As I still have time before the Tirrell sisters’ final show was to end, I choose that moment to bring the information to the station. I head there via carriage. I keep a steady pace when I do so. However, I have to meet a detour. A bullet fires, chipping the side of the carriage. A warning shot? Why bother?
I see where that has come from, for a carriage approaches me from the other roadway, and one of the two dogs in the front points a rifle at me. I move fast enough to not have the detail sink in. I jump off at nearly the same time I hear another bullet fire. I draw my Khopeshes as the carriage nears and rams into mine, the horses expressing their irritation at each other, if not the ones holding their reins.
I thrust my left Khopesh up the first dog’s chin—the one with the rifle—and use the blade to pull the limp body off. I climb up to the driver, wounding him before he can shoot me with his pistol. Having both blades pressed against that dog’s throat, I bark, “You know what I plan t-do. Who alerted you?”
The dog hesitates before he answers, “Lieven…” He then groans at the pain in his arm.
I demand, “How knows he of my presence?”
“A fox… told him…”
As much as I suppress my ire, I slash the dog’s throat, knowing that I have been followed. Still, I sheathe my Khopeshes, and get back on the same carriage that I have taken. Through patience and adjusting, I have the horse resume pulling the carriage.
I enter the front door of the station house, and there a secretary awaits. The deer at the wooden desk in the beige chamber looks at me sternly. I place the stack of pages on the counter of his desk, and tell the stag plainly, “Give these to Lieutenant Wickerson. They should interest ‘im.”
----- 

    I have no time now to call Jack about the fox having followed me to Solmil. The show is soon to end. I have taken a right amount of effort to get in from the back, and I take the stairs, which leads me to a corridor. I reluctantly go down it, to know that it leads to the dressing rooms. I head out that corridor, which leads me backstage. I tread carefully to avoid disturbing the grips keeping their eyes on the sandbags and the lights suspended by ropes.
In hearing the infamous rabbits, I note that one of them pauses during a line as if she has forgotten it. That is when I begin leaping, but land on only my toes to avoid making noise. When I am away from the stage, I quickly head to a corner, where I can stay with the darkness and wait out my opportunity.

As before, the rabbits are given a standing ovation. By the time the audience clears out completely, I get out of my hiding space, but I keep my hood up. This time, I make it to the dressing rooms and open the first door, to know that only the leading male rabbits were there. So, I open the next one, and there my two targets are. Unfortunately, so is their bodyguard, the red-eyed black wolf. He reaches for his pistol—
But I grab him, and with another big effort, I throw him against the wall, knocking him down and leaving a pile of clothes on him. As he struggles, I grab each of the two rabbits by their throats. I walk out the corridor and toward the back exit, them struggling and choking all the while. The rabbit in my left hand wears a button-down maroon dress; the rabbit in my right hand wears a forest-green dress with a white stripe down the skirt and having a lace on the chest.
I kick the exit door open. The second I cross the threshold, I toss the rabbits at nearly the same time. While they groan and scramble to lift themselves, I draw my Khopeshes. The silver rabbits see me approach them with the blades of the Khopeshes raised behind me. One of the sisters squeals, “Vadimir! Help!”
The other limps away, begging, “Get up! I’m not leavin’ without yeh!”
I leap toward the one limping. I end up pinning her to the pavement with my boot. I stab her in the back. As for the other sister, she finally gets up, squealing, “No! Lauren!” She is somehow paralysed by the sight of me, if not her fear. This rabbit, apparently Rhonda, hesitates, even when I stand in front of her. I do not toy with my targets, but I have the curiosity to test them, and this is such an occasion. It is my right Khopesh that I thrust into her midsection, and she coughs blood as I plunge the blade further, reaching the plate of her ribcage. I mutter, “Your sister is lucky that her death was not so brutal.”
I pull the blade out of her, making her stumble backwards. It is her body that I strip naked, for my friend to feast upon. I turn around—
And there the wolf is again, now pointing a pistol at me. In the fraction of a second he pulls the trigger, I leap aside, making him miss. I leap to him again, grabbing his arm—
But he turns me around. I elbow him so I can bend his thumb, and he drops the golden-brass pistol. I turn back around, drawing my Khopeshes again. He holds the hilt of his cane, which he pulls, revealing to really be a sabre. I hear a click, and it is hard to notice, but I see a spike at the end of his cane. I lean forward, narrowing my eyes, knowing that he wants a fight, and I cannot run from him.

The red-eyed black wolf stares me down before he thrusts his sabre up and down, me blocking each. He then swings his cane on me, and I am not quick to forget the claw of his cane, which I have locked with my left Khopesh. He attempts to wrest my Khopesh from my left hand, but I keep my grip as he pulls, and I have my right Khopesh about to stab him—
But he pushes it aside with his sabre. I kick his shin, but he does not even flinch. I butt my head with his, but he turns out to have a skull about as dense as my mask. We continue to pull at each other in hopes of disarming the other, and my paw pads are aching from keeping a tight grip on the hilts of my Khopeshes. So, I sweep with a leg, making him lose his balance. As the black wolf is off-balance, I adjust my blazer and my grips on the hilts. Just when the black wolf seems to still be in the process of recovering, I realise his feint when he blocks a swipe with his cane, and I am as quick to pull my left Khopesh back before he can wrest with it again. He makes a low thrust with his sabre, which then becomes an upward swipe, which I deflect with my Khopesh. I still lift it and use my left as a bar as I do. I perform a feint with my left Khopesh, swiping a downward arc, and then thrust both to my opponent’s chest. The black wolf deflects my attack. He pushes both my blades aside and then thrusts with his sabre. No time to block, I swiftly bend backwards, to make him miss, and then I seem to roll. Upon standing up straight, I spin and swipe, him blocking with his cane. This time, I run my Khopesh down, to get his hand. That has to have made a slit, but he does not lose grip of his cane.
With my guard down, he leaps to the side, thrusting to my side with his sabre, but I block it with my right Khopesh. I align with him again, bringing us back to where we started. However, he uses that moment to swing at me with his cane. I back from its path, but he swings it back and I have to no time to block it. The cane hits my neck, stunning me. I leap backwards so I can recover. After doing so, I perform a series of swipes, the first two being feints. My third attack is a scissor motion that he blocks and I scrape against them to take away his chance of wresting with them. I bring my Khopeshes together before swiping an upward arc from leg level and then performing a reverse-scissor motion.
This time, from the black wolf catching both my blades, he gives me no chance to get out of his grip. My paw pads hurt again, but I refuse to drop these weapons. These Khopeshes are like a part of me. We both have our arms stretched out and we both have our teeth bared from the intensity. I block his two kicks—
To surprise us both, we both lose grip of our weapons. So, we resort to hand-to-hand. I jab with each fist and then kick straight up, which barely taps him. The black wolf punches back, and I realise how hard he can punch when I block the blows. He knees me in the abdomen again, which stuns me enough for him to kick my shin, and then punch my right shoulder, that wound still tender.
The black wolf lifts me and gets a tight hold of my throat with just his right hand. I can only barely breathe. He punches me in the side and then above my breast, his knuckles like a hammer. He comments coldly, “I expected better.” Suddenly, I hear cawing.

I am suddenly out of the black wolf’s grip and I see why: Michi. He caws incessantly at the wolf, and I am frozen, until the wolf seems to have him away. I quickly retrieve my Khopeshes and run across the road. When I am past another block, I sheathe my Khopeshes and climb the wall of one of the flat-roofed townhouses. I sit down on the roof, panting, now thinking about that fight.
Almost instantly I am re-joined by my raven friend, who I look at sombrely. I look away from him in shame, but that shame being of myself. He caws to get my attention. Without looking at him again, I say, “You know why I do this, Michibiku… But you also know that I cannot do it without you.” I sigh before I finally turn back at him and add, “You gave up yer next meal to save me.” He knows also who has trained me in sword fighting. As I follow a code of honour, my shame is for how the fight has ended. He hops to my lap, and I stroke him. I will always be thankful for the corvid’s contribution to my missions.
----- 

    (I did not get home from school without taking one of my regular detours. I found a small amount of money, but it was better than nothing. I headed to my mattress, to place the handful of coins in the box that I’d been using to hide stolen money. I could have still begged for coins on weekends, but that was the level of desperation to which I refused to lower.
(My mother seemed to not care, for she was busy with her book, like she normally was, but now more than ever. She did not bother to acknowledge me. If it was over my anger to Clement, she was right. I cared nothing about how sorry he was. He could have a chin wag as long as he wanted to try with me and he could have given me some kind of bung, but I had long since given up on forgiving.
(Three hours of silence was broken by the door opening and Clement announcing, “I’m back from work.” He might have been surprised that my mother wasn’t working on dinner, not that I cared. He spoke, “Still up to that book, Malentha?”
(She replied, “It is far from complete, and I ‘ave been enduring cramps to finish it.”
(There was a moment of silence. “Malentha”, he spoke.
(My mother interrupted, “The memories are painful, but I would rather they be learned of all at once.”
(There was another moment of silence before Clement responded, “If you’re certain. Jus’ don’t push too hard.” Memories… I had my suspicion from hearing that. Painful memories in a book. Who would deserve to know them other than me?)
----- 

    It is at the time of sunrise, in but a few minutes of waking up. I hear rapping on my door. Having an impression of who is outside my room, I hurry to my suitcase to get a wad of notes. I have to look through them for fivers and tenners. I just have the appropriate few of those notes before I hear rapping again, and call, “Gimme a minute.” I remember to put on the eyepatch, which I placed on the night table. I wrap the bed’s cover around me and drag it as I head to the door to open it. There the landlord is, a coyote in a green work shirt and brown trousers with suspenders. I say, “Here t-collect rent?”
“As mandatory for each morning of yer stay”, he replies plainly.
I hand him the wad in my left hand. He counts the notes that I hand him, and then hands back the one tenner and three fivers. I have lost track of the regular rent for this inn, but I counted how many of those notes I gathered. The landlord adds, “I was also told by a rabbit kitten t-give yeh this.” He presents the parcel that he came to me with, and its contents are thin.
I quietly nod, and the coyote slowly turns, no doubt wondering I am starkers. However, I have other things to do. I relieve myself and then bathe whilst I have the parcel idle at the night table. How soothing the warm water is on my body. I welcome its embrace after I have lathered and rinsed. I have needed this from all the running around, and especially from the fight against that mercenary.
That is where my mind wanders: the mercenary. I have always thought of myself as a wolf like no other, having one violet eye, having a black pelt with grey ears, a short grey stripe across the top of my muzzle, a wide stripe encircling my neck, and a small white tuft in the centre of my chest. This black wolf has white ears, brown paws, a white nose, a brown mask of fur, and red eyes. Furthermore, I have seen his tenacity in how he fights and how skilled he is with his weapons as well as his fists. I sigh, questioning my own actions. My fight is not with the mercenary; it has never been with any mercenary, but they die if they get in my way. The only way to end that fight seemed to be to run from it, but I consider it dishonourable. It seems cowardly as well to only back up, but some strategy requires space. I have been slaying criminals with dual Khopeshes for three years; I wonder if the mercenary has been killing people for much longer than that.

“Officer Garvan Reilly. 38 years old. 140 centimetres. 60 kilograms. He has been on the police force for nineteen years, all that time in the Solmil jurisdiction. He has been known by other officers to be incompetent and egotistic. He has arrested only a few criminals, those being petty thieves, but he was brutal on them. He favours his baton over the use of his gun. Over the past five years, he has patrolled the Theatre Square, almost as long as the Tirrell sisters have worked for the House of Lowell.
“Reilly lives on 59 Alden Street. He has a wife named Moira who stays home most hours of each day. Their life as a couple is unknown, but she always looks angry.”
That is what is on the note given to me. I also have an artists’ impression of him. For a picture by a pup or a kitten, the drawing is quite professional. His pelt seems to be primarily brown and he has brown eyes. Finding him during his patrol might be a problem now that the Tirrell sisters are dead. However, my plot for an interrogation is not the only important thing.
----- 

    I enter the house of the Solmil police station. I pass the beige chamber, ignoring the deer calling me to halt, and enter a vaster chamber of desks where officers in uniforms wrote or typed, the electric generator growling in the distance. I walk along in my blue suit with brown vest and wearing my gold mask. When I reach the end of the noise-filled chamber, I am met by one of the station’s lieutenants, his badge indicating such, a black dog. He asks, “Whot’s so important that y-barge in ‘ere?” He sounds nonchalant, as if he has been told that I would do so.
I ask back, “Is Wickerson here?”
“He’s in. Personal talk?”
I answer as nonchalantly as he is, “You could say that.”
“Firs’ door from the stairs”, the dog says, pointing up, the start of the unpainted steps in front of me, but with a whitewashed railing. I head up those steps, my boots making deep taps against the wood.
I knock on the first door, which has a frosted-glass window, the wood of it being polished. Unlike the other doors, this one has no name. After three sharp knocks, I enter, and there the brown bear is, performing a series of what I assume is meditative exercises. He wears only his black trousers, which are supported only by a belt. His tailcoat is hung on a hook on the wall. He is well aware of my presence, but still keeps up what he does. I close the door, the sound of which is nothing to stun him, it seems.
I speak, “I hope this is not the wrong time.”
The bear replies monotonously, “I might always be caught at the wrong time. Jus’ tell me what brought yer ‘ere.”
I head to the desk, to use the pen and whatever page is close, to write down what I got from the young spy. I speak, “I need y-to meet me outside the following address, assuming yeh’re familiar with it.”
The bear finally stops what he does and picks up the page. He says, “Alden Street.” He places the page back on the desk. “Shady figure t-look into?”
I answer, “Exactly. There is a corrupt officer”—
He interrupts, “Corrupt officer? I doubt I can endorse yeh fer that. Besides, corruption is hard t-fight.”
I explain, “I saw this officer travel all the way from Theatre Square to Agnarge Asylum. That is extreme fer ‘andling a peace disturbance. If I can expose ‘im fer crime in the presence of an official, there is a good chance of ‘im facing charges, and maybe further loosen cogs in the machine.”
Wickerson sighs. He points when he says, “I may not understand what you’re after, Vigilante, but officers did not earn their badges pickin’ flowers.” He lowers his arm when continuing, “I will need bring the chief and two officers along as well, to carry this out. This needs t-be no folly. If yeh’re wrong, we are oll buggered.”
I say, “If I am correct about when a day-patrol officer gets off, meet me opposite that house at seven forty.”
“We’ll make that work. You should go now.” I nod and exit the office, leaving the lieutenant to his activity.

Before I exit the house, however, I have something important. In the vast work chamber, I head to the telephone in the middle of the wall. I dial the number and turn the lever repeatedly. As I do so, an officer barks, “That’s for police use only!”
I reply coolly, “This is important.” I can sense his urge to punch me, but he knows that it would make him look bad.
“Ahoy”, the familiar Glashish-accented voice says.
“Hello, Jack”, I reply.
The arctic fox jests, “So, Death calls to me. Sayin’ it’s someone’s time?”
I say, “Please, Jack, I need you to be serious.”
“No time t-be craic?” He pauses. “What brought you t-call me?”
“I am in Solmil right now.”
“Makes sense”, he interrupts. “Marius informed me of ‘ow yer offed Samuels and of ‘is intention t-sell what opium is in the factory as an explosive.”
“The Tirrell sisters are dead”, I state.
A moment of silence before Jack replies, “So… the actresses workin’ fer Lowell ‘ad their last curtain call… And y-tell me this, why?”
I explain, “I am given to understand that the con artists don’t put up a fight. So, they hire mercenaries as protection from whoever wants t-prove their fraudulences or calls them out in public. Lauren and Rhonda were no exception. The wolf that they hired, fought me because of the promise of a good amount of money—but engaged me after I killed them.
“I have killed people over the past three years since I returned to Highcond. All of them have been criminals armed with clubs, knives, canes, and guns. Until last night. Lauren and Rhonda are my first unarmed… enemies that I killed. If con artists are more intelligence than muscle, or if they simply got no bottle, that just is.”
Another pause. Jack speaks, “Okay, I see what y-mean. I did think that you would kill an unarmed target, seeing as some did not know you were there until their deaths. I still do not know what code of honour you follow, but I know who you are truly after. Whatever happens, happens. If you are disappointed in something, you are. When you reach your true goal, do not think too much on the circumstances leading to it. Whatever happened last night is over.”
Move on. Easier said than done. The past is the reason I have been pursuing the clan. I ask, “Jack, how did you first feel when you killed someone?”
“Regret”, he answers. “Me first kill in the battlefield was someone about my age, and fer a while, the image of his body haunted me. And me superior told me to move on from it. I realised, ‘tis a matter of them or us. So, I did move on.”
“There is one more thing, Jack. Dolan’s spy informed me that she saw someone follow me like she did, probably waiting at the same train station from Ashcrown. A red fox. And I know only a few.”
“Curious, indeed”, he mutters. “And I’ve ‘ad t-sort things on my own here at the Queen o’ Clubs fer a week.”
“Jack. You’re a good friend”, I tell him lowly.
“So are you, Death. Call me if somethin’ out of place involves me.”
“Will do. Good-bye fer now.” He bids the same, and I hang up.
----- 

    (Over the two months following my tenth birthday, I would come home to my mother busy on the book that she had been keeping. On this day, she was on the last page, which I could see by only peeking over her shoulder. I read no words that were already down. Instead, I quickly turned my focus on a week-old newspaper, trying to read what was there. I was glad to be done with school, but my reading was still far from perfect. My socialism was still below par. I would only say the casual stuff to other cubs on the grounds of the schoolhouse, but I was nowhere as close to them as I had been to Gaston.
(The issue that I read was about a factory with a nasty reputation being bought out within weeks of being shut down. The authorities had finally got off their arses and inspected, to know of cubs working in a hazardous environment and being paid only half of a pound each day. Even now, there was a chance of that building’s doors being permanently closed. I knew how the world of labour worked by then.
(Speaking of which, I heard Clement enter, and tried reading another issue on the paper, to avoid looking at him. I heard him say, “All right, Love?”
(“I’m all right”, replied. “I’m almost done this.” For some reason, she paused. “But I am trying… to write a proper ending…”
(“I understand”, Clement responded. “It needs not be somethin’… Jus’ keep it simple.” I didn’t make out the rest as it was a whisper.)
----- 

    I am at the townhouse as the address that I was given. I hear a caw, which prompts me to look around, examining the rows of townhouses closely and there is no one suspicious in range, but I look carefully at the other row, to make sure that none of those residents watch me. I turn back to the townhouse labelled 59, this having pale-brown bricks, like a few others do, but of different shades. This house has a flat roof of stone and no shingles. It has only one floor. The windows are only glass, no frame except the cement keeping it in place.
I walk up to the wooden door, which has no pattern except that it’s planks and has a metal knob. I open it without knocking, and then slowly close it behind me. I am clad in my blue suit, brown vest, and my gold mask. My Khopeshes are on my belt, concealed by the long tail of my blazer, my stiletto on my left boot. The walls of the interior are bricks like the outside and there is little to the imagination. The living space is the first room from the doorway, expanding to the sides. The floor is wooden. On the left is a clean-looking couch, green one-piece cushions over polished oak, and short and thin legs. There are no decorations. Only a rectangular table and a bookcase show life in the place. The only smell that I catch is that of stone.
I head slowly past the drab brick walls, and head left, to the bedroom, which seems as desolate. Wardrobes of polished oak and large four-poster bed occupy its space decorated by drab wallpaper. I cannot think about it for long, for I hear the sound of low crunching, which could only be grainy dirt stepped on. I turn around—
And there a female badger is, grabbed in the blink of an eye by the arm and me behind her. This badger looks average, having a thin muzzle, the face white, but with black stripes from the eyes. She wears a pink dress with frilly laces at the cuffs and a closed neck. I tell her lowly, “Do not scream. I see no point in harming someone of your stature.” I sense her hesitation. I let go of her arm. She slowly turns around, to see my eyes. I see hers, which are brown. I inquire, “You are Moira Reilly, correct?”
She hesitates, letting out only a short breath, before she speaks up, “Correct.”
I add, “You are married to Garvan Reilly, correct?”
She answers nervously, “C-correct.”
I explain, “Your husband has information that I want. I know him to be a police officer, but he went over the line for a supposed arrest. I would hate t-use me blades on you. That is why I need you to co-operate with me on a plan, and he is more useful to me alive.”
The badger says, “I care not what he has that you want, if not revenge fer a false arrest. I ‘ave bin ‘is housewife fer the past eight years. My parents betrothed me to the wanker without question.”
I cannot help everyone. I tell her, “If you truly loathe ‘im, you will do as I say.”

“I hope this is worth the time”, the chief, a taupe grizzly bear, states. “I cannot believe I need take orders from a sword fighter with a mask.” The Solmil police chief, along with two dogs that are officers, and Wickerson are all there, using the house opposite that of Reilly’s to snoop.
Wickerson, having heard the bitter statement, replies, “I can assure you, she ‘as not bin wrong. She ‘as fulfilled bounty ‘unts in Sputure, Ashcrown, and now here.”
The chief objects, “If she could do oll that, why did she kill those two bunnies?”
One of the dogs, who watches through the window, interjects, “One of the officers told me, he heard her say on her telephone call that they had a mercenary.”
Wickerson seems to ignore that statement. He says, “She azzer reason t-kill. We knew nothing of their criminal ties until yesterday. I believe that there was no warrant to arrest either of them.” I cannot believe I have to listen to an argument. The bears exchange their objections as time goes on.
Eventually, I hear, “Reilly is here!” Pause. “He is entering his house.”
I speak, “Give me five minutes with ‘im before you follow.” I leave before anyone can object.

I head right in the house, but slowly opening the door. I see him head into the bedroom, the housewife assuming her role quite well. She has her muzzle locked with him as they stand before the bed. She undresses him and caresses him at the same time, managing to keep him distracted. His tunic is on the floor when I am at the threshold of the bedroom. His pistol and baton are on the nightstand. His pants and underwear drop to the floor. She begins stroking his sensitive area as she hands me his pair of handcuffs. I wait a few seconds—
Then, I lift his arms, pulling him toward the bed. I quickly fasten the cuffs on both his wrists, its chain behind the pole of the bed. He shouts, “WHOT THE BLOODY ‘ELL IS THIS SHIT?! WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU?! WHOT THE FUCK D-YOU WANT?!”
I look down upon him as he struggles to pull himself free. I draw my left Khopesh, and have its hook at his chin. That quiets him. I tell him, “Struggle. And you are dead.”
The badger spits, “This is a criminal offense, bitch!”
“But you cannot arrest me like that, Reilly.” I lower my Khopesh before I add, “What I want is answers.”
“A masked housewife interrogatin’ a police officer? You’re off yer rocker!”
I kick him where it hurts, making him groan. I tell him, “If you want me to not do that again, watch what y-say.” I still have my Khopesh in hand. “You will give me what I want, regardless.”
“GO TA HELL!” he snaps.
I kick him there again, making him groan a little louder. “Now do you understand?” I ask. He just snarls and glares at me.
“I’ve been told of your reputation as an officer. You come off as incompetent, yet vicious. I know no specifics, but my informant is aware of you giving bea-ins to thieves, using more force than needed.”
“Ask any officer; everyone ‘as dirt on someone.”
“I am given to understand that you get paid to arrest criminals. It is part of having order in the city. And yet, despite those few arrests, you’ve bin able t-do well fer yerself. You eat enough and you provide well fer a clean house. Someone else pays you.”
“Sod off”, he mutters.
I turn around before I kick him as hard I can, making him squeal. He pants. I explain, “I saw you at the Theatre Square, and you seemed to stay close to the Tirrell sisters for someone on patrol. Then, even though their bodyguard had ‘im, you stepped in an’ nabbed a dog calling them out on tricking ‘is sister into servitude. Where you took ‘im was not to the police station, but all the way south to the scariest place in oll of Highcond: Agnarge Asylum. You claimed to the cat at its door about ‘is mind.” I pause, seeing him only scowl, but I can sense his urge. I continue, “I know all that because I followed you there.” The badger snarls at that, struggling to get free, but it would still be a while before the chain and cuffs scratch the wood enough to break the pole.
I have the tine of the Khopesh just touch his midsection. I ask, “How long ‘ave you bin workin’ fer the Tirrell sisters?” Pause. I repeat, “How- long?”
“Ten years!” He admits. What a coward. “They came to me, when they were already con artists, saying that they needed help with harassers. I bin bringin’ those ‘harassers’ to Agnarge Asylum, claiming that they are unstable, over the past five years. It is their boss that pays me. I know only ‘is name, but ‘is men bring me the money. I never seen ‘is face.” He needs not tell me the name of their boss.
I sheathe my Khopesh. I admit, “I expected you t-last longer.”
The badger looks around, dumbfounded. “That’s it? What plan you t-do with this information? It is only words.”
I object, “Think again.” I speak up, not turning, “Is that enough information, Lieutenant Wickerson?”
The bear walks in, replying, “Good fer a prosecution.”
I pick up the key from the pocket of his discarded pants, which I hand him. “He’s all yours, Payton”, I tell him. The bedroom then becomes crowded, the two dogs entering and having their guns at the ready.
Wickerson says as he refastens on of the cuffs, “Garvan Reilly, you are under arrest for corruption.” He exits, needing to crouch to cross the threshold, followed by the two dogs.
“Thank you”, Moira says. “You really helped me tonight.”
Without looking back, I reply, “You need not repay me. Besides, I see no time to wait on my business.” I am about to leave, but I sigh, and turn around. I ask, “What will you do now that your husband’s prosecution awaits?”
“I will need to attend it”, she answers. “But when I know that he is sentenced, I will divorce and move. I always ‘ated this place.” Good idea.
I head out of the house, my destination being the workshop.
----- 

    I just had to take a detour, buying a nice slab of meat from a butcher on the way. My money is good with or without my mask on. I expect them to be eating as well, but it is still important. I knock on the front door twice before opening it myself. “Lady Death!” the cubs call with excitement upon my entrance. There they are, eating what dinner they have, their tables arranged for it. I feel so sad for them; I know not whether these cubs eat well and sleep well. I can send them to Mau-Re Sanctuary if I want to, but I cannot watch over them.
None of the rabbits are bothered in any way about the foxes and stoats eating meat. The smell of broth is still fresh, its fumes lingering, but at its strongest when nearest the pots, where Leigh-Anne is. She is near the wood oven and a makeshift fire stove, operated by two other rabbits. She asks cheerfully, “Come t-join us, Ma’am?”
I am tempted to say no again, but I get to the point instead. “I promised a pay fer yer services. I plan t-leave fer Agnarge tomorrow as my work here is done.”
She stops what she does—overseeing the progress of the boiling vegetables and the charring meats—and looks up at me, ears drooping. She whines, “So soon?”
“I came here fer only the Tirrell sisters, and I now ‘ave one o’ Giffard’s gears ta take out of ‘is clock.”
Leigh-Anne looks down, seeming to be in her own world. She has to be tapped on the shoulder by one of her friends, another golden-brown rabbit, to tell her something, and Leigh-Anne quietly acknowledges. I take a wad of notes from my inner breast pocket and count them, but I look around, to know how many cubs are at those tables right now. I look back at Leigh-Anne, reminding myself, I cannot help everyone. I tell her, handing the wad, “Your informants were of great help.” She accepts the money as I add, “And I am thankful for that.”
Leigh-Anne looks up again, asking, “You say you intend t-go to Agnarge?” I nod. She adds, “I should send an informant. Make sure you’re not followed by the same man.”
I reach into my other inner breast pocket, for the slab of meat wrapped in paper. I say, “On second thought, I would like to stay fer dinner, assuming you’ve a few roots t-spare.”
Leigh-Anne takes the wrapped slab and answers, “We always make sure of that, Ma’am.”

The evening and night seem to have gone by so fast after all that I have done here. Apparently, the con artists have become scared, knowing of the three fulfilled bounty hunts and the deaths of the two actresses doubling as Giffard’s agents. I see that on the front page of today’s paper, but I still have my attention on the paper from yesterday, for David’s letter to me being published. That also makes me wonder about that dog named Finnis, how he felt about my promise turning about to be empty.
I have made promises before. I have promised to eliminate the crime clan owned by the Lowell House. And I have promised to serve the Mau-Re Foundation, living by its creed. I can only fulfil one promise, just like I have one face that is never seen.
 



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