Okay, here it is. Technically late, but since I haven’t slept yet, I consider it the third day of July still.
Today was one of those days where I started a story and went for a bit before I got bored and started a new one. I did it twice, though really the first and second stories are the same, I just started writing it in a different way. So, yeah, it’s probably a bit disjointed, but I’m publishing it anyway as proof.
By E W Morrow
Word Count – 2024
They found him in a little bar on the outskirts of Cleveland. It was still early, and when the three men walked through the door they doubled the bar’s patronage. The small man who entered last cast his glance around the room and, apparently satisfied, nodded to the other two. These men were not small. They were built like bulldozers and had personalities to match. They took special meaning from the small man’s simple nod and silently moved to obey they unspoken command. The first moved to the opposite end of the bar and took up a position roughly equal distance from both of the rooms visible fire exits. The second casually reached over and flipped the sign on the door so that it read “CLOSED” to the outside world. Then he moved aside. Only when both of the larger men were finished did the small man move into the room. He made his way slowly, but purposefully, to the end of the bar, and gently sat beside the man he had come here to see.
The bartender, a portly man with graying hair, sucked on his teeth but otherwise kept silent. He’d been a bartender a long time and felt like he knew where this was headed. Little men in expensive suits rarely ever wrecked up the place. Those that did tended to pay for the damages. As if on cue the little man pulled out a crisp hundred dollar bill and slid it across the bar towards the bartender.
“I’ll have a pint,” he said. He had a surprisingly deep voice for such a little man, and his tone was pleasant but suggested that he was used to being obeyed.
“Right,” said the bartender. “A pint of what?”
“Surprise me,” The little man’s smile uneased the bartender. “And another round of whatever my friend here is drinking.”
The bartender took the hundred dollar bill and made himself busy with the drinks. He poured a pint of the most expensive beer he sold for the little man and set it on the bar in front of him. Then he reached under the bar, grabbed the bottle of the cheapest whiskey he sold and filled up the other man’s glass.
“Leave the bottle,” said the little man, “and go away. The bartender did as he was told.
Once he was sufficiently pleased with the level of privacy they had, the little man turned to look at the man sitting beside him. The two made quite a contrast. Whereas the little man was immaculately dressed and carefully groomed, the other was a picture of slobbishness. Almost a caricature. He had long, greasy hair and at least three days growth on cheeks. His jeans were dirty and full of holes and his shirt had probably once had writing on it that was legible but was now too faded to tell. He turned and looked at the little man with bleary eyes, and it was obvious that the drink in his hand was not his first of the evening.
“I ain’t your friend,” he said. He drained the whiskey in one gulp and moved to pour himself another.
“And how would you know that, Mr. Grant?” asked the little man in the same pleasant tone he had used with the bartender. “You don’t even know who I am.”
“Sure I do,” he replied.
“And who is that?”
“You’re the government.”
The little man’s smile actually reached his eyes at that point. It was the first hint of genuine emotion he had shown since he’d entered the bar.
“What gave it away?” he asked.
“Because it’s always the government,” Grant grunted as he took another swig of whiskey. “I’d kind of hoped you’d given up after Seattle.”
“We thought it best to give you some time to cool down,” replied the little man. “And none of the agents were seriously hurt. Bear in mind that, had that been otherwise, we would be having this conversation under considerably different circumstances right now. I trust we aren’t going to have a repeat of that day, are we?”
The man called Grant looked around the room. True, the man beside him was little, and he did have a bottle close at hand, but the two meat sticks on either side of him looked like the kind of men who knew their way around a fight. He sighed.
“No, I don’t think we are.”
“So,” Grant said as he topped off the whiskey in his glass yet again. “Not to be rude, but what the fuck do you people want?”
The little government man answered in the same pleasant tone he always used. “Mr. Grant, we want the same thing we’ve always wanted. To know what happened that day.”
Grant sighed, downed his third glass of whiskey in five minutes, and hoped it would be enough.
I won’t bore you with the details. For all I know, you have a better idea of what we were doing there in the first place. Fuck if I know why a “geological survey” needed an armed from the national fucking guard. I think they maybe had some idea of what we were headed into, even at the start, cause it sure as shit wasn’t some routine survey like they said it was. There were six of us, five squaddies and Sargent Lucas, packed into a couple of Humvees with the three geeks. You ever try to squeeze nine people into two cars? Just glad we didn’t listen to the bald one and try and shove their fancy little gizmos inside too. Hell, I thought we should have strapped one of the geeks on top too.
It was me and Pierce in the back of the second car with one of the geeks. She was kinda cute I guess. Sharron, I think her name was? Maybe Cherri? Dunno. Anyway, Pierce was hitting on her pretty hard. I don’t think she had any more of a clue why there was all this fuss over a little scientific expedition either, but she did say that we were headed out to look into “unusual tectonic activity”, whatever that meant.
It took us three hours to get where we were going, which ended up being the dead end of a gravel road ass deep in the Ozark foothills of Arkansas. We got there just before noon, and even though it was halfway through October it was still hot as hell. Not sure if you’ve ever been down that way, but they get some nasty heat, all sticky and humid. Probably not as bad as it gets further south, but we were still feeling it pretty bad. The geeks had us take down their equipment and the bald one took a few “preliminary readings”. Basically he kicked some rocks over and fiddle with a few nobs on one of the heavier pieces of equipment. Dunno what good it did him. Maybe he didn’t like the….hell, soil composition or something like that. Maybe he just wanted us grunts to sweat a little more. Whatever the reason, he had us pick up the equipment and head off into the woods. I swear he made us walk uphill just to piss us off.
After about forty-five minutes we found what he was looking for. We came to a little clearing by the side of an old stream bed and finally got to put the equipment down.
Somewhere close by, people were arguing. Their voices, hot blooded and angry, echoed off the bricks and flagstones of the city, past little shops closed for the night, and by the time they reached the ear of someone prepared to do something about it, they were little more than garbled shouts with a hint of intelligence. The ear in question belonged to Detective Inspector Locke of the City Watch. He was standing, or, more accurately, lurking, in the doorway of a little all night cafe he liked to hit just before the end of his shift. He sighed and looked at his coffee, black as tar and just as thick. There was no way I’ll get to finish it now, he thought. And I’ve already dumped the rest of my brandy in it. He patted the flask in his left jacket pocket mournfully and sipped his drink. General public order wasn’t really his job, not anymore, but a case could be made that it was still his responsibility as long as he carried the badge, and he was technically on duty for another half an hour, and if he didn’t look into this, chances were that before long it would turn into something that WAS his job. Might as well save himself the paperwork.
He stepped off the stoop and made his way down the cobbles towards the disturbance. He took another drink to stave off the autumn chill. It had rained earlier, and the fog would probably be rising off the river soon, but for now the night was clear. It had been quiet, too, until now. High in the sky the moon hung, bright and swollen full. Locke’s father, who had grown up out in the sticks, had had all sorts of names for a full moon: Harvest Moon, Hunter’s Moon, Crow Moon, Thunder Moon. One for every moon of the year. In the city, where the seasons mattered less, the denizens had only one name for it. Copper’s Moon. A full moon bathed the streets in silver, made it easy to see and hard for anyone to skulk around in shadows. It tended to keep the more clandestine criminals indoors for a few days a month. But that didn’t stop the angry or just bloody stupid citizens from having at one at one another.
As if to highlight the thought, Locke heard a sudden change in the quality of the voices. The general tone slid from mutual anger to panic. He lifted his tin mug to his lips to gulp down the last of his coffee, and then splashed it on himself with a start when the violent crack boom split the night.
Oh hells, thought Locke. Someone has a powder gun. He took off running.
In ten seconds he’d gone a full city block. He almost tripped over himself stopping just as he reached the corner to the alley where he thought the sound of the gunshot had come from. Powder guns might be new to the city, but ranged weaponry in general was not. Stepping into a dark alley and making a nice silhouetted target against the lighted street behind you was a good way to end up dead. So Locke inched up to the corner slowly, then stuck his head around it just long enough to get a general idea of it’s contents. Even under the full light of the Copper’s Moon it was still too dark to make out much in the alley beyond a few feet. Unfortunately it seemed free of any convenient carts, barrels, or even garbage pails to duck behind. There was nothing else for it. I slipped his watch badge out of his pocket with one hand and felt along his belt for his truncheon with the other, which just happened to be holding his coffee tin. He cursed silently when he remembered that he hadn’t carried a truncheon since his promotion to detective inspector. Dead bodies and crime scenes rarely needed to be pummeled. So, just his badge and a tin coffee mug against an unknown number of criminals, at least one of whom was armed with a powder gun.
Locke took a deep breath, drew himself up to his full, not exactly intimidating, height, and rounded the corner.
“City watch!” He bellowed. “Drop your weapons and come out!”
His voice echoed off the brick walls of the alley and then there was silence. No cries of terror issued from the shadows, which was bad, but then again no one laughed or shoot at him either, which was good. He cautiously inched his way further into the gloom. Still, no one took a shot at him. With the exception of his thundering heartbeats, the alley was dead silent.
Especially the corpse, which was lying in a pool of blood twenty feet in.