by London Lampy
When I arrived at my office I found it empty, but Vio had left a note on my desk to tell me to come to Sampson's office, so I have. In the outer office Miss Collister glares at me, clearly not having forgotten my interest in her typewriter yesterday. "They are all in sir's office," she points to the door. "You, young man, are late."
I nod then carefully open Sampson's door. As I enter the room a dozen heads swivel to look in my direction and Vin, who's standing at the head of Sampson's meeting table addressing our entire department, breaks off from what he was saying to briefly give me a hard green stare, and then picks up again. I take the nearest empty seat at the table which happens to be next to Kezlo. "Have I missed much?" I ask quietly into what I think is his ear, I'm never quite sure with visks.
"Yes," he replies. Great.
It was the trip to the bookshop that made me late. I did think that even with having to go there I would just about make it on time, but I reckoned without Topher's boss. Mr Lustrum, and his many cats, live over the shop and I caught him having a breakfast of tea and toast while the cats tucked into some kind of rather smelly fish. The old man insisted on making me a cup of tea and then wanted to know all the details of how Topher came to have been shot. This led onto questions about Topher and me, then finally me, and by the time I managed to make my excuses and leave I think he'd had my entire life story. Mr Lustrum is a nice man, he's even going to shut the shop up at lunchtime to go and see Topher, but he does like to talk, and ask questions, and now I'm late on the day after someone attempted to kill Sampson and no one could have failed to notice.
It seems that Vin has been explaining about what happened last night, which at least I already know, and is now saying that all non-essential work must be shelved until we've caught the person or persons responsible. He goes on to detail what he wants each pair of investigators to do this morning. Vio and I are tasked with tracking down an individual who goes by the name of "Harry the Bastard" who makes a living by selling information to the highest bidder and has provided us with tip-offs about Clearwater in the past. Harry is not a pleasant man, and he smells bad, but it could be worse, Sonja and Kezlo are being sent to talk to Mother. Mother is the head of the most successful criminal organisation in the city and an utterly disgusting man, his main source of income is derived from prostituting children.
Once Vin has finished Zale gives a speech about how important this all is, telling us how an attack on Sampson is an attack on the whole company and that we need to show that this will not go unpunished. Sampson himself then makes a speech about the honour of the company; he looks tired and worried and for the first time I can see traces of the old man he will one day be. Unusually for him he keeps it short, which must be sign of how much it affected him, and when he's done the meeting comes to a close. The others start to chat and drift out of the room, as I'm getting up from the table Vin calls me over to the edge of the office where he's now standing.
"You're late why?" he asks, not bothering to lower his voice. Several people turn and look at us on their way out. I'm very tempted to reply loudly that it's because in his attempts to seduce me last night he bought me so many drinks that I spent the rest of the night throwing up, but I don't. Instead I explain about my visit to Mr Lustrum's shop to tell him why Topher won't be at work today.
"That's acceptable I suppose," he admits. "How is he?"
"Much the same as when you left him," I reply, giving him my best pissed off glare.
"That would be making a lot of fuss about a very minor injury then."
"He told me that you came on to him," I say this quietly, even though the room is almost empty now.
"Did he?" Vin quirks an eyebrows at me.
"Are you surprised? He's very beautiful." I hate myself for it, but I fell a small splinter of envy when he says that about Topher. "I assume you told him to stay away from me?"
"No, I didn't." You don't tell Topher what to do, or he'll do the exact opposite. "How's Toni?" I ask, trying to be the one to throw him off for a change.
"Out of town, on her way to visit an old school friend down on the west coast. She left this morning and will be gone for the rest of the month." So Vin is all alone for a few weeks, no wife to keep him in any kind of check. "How's solider boy?"
"Jack's fine," I reply flatly.
"Got over the shock of finding out you're living with another boy yet?"
"He's fine with it." He's far from it, but I'm not admitting that to Vin.
"So the way is paved for all of you to end up in a nice cosy threesome then?" He gives me a crooked smile. A very appealing image forms in my head, an image that unfortunately is never going to become a reality. "You hadn't thought of that until I just suggested it, had you?" Vin laughs.
"I...oh fuck off." He laughs even harder at this.
"You do know that insulting your superior like that is a disciplinary offence don't you?"
"Yes, but you wouldn't report me. If I had to stand in front of Zale to explain myself you'd come out of it a lot worse than me."
"Blackmail?" he still looks amused.
"No, just the truth."
"But there can be many versions of the truth..."
"Exit!" Vio calls out from the other side of the room. "Come on, we've got stuff to do."
"Go on," Vin nods in her direction. "You and Violet have "stuff to do", but just bear in mind, if Jack isn't into that threesome idea..." He doesn't need to say the rest, and I cross over to Vio wishing that the images in my mind weren't quite so vivid.
"Thanks," I say to her once I get outside Sampson's office.
"For what?" she looks confused.
As we head back down in the stairs to our own floor she pulls a folded sheet of paper out of her trouser pocket. "I managed to sneak a letter from Miss Collister's out box while she was looking the other way, this should tell us if Menna's note was written on her machine or not."
"Don't we have to go and find Harry the Bastard?"
"Yeah," she grimaces. "We'll have to do that first, I just hope it's early enough in the day for him to be reasonably fucking sober, and that there's a chance he might have washed since we last saw him."
No one likes Harry the Bastard, which I suppose is why he's called Harry the Bastard. Criminals don't like him because he's a snitch for money, the police don't like him because they have to pay him to talk and he charges a high price for the whole story, and everyone else doesn't like him because he's unpleasant and smelly. He has a knack of knowing a person's weak point and likes to prod at it, knowing full well that if it's information you're after from him you can't answer back or he'll clam up. He's been beaten up more times that he can remember by criminals, or their friends, out for revenge. Because of this his mouth is lacking a full set of teeth and his nose isn't quite the right shape, but since he spends most of his time drunk I guess the beatings don't hurt as much as they might. I suppose he's found himself a niche in life, making a kind of a living from creeping around and knowing what people don't want him to know, but all the trouble it causes him doesn't seem worth it.
After an unpleasant morning spent visiting every park bench, alleyway and dark corner of the city that people like Harry frequent to drink the day away while the rest of the world goes on its business around them we find him alone under a railway arch near the central station, where the trains rumble overhead every few minutes and the whole place is blackened with soot from the engines. It's another hot day and Harry's smell seems to be particularly ripe, my hangover had almost gone but the pungent scent wafting from him makes my stomach do queasy flips again. He's sitting on the pavement with his back against the grubby brickwork, a greasy looking cap set out in front of him in the hopes that the few passers by who walk down here will drop a coin in, so far none have. His eyes are closed and he looks to be dozing so Vio pokes him in the leg with the toe of her boot to get his attention.
"Hello Miss Vio," he says once he's opened his red rimmed eyes and seen who has disturbed his doze. His missing teeth make him speak in a wet, mushy kind of way. "Thought I might get be getting a visit from one of you lot this morning, you'll be wanting to know who took a pot shot at old Sampson last night won't ya?" The news has clearly travelled fast. "Now, am I in the mood to talk today?" He scratches his stubbed chin in mock thought.
"Harry, I don't give a fuck what kind of mood you're in, I'm not in the mood for your games," Vio growls at him. "If you know something I'll pay you, and if you don't we'll be on our way."
"Let's see what I do know," he looks at the pair of us. "I knows that the little monkey was there," he points at me, "an' that instead of hitting the boss the shooter got a very close personal friend of his," he leers as he says this. I wonder how the hell he knows about Topher, but then information is his business. He might be a drunk but he's far from stupid. "An' I know that no bugger was caught last night...and seeing as you're here now I'm guessing that no bugger has been caught today...an' if you want to know any more it'll cost ya."
Vio glares down at him, but she knows he's got her in a corner, and so does he. Harry clearly has some source of information here, he knows far more about what happened than he could have picked up from casual gossip and he wants us to be aware of that fact, but how far does his knowledge go? Does he have information we don't, or is this all bluff?
"Fuck it," Vio mutters, dropping a few coins into his hat. He peers at them critically then shakes his head, his thin greasy hair doesn't move, it seems stuck to his head.
"That ain't enough," he scratches his scalp, then examines his grimy fingernails to see what he's caught under there. I wouldn't be surprised if it was something alive and I take a small step back, which doesn't escape his attention.
"Fussy one ain't ya?" he grins at me. "But that's what you get from bein' raised by nuns, clean body, clean mind, that's what they teaches ya, but you know what? I don't reckon your mind is really that clean at all." In another life Harry would have made a good investigator, I really wish he didn't know quite so much about me.
"You're not getting any more money out of me unless you have something worth telling," Vio draws his attention back to her.
"How's ya father? Still in the nut house?" he asks her conversationally.
I can see the muscles in Vio's jaw clenching, but she doesn't rise to it. "Harry, do you know who tried to kill Sampson, was it Clearwater? Or am I wasting my fucking time here?"
"Hmm," he pretends to think. "Another shillin' might jog the old memory."
They look at one another for a long few seconds, a train rumbles overhead drowning out the sound of Vio giving in and dropping another coin into the cap. It's all play acting really, it's not her money, the company will pay her back for this. Harry knows this too, and he knew she'd crack in the end, but with someone like him you don't give in straight away or he'll take you for every penny.
"Alright now Harry, stop fucking about and tell us what you've got."
"Funny thing is Miss Vio, I ain't got much, for once even Harry the Bastard ain't even been able to find out what's going on. Might be Clearwater, but since your lot...ahem...disposed of my friend in that particular organisation I don't know as much about their comings and goings as I would like." He looks genuinely sad about this, but then since his business is buying and selling information it must have taken a chunk out of his profits. "No fucker seems to know who's behind it, there's rumours alright, everyone from the cartel to some spurned lover been suggested, but none of 'em..." he scratches his head again. "...none of 'em feels right to me."
"What about Clearwater, do they feel right?" Vio sounds frustrated by our lack of progress.
"Maybe, maybe not," he shrugs. "Miss Vio, you don't know how much it pains me to admit this, but old Harry don't know anything more than the rest of you on this one."
"Thanks," she replies, dropping one more coin into his hat. "See you around Harry."
As we walk away he calls after us. "By the way Miss Vio, that Caddy? She's a tasty bit, you're one lucky fucker."
Over a lunch of chips eaten out of newspaper cones while sitting on the steps of a chapel a few streets away from the railway arches we discuss Harry's information, or lack of it.
"It wasn't really worth all the effort of finding him." I say, eating fast because I haven't had any food since yesterday evening, and I threw most of that up later in the night.
"In a way it was," she frowns. "If Harry doesn't know what's going on then nobody does, and if nobody does then then we know we're not missing anything obvious."
"I know you always laugh at me when I say stuff like this, but why don't we just ask Clearwater? They normally want everyone to know what they've done and why, remember when they blew up that power station on the East Island? They sent a letter to all the newspapers to make sure people knew it was them."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea." She pops a chip into her mouth and chews thoughtfully. "We have ways of contacting them, a chain of people that go all the way up to Knox, we could try that. Of course they might not want to admit to it because they failed, all they managed to do was wound someone who has hardly any connection to Sampson, and Knox is not a man who likes failure."
"Yeah, I bet Topher really regrets sitting next to Sampson now." I look into my paper cone, but it's empty, there's nothing but a few grains of salt clinging to the sides.
"He must have been pretty fucking close for the bullet to end up in him." Vio's finished her chips now too and crumples up the paper into a ball.
"Yeah, it was a bit of a squeeze with the five of us in the box, but whoever did it was a really bad shot. He missed twice then hit Topher on the other side, not the side that was next to Sampson."
"What?" she frowns at me.
"Topher got shot in the right arm, Sampson was sitting on his left...you don't think someone was actually trying to shoot Topher do you?"
"No, I can't imagine that. Your boyfriend might be a bratty pain in the ass but I can't see even he could have pissed anyone off that much."
"I can think of one person he has," I say after a pause.
"A pirate named Rufus." I explain to her all about Quint's unpleasant brother Tobias, his first mate Rufus and his friend Jasper and the whole chain of events that led to Tobias' keel hauling.
"Fuck me!" Vio looks at me, he eyes wide. "You had one hell of an adventure didn't you?"
"Yes, I did." And I still miss it.
"But it doesn't seem that likely. If this Rufus really wanted Topher dead he would have had ample opportunity back on that island. It seems a lot of effort to go to come all the way down here when he could have just pushed him off a ship or something a few months ago."
"You're right," I agree. "But I think I'll write to Tallis and ask him if Rufus is still around just to make sure. If he has come to the city to kill Topher he'd most likely be after me too."
"You do that," she nods, getting to her feet and stretching out her back. "But I still think we're looking at someone who wants Sampson dead, it's just a matter of who."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]