Bet you're eager to see James, said Martin, referring to I'Brolent's regular informant.
Actually, yes I am, said I'Brolent, his face softening.
I have not seen him in a few weeks. The Montu had good reason to trust James. James' father, Police Officer Adam Collrey, was a violent sadist who'd joined the Calder police force so he'd always have opportunities to vent his endless spleen; when the village of Calder was swallowed up by Furriston and its police force joined with the city's, Adam's temper resulted with his suspension without pay within a week. When he tried to kill his two sons, Eric for being mentally and physically disabled and James for trying to protect Eric, I'Brolent intervened and Adam ended up dead. Then, in a display of abberent mentality that crossed the line into criminal idiocy, the patriarch of the Collrey Clan, Adam's father, ordered James and Eric to avenge their father's death by slaying I'Brolent. The only way out, according to the customs of James' people, was to join the killer's family and take his familial name. A long, strange story made short and simple, James I'Brel became the only person in all Furriston to use a Montu tribal name as a surname.
The two stopped outside the old Belsar Hotel, once a very high-end hotel in Grandville (the rooms had kitchenettes and a tiny bedroom for a servant!), now a de facto apartment building where James lived and worked as a janitor and repairfur. As they climbed the stairs, Martin remarked,
This has got to be the tallest building in Furriston with no elevator.
It is only eight floors, Martin, responded I'Brolent, amused.
Do not tell me that has you winded.
It doesn't, responded Martin.
I just wonder why they never installed one.
I'Brolent noted that one of the gas lamps on the wall wasn't lit and made a mental note to tell James.
First they'd have to install electricity.
They arrived at room 811 and knocked on the door, and soon a skinny dog opened the door.
It wasn't me, I didn't do it, she said she was of age, he loaned me the car, the DVD player was a present, she said it was her motorbike, and all that bullshit, he joked in his raspy drawl, then gave I'Brolent a fond embrace.
I'Brolent hugged his adopted son back.
I'Brames, he said, using the Montu form of the dog's name.
It is good to see you.
James then shook Martin's hand, greeting the agent.
Good to see ya, Mr. Kanine.
Did you know that one of the gas lamps in the stairwell is out? asked I'Brolent.
Yeah, the valve's broken—either it's off or the flame's comin' out the glass, responded James.
Obviously, the boss prefers
off. Only trick is findin' someone who knows how to fix those things, 'cause I don't. Come on in.
Try some Steampunk fans, said I'Brolent.
Someone amongst them should know a thing or two about gas lamps. The two agents entered his apartment—and into a stroke of good fortune: James had visitors, all of whom were on good terms with at least one of the agents and all who could give them answers.
Hey, hey! said one, a giant of a horse with all semblance of handsomeness long brawled out of him. They came over as well and knuckle-bumps, handshakes, and good-ol'-boy greetings ensued.
The big horse, Arn Fessler, met I'Brolent when they were teenagers—and was one of the few to have tangled with the Montu and come out in one piece. A giant of a horse even then, Arn had been a deliquent and petty thug who was in and out of Juvenile Detention for
bustin' heads. When he first met I'Brolent, he was in the midst of giving a beatdown and the young montu tried to stop him. Never one to pass on a fight if he could help it, Arn attacked I'Brolent instead. The fight didn't last long, though, as I'Brolent's father quickly separated the two. Knowing that Arn had a rap sheet a mile long and that another stint in Juvie would do little good, I'Brolent's father instead brought Arn before the tribal judges, who ordered Arn to do penance for his many misdeeds and learn the Montu way. Nowadays, Arn was still in the business of
bustin' heads, but now as part of the DSA's Violent Crime Unit.
More familiar to Martin was Alex Bundrow, pro wrestler, career bouncer, and the ugliest Great Dane Martin had ever met. The two had met when Martin hired on as a bouncer for the first time and Alex took him under his wing. Martin (along with virtually everyone who knew Alex) was forever baffled by the unsightly dog's ability to attract both female and male lovers and concerned about Alex's never-ending string of one-night-stands. Even now, though he was nearly sixty years old, Alex still had as colourful and varied a bedroom parade as ever (having the band LustRoar literally sing his praises didn't hurt).
The last was Arn's cousin Steve Fessler (Steve knew the precise degree of cousinhood, Arn couldn't be bothered) who was a member of the Independant Alchemists, Herbalists and Apothecaries Group, an unofficial organization of herbalists and chemists who performed alternative medicine. At only 5'6½", Steve hovered on the edge of being a pony1. He was not as familiar with Martin and I'Brolent, but he greeted them warmly all the same.
We were just having a bullshit session, said Arn, as James went to set out some extra snacks for Martin and I'Brolent.
You guys want a beer?
We're here on official business, refused I'Brolent.
The rest looked at each other, then set their own beers aside.
Well, said Arn.
Let's get official, then. What's going on?
Why would two fighters, both branded to a dojo, be in an outlaw club? With their bosses? asked Martin, not giving too much detail yet.
The others looked at each other.
Actually, happens all the time, said James, finally.
I can think of a couple of reasons. First, you gotta understand, there's two kinds of outlaw clubs. There's the kind that have refs and healers and all, but let the underaged fighters really fight. I'm talkin' Ultimate Fightin' rules, or kickboxin', or bare-knuckle fightin', or other martial arts that you gotta be 18 to do or stuff Furriston don't like at all, but they'll let underaged fighters do 'em. But yeah, they got rules and refs and healers and all, the only law they're breakin' are age laws. And usually? It'll be branded fighters fightin' there and the Bosses watchin' with pride. They're the kinds that the cops send undercover agents to, y'know? On their best behavior if they catch the cops, get nailed with a fine if the cops catch them... he nodded at I'Brolent's expression.
Yeah, you know what I'm talkin' about. And then there's dumps where anythin' goes short of outright killin', and all they get are freelancers. Usually, nobody from a dojo will go to one. I know some sleazebag named Kostka used to run one, but I ain't heard about him lately, so I think he's livin' at 4514 Deep Bay Drive2.
We just arrested him, said I'Brolent,
And I was under strict orders to bring him in alive.
That caught James by surprise.
Oh! With all the guys he's pissed off, I'd of sworn his skull was somebody's ashtray by now. Huh. He shook his head in surprise.
Didn't mean to lie.
An honest mistake is not a lie, forgave I'Brolent.
Anyway, second, the rivalries between the dojos—especially the fighters—have gotten really ugly lately.
Alex nodded and rolled his eyes.
Have they ever. I'm the Head Bouncer at the Brixton Arcade3 now, and we've come to the point where school brands have to be covered up, or the kids start really getting in each other's faces. The higher-ranking ones aren't too bad, but those who've still got the smell on them?4 Creator fuckin' His creation, it's like they're wearing gang colours!
So what are the reasons? asked Martin.
Number one, sometimes it's the bosses who decide their student should have a real fight, and they go to the first type of outlaw club so the kids can beat the piss out of each other. explained James.
In other words, to evade the law, disapproved I'Brolent.
Pretty much, he admitted.
The other reason is when you got a couple of idiot hotheads howling for a piece of each other, and the bosses decide he completed with a sarcastic thumbs-up.
Okay, you idiots, have your damn fight, complete with aches and pains the morning after. Enjoy!
And sometimes they'll find a dump to do it in, just to put a dent in their rep. 'Cause that's what showin' up at a dump is, y'know, ya fought at one, that's somethin' ta live down. If ya can. And of course, the meatheads gotta keep up with the rest of the class the next day. Sometimes, the boss will even single them out for the older students to practice on, just to make sure it wasn't worth it. Depends on who it was.
The Biter Swarm and the Wyld Stallyons, said Martin.
The two fighters in question were an albino rat and a grey pony.
The chorus of inarticulate groans was eloquent in its exasperation.
I know who you're talking about, said Arn.
I don't rightly know their names, but I've met them. You remember that brass-knuckle boxing tournament that was advertised couple weeks ago? Martin and I'Brolent remembered it all too well; it had been stated that the ring would have the coarsest available sandpaper instead of a tarp, barbed wire for ropes, and the boxers would fight with brass knuckles. It was advertised as the bloodiest, baddest fight event of the year—and both Police and the DSA responded within the hour. It turned out to be a hoax, but noöne was laughing at the joke.
Anyways, the two
organizers had finally convinced us it was a hoax. Then these two meatheads show up, and they wanted in. And they were serious, too, looked like they were ready to throw down right there in the office. Well, one of the guys behind the hoax phoned up their Bosses. I'll tell you, Tzakhia and Gurrad were not happy when they picked up their fighters.
I know told the bouncers to remove those two from the arcade when they started getting into each other's faces, said Alex.
After forty years of bouncing, you can smell a fight coming.
I don't know the pony, I do know the rat, said Steve.
He came into my shop some time ago asking about a potion that gives one an emotional edge in the fight.
What's it called? asked Martin.
Zerker Serum, disturbingly enough. How he heard of it I have no idea. But he wanted some and asked if I could make it. I said,
Are you dicked in the nob? If I so much as gather the ingredients, the police will hang me by my thumbs! Then I threw him out of my shop and bade him to go find a clue. His Boss knows of the incident, but I don't know what he did about it. It was several months ago.
Do you know how to make it? asked I'Brolent.
I have a copy of the Slammer Grimoire, which has the recipe, he admitted.
But I would never try it.
The asked Martin. By the look on I'Brolent's face, the Montu knew exactly what it was.
Slammer Grimoire? What on earth is that?
A book with very illegal potions, said Steve.
Every year, the Independant Alchemists, Herbalists and Apothecaries Group get together and trade recipes that we've either tried, heard about, or were given to us by customers, and we compile it into a book that we call The Independant Alchemists, Herbalists and Apothecaries' Grimoire. he explained.
But from time to time, we're given recipies and ingredients where the buyers won't say what they are or will produce, and anyone with half a brain should know that the results are likely illegal. So in 2008 we added a chapter of recipes that produced illegal substances with the probably naïve idea that the apothecary in question would be able to recognize
secret recipes and not be tricked into making illegal drugs. As it happened, someone got the brilliant idea to try one of the recipes, got arrested, and the police siezed his grimoire. And that's when we all got in very deep trouble.
I heard there's a recipe for methamphetamines in there, growled I'Brolent.
There is. In fact, I think that's what he made, that or PCP. It was something nasty and last I heard, he's still in prison. Also, there were a number of recipes we did use that required ingredients such as such as Rageweed, Lanjoe—that's what's used in the painkiller Leprosy—and so on. Anyways, the police sent some members of the drug squad to our next annual meeting and told us from now on, we had to have a member of the drug squad on the editing team to ensure all of our recipes were legal. It was rather saddening, I know a recipe that really helps concentration, but since it requires a pinch of Rageweed, I can't make it anymore. And it wasn't just herbs either; Dick Stevenson was the last source of Mecurochrome in the city, but he had to stop making it. Anyways, as I'Brolent mentioned, some of the recipes we talk about are more . . . things the herbalist should never make but should know about in case he's asked about it. And the cops read those and just flipped, and many of us were ordered to give our copies to the police. However, there are still copies of the 2008 Grimoire out there; the drug squad has one, and yes, they know about mine. In any case, since so many recipes in it are illegal, the 2008 edition is known as the Slammer Grimoire.
I'Brolent was about to say something, when his phone chirped, and he glanced at it, then texted back. After a few moments, it chirped again, and he looked at Steve.
What can you tell me about a drug called
Steve quirked an eyebrow.
Cephalargiascine, AKA Morning After? What do you want to know?
Why the two fighters in question would have it in their bloodstream... His speech slowed at the sight of four cringes.
Yep, said Alex.
The Bosses are pissed.
It's a strong sedative, and so far as I know, it's legal because it's in my latest Grimoire. But the hospitals don't use it because of the side effects. Terrible headaches, nausea, sometimes vomiting... it basically gives you The Morning After from Hell.
So why use it?
It's used as to sedate fighters when the match gets out of hand. It ends the fight by knocking out the fighters, and the side effects are the punishment. It's becoming worryingly popular lately, he added.
You won't be able to question them today, nor tomorrow. They'll be too busy feeling like Hell.
Are all rivalries like this? asked I'Brolent.
No, said James,
Just amongst the newer students. And when both of the students has something to prove, things can get really ugly really fast.
What do they have to prove? asked Martin.
Well, the albino rat is an albino, and we were talking about these guys earlier, and Arn and Steve swear the pony's from a draft breed.
What?! demanded I'Brolent and Martin.
Arn nodded emphatically.
Take it from a fellow equine. That pony? He's a draft horse.
Living at 4514 Deep Bay Drivemeans
murdered and dumped in the bay.4514 refers to the first, fourth and fifth letters of the alphabet (thus spelling D-E-A-D), and
Deep Bay Driverefers to the bottom of the bay.