Authors: Roderick Gordon,Brian Williams
Bartleby let out a high-pitched wail that ended almost as soon as it began.
Ended with a death rattle.
The big cat was dead before he flopped to the ground.
Colly knew what that rattle meant.
She ran and ran, finding the tree they’d used to climb over the wall.
She ran all the way back to the house.
Parry was sitting at the kitchen table, peering through his reading glasses at a cookbook with a tattered and stained cover. “
Baste the joint every
. . . ,” he was reading but stopped when Colly shot in through the doorway, crashing against his legs as she hid under the table. “Bloody hell! Filthy moggies are after our food again!” he shouted, leaping up.
Mrs. Burrows inclined her head, inhaling sharply through her nose. “No, that’s not it,” she said quickly. She immediately swung around from the work surface, flour sprinkling from her hands. “Not it at all,” she added, as she crouched down beside the Hunter. “She’s very frightened.”
Wiping her hands on her apron, she gently touched Colly, whose skin was running with sweat. “What’s wrong, girl?” She caught the smell of blood on the Hunter. “Fetch me a clean tea towel from the cupboard, will you?” she asked Parry, who raised his eyebrows, then went off to do as he’d been requested.
“What happened?” Mrs. Burrows asked the cat, who’d lowered her head between her paws. She was still panting from the exertion of the dash home.
“Here you are,” Parry said, passing the towel down to Mrs. Burrows, who began to wipe the sweat and blood from the cat.
“Something’s definitely wrong,” Mrs. Burrows said again, as Colly rolled onto her side with a whimper.
Parry frowned. “Why do you say that?”
“I just know it. She’s very frightened, and she’s been hurt.”
“Badly?” Parry asked, getting down on his knees. “Let me see.”
“It’s not serious — just some grazes and a small cut on her side,” Mrs. Burrows told him. “But something’s not right with her. I can feel it.”
“Such as?” Parry said, as he watched her continue to wipe the animal down.
“Well, where’s Bartleby? They’ve been inseparable since the day they met. When do you
not see the two of them together?”
Parry shrugged. “These bloody animals come and go as they please. Maybe the other one’s got himself trapped somewhere or had an accident?” He grunted as he got to his feet. “I’ll ask the boys to have a scout around for him.” He was halfway out of the room when he paused. “Maybe Wilkie’s seen him.”
As Mrs. Burrows laid a palm on Colly’s slightly extended belly, then took it away, a flour print of her hand was left on the cat’s smooth skin.
A knowing look came into her sightless eyes, then she frowned. “I do hope nothing’s happened to him,” Mrs. Burrows said. “Not now.”
THE BUTTOCK & FILE,
one of the most popular watering holes in the Colony, stood at the intersection of two main roads. As the Second Officer passed by, it was completely deserted. It had once been a lively tavern — a meeting place for the Colonists after a day’s labors — but now the doors were bolted and the place silent.
Several streets later, he turned the corner and immediately stopped. The area was one of the poorer ones and not well lit, and although the front doors of all the terraced houses were wide open, they were completely dark inside. But this wasn’t what had brought the Second Officer to a halt. Along the side of the street was a fifty-strong squad of uniformed New Germanians. As though they were shop mannequins, they waited in a single line, their wide, staring eyes to the front.
There didn’t seem to be a Styx in attendance, but in the distance the Second Officer could see the Garrison building within the Styx compound. From the windows of the squat building came tiny sparks of purple-tinged light, like faraway stars glinting in an unknown constellation. The Second Officer shook his head — he’d never seen Dark Lights used on this scale before.
A little while later he passed through the short access tunnel that led into the North Cavern. The cluster of huts was visible in the distance, ringed by a number of luminescent orbs on stands set up around the perimeter of the shantytown. The North Cavern was an agricultural area where much of the Colony’s produce was grown and, up until recently, the least densely populated of all its caverns. As he came nearer, he saw that even more of these basic dwellings had been built, taking the total number to at least several hundred. But despite the size of the new town, there were very few Colonists out in the open.
The Second Officer had that sixth sense that those in police enforcement develop. If there had been any trouble, it was all over now. A crushed, thick silence hung over the place. As he continued down the track, in a clearing between the hotchpotch accretion of huts, he spotted the Third Officer slumped on the ground. He was holding his head.
“You all right?” the Second Officer said as he immediately strode over to him.
“Took a couple of punches,” the Third Officer replied shakily. “Nothing serious.”
As the man raised his head, the Second Officer noticed the blood on his face. “Who did this to you?” he asked.
The Third Officer pointed at the area beside one of the huts. “They did,” he said.
Spotting the corpses, the Second Officer unclipped the police lantern from his belt and went to investigate.
There were three of them, sprawled among rotting penny bun mushrooms that had been trampled into a gray mush. Not far from the bodies, a collapsible table lay on its side, cards scattered in the mud. “Cresswell,” the Second Officer said under his breath as he rolled the nearest corpse onto its back. “The blacksmith. He’s been shot in the neck.”
The Third Officer mumbled something. Despite the fact that he was injured, the Second Officer ignored him. He had no time for the man — the Third Officer was a dullard, not at all suited to the job of policeman. An uncle on the Board of Governors had propelled him up the ranks, and for that he was universally disliked by his fellow officers.
The Second Officer was the first to admit that he wasn’t the brightest orb in the Colony, but he had what his sister called “Earth Smarts” — he was streetwise and shrewd enough to get by. And he’d been promoted to his current rank based on his determination and years of sheer hard graft.
The Third Officer was mumbling again.
“Shush a minute,” the Second Officer silenced him, moving on to the next corpse. “Grayson . . . a stonemason,” he said. As he rolled the body over to inspect the gunshot wound in it, the ace of hearts slid from where it had been concealed in the man’s sleeve.
Clutching his forehead, the Third Officer had staggered to his feet and was pointing at the last of the bodies. “And Cresswell’s cousin, Walsh,” he said.
“Yes, so I see. Another precise shot to the neck,” the Second Officer observed. It was indeed Heraldo Walsh, a heavily muscled, squat man with a distinctive red scarf tied around his neck. The Second Officer scratched his chin as he pieced the scene together. “So Cresswell and Grayson were playing cards . . . gambling with these packs of tobacco as the stakes,” he said, inclining his head at the foil packets lying among the scattered cards. “They argued, probably because Grayson was trying to bamboozle him, then Walsh came to his cousin’s aid.”
“When I stepped in to break up the fight, all three started on me instead,” the Third Officer said. “And a mob had formed — I thought they were going to lynch me.”
The Second Officer blew through his lips. “These days people have no respect for the law,” he said, knowing there was a single and rather crucial piece of the puzzle still missing. He thought he knew the answer, but he had to ask the question. “And who fired the sh —?” He clammed up immediately as he became aware of the Limiter. The soldier had materialized behind him like a ghost, his rifle at his shoulder. This was no great surprise in itself; it was general knowledge that Limiters had been drafted to stop pilfering from the penny bun fields deeper in the cavern.
And the Limiter’s presence explained how the men had been killed with such extreme precision, but the Second Officer was still more than a little bemused by one of the deaths. It was generally known that Heraldo Walsh had been in the pay of the Styx, snooping on Colonists for them and occasionally stirring things up when it suited them. Not exactly a model citizen, Walsh had led a charmed life until this moment, getting away with far more than most Colonists because of the latitude the Styx granted him.
“Took your time getting here,” the Limiter snarled in a low voice. The Second Officer was about to explain that he’d traveled all the way down from the Quarter, when the Limiter kicked Heraldo Walsh’s head.
The Second Officer didn’t have much cause to deal with Limiters, and quite frankly, they terrified the living daylights out of him. He steeled himself to say something, because he would need to know all the facts for his report on the incident.
“Although they assaulted a policeman, I don’t see any weapons on these men. Was it necessary to shoot them?”
The Limiter snapped his head toward the Second Officer, bringing the full force of his eyes on him. They were like two points of fire set deep in the man’s grizzled and scarred face. The Second Officer was a seasoned policeman, and he’d seen some truly horrible things in his time, but now he shivered. It was as though he were peering through twin windows into hell itself.
“It’s up to you to take care of your own,” the Limiter growled. “You weren’t here.”
The Second Officer swallowed a “Yes,” then looked away from the soldier. He knew he should remain silent, but he continued nervously, “There’ll need to be an inquiry. We’ll move the corpses to the m —”
“No inquiry,” the Limiter said in a voice like distant thunder, gripping his long rifle as if he were considering using it again, but this time on the Second Officer. “And you leave the corpses where they are. As an example to the rest.” In the blink of an eye he’d gone, slipping back into the shadows.
“No inquiry,” the Second Officer muttered. So now the Styx were summarily dishing out the death penalty without any form of judicial process. He and the Third Officer exchanged glances but said nothing to each other, because it wasn’t their place to question the Styx.
“Appalling,” the Second Officer sighed, as he stepped slowly between the bodies in their attitudes of death. Children would wake the next morning to see them covered in slugs — that’s if any stray Hunters hadn’t chewed pieces off them during the night.
The Second Officer sent the Third Officer home to recover, then spent several hours doing the rounds between the huts. Everyone was keeping well out of sight after the incident, but from behind closed doors he caught sounds of women crying, and also the rumble of angry, dissenting voices. In a couple of the huts where the doors had been left open, eyes flashed resentfully at him as the red bowls of pipes glowed.
The Second Officer was finally relieved by one of his colleagues and, his feet aching from all the patrolling, returned home. Letting himself quietly in lest he wake anyone at that late hour, he heard sounds coming from the kitchen.
“Hello, Mother!” he said as he entered the steamy room, surprised to see her up.