by Joshua Corbeil-Stoodley
Gloria Jones sat at the table in the dining room of the centre-north brownstone house in the six-brownstone compound known as Sanctuary. The dining room itself was a rectangular shaped room, with its short north wall decorated by pictures of childish monsters that had, fittingly enough, been drawn by children. Opposite the improvised art gallery was an entry way cut into the south wall that led into a corridor. The hallway’s south wall held a bank of elevators; on the other side of the elevators were entries into the commons room. The west wall of the dining room was a solid sheet of African Blackwood. Rivers of silver had been carved into the wall in a dizzying array of geometric shapes. Situated at each of the corners of the west wall were two massive cabinets painted the same colour as the wall; one for china and silver, the other for wine glasses. The dining room was separated from the kitchen by a sort of half-wall on its eastern side that stopped just short of the south wall, leaving a gap that became an entry point for both kitchen and dining room. Along the dining room side of the eastern wall were cabinets for dishes and utensils. Covering the floor of the dining room was a thick black plush carpet that the cleaning team cursed at every time they were forced to clean the dining room and on the ceiling, which had been painted the same monochromatic scheme as the rest of the room, hung a chandelier made of wrought iron.
Gloria, for her part, sat at the table, whose colour should be obvious by now, thoroughly engrossed in a thick, hardcover book. What she was supposed to be doing was eating breakfast, and indeed, there was a bowl of cornflakes suitably drenched in milk languishing beside her. The book, it seemed, was more interesting, and Gloria had not had one bite of her cereal since she had made the bowl earlier this evening.
Gloria wrinkled her broad nose at something she read in the textbook and then turned the page. She was a young woman, having just turned eighteen, with brown skin that was pockmarked and scratches from her life in Fort City’s Demon’s Alcove and more recently from her training as part of the Standard Technologies, Incorporated Security Department. The police department for the supernatural denizen’s of Fort City. She wore the black suit shirt, tie, and slacks combination that made up the Security Department’s uniform, and the name tag over her left breast read ‘Trainee.’ To her right sat a black fedora. Her eyes, which had once been the brown-on-white of a normal human being now had the black sclera of a quarter-vampire. Every time Gloria had looked in the mirror in the five months since she had accepted the vampire’s decision to join their nation, the gaping chasm that had been her sister Akisha ripped open anew. And every time, Gloria swore she would bring the humans that had murdered her sister to justice.
Beneath the table, nestled comfortably at Gloria’s feet, lay a pure white puppy with blood-red tips on its ears. Aside from the ears, the pup bore an unmistakable resemblance to a wolf. As the dog stretched out, she let out a soft yelp, hoping to get her person’s attention. It worked, too.
“Huh? What is it, Akisha?” Gloria asked, looking up from her book for the first time. She reached down and petted the dog; Akisha, for her part, simply rolled over to let Gloria get better access to her bully. Then Akisha let out another soft yelp and jerked her nose up towards the uneaten breakfast.
“What?” Gloria protested as she settled back into an upright position. “I’m eating. Look! I really am,” she said as she grabbed a spoonful of the cornflakes shoveled them into her mouth. “It’s just that I’m not used to eating breakfast at six o’clock at night,” Gloria continued. “Takes some getting used to.”
Akisha’s snort showed just exactly what the fairy-hound that of that excuse.
“Your worse than the original, you know that?” Gloria told Akisha sternly, looking down at the dog. “At least Akisha-the-human let me eat in peace!”
Akisha-the-dog snorted again, and Gloria sighed.
“Look! I’m eating, okay? I’m eating. And I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Gloria said. “I’ll be just fine.”
Akisha snorted, more derisively this time, and Gloria jabbed the spoon that was still in her hand at the dog, clearly intent on remonstrating more fiercely with her dog when another voice spoke up.
“Akisha’s right,” the other voice said, and Gloria looked up to see Officer Angélica Estrella Rebeca Agustina Puerta standing in the kitchen. Officer Puerta, known to her fellow officers as Area, had dark olive-toned skin, with a beak of a nose that was almost as impressive as Joey Bianco’s; dark, oily black hair that hung down in the kind of loose curls that Gloria had always envied. Full, sensuous lip painted the Standard Tech black, were pressed together in a thin line and black on black eyes gazed at the younger woman levelly. One of Area’s ears had been cut off in an incident that Gloria still didn’t have the courage to ask her about, leaving slightly lopsided look to her face. She wore the same uniform as did Gloria, although Area’s name tag read ‘Officer Puerta.’ Her hands had been tattooed look as if they were rotting. At least, the parts that were visible; like most Standard Tech officers Area had wrapped her hands in black cloth like a boxer. “I’m not having you collapse on me halfway through tonight because you didn’t eat breakfast.”
“I’ll be okay,” Gloria protested, but she took another large spoonful of her cereal and wolfed it down.
“Really?” Area asked with a raised eyebrow. “You’re that tough are you that you can do an eight-hour patrol with no breakfast? Boss better watch out for you, you’ll be after nirs job in no time.”
“All right, all right,” Gloria said. “I get it.” With that, she wolfed down the cereal. Akisha barked happily. Area snorted before she got out her own breakfast: a plate of sausages. Then she walked over to the table and set the plate down with a hearty slam. Area then began to eat the sausages at a steady, methodical pace. Gloria asked:
“So, how is this going to work? I mean, what do we do first?”
“My beat is the 500 block of Bloodsville, about thirty minutes north of here on foot. So I suspect the first thing we’re going to do is get our asses over there,” Area responded without missing a beat of her breakfast.
Gloria didn’t quite blush, but it was a near thing. “Obviously,” she said.
“Still had to ask, didn’t you?” Area countered. “You got everything packed?” she continued.
“I got a couple of water bottles for my belt, a big one for my bag, snacks, lunch, a first aid kit, cuffs, notebook, pen, flashlight, digital recorder, and vest cam,” Gloria answered, ticking off each item on her fingers. “I need your help with the wraps, though. Harper was supposed to help me, but she got called into work.”
“The wraps aren’t a problem,” Area said dismissively. “But remember, everything you take you got to carry. We don’t drive and we don’t use bikes. And I’m not carrying any of your junk for you.”
“I’ll be fine,” Gloria insisted. “The pack is balanced; it shouldn’t be that hard to carry.”
“For eight hours?” Area said as she arched an eyebrow at Gloria. Gloria flushed but held her ground.
“Yes, for eight hours,” Gloria replied. “Lots of people do that. And it’s not like I haven’t worked eight-hour shifts before.”
“Not like this you haven’t,” Area said. She nodded at the box of cereal. “Pour yourself another bowl, pup. You’re going to need it.”
The February night air was as cold as Hillary Clinton’s smile, though Gloria found that ever since she had taken the vampire blood, the cold didn’t bother her so much. She and Area had walked over to the 500 block of Bloodsville, through the twisted streets and past shop owners who were just beginning to open up and families who were starting to cart their kids off to school. Many of them stopped and waved at Area, with a few calling her out by name. Finally, they reached the 500 block of Bloodsville.
“Okay, pup. This is how this is going to work,” Area said as she stopped them both at the north-east end of the block. “We’re going wander our way slowly down from 500 to Kale’s Hawai’ian Steakhouse, which is 525, Bloodsville Road. That should take us an hour. If it doesn’t, and I catch hell for it, remember that shit flows downhill. And that goes both ways. If we’re early, we weren’t thorough enough. If we’re late, and we don’t have a good reason for it, we’re lazy and the boss will use our bones for out toothpicks. Clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” Gloria said with a short, sharp nod of her head. “Just one question ma’am, just to be clear. We call our location in once we have reached Kale’s?”
“That’s right. On our cells, unless something happens and we lose our cells, at which point we call in on Kale’s phone. Clear?”
“If lose our phones,” Gloria asked, gesturing at the houses on either side of the narrow, crooked street, “shouldn’t we knock on these people’s doors and try and use their phones, first? I’d think that losing a phone would be pretty serious.”
“It is, and you’re right,” Area agreed. “If, for whatever reason, we lose our phones, we should try and call it in right away. But we can’t always and that’s where Kale’s comes in.”
“Okay,” Gloria said with a great shuddering breath. She looked down the street again. It was like most Fort City streets: the houses were thin narrow townhouses, squashed together as if by some giant. The houses were made mostly of grimstone, and those were a light-absorbing black, although others were grey, and Gloria thought she could see red, green and yellow trim on houses further down. Wrought iron fences with spear like tops guarded the homes against unwanted guests, while the gothic windows were mostly curtained. Cars, of mostly late models and of varying makes, were parked right out on the street. A bus stop and a subway station sat a little further north, on Carrion Avenue, the street which Bloodsville Road split off from at its north-east end. “Um, another question. No tonfas? Nightsticks? I know we don’t carry guns.”
“If you really need to sap somebody, that flashlight hanging off of your belt is heavy enough to do the job,” Area answered. “But you won’t. Pigs solve every problem with violence. We’re dogs, sister; we use de-escalation techniques. I haven’t hit anybody, not once, in the two years I’ve been on the beat, and you won’t either.”
“Right,” Gloria said, not a little skeptically. Area turned her head and arched an eyebrow at the younger woman. Gloria shook her head and said:
“Lay on, MacDuff.”
“Finally, somebody gets that quote right,” Area said, and she walked off, following the sidewalk south as she did so. Gloria hurried to catch up.
The first house they passed, an egg in skin-tight leather pants and a fishnet top was fixing the bare patch of front lawn the wrought iron fences allowed. Gloria didn’t see the point, really; there was no snow and the grass was dead, so what could the guy working on the lawn be actually working on? But if Gloria couldn’t see the point, the guy working certainly did. He was chopping into the frozen ground with a pick and all the requisite enthusiasm. Sweat glistened off of his well-muscled, yet square physique. As the two women passed, the egg looked up from what he was working on and said:
“Area! Officer Puerta! Taking the pup out for a walk, are we?”
“You know it, Ravindra,” Area said as she stopped at turned to look at the guy. Gloria stopped with her and similarly turned to face him. Looking at him now, she could see that he wore purple eyeshadow and had dyed his hair a toxic green. His nipples and eyebrows were pierced as well. Like Gloria, his dark brown eyes had black sclera, indicating he was a full member of the Flock “Ravindra Darzi, this is Gloria Jones. Gloria, this is Ravindra Darzi. He runs a small construction company, Darzi Construction.”
“I’ve heard of that one,” Gloria said with a nod in Darzi’s direction. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
“Likewise, Officer Jones,” Darzi said. He put his hand out over the fence to shake Gloria’s. Gloria took the proffered hand and gave it one solid pump. Then she let go and let her hand drop to her side. Darzi placed his hand back on the fence. He said:
“Well, see you later, Area. Good luck, Officer Jones. And remember, Area’s bark is worse than her bite!” With that, he laughed and went back to working on his lawn. Gloria and Area continued working their way down the street.
“Should I have done that?” Gloria asked once they were safely out of earshot of Darzi.
“Hmm? Done what, pup?” Area asked, turning her head slightly to observe Gloria’s profile.
“Shaken his hand,” Gloria said, turning her head to face Area. “We’re not supposed to get close to the civvies, right?”
“Don’t shake their hands, and you come across as rude,” Area answered. “Not cool and distantly professional. Besides, ‘close’ is subjective. As a cop, you have to get close to people. For us beat cops, that’s so people trust us. Trust us enough to come to us with their problems, not try to handle it themselves. Or worse, turn to the trouble boys and girls. For detectives, it’s so they can worm into suspects and witnesses heads and find out all they ways they’ve lied. So we need to get close to people. But we can’t let them get close to us. We have to remain detached and professional, all the while worming our way into their hearts. Otherwise, we open ourselves to all sorts of nasty consequences. Like blackmail or conflict of interest.”
“That sounds like one hell of a balancing act,” Gloria said, and Area barked out a harsh laugh.
“More than you know, pup. More than you know. That’s also why most of the Security Department’s single, by the way,” she said.
“I wondered about that,” Gloria admitted. “Is this job that hard on relationships?”
“It’s probably worse,” Area said. “Long hours, no pay, and a lot of heartache. You think you’ve seen some terrible shit way down in Demon’s Alcove? Trust me sister, the shit you see on this job will make whatever you saw down there look like some kid’s birthday party. And that’s if you get stuck in Zion. Boss puts you somewhere else, somewhere where the pigs rule and there’s no damned law and order to be seen? You’ll wish you only had nightmares after that.”
Gloria didn’t know what to make of that pronouncement and so kept silent as the duo continued down the street, navigating through the twists and turns that were endemic to Fort City. At 510, they ran into a woman wearing a black burqa decorated with grinning skulls who Area called Ramla Saab trying to usher her children into a waiting SUV. The lambs clearly had no interest in going to school and were busy yelling, running around and generally behaving like every kid everywhere who were trying to avoid school. Area and Gloria stopped to help Saab get her herd into the SUV. Saab thanked them profusely and apologized to Area that she couldn’t stay longer to chat, but she was running late as it was and had to get going. Area told her it was no problem, and she and Gloria continued their patrol. The very next house down, another woman, whom Area called Nada Abu-Jamal, was doing nude tai chi. Gloria tried hard not to stare; anybody doing nude tai chi in the middle of February had to have a couple of screws loose! Area for her part just said ‘hi’ without stopping or even glancing in Abu-Jamal’s direction.
Thus the patrol continued for the next several houses. On occasion, Area would stop and chat with the denizen’s of Bloodsville Road and introduce Gloria. Gloria would nod and respond politely and then they would move on. Often, even when Area didn’t stop, the sheep would call out to her and say hello. Rarely, Area would stop and intervene in a situation, but there was nothing more serious than a kid running out into the street to grab their ball.
Not until they hit Kale’s Hawai’ian Steakhouse, anyway.
Kale’s Hawai’ian Steakhouse was a large grimstone building that sat in between two curves in Bloodsville Road, sandwiched between two other grimstone townhouses. Neon signs depicting topless hula dancers hung from either side of the Steakhouse, reflecting their electric lights down on the cool blackness of the sidewalk and roads. The steakhouse was a square three stories high, with arched windows lining the upper two floors. A palm tree sitting on a patch of sand with coconuts falling out of it had been painted to cover the entire building. The main door had been painted with another topless hula dancer. Gloria could smell the food coming out of it and her stomach rumbled.
“Should we, ah, should we stop in there?” Gloria asked, jerking her head in the direction of the steakhouse. “You know, check it out? Make sure everything’s okay?”
Area chuckled. The two women were just a little west of the steakhouse, right in front of 524 Bloodsville. It gave them a great angle to check out the rest of the street, while also allowing the smell from the steakhouse to come wafting out their way. “I thought you brought snacks?” she asked, just a little too innocently.
“I did,” Gloria said with a sigh. She reached into her pack to pull out a chocolate bar and unwrapped it before taking a great big bite out of it. “It’s just that it smells so good,” she added in between bites.
“It does that,” Area agreed. “Kale’s makes some great food. But wouldn’t going in be worse? I mean, you’d be stuck smelling all that delicious food and you wouldn’t be able to take a single bite. We have to keep patrolling and don’t have time for a meal. At least out here you’d be past the smell pretty quickly anyway.”
Gloria stopped chewing and gazed at Area in horror. She hadn’t thought about that. She swallowed the chewed up remains of the chocolate bar and stared forlornly at the Steakhouse. Area continued speaking.
“Of course, we do have to go into the restaurant,” she said. Gloria turned to look at the other woman. “We have to check with Kale and see if there’s anything that’s gone wrong during the day. Like vandalism or robbery or anything else they may not have reported yet. We may have to deal with some rowdy customers, too. And we need to check in with Central. C’mon Gloria. No time to dawdle.” Area started walking towards the steakhouse while Gloria hurriedly finished her chocolate bar and then hustled to catch up to the other woman.
This was going to be torture.
The atrium that sat in between the entrance to Kale’s Hawai’ian Steakhouse and the restaurant proper was a small square room decorated in the same tropical theme as the outside of the restaurant itself had been. A grass-green carpet was laid out on the floor. The ceiling had been painted sky-blue, whereas the walls had been painted to resemble a beach scene, complete with coconut trees. Jutting out from the west wall was a desk that stretched between both sides of the room, made of some wood that was either naturally dark or had been painted such. Just over the rim of the desk, Gloria could see a next generation Standard Tech computer monitor. Behind the desk stood two staff members, both of whom were dressed in hula dancer costumes. One of them, a dame whose lei just barely covered her bare breasts, said:
“Hey, Area! How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, Mika,” Area replied. “Just taking the new pup out for a walk.”
“I can see that,” Mika said. Then she turned to Gloria and said, with that fake smile only service professionals ever seem to be able to master: “Hi, I’m Mika Minami! I’m the maitre d’ here at Kale’s. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” She stuck out her hand and Gloria shook it.
“The pleasure is mine, ma’am,” Gloria said, and she took a moment to observe the other woman. What Gloria could see of Mika’s heavily-tattooed skin was a sun-kissed light brown, which Gloria thought was a little odd for somebody who worked for vampires. The rest of Mika’s skin had been tattooed heavily in traditional vampire markings, including the coat of arms of the local Green vampires. The sclera of Mika’s eyes had been turned a vivid, almost neon-green instead of the black that Gloria was used to, and Gloria remembered that the eye colour of quarter-vampires depended on the bloodline of the vampire they served. Mika’s lips had been painted frost-white, and her broad nose had been pierced three times: once on each nostril and once through the septum. Nipple piercings peeked out the sides of the lei that had been draped around Mika’s neck. Her hair had been done in dreadlocks and died alternating shades of green.
“So polite,” Mika said, and her fake smile turned a little too lecherous for Gloria’s liking. Mika then gestured to the tall, burly man beside her and said:
“And this giant hunk of man-meat is Lari Nurmi. Say ‘hi,’ Lari.”
The gent nodded at Gloria but didn’t say anything. He, too, had a lei draped around his neck that partially obscured otherwise obvious piercings, and a large tattoo of what looked like a shrew stretched tightly over his chest. His eyebrows had been pierced with what looked like barbed wire, and his nose had a barbell piercing through the ridge. The sclera of his eyes was as green as Mika’s. His arms bore the coat of arms of the local Green vampires. His hair had been shaved along the sides so only the top of his hair was left and that had been allowed to grow into a ponytail. Lari’s hair had also been dyed a toxic shade of green.
“Lari’s the strong, silent-type,” Mika whispered conspiratorially to Gloria. Gloria nodded and said:
“I can see that, ma’am.”
“Are you sure you have to train this pup anymore Area honey?” Mika asked, looking askance at Gloria. “She’s already got the Security Department lingo down.”
“See, that’s why little lambs like you can never be proper dogs, dolly,” Area said with a quick, shit-eating grin. “You think it’s all about the lingo.”
Mika flipped her dreads back and was about to make some undoubtedly smart-assed comment when all of a sudden a commotion could be heard coming from the restaurant proper.
“That doesn’t sound good,” Gloria observed, as she automatically turned her head towards the sound.
“No, it doesn’t,” Area agreed, as she made the same movements Gloria had. “We’d best go investigate.” Area and Gloria walked up to the door into the restaurant and made to go through. Just as their hands touched the door, however, Mika called out:
“Yeah, Mika?” Area called back, turning her head to face the other woman.
“I don’t care what that prick says,” Mika said, her voice low and furious. “You and the rest of the dogs are always welcome here. Come back safe to us, okay?”
“No promises, honey,” Area muttered, and she and Gloria walked through the doors and into Kale’s Steakhouse.
The main restaurant portion of Kale’s Hawaiian Steakhouse was on the second floor of the building, up a flight of stairs that lay to the west of the entrance. And it was from there that the sounds were coming from. Gloria and Area hustled up the stairs, turning north halfway through the stairs which got the two women into the restaurant area.
The restaurant area was a much larger square, divided into four sections. At the western end was the kitchen, visible only through a long window cut into the wall which included a shelf for the prepared food to be placed on. A further wall separated the kitchen and the bulk of the restaurant, leaving only a small corridor between the kitchen and the wall for the staff to pass through. A wall at the northern end of the hall extended outwards until it almost met the corridor wall, creating an alcove at the northwestern end of the restaurant. The hallway wall, for its part, took a turn east, splitting the actual sitting part of the restaurant into three. And at the northeast corner, Gloria and Area could hear the shouting that had alerted them in the first place. They elbowed their way towards the northeast corner, past waiters and waitresses dressed like Mika and Lari downstairs and passed tables filled with families, couples and even the occasional single. Most of the customers were busy ignoring the shouting match in the corner, and demanding the wait staff attend to whatever complaint it was they had. The staff, for their part, were doing their best to ignore the shouting match, but it didn’t take supervision to see the ways their heads turned to look at the commotion in the corner.
One of the shouters was a tall man with broad shoulders and a belly that had probably come from sampling too much of his own cooking rather than exercise. His hair had been braided into a single ponytail that went down to his ass. Like the rest of the staff, he was barechested, revealing a set of morbid tattoos over his skin. Instead of pants, he wore a faux-grass skirt that swished every time he gesticulated at the other man. Piercings decorated his lips, eyebrows, nose, and ears. Brown eyes with green sclera glinted dangerously.
The other guy, who was shouting just as loud as the first one, was quite a different sort altogether. He was shorter that the first man, for one thing, and considerably leaner. He had cut his hair in the businessman’s style and wore a white suit that he picked up off a bargain rack somewhere. An imitation Rolex was visible just past his wrist cuff. He looked like somebody had drawn the Platonic ideal of a middle manager and brought it to life. Area and Gloria walked up to the two men and Area said:
“Mr. Kale, sir. What seems to be the problem?”
The big man, whom Gloria assumed was Kale, looked down at Area angrily and said:
“What the fuck do you think is the problem? This little shit came in here and just started raising hell, that’s the fucking problem! And now he won’t fucking leave!”
“Is that any way to treat a paying customer?” the other guy asked, sneering. Gloria felt the need to sock him. He turned to the two women and said, in the smarmiest possible tone: “Claude Ellison. Managing director of Winton Steel, Ltd. And what can I do for you, fine ladies?”
“You’re a managing director of Winton Steel?” Gloria asked, arching an eyebrow at the man.
“Yes. Is that a problem?” Ellison asked, his tone dropping a few degrees.
“I’m just surprised by the quality of your suit, sir,” Gloria replied, trying hard not to glance in Area’s direction.
“Yes, it’s quite good isn’t it?” Claude said as he turned to examine himself in the suit. “Got it for quite a steal, too. Only fifteen hundred bucks, can you believe that?” Gloria thought that if this Ellison character had actually bought the suit for fifteen hundred dollars, maybe she Area should track down whoever sold it to him and catch the sucker for fraud, but she didn’t say anything. Area said:
“All right Mr. Ellison. How about you give us your side of the story?”
“You’re not really going to listen to him, are you?” Kale asked, incredulous. “This joker has been making trouble for six months straight! Harassing every shop up and down this block!”
“I resent that,” Ellison said, and again with the sneer. “It’s not my fault you vampires sell defective products to witless suckers.” Kale went as red as Egyptian sand at that and made as if to punch Ellison’s head clean off. Area stepped smoothly between them and said only: “Kale,” in a firm-yet-warning kind of tone. Kale backed off, but he still glowered at the other man. Ellison smirked and made a whipping motion with his hand. Gloria was torn between being impressed by Area’s smooth intervention and wishing she had let Kale take Ellison’s head off. Area turned back to Ellison and said:
“All right, Mr. Ellison, let’s try this again. And I’d appreciate it if you could lay off the personal insults towards Mr. Kale. I realize that a successful manager such as yourself doesn’t really work anymore, but Mr. Kale does and doesn’t need you adding to his stress.” Butter wouldn’t have melted in her mouth. Gloria had to fight to suppress a whistle at the blow Area had delivered, and Kale seemed to deflate a little at hearing the flatfoot jab at Ellison. For his part, Ellison didn’t appear to notice that he was being insulted at all.
“Well certainly, my pretty young thing. Let’s see. I came in for dinner, but I could immediately tell something was wrong. Besides the phony Hawaii imagery, obviously. The steaks were of an impossibly low-quality cut of meat, and almost certainly not made with real meat. I mean, whoever heard of baseball cut steak? Or steak hamburgers? How can you turn a steak into a hamburger? And these people fall for these cheap gags in the droves. So obviously I had to reveal the truth about this charlatan!”
“Do you use chuck or brisket in your hamburgers, Mr. Kale?” Gloria asked the big man.
“Both,” he answered. “Plus some sirloin and a few other things I won’t mention. Trade secret, you know.”
“Proper steakburgers and baseball steak,” Gloria muttered, remembering the one and only time her parents had been able to splurge on such treats, back when she and Akisha were around five or six. “Oh, I’m definitely coming here again. Maybe moving in.”
Kale laughed. “If you think that’s good, pup, wait till you try some traditional Hawaiian cooking. Now that’s the real stuff.”
Ellison sneered. “What do you know cheapie,” he said.
“Gloria, focus,” Area said firmly. “Kale, stop encouraging her. Mr. Ellison, I warned you once before to lay off the personal insults. I would hate to have to do it again. Now, you were saying, Mr. Ellison?”
“Well, that’s about it really,” Ellison admitted. “Once I realized the fraud, I had to tell everybody. That’s when this giant oaf took me back here and tried to shut me up!”
“Thank you for that enlightening testimony, Mr. Ellison,” Area said dryly. “Is there anything you’d like to add, Kale?”
“Not really,” Kale said, glowering at Ellison. “This shit pretty much laid it out as is. But I didn’t threaten him or anything.”
“And what would you call dragging me back here and telling me to lay?” Ellison demanded.
“Protecting my business,” Kale said bluntly.
“All right, that’s enough,” Area said, waving them both off. “Mr. Ellison, while I can appreciate the desire to expose fraud, this is neither the time or the place to do so. Secondly, you may want to check that what you’re claiming is fraudulent actually is. Both baseball cut steak and steakburgers are well-known to anyone who’s ever been in a steakhouse. Especially to people who can allegedly afford fifteen-hundred dollar suits. Thirdly, we are going to be investigating Mr. Kale’s claim that you have harassed other shops on this block in this manner. So don’t disappear on us, okay?”
“You’re investigating me?” Ellison demanded. Gloria had to admit that he did the phony outrage well.
“Yes, we are,” Area said firmly. “And we will be contacting your superiors at Winton Steel, as well. I’m sure old Elizabeth would love to know just what you’ve been up to. Until then, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” She gazed at Ellison steadily, while Gloria put on her fakest, most innocent smile. Ellison gave them the ugliest sneer yet and said:
“Typical. Just typical. You goddamned bloodsuckers. I should’ve known you’d cover for each other. I’m out of here. But you’ll get yours one day, don’t you forget it!” With that, Ellison stomped his way back to the stairs leading down. Along the way, a kid who couldn’t have been more than five decided he didn’t like Mr. Ellison and lobbed a spoonful of mashed potatoes at his back. Gloria thought it improved the suit immensely; Ellison apparently didn’t notice. He kept walking and was soon out of sight.
“Well, that was fun,” Area said, watching Ellison walk out of the room. Once he was out of sight, she shook her head and said: “Pigs’ blood, Kale! And you said this guy’s been causing trouble like this for how long?”
“Six months, a little longer,” Kale said, his voice a little subdued. He seemed to have become very interested in some microscopic detail on his chest.
“And you didn’t call anybody?” Gloria asked, feeling a little incredulous.
“You dogs just would have done the same thing she did today,” Kale said, glowering darkly at Area. “You would have just let him go.”
“Kale, I let him go ’cause I need to confirm the rest of your story and ’cause I don’t have a place to park his ass while we wait for the waggon to show up,” Area said, her tone matching what Gloria presumed was eye-rolling behind those cheaters. “Once I talk to the other shopkeeps I’m going to call the waggon and have them pick them up.”
“You still let him go,” Kale said, still glowering. “And he’ll just buy his way out!”
“I don’t think so,” Area said thoughtfully. “We’ve got a pattern here, a pattern that clearly shows malicious intent. No, he’ll burn. And Winton won’t stick her neck out for him. Not a chance. She hates his guts.”
“Who is Elizabeth Winton?” Gloria asked. “I’ve heard of Winton Steel before, but I didn’t know there was any actual ‘Winton’s.'”
“They’re is,” Area said dryly, “and Elizabeth is a rabid bitch with a toothache. And yes, I know just how hypocritical that is given who we work for. But as much as she hates our guts, she’s going to hate that guy’s guts even more. Cowards, liars, and general scum really piss her off. More than usual, I mean.”
“I suppose,” Kale said. He didn’t sound all that convinced to Gloria. “You really think you can nail this guy?”
“He’ll be jobless in an hour and in jail soon,” Area said confidently. “Dumb sucker. But you really should have called us earlier. We could have gotten rid of him ages ago.”
“Maybe,” Kale said reluctantly. “Bye, Area. I got work I got to do.” And he elbowed his way through the crowd west back towards the kitchen. Area shook his head and headed back the same way, but towards the stairs instead of the kitchen as Kale was. Gloria hurried after her.
“That was weird,” Gloria said once she caught up.
“What, that Ellison guy? Nah, that was pretty normal. There’s always somebody like him; a thousand of ’em a night, a million a year,” Area said. “Actually, most criminals are like him. Not devious masterminds, but cheap idiots that go around harassing people for kicks.” The two women reached the stairs and went down. Gloria said:
“Yeah, no. I get that. But six months? That’s kind of long, isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t surprise me,” Area admitted. “This block is Green territory, and the senior knight bachelor for the Greens is a serious pain in the ass. Always on the boss’s case about something. Usually how we aren’t thumping the mortals or criminals hard enough for nirs liking. The boss usually shuts nem down pretty quick, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Greens were told to sit on this and not contact us, handle it themselves. Of course, if the problem is that we’re not effective enough, I can’t really see how taking the law into your own hands is going to help that. But what do I know? I’m just a flatfoot.”
“Right,” Gloria said as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Area lead the way out and then stopped in the lobby and pulled out her phone. Gloria guessed that she was checking in. Mika, the girl from before, waved Gloria over.
“Yes, ma’am? Can I help you with anything?” Gloria asked.
“No need to be so formal, Officer,” Mika said flirtatiously. “Here. Compliments of the owner.” Mika pulled up a doggy bag from beneath the counter and shoved it into Gloria’s hands. Gloria peaked inside. There were a couple of burgers wrapped in tinfoil packages along with a pulled pork sandwich similarly covered. Area, having finished her call, walked up to the counter and saw the bag. She winked at Gloria before wagging her finger at Mika. Mika just laughed and waved the two women away. Area led the way while Gloria grabbed the bag and followed along. She was curious just how the rest of her training night would go.
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