Fort Eden – Chapter 9
“Bars of Iron and Gold” Written by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae
Patricia looked around the room. Patches of mold covered the corners of the dingy grey stone, and condensation beaded overhead. In front of her and Farlan sat a corpulent man, the bottom half of his uniform obscured by a cheap wooden desk. His fingers tapped an uneven tempo on its cigarette-scarred surface, almost upsetting the towering piles of paperwork scattered across its length. When he spoke, it was with a thick cockney accent.
“So, what, you two are some sort of secret agents? Protecting us all from things that go bump in the night, yeah?”
Patricia kept her head down, not wanting the policeman to notice her. Beside her, Farlan began to speak.
“As I told you, we’re Falconers. If you could just summon your chief, Mr…”
“Officer…Nash. You think I’m going to wake the Old Man for this kind of trifling rubbish, yeah? Some silly tale about ‘Coilers’ and ‘Falconers’ and la-di-folderol?”
A chubby finger stabbed the desk, making a fleshy thump.
“Stuff and nonsense! No, you two are drunkards, along with your friend in the cell back there, and you’ll not sneak past my watch. I think you’ll be our guests until morning, and once you’ve sobered up, we’ll talk about what your release is going to cost.”
Patricia squeezed her fists tight, her lips going white under the shroud of her hair. Sensing Patricia’s tension, Farlan spoke again, his tone jovial.
“It’s been a long night, friend, and though your hospitality’s been lacking, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones. How about you go fetch the chief and we settle this with him, let you get back to sleep?”
“What’s that? You trying to-”
Whatever Officer Nash meant to say never reached Patricia’s ears. Instead, the meaty thunk of his head slamming into the desk sounded like a pistol shot, Farlan’s hand pinning his face to the wood.
“Listen up, friend,” Farlan said in a low tone, muscles in his forearm bulging. “I think we’ve wasted just about enough time here.”
Nash sucked in breath to yell, lips whistling like a tea kettle. Farlan’s other hand slammed onto the desk a millimeter from his nose, sending cracks splintering out through the wood, and Nash deflated like a punctured balloon. Farlan leaned in close, piles of paper drifting down like falling snow.
“That’s right. That could have been your face. Now, I’m not trying to be unreasonable here, but I really think you should go fetch the chief. Now.”
Farlan released Nash who wasted no time in bolting for the door, slamming it open in his haste. Farlan settled back into the officer’s chair and took out his flask. Patricia let her hands unclench.
“That’s really unfair, you know.”
Farlan peered at her over the metal container.
“I wanted to do that. Why do you always get to have all the fun?”
“Rank hath its privileges, lass. Besides, you would’ve gutted him, and then we’d be in proper trouble.”
“We’re in the middle of the gaol. We’re already in proper trouble.”
Farlan laughed. “Not yet, we’re not. Stupid blighters didn’t think to take my satchel away. I’ll blow out another wall if we-”
A tall man with golden bars across his shoulders strode into the room, his face sour, and Farlan jumped to his feet.
“Ahhh, hello, chief, a pleasure to make your acquaintance. I’m Farlan-”
“I know who you are,” the man growled. Two more guards, pistols held at their sides, took up position outside the door. “You’re the bastard who blew out my eastern wall thirteen years ago. Took me five months to repair that, and three prisoners escaped.” His mouth twisted into a grim smile. “Two of the blighters won’t trouble the living no more, that’s for certain. Never caught that girl, though…”
Farlan tugged at the collar of his shirt.
“Ahem, yes, well, as you can see, I clearly have an official Falconer’s medallion right here, my partner as well,” a brief gesture towards Patricia, who tried to bury her face even deeper into her chest, “name engraved on the back, such intricate lettering, wouldn’t you agree, and there’s a prisoner here we desperately need to question.”
“And why,” the man began, looking thoughtfully at Patricia, “should I care a single whit for what you want?”
“Because, you see, ahem, the various international treaties between the civilized nations makes it clear that Falconers are to be afforded all assistance necessary no matter what the circumstance, and I believe that-”
“You’re the third one,” the man interrupted, lips pressed together, pointing a finger at Patricia. “I recognize those tribal markings. Not a prisoner that’s been through here that I don’t remember.”
Patricia looked up at him, her eyes blazing. “And what are you going to do about it?”
The warden rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Well, I could have you shot. There’s only two of you, and quite a lot of us.” He leaned against the door frame, eyes steady. “However, I have to ask myself – what could possibly cause a fugitive to return to the site of her imprisonment? What dire need would drive her to take such a risk?”
Patricia’s right hand reached for her empty holster and the pistol that had been confiscated upon entry to the gaol.
“I’m no fugitive. You bigoted shiteheels refused to listen to me back then because you didn’t want to face the truth, and I couldn’t afford to rot while there’s fighting to be done. I’m a Falconer, now, and if you don’t let us-”
“Oooh, threats, and here’s me quivering in my boots,” the chief interjected. “You’ll what? Tear this prison down around my head? Visit the wrath of god upon us all?”
“Try me,” Patricia hissed, her fingers flexing like claws.
“Calm down,” Farlan whispered.
The chief laughed. “What a charming little savage. Fortunately for you both, I’ve read the telegrams, and I have no intention of holding up Falconers pursuing their prey, no matter how checkered their past. You’re a vicious little bitch, but at least you’re human, which is more than can be said for some. Follow me.”
The chief stalked out of the room, bootheels striking the floor in a crisp staccato. Farlan shook his head and followed, Patricia scrambling to keep pace. Outside, the dismal grey maze of hallways stretched out in multiple directions.
“Can we trust him?” Patricia whispered, her eyes on the chief’s back.
“I don’t see that we have much choice, lass,” Farlan whispered back. “It looks like he’s willing to cooperate, which is more than I’d hoped for coming into this pit. Let’s play along for now, at least until we get our weapons back.”
“You better be right, old man,” she muttered.
Barred cell doors passed on either side, the odd cry for mercy sounding from some. Patricia felt her gorge rise. The words, filled with liquid consonants, tugged at memories of her childhood.
“Those are my people, Farlan. They don’t belong in here.”
“Steady. I don’t like it either, but we’re here for the Culler.”
“Easy for you to say. Your skin’s the right shade to avoid these cells.”
Farlan grimaced, his hand dropping to his coat. “Aye, and don’t think I don’t realize that. I wish we could do something, but the fact remains, if we spend ourselves on the lesser evil, the greater evil will make our efforts moot.” His hand emerged with a flask, and he took a long draw. “Or do you think a Culler’s going to discriminate when it comes time for the killing?”
Patricia bit her lip, remaining silent. She knew he was right.
“And that’s the rub. We do what we have to now, lass, and maybe later we can do what we wish.”
In front of them, the chief paused beside a door, his posture stiff.
“Here’s where we’ve been keeping him. Hasn’t been more than an hour, maybe two.”
Keys rattled, and the door swung open. The chief gestured them inside.
“Go on, ask your questions. Night’s getting late, and I’m looking to get some sleep.”
Farlan stepped into the room, Patricia on his heels. She glanced around, and sucked in a whistling breath. Farlan turned back to the door, his eyes on the chief.
“Might be a bit tricky to question a corpse, chief.”
The ruptured cadaver of Reggie Hawthorne lay face down on the stone floor. Pale chunks of skull, like a gruesome second mouth, protruded from the back of his head, and a glistening trail of slime crawled up the wall and out the barred window.
“This is not good, Farlan,” Patricia whispered, and a chill stole over her heart.