Fort Eden – Chapter 13

“Breaking and Entering” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

“What you want?”

Luc stared impassively at the hulking figure blocking the doorway.

“Is this the Gilded Rose? Owned by Mr. Ewing?”

The bouncer growled, and with a start, Patricia realized it was an actual growl, his bare chest vibrating just like a wolf’s.

“Who’s asking?”

“Assuming that this is the Gilded Rose, we are working with your employer, Mr. Ewing, to track down some gold shipments of his that have gone missing. We’d like to take a look around the establishment to search for any clues that might aid our investigation.”

“Boss didn’t say anything about nothing.”

Luc frowned.

“Apparently an oversight, but not one we should let delay us. Come, my good man, we’re only trying to help. The sooner we can inspect the premises, the more likely we are to apprehend the thief.”

“No. Fuck off.”

More muscles popped across the already existing muscles, and Patricia sniffed. Casually, she pushed past Luc and stood in front of the giant.

“Look, we need to get in, and you’re in our way. I’ve about reached today’s limit for politely restraining myself, so move. Now.”

The bouncer sneered, revealing jagged yellow teeth.

“You’re a mouthy little mongrel, aren’t you, bi-”

Patricia didn’t give him the chance to finish his sentence, her foot lashing out into his shin with furious speed. The sound of the bone breaking was like a gunshot, and the bouncer toppled over with a high-pitched scream, clutching at his shattered lower leg. Patricia knelt next to him, pulling one of the curved knives from his belt, and placed the point under his chin. A trickle of blood slid down his neck, and his scream died away, strangled by terror.

“That’s better. Let’s try this again. We’d like to come in. You’d like to keep your tongue in your mouth, and not have it nailed to your balls. Can we come in?”

“Y- y- yes.”

“Yes, what?”

“Y- yes, ma’am.”

“Very good. See, Luc, any animal can be trained if you’re willing to provide it with the proper incentive.”

Luc rolled his eyes and stepped over the bouncer, wrinkling his nose at the puddle spreading from the man’s crotch.

“Somehow, I do not think The Gentleman’s Horse Fancier Quarterly will be asking you for training techniques anytime soon, Patricia.”

“Their loss.” Patricia hefted the knife in her hand, and the bouncer’s eyes bulged even wider. “Relax,” she said softly, “I’m not going to kill you. This, however,” she brought the hilt of the knife down on his forehead, knocking him unconscious, “isn’t going to feel very good.” She let the blade fall to the floor and stood up, wiping dust from her knees.

“Was that totally necessary, Patricia?” Luc asked, looking around the small entrance room.

“Yes. For a variety of reasons.”

Patricia scanned the room as well, frowning at the bloodstain running along one wall, and the nicks and scars of bladed weapons marring the cheap woodwork.

“Looks like they see a rough crowd in here. Are you sure Ewing sent along word that we’d be looking around?”

Luc tapped a finger against his thigh.

“He did not say so specifically, but I assumed he would realize it would be an objective of ours. How else are we to prove it was Polanski other than recreating his motives?”

Patricia looked over at Luc, an unpleasant sensation blossoming in her stomach.

“Did he actually say he wanted us to prove it was Polanski? Or did Ewing just point us in his direction and say ‘arrest that man’?”

Luc frowned.

“Now that you mention it, Ewing himself did not mention anything other than Polanski. It was the chief who gave us the information on the properties. I confirmed with Ewing that he owned them, but perhaps he didn’t understand that they would be involved in the investigation. Odd. He seemed to have an acutely aware mind.”

Patricia sighed.

“So then, odds are good that Ewing has no idea we planned on coming here. Great. Well, I’m not apologizing to the bouncer. He had it coming. Guess we might as well look around while we’re here.” She pushed the door halfway open, then paused. “Oh, and Luc? Next time, when it comes to things like ‘getting permission to search a possibly illegal gambling house,’ make sure that the conversations you’re having with other people aren’t just taking place in your head.”

A flush stole over Luc’s cheeks.

“I will. Sorry.”

“It’s fine. I can’t wait to tell Farlan about ‘The Strategist’ actually making a mistake.”

“Is that really necessary, Patricia?”

“Yes.” She grinned. “For a variety of reasons.”

The muted clamour of the gambling house washed over Patricia as she walked into the main room, its low-ceilinged length half-filled despite the early hour. Rows of tables lined the walls, occupied by groups of men holding cards and cursing at each other. Large wheels of chance spun lazily, pegs clicking past pointers like rattling bones. A waist-high counter partitioned off the end of the room, heavy iron bars blocking anyone from leaping across it. Behind the bars, several women in low cut dresses sat stoically, faces worn and tired, handing over painted chips and paper money in exchange for the bright flash of gold. Four men toting shotguns leaned casually against the wall behind them, eyes flickering from the transactions to the room and back.

Patricia leaned over to Luc.

“What’s the plan? Believe it or not, I’d prefer not to shoot everyone.”

Luc snorted, adjusting his tri-corner hat.

“Allow me to attempt a different approach. I anticipate a distinct lack of shooting.”

Patricia snorted, but followed Luc over to the counter.

“Well met, madam,” Luc began, addressing the hard-worn cashier. “Mr. Ewing, the master of this establishment, sent my partner and I over to ask a few questions about the recent gold heist. Do you have a moment?”

The woman, her painted lashes blinking uncertainly, glanced over at one of the armed men.

“Malcolm. Fellow here says he wants to talk. Says the boss sent him.”

Luc waved at the guard strolling over.

“Hello, good sir. Mr. Ewing engaged us at his town house, the one on Pilkington Street. He was quite eager to solve the mystery of his stolen gold. We just need to ask a few questions to anyone who might have been working here on the night of the theft.”

The guard frowned, his mouth working as he tried to take in all of Luc’s statement.

“…boss sent you?”

“Correct,” Luc nodded. “How else would we have entered this fine establishment?”

Patricia carefully looked off into space, thinking of the unconscious bouncer at the front door. Hopefully no one stumbled over him before they left.

“…’k. Be quick, though. Boss don’t like it when we’re not collecting gold.”

“We shall, we shall.” Luc turned back to the cashier. “Now then, madam, were you working here a week ago to this night?”

“…yeah. Work every Tuesday. Wednesday through Sunday too.”

“Very good. Did you happen to notice anything out of the ordinary, last Tuesday? Anything that stuck in your mind?”

The cashier looked up to the ceiling, her fingers tapping a staccato rhythm on her side of the counter.

“…nah. Things were normal. Gold came in, we made change, wagon came after midnight to collect the metal.”

“A wagon?”

“Yeah. Comes every Tuesday. Picks up all the gold, takes it somewhere else. That’s all I know.”

Luc leaned in closer.

“There’s nothing else you remember? Nothing about the wagon itself, maybe the men driving it?”

The cashier’s fingers paused, their tapping beat silenced.

“Now that you mention it, yeah. One of the, one of the regulars, had scars all over his hands and forearms. Like little burn marks. Was thinking of asking him for a roll in the hay once he finished work.” She giggled. “Always fancied the muscular types, I have. Especially those with thick fingers like him. Oooh, the things a man with thick fingers can do to-”

“Thank you, madam,” Luc interrupted hastily. “That tells us everything we need to know. You’ve been quite a help. Have a pleasant day.”

Luc tipped his hat and backed away, pulling Patricia along with him towards the entrance.

“We’re leaving already?” Patricia hissed. “We barely looked around.”

“We don’t need to,” Luc whispered back, returning to the foyer and pulling her over the still-unconscious form of the bouncer. “Whatever happened didn’t take place here.”

“How do you know?”

“The cashier. She described a man with burn marks along his forearms, one of ‘the regulars.’ What profession tends to pick those up?”

Patricia scowled, the door to the gambling house slamming shut behind her.

“Why don’t you tell me and save us some frustration.”

“A blacksmith,” Luc replied, staring at her intensely. “And who do we know that owns a smithery, along with this palace of ill repute?”

“…Ewing. You think the gold disappeared between here and the smith?”

“It makes sense. Your demonstration to the contrary, one would be ill-advised to assault the guardians of the Gilded Rose, especially if one wanted to make off with large amounts of gold and no one the wiser. Far easier to accost a mere three or four men guarding a wagon traveling across the city, especially if those men lacked awareness.”

“So, what, it was an inside job? One of the lackeys at the smith sold out to Polanski for a heist?”

Luc frowned, readjusting his bag straps over his shoulders.

“…could be. Might be something else. We should make the smithery our next stop.”

Patricia swung herself up onto her horse, hands unconsciously shifting her pistol into a quick draw position. She clicked her tongue, nudging the animal into a slow walk, Luc keeping pace alongside.

“Makes sense to me. Where’s this metal pounder located?”

“Well, first we need to make five right turns…”