“Springing the Trap” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

Patricia’s head jerked up at the rapping on her door. She rose from the small table where she’d been cleaning her pistol, and moved to answer it.

“Farlan! What happened?”

Dirty streaks of soot smudged his face and clothing, burn marks edged the fringes of his long overcoat. Farlan walked unsteadily into the room, sat on Patricia’s bed, and retrieved a flask from his coat before taking a long drink.

“Nothing good, lass. Nothing good. Get Luc. He’ll need to hear this too.”

“Of course.”

Patricia fetched Luc from the adjacent room, and quietly shut the door behind them.

“Ok, we’re here, old man. We’re here. What’s going on?”

Farlan took another swig from his flask, then let out a shuddering breath.

“Had an encounter with a Thrall. At a dockside tavern. It was one of Polanski’s men. I killed it, but not before it murdered three others. It was… nasty.”

“Gods above,” Luc whispered. “Then that means it really is Polanski behind all this. He’s the Culler.”

“We investigated the gambling house,” Patricia interjected. “Had a bit of a scuffle there, but nothing too serious. More importantly, it led us to Ewing’s smithery, where we cornered one of the apprentices. He spilled his guts as soon as I pulled out my knife. Polanski was behind the gold heists. The apprentice tipped him off when the shipments were leaving the smithery, and he took care of the rest.”

“Good…” Farlan coughed. “Good work, lass. You too, Luc. I got an address from one of Polanski’s men at the tavern, before he died. It’s a warehouse on French Street.”

“In the Devil’s Half Acre?” Patricia frowned. “That’s a rough spot. Should we see if Ewing can provide us with some extra muscle?”

“Not a bad idea, Patricia, but I think it’s best if it’s just the three of us,” Luc replied. “If Polanski is the Culler, there’s no telling how Ewing’s men would react when he reveals himself. Far safer to go with less people, but ones you can absolutely rely on, than to have an ally that might get your throat slit.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right about that. Okay, when are we going to do this?”

“It’ll have to be tonight,” Farlan said, looking up. “We can’t risk Polanski becoming suspicious that four of his men are missing, especially if one was a Thrall. We hit them hard, and we hit them fast, and we let the local constabulary sort out the bodies.”

Luc’s mouth ticked down.

“I would feel far more comfortable were we to properly reconnoiter the area first. There’s no telling what kind of traps the creature might have placed around its lair.”

“I wish we could,” Farlan responded, “but we have to act now. That Thrall revealed itself in the middle of a tavern. If they’re feeling that confident, then there’s no time to lose. We have no idea what they’re planning, but you both know it won’t end well.”

Patricia gave a short bark of laughter, the bitter sound echoing through the room.

“That’s an understatement if ever I heard one, old man. Nothing involving Cullers ever ends well. What’s the plan?”

“Well, that’s what we need to figure out. Luc, do you still have those maps of the city on you?”

Luc swung his satchel off his shoulder and rummaged through it, emerging with a sheaf of parchment.

“Of course. What were you thinking?”

“The usual. You sneaking and trapping. Patricia kicking in doors and shooting. Me talking to whoever’s left.”

Luc smiled. “I like this plan.”

Patricia nodded her approval. “Me too.”

“Good,” said Farlan, his own grin gleaming fiercely through the grime on his face. “Because it’s the only one we’ve got.”

* * * *

Patricia shivered in the cold mist of the evening fog and drew her coat more tightly around herself. Her horse whickered, briefly shaking out its mane, then continued its slow walk down the winding street. Gas-lit streetlamps burned fitfully in the gloom, barely illuminating the cobblestones beneath their iron scaffolds. Brief snatches of conversation from workers heading home were swallowed by the heavy air. Soon, it was just her and Farlan, making their way through a shadowed valley of decrepit tenements and slouching warehouses. Next to her, Farlan shifted his weight atop Proof, and pulled out a flask.

“Fancy a drink, lass?”

Patricia bit her tongue on her normal pointed rejoinder, and held out a hand.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Certain doom really enhances the appeal of liquid courage.”

“Well said.” Farlan smiled, and handed the flask over. Patricia took a long pull, the fiery whisky burning a path down her throat. She coughed, and handed it back.

“Ugh. Your waipiro leaves much to be desired, old man.”

“Stinking water, eh? Well, I can’t argue with that. I wouldn’t waste the good stuff out in the field like this. My ancestors would kill me if I died with a half-full single malt in my coat. No, this is for the effects, not for the flavour.”

Patricia rolled her tongue over her teeth, trying to get rid of the metallic aftertaste. Beside her, Farlan took a long drink of his own.

“I damn sure hope the ‘effects’ get us through the next couple of hours, then. I’d hate to go to the afterlife with that taste being the last I remember.”

“We’ll make it, Patricia,” Farlan replied. “We have to make it. Otherwise the Cullers will wipe out this entire city, and there’s no way I’m facing my Granny Agatha, god rest her soul, with that on my conscience.”

“You and me both, old man,” Patricia muttered, rubbing her hand over her pistol grip. “You and me both.”

More fog billowed through the darkness, heavy with the salty brine of the harbour, and other, less redolent scents, its roiling depths cutting visibility even further. Patricia wrinkled her nose.

“Can’t see a damn thing, can’t smell a damn thing. You sure this is wise, Farlan?”

“Not at all, lass. Still doesn’t make it any less necessary. Ahh. We’re here.”

Warped wooden walls, their painted lengths flaked and peeling like a sunburnt corpse, stretched forth in the small pool of light underneath the hissing gas lamp. A large pair of double doors, a smaller door inset into the right one, split the expanse of rotting timber like palace gates. Farlan dismounted, looping Proof’s reins around a hitching post under the lamp, shotgun tucked casually in the crook of his left arm. Patricia followed suit, her pistol held low to her side.

“Now what?”

“We knock, lass, and see if anyone answers. Then we find Polanski and we send that Culler to hell. Luc’s waiting on the backside to take out anything that tries to get away.”

“Simple enough. I like it. Ready?”


Farlan lifted a hand and banged on the smaller door, sending a series of dull thuds echoing through the night. Patricia cocked her pistol, leaving it concealed by her side, but ready to act on an instant’s notice. Adrenaline started its warm surge through her veins.

From the door came a rattling noise, then a creaking groan as it slowly swung open, revealing the dimly-lit interior of a warehouse, boxes and crates stacked in precarious piles, a miniature ramshackle city of sketchy secondhand goods.

“Hello?” Farlan called out.

The doorway remained empty.

“This feels like a trap,” Patricia whispered, the back of her neck tingling. She peered into the musty stillness, but nothing revealed itself within the maze of crates. Farlan checked the breech of his shotgun, then snapped it into place.

“Of course it’s a trap. Whatever this Culler is, it doesn’t seem to be stupid. We’re springing it nonetheless.”