Fort Eden – Chapter 17

“Unravelling the Shroud” by Chris Kluwe and Edwin McRae

Patricia followed Farlan and Luc up a rickety wooden staircase to the second floor of the warehouse, the tinnitus still ringing in her ear. Halfway up, the vision of the Culler leaping at her flashed through her mind, its smile a window into the worst hell imaginable. She thrust a hand to the railing to keep herself standing, breath coming in shaking pants. Farlan looked back down at her, concerned.

“You sure you’re okay, Patricia?”

“Post battle shakes. I’ll be fine. It’s just… godammit. It never gets any easier facing those things.”

With a wry grin, Farlan waved his flask at her, and Patricia couldn’t help but chuckle. After several more deep breaths, the shaking in her legs subsided, and she continued up the stairs, joining Farlan and Luc at the top.

“You have your way, old man. I have mine. The important thing is we keep going.”

“True enough, lass, true enough.” Farlan turned back to the walkway, then strode forward determinedly to where three men sat slumped against a wall; two in long black overcoats, one in an ill-fitting suit, all with dazed expressions. “Ahh. The very man we were looking for. And how are you feeling, Mr. Polanski?”

The man in the suit looked up at Farlan, some of the fog draining from his eyes.

“What in the blessed virgin’s name was that… that thing? Young David was over for dinner at my mother’s just two nights ago! How did he turn into… into that czart?”

“That, Mr. Polanski, was a Culler, and you are very fortunate indeed to be alive right now, as are your two friends. Speaking of which, who are they?”

“Aron and Borys, both from my hometown in Poland. Good in a fight, not much for thinking. They leave that to me.”

“You called the Culler ‘young David,’” Luc interjected. “How long have you known him?”

“He… he came to Fort Eden nearly a month ago. He was clever, and not as concerned with the intricacies of property ownership as the constabulary in this city. I tested him, as I do all those who might help me keep this corner of existence alive and flourishing, and he passed, so I allowed him to assist.”

“And what did young David ‘assist’ you with,” Farlan asked.

“The smuggling of certain items of high value, some light fencing, an occasional theft. I told you, he was a clever boy.”

“When was the last time you saw him? Before tonight?”

“Two nights ago, we have dinner at my mother’s. David, he comes because he has no other family here, and family, it is important. This afternoon he shows up to work like normal.”

“What about the gold that you stole from Ewing?”

Polanski’s face twisted, as if biting into something sour.

“Ewing, that obesraniec. He walks into this city like he owns it, starts flashing his money and thinks he can push around those of us who live here, we who look out for the little people. One of my girls, she goes to work at his gambling house, she tells me how much gold he collects, the lower rates he offers to steal my customers. Then one of my dockworkers tells me about fishing ships heading out with heavy crates, many such crates, and coming back with only fish, and these ships bear Ewing’s mark. It does not take any genius to put one and two together, so I tell my men we take his gold when he sends it to his ships, and so we did. David, he said we were risking too much, he did not like it, but I tell him that sometimes you must take risks in this line of work, and that also I am the boss and no pojebany areshole gets to hide his gold that he steals from me.”

Patricia frowned.

“You think he was hiding the gold? Why?”

Polanski shrugged.

“He is pojebany. Fucked in head, crazy. Maybe he want to not pay his taxes, maybe he bury it on an island, maybe he worries I will take it back like I did. I do not know.”

The three Falconers looked at each other, then Farlan looked back at Polanski.

“Wait here, please. My colleagues and I need to discuss a few things.”

Polanski shrugged again, his face resigned.

“What else is there for me to do? Nearly all my men are dead, and you have the guns to deal with these czart, these demons. You have our lives in your hands.”

Polanski’s head sank down to his chest, his hands limp in his lap, and Farlan motioned Patricia and Luc to join him several metres away.

“I don’t like this,” Farlan whispered. “His man was a Culler, but I’m not getting any sense that Polanski knew about it.”

“I agree,” Luc whispered back. “He fits the profile of an immigrant crime lord perfectly, but nothing more.”

“So, then what’s our explanation?” Patricia hissed. “The missing gold was simply a dispute between two influential men, and there happens to be a nest of particularly strange Cullers? That’s too coincidental for my liking.”

“Mine too, lass, mine too, but it’s the explanation that fits. Maybe the Cullers noticed the friction between Ewing and Polanski and simply took advantage of it.”

“I agree with Patricia,” Luc said, “but I also lack a better means of describing the puzzle we’ve unearthed than what Farlan offers. It seems that perhaps we got lucky and were able to disrupt whatever it was being planned here before it could ever get going properly. Even the best laid plans of men and Cullers can be disrupted by a chance encounter of fate.”

“Whatever was controlling Reggie is still out there,” Patricia responded, memories briefly resurfacing.

“Aye, and we’ll hunt it down, have no fear about that, lass.” Farlan ran a hand through his greying hair. “It seems to me that our best course of action at the moment is to turn Polanski and his crew over to the chief and report what we’ve found to Ewing. That’ll free us from getting entangled in these criminal elements, and allow us to focus on tracking down that last Culler.”

“How do you know with certainty it’s the last Culler?”

“I don’t, Luc, but everything we’ve encountered has been tied up in the feud between Polanski and Ewing, and whatever that thing was inside Reggie is the only one unaccounted for. Once we track it down, if nothing else pops up, I think we can consider the issue settled.”

“That makes sense. Very well, let us alert the local constabulary and then finish our business with Mr. Ewing so I can work on finding the beast. This whole matter has been thoroughly unpleasant, and I would like some respite in order to regain my equanimity.”

“We all do, Luc. We all do.”