In this chapter, Leander Crane goes for a drink.
I was in the bar by the time they found her body. A convoy of doctors sped past the window while I enjoyed a nice cold ale, and doctors never move at speed unless it’s for a corpse.
I had a bit of time before I needed to drop by and visit Mr Wolf, so I thought a nice drink would be in order. I often get thirsty after work, but I make a point of never visiting the same bar twice in the same month. Dropping by too often will lead to being labelled as a regular, and there goes my anonymity.
Today’s choice was the Lamb and Girdle, an odd place that seemed to be mostly populated by women in work boots. The décor was rather peculiar too, the majority of it being wicker. Wicker chairs, tables, murals, even a wicker commode. It’s a strange place, but the drinks are cheap.
As much as I like a drink, that is exactly as much as I can stomach, a drink, so when someone turned up at my table with an entire tray full of ale I was a little perturbed. The man with the drinks was very tall and had a beard that strolled up his face and onto the top of his head. I am aware that this is usually called hair, but in his case I was pretty certain it was a very aggressive beard and not your usual variety of head hair. He wore a red velvet suit with a green cravat, and sleek black shoes.
To the untrained eye, Bridge Tepping looked ridiculous, but those with a more penetrating gaze would understand why. Bridge was the last magician in the country, the last of the old guard. Magic had fallen out of favour rather quickly one people had discovered steam and clockwork mechanisms that could do everything so much quicker and with less books.
‘Leander, old friend,’ Bridge rumbled as he past me a fresh drink.
‘Hello Bridge, how are things?’
The last time I had seen Bridge was just prior to his divorce. He had found his wife cheating on him with another magician, hence why Bridge is now the last one. He went a little bit off the deep end and roasted both of them with a spell he later told me was called “Lover’s Inferno”. I think it was probably one he had invented specially. I couldn’t fault him on his divorce method, though, the woman was a cheating harlot. I should know, but I won’t go into that.
‘They’re fine. There’s still some money to be made hurling the odd fireball for tourists,’ the giant beamed. ‘But I haven’t come to bother you with small talk, I know how busy you must be, what with all the thieving.’
I did one of those movements that just come naturally when you hear privileged information blurted out louder than even a marketplace seller could muster, a strange bodily gyration that attempts to catch the words in mid air before people can hear them. It was unnecessary of course, Bridge would have ensured that the other patrons couldn’t hear him.
‘If you’re not hear for a chat,’ I blurted out a little sharply. ‘What are you hear for?’
The big man took a large gulp of one of the many drinks he had brought. ‘I need information. I’ve been hearing some dodgy things, and I need to know if any of them are true.’
‘Well, I’m not liable to know everything, but I’ll see what I can do,’ I said. Being a member of the criminal classes does sometimes provide you with a bit of knowledge that the more law abiding don’t get. Trivial things really, which is why I don’t try to sell my information. Honestly, most of it would barely be worth the price of a loaf of bread.
‘I’ve got a list of things here, let me read them all out,’ Bridge reached into his jacket and pulled out a small square of paper. ‘Right. There are three main things. Mutants in the sewers, a rise in the drugs trade, and an elf sighting.’
I sighed. ‘Yes, yes, no. Honestly, elves? Elves aren’t real, they’re in folk tales and novels, not reality. I would have thought you’d know that.’
‘Just keeping an open mind,’ Bridge replied. ‘They may not be real, but if there’s even the slightest chance that they’re just something we’ve forgotten over the years, may as well keep an eye out. It won’t be long before people start forgetting about magic.’
‘People already have,’ I conceded. ‘There’s only you left, turning cheap parlour tricks for people who find it amazing instead of terrifying.’
Bridge finished off another drink. ‘Are you saying my magic is terrifying to behold?’
‘Only when you know what it is, what it’s capable of.’
‘Are you going to drink that?’ he pointed at my glass and I shook my head. He took it off me and downed it in one gulp. ‘Magic is only as bad as you let it be.’
‘Like immolating unfaithful wives?’
‘Exactly,’ his face wrinkled into a massive smile, revealing his unnaturally white teeth.
I liked Bridge, but he was a bit too medieval. Back then, setting fire to your wife would be commonplace, tough love, but nowadays a quick slap would be more than sufficient. And the alcohol, the man could drink enough to pickle a whale. He was probably the closest thing I had to a friend, and the first thing that leapt to mind when I was listing my fears.
I watched him polish off the remaining drinks, waited for an opening, and got up to leave. As I rose his firm hands grabbed me and pushed me back into the seat. ‘There’s one more thing.’
‘What is it?’
‘A bit of information for you,’ Bridge had suddenly gone quite serious. ‘There’s a new smuggling ring in town, nasty bastards apparently. No-one’s really sure what they’re trafficking, but these guys seem to protect it pretty viciously. I know how much you like to make enemies, but you should probably avoid stealing from them if you can help it.’
There was always a new gang in town and they were always violent scum bags who protected their property. Truth told, I’d already heard about this specific gang from another thief I had caught (and eventually gutted) trying to one-up me on a recent job. You could tell the gang was serious as they didn’t have a threatening name. Or any name, for that matter.
I thanked Bridge for his information, even though it was relatively old news, and his concern by buying him another brewery’s worth of ale. Then I sifted through the papers I had acquired from the messengers and double checked the location of Mr. Wolf’s office.