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Chapter II:

Sometimes I Need A Drink

The first thing that tipped me off that Delia Crabwack was a liar, apart from just looking at her for thirty seconds, was that she was talking to me. The big how-do-you-dos only come to this part of the city, the Down Under, when they have something to hide or are looking for something worth hiding. They don’t come here for help, no matter who referred them. And with how loose Delia’s story was, she was just a hair’s breath away from a jigsaw puzzle.

But a job’s a job.

Once she left, I started bouncing ideas off Sifu about what a dame like her could be playing at, which mostly consisted of talking to myself for half an hour while Sifu blinked at me encouragingly. She had given me some decent stuff to go on. I just had to figure out how much of it was true.

I decided I needed a drink, which is usually the best way to start these things. I grabbed my sidearm, put on my coat and hat, and told Sifu I was headed to Connor’s Place. Sifu followed me out the door, but went in the opposite direction I was going. His way of saying he still disapproves of alcohol.

I once fell asleep at my desk with a bottle of vodka, and when I woke up, the bottle was on fire with Sifu innocently holding a matchbox nearby.

I don’t drink at the office anymore.

To get to Connor’s Place I could either go the long way through corridors and across bridges, or I could just walk down the street. I wasn’t in the mood for exercise so I so I decided to get some air.

I walked out onto the street and immediately repressed my gag reflex with a practiced cough. The smog was in thick that day; the kind of weather where you come inside and spend a week getting clean. Most of the streetlights there are burnt out or shot out; so the only light is a grimy amber miasma from the sun crawling down the buildings and the halogens on cars flying overhead.

I checked the readout on my sidearm and saw that it was working and it was three shots short of a full eight round magazine; the hold over from my last trip to the range. I only need three shots to remind myself that I know how to hit a moving target. Down on the street there is no space for anything fancy. You either are looking for trouble, or you are the trouble for someone else to find. Even the whores work the inside in the Down Under.

A few blocks away I was greeted by the charming fluorescents of a traditional Irish pub. Unlike other shop fronts in the Down Under, Connor’s Place is almost pristine, as even bums know not to piss where they eat, and any nap who’d be dumb enough to tag the place would wake up a week later with an obscene tattoo across his face if he was very lucky. To drunks and social misfits, the local bar is considered sacred ground where bitching and moaning is prayer and fighting is the best way to exorcise the demon.

I walked in the front door and held onto my hat as the vent fans kicked the smog back onto the street. I waved a hand to Papi, and he set up my usual fair. Any barkeep worth his salt should know his regular’s habits and be able to pick up on emotional cues. It was Tuesday and I was feeling contemplative. That meant bourbon and crackers respectively.

“Y’are in early this week, Nick.” Papi said as I laid my hat and coat over the stool next to me. People round here are accustomed to occupied holsters.

“You know how it is. You get paid, but you’ve already pissed it away.” I said taking a sip.

“Money troubles, mate?”

Papi wasn’t Irish, but he put forward a good effort with the accent. No one had the heart to tell him he sounded like an Australian Jew on the way to temple. Along with being just shy of six feet, just gross of two-hundred-fifty pounds, and just sad in the hair department, Papi was just what you'd expect in a neighborhood booze-slinger. Probably because he had put so much effort into fullfilling the stereotype. I don't know how he came to own the bar, but he's been a good ear for years now and I didn't see the need to pry.

“Not yet. It’s a new case I’m trying to wrap my head around.”

“And?”

“Lady comes in by the name of Delia Crabwack.”

“Tha’s an odd name.”

“Probably fake. Anyway, she gives me this line about her husband going missing, all the while she’s sitting across from me acting like she’s high class.”

“Maybe she did ‘em in.”

“That’s what I’m thinking, but she doesn’t have the vibe, you know? She sounds sincerely desperate to find him.”

“Maybe ‘e picked up on her plan an’ skipped town.”

“Maybe. Or she’s a good actress who’s not that good at prep work. But if she is trying to squeeze on him, and he knows, why wouldn’t she cut her losses? Or if she did cut him out of the picture, why come to a gumshoe in order to find him after the cops say they can’t?”

“Maybe she’s honest.”

“…Maybe, Papi.” I said stuffing another cracker down my gullet. “In the meantime stick to your day job and pour me another.”

“I’m jus’ sayin’ all women smell a bit fishy, if ya catch my drift.”

“Papi, you’re a filthy old pervert.”

“An’ the ladies love me for it.”


* * *


I left Connor’s Place a few hours later after a few rounds and time enough to walk a straight line. I went back the way I came along the street humming what I remember of Waltzing Matilda, which isn’t much. It’s strange what old songs come to you when you are drink. I once shared a bottle of bottom shelf tequila with a recently divorced mailman while we tried to remember the score to Miss Saigon, though we ended up improvising the whole second act.

Unfortunately a group of naps came out of a side street ahead of me.

“Oy codge, hands out!” The apparent lead boy said tapping a crowbar in his palm while his two pals grinned like piranha.

“I don’t have time to be playing with any French Canadians tonight, boys.” I said without making any indication of advance or retreat. You have to hold your ground with these punks.

“We no French!” the lead boy sneered. “Hands out.”

“When’d you guys move in? This is Keys’ ground.”

“Wrong fence, codge. No Keys here.”

I looked around and under the only working street light I saw tags that told me I was two blocks west of where I thought I was.

“My mistake.” I said.

“Yeah, you mistake. You pay toll.”

“You really think anyone would be green enough to walk the street with paper?”

“We take plastic.”

“Paper or plastic!” one of the other naps chimed in as he pulled a knife.

On average I should be able to take two of them, but not three, and especially not when I’ve got bourbon soaked cotton wrapped around my head. At this point there were only two steps I could take to avoid a serious fight, and I hoped I don’t have to use both.

I pulled my sidearm and pointed it at the lead nap. He took a step back but that’s it.

“Time to check out, codge.” he said with what little boys consider bravado.

I responded by flipping a switch to overcharge my gun and fired a blast of green light into the cement in front of him. The smog burnt along the bolts path, the readout on my gun droped by three, and I was instantly sober.

Overcharging is a feature usually available only on law enforcement and military weapons. Basically it makes the gun larger than it should be at the expense of ammo stores and higher maintenance costs. However, the average person can get an overcharge mod done on their gun if they have the right resources and contacts, and are willing to accept the risk of being caught with illegal hardware.

We stood off for a bit while I waited to see if these boys knew that at such a close range a gun is almost useless in a fight. I switched off the overcharge just in case; leaving me with two shots left instead of one.

“Packup.” The lead nap said to his compatriots. “Codge is broke.”

As they walked away, I headed for the closest door inside and wandered around for an hour trying to find my way home like the little lost lamb I was.


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