Part I - Bringer of Storms :: 25
Greer was staring down at a dried pool of blood. The stain was situated a few paces between the back of a main street building and the immense garden of Little Mille’s Chamatri Temple. This had been the spot where Vice Chairman Clanton had met his end at the hand of what Greer guessed was the same person that had murdered Priest Dumdhall.
He wasn’t one to lean on hunches but everything fit the bill. The area had been washed mostly clean by recent rains but the stain was still there. The Machinist group had long since carried off the body, making a proper investigation nigh impossible. It had been three days after the script store explosion that the Sigil had been informed of the murder by the Machinists and thanks to all of the chaos, Greer had just now been able to get investigating. He was certain this was linked to Dumdhall. From the information gleamed from the Foremen that had found Clanton’s body, the man had been on his belly when the cut to his throat had come. A pure execution.
Greer shuddered. Only the most depraved or soulless killed in such a way. Why? That was the burning question. Why Dumdhall? Why Clanton? What had warranted their deaths?
The Protector bent down and rubbed the reddish brown spot. A few flakes of the man’s blood chipped away from the deep set stain.
With a sigh, Greer stood up. He had mixed feelings on this one. He knew Clanton to be the weasel of the Vice Chairmen, always in the pocket of the board or Parton himself.
Greer sent a stream of saliva to the ground at the thought of Parton. If there were ever an evil presence in the Chop, it was Parton. The man was bent on making the Machine ever more profitable while sacrificing the lives and livelihoods of those that worked in and lived around the behemoth of a facility.
“That speech at the funeral,” Greer whispered, eyeing the tall steeple at the Temple.
Had that speech deliberately meant to goad someone into attacking Parton? Was that all on purpose? Maybe to show the uncontrollable nature of the Unionizers?
He scratched at his chin, moving his gaze to the small alleyway that had lead him to this spot.
Why had Clanton been in the alley? Why would someone from Cobble even bother to set foot in Little Mille? Did he have a thing for Animas? Liked to yuk it up at dive bars?
“The bar,” Greer stated to the air and began a quick jog to the bar at the entrance to the alley.
Wilcox and Watcher Greer were waiting more than they were Watching.
They had received word by steamcart from a Sigil post in the Chop’s southern agricultural hamlet Woodfield. The Union leader had just passed through and broken bread with the elder growing family there. He was escorted by a convoy of armed Union members and had a courier that would lead the convoy by thirty minutes, to herald the arrival to the Sigil in Little Mille.
They had to guess at the time. Watcher Greer kept pacing near a window, staring at the sun, trying to suss out the hour mark on the day.
“About fourteen now. We should leave soon.”
Watcher laughed. “More like twelve. You’re giving the sun more speed than it has.”
“Just want this over. Want to get the arrival over, get the leader safe, and go back to Sash.”
Wilcox nodded. “I understand Handler, but time will go at its pace, not yours.”
The feline Watcher sighed and aimed to sit back down. A knock at the door stopped him. The Watchers exchanged a glance before Greer stepped to the door and opened it.
“You have thirty minutes, gentlemen,” the courier stated. It was a female canine in denim britches, suspenders, and a white farmer’s shirt. She had a scattershot hanging harnessed over her shoulder.”
“Wilcox, please show the courier some hospitality. I’ll get my Protectors in position.”
Wilcox nodded and stood, motioning the courier over to his desk while Watcher Greer ducked out of the door and into the bright day.
“What’ll it be?” asked the burly feline bartender.
Protector Greer smiled. “On duty, can’t indulge.”
“Then why are you in my bar?”
Greer’s smile melted away. “I’m here for information.”
“On what,” the tender asked as he filled a tall pint glass and shoved it at a nearby patron.
“Vice Chairman Clanton.”
“What about him?”
“Fine by me,” the tender grunted. “Either drink or get out, Sigil. You’re making my customers weary.”
“Got any juice?”
“Let me say this another way then,” Greer began, standing at his full height. “Either you tell me what you want, or I arrest you and you lose a day of business. That sound good?”
“I don’t take kindly to threats, Protector. I’ve asked nicely twice for you to get out of here.”
“Ok, step around the bar,” Greer commanded, pulling a pair of wrist shackles from his back pants pocket. “I’ll just question you down at the post.”
The bar tender frowned and leaned forward. “No.”
Greer grinned, pulled his slugthrower, and fired it into the air, putting a hole straight through the bar’s wooden roof.
“Everyone out. Me and Mr. Bartender here need to have a private conversation.”
“The shit you think you’re doing, Protector?”
A few of the patrons looked confused while the majority of them finished their drinks and darted out in a hurry.
Greer lowered the gun and pointed it at the tender. “All I asked for was information. You refused three times. Now I have a slugthrower pointed at you. You have two choices. One of them isn’t very smart.”
“This isn’t lawful,” the tender protested, eyes widening. He started to back up away from the bar and the barrel pointing at him.
“I’ll figure out something to charge you with.”
The tender huffed and shot a quick glance to below the bar.
“Hand it to me,” Greer said, following the tender’s eyes.
The bartender reached down and gripped something out of Greer’s sight.
“Slowly put it on the bar. Move too fast and I can’t guarantee your safety.”
Eyes on Greer’s slugthrower the entire time, the tender pulled the large broadsword from under the bar and placed it on the bartop. Greer leaned forward, grabbed the weapon’s thick hilt, and slid it to the floor. He placed a boot on the blade.
“Now are you ready to answer my question?”
“Put the slugthrower out of my face and I’ll think about it.”
Greer lowered the gun to point at the bar. “Now?”
The tender grunted. “What is it?”
“Clanton. Was he in there the day the script store was attacked.”
“I guess,” the tender replied, looking to the back room door just off to his side.
“And do you know what he was doing?”
“I don’t keep tabs on my customer, Protector.”
Greer brought his sidearm back up. “Did you recognize the Hume or Animas he was talking to?”
“It was a Hume. And no. I had never seen the man before in my life. The Vice Chairman was in here a lot, met a lot of people.”
Greer lowered the weapon again. “When did the chairman leave?”
“A few minutes before the big boom.”
“Did the person he met leave?”
“I guess. I don’t know. I don’t pay that close of attention to anyone.”
“Somehow I don’t think you’re being truthful.”
“The other guy left before Clanton did. Happy now?”
“And did you see anyone else, maybe going down the alley?”
“I was in here until the blast. You expect me to know anything about the outside of my bar? If you haven’t figured it out by now, there are no windows here.”
Greer nodded. “Is there anything else about that day that was odd?”
“No other new people?”
The tender shook his head. “This over yet?”
“This could’ve been over long ago if you had cooperated.”
“I don’t like the Sigil, Mr. Protector,” replied the tender, protracting the last word into three long, venomous syllables.
“Only the guilty don’t like us, Mr. Bartender,” replied Greer in kind and holstered his weapon. He tapped the sword with his foot. “Don’t get this until I’ve left.”
The tender rolled his eyes.
Greer took count of the bar as he backed to the door. Only one patron had remained, a young but leathery Hume with a large hat and a bulky coat. The man’s small eyes were on Greer without a single blink. The gaze gave Greer a chill.
“Ah Greer,” Watcher Wilcox greeted his Protector.
Greer, squinting in the bright afternoon sun, nodded to his boss and then to his father, who didn’t return the gesture.
“How went the investigation?” Wilcox asked.
The Protector shrugged. “I wasn’t able to gleam much but it definitely smells similar to what happened to Dumdhall."
Watcher Greer snorted.
"That funny, father?"
"I don't see the connection, frankly. One was done by someone spurned by the Priest, maybe even a Renoire fanatic. You know how they hate everything Humbolt related."
"Well, they are kinda opposite ends of the spectrum," agreed Wilcox.
Greer began to counterpoint his father but the Watcher spake over his son.
"And Clanton was killed by either some secretary he had handled poorly or perhaps a disgruntled Union member. You know the Union has been nothing but trouble. They bombed the script store, after all."
"That's not conclusive," said Wilcox. "We haven't heard word from the Alchemist guild on the canister we found yet."
Greer's father shrugged. "It makes sense to me."
But not me, thought Protector Greer.
"Enough of that," Wilcox waved a hand and motioned to the south gate to the Chop. "We are about to have company."
Union Leader Koph was a tall, thin Hume male with soft features, graying temples, and stark blue eyes. Greer had never seen someone so charismatic in his entire life. Everything seemed symmetric on the man's face. Ears, eyes, mouth, nose, all in perfect proportion. Not a hair was out of place. The only thing that really shocked him was for the leader of the entire Union movement to be dressed in dirty jeans and a gray, frayed-cuff work shirt.
"Gentlemen," the Union leader beamed, every tooth the perfect size in just the right spot. "I hope this arrival is not met with hostility."
"Not at all," Watcher Wilcox replied, shaking the man's extended hand. "We welcome all to our small district."
The leader's bright blue eyes shone in the sun as he began taking in everything around him.
"Nice and homey," he said, that wide smile never leaving his face.
Watcher Greer hid his indignation behind a grunt. Fielder shot his father daggers and turned back to the fascinating new arrival.
"I hope your journey was not too complicated Leader," Wilcox said, letting go of the leader's hand.
"Call me Koph, and unfortunately we had some trouble just outside of Millewhist."
"What kind of trouble," asked Watcher Greer.
"Nothing we couldn't handle," the leader replied, waving a hand in the direction of his protection detail.
"We?" asked Wilcox.
One of the guards spoke up. "Koph takes a personal hand in everything, even his own defense."
Protector Greer cocked his head. "You had to fight someone?"
"Just a challenge from a few foremen. We choose to banter with words and not fists. Unfortunately, the Machinists don't tend to agree with that approach."
"Is everyone ok?" Wilcox asked.
The leader nodded. "We didn't rough them up too much."
Fielder grinned. Wilcox let his brow raise a moment. Greer's father grunted again.
"Now," began Wilcox, clapping his hands. "What brings you to Little Mille?"
Koph's smile faded and his brow furrowed. "There has been too much violence here in the Chop. I'm here to try to reign that in. I want to give a speech to everyone, not just the Unionizers, and assure them that we will resolve this conflict once and for all, now that I'm here. Then I want to meet with Chairman Parton."
The three Sigil members exchanged looks.
The smile returned to Koph's face. "I know all about Parton. I'm sure I can get him on my side."
Watcher Greer sighed and Wilcox replied with a noncommittal hum.
Protector Greer broke the silence. "Should we take the Leader back to our post and discuss this further? Maybe make plans for the speech?"
Wilcox sprung back into the conversation. "Yes!" he ejaculated, the shout echoing across the gate's immense walls. "Let's do that. Are you and your party in agreement?" he asked Koph.
"Let's," agreed Koph, motioning his protection detail to follow. "Lead the way," he told them, beaming ever bright.