“I didn’t know that they had some of those newfangled telephone lines run down here in the Arcane Market,” Dorf whispered to me once Mama Crea had left the room, referring to a new invention that let people talk to each other over long distances through special lines that were run from place to place. Now he finds his manners, I thought bemusedly.
“Did you think about what you just said? Do you know what those telephone lines run on?” I asked him, raising an eyebrow as he hemmed and hawed. “I didn’t think so. They run off of electricity.” I let that sink in for a second.
Dorf stared at me until he winced and he slapped himself on the forehead. “Wow, I can be thick sometimes! OK, so no electricity down here means no telephone calls. So what did she mean by going to call someone? Will she just poke her head out the back door and bellow?”
“She works and lives in the Arcane Market, so how do YOU think she’s going to call someone?” I replied drolly, and watched my partner clam up. “If you’d like, I can go over the details with you,” I offered with false sincerity, knowing full well that Dorf wouldn’t take me up on it, and he proved me correct by faintly declining my offer. I hid my smile from him.
I could have told him that there were a variety of ways to “call” someone if you were a full caster (and even one or two if you were only a partial caster), and that without knowing what tradition the half-Giant belonged to I couldn’t even begin to guess which one she was using. I could have told him that there were even ways of making a call that were so profane in nature just hearing how some of them were done could turn his hair white early. Hells, I could have even told him that it may be as simple as her having a little orphan child out back that she used as a runner who would carry messages and do small errands for her. But, we magic users like our little mysteries, and so I told him nothing. After all, that’s what he wanted from me.
Even though Dorf kept fidgeting as if it was taking forever, I knew from personal experience (and by discretely pulling out my pocket watch to check the time) that roughly only ten minutes had passed before Mama Crea returned from the back, huffing and puffing. She sat herself down in her massive chair behind the counter, and pulled out what was probably a handkerchief for her but most people would classify as a towel to mop the sweat from her brow.
My partner looked like he was chomping at the bit, but I knew that we needed to let her get settled before we tried talking to her. I cautioned patience by gripping above his wrist and squeezing a warning, and thankfully he chose to follow my lead. Once the half-Giant had stopped breathing so heavily and was no longer dripping sweat almost as fast as she could wipe it off, I spoke up. “Thank you for calling someone, Mama Crea. We truly appreciate it.”
“Oh, that’s only a half truth, sweetie, but that’s OK. I know that even if Mr. Grumpy over there can’t seem to keep his foot out of his mouth, at least you have manners.” She beamed at me after giving Dorf a quick glare and a sharp sniff. It’s funny, but no matter what the species is, ALL females seem to know how to do that, give their disapproval with a sniff. Dorf looked annoyed but he tried to cover it with a sickly grin that Mama Crea gave another sniff to, and I couldn’t help but smile. “I gotta warn you though, who I have coming is very…non-traditional. Some people have even found him creepy and unsettling. But, he’s the best chance you boys have with your clue. Just don’t judge him without getting to know him, OK?”
“I promise, Mama Crea,” I offered. Turning to my partner, I simply said, “Well?”
Crossing his arms over his massive chest, Dorf just snorted. “I think that I’ve fulfilled my quota for the day of putting up with weird and unusual shit. I ain’t promising nothing.” I knew when he got like that he could give a mule lessons in stubbornness, and if I tried to get him to be more receptive all I’d do was just cause an argument between us. Not that I mind arguing with him –when you’ve been with someone as long as we’ve been partnered up, arguments keep things interesting- but right now we were trying to solve a murder, and so I swallowed my retort, hoping that Mama Crea wouldn’t be too offended.
She just barked out a laugh and wagged one sausage-sized finger at him. “Oh, one day Detective Waldorf that mouth of yours is gonna write a voucher that your body isn’t prepared to cash. I just hope that I’m there to see it when it happens.” That vaguely bordered on being threatening, but before either of us could question her on it we all heard Stumpy announce that there was a guest waiting outside the shop. “Well, send him in darling, we’ve been expecting him!” Dorf and I turned to face the entrance.
To be fair, I’m not sure what I was expecting. The way Mama Crea made it seem, some unholy abomination was about to walk through that door. Instead, what came through was an old Human man, I’d say around 50 Cycles or so, being guided by a large black and tan dog. Normally I would say that the dog helped the man around since he had a black cloth tied around his eyes and I could faintly see that the sockets were empty; but, the dog also had one of those clothes tied around its eyes, though it seemed much sheerer than the thick cloth the man had. There was an old Dwarven expression about the blind leading the blind. By the Gods, I have finally seen it all, I thought with trepidation. I wasn’t sure how this man was going to be able to help us out, but Mama Crea said he could, and in most things arcane I trusted her judgement.
“Mister Black, so glad you could make it! Thank you for joining us today!” Mama Crea’s voice boomed out from where she sat, which helped the man and dog find their way to the counter. I’m sure that Black wasn’t his real name, just like Mama Crea wasn’t hers. Names have power, and in the hands of a less-than-scrupulous full caster they can be used to work dark magic against the named person. Me personally, I don’t care if people find out my name, since I’ve taken precautions against it, and woe to anyone foolish enough to try. However, I could see why most people just went around with nicknames amongst the magically inclined. Safer that way, to be honest. A stray thought popped into my head that maybe that was the reason that Dorf had me call him Dorf, since it was a nickname. Very disturbing, but not important now.
The dog and the pale man, clad in an old style black suit that had seen better day, eventually made their way to us, moving at that shuffling gait that only the old and the blind seem to use. Before he put his hand on the counter, the man sniffed the air a few times, as did the dog. “That’s funny, I smell a couple of rats in here. Do you have an infestation, Mama Crea? Brutus here would be happy to get rid of your rats for you.”
Blind or not, Dorf looked like he was about to pop the man something good until I stepped in front of him and grabbed his arms, shaking my head no while I did so. Rats was a term for the police, since we seemed to be everywhere and getting into people’s business, whether they wanted it or not…at least, according to those that used it as a slur against us. Not that hearing that kind of thing didn’t piss me off too, I just had learned when to let go of my temper and when to play it cool. For now, I would play it cool. Once I was confident that my partner wasn’t going to take a swing at him, I released his arms and turned to face Mister Black. “Thank you for coming, sir. We’re investigating a murder, and we have a tiny lead. Mama Crea says you might be able to help.”
Mister Black cocked his head to the side and listened while I spoke. “Help is free; I’m offering you a service, which I expect I will be compensated for.”
“Only if you actually help us out, blind man,” Dorf snarled. “Otherwise, if this is just a wild fairy tale, then we ain’t paying!”
“Speaking of fairies, I smell dandelions on your breath, Detective. Tell me, is it true that after you get used to the taste, there’s nothing like sucking a…” the old man began to say.
“That’s enough, Mister Black.” Mama Crea spoke up before Dorf could lunge at the blind man. “I didn’t invite you here to insult my guests! Or, would you rather I call in that marker right here and right now?”
Blood draining from his face, Mister Black stammered out an apology. “No need, Mama Crea, no need. Just having a little bit of fun with the Detectives, isn’t that right boys?” Both Dorf and I just grunted, not trusting ourselves with saying anything. Taking that as a sign that this mysterious marker wasn’t going to be called in, he went on. “So, what is it you want me to see?” Even though he couldn’t see the skepticism on both mine and my partner’s face, he seemed to take it as to be expected. “If you don’t trust me, trust her,” and nodded towards the half-Giant. She gave me a wink, and so I reluctantly handed over the paper with the description of the card.
I have to admit, even I was surprised when he took the paper and lowered it down where the dog’s head was. The old man lifted the cloth from its eyes, and the dog seemed to stare at the paper for a minute before Mister Black let out a small chuckle and lowered the cloth back down over its gaze. Standing back upright with a groan and knuckling his back, all he said was, “I know what that card is, Detectives. But you’re not going to like it.”
“I don’t like anything that’s happened since I got out of bed yesterday morning, old man. So spit it out and we’ll take our chances.” While Dorf said it very bluntly, I echoed his sentiments. I didn’t like anything at all about this case, and I was under no false impression that it was going to get any better before it got much worse.
The blind man shrugged. “Suit yourself. That card is known as a Tarot card, and it’s used in fortune telling by the travelling people known as the Ronan.”
“Fuck me sideways,” Dorf blurted out, and I nodded my head in agreement with the crude summary. The Ronan had been banished from Aerendor around a century ago, but everyone knew they sometimes stopped in the small villages that surrounded most of our fair city and provided almost all of our food supplies. They traded with the farmers all the time.
“Now, about my payment?” Mister Black held out his hand, and Dorf looked at me incredulously as I nodded my head in the direction of the blind man’s open palm. Scowling at me, he dug in his pockets and pulled out a couple of silver coins. Hearing them clink in his hands, Mister Black coughed politely. “I think there’s a gold coin or two missing from what you gave me.” Dorf hated parting with money, but seeing as how we didn’t really have much choice reached into his pockets again and dug two gold coins out before slapping them down into our informant’s palm. “Much obliged, gentleman,” he said, quickly putting the money away before tipping his black top hat to us, showing that he was almost completely bald underneath apart from a few wispy silver strands along the side and back of his head. “If there’s nothing else?”
Before I had time to think about it, I blurted out. “I’m curious, why did you have the dog look at the paper?” Out of the corner of my eye, Dorf looked at me as if I was insane.
Settling his hat back on his head, Mister Black just stared at me for a minute. “Now, if you want to know the secret to that, that’ll cost you. So how about it, boy? Still curious?” Before I could speak he said, “Only you though, your partner is too closed-minded.”
“I ain’t paying for that,” Dorf hissed at me, and I weighed how badly I wanted to know with how willing I was to part with perfectly good coin for that information. Finally, I nodded and dug out two silver coins.
Pocketing the coins, Mister Black pantomimed that I should kneel down next to the dog. Still curious, I did so, and the blind man then reached down and pulled up the cloth. When I saw what was under that cloth, I crab walked backwards until my back slammed against the counter, quivering with fear and loathing. Laughing uproariously, the blind man put the dog’s cloth back down and tipped his hat to Mama Crea before turning around and shuffling away towards the entrance. Stumpy put his head in to see if we were harassing his patron, and seeing as she looked alright, just shrugged and went back to his post.
“Well, what did you see?” Dorf asked as he pulled me to my feet. My hands were shaking badly, and so I didn’t even question when he handed me his flask and I took two deep draughts from it. Still quivering a little, I put the cap back on and handed it back to him. The look on my face must have decided it for him, because he spoke up before I could answer him. “Whatever it was, you know what? I don’t want to know. C’mon partner, let’s get outta here; Mama Crea, thank you for your assistance.” When I still didn’t move, he grabbed my arm and gave it a tug. “We’re burning daylight here, come on!” I let him lead me out of the store, only briefly remembering to thank the half-Giant for all of her help as we left.
Being a Detective, I’ve seen some things in my time, things that can keep a man up at night until he has no choice but to drink until he can black out and forget what he saw. Patrons involved in a bar fight until one took a tumble and cracked his head open on a nearby table. A jealous wife who used a cleaver to chop off all of her cheating husband’s extremities and then flung them around the neighborhood. One of Dorf’s precious steam-carriages that had the generator explode and burnt all of the people inside to death. Factory workers who got their arm stuck in one of the conveyor belts and had it ripped right off and pulverized whilst they bled to death on the floor. Yeah, unfortunately I’ve seen death and dismemberment in many forms.
Until the end of my days, I think I’ll remember what I saw just now as the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Dorf’s right, he doesn’t want to know what it was, and I wish I could forget it. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20, and I can’t go back and change my action and censor my own ill-advised curiosity. For now, I let my partner lead me outside and tried not to fight the cheap whiskey that I had drank from his flask dull my senses. Sure, it wasn’t a permanent solution, but it would give me a little bit of distance from what I had witnessed.
Even now, if I close my eyes, all I can see under that cloth is two mismatched Human eyes staring out at me from that dog’s head, both blinking independently of each other and the dog’s soul seeming to call out to me, begging me for the sweet release of death. There are so many questions I had. How did it see, and how did Mister Black use those eyes to see? It had to be magic, but what kind, and why? I wonder now, if I hadn’t been so much of a coward, would I have had the courage to grant its request for release? Or would I have turned a blind eye, as the saying goes, to the suffering and unholy life that poor beast was living? I wish I knew.