Meeting the client
3:00 pm Monday November 3th 1907 (Local Time)
Puddles District, Mehrain, Midi Dominion of Illionia
World of Persephone
“Hey Red. Phone call.” My wife, Zara said to me as she came into the workroom interrupting me from my work sculpting a clay figure. Zara was athletically built, long legs and black hair, pointed ears and a set of tusks on her lower jaw.
She was an orc, if it wasn’t for her ears and tusks, she would have easily passed for human, and does when she wears a hajib.
“Red here. Who is this?” I said getting up to answer the phone.
“Is this Fritz Delaware. The Enchanter from Earth?” the voice said in perfectly crisp Serbian.
“Yes.” I answered the voice.
Telephones here were primitive and were like something from the stone age. It killed me as there was no such thing as Caller ID or a way to identify who was calling. It felt like Russian roulette every time I picked up the phone.
Still it was good to FINALLY get a working phone at the 13 Coins Pub.
“Shapur Rangoonwala. Managing Editor of the Mehrain Telegraph.” The man said introduced himself.
“How can I help you?” I asked the Mede newspaperman.
“I have a business proposition, and I could use your help. Baron Karl Marković suggested I contact you. Will you come out to my house at ten this evening?” He had a pleasantly crisp voice. “It’s 5401 Senna Row.”
“That’s rather late for a meeting.” I replied.
“Unfortunately, the paper keeps me in the office late. It will be worth your time.” The man explained.
“Alight. I will see you tonight.”
“So, what’s that about?” Zara asked as she sat down in my office chair.
“Work.” I replied to my wife.
Baron Karl Marković is the military governor that ruled Mehrain for the Illonians, a nation of people descended from Serbia on earth. When I first came here, I was roped into a murder investigation.
It was a sensitive matter involving the murder of a popular Illionian singer, and as I had worked with his associates in Seattle, he felt I could be trusted. As I was a former street mage, a mercenary wizard for hire, I was perfect for the job because the job wasn’t exactly legal.
The Baron was impressed with my work, and as a way of saying thanks, he made a point to send business my way as an Enchanter. Unfortunately, he sometime also sent work as a ‘troubleshooter’. I suspected this was to be one of those jobs.
I live in the city of Mehrain, which is a warm Mediterranean climate seaport in the country of Midi. There about nine districts in the city walls and about five more districts or neighborhoods outside the city walls. My district where the 13 Coins is located called the Puddles. Don’t bother looking for Midi or Mehrain on the map, as it’s on an alternate world named Persephone.
The Puddles district is named because that because on high tide, there’s almost always an inch of sea water on the streets. About almost thirty years ago, the seawall was damaged in a war with Istravania. Obviously, the water drains way at low tide, taking the usual filth on the streets with it. It was once an artisan district, but when the sea wall was damaged causing water to seep in on the streets and into cellars, most of the populace that could leave did, making the Puddles little more than a ghetto. But the upside is when the tide rolls out, most of the puddles drain, taking filth from the streets with it down the sewers.
At nine thirty, I caught a taxi and followed the directions Shapur Rangoonwala had given me to the northern edge of the Puddles District. As I rode along in the taxi, I noticed the Mede soldiers that were acting as the police or city watch across town. The first Mede solider on city watch duty looked like he had crumbs in his beard. A few streets over we passed, another Mede solider was lounging on a street corner, and I noticed there were buttons missing from his shabby uniform. As we approached the very edge of the district the taxi brought me to an expensive looking house set on a corner of the block.
I walked up the steps to be greeted by a slender Caucasian woman.
“Hi. My name is Delaware. I was to meet me Shapur Rangoonwala.” I said to the woman who greeted me.
“Hello, Mister Delaware. I am afraid my husband isn’t home.” She said in perfect Farsi. “Would you like to wait?” She said to me formally.
I raised my eyebrow. Relations between the Medes and the Illionians was very similar to the way it used to be in America with Latinos and Caucasians in 20th century California. The Medes were the native population of Midi who are derived from the Persians who arrived here centuries ago from Earth taking their language Farsi along with them to this world.
The woman was clearly Caucasian and obviously not a Mede.
I followed her into the house to what appeared to be a study. A pair of leather chairs with fireplace and mantle. The walls were lined with bookshelves. It struck me odd that most of the titles on book spines were in Serbian, but then Serbian was the official language of the Illionian Empire.
We sat in leather chairs, half facing each other, half facing a burning coal grate, and she set about learning my business with her husband while we waited.
“Are you the wizard that worked with the City watch a few months ago, the singer that was found murdered?” she asked first.
“Yes. I was asked by the Baron to assist in the investigation.” I replied.
“Delaware. Unusual name. You’re not from Midi or Illonia are you?” Mrs. Rangoonwala asked.
“No. I came from Seattle via the Chaos Storms.” I replied.
That was a lie.
This world, Persephone, is named after Hades’ wife because of the Chaos Storms. Almost everyone here is descended from someone that got sucked into storm that transports people, ships, whole villages and city blocks at time to here.
I didn’t arrive here that way. My family was transported here though a portal at the military base located thirty miles away in a village named Pakdel. The portal is a closely guarded secret.
On the other side of the portal lies Seattle’s Industrial district and Elliot Bay. As I said before it’s a closely guarded secret that is kept from the Illonian and Mede populations.
“You mean Earth?” She said in an awed voice.
“Yes. But I’m originally from Marseilles, France.”
“Really? How do you like our city?” She asked prying to see what I thought of the city.
“I like the city. The Puddles district, however, not so much.” I replied honestly.
Her shiny eyes stopped prying while she said: “The Puddles can be a dreary place, but there are good spots too.”
She started fishing more for information “I suppose all seaport towns are like this. Are you engaged in Shipbuilding for the war effort or in the steel mill?”
“Not really. I primarily make magical trinkets and occasionally look into things for the Illionians as they helped set me up here in Mehrain.” I answered honestly.
She looked at the clock on the mantel and said: “It’s inconsiderate of Shapur to bring you out here and then keep you waiting at this hour.”
“That’s alright.” I replied.
When someone drops the Baron’s name. You don’t blow them off. Not if you want to stay in the Baron’s good graces.
“Though perhaps it isn’t a business matter,” she suggested. I didn’t say anything. She laughed one of those laughs to make one feel at ease in an awkward situation.
“I’m really not as nosy as you probably think,” she said gaily. “But I can’t help being curious. You aren’t a smuggler, are you? Shapur works with them so often.” I smiled of course. I suspect nearly every merchant in Mehrain is at least partially involved in drug smuggling or bootlegging Šljivovica.
The Illionians took a dim view on what I would call ‘recreational pharmaceuticals’ but didn’t even try to stop the rampant drug trade because they taxed it heavily.
However, the Illionians that ran this city certainly loved their Šljivovica, which was a strong drink made from distilling fermented fruit, and old-fashioned bootlegging was common, as the Illionian customs agents usually turned a blind eye in exchange for than a few bottles.
A telephone bell rang down the hall. A moment later, a Mede servant, knocked then entered the study where we were sitting.
“Ma’am. This is for you.” The maid said politely but firmly to Mrs. Rangoonwala
Mrs. Rangoonwala got up to get to the phone. “Excuse me. I am going to have to take this.”
She excused herself and followed the maid out.
I heard Mrs. Rangoonwala whispering…. “Yes…. Who? … Can’t you speak a little louder? … What? … Yes…. Yes…. Who is this? … Hello! Hello!” The telephone hook rattled as she put down the phone on its cradle.
Her steps sounded down the hallway—rapid steps. I heard her going down the steps a minute later. Then I went to a window, and looked out at to the street, and at small barn that had been converted to a garage that stood in the rear of the house on that side. A slender woman in dark came into sight hurrying from house to garage.
It was Mrs. Rangoonwala.
She drove away in a red sedan. I could still never get over seeing these antique cars on the road as they were from another bygone age. These where the cars where you would see in a museum. I wondered what the hell was going on, I went back to my chair and waited. While I waited, I looked at Shapur Rangoonwala’s library. There was considerable literature about local history from when Illonia ‘liberated’ Midi nearly a century ago during their civil war.
Forty-five minutes went by. At five minutes after eleven, Mrs. Rangoonwala’s sedan brakes screeched outside as she pulled in-front of her hours. Two minutes later Mrs. Rangoonwala came into the room. Her face was pale, her eyes almost black.
“I’m sorry,” she said, her tight-lipped mouth moving jerkily, “but my husband won’t be home tonight.”
“That’s alright. I can get ahold of the man in the morning.” I said to Mrs. Rangoonwala. I looked down at her shoe to see a wet red spot.
Was that blood?
Mrs. Rangoonwala’s maid showed me out. As I left I could hear her crying.
I walked out to the street and hailed another cab when I got to the main thoroughfare and hailed another Taxi back to the 13 Coins Pub where I called home.
Five blocks from the Pub, I saw a small crowd with an ambulance with its lights flashing. I told the taxi driver to stop and paid him a few dinars. I got out to see what the crowd was doing around a side entrance of one of the local bars. Thirty or forty men and a sprinkling of women stood on the sidewalk looking at a door marked City Watch. There were men from local steel mill and as well as ship builders still in their working clothes, dead eyed men from one of the many opium dens, a few men with the look of respectable businessmen, and some ladies of the night.
As I approached, I stopped beside an Illionian man heavy set man in a suit. I recognized the man from my Pub. He was an Illionian ex-steelworker turned musician named Milko Batica. His face was broad, thick-featured and intelligent.
“What’s going on?” I asked Milko in Serbian.
He looked at me carefully before he replied. The musician looked at me carefully then nodded.
“Shapur Rangoonwala the newspaperman was killed.” He replied
“Who shot him?” I asked.
The musician looked at me as if I was a child and said: “Somebody with a gun.”
I looked at the man with one of dead eyed stare.
“Can the sarcasm, Milko” I said to the man.
“Shapur Rangoonwala, managing editor of the Mehrain Telegraph, was found in Bell Street a little while ago, shot dead by unknown parties.” he recited in a deadpan voice. “Is that better now oh mighty Wizard?” He smiled as asked me.
“Thanks, Milko.” I said to the trumpet player.
“I guess he’s not going anywhere.” he said sourly.
“Which way you are going?” I asked the musician that was gawking at the scene.
“Any.” He replied.
“Drink?” I asked.
“Only if it’s coffee.” He replied following me back to my Pub.
We walked down the street to the 13 Coins Pub, setting down at the bar.
I spent a lot of time refurbishing this place making it a lot nicer. The 13 Coins was originally an inn with a restaurant – bar that catered to sailors as it the property sat right in the edge of the Puddles and the Dock District. The Inn looked like something out of the middle ages when we first moved in, and it was damaged by fire from the siege that killed the previous owners.
Milko said, “Hullo!” to some of the people at the tables and the bar as we walked in. We spent the next two hours drinking coffee and talking.
Milko Batica, was an alcoholic. He had it under control now, but it was his demon that he had to keep tightly under control. Like most people that were transplanted here, he had followed a dozen occupations until he honed his craft as a trumpet player. Since my sister fed the man and helped him out during the worst days of his booze hound days, he considered it his duty to get the low-down on everything that was happening around here for me. I wouldn’t call us friends, but I liked than man.
I was very interested in what was going on in the Puddles District as I lived here. My family is here. While I have money, I have plenty of magical power, and a decent relationship with some of the Illionian Military as well as the Illionian Baron that runs this city as Governor, I could not move into nicer parts of the city.
Racism and discrimination is very much alive and well in the Illonian Empire despite the Military and Emperor’s edicts against it. My wife, Zara, is an Orc. No matter how human she appears, people hold that against her and me. While the Illionians that run this city with an iron fist, believe in a strict aristocracy of talent, and couldn’t care less about a person’s race.
However Mehrain is a Mede city. Medes that are the predominant racial group of the city, consider anyone isn’t a Mede, a second class citizen at best. As there no law to force someone to sell property to me, unfortunately no amount of money could get us into the better parts of town.
Milko Batica didn’t mind discussing the events and the unwritten history that has been going on for decades in exchange for me scratching his back every now and then.
What I got out of him amounted to this:
Mazdak Rangoonwala —father of the man who had been killed this night—had almost owned the Puddles District and ran it as a city within a city. He was one of the old Mede families that sided with the Illionians when they took over the city nearly a century ago. As such he kept his fortune as he was useful to the Illionian masters.
He was CEO and majority stockholder of the Mehrain Steel Corporation that sat just outside the city walls in a lesser district known as Shoreline. He was the major shareholder one of the few independent banks, the Beogradska Bank that many weathly Mede used. He was sole owner of the Mehrain Telegraph, the city’s only newspaper, and at least part owner of many other enterprise of any importance with Mehrain.
While he didn’t outright control Mehrain, he had influence with the Illionian Baron as well as most of the former Mede nobles. Mazdak Rangoonwala was the Puddles, and he was almost the whole state if it didn’t interfere with the Illionian interests.
Back twenty years ago, the Midi Iron Workers Union was in full bloom and was threatening to spread to the East and the Illonia.
The Union used their new strength to demand the things they wanted. Mazdak gave them what he had to give them and bided his time. Then the Deception Wars came five years later. These were a series of small wars between Illonia, Genoa, a neighboring state of former Italians, and Istravania (which Illionia and by expention Midi is well as it a Illonian dominion)
Business was slowed, and the war slowed down the Midi economy. Mazdak saw his chance and didn’t care whether he shut down for a while or not. He tore up the agreements he had made with the union and began kicking them back into the way things were before. Of course, the local union called for help. A negotiator was sent out from the Illionian Crown in Chicago to give them some action. The crown was against a strike, an open walk-out. This incensed the local union who pulled the old sabotage racket, staying on the job and gumming things up from the inside. But that wasn’t active enough for the Puddles Iron workers. They wanted to put themselves on the map, make labor history.
The Midi Iron workers went on strike.
The strike lasted eight months. Both sides drew blood in violent clashes. Mazdak hired mercenaries, strike-breakers, and the old Baron of Mehrain helped by sending in parts of the regular army, to break this Union lest it spread to Illonia motherland, and other industries. Eventually organized labor in Mehrain was dead as were most of its leaders.
Old Mazdak won the strike, but he lost his hold on the city. To beat the steel workers, he had to let his hired thugs run wild. Unfortunately, when the fight was over he couldn’t get rid of them. He had given the district to them and he wasn’t strong enough to take it back. The Puddles became theirs. They had won his strike for him and they took the Puddles for their spoils. Mazdak couldn’t openly break with them. They had too much on him. Mazdak was responsible for all they had done during the strike. The Crown didn’t step in because these thugs made sure to pay the Baron promptly each month until the old Baron retired and his nephew Karl took over.
“So, who are these guys?” I asked Milko.
“Kamal Farhangis. He runs the gambling house down the street as you probably know. Koshyar Babaali is our local bootlegger and major exporter of heroin. He smuggles in and processes the poppy seeds here into opium, and into good old-fashioned black tar heroin. Pejman Fitter one of the major fences and loan shark operators. And lastly there’s the new guy, Inspector Elijah Gill, who is the district city watch commander. He’s got them all paying him to play in the Puddles district.
I groaned. I knew every one of these people. I had inadvertantly helped Sargent Gill make Inspector a few months ago. I had myself buried in making Golems and my own business interests after my first case and up till then my only case. When I worked with Gill a few months ago, he seemed to have potential, despite his troubled past here in Mehrain. I didn’t realize how he was dirty as they come.
“Shapur Rangoonwala who was killed tonight— Mazdak’s son—where did he stand?” I asked.
“He’s right where dear old dad put him.” The trumpet player said.
“Did the old man had him—?” I said wondering if the man would have his own son killed.
“Maybe. Shapur just came home and began running the papers for the old man. He brought the boy back from Illonia where he was studying and his Illionian wife home from New Belgrade and used him. Shapur starts a reform campaign in the papers. The old man was using the boy to rattle his old business associates loose. I guess they got tired of it.” Milko answered.
“Hmm… Not sure about that” I said doubtfully.
“A lot of things don’t hold water around here.” Milko replied pointing at the sea wall that leaked down the street before staggering toward the door.
I looked at the clock … it was nearly 2am. At this point all I wanted was my bed.