The Big Stink – Part One

Or Caliver Tirran & the Farron Tunnel mystery


When Caulder Morgraive first announced plans to build a great tunnel under the River Farron, the City of Tarnhaven rejoiced. Truly it was to be a symbol of modernity, a lasting monument to the growing industrial revolution and the city’s place directly at the centre of it. Morgraive was heralded as a hero and elevated to the loftiest heights of the Worshipful Guild of Mechanical Engineers, constantly lauded in front of his peers from across the continent as a living avatar of this new world of steel and steam. But as the years dragged inexorably on, the people’s enthusiasm waned. Delays and disasters piled up rapidly, barely a day went past without some kind of bad news hitting the national press, and slowly what was once an object of national pride was transformed into a national embarrassment. Now, five years after the fact, the tunnel stands as a muddy scar on the face of the city, an ever present dark memorial to overconfidence and the fickle nature of fame. Few give it the time of day, often only mentioning it in jest or derision. But for the city’s dark underbelly, it became the perfect cover, creating a new generation of inventive and unusual crime. For Sergeant Caliver Tirran and Constable Arbus Scovie of the Tarnhaven Constabulary, however, the tunnel currently represented an unwelcome extra workload. As Spring overtook the city there had been a spate of break-ins at properties along the decaying curtain wall that had once protected the city centre on the southern riverbank, and this morning it was the turn of an old public house on Kanver Street in Farrongate Ward. As the first officers unfortunate enough to pass by, the pair of them were getting an earful from the landlady.

Scovie, a skinny, young striped Felid who had only recently finished what passed for training in the Constabulary, was beginning to feel a bit in over his head.
“I tell you what, the bloody nerve of it all. Comin’ into our cellar, leaving all that muck all over the bloody place!” complained the landlady.
“Ma’am, please calm down,” pleaded Scovie, whiskers twitching as he fumbled with his notebook, “just go over what you found and when, then we’ll be able to do something about it. I think.”
“‘Calm down?’” The landlady folded her arms and stared daggers at Scovie, “Look, you, you aint the one whose had their home, their business broken into. Don’t you ‘calm down’ me, lad.”
“Madam, just let the la… let Constable Scovie do his job.” Tirran interjected. The grey-brown Canid Sergeant had a more imposing presence that he often used to his advantage in situations like this. Even on the rare occasions when Scovie stopped slouching and stood upright, Tirran was still noticeably taller than his colleague. “I know this is very stressful, but we can’t do anything about it unless you cooperate, ok?” The landlady remained rooted to the spot, scowling at Scovie, but let out a sigh and relented.
“Awright, but I ain’t taking any crap, you hear me?” The two policemen nodded half-heartedly. “So our Aglan, right, wakes me up and says ‘e’s heard noises in the night. Now round here,” she waved a hand in the air illustratively, “there’s noise at all hours so I don’t think nothing of it. But then ‘e nips down to the cellar to get the strong box up to count last night’s takings an’ the bloody cellar’s full of muck from a bloody great hole in the wall, an’ the strong box is gone along with four casks of porter. The bloody nerve of it!”
“That all that’s missing mis— ma’am?” Scovie decided to choose his words a bit more carefully to avoid another rant.
“All? ALL? That beer’s nine Guilders a cask, that’s nearly two whole Sovs we’re out before you even get to the bloody cash!” Her patience was clearly wearing thin, progressing from scowling at Scovie to looking like she was about to take a swing at him. Tirran decided to quickly step in to prevent a second crime happening that morning.
“What my associate means is,” he hesitated for a second while choosing his words, “was there anything else of value in the cellar, and has it also gone missing?”
“Nah, not that any of us can make out.” She thought about it for a moment before offering an opinion, “Bet you anything it’s those bloody Murids they got up at Cauldie’s Tunnel. All that sneakin’ about underground at all hours, it ain’t natural.”
“You what? The tunnel’s a mile-and-a-half down river and the other side of the wall!” Scovie couldn’t help but scoff.
“Arb, shut up,” Tirran warned, before turning back to the landlady, “it’s probably too early to tell, madam. Once we’ve had a look around we’ll see if we can figure the who and why of it. Can you show us the cellar?” The landlady, still with crossed arms, looked both Tirran and Scovie up and down for a second, gave a loud, grumbling growl of derision and finally nodded and led them inside.

The cellar was accessed down a narrow, poorly lit flight of stairs behind the bar with a sturdy locked door at the bottom. The dim early morning sunlight barely filtered through the pub’s filthy windows, so as they descended the landlady handed Scovie a battered oil lantern and tinderbox he was convinced was much older than he was. Even with this weak light source, Navigating the darkness proved difficult. Tirran’s brass-clad helmet was, on several occasions, all that stopped him from receiving a mild concussion from the low hanging wooden beams, much to the landlady’s barely concealed amusement. After showing them around the barrel racks to the wrecked rear wall, she hung the lantern on a peg and left without a word.
“Well, Sarge,” Scovie said after a few moments stood in the debris, the grin on his face just visible in the dim light, “she was right, it is full of muck.”
“Very observant. Pass that lantern over here, will you?” Tirran examined the broken masonry piled against the wall. “Looks like this is where they got in. Didn’t see anything up on the street, what do you think, they got in from a sewer?” He gave the wall a cursory prod with his truncheon and a loose brick fell away leaving a just-visible hole into a space beyond. Immediately Scovie put his hand over his muzzle, almost dropping the lantern.
Gods Above, Sarge, I think the smell answers that. Must be determined bloody house breakers to want to go through that.”
“That’s… a good point, actually,” Tirran tried to keep his composure as the odour of city life spilled into the room. “Seems like an awful lot of effort, wading through all that then burrowing through a wall just for a night’s takings and four casks of beer, no matter how much it’s worth.” He grabbed the lantern from Scovie and gave the pile of wreckage a closer look. As he moved in the smell intensified, making him recoil slightly. In a vain attempt to do something about it, he put his free hand over his face, though it quickly became apparent this wasn’t anywhere near enough. Persevering, he felt along the point where the debris met the wall until he found a hard edge. With the lantern he picked out roughly where the corresponding side of the hole would have been and after a few moments sizing it up, he kicked at the pile of debris, some of it collapsing backwards into the sewer. A fresh blast of foetid air crawled across the cellar into his nostrils, and behind him he could hear Scovie’s helmet connect with something as he recoiled. A second kick dislodged more of the brickwork and in the gloom Tirran could see the outline of the whole section knocked out of the wall.
“Arb, anything stand out about this to you?” Tirran asked, turning around. All Scovie could manage was a noise of distressed confusion. “Look at how big this hole is. If they were just after a cash box and some barrels, you’d only need a hole, I don’t know, a third of this size?”
“So, what, you think that wasn’t what they were after?” Scovie had backed up far enough from the sewer air to regain his composure slightly.
“Or they were using something meant for bigger things.”
“Oh, right. Uh, Sarge?”
“Yeah?”
“Can we go back upstairs? Only, I think my eyes are starting to burn.”

As they climbed back up the stairs to the bar, Tirran couldn’t help but notice the smell was still lingering about them. He hoped he hadn’t stepped in anything, and more to the point that they would be able to leave before the landlady noticed, but audible footsteps from somewhere on the floor above suggested otherwise. He removed his helmet and placed it on the bar.
“What’re we going to do about this, you reckon?” He said aloud, not really expecting a solid answer.
“We’re not going to go looking through the sewer are we?” Scovie had a genuine tone of concern, “‘cause it was bad enough when it was just wafting out a hole in the wall.”
“Nah, we’re not going down there. Not without any preparation anyway. The sewers must be a right bloody maze, going in without knowing our way around seems a good way to get lost.” Tirran said idly, suppressing a laugh when Scovie shuddered at the thought.
“So what now? Looks like a dead end here, more or less.”
“Back to the station, I think. See if they have anything on the sewers.” Tirran moved to the door and yelled up the stairs “Excuse me!”
Almost instantly, the landlady appeared above them, looming menacingly.
“You finally done then?” She said with the same tone of voice usually reserved for tossing drunks into the street.
“For now. We’re just going to go report this back at the station. I’ll make sure they send a couple of lads round to secure things and have another look in case we missed anything.” Tirran opened the door and began to head out.
“Fine. Just make sure they’re out of here before we open later.” The landlady took a deep sniff of the air and her eyes narrowed. “Here, what’s that smell?”
“Er… probably nothing to worry about. Come on, Constable Scovie.” Tirran dragged Scovie by the arm out the door and into the street before anything could be blamed on them.

They had reached the marketplace at the end of Kanver Street before Scovie stopped for a second and took a deep, exaggerated breath.
“Y’know, I never thought I’d like the smell of horse shit and coal gas before now,” he said to a chuckling Tirran, before starting off again.
It was early enough that some of the market traders were still setting their stalls up, and the crowds that would fill the place later in the day had yet to materialise. The morning life of the city continued around them, unaware of the burglary of the previous night.
As they progressed through the marketplace, Tirran was deep in thought. Something about the nature of the crime just didn’t make sense to him. Burglaries were guilder-a-dozen in the city, and he had certainly been involved in investigating enough of them, but they had usually been scaled to the place being broken in to. Never had he seen something that elaborate for a simple pub before.
“There’s something not right about this, Arb,” he mused as they turned a corner.
“You mean apart from the bloody great hole in a pub cellar?” Scovie commented idly.
“No. Well, yes. You know what I mean. Why all the effort for a pub? Is a couple of Sovs of beer and… what? How much you reckon was in that cash box?”
“Well…” Scovie’s brow furrowed as he searched his memory, “Beira reckon’d the Red House takes about a couple of Sovereigns a night, maybe more on Midweek or over the Solstices. Good money for a house breaker.”
“But your average house breaker barely has the equipment to get a window open without smashing it, let alone dig a tunnel.” Tirran stopped and raised an eyebrow. “Wait, who the hell is Beira?”
“Barmaid at the place over from the station house,” Scovie shrugged half-heartedly, “The fluffy one with the stripes. Y’know, pretty, like.”
“I see,” chuckled Tirran, “but even with this… ‘expert’ insight, it doesn’t seem worth it. What’s a few Sovs when you’ve got heavy gear to dig like that? It’d have to be worth… I don’t know, several times that at least.”
“It seems to me, right, that maybe the pub wasn’t the real target.”
“What else could they have been after?” Tirran couldn’t quite see Scovie’s line of reasoning. “You saw that street, the pub was the only thing there worth breaking in to. Unless they really wanted to rob some office clerks of their coal supply.“
“Nah, nothing like that, Sarge. They still went after the pub deliberate like, right,” Scovie paused as he tried to find the right words to articulate his theory, “but maybe it wasn’t the target, more a test or distraction or something?”
“You’re thinking that they’d bought or nicked or whatever all this gear and needed to test it out so they knew what they were doing?”
“Summit like that, yeah.” Scovie nodded.
Tirran paused again. “You know what, Arb, I think you might be on to something there.”

It took them nearly half an hour to walk back to the station house on the corner of Inche Street and Menton Place. The station was made up of three former townhouses that had been bequeathed to the Constabulary on its foundation twenty years earlier and then haphazardly knocked into a single entity. From the outside it looked rather fine and imposing, but the interior was draughty, cold and riddled with damp. Despite being the Constabulary’s administrative headquarters and home of A Division, those unfortunate enough to work out of it had taken a dislike to it almost immediately.
Tirran sat at what was nominally his desk in a first floor office overlooking the mews at the rear of the building. Every surface was filled with stacks of papers. The stack currently occupying his attention consisted of documents relating to the sewer system brought up from the archive in the basement. He had taken an armful of whatever had been filed correctly and left Scovie down there to find more. The Constabulary Standard Filing System had already become legendary for losing things. He was looking over a lengthy missive from the Worshipful Guild of Civil Engineers when the door opened. Expecting Scovie with even more documents, he didn’t even look up.
“You find anything else, Arb?” Tirran said absently.
“Whassat now?” Came the response in a deep, Galinian monotone.
Tirran looked up and saw Inspector Myrti, his grizzled Canid superior, looming in the doorway. His scarred ears twitched as he stared into the room.
“Oh, sorry Guv, thought you were someone else.”
“Aye, that’s clear enough. What’s all this? Still working that burglary?”
“Yeah, and a royal pain it’s being too.” Tirran put down the paper and rubbed his temples. “Apart from the weird break-ins this month, do you know that there’s been scores of crimes blamed on the Farron tunnel in one way or another in the last five years? Literally scores!”
“I had an inkling, aye.” Myrti shot him a wry grin. “Y’think this really has something to do with all that, then?”
“At this point, who under the sky knows. Might do, might just be the ravings of a mad woman, might be some kind of international conspiracy. Either way it doesn’t make much sense. But it’s still the only lead we’ve got until we can figure out anything about the damned sewers.”
Mid-rant, he picked up Scovie’s notebook which he’d made sure had been left up there. “Speaking of, you any idea if we’ve got any kind of map or diagram of the sewers in Farrongate Ward?”
“Ha, I doubt it.” Myrti made a tutting noise as he thought on this for a second. “Only place we’d get something like that is the Civil Engineer’s guild.” He picked up the missive from Tirran’s desk. “And even then, no guarantee it’ll have everything on it. Lot of weird, old stuff under our streets.”
“Worth a try, though.”
“That it is, aye.” Myrti rubbed his chin and looked over the desk. “Tell you what, I’ll have a word with ‘em. One of their clerks is an old friend o’mine, owes me a favour.”
As he talked, Scovie weaved around him through the doorway and deposited another pile of papers on Tirran’s desk.
“Gods above, there wasnae so much bloody paper back in my day. Drives a man mad, eh?” Myrti was a certified veteran, coming from the last generation of Royal Tarnhaven City Watchmen who had been swept up into the modern Constabulary when it was formed, and had something of a jaded view on modern policing practices. Tirran laughed.
“Not yet, hopefully.” He looked back at Scovie. “This the lot, Arb?”
“Yeah, Sarge, anything that mentions tunnels or digging, in the south-west of the Walled City, in the last five years.” After a seconds thought, Scovie added, “Probably. It’s a bit of a mess down there. Think the damp’s got some of it.”
Tirran picked up something off of the pile and regarded it cautiously at arms length before putting it back down and sighing loudly.
“The amount of cranks in this city is insane.” He groaned. “There’s people on Northbank blaming house fires on the tunnel. How the bloody hell does that make any sense?”
“Aye, well, once an idea starts goin’ around folk’s heids, know what I mean?” Myrti nodded sagely to a pair of confused stares.

A small cough came from the doorway and Myrti turned to reveal Constable Prattcher standing behind him.
“Uh, Sergeant T-t-tirran?” The young Canid stammered. Prattcher was a fresh recruit, younger even than Scovie, and was still a bit uncertain about the way of things around the station. Tirran gave him a curt nod by way of response. “Sergeant Beirkam told me to give you this. Said you was after anything to do with tunnels?” Prattcher passed a slip of paper over the desk to Tirran, who gave it a quick skim read.
“Says here… something, something… stolen equipment… about a week ago… at the Farron tunnel site in the harbour.” He leapt to his feet. “Guv, when did these underground break-ins start?”
“First one was reported must’ve been something like three, four days ago tops.” Myrti replied, scratching his ear as he thought. “Could be on to something there, Cal.”
“Better lead than whatever the nutcases in this city come up with” Tirran grabbed his dark red greatcoat from its peg by the door, put his helmet back on and started to head out the door. “C’mon, Arb, let’s go take a look. Oh, and good job Prattcher.” He gave the young Constable a reassuring pat on the shoulder as he passed by. “Tell Beirkam I owe him one.” With that he bounded down the corridor with Scovie in tow.


| PART TWO > |


The Author wishes to thank Stuart and Sandra Barlow, Ady Hartill, David Dryden, Martin “Teekay” Davison, Stefi “Heartlilly” Hauke, Josh Atkins and VHSRAT for their invaluable help during the writing, proofing and editing of this story.


This story, it’s characters and any associated names and imagery related to the Tarnhaven setting are ©2018 Dom “Ndro” Barlow, All Rights Reserved.


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