The particular geography of the River Farron combined with the layout of Tarnhaven’s Walled City meant the Harbour sat on a headland between the river’s mouth and the walls. This arrangement had served the city well in ages past, but in the new age of industrial trade, the harbour had become incredibly cramped. Even with the new docks being built outside the seaward wall and across the river on the Northbank, things were far from improving. The entire point of the fabled tunnel had been to give traffic a new artery across the city, connecting the harbour across the river mouth to businesses on the far side and so alleviating congestion through the city’s gates, or so the theory went. The sight greeting Tirran and Scovie when they reached what would one day be the tunnel’s great southern portal was a damp, muddy hole taking up a space once occupied by several warehouses. Beyond the makeshift fencing, various engines of modern construction could be seen, most of which sat idle.
As they rounded the side of the gate, Tirran noted a number of navvies hanging around, eyeing them suspiciously as they passed. He nudged Scovie in the back and gestured with his head, hoping that nothing would kick off but wanting to be prepared if it was. Even if they found nothing to do with the burglaries here, the sight of the burgundy jacket and brass helmet of the Constabulary was considered unwelcome in some parts of the city. As they entered the construction site, the suspicious eyes kept on them, and out the corner of his eye Tirran caught a glimpse of someone moving around to get behind them. Before things took a turn for the worse, a door was flung open at the end of one of the huts surrounding the gate and a stocky Felid man in an ill-fitting bombin hat, clearly a foreman, emerged and strode purposefully towards them.
“Gods above, that was quick,” He yelled at Tirran, his thick west coast accent booming around the site. Behind him, the Navvies all tried to look like they were doing something more productive.
“It… was?” Tirran wasn’t entirely sure what was going on here.
“Oh yes, only sent young Jorrens down a couple of hours ago,” The foreman reached Tirran and vigorously shook his hand. “Wasn’t expectin’ anyone oop here till tomorrow earliest. I’m most impressed Mister…?”
“Sergeant Tirran,” Tirran replied, still slightly confused but deciding to play along anyway. “And this is Constable Scovie. Why don’t we head inside and you can go over what’s happened. Refresh our memories and the like.”
“Oh, of course, this way gents.” The foreman ushered them back towards the hut. As they walked, Scovie lent over to Tirran.
“Hope you know what’s going on, Sarge,” He muttered, “‘Cause I’m a bit lost here.” Tirran gave a subtle shrug in response and entered the hut.
“I’m telling you, it’s all been a bloody nightmare,” The foreman lead them into a small office at the end of the hut, taking his hat off as he went. Hackles raised, he had the look of a man who was having an exceptionally stressful day and only just managing to cope. “It’s not enough that I’ve got Sir-bloody-Caulder-bloody-Morgraive breathing down my neck this morning, not enough that one of the bloody shields has gotten itself wedged on something under the bloody riverbank, but now I can’t even get replacement gear for the last lot that went missing without something getting in the bloody way.”
“This would be the equipment that went missing Midweek before last?” Tirran asked, trying to mentally piece together the order of events.
“What, the stuff nicked off the site?” The foreman seemed surprised anyone would care about this. “No, that stuff’s all been written off already.”
“Just like that?” Scovie exclaimed. “The stuff you’ve got around here looks expensive, and you can just write it off when it goes walkabout?”
“The things you can achieve when your boss has the ear of Parliament, eh?” The foreman said, sounding a little incredulous. “No, what I’m talking about is the stuff we spent Mister Morgraive’s ‘hard earned’ Sovereigns to replace. Thought that was what you gents were here about?”
“Afraid not.” Tirran said, trying to sound diplomatic. “We were interested in the first robbery. But if something else has happened…”
“You bet your bloody life ‘something else has happened’” the foreman sat at the chair behind the desk and slumped dejectedly. “Seems like this place can’t catch a bloody break.”
“You’ve had another robbery then?” Scovie offered.
“I wish! Seems like the crafty buggers are getting a bit…” The foreman searched for the right word, “...proactive. They didn’t even wait for it to get here.”
“Excuse me? How does that work?” Tirran asked, eyebrow raised.
“We were supposed to get a cart load from the Toolsmiths here today but,” the foreman made an exaggerated hand gesture of something vanishing in to thin air, “Poof! Never arrived.”
“So it got stolen from their end?”
“No idea, though I doubt it. The folks we deal with are good people, they would’ve let us know.”
“So you reckon an entire cart load of industrial tools has vanished somewhere in the city?” Tirran tried to wrap his head around this. “How big a cart are we talking about?”
“Full of these kind of tunnelling tools?” The foreman thought about this. “Pretty big, more like an Ironroad wagon really. Would weigh a couple of tons at least.”
“Doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you could just walk up to and steal, not even in this city.” Tirran responded, thinking about the highwaymen stories that had come out of the previous century.
“Perhaps a wizard did it?” Scovie said, making a complicated hand gesture that, in his mind, suggested magic. “Wouldn’t be too hard for one of them, would it?”
A stony silence descended as all three men considered this. The idea a magic user was somehow involved, especially a rogue wizard, and the chaos that could cause, didn’t really bear thinking about.
“Hope not, for all our sakes, Arb.” Tirran broke the silence. “Ok, so this sounds like it could be related to something we’re currently investigating. You reckon these tools would be enough to break through a sewer wall and dig into buildings?”
“Well… sure I guess.” The foreman looked confused at the new line of questioning. “It’d be a bit stronger than the mud under the river, and you’d have to manhandle it through the muck but it’d be more than enough to do something like that. No idea why you’d want to, though.”
“Precisely what we’re trying to find out. Where were the new tools bought in from? I think it’d be a good idea for us to go have a word”
“That’d be Bharvin and Sons over in Dracongate Ward, right by the wall.” The foreman said and started digging through the draws of the desk to find something to write on. “I’ll give you the address. Like I said, they’re good people, don’t think their involved.”
“Always pays to check though, ain’t that right Sarge?” Scovie interjected, beaming.
“Exactly.” Tirran reassured the foreman as he handed over his notebook so he could write the address down. “Besides, if the cart vanished between here and there, logically we might be able to find something.” He look down at the spidery handwriting and nodded. “Yeah, I know where this is. Don’t you worry, we’ll get to the bottom of it.”
“Yeah, well, hopefully you can before I get another rollicking from Sir Caulder.” The foreman got up and went to show the two policemen out. “Not sure what you’re gonna achieve, but I appreciate you lot taking an interest.” Tirran nodded an acknowledgement and made for the door. Scovie started to follow but stopped and turned to the foreman.
“Just one more thing. Do any of the lads-” Scovie gestured out the door as he talked, “-ever get in to any trouble at all?”
“Trouble?” The foreman gave a nervous laugh. “No more than anyone else, I guess. Some bruised muzzles, a couple of scratched ears every week like clockwork. Though, a few’re known to be in with… a bad crowd, but nowt serious. Not that I can prove, anyways.”
“A ‘bad crowd’? Like what?”
“Not like they tell me, that’s just what I hear. I’d ask them if I were you.”
“I might just do that. Thanks for your time.” Scovie nodded and followed Tirran outside. The crowd that had greeted them when they arrived at the site had seemingly dispersed, and the whole place was curiously empty now. As they left through the gate, Tirran couldn’t shake a sense of unease about it.
Dracongate Ward lay almost at the exact opposite end of the Walled City from the harbour’s gate, so even the quickest route took considerable time to traverse. The day had dragged on and the street life of the city was starting to transition into the evening, shoppers giving way to workers heading home as businesses started to close for the day. As they walked through the crowds, Tirran couldn’t shake the uneasiness that had been lurking in the back of his mind since leaving the tunnel. Several times he tried to covertly take in his surroundings as he walked, but the crowds meant it was difficult to discern anything distinct between himself and the tall stone buildings common to the Walled City, even with his keen Canid eyes. By the time they had reached the ornate timber framed hall of the Worshipful Guild of Glass Blowers and Bottle Makers on Glasskiln Lane, he had decided to kneel down and pretend to tie a bootlace in order to sneak a decent look behind him. Ignoring Scovie’s vocal confusion, he even took his time standing back up and dramatically stretching, but to no avail. Though he couldn’t shake it, the feeling persisted for no discernible reason. What had it been? A face in the crowd? A sound? What? Between the oddities of the case and this new uncertainty, Tirran was beginning to feel weary. Today certainly fell into the bad day categories.
By the time they had reached Bharvin and Sons, the sky had begun to darken and the lamplighters were starting to go about their evening’s business. When the tunnel foreman had described it as ‘right next to the wall’ he wasn’t exaggerating, the business consisted of a large yard barely a stone’s throw from the Dracongate, with several permanent buildings up against the wall itself. As they walked up the street, Tirran noticed the lack of smoke coming from the various chimneys in the yard.
“Looks like they’re done for the day, hope they’ve not all buggered off yet.” He thought aloud.
“Don’t think so, Sarge, look” Scovie pointed as a Canid emerged from the archway in a building that formed the main entrance to the yard. “Looks like we’re finally having a bit of luck, eh?”
“Finally.” Tirran broke in to a jog when he realised the man was fiddling with a gate, clearly having been left to lock up. “Excuse me, Sir!” He yelled, attracting the man’s attention. “Anyone about who we can have a word with?”
“I should think so, mate, I’m the owner.” Came an annoyed response, as the man continued to try and lock up. “I’m Rickard Bharvin, what you want, lads? Leaving it a bit late, aren’t we?”
“This won’t take long, Mister Bharvin,” Tirran said as he reached the gate. “Just want to ask some questions about that cart load of tools that went missing today.”
“Oh that bollocks.” Bharvin stopped fiddling with a lock and chain and shot an unimpressed look at Tirran and Scovie. “Look, I’ll tell you what I told Morgraive’s lackey he sent over this morning. A cart turned up with a bloke holding Morgraive’s work order, my lads loaded the tools on to it and it left without any problems. As far as me and my business is concerned, we did our job, and our part in it ended when the cart left these gates.” He went back to looping the chain around the gate. “Not my fault they can’t keep track of two and a half tons of equipment between here and the harbour, is it?”
“That’s quite an excuse.” Scovie said without fully thinking about it. “Almost sounds like you’re in on it.” Bharvain wheeled on Scovie, eyes narrowed and heavy padlock still in hand.
“Now look here, you. I run an honest shop and I won’t be having with no-“ Bharvin prodded Scovie with an accusing finger, baring his teeth menacingly “-jumped up Brass-Top bloody kitten flinging baseless accusations about the place.” Tirran quickly moved between Bharvin and Scovie, the last thing he needed today was a fight on his hands, especially one started by Scovie’s lack of tact.
“I think everyone,” Tirran said slowly and deliberately, “Needs to calm down before someone-“ He shot a sideways glance at Scovie “-does something silly, ok? Now, Mister Bharvin, can you try and describe who picked this stuff up? Please?”
Bharvin seethed for a few moments, ears low and eyes still fixed on Scovie. Tirran had begun to worry his efforts were not working, his hand slowly lowering towards his truncheon hanging from his coat belt.
“I want to make it clear, my lads ain’t involved, understood?” Bharvin said, turning his glare towards Tirran who nodded. Finally he relented, turning to finish locking up with a loud, angry grumble. “Like I said, they had the work order.”
“Yes, we’ve established that. Did anything stand out about them?” Tirran asked, trying to mask his exasperation.
“Well, they was navvies weren’t they?” Bharvin said with a shrug. “Usual mix of species, all workin’ men. Though tell you what, this lot looked a bit more, whats the word, boisterous than the usual lot we deal with.”
“Yeah, right bunch of bruisers this lot were. Looked like they’d seen their fair share of trouble, y’know? All except this one bloke.” Finishing with the gate, Bharvin started to walk away down the street, Tirran keeping step with him as he tried to get any useful information.
“Oh? How’d this one stand out?”
“Well, he was this dark little Murid fellow. Didn’t fit in with the others at all.” Bharvin recalled, stopping in his tracks briefly. “Wouldn’t have noticed normally, but with this lot he looked… nervous, maybe? More than the usual for their kind. Definitely like he didn’t want to be here.” As he listened, Tirran couldn’t help but feel a faint familiarity with the description, as if he had seen this person somewhere before. But however he thought of it, he couldn’t quite place where.
“I see, Anything else?” Tirran asked, hoping he could get something solid before Bharvin’s patience ran out.
“No… well… maybe.” Bharvin fumbled in his waistcoat pocket for his keys as he talked. “One of them mentioned a street, or at least I think it was a street. Wrote it down in case they wanted something sending there some day. Ah! That’s was it, Revlin, Relvin? Something like that.”
“I see. Well, thank you for your assistance.” Tirran nodded.
“Yeah, well maybe next time you could do it when I’m not closing up, eh?” With that Bharvin gave a sarcastic tip of his hat and strode off down the street.
Tirran stood on the side of the street until, certain Bharvin was gone, he span on his heels to glare at Scovie.
“Gods’ sake, Arb, would you watch your bloody mouth sometimes?” He said, feeling like he’d had this conversation a few too many times. “Thought that speciest old git was going to clout you with that padlock.”
“Sorry, Sarge.” Scovie shuffled his feet guiltily. “But, at least we’ve got a clue, right?”
“What?” Tirran said mockingly. “A half-remembered word that might just be a street name? Oh yes, brilliant, that is.”
“Well, yeah. It’s Revlin Mews, ain’t it?” Scovie grinned as Tirran just stared blankly at him. “Closest I can think of to anyway. It’s like a few streets away from where we was this morning, I think.” Tirran blinked a couple of times as this sank in.
“Really?” He said, to a knowing nod from Scovie. “Your sense of direction is downright scary sometimes, you know, Arb?”
“It has been said, yeah.” Scovie adjusted his helmet as he talked. “Mostly by you and the Guv, actually. Want me to show you where it is? Only I’d quite like to get this done before the end of shift and it gets any darker.” Tirran made an exaggerated lead the way gesture down the street and the pair of them set off at a steady run. As they went, Tirran was careful to keep one eye over his shoulder, but the uneasy feeling he had earlier seemed to have disappeared.
Revlin Mews turned out to be not that far away, and was indeed only a few streets south of the pub that had been broken into. Like most commercial back alleys in Farrongate Ward, it was a small cobbled square accessed from an archway leading from the main road, surrounded by tall brick and stone buildings. Twilight now shrouded the sky, and the lack of gas lighting made the mews a mess of shadows barely illuminated from a solitary oil lamp hung from the back door of one of the businesses. Most of the surrounding properties were either empty or closed for the day, so when Tirran and Scovie arrived the place was devoid of any people, adding to the eerie quiet. Without saying anything, Tirran did a circuit of the mews checking the various doors. None were damaged, none were unlocked and none seemed particularly notable in the gloom. He gestured at Scovie, who without further prompting unhooked the oil lamp and brought it over.
“Don’t seem to be much, Sarge, what you think?” Scovie swung the lamp around, the light dancing off the bare walls. “Maybe they fed old Bharvin a lie?” Tirran didn’t respond, but kept looking around as the light caught little details around the mews. Something was catching his eye as being out of place, but he needed to make absolutely sure.
Scovie swung the lantern again, and the pattern it made on the cobbled surface caught every single divot and rut. Realising what had caught his eye, Tirran grabbed Scovie’s arm.
“Arb, swing the light over here, will you.” He pointed at something on the ground. “See that?” Two deep parallel furrows had been pressed in to the cobbles across the middle of the mews, clearly by a very heavy cart passing over.
“I don’t get it, Sarge, half the roads in the city have cart tracks up the middle.”
“But right in to the cobblestones? Would have to be something pretty heavy to do that, right?”
“…about two and a half tons, was what Bharvin said, wasn’t it?” Scovie was beginning to catch on. Tirran took the lamp off of him and followed along the tracks until they ended at a big pair of double doors that closed off what must have been a coach house at the rear of one of the buildings. The base of the doors sat in a pool of mud that looked relatively fresh.
“And see this? Nowhere that could’ve come from in the mews,” Tirran walked up to the doors and tried them again to no avail. “And it’s not rained today, so this mud had to come from somewhere. What was this place around the front?”
“Empty shop, I think, Sarge.” Scovie said as he stooped down to check the gap under the doors, steadying himself against them. “Here, there’s a draught blowing under these. Didn’t think I saw any open windows.” Tirran handed Scovie back the lamp and drew his truncheon.
“This looks promising.” He said, then hammered on the door. “Open up, this is the law!” There was no response. After a few seconds he tried again. “If anyone’s in there, it’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you just come out now!” Still nothing.
“Think everyone’s out, Sarge.” Scovie offered. “The lock don’t look all that, hang on a sec, I got an idea.” He turn around and scanned the other side of the mews. “There we go.”
“What the hell are you doing, Arb?” Tirran watched as his colleague bent down, picked something up and then turned back around. In his hand Scovie had a length of discarded rusty metal pole and a devious glint in his eye. He walked up to the doors, leaving the lamp at Tirran’s feet as he passed, and jammed the pole in to a slight gap in the doors.
“Not as neat as a crowbar, but should do the job.” Scovie commented idly as he put pressure on the pole.
A few moments straining and the doors splintered around the lock, swinging dramatically open. Scovie dropped the metal pole and turned to grin manically at Tirran.
“Probably best we don’t tell the Guv you’ve added breaking and entering to your repertoire.” Tirran said, only half jokingly, as he picked up the lamp and walked inside. The carriage house beyond the doors was larger than what would have been attached to a residential building, intended to keep large delivery carts and their attendant work horses safe and out of the weather. It was also now very conspicuously empty, every little noise echoing off the walls, as if to reinforce the fact. “Well shit. Looks like you were right, Arb, they’ve cleared out.” Tirran raised the lamp to get a better look around. The walls to the side seemed to still be caked in dust with only a few hand prints here and there to suggest recent activity. This would have suggested the previous occupants were being careful, were it not for the floor being almost several inches deep in mud and debris from their activities. In the centre of the room the deep furrows from outside continued across the floor to where the cart clearly had its resting place.
“Here, Sarge,” Scovie said from the corner behind Tirran, “Come look at this.” Where a doorframe had once allowed access to the rest of the building was a large, rough hole, clearly to allow the passage of equipment.
“Think this is definitely the place.” Tirran said, sniffing the air. “Recognise that smell, Arb?” Wrinkling his muzzle at the distinct odour of the city sewers, just discernible as the breeze washed into the carriage house.
Tirran shone the lamp through the wrecked door, illuminating what appeared to be an old store room beyond. At the dead centre of the floor was a gaping maw into the ground beneath, a dark portal to whatever lay beneath the city. As he edged into the room, being careful not to slip into the hole, Tirran could hear the distinctive sound of moving water. Clearly the sewer wasn’t far from the surface here. The closer he got to the hole, the more it seemed to dominate the room, the pitch black sewer beyond doing a good job at looming over everything from the floor. Even with the lamp, Tirran could barely see more than a few feet into the brick lined tunnels. Clearly this needed more preparation.
“Arb?” Tirran shouted back at Scovie, who had decided not to approach the smell of the sewers twice in one day so had stayed out in the carriage house. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to do anything about this tonight. We’re nowhere near prepared enough.”
“What you thinking, then, Sarge?” Scovie peered around the wrecked door, holding his hand over his nose.
“We need to get this place secure, can you run back to the station and get whoever’s on duty to send some people over to keep an eye on here overnight,” Tirran picked his way back to Scovie, carefully retracing his steps. “Then we can come back in the morning and have a look around with some proper equipment.”
“Sounds smart.” Scovie responded, trying not to think about going down into a sewer. “You sure you want to leave this place empty while we go fetch someone?”
“Use your head, it’s not going to be empty. I’m going to stay put while you run back.”
“Uh… Sarge,” Scovie protested. “You sure that’s wise? What if they come back?”
“I’ll be fine, I’ve got this after all” Tirran waved his truncheon around for dramatic effect as he talked. “Besides, if they went to the effort to clear out, I don’t think they’ll be back tonight.” Scovie grumbled wordlessly before Tirran added: “Seriously, Arb, it’ll be fine.”
“If you say so, Sarge. Shouldn’t be long anyway, about an hour to get there and back? Try not to fall in or anything.” Scovie flashed a grin before leaving Tirran in the gloom of the carriage house.
As Scovie left, Tirran used the lamp to have a closer look around the room. Towards the middle of the carriage house sat a doorway that he’d previously ignored, but now seemed worth a look. The heavy oak door was slightly ajar and when Tirran pushed it open, it revealed a thin, rickety staircase rising up. Taking one last look around the carriage house, Tirran shrugged to himself and climbed up to whatever was above. Though the sounds of the city were dimly audible from outside, the building was almost oppressively quiet, every little creak from his footsteps or simply just the building moving made Tirran very conscious of his surroundings. At the top of the stairs, another heavy oak door led to a large office that straddled the entire width of the building. As he entered it was immediately apparent to Tirran that the room had been hastily trashed by whoever had been hiding out here. Furniture was strewn across the floor in bits and an upended old steel safe had clearly been used to burn things in. Putting the lamp down on the solitary intact table, Tirran walked over to the windows. Despite the chaos inflicted on the room, they were still intact and caked in a layer of grime. He wiped clear a section of glass with his coat sleeve and looked down at the street below. Even as darkness fell, the city was as busy as ever.
Tirran spent a few moments just taking in the crowds before something caught his eye and sent a spike of paranoia through his mind. Standing by a lamppost directly opposite the building, conspicuously trying to blend in was a little, dark, nervous looking Murid in a flat cap. Could it be the man Bharvin had described? Tirran quickly moved from the window, hoping he hadn’t been seen. As the realisation he might have made a grave error by staying here alone started to creep across his mind, he reached for his truncheon and slowly edged back to the window. A quick glance out revealed no one under the lamppost. Had he really seen that? Was he imagining it? Or was he about to get a visit from someone? Beginning to run on fear, he grabbed the lamp from the table and sat on the floor across from the door with his back against the surviving desk. Turning the wick down just enough so he could still see, he sat listening intently to the creak of the building. If the bastards came for him before Scovie got back, he’d damn well be ready for them.
After a while the gloom began to mess with Tirran’s perceptions, he wasn’t entirely sure how long he’d been sitting there anymore, truncheon in hand and ready to strike. Every now and then he glanced around the room to make sure there wasn’t another easy way into the room, and on one pass something by his feet caught his eye. Reaching to pick it up, he found a slip of paper. It looked torn from the end of a receipt or something. Through the gloom he could see some handwriting on it, maybe the end of an address. Before he could hold it in the light to see properly, there was a noise from downstairs. It sounded like the big double doors had been slammed open. “Shit.” Tirran stuffed the paper into his coat pocked and doused the lamp, readying himself behind the desk. Light was visible around the door, whoever it was clearly intended to search the place. Suddenly he heard footsteps on the stairs, two sets, and muffled conversation. The door creaked open and Tirran lunged at the first body to come through it.
Scovie was naturally somewhat surprised as his mentor barrelled across the room towards him. There wasn’t enough room to sidestep at the top of the stairs, so he tried to catch Tirran before the truncheon made impact.
“Woah, Sarge, Sarge!” He pleaded in what he hoped was a reasonable tone. “Calm down, it’s me!” The confusion took the fight out of Tirran, who skidded into Scovie, forcing both men into the wall on the side of the corridor. After a couple of confused seconds, Tirran straightened himself up.
“Gods Damnit Scovie!” Tirran made sure his tone reflected how stressed he was. “Why the hell didn’t you say anything you bloody idiot. You could have been… I could have…” Exhaustion crept up on him, slumping as he trailed off.
“Ye Gods, Sarge, you ok?” Scovie asked, trying to piece together what was going on. Tirran just managed a few tired noises of tired irritation. “Look, some of Bierkam’s lads’ll look after this place overnight, we can knock off now.”
“That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day.” Tirran said, regaining his composure and starting down the stairs. “There’s something damned odd going on, I’m sure of it.”
As they left, Tirran insisted in detouring around the front of the building. The nagging paranoia still hand’t let up, he wanted to make absolutely sure whoever he saw earlier wasn’t still hanging around. As they rounded on to the street, it was clear the man had gone, but Tirran insisted on waiting a few moments under the lamppost, casting his eyes in every direction. While not totally satisfied, he eventually relented and they started back to the station.
“Bugger this for a lark.” He thought aloud as he walked. “I need a drink.”
| < PART ONE | PART THREE > |
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.