As the next morning dawned, a heavy fog rolled in across the bay and blanketed the city. Combined with the smoke produced by Tarnhaven’s day to day existence, the air was so thick it became difficult to see even as far as across the street. But undaunted, city life continued without pause. Even as Tirran made his way into the station long before his shift was due to start the streets were starting to get crowded. The red police lantern hanging above the main entrance was fully lit, casting a strange light across the haze that he thought was surprisingly appropriate given the previous night. When Tirran made his way across the entrance hall the desk sergeant, without even looking up from whatever ledger he was poring over, informed him that Inspector Myrti was looking for him. Deciding against a detour to find the tea urn, Tirran slowly made his way up the stairs, trying to imagine what the new day would bring.
“I’ve a present for you, lad.” Myrti said as soon as Tirran entered into the office. Despite being the highest ranking beat officer on A Division’s day shift, Myrti still wasn’t considered important enough to warrant an office on his own by the higher ranks. Not that this concerned him, he enjoyed being in at the proverbial coalface with his men, so at some point in the dim and distant past he had claimed a impressively large desk from somewhere that now took up one end of the shift’s office.
“You’re in early, Guv.” Tirran commented on his way down the room. “What’s going on?” As he reached the desk, Myrti handed over a long, thin card tube.
“Heard back from the civil engineers. What you have there-“ he tapped the tube sagely, “-is a street map of Farrongate Ward with the approximate locations of sewers and other underground workings marked on it.” Tirran opened the tube and unrolled the map within. It had clearly originally been a neat two-colour printed map the likes of which were easily obtained from stationers across the city, but its previous owners had modified it extensively. Straight lines of various coloured inks stretched across the face of the city’s streets, with each one labelled at some point in neat handwriting. As well as the sewers, there were a few small hatched sections labelled things like cistern or well and even one marked with an uncertain plague pit? which Tirran silently hoped he would never have to look into ever. He looked towards the area of Kanver street and traced the thick black line denoting a sewer passing by it with his finger.
“Looks promising, Guv.” He said, looking over the top of the sheet. “Not a direct link but there’s stuff near enough to each place.”
“Aye, well he did say there might be a bit of a margin for error.” Myrti said, fumbling around on his desk for his pipe. “He also said something about there being stuff under the streets no one knows about. All a bit of a mess down there, apparently.”
“Probably going to have to have a look then. Can’t imagine Scovie’ll be pleased.” Tirran mimicked the way Scovie fiddled with his whiskers and the pair of them had a chuckle at the thought. “Anything come up overnight?”
“Dinnae think so. Beirkam’s lot should still be looking after. Did have a look through some old directories, though.” Myrti tapped a pile of books on his desk. “Far as I can make out, the place has been empty for something like five years. No wonder no one noticed someone digging a bloody great hole in the floor.”
As Tirran and Myrti talked, Scovie walked into the office, pausing to take a glance at the map over Tirran’s shoulder. Clearly not quite understanding what it represented, he continued into the office and stood on the other side of Myrti’s desk.
“Trying to figure out where they took that cart, eh?” He asked.
“What? No, nothing like that. Oh!” Tirran suddenly remembered something and started rummaging through his coat pockets. “There was one thing, Guv. Found a… oh where the hell is it… this!” He eventually pulled the crumpled receipt stub out and handed it over to Myrti. “Looks like an address. Maybe where our tunnelling house breakers went?”
“Let’s have a look here…” Myrti held it up to the light and read aloud “About half a line cut off completely, then… Something-ern Street, Nhaven… se? See?”
“Tarnhaven S-E,” Scovie said. “It’s a postal area or something, means south-east.”
“Oh wonderful.” Tirran put down the map and threw his hands up dramatically. “That’s only, what, a ninth of the damn city we’d have to search. And there’s probably a couple of hundred streets with ‘Ern’ at the end to boot.” Myrti nodded and then got up to look out the small window behind his desk.
“Probably. Ah’ll get the word out and see if anyone else has any idea.” He said without turning around. “And it’ll be worth another look around that empty building. If they left that behind, they’d likely have left something else. Ah made sure that some stuff was taken over last night so you can check the sewers too.”
“Aw, c’mon Guv!” Scovie protested. “You don’t want us to actually go down there d’you?” Tirran quickly stifled a laugh.
“Well, lads, if you’re gonna go and do it-“ Myrti tapped on the window, “-no time like now. Looks like that muck’s starting to clear.”
“Right you are, Guv.” Tirran said, dragging a grumbling Scovie out of the room.
When they reached the arched entrance into Revlin Mews, they found a cold and tired looking Constable Prattcher on guard with the aid of a length of rope cordoning off the roadway.
“You been here all night, Toven?” Scovie asked as they approached, barely containing a grin.
“Might as well’ve been.” Prattcher said between shivers. “Me an’ Calt took over from old Garigar and… wassname about four hours ago. Gods above, I’m bored.”
“‘Least you ain’t on your own.” Scovie reassured him, though it didn’t seem to do any good.
“Well, you’re doing a good job, Constable.” Tirran said, ducking under the rope. “Anyone been hanging around at all?”
“What, here? Beyond the usual street stuff?” Prattcher asked and got a nod. “Well… not that I could see, but I couldn’t see that far in the murk. Neither could they, thinking about it, if anyone was up to anything.”
“Fair point, lad.” Tirran said, thinking on what else the fog could have hidden. “I’ll get Calt to bring you a brew out.” He held the rope up for Scovie to get under then both headed into the mews.
In the light, even the muted tones filtered through the smog, it was a completely different place. The ruts across the cobbles that had almost eluded them the previous night were now much more apparent, and the muddy streaks, now mostly dry, around the big double doors could now clearly be seen as covering half the yard. Just inside the carriage house, Tirran could see Constable Calt warming his hands on a brazier that had appeared from somewhere since last night. Like Prattcher, the tall, broad Canid was also a recent recruit, but he possessed enough self confidence that half the station was already marking him for future greatness. As Tirran and Scovie approached, he looked up and waved them over.
“Wotcha sarge, Scovie.” He said, sounding far happier than anyone who had been stuck outside since before dawn should ever sound. “You come to take over?”
“‘Fraid not.” Tirran said, shaking his head. “We’re still conducting our investigation. Everything been quiet here?”
“Not to worry, Sarge.” Calt said as he fiddled with a heavy iron kettle he had found somewhere. “Not much going on around here, really. Bloke from cross the way-“ He pointed at a door “-Reckons his oil lamp got nicked last night but other than that we’ve been left well alone.” Scovie suppressed a chuckle and Tirran tried not to look too embarrassed, much to Calt’s confusion.
“Ahem, well we’ll deal with that some other time. Inspector Myrti said some stuff had been dropped off?” Tirran said to quickly change the subject. “We’ve got a sewer to rummage through.”
“Ah, that’d be this then.” Calt kicked a small wooden crate by the brazier. “Garigar hefted it up here from the station last night. Said it’s got a couple of storm lanterns and some rope.”
“The hell is the rope for?” Said Scovie, beginning to look concerned.
“So we don’t get lost. Do keep up, Arb.” Tirran replied, matter-of-factly, which prompted a laugh from Calt.
“Oh, wow, you’re going down the hole?” The young Constable could barely contain himself. “Better you two than me.” After a split second’s thought he quickly added “No disrespect, Sarge.”
“Well, good job someone’s just volunteered to help us set up, eh?” Tirran slapped Calt on the shoulder just to make it clear what he had let himself in for.
Counting the round of tea, it took just under about half an hour to set up Tirran’s and Scovie’s excursion. Not knowing quite how long the rope he had been given was, Tirran dismissed Calt’s idea to tie it to the rafters. Instead he repurposed Scovie’s improvised crowbar from last night into an anchor, forcing it into the bare earth walls of the hole. Deciding that, jokes aside, the smell billowing from the tunnel was at best distracting and at worse mildly hellish, Tirran had come up with a stop gap measure to deal with it. He produced a pair of handkerchiefs from his coat and tied one so it covered most of his face, directing Scovie to do the same, making sure to tuck his whiskers in carefully. It made the pair of them look like frontier bandits from one of the circuses, but hopefully it would do something. After a quick consultation of the map, they set off into the world beneath the streets.
The horseshoe shaped brick sewer was just tall enough for Scovie to walk along at an awkward crouch, for Tirran the experience was bordering on the painful. Even with the pair of storm lanterns, the quality of light here was bizarre. Though the walls and floor were visible in illuminated hoops, there was no real end in sight in either direction. There was, however, a very visible trail ahead of them. Whatever the housebreakers had used to shift their heavy equipment had left ruts in the muck that caked the floor and conveniently followed the direction they were walking. Tirran silently thanked his lucky stars that there hadn’t been any rains in the city of late, not only because it would have destroyed any evidence, but also it made the general state of the sewer far more negotiable. Continuing on, he noticed every so often a broken patch of brickwork, suggesting whatever had been brought through had slipped off the straight and narrow. Given the difficulties he was having, the very idea of trying to heave heavy equipment through here seemed hellish, stooping low, pushing cart loads of gods know what, trying to ignore the smell. Oh gods, the smell. It was quickly dawning on Tirran that the handkerchiefs were protecting them as much as he had intended, and slowly his nose was starting to run as his body tried to deal with what his brain clearly couldn’t. Behind him Scovie was clearly suffering similarly, every few minutes he tried to suppress a gagging fit, hissing quietly under his breath as it passed. This wasn’t what either man had become a police officer for, not by a long shot.
It was difficult to precisely gauge how long they had been down there, but when they came up on a junction that Tirran guessed was about two thirds of the way there. The corner had suffered far more damage than had been apparent elsewhere. It seemed that whatever had been used to transport equipment had an aversion to cornering, so rather than try to take the ninety degree turn, it had clearly just ploughed through the brick corner. The wreckage had been cleared enough to pass, but the damage was more than apparent.
“I don’t like the look of that ceiling, Sarge.” Scovie said, shining the lantern straight up. “Looks like it’s starting to sag something chronic.” Tirran ignored him. Something was peculiar about one of the piles of debris. Where the brickwork was sinking into what Tirran politely imagined was some kind of soil there was something very obviously sticking out, catching the light in a way nothing else visible did.
“Now what the hell could this be?” Tirran reached down to grab it.
“Aw, Sarge, you’re not doing what I think are you?” Scovie said, recoiling to the point he stood up, causing a loud thud as his helmet scraped on the ceiling. Tirran had to concede he had a point, there were enough disgusting substances caking everything down here and he really didn’t want to touch any of them, but this was the only way. With the light on it, he could see the thing was made from leather and at least had a hand hold. Grabbing on to it, Tirran gave it a pull, resulting in a nauseating squelch as the brick shifted and freed what was under it. Being careful not to lose balance, Tirran held the thing up to the light. His brow furrowed as he tried to figure out what it was.
“…Someone’s tool belt, you think, Arb?” He asked, and got only a noise of muffled concern in response. “Hold on to this will you?”
“Aw gods, Sarge!” Scovie found his voice enough to complain.
“I need a hand free hand, c’mon now!” Tirran insisted, waving the filthy belt at arms length.
Reluctantly Scovie took the tool belt, and tried as hard as he could to keep it far away from any part of him as they started on again down the sewer. It clearly wasn’t far to the blocked exit into the pub cellar. The light reflecting back from the walls had a very conspicuous break a short distance ahead. The wreckage here had clearly been moved to fill the hole in, as there was a suspiciously clear route now until just past the break in the wall where there was a pile of wreckage forming a buffer to rest a small cart against. As Tirran reached the hole, he could hear echoes of activity from above. Glancing through, the brickwork he had kicked in from the cellar yesterday was clearly visible. He briefly considered trying to leave at this end, but a combination of the amount of heavy debris still in place and their current… unorthodox outfits made him quickly change his mind.
“Well, this is the end of the line by the looks of.” He said aloud. “Keep your eyes open, Arb, don’t want to miss anything and have to come back now, do we?” Shining his storm lantern around, he saw that the burglars had been less careful here than in the empty building, clearly they didn’t expect anyone to investigate the sewers. Strewn everywhere were bits of wood, clearly intended to hold the ceiling up, as well as bits of broken tools and even a destroyed lantern. Scovie tapped him on the shoulder suddenly.
“Here Sarge… ugh… have a look at this” he said, and as Tirran turned he pointed at a bit of wood leaning against the sewer wall. It looked like a broken pickaxe handle. He picked it up and shone the light over it. At the bottom there was something burnt into the side of the handle.
“…Bharvin and Sons.” He read aloud. “I think we’ve found our link, Arb.”
“Well thank the gods for that.” Scovie said loud enough to echo off of the rounded walls. “Can we get out of here now?” Through the gloom Tirran nodded, and fumbled for the rope to take them out.
The return journey took far less time than expected. When they emerged from the sewer, Prattcher and Calt were still hanging around, having only just been relieved by another two Constables from Inche Street. Scovie took the time to head out into the yard to take a few deep breaths of the cleaner air while Tirran had a root through the wrecked tool belt to see if anything had been left behind. The complete lack of tools suggested the belt had been discarded on the way out, so Tirran hoped this meant some indication of where they had gone. One of the pockets that wasn’t caked shut with muck seemed to have something in it.
“Well, what have we here.” He said to himself as he gingerly pulled what looked like a folded up poster from a pocket on the belt. Unfolding it, one side was an advert for some music hall act but turning it over he revealed a very rough pencil sketch of what seemed to be a floor plan. Clearly not to any kind of scale, on one side there was an arrow pointing to an ill defined area, labeled strongroom. “I think this is a plan for the big score. Calt-“ He stood up and collared the young Constable “-pour some hot water on this tool belt to clean it off then take it back to the evidence lockup will you? Good lad.” He handed the belt over and headed into the yard. Scovie had recovered by now, and watched him walk out towards the archway.
“Where now Sarge?” Scovie asked, following along behind Tirran. “Not another sewer, I hope.”
“Need to take a walk, Arb.” Tirran said, without stopping. “See if it helps me figure out a few things.” He reached the street and immediately turned to walk down it, taking only a quick second to look around. Almost immediately as he looked across to the far side of the road, the feeling of unease from last night returned. Something had set it off just at the corner of his vision.
The pair walked through the city in the general direction of Kanver Street with no great urgency. With the fog pretty much gone, the packed nature of the streets was much more apparent, with crowds parting as the two police officers ambled through. Scovie was rambling on about something that had happened the previous week, pretty much entirely to himself as Tirran was deep in thought. The floor plan drawing was a clear indication that there was going to be another break in somewhere in the city, but with only the torn end of an address to go on, there was no easy way to figure out where. They were after a place with a strong room, sure, but between banks, jewellers, all the various government offices and the like there had to be a few hundred strong rooms in the city. Checking them all would take way too long, especially with the limited resources the Constabulary had available. Trying to come up with some kind of plan, he glanced behind him as they turned a street corner. In the crowd a few paces behind them was… Damn it all.
“…and I told him, right, that I didn’t appreciate him going on like that, right…” Scovie continued his story unaware he wasn’t being listened to.
“Arb.” Tirran said just under his breath to try and get his attention.
“…but he wasn’t having none of it, so he tries to go for the bottle on the table, right…”
“…but I was too fast for him, so I was, and managed to…”
“Constable Scovie!” Tirran growled, elbowing Scovie in the ribs.
“Oh, sorry Sarge. What’s up?”
“Behind us, don’t be too obvious about it.” Tirran waited until he’d glanced over his shoulder. “See the little Murid in the grey flat cap?”
“Who Bharvin talked about? I think so. He’s been our shadow since the tunnel site yesterday.” Tirran scanned the street ahead of him. “Wait until we get to that lamppost and follow my lead, alright?”
Upon reaching the lamppost, Tirran did a neat about turn that would have shown up even the most trained grenadier and headed back against the flow of the crowd. As Scovie followed a split second later, Tirran could already see a look of panic forming over the Murid’s face. He decided this was as clear a suspicious act as he was likely to get, and before the man could excuse himself back into the crowd, Tirran leaned over him and said in his clearest police voice:
“Excuse me a moment, Sir, I’d like a word.” And with that, the man made a panicked noise and fled into the crowd. “Well, bugger. Arb, after him!” Tirran pulled his brass police whistle from his coat pocket, gave it a really lengthy blast and gave chase. Without looking back, he heard Scovie yowl and follow on. Despite the small stature of his quarry, Tirran could easily see where he was running as the crowd dodged out. Years of experience had conditioned the people of Tarnhaven when not to get in the way.
As they reached a crossroads, Tirran realised that the Murid clearly hadn’t a clue where he was going and was just trying to get away, weaving around the street looking for an easy escape route. An alleyway took him out of sight, and Tirran hoped that it was just a dead end. Taking the turn, he was proven wrong and his target was edging through a gap at the other end. Following turned out to be more difficult, as a smaller framed Murid could move easier through gaps that would cause the tall Canid Sergeant difficulties. After a few tense moments squeezing between buildings, Tirran emerged and realised he was now in the market place at the bottom of Kanver street. Unlike the street, the people here hadn’t had the benefit of seeing two Brass-Tops running towards them, so remained milling about the stalls. Taking a moment to catch his breath, Tirran cast his eyes over the crowd, trying to catch sight of his prey. As he looked it also became apparent that he had lost Scovie at some point. He decided to worry about that later as he caught a glimpse of the Murid trying to look inconspicuous under the awning of a stall selling cheap knock-off ceramics. Tirran tried to edge through the crowd stealthily, hoping to collar him quickly. This plan fell apart quickly with an idle glance into the crowd leading the man to bolt again.
“Oh for Gods’ Sake. Oi!” Tirran barked and instantly the crowd’s dynamic changed. People fled in every direction as anyone with even a slight guilty conscience panicked at the sight of a police uniform.
Drawing his truncheon to move people out of his way, Tirran fought against the flow to try and reach the nearest street off the market. It was clear his target was having similar ideas, and it became a tense race. The Murid managed to just beat Tirran to it, and took off down the long, curving street as fast as he could, but Tirran’s longer legs meant he was a fraction faster over a straight line. It wasn’t long before Tirran realised that he was beginning to run out of steam. He may have been faster than the other man, but the faster pace, almost a sprint, was really beginning to take it out of him. Ahead the street ended at a crossroads with a sundial in the middle. If he didn’t end this now, Tirran realised, he risked losing his prey to the city. The Murid started to weave across the road, clearly ready to take a turn. Trying to summon up whatever energy he had left, Tirran tried to up his speed for one last attempt to stop him. Despite this, the Murid took the corner at speed, skidding in the mud…
…Straight into the solid oak of Scovie’s waiting truncheon, clothes lining him to the ground. Tirran rounded the corner and came to a confused halt.
“…how?” He managed through his exhaustion.
“Used to live round here, didn’t I?” Scovie responded with an air of smugness. “Figured where he was trying to get to and, y’know, took a shortcut.” Tirran took a second to stare at him with a raise eyebrow before stooping down to haul the dazed Murid up by his shoulders to his eye line.
“As for you, my friend-” Tirran said, glaring through narrowed eyes. “-You’re nicked.”
| < PART TWO | PART ONE | PART FOUR > |
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.