The day dragged slowly towards evening. Tirran and Scovie had settled into the motions of a stake out, one constantly sat by the window while the other tried to keep an eye on the door just in case and remain sane. A round of half eaten bacon baps comprised of mostly gristle sat on a bed side table. Food was clearly not the pub’s strong point. Scovie had produced a deck of cards from somewhere and they had been useful to pass the time for a while, but Tirran was convinced either the young Constable was a very accomplished cheat or the deck had a few too many primes for his liking. Either way, the dimming light put an end to it, Tirran had decided quite early on that they couldn’t let it look like someone was watching the street and so decided to forgo any form of lighting that could be seen through the windows. Beyond a sliver of light seeping under the door, the entire room was lit only from the window, which now silhouetted Scovie as he sat on watch. Despite being there all afternoon, neither one of them had seen anything untoward out in the street, and the lack of activity was starting to take its toll.
“It’s been, what, four, four and a half hours.” Scovie groaned, boredom heavy in his voice. “I dunno if their gonna do anything today, Sarge.” Tirran considered this. While the gang of burglars had been active fairly regularly over the past few weeks, if they were working to a schedule this was something of an anomaly.
“You could be right, Arb.” He conceded. Silently he hoped he had not been wrong about the people in the bar. But even then, surely too much effort had been put in to shifting so much equipment to abandon it all because of just two Brass-Tops poking around.
“Maybe this Rahdler bloke’s thrown us a red herring or something.” Scovie offered. “Wouldn’t be too difficult to arrange, would it?”
“Don’t even joke, Arb.” Tirran said, refusing to entertain the thought. “Besides, if he’s as arrogant as he sounds, I don’t think he would. He’d probably assume we weren’t smart enough to track him down or Bix would be too afraid to talk or something.” He stood up, stretched and walked over to the window. Peering over Scovie’s shoulder, he watched the street go about its evenings business. Nothing unusual, nothing suspicious, at least not by Tarnhaven’s standards. He sighed loudly. “Anyway, even if they don’t make a move tonight, we’re still stuck watching here.”
Tirran took over from Scovie at the window as the various clocks of the city lazily chimed eight bells. Once again the lamp lighters were going about their business in the chill spring air, the gas lamps here being more workmanlike and less decorative than almost everywhere else in town. He could feel the boredom trying to transform into sleepiness, and started to consider trying to arrange for someone else to cover the watch over night. Dumping two stakeouts in a row on the night shift probably wouldn’t earn him many friends around the Station House, he considered and stifled a laugh. He glanced back out into the street, straight at the alleyway. Quickly he realised there was someone hanging around the corner where it joined the street. There was a certain way people with a guilty conscience held themselves when they were up to no good, something you learned to spot quickly when you were a lawman. The big Felid down on the street could have served as a textbook example. Tirran sat bolt upright and stared intently out the window.
“Well, what have we here?” He said to himself. Periodically the Felid would rummage in his pockets for something and then look around, making sure he wasn’t being followed. Tirran couldn’t quite say for sure, but there was a familiarity about the man.
Before he could put a finger on it, the Felid suddenly dashed down the alley and started fiddling with the gate. Tirran got to his feet.
“Arb!” He said loud enough to startle the Constable from dozing off. “Showtime. It’s not Rahdler, but someone’s making a move!” By the time Scovie joined him at the window, the gate had been opened and the man was standing by it expectantly.
“The hell’s he doing?” Scovie asked, confused. Tirran tapped him on the shoulder and pointed down the street. Making their way across the junction with Forestgate Road was a group of men trying a bit too hard to look casual. There were about five of them and all had a similar look to the man at the gate. It was then Tirran made a realisation.
“Oh stone me,” he said, taking a step back. “It’s one of those bastards at the tunnel yesterday!”
“So it’s a dead cert then?” Scovie asked, not taking his eyes from the street.
“Or the biggest bloody coincidence I’ve ever seen.” Tirran replied, thinking how to proceed. “What they doing now?”
“Going in the gate, Sarge. I think we’ve got them.”
“No, not yet. I want to get them all. I want Rahdler. But…” He looked out the window again. The gang had left the street now, and it seemed no one else was around. “…we need to move. There was a back way out of here downstairs. Arb, I need you to run, Run back to Inche Street and get the Guv, get whoever he’s roped in to this and get back here mob handed as fast as you can, understand?”
“But what you going to do, Sarge? The Guv said no heroics.” Scovie reminded him.
“Don’t you worry, I’ll just keep an eye open.” Tirran noted the sceptical look Scovie gave him. “I swear! Now go, time’s wasting!” Scovie nodded, barely visible in the gloom. As he opened the door and let candlelight spill into the room, he stopped and turned around.
“Sarge?” He said, trying to sound sincere. “Don’t you go being a twat now, alright?” Before Tirran had a chance to respond, the Constable had gone, leaving only the sound of heavy boots down the stairs.
Tirran waited a minute for his low light vision to return. The alley was now empty, but the gate sat invitingly open. He briefly considered going down to catch them in the act, but the very thought of the retribution Inspector Myrti would visit upon him for playing silly buggers quickly talked him out of it. Then his eye was drawn up the street. In the flickering light of one of the gas lamps there was a big Canid talking idly to another man as they walked towards the alley’s mouth. As Tirran stared, the man looked down the street in the general direction of the pub. Even from that distance, even in the low lamp light, the crazy, staring pale blue eyes were obvious. Rahdler. Any doubts were now well and truly laid to rest. Tirran watched as the two walked into the alley, Rahdler dragging the gate open wide enough that the inside of the yard was just visible for a split second. Wrestling with the temptation to go and interfere, Tirran picked up his helmet and fidgeted with it impatiently. Then he saw something that clinched it. Rahdler had failed to pull the gate completely shut after heading into the yard, and it stood enticingly open just wide enough for someone to sneak in unobstructed.
“Well Bugger.” He said to himself as he opened the door to leave. “The Guv’s going to kill me.”
Leaving through the front of the pub, Tirran darted across the street as quickly as he could manage. While no one was visible up the alleyway, he didn’t want to risk even the slightest chance of being spotted. As the sun had gone down, the light from the gas lamps covered less and less, leaving patches of gloomy semi-darkness just to one side of the gate. Tirran used this as a stepping stone to weave around the wooden obstacle into the yard. As soon as he had gained entry he was confronted by the back end of a heavy cart still laden with heavy tools.
“Got you.” He muttered under his voice as he went to stoop behind it, hoping it was enough to hide him. Peaking around one of the big iron-rimmed wheels, he took in the yard. A set of braziers were dotted around, casting pools of deep orange light that revealed piles of debris and discarded tools, as well as a couple of gang members warming themselves in the shadow of what was clearly the other missing cartload of tools. Careful to not make any noise, Tirran shifted to the other side of his hiding place. In a far corner of the yard stood a rickety looking hut, illuminated from within. Even from where he was crouched, he could see from the shadows that there was a number of people inside. In the middle of it all, between Tirran and the hut, was a muddy maw leading to a just visible incline down into the ground. The gang had clearly been busy, but it didn’t seem like they had gotten far yet.
Now that he had an idea of his surroundings, a plan began to form in Tirran’s mind. He took another glance around the cart and counted the patches of ground far enough away from any light sources that he might stand a chance of hiding. If he was careful enough, if he was just fast enough he could make his way up to the hut without being seen. The men around one of the braziers started laughing loudly at some unheard joke, their voices echoing across the yard, and once they had all turned their backs, Tirran made a dash for it. Jumping behind a large pile of earth about half way there, he waited for a few seconds, hoping his footsteps had been silenced by the mud. Taking a risk, he stuck his head around the pile, checking on the men across the yard. They still had their back to him, and after a moments rest, Tirran set off again. A brisk sprint took him all the way to the end wall of the hut, well out of sight of the rest of the yard. Relaxing slightly, he crept up to the window, took off his helmet and risked a peek. The rest of the gang were inside, stood in a rough circle, and in the middle was Rahdler, gesticulating to some planned speech that was muffled by the walls. As Tirran tried to adjust himself to hear better, a hand landed on his shoulder, making him jump. Turning around, he looked into the scarred face of the biggest Felid he had ever seen, scowling at him.
“Ah.” He said, trying to mask embarrassment. “I don’t suppose you’d believe I’m here to check your security arrangements?”
“No, I wouldn’t.” The Felid replied sarcastically, shaking his head before banging on the window with his free hand and yelling. “Boss! We got a visitor!”
Tirran was forcibly dragged into the hut and deposited in a chair. Rahdler took the brass police helmet off of his underling and paced in front of his captive.
“Well, well, well. Looks like we found a brass-top smart enough to figure us out.” He looked Tirran up and down and noticed the white stripes sewn into the deep red coat. “And a Sergeant too. My, my. Tie him to the chair.” He ordered one of his underlings, kicking off a flurry of activity.
“Nice to finally meet you, Mister Rahdler.” Tirran said, taking a moment to enjoy the brief flicker of uncertainty make its way across Rahdler’s face. “You know, you’ve really been making my life difficult of late.”
“Bix said there was two of them. All of you, go check the yard.” The gang members slowly filed out of the room at the order. After they left Rahdler turned back to Tirran. “I guess you must’ve gotten to him, no worries, he’ll get what’s coming to him eventually. You might think you’re smart, Sergeant-“ He spat the word across the room “-all your bloody sort do, but you’re not. I know you’re not. Had enough of that in the army, and it’s always bloody sergeants isn’t it? Thinking they’re oh so smart. Well I bloody showed them, and I’ll show you too” After a moments thought Tirran started to laugh.
“So you’re, what, a deserter as well as burglar, are you?” He said, deliberately trying to antagonise his captor. “Gods above, they’ll have a field day when we drag you in, won’t they?” Rahdler put the helmet down on a table and stooped down to be face to face with Tirran. The manic stare bored into the sergeants soul.
“Drag me in? You?” Rahdler stood back and laughed, sounding more like a wild animal than any Sapient Being. “With you being such an obliging guest and your idiot friend hiding from my lads? Pull the other one. They won’t know anything’s up ‘till they find the pair of you, and by then we’ll be long gone.”
“So,” Tirran questioned. “You plan to just keep me here while you’re working? As if no one would notice a brass-top going missing.” Rahdler laughed his horrible laugh again.
“For now.” He pulled a blade from his belt and started playing with it absent mindedly, all the while keeping his eyes fixed on Tirran. “But we’ll figure something to do with you eventually, I imagine. Both of you.”
Tirran tried to look blasé about the threat, but his mind was racing. Had Scovie managed to get the Guv yet? Could he keep this lunatic from doing something drastic in the meantime? Gods above, those eyes.
“Even then,” He started again, speaking as fast as his mind could work. “You think that the world will just let you go? Cracking a Customs House, that is what you’re doing isn’t it, is too big to just let slide.”
“You think I’ve not thought of that?” Rahdler spat. “By the time anyone notices, even with your little interruption, we’ll have offloaded everything and disappeared. Then finally, your Civil-bloody-Society will know not to take me for fucking granted.” This time it was Tirran who laughed.
“Offload it? Really? Who to? We’ve got all the fences big or mad enough in this city under watch you bloody idiot.” He lied, quickly racking his memories for names “Rickard Carsten, Anzio and Crowe, the Darrent Brothers, hell, even old Anogen Trugo if you’re mad enough to do business with her. Which you certainly seem to be.” Before he could finish, Rahdler cut him off with a swift punch to the gut.
“You think you’re smarter than me, Sergeant.” He leant down and whispered in Tirran’s ear menacingly. “But you’re not. None of you are. Get it through your fucking skull.” Behind him the door opened again and one of the gang members walked in.
“Boss, we’ve checked the yard, don’t seem to be anyone else here who shouldn’t be.” Rahdler straightened up.
“Right, you keep an eye on our guest. Looks like we need to change schedule a bit.” He cast one more manic stare over Tirran, still tied to the chair and trying to get his breath back, before leaving the hut, slamming the door behind him.
By the time Tirran had recovered, the noise filtering in from outside suggested that work had started up. Shuffling his hands, he realised that though he was tied to the chair, the genius who had tied the knots had done it beneath the seat. Getting free would not be a problem, but the guard Rahdler had left would be. Unlike some of the others, the Canid keeping an eye on him did not look like a hardened criminal, it was possible he was one of the navvies.
“Hey, you.” Tirran made sure to raise his voice and sound important. The guard looked up from the table he was sat on, but still seemed uninterested. “Yeah, you. You don’t look like one of those bastards out there. What’s your angle?” No response. Tirran tried again. “I mean, you look like a working stiff, same as me. What do you stand to gain from thieving? Beyond a stint in gaol anyway. Or, hell, Transportation if you’re real unlucky.” The guard murmured something under his breath. “What was that?” Tirran replied almost right away.
“Hargen said we was taking stuff from the rich bastards who keep it all for themselves.” The guard repeated. The uncertainty in his voice was obvious.
“And you believed him?” Tirran laughed. “Where did breaking into a pub factor in to that?” The guard got up and walked over.
“Well, he said that was a practice run.” He sounded agitated now. “Besides, its not gonna matter once we do this job.”
“Oh yes, the Customs House.” Tirran mocked. “Once this is all done you’ll all slip away with your cuts and live like kings, right?”
“That’s what he said. Once we’re done he’ll deal with the fencin’ and that.”
“Again, you trust him?” Tirran interrupted, the guard just nodded. “You’ve met the man, right? He’s clearly insane, and I’ll bet you anything he’d screw you out of this without even thinking.”
“Oh yeah?” The guard growled, looming over Tirran. “And you’ve got my best interests at heart, have you? You’re just a bloody Brass-Top trying to piss me off.”
“Yeah, well, about that…” Tirran tipped his chair backwards, sweeping at the guard’s legs as he fell. Both men hit the floor with a thud, and Tirran quickly slid his hand restraints off the bottom of each chair leg. He managed to get to his feet first and grabbed his helmet from the table. “You’d be part right. Sorry about that.” He said to the guard before escaping out the door into the yard.
| < PART FOUR | PART ONE | PART SIX > |
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.