The Fionswood Cemetery was a thoroughly modern solution to a truly ancient problem. As the City of Tarnhaven ballooned ever larger from the influx of people drawn across the nation by the industrial revolution, the graveyards and burial grounds quickly ran out of space. But the dead care not for the tribulations of mortals, and kept piling up without end. Eventually, the problem became so great action was required. After careful consideration a site outside the village of Fionswood, to the south of the city and much further from the coast, was chosen and a grand necropolis was constructed. Deceased Tarnhavenites of every species, culture and creed were accommodated in the carefully landscaped vistas, and their living loved ones were afforded every modern convenience, from heated chapels to gas lighting, there was even an ironroad connection direct to the city. Every day a steady stream of hundreds made the journey south, whether it was to their final rest or simply to visit those who had already departed.
The cemetery represented something very different for Moren Galag, however, to him it had become an opportunity. The ragged canid watched the rest of his crew as they skulked around one of the lanes of gravestones as if none of them had actually listened to the plan. Like him, they had all once been disgruntled dockers who had drifted towards the petty criminal life, but he was the only one that had any ambition. He had been the only one to get fully behind old Tevar when he had got them the job fetching and carrying for the smugglers, and after the old bastard had… disappeared he was the natural choice for new leader. Now it was clear he was the only one of them who saw the deal they had been getting was skewed heavily against them, and naturally he had a plan to fix that.
“Why’d we have to come all the way out here, again, Mor?” Whined Talo, the stocky felid who was notionally the crew’s second in command. Mor just sighed and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle.
“We’ve been over this. Twice even.” He was beginning to lose his patience with these people. None of them even remotely understood his genius.
“Yeah, but…” Talo hesitated for a second, searching for the right objection, “…it’s just some of the lads don’t get why they had to spend their own money getting here.”
“Y’damn right!” Chimed in the big Canid everyone just called Grum. “Cost me ha’f a guilder t’get here! Aint made’f that kinda money!”
Mor just stared at them for a few seconds. How in the hells’ names did he manage to get anything done with this bunch of imbeciles?
“Look, it’s simple,” He said, slowly and barely concealing his frustration, “We do all the work down on the docks, but we’re clearly getting screwed by those bastards Anzio and Crowe, right?” There was a gaggle of confused nods. “And we can’t do anything about it in the city without Crowe kicking the shit out of us, right?”
“Yeah but why drag us…” Talo started before being silenced with a withering stare from Mor.
“Because, Talo, Dorchen says that Anzio comes up here this time every month, on his own. What better time to have a little… chat with him without his muscle overhearin’.”
“Dorchen?” Talo’s brow furrowed. “That creepy Murid who hangs around the Six Bells? Why we listening to him?”
“That creepy little Murid makes it his business to know everybody’s business, that’s why.” Mor snapped back, before lightening up a little and cracking a wry smile. “Look, all we have to do is have a little word with him, then we’ll get a better deal and we won’t get our heads cracked by that monster Crowe, and he’ll be nursing a sore head for a few days instead. We’ll all win.” He nodded in Grum’s direction. “You’ll get your six fennigs back, and then some.”
There was a murmuring of content agreement, and Mor turned to scan the crest of the hill that hid this section from the rest of the cemetery. He had left young Elvar to keep watch, but the idiot had vanished out of sight. It really wouldn’t be long now, and he really hoped these idiots he surrounded himself with were clued in enough to not mess it all up. They only had one chance to make this scheme work, if anyone gave the game away or let their quarry escape, or any one of a hundred little mistakes Mor could think of, it was likely they would not only lose the best job any of them had ever had, but Anzio would probably have them all murdered and dumped in the river too. It was what Mor would do, were the situations reversed.
Trying not to think about it, he focused on the line of elegantly manicured yew trees ahead of them. He wasn’t entirely sure what time it was, the last clock they had all passed was in the station and none of them could afford pocket watches, but he was certain that soon they’d have to spring in to action.
Suddenly he noticed movement amongst the trees. Elvar had emerged from behind a tree trunk and was making an appalling attempt at subtly signalling the rest of the crew. Mor leapt in to action and turned to the others.
“Ok lads, looks like it’s show time!” He announced, and the crew started to spread out and hide behind various gravestones. As he took up a position he hoped looked nonchalant enough, he quietly remarked on how good a hiding place a cemetery had turned out to be.
As if on schedule, over the crest of the hill strode Vitor Anzio, erudite criminal entrepreneur, seemingly unaware of what lay ahead of him. He was a felid, but unlike the majority in Tarnhaven, he was tall and alarmingly thin, his dark grey stripes only enhancing his gaunt features. Even if Mor hadn’t clocked his name as being foreign, Ternean by the sounds of it, on looks alone it was clear he wasn’t Tyrlan, he wasn’t one of them. Compared to the assembled gang members, he was dressed in much finer clothes, but not in the ostentatious way you’d normally expect from a criminal mastermind. The grey suit and waistcoat, and black bombin hat he wore was subtle, but clearly cut from finer materials. The only concession to wealth was the black lacquered cane he walked with, like so many of the monied Tarnhavenites.
He walked along the row of headstones, with Mor watching eagerly. The others had hidden themselves well, he was completely oblivious. As he approached Mor, he finally noticed the other man and stopped for a split second. His expression didn’t change, but Mor knew there was confusion spreading in his mind.
“Ah, Mister Galag, how surprising to see you.” Anzio said, offering a courteous professional nod before continuing forwards. “You have family buried here?”
“Not as such, Mister Anzio, No.” Mor replied, falling in to step. “In fact I was hopin’ I’d catch you here today.”
“Is that so? Well, I hope you can appreciate I am a little indisposed at the moment.”
“Yeah, well, I wanted to talk about our little arrangement.” As Mor paused, Anzio stopped and stared at him. “Some of the lads aren’t happy with it.”
“Well I’m afraid, Mister Galag,” Anzio replied, his expression visibly darkening, “This really isn’t the place for it. If you come by our office tomorrow…”
“And I’m afraid that just won’t do.” Mor grinned and advanced on the Felid, dropping his hand to within easy reach of the Machete in his coat lining. “Y’see, out here you don’t have that beast backing you up, so we can actually get stuff done. It’s more… personal, like.”
Anzio took a step back defensively. “I would consider your actions very carefully,” he said, the calm amicable tone starting to erode.
“Oh, I have, Mister Anzio,” Mor chuckled, then unsheaved his blade. “Very carefully. LADS!”
On command, the rest of the crew, six in all, leapt from their hiding places and surrounded Anzio, armed with various improvised blades and cudgels. Mor was disappointed that his target wasn’t showing panic, more restrained anger. No matter, he was minutes away from his goal, he was still in control.
“So me and the lads, we don’t think an eighth is a fair cut.” He said calmly, toying with his blade as he spoke. “Considerin’ the stuff we’ve snuck through the docks for you, dodgin’ the constabulary and all that, we was thinking more…” He faked a look of deep thought, “…Sixty-Forty seems better. In our favour, of course.”
“You have got to be joking.”
“Not at all.” Mor nodded just over Anzio’s shoulder where Grum was trying to loom over him, chain in hand. “Of course, there’s always the alternative.”
Anzio didn’t even turn around, he just fixed a futile, angry stare at Mor, one which he savoured. It was rare to see the bastard loose control, the whole thing was glorious.
“I’m not an unreasonable man, Mister Galag,” Anzio said, slowly, deliberately and angrily, “If you feel like you are being treated unfairly we can sit down in my office and talk it over like reasoned, Sapient adults. You can all just walk away now and I shall say no more about this… this charade.”
“That a no, then, is it?” Mor shrugged dramatically. “Well, you’ve brought this upon yourself.”
“Yes. You did.” Anzio shot back.
In one fluid motion, Anzio ducked down and rammed his cane hard in to Grum’s groin. The bulky canid double over in pain and hit the ground, leaving the rest of the crew blinking in disbelief. Without missing a beat, Mor lunged with his heavy blade, missing the felid by a hairs breadth. It was only then the rest of those present actually caught up with what was going on, and unleashed absolute chaos.
Talo was first off the mark, and lunged at Anzio’s legs in a vain attempt at a low tackle. Anzio neatly sidestepped and brought his cane down across his attackers back, before laying a withering punch directly in to the muzzle of another gang member. Mor howled in frustration and turned towards Anzio, a murderous glint in his eyes. Without missing a beat, the well dressed felid stepped neatly aside and let a sprinting Elvar past, colliding with Mor and being forced to the ground by the bulkier man who didn’t even consider stopping.
Finally reaching Anzio, Mor let fly with a flurry of punches. The felid ducked and weaved, and even deflected one with a deft motion of his cane. As they traded blows, Mor came to a realisation. This wasn’t some refined gentleman he was fighting, there was no silly Graf Von Köllenheim rules at play here. This was two brawlers kicking hell out of each other with whatever they had at hand. Clearly he had misjudged Anzio, He would almost be impressed were it not for the sudden hard impact of the bastard’s cane right in to his elbow, forcing him to drop his knife.
Recoiling in pain, he barely had the time to recover before he had to duck another swing, the lacquered wood sailing overhead and catching Talo as he was just getting back to his feet. Using his crouch to his advantage, Mor lunged at Anzio’s legs, forcing the felid off balance and throwing him to the ground. He took his time getting to his feet, savouring the position of power rather than acting on it. Ultimately this was a mistake, as it left him open to Anzio sweeping his legs out from under him, and catching him on the jaw on the way down.
As the two men fought, the rest of the gang were considering their options. Grum was still on the floor, groaning in agony, but the others were beginning to realise that they had been sold this little trip on what had just turned in to a dangerous lie.
Elvar and one of the others had already decided to cut their losses and flee, presumably in hope they could get the ironroad back to the city before anyone else caught on. Of the remaining, most were simply watching the fight now, Talo was the only one concerned with how this was all going to end. He had never been entirely on board with this whole scheme, only going along because he didn’t particularly fancy adding to Mor’s alleged body count, and now his fears were pretty much realised.
He so badly wanted to just run for it, the pain in his back was telling him that much, but some demented sense of loyalty stopped him. The end result was he just fidgeted around the edge as the two men kept scuffling in the dirt.
Eventually, running low on energy, Mor struggled to his feet and spat blood on to the dirt. He was getting fed up now. This was supposed to be a cake walk, the guy was supposed to be a push over, nothing was going as planned. He let out a roar of frustration and put all his weight in to one, withering blow.
Everything seemed to go in to slow motion, Mor sailed through the air fist-first towards his target. Before he even connected the punch, Anzio moved as if supernaturally fast and swept Mor’s legs out from under him. He fell forward and hit one of the tombstones hard. The watchers fell deathly silent, each one of them realising it was all over. Slowly each of them, even Talo, backed away and then once at a safe distance, fled.
Anzio ignored them, they were just the henchmen, he had the ringleader just where he wanted him. Before Mor had a chance to get up, Anzio grabbed him and forced his cane across his neck as a garrotte, leaning in to the stricken man’s ears.
“You know, I expect a certain level of respect from my associates,” Anzio hissed in to Mor’s ear through gritted teeth, “but the fact you would do something like this at all, let alone in this place and at this time shows you have none, and deserve none in return.”
Mor tried to respond, but only managed a strained gurgle which just prompted Anzio to apply more pressure.
“But perhaps you have a point, perhaps a twelve and a half percent cut for your labours is unfair. Perhaps something like a ninety-ten split would be better, yes? In my favour.” Anzio paused to allow a response but only got another strained gurgle. “What was that, Mister Galag? ‘Yes Mister Anzio’?”
“Yes… Mister Anzio.” Mor managed, making the pain of speaking very audible.
“I’m glad we can come to an arrangement, then.” Anzio said, released the cane and forcing Mor back on to the ground with his foot. “I shall, of course, send Mister Crowe around at the earliest oppertunity to work out the finer details of our new concordance. I trust he shall return to the office with what we are owed.” He paused, and shot Mor an evil smile. “Or one of your extremities, perhaps?”
Down in the dirt, Mor looked up at Anzio. Every ounce of cockiness and power he had earlier now evaporated. All he managed was a frightened nod, before getting to his feet and going to help Grum up.
“Oh, and Mister Galag?” Anzio added, causing Mor to flinch. “If ever we cross paths again, for whatever reason, don’t expect me to be so… generous, understand?”
“Y-yes Mister Anzio!” Mor stammered, before hobbling off in to the distance with Grum.
Anzio watched the two men crest the hill and vanish out of sight before making any movement. Once he was sure he was alone, he dusted himself down, and picked his hat from where it had fallen before continuing down the row of grave markers for a short distance. After a while he came to one that was distinct from the others, it was dark granite and clearly old, but unlike its neighbours it had been very well maintained over the years.
Anzio respectfully removed his hat and stooped down to remove some debris that had blown on to its plot in the recent poor weather. On the front face, in fine polished brass inlay was the words:
1597 ~ 1661
Physician, Father, Grandfather
Satisfied the grave was clear, he stood up and started to speak. “I’m awfully sorry you had to witness that little display, grandfather. It’s as you always said, the people in this damn city never show any respect.”
This story, it’s characters and any associated names and imagery related to the Tarnhaven setting are ©2020 Dom “Ndro” Barlow, All Rights Reserved.