Friday, June 13, 2008

Chapter nineteen: You have my official apology

Previous Chapter

We exited The Arena right into another parade. This one consisted of maybe two score people carrying sticks that they clacked together in a syncopated pattern while they danced along. Clack clack, tic tic, then take two steps forward. More pounding then step to the side. For a brief moment I flashed on beaters driving wild animals in front of them for the hunt.

"What are you looking for?" Cheryl asked me as she clung to my arm. "I know some places where we can go…"

I shook my head. "I need to find a stairwell to the lower level," I told her. "I want to get a better look at those fighters, without their masks."

"Why?" she asked with a note of disappointment in her voice. No, Cheryl, I'm not that easy.

"You don't have to go along," I said.

She pulled away from me with an angry gesture. I was supposed to try to mollify her at that point, if I read the scenario right, then she'd allow herself to be coaxed into coming with me. Instead, I turned and headed up the street, against the flow of the parade.

"Hey, where…?" I heard her voice from behind me, but I'd set into a fast walk, and I doubt that she could move that fast when there were that many people in the way.

I found the access door about two hundred meters up the corridor. It was down a short side alley, and it was supposed to be locked, but it was a simple loop latch that nearly fell apart when I used my knife on it. Then the door unzipped just fine. I went in and zipped it closed behind me.

The stairwell spiraled down into the gloom of the next level. Down below was where a lot of the maintenance areas and living quarters for Carnival are located. The top levels, above the main drag, are mainly for extra lift and air circulation and supply. I'd sussed out the general physical layout of the cluster on my first few swings through Carnival cluster. It always helps to know where you are.

The fighters and their handlers had come from down below. I figured that to be where the dressing rooms were. I wanted to talk to the fighters.

The stairs ended in another dim alleyway. I made my exit and headed back toward the direction of The Arena.

The space below the main drag in Carnival was not well lit; anyone down there should know where they are or where they were going. In this case, that was easy. There were people milling in the corridor in front of an entrance, well-wishers, hangers-on, essos and exxons, anybody who wanted an entree to the backstage world. I pushed my way to the front and flashed my Sky City Police ID at the bouncer on duty.

"So what's this to me?" the guy asked with a hint of a sneer. Sky City Police have no official jurisdiction in Darkunder, but just because it's unofficial doesn't mean there is no leverage.

"Unemployment if I yank this cluster's tethering privileges," I told him, softly so no one else heard. "Some broken bones if I just decide to go in over you."

He looked like he was about to see if I had a bark/bite mismatch, but instead he nodded once and slipped back through the door, closing the flap, but not zipping it. After a few seconds, it opened again and he waved me in.

I went in cautiously; I might have pissed the guy off enough to try a sucker punch. But there was another, smaller guy now with him. The smaller guy looked like management. "So what's this about?" he demanded.

"My name's Honlin," I told him. "I just want to ask a few questions of some of the fighters."

He shook his head. "They're getting cleaned up after the fight," he said. "Then they rest. They deserve it."

"I'm sure they do," I told him. "I won't take long."

"Forget…" the guy began.

I slammed the bouncer in the solar plexus, just once, but hard enough to double him over, retching, onto the floor. The manager tried to yell something, but I had my fingers around his throat at that point, and nothing came out.

"You have my official apology," I told him. "I deplore the unnecessary use of violence. I also deplore wasting my time with assholes. Now we are going to go see the fighters."

He nodded, his eyes bulging. I let go of his throat and heard the sound of air going back into his windpipe. "Tell Fido here to resume his post," I told him. He nodded.

"Get back outside," he told the bouncer, in a raspy voice, still constricted from my throat hold. The bouncer was trying to get back to his feet. After he made it and began an unsteady walk toward the door, the manager-type and I headed inside. I had one hand wrapped around his wrist in a come-along that wasn't very painful, but the guy kept complaining.

"Is this necessary?" he asked.

"Probably not," I admitted. "But it's fun."

It was easy to find the way to the post-fight dressing rooms. All we had to do was follow the smell of sweat and blood. There were four dressing rooms, in a row along a narrow hallway, but two were empty, the two glove boxers having already left, I surmised. The two remaining rooms were pretty crowded near the doorways, especially Caine's.

As we neared the door, the manager-type seemed about ready to call out to some more security guys who maintained a vigil just outside of the dressing rooms. I tightened my grip on his wrist and he winced.

"Sure," I whispered to him. "You can make a scene, and try to get some more people to throw me out. And what does that get you? Maybe a broken wrist, if you try to do it now. Worse if you try it later, since that would really piss me off. You might also wind up with a couple of damaged employees, not to mention the likelihood of getting yourself in Dutch with Skyhook. Didn't you see my badge? I'm special appointment to upstairs. You don't need that kind of trouble. Not just to stop someone from asking a few questions."

For a second I was worried that he wouldn't buy it. His pride had been wounded and that makes people stupid. But he was bright enough to wonder how silly he'd look in a body cast maybe, and he had up front evidence of how strong my hands are. So he introduced me to the two security men as if I belonged there.

"J. J., Twill, this is…" he looked blank.

"Honlin," I repeated. "Ed Honlin."

"Ed Honlin," he said, without missing another beat. "He's going in to see Caine. Just for a few minutes. It's okay."

The two guys parted. I let go of the manager-type's wrist. "Thanks," I said with a smile. "I owe you one."

"Yeah," he said flatly. "I owe you one, too."


Inside wasn't as crowded as I'd feared, because the room was quite large, probably twenty meters deep, though it was only maybe four meters wide. There was a cluster of people around the door, and another group over to the right at what I took to be a wet bar. Caine was about halfway back, and behind him was nothing much, just some storage lockers. I headed back, cautiously, since I hadn't made any friends on the way in.

There was a knot of people around him, four females, three of whom were dressed for speed. The one who had plenty of clothes on was a medical type, dressed mainly in white, a tall, rangy blonde with eyes the color of almonds. She was busy sewing cuts and putting on butterfly bandages. She seemed to be nearly done.

The group looked up as I approached. "Mr. Caine?" I inquired.

Caine looked at me and gave a short laugh. "Stage name," he said. "Call be Bill. William Bomar." He glanced at the medical tending his cuts. "I'd rise to shake hands, but, well, you know." He flashed a smile.

"You're from Luna?" I asked. It had been obvious from the way he moved when he fought. Some of it had been like looking at myself in the mirror.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Eight years ago. What's this about?"

I showed him my police ID. One good thing about Lunars is that they respect the police. One of his girls took the card and showed it to him. Then she handed it back. He nodded.

"So, Mr. Honlin, what's up?" he asked again, wincing slightly as the med cut a suture line. She was finishing the last cut to his scalp.

"It's nothing special," I told him. "I'm trying to get some information about a guy who might have spent some time in Carnival here. He was good with a knife, so I thought he might have tried out the fights." I showed him Costello's picture. He stared at it for several seconds.

"Morgue shot," he observed. I nodded.

"He killed a girl and got killed in the process," I told him. "I'm seeing if he has any backtracks."

Bomar scowled. "Killing girls is not a nice thing to do," he said quietly. A couple of his girls nodded at this wisdom.

"No," I said. "It's not very nice at all."

He stared at the picture for a while longer. "He does look familiar," he said at length. "I think it's him I'm remembering, too, not just a type. Give me a few seconds on it."

The woman stitching his cuts had finished. She stood up and stooped down to get to a bag, reached in and removed a tube of ointment. She looked at the other three women, and said, "This salve should go onto the cuts when you change the dressings. I'm sure you can find some help in that. It's to prevent scarring." She said it with about as much emotion as someone giving street directions.

"Yeah, sure, Doctor Warren," Bomar told her. "Thanks again." He watched as she left.

"She's lots better than the old guy," he said appreciatively. "Prettier, too."

"What are we, squid pus?" said one of the three woman and the other two nodded.

"Shut up, Judy," Bomar said. "Without the Doctor, I'm a mass of scar tissue, and none of you would have anything to do with me."

"Oh, I don't know," said another. "I think that scars are sexy." She lightly touched one of his bandages.

"Bullshit, honey," he said pleasantly. "The only things you think are sexy are blood and money."

"I'm kind of fond of penises," said the third one, and that one got a laugh from the others.

Bomar looked at me. "I've heard of you, haven't I?" he said.

"I don't know," I said. "Have you?"

"Yeah," he said. "You train with McElroy, right?"

Close enough, I thought. I nodded.

"And you're another ex-cop," he said.

"Another?" I asked, not that I was surprised.

"I was on the force in Clavius for a few years before I immigrated," he said.

"So why'd you leave?" I asked.

He shrugged. The movement looked painful, given his current state, but he didn't seem to mind. "I didn't like it much," he said. "No special reason." He was lying, just like we all do. But I wasn't interested in prying.

"About Costello," I said, indicating the photo again.

"Yeah," he said. "I was hoping more would come to me." He paused. "As best I can recall, this guy came through a few months ago, trying to get into the game. Said he was good with a knife. That's okay, but we don't do knife fights; they're too dangerous. Sometimes they get staged way out on the rim, so they can be taped for folks who like to watch the really hard-core stuff, but the folks here won't touch it. Slash fights are about the limit, and personally, I expect those to get shut down before too long."

"Why is that?" I asked.

He looked at me. "Were you here tonight?" I nodded. "Well, there you are," he said. "Things like tonight are pretty common. Near riots. Some night there's going to be a real thing and somebody's going to get killed or seriously hurt, and there it goes. No one wants to give the pricks in the City an excuse to shut us down. We blow in the breeze, you know?"

He paused. "Anyway," he continued, "This guy Costello, he may have been good with a knife, but he didn't cross over too well. That's my guess, anyway. I couldn't have seen him more than twice, then he was gone, so that's what must have happened.

I nodded. This was a lot more information than I'd ever expected to get. "Who would have made the decisions on Costello?" I asked.

"One of the personal managers, I'd say," he replied. "Mine is Bobby, over there by the bar. You might ask him."

"Thanks," I told him. "I'll do that."

I pulled out a few other pictures, and fanned them. "Do you recognize any of these women?" One of the photos was of Lucy Dahl.

While Bomar looked at the pictures, one of his girls spoke. "I'm pretty sure I've seen that one," she said. She pointed at Lucy's photo.

My throat tightened. "Where?" I asked.

She scowled. "Not around here," she said dubiously.

"Not in Carnival?" I asked.

She shook her head. "Oh, I didn't mean that. I mean, I hardly ever leave the place, so it would have to be in the cluster somewhere. But more out on the edges. Like in the sideshow areas. Probably just walking down the street. But I'm pretty sure I've seen her."

I pulled out a couple of cards with my name and number on them and passed them out. "If either of you remember anything more, please call me, okay?" I said. "I'll make it worth your while." The girls perked up at this.

"Sure, Ed," said Bomar. "Maybe you can come by sometime and we can spar a little."

"I'd like that," I told him. Then I gave everyone my best smile and left.


On the way out, I checked with Bobby, last name, Fulton, William Bomar's manager, to see if he knew anything more about Costello, but Bobby had a convenient memory. That was all right. I'd pushed my luck far past the point of reasonable that night.

I'd come down there to see Caine because the way he moved in the ring gave me the wild thought that he was Harmon Reed, the Lunar Guard operative who was also trying to track Lucy Dahl. But without his mask, I could see that the resemblance was just body type and the fact that he moved like a Lunar transplant. That Bomar had a memory of Costello was just a stroke of good fortune; his girlfriend's recognition of Lucy Dahl's picture was like filling an inside straight.

I had no simile for the coincidence involved with the doctor, though. I'd come down hoping to find Harmon Reed, but the doctor who sewed up Bomar's wounds was Juliet Carlyle.

Which also meant that Reed and Carlyle now knew I was investigating Carnival.

Next Chapter


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