1920's America. World War I has sounded the death-knell for 'golems'--human soldiers magically fused to substances that enhance their combat ability, once the premiere footsoldiers of kings and czars. The ban on the creation of these golems is about as flexible as the ban on alcohol. Either way, the ones from the old times are still kicking around, and there's not much legitimate work for someone whose existence and skillset both are outlawed. Of course, discovered golems don't die--the laws are for their protection--but the draft isn't any more appealing than death to a generation just coming out of a major war that most golems fought in. On top of everything, reliable maintenance is a must, and so every golem seeks out a discreet mage who can keep their bodies functioning and not rat them out. In the end, the best place to be for an illegal golem to find work and maintenance is among those who deal in other illegal goods...
All magic is fusion of materials.
Fusion of like objects can fix breaks, enhance utility, and reduce aging/wear-and-tear.
Fusion of unalike objects creates a new material which displays the properties of both. Skilled mages can hand-pick which properties are displayed, while unskilled mages fuse and pray it comes out workable.
A 'golem' is any human fused with an inanimate material . Their flesh exhibits the properties of both, becoming living tissue with the durability and strength of the fused material. Where and how the material displays itself on the skin is up to the skill and discretion of the mage. Pros: Durability, strength, decreased metabolism, increased lifespan. Cons: Increased weight, decreased reflexes/speed, possible brittleness , decreased ability to withstand various weather conditions such as temperature or rain.
A 'chimera' is any human fused with an animate material . Their flesh exhibits the properties of both, becoming a mix of biologies. Again, aesthetics and specific skills and properties derived from the fused creature are at the discretion and skill level of the mage. Pros: Enhanced reflexes/senses, enhanced survival skills, specific animal or plant traits . Cons: No enhanced lifespan or decreased metabolism, enhanced strength not guaranteed, easily botched fusion.
Both golems and chimeras have historically been treated as subhuman combat machines or servants. Both require regular magical maintenance. Frequency of maintenance depends on the complexity of the fusion and how many materials required. More materials require more frequent maintenance. A standard human-granite fusion, for example, would require bi-yearly visits for optimal health, while a human-shark-bear would require a visit every three months.
Lack of maintenance results in the slow subsumation of one fused material in favor of the other. In the case of golems and chimeras, this is always the subsumation of the human by the fused material. Eventually, a golem will become a statue and a chimera lose its human mind to an animal one.
Daniel Alldyce - Police officer with the organized crime division. A trained mage. So far unbribable, though he's been approached a few times--possibly more dense and unobservant than truly moral?
Laurel Lake - 'The Silver Lady'. White copper golem. Exhibits the usual increases in strength and durability, in addition to her arms, which are all white copper from the elbows down, with visible clockwork at the joints, and spring-loaded blades in the forearm panels. Here and there are faint decorative impressions of what might have been leaves or frost. She is cold and not very personable. Her origins go back to ancient China.
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Laurel passed him on his way out of Tom's room, coated in the man's blood. Matteo didn't have any time to worry about what the oddball golem was up to. They needed the chimera healed, now.
The police magician was prodded over to Tom easily enough, but once he got there, he just crouched on the floor, muttering helplessly to himself about things that didn't even make sense to Matteo. "So what? Fuse some wood in there or something, Silver's doing fine with metal in her gut. Or hell, he's got plenty of body to go around. Slim him out a bit."
This was apparently not an acceptable idea. Matteo threw his hands up and looked at Arturo, exasperated, but the man just shook his head. What, was this magician actually speaking comprehensible words, as long as the other one was also a magician? And then Silver wandered over and joined in, and Matteo wondered if he was the one going mad, the only one in the room who [i didn't] understand the police brat's rambling.
He turned back towards Tom, and in passing, his eyes latched onto Silver. A second later, he whipped back around and took her in a second time. The--the hell? What on... Tom's clothes? Had to be. Silver had never been a big woman, but like, this, she looked like a child, absolutely tiny, swimming in Tom's clothes. It was kind of attractive, in an odd way. He wondered if she'd look just as small in his clothes--ha, fat chance. More like, Matteo would look just as small in Tom's clothes. The man was a mountain.
It solved the issue of her looking like a butcher, at least. One thing about Silver: the girl was resourceful.
The magician ran off, all of a sudden. Matteo reached for his gun, but Silver let him pass unmolested, so he relaxed a hair. He trusted Silver's instincts. The policeman came back with a pot of bamboo, which made Matteo frown. What the hell? Wood was no good, but bamboo was fine? What kind of nonsense rules did magic abide by? None of this made any sense at all. And maybe that was why he wasn't a magician, he thought to himself, smirking a bit. Didn't have that edge of crazy to him.
Then there was silence, as the magician did what magicians do. Matteo cracked his revolver open and popped bullets back in, then shut it; after a moment of sitting there, bored, he started spinning the chamber idly. How long was the kid going to take? The police weren't going to wait all day. They'd come even faster when they heard it was one of their own who was in trouble. They had to get moving.
"Ay Silver, grab Tom a change of clothes, huh?" he suggested after a beat. If Silver was the butcher, then Tom was the flayed pig, absolutely soaked in blood. It didn't make for an inconspicuous party. Once they got somewhere safe, they could get Tom to change; then, at least, no one would be actively drenched in blood.
Whatever the kid was doing, it seemed to be working. Tom's wounds closed, blood no longer seeping into the carpet. He didn't envy Tom's maid service, but that was aside the point--looked like the man was going to live. As soon as Tom started to look healthy, Matteo grabbed the kid's arm and pulled him away. "Let's get a move on," he snapped.
Rather to his surprise, the kid was completely unconscious. He glanced at Arturo and Silver, but neither of them seemed surprised. Rather than break his hard-boiled facade, Matteo just raised his eyebrows to himself and hoisted the boy up, carrying him in a fireman's hold. He hadn't thought to bring extra shoes, dammit, and those had been fine leather--no time for regrets. "Arturo, anything you can do about the evidence?" he asked, gesturing at the various shoes locked here and there around the room. If he was going to be caught, he sure as hell didn't want it to be Cinderella-style.
That aside, it'd tell the police how many were here--four men, one woman, and that was more information than he wanted the police to have.
"You and Silver can take Tom," he said, heading for the door. He waited a beat while Arturo touched the carpet and fused the shoes in deeper, until they were no more than splotches of shoe-leather mixed into the carpet--the best he could hope for, really--then led the way as Silver and Arturo took Tom. He hustled out the door and out the back exit--now was not the time to pass the front door lady--and hurried to where they'd left the car. He threw the policeman in the back with the rest and nodded at his driver.
"Let's head home," he sighed, getting comfortable in the passenger's seat. He'd had enough excitement for one day.
Laurel recoiled as the gunshots rang out. The movement made her wobble, jerk to stay upright, as she discovered that her feet had been welded to the floor sometime mid-fight. She spared an irritated look for Arturo while she yanked her feet free from the shoes one by one. It was a blessing that women’s heels didn’t lace up like men’s loafers did. She was free in a heartbeat. On the other hand, women’s shoes were more expensive, and Laurel’s heavier-than-average tread wore out shoes very quickly. She’d have to go shopping at some point now.
For more than one reason. Laurel switched her glare to her ruined dress, now splashed with red from neck to hem. Damn it, someone would be calling the police soon about those shots, and here she stood looking like the end of a production of Shakespeare. One of the ones that wasn’t all about sex. Laurel didn’t trust Mr. Sorenzo not to throw her under the bus if it kept him out of jail. She’d have to do something about this.
On the bright side, Tom was not a bad fighter. She hadn’t landed any hits that would register to a detective as something more than splinters from broken furniture, or maybe a dinner knife. She pressed her blades back into her forearms and made for the bedroom, stepping around the spreading pool of blood.
On the way in, she had to press against the wall to prevent the police magician from touching her as he went by. He was being shepherded back into the room by Mr. Sorenzo’s gun. With his barefoot, half-dressed appearance and his dazed expression of horror, he looked rather like the victim of some kind of natural disaster.
In the room, Laurel threw aside her bloodied clothes and rooted through the piles of disordered items until she unearthed a wrinkled shirt and slacks. Tom was probably twice the size of Laurel, so she kept going till she found a set of braces as well. A belt was already in the loops. Typical bachelor, laundry all over the floor. Laurel had changed in a moment. The hems of the slacks went well over her feet, even rolled up three or four times, which suited her just fine. That way nobody could tell she was barefoot. She looked strange enough swimming in a man’s clothes, but hopefully right now she just looked like a woman of ill repute. Her metal-enhanced feet were tough enough to withstand going barefoot over nearly anything short of big pieces of glass or metal. And there was no way Tom’s shoes would stay on her. The sleeves were rolled up too, the cloche hat traded for one of Tom’s ear-hiding ones, and then Laurel was back in the living room. She considered grabbing something for Mr. Sorenzo or Arturo along the way, but it looked like both of them had been far enough away to avoid the splash. The bloodiest one now aside from poor Tom himself was the younger officer, kneeling in the pool of blood with his hands working to unbutton Tom’s shirt.
“—can’t heal him without something to seal the wounds with,” he was saying, his voice steadier than his pale face would suggest. “I can’t alter mass, which means I can’t make more flesh to go over the wound.”
“You can seal together anything that’s severed internally,” Laurel interrupted, leaning against the doorframe. He wasn’t wrong. That many wounds of those size wouldn’t shut with just the material already at hand—he’d have to take it from elsewhere on the man’s body, opening up another wound. “Can you use body fat to seal it?”
“I don’t know,” the man shot her a glare from the corner of his eyes. “I never studied biology or chimerae. I don’t know what fat is made of. It doesn’t seem helpful to move it into the wound.”
“So pick something in this room that does seem helpful,” Laurel flicked her fingers. “Quickly.”
The man cast around frantically. Wood, clothes… those were all dead organic material, he was pretty sure you couldn’t fuse dead material to a living person. His wrist was next to Tom’s mouth, feeling the faint breath puff across the thin skin. He WAS still living. For now.
But… there was nothing alive in here except for people. None of them would be donating tissue anytime soon. He couldn’t add inorganic material—nobody survived for long as a golem-chimera hybrid. It was too risky, it wouldn’t save him!
Sitting here wasn’t saving him either!
Dice got up and dashed into the bedroom, brushing past Laurel. Laurel let him go, twisting a little to watch him seize something on the dresser before dashing back out. Her eyebrows lifted, intrigued. Potted bamboo. Maybe a gift, maybe a reminder of home. It was green and still alive. The man was going to add a plant to an animal chimera? He was certainly ambitious. Laurel had been waiting for him to give in and give his own tissue to save Tom. He could have chosen nonfatal places in his own body to open up the wounds. He was either dumber or more of a coward than Laurel had thought, and she didn’t have a high opinion of him to begin with.
Dice ripped the bamboo stalks from the pot, showering himself and Tom with dirt which rapidly melted into bloody mud. The wounds were scattered far and wide across his chest. Dice laid out the stalks and roots in a mat across his torso, trying to touch each wound with the main shaft of a bamboo stalk. Magic COULD shift the materials around inside each other after fusion, but it required finesse and practice that Dice didn’t think he had time for. He’d try to do this quick and dirty.
He pressed his palms over a web of plant matter and lukewarm skin and pushed outwards.
It was very different, fusing a third material into a chimera. Difficult. Dice had never fused a human before, but he’d fused plants. They pushed a little against the fusion; not due to any personal will or magical explanation, but simply because they were complex organisms, and it was hard to slot another material into a machine that already functioned. Like trying to add a cog to a still-ticking clock without stopping it for more than an instant. A human body was like that times ten. A human body already fused with a tiger body was as if he was physically wrestling that tiger using only his hands and a length of bamboo.
Dice lost awareness of his own body, his mind sucked away into the fret and bustle of constructing a kind of mental lattice. Tiger here, human here, bamboo here. Slot that into that so it didn’t interfere with that, move that over there so that this could grow here…
He felt his hands being ripped away from Tom more acutely with his mind than with his actual skin. His connection to the fusion was broken. It took a few long seconds for his physical senses to slot back into his conscious awareness. First, the stench of metal and gunpowder. Then the taste of pennies in his mouth. Then the feel of an iron grip around his upper arms, the strange smack of his bare feet stumbling against the floor. The sound of people hissing at each other, people walking quickly. And lastly, the sight of Tom suspended limply between Arturo and Miss Lake, listing heavily towards the petite woman. From here, Dice couldn’t see his chest. Had the bamboo taken? Was he still alive, or were they hurrying to throw away his corpse now?
There was just enough left of human rationality for Tom to notice when the table went flying and dodge it, aiming a low kick that the woman neatly leaped over. Sorenzo braced himself for impact; no time to dodge a whole table, when he also had to dodge a warring golem and chimera. The table hit him hard, and he staggered back. Should've shot the kid, should've shot him, then he wouldn't have been able to focus to use magic or bolt or anything. Ugh, he'd been naieve to think he was fine with just a hostage! Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid. It was a softie, a rookie mistake. But who'd expect a magician on the police's side? Sure, they could be legal, but even the legal ones weren't usually too friendly with the brass!
Yeah, and he'd heard of the police recruiting magicians. Should've known.
The kid--the kid was the most dangerous one right now. Tom he could manipulate, but if the kid got free, he'd be shouting to high heavens that Sorenzo was plotting with Tom and things would get messy from every which direction. He glanced around, but Silver was busy. Arturo--Arturo was being completely useless, cowering on the floor--
And then he suddenly couldn't lift his feet.
Matteo smirked. Ha, so Arturo was good for something!
Tom jerked to a halt mid-blow and wavered, caught unexpectedly by his feet. He glanced down, confused, and in that second Matteo raised his gun. "Silver, down!" he snapped, then fired.
The bullet pierced through Tom's chest, blood bursting out on the opposite side as it exited. Tom staggered, a hand to his chest as he fought free of his shoes. Claws passed clean through the shoe leather, the pain of being shot pushing him on. Just a little more. A little more, and he'd be--
Pain burst out again, again, Matteo firing slowly, carefully. His chest was on fire, his legs aching; one gave out as the bullet passed through it. He sagged to the floor, still struggling. One hand reached out for Matteo as he fell, but he couldn't reach. Not even close.
Tom sank to the floor, blood pooling around him. His body was caught at an awkward ankle with his feet bound to the floor, but Matteo didn't signal for Arturo to release the spell; he'd been around chimeras enough to know they could survive just about anything. Tom could be faking. Instead, he knelt and primly untied his laces with a pair of short pulls, then, giving Tom a wide berth, walked into Tom's bedroom, where the other mage had fled. It was more cave than bedroom, things strewn seemingly at random in the dark; the only thing he was interested in was the mage. He put his gun, the barrel still warm, against the police-mage's head.
"You're going to come with me and heal Tom, or you won't be going anywhere at all," he said, voice calm and measured even though the plan had gone seven shades of awry. Things could still work out. If he got this mage's hands dirty with the chimera's blood, maybe he'd be able to blackmail him with that as well; the police-mage liked Tom, right? He wouldn't just leave him to die. And using magic on a chimera was illegal. He could hold it over this kid's head. Maybe. He was grasping at straws, but it was all he had left to grasp at. They needed to move, get out of here before the police came, and he couldn't leave Tom or the kid behind alive--but he didn't want Tom dead. He needed the police's cooperation, or they'd never figure this out. "We're going to leave this place together, or you and Tom will disappear, understand?"
Dice couldn't... was Tom ROARING? Dice gaped, astonished, as his coworker went toe-to-toe with a golem. Really, each combatant was equally startling in their skill. It might have been comical under other circumstances--a dame of Laurel's size going at a guy Tom's size bare-fisted. It should have been over in a second. But golems were something else.
As, apparently, was Tom.
The woman slashed at the big man with silver blades on either arm. Her robe was big and loose enough so that it didn't impede her as she wove this way and that, dodging his return blows. Tom wasn't half as graceful, but was devastatingly powerful. His claws smashed the edge of a chair, and the whole thing just about fell to pieces, legs and splinters flying, like it'd been hit with a cannonball. And behind him lashed a long, striped tail.
Dice panted, staring, staring at the chimera, staring at the gun pointed in his direction. He was a deer in the headlights. Nothing useful was within touching distance. His magic was no use if he couldn't touch anything! In a fight, without magic, Dice wasn't anything special. Tom was busy, Tom couldn't save him. Would Tom save him at all? Dice didn't know anymore.
Forget Tom! He had to focus on the gangster with a gun! Okay, he was unarmed, if he moved he'd be shot, there was nothing to hide behind, and the only thing in touching distance was...
Dice seized the edge of the table and heaved it at Sorenzo. Glasses of whiskey went flying to smash to pieces on the floor. The gangster without a gun dove sideways, avoiding the flying furniture, but landing hard on the carpet. He couldn't see what happened to Sorenzo. While the table was still settling, Dice turned and fled into the next room of Tom's apartment. If he could just get to the fire escape!
He paused long enough to slam the door behind him. Was there a key? No time to find it. No time to barricade it either. He whirled on the spot, looking frantically for a window. Tom's bedroom was small, and not particularly clean, but it had a window on the far wall. Dice bulled towards it, pulse beating fear through his whole body.
Just a step away from the window, something gripped Dice's foot and held it. He wobbled, tried to throw out his other foot only to find it stuck as well. No amount of pulling could free it. He was standing on bare carpet! What could be...?
Dice gripped his own ankle and stilled. That wasn't shoe-leather. That was...
The other gangster was a mage. And Dice's shoes were melded to the floor.
The second cop's reaction was amusing, and Tom's was even better; the man bristled, the long, flat tiger hairs visibly rising on the back of his neck, a scowl growing on his face. "Dice, quiet. You don't understand," Tom growled.
"Damn right he doesn't, doesn't he, Tom ol' pal? Dirty cop, huh? Ha! Tom worked for us before he was ever on the force!" Matteo said with a laugh, grinning wildly at Tom. Negotiations had already broken down. Might as well enjoy himself before he had to fight his way out of here. "He practically babysat me as a young'un, ain't that right?"
Tom just held back a growl, too-sharp teeth bared, and Sorenzo laughed aloud, more than amused, and pushed the gun into the cop's back. "Now then, why don't you sit back and--"
The cop suddenly bucked free, jumping out of Sorenzo's grip. He pulled the trigger, but his gun was fuzzy and oddly soft, and made a pathetic popping sound when the hammer descended. He jolted and looked down, only to find that the gun and jacket were now one useless item. A magician? A fucking magician? Dammit, it'd be the one magician on the force he took hostage! He dropped the useless item and jammed his hand into his coat to grab his second gun.
Silver jumped forward and demanded they all stop moving, which was a pointless endeavor. Sorenzo ran for the door and put his back to it to stop anyone from leaving, one hand to the doorknob so he could make a hasty exit if he had to; he pointed the gun at the magician. He didn't understand magic, but it was potent stuff, and he didn't want the man touching anything he could use. "Stand down!" he snapped. "Let's talk this out!"
It was too late for that. Silver had already launched herself at Tom, and Tom leaped at her. Sorenzo's eyes flicked to the cop as Tom's cap fell off, revealing twisted, furred ears and a few suspicious black stripes in the man's hair; Tom himself didn't even notice. All the pent-up instincts screaming that he should attack, kill, [i rend] the one who was threatening him took control, and he snarled aloud as he launched himself at Sorenzo's golem, claws extending. Fuck this, fuck it all. He'd murder that damn Sorenzo bastard and be done with this! He could explain things to Dice afterwards! He slammed against the golem with his full strength--something he didn't usually do to ladies, but a golem could take it. "Get back!" he shouted at her. "Let me kill him!"
"The rot goes deep!" Sorenzo taunted back, grinning at Tom. "Look, kiddo, look how dirty he really is! Going to kill a man without any evidence! It doesn't get any worse than that!"
Tom just snarled, beyond rationality. If Sorenzo died, it was all over. It was the only thing on his mind. He fought mindlessly against the golem, hitting her with strength but no subtlety, human mind too far gone for proper fighting. Only Sorenzo visible in his tunnel vision, everything else blurred to red. He was going to kill him, gut him, paint the room with his blood--!
A tiger was a good animal. A very auspicious one to be fused with. Laurel had seen many, many tiger chimeras in her lifetime, before she'd left her homeland.
America didn't have many native animals that could match it, aside from their mountain-tigers. She wondered how old this man was. He didn't look like he was from China.
He'd left a score through the fading filigree on her left arm, one deep one with two shallow ghosts to either side. Not deep enough to sting, not on a part of her body that was more metal than flesh. She'd still feel it if he'd chopped the whole thing off at the elbow, of course, but there wasn't much chance of that with claws. If he'd been a fellow golem, she might have had an issue.
As it was, the only issue was that so far, Laurel rather liked this Tom Birchwood. She sipped the offered drink placidly, smiling with her eyes, as her employer terrorized Tom and his poor, unfortunate friend into position around the table. Smartest thing Mr. Sorenzo had done all day, in her opinion. If he'd asked her to restrain the hapless idiot, they'd have both been ripped apart by a tiger in seconds. This way, she was free in case the chimera got uppity.
The man was looking around with headlamp eyes. "Tom? What is Sorenzo doing here?"
Laurel caught his eyes with hers, and put her finger up in a shushing motion. "It's business. Hush." He gaped at her metal hand, fully revealed by the motion. She could almost see the pieces falling together in his head. The Sessas, the meeting at the club, the murdered man, and now they were here. Any second now, he'd understand--
"Are you kidding me?" the cop burst out. "You're a dirty cop?!"
Unbeknownst to Laurel, Dice was internally berating himself. First friend he actively tries to make out of school, and he's a dirty cop! Nicest guy on the force , and he's a dirty cop! Was the drug dealer in university not enough? Was the sex offender in high school not enough? Was Dice really this bad at judging people?
The man holding a gun on him shifted, possibly to reprimand him for the way he was working himself up. The muzzle of the gun jammed hard into Dice's spine, pinning down his jacket. A twist of his fingers, and Dice was gripping the cuff of his wool jacket.
Dice gritted his teeth and slammed his will outward.
The hard press of the gun blunted, softened. Dice flailed, yanking his arms free from his jacket sleeves, thanking God he'd left the thing unbuttoned. Behind him, the pressure of the muzzle collapsed, as gunmetal melded with wool fibers, jacket and gun becoming one.
Laurel couldn't see the gun, but she saw the cop begin to flail. Mr. Sorenzo wasn't shooting! She sprang to her feet, lunging pre-emptively at Tom. "Stay still!" she barked at the room at large. Both her palms flattened on the opposite forearm, releasing both blades.
Naturally, nobody listened to her.
Tom took his time at the cabinet, looking over his selection of liquor. Something nice. He needed something nice right now. His hand paused at a cut-glass bottle with a simple black label--yeah, that was the ticket. With his elbow, he shut the cabinet, and the liquor disappeared behind a second, much shallower cabinet that held expired spices. They rattled when the cabinet shut, glass clinking on the other side, and Tom grimaced. He was being too rough with things. That was the worst bit, always having to be gentle, even when the worst pain in his ass was sitting right across the table from him like he owned the damn place, because if he used even a scrap of strength he'd ruin the whole house. It made him want to cry or scream or rip Matteo's head off, but those weren't options at the moment.
He fetched cups and walked over to the table, setting one out in front of the woman and one in front of Matteo. One for the mage was begrudgingly offered, and he ignored the bodyguard. If the bodyguard was worth his salt, he'd only have to refuse anyways.
"Well, what've we got here? Lawman's got his own supply," Sorenzo sneered.
Tom gave him a level gaze, unbothered. "Aye, come by the office and tattle sometime, we'll take you in with open arms," he said. Sorenzo didn't impress him. If he thought he was going to threaten Tom, he had another thing coming. He was retiring this year, and if he was really worried about Sorenzo spilling the beans, well, the idiot had just waltzed into his lair. No one threatened Tom in his home and left alive.
Of course, there was the matter of the little lady. His eyes flicked to her. A golem like he'd suspected, eh? His nostrils widened, trying to guess her mix. Copper, maybe? But that was odd. Copper wasn't silver.
It wasn't the iron he'd smelled earlier, though. He relaxed just a hair. Whatever it was he'd smelled in the shop, it didn't belong to this group.
He poured himself a good cup, the lady a sip, and hovered the bottle over the mage's cup before moving away. "Hey!" the sleazy man complained, but neither Tom nor Matteo paid him any attention. Matteo got a full cup as well; [i in vino veritas], after all. He wanted the man to speak truth. Not that he expected it.
"So what's the dirt, Sorenzo," he asked, lifting his cup and sipping at it.
Matteo simply looked at the liquor, suspicious, then disregarded it. "It wasn't me or my men who did it," he said.
Tom just raised an eyebrow.
"We were working out a new deal with Jonesy--it's why we were there. They were making more money than usual, but they weren't paying us the full percentage. Just the usual slip up, where Jonesy forgets it's not a flat rate and I pop by to remind him how insurance works."
"Insurance," Tom muttered, smirking.
Matteo continued, ignoring the snide comments. "He seemed real distracted, though. I think he was waiting for someone else. And here's the real dirt--"
Someone rapped at the door, and everyone at the table went utterly still. Slowly, Tom set his glass down on the table, claws itching, ready to attack. Who was it? Who was coming over at this hour? He didn't have friends. No, this was no coincidence. No one would just casually stop by. Not when he had Sorenzo in his apartment. He rose, battle instincts rising.
A cheerful voice called out. Tom's face fell flat, confusion flashing through his mind. Why...? Oh, he had--had Dice taken it seriously? And tonight, of all nights!
Sorenzo peered at Tom, face unreadable. "Friend of yours?"
Tom just snorted. They were quiet enough. Give Dice a moment, and he'd disappear. He sat back down. "It's no one."
Sorenzo stood and walked to the door. Tom jumped up, but the table was between him and the mafioso. He rushed him, but for once, he was too slow, the room too small and the distance too short to use his speed properly. Matteo opened the door and gave Dice a smile so predatory, he might as well have been fused with a shark. "Come on in, the party's just getting started," he invited Dice, even as Tom came up behind him, doing his best to not look like he'd been running over to the door.
"Dice, go home," he growled from over Matteo's head. He didn't know why Sorenzo wanted Dice to come in. Seeing Tom with Sorenzo was already bad enough; he could understand Sorenzo wanting to make his junior think Tom was working with the mafia. It'd ruin their trust. But inviting him in? Did he really want more policemen to hear whatever dirt he had to tell? He had some ulterior motive, and Tom didn't want to find out what it was.
"No, no, I won't have you turning away guests for my sake," Sorenzo said, grabbing Dice's arm and pulling him inside. "He can sit with us! Come on, the more the merrier."
Tom grabbed Dice's other arm and pulled back, moving his junior towards him and away from Sorenzo. "He sits with me," he snarled, done with Sorenzo's antics.
"No," Sorenzo replied. Something flashed in his other hand, and Tom made out a gun, pressed to Dice's back. "He sits with me. And you're going to sit over there and listen quietly and stop smirking, and when I'm done, you're going to do exactly what I tell you, or Dice here is going to go home with a few extra holes in his hide."
Tom growled aloud, beyond frustrated. A hostage, dammit, of course! Why had Dice come over tonight, of all nights? He'd spent so long working to ensure he'd never become the Sessa's pawn, and in two seconds, Dice had undone years of work. He glared at Dice, then turned away. It wasn't the man's fault. He knew that.
"Do we have a deal?" Sorenzo asked, prodding Dice over to the table at gunpoint.
"We have," Tom gritted out, "a deal." He kicked back the rest of the glass of whiskey, then poured himself some more. He was going to need plenty of alcohol, if he'd be working for the Sessas again.
It really wasn't that Dice was a workaholic. He loved his job, yes, and would love it especially if he could start doing more with it than what he was currently doing. Okay, his social life had suffered in the face of that, but it was temporary. Eventually, he'd get out and start meeting people his age, people who weren't work colleagues. He just had to get more settled first, more...
Fine, Dice was a little bit of a workaholic. But it wasn't like he disliked social interactions either. He WAS pretty lonely.
That really made it only slightly less pathetic that he was trudging over to his senior colleague's apartment at six on a weeknight, simply because Tom had offered a breezy 'Drop by sometime'. He probably hadn't meant it. Who really meant that kind of invitation to a coworker? Dice's social sense was grating up against his impression of Tom. The man had never been anything but genuine towards him, and very kind as well. He sure didn't seem like the type of guy to issue an empty invitation. Besides, however much he outranked Dice, and whatever kind of growth hormones he'd been eating, Tom wasn't THAT much older than Dice. Maybe he didn't have a lot of friends either.
Dice comforted himself with these thoughts, and others . He'd just drop in, share a smoke, and guage his interest in an actual hang-out sometime. That was it. Twenty minutes tops.
At the door, Dice was stopped for a moment by the guard. "Another friend of Tom's?" the man asked.
Dice hesitated. "Yeah. I am." His nervousness doubled. Tom already had friends over? Was that worse or was that better? He was waved into the building, and the rest of the journey to the correct room number was uneventful. From this side of the door, there wasn't much noise. If Tom had friends over, they sure weren't the rowdy type. Dice rapped his knuckles a couple times.
"Hey, Tom, it's Dice. You in there?"
Things were always interesting with Silver around. They could be good, like the fish she'd served at dinner or bad, like whatever it was she thought passed for breakfast, but they were always interesting. On his part, Matteo had considered taking the lady to the bedroom to help pass the time, then reconsidered on account of her preferred method of assassination, and the unknown number of diseases said method had likely left her with. Also because of the real threat of death. Call him vanilla, but Matteo preferred the ladies whose beds he could be sure weren't full of knives. And the white hair... it'd be like fucking a grandma. Matteo was many things, but a grandma-fucker wasn't one of them.
Caught in the train of thought, he eyed Arturo. Had he...? Sure, he didn't have a history of it, but... well, surely he'd treated the little lady for hysteria once or twice, eh? Not that he ever promoted sleeping with the help. She'd be no use to them with a bun in the oven.
Wait. Could she have kids? Could... could any fused person have kids, chimera or golem? He frowned. Wait, but then... If Tom had kids, would they be part tiger? Have tails and fur and... surely not. But... did anyone know? Had it happened?
The car pulled to a stop, and he blinked. Thank goodness. Been wandering down a rabbit hole there.
Matteo climbed out of the car and pulled his jacket tight. Silver put on the best smile he'd ever seen from her to charm the doorman, and the floozy bought it. "You'd brighten up the office if you used that smile more often, bird," Matteo commented, quietly noting the back and forth between them. So they hadn't, but not for lack of Arturo trying, huh? He'd have to keep a close eye on the resident mage and his patients. The last thing they needed was mutant half-animal or half-metal babies. Yuck.
They pulled up to Tom's door. Silver stepped back and waited for him to knock, nice and respectful-like. See, now that was a real lady. None of that bra-burning emancipation crap. Titties tucked nicely where they belonged, and she was standing where she belonged, too; right behind a man. Nodding approvingly to himself, Matteo stalked forward.
The door opened before he could touch it, and Tom glared down at them, all but filling the whole doorway. "YOU," he snarled.
Matteo shrank back instinctively, fighting the vestigal monkey inside him that screamed for him to run from the big scary cat and hide up a tree. Shit. Looked like Tom hadn't calmed down. No--NO! He wasn't going to be scared by some damn half-man. He stood tall and squared his shoulders. "Now listen here, I didn't--"
Claws swiped down at him, faster than he could track, all Tom's considerable weight and strength behind them, and Matteo's voice squawked into silence. His life flashed before his eyes, all the bad decisions that had led up to this moment playing out--
There was a heavy thud, and a wind blew past Matteo's oil-slicked hair. He peeled his eyes open. He... wasn't dead?
No. Silver stood between him and Tom, hands raised to block the blow. Matteo blinked. Wow. Didn't know she'd had it in her. Her gloves were shredded by Tom's claws, but his hand was caught, and there was nothing he could do.
Matteo cleared his throat and fixed his coat, pretending desperately like he hadn't just almost shat himself. "Listen here, Tom, I didn't do it."
"They all say that," Tom growled, unconvinced.
Matteo raised an eyebrow at him. "Tom, I know you're a reasonable man. And more than that, you're a lawman. I respect lawmen, don't'cha'know?"
"Like hell you do," Tom snapped.
"We're causing a scene," Matteo replied calmly, eyes fixed on Tom's claws, fully extended and visible. "Shouldn't you invite your guests in?"
"Should I," Tom repeated.
For a beat, Matteo's eyes widened. He didn't care? He didn't--well that was all his plans down the shitter! Fuck! No. He--he couldn't give up. Not yet.
"Listen, man," Matteo hissed. If anyone actually came out, they'd all be fucked; Tom for being a chimera, and him for hiding a golem. He knew Tom didn't want that. He was just bluffing. Probably. "I've got dirt on the--the whatever it was that happened at Jones', dirt that you don't know about! Let me in, I'll spill whatever you want, but you've gotta help me here. I didn't do it. You'll be killing an innocent man."
Tom glared at him, and Matteo held his breath. The neighbors were going to notice, they'd come out and notice, any second now, her arms were shining in the damned light, by God, they were all going to jail--
The chimera laughed, a deep, hearty laugh, and retracted his claws, lifting his arm off Laurel's. "Now that's a good one," he guffawed, shaking his head. "You, innocent."
"Do we have a deal?" Matteo asked.
Tom looked at him, then turned and walked into his apartment. Matteo pushed Laurel in and followed closely after. "Not a deal," Tom said, heading straight for his liquor closet, "not yet. But I'll listen to what you have to say."
"Good enough," Matteo said. That was all he needed. Give him an inch, and he'd take a mile, it was how he'd lived his whole life and he wasn't about to stop now. He'd make this into what he needed it to be, no problem.
Laurel breathed in deeply as she stepped out of the car. The air was endless, crisp and refreshing. It felt freeing, like her too-heavy body might actually fly away into the vast evening sky.
She'd spent a full day indoors with Matteo Sorenzo, his bodyguard, and Arturo. Laurel had had actual sex with sleazy, awful men she was being paid to kill that had been less awkward than this. She'd had to send Arturo for groceries with a hand-written list, then sit in interminable silence with Mr. Sorenzo until somebody had had the idea to turn on the radio. Then they'd sat through an interminable talk show about somebody-or-other's opinion on politics. Her only escape had been that she was clearly expected to cook the meals without help. It had been a relief, and she got the petty enjoyment of serving her employer a dish from her native country--steamed sea bass, heads included.
For dinner, anyway. Breakfast was a nice, healthy congee. With soy sauce and tofu. Who could object to that?
Ah, the looks on their faces.
In any case, the ride over had been tense. There had been a brief discussion, but in the end all four of them had piled into Mr. Sorenzo's car and gone together to Tom's house. Laurel got the impression that no one was sure that she'd be able to fight Tom on equal footing, and therefore a mage and a man with visible muscles were required to make Mr. Sorenzo feel more safe.
The sun slanted painfully bright down the spacious street. Everything was orange, striped with black tree-shadows. Laurel smiled. Just like a tiger's pelt. How appropriate. She ran her eyes over the building before them. It was nothing special, as apartment buildings went. Classes better than the dump where she lived. Still, it was unexpected. Laurel had thought the man would have his own house, at his age.
Well. At his rank, anyway. His physical age was just right for bachelorhood.
Laurel led the way up the stoop, and through the entryway. Unlike her heap, this building actually had a doorman. Laurel idly reached up to adjust her cloche, and offered him a smile.
"Hi! I'm Laurel; I'm a friend of Mr. Tom Birchwood. Is he in? We're meeting up at his place tonight."
The man looked at her, then at the well-dressed men behind her. He didn't look suspicious, but he still hesitated. "I've never seen Tom with friends before."
Laurel rolled her eyes. "Of course not! Work, work, work with him! Well tonight I said to my Jim, we'll bring the get-together to him if he can never make it to ours!"
The man, at last, dropped his shoulders. "Alright, then. Try to keep it down. Our residents all work."
"No promises!" Laurel sailed past him, chin high. The men thumped along in her wake. Once in the stairwell, her smile evaporated into the air. Arturo nudged her.
"Your Jim, huh?"
She favored him with a gimlet eye. In her flattest tone, she said, "My apologies. I overacted. I must have been nervous."
Arturo's smile widened. "If you're starting to rust, I can take a look at you anytime, Lady."
That would teach her to joke. And teach her to ever go to this man for serious maintenance. What mage thought copper rusted?
At the apartment door, Laurel stepped aside to allow Mr. Sorenzo to knock.
Dice stepped over to the door and sealed it shut, releasing Tom to go to the more interesting work of exploring the speakeasy. For the first time in a long time, he showed the skills he'd been hired for and prevented any other witnesses from making a quick exit out that door. Tom watched with interest. No matter how many times he saw it, he couldn't get used to it. It was just...the way they did it so easily, bending the very laws of matter to their will. And someone had done that to him. Taken two things and...blended them together. He looked down at his hand and flexed it, claws itching in their sheathes, then shook his head and turned away. Best not to dwell on that.
He nodded to Dice. Seemed like the young man was stewing over something. Maybe having lost a witness? It certainly wasn't a perfect investigation. But then again, what investigation was? He gave the witnesses one last stern glare for good measure, then stepped into the speakeasy.
He could've stepped into any speakeasy anywhere in town. The scent was the first thing that hit him, food and drink and alcohol, tobacco smoke a thick and unpleasant aftertaste. He flicked the lights on. The carpet was cheap and full of poorly-hidden cigarette holes, the wall stained from smoke. At a guess, they usually kept the lights half-lit, to add a bit of atmosphere, but this was an investigation, not a pleasant visit. Glasses stood on the tables, some still half full, some toppled, spilling the amber liquid over the carpet and tables. Coats still hung from the coathanger; he suspected they'd go missing from some people's closets soon, never to be seen again.
Before Dice could come back, he put his nose to the job, lifting it into the air. Matteo Sorenzo... yes, he'd sat here. His cheap cologne hung in the air like a cloud. And the girl. No surprise; the mafia had been visiting the speakeasy. Next he'd discover that fish swam in the ocean.
Something lying on a table beside Sorenzo's caught his attention, and he shifted closer. It looked like a worry stone, rubbed smooth from use, only it was an impossibility; jade melded smoothly into ivory, the two blurring where they fused. Tom picked it up and frowned at it, turning it over in his hands. The yin-yang symbol was one he was familiar with, from the Continental wars, but why here? In the air, too, was an oddly familiar scent, one he hadn't smelled in a long time, but one he couldn't quite place. What was it? He frowned. Something...metallic. Iron? No, but... familiar...
His ears flicked, the sound of Dice returning with the men proceeding the man himself, and he stepped back from the table. The token slid into his pocket before he realized what he was doing. He started to correct himself, but before he could, they had arrived, flashing cameras and bagging samples, so he merely stood back and let them do their jobs. His junior wandered the room and found a new hidden door--and what he'd suspected all along: that Sorenzo had a golem. He jogged over to the door and examined the handprint; tiny, delicate. The woman. Just like he'd suspected. Just as he'd hoped not to be. He grimaced. This was not going to be fun.
"Looking for the entrance to the speakeasy, are we?"
Dice must have jumped half a foot straight up. He whipped around to find Tom watching him, amused. The mage's heart pounded. How did such a big guy sneak up on someone like that? Surprise easily shaded back into resentment. Stealing his credit AND laughing at him. Wasn't this a partnership full of sunshine and camaraderie.
"It's sure not up here," Dice admitted, trying to sound less angry and embarassed than he was. He rubbed the back of his neck.
Tom turned away, as if following the sound of someone calling for him. "We should start in the kitchen. They couldn't serve cold food and warm beer, now, could they?"
Made sense. Dice followed Tom through the cramped hall into the kitchen, across to an unremarkable wall. A push, a creak, and they were in a whole second jazz hall. "Now I wonder what we have here," Tom said.
Of course, the witnesses weren't very happy about that. One bolted. Many looked like they'd like to join him. Dice scowled. There were too many exits in this place. It was a building built specifically for crime--how was it that everyone was so surprised when crime happened in it?
"Hang on a sec." Dice leaned around Tom to put a hand on the doorjamb. He shut his eyes, still frowning, and visualized two lattices slotting together. Like weaving, on a big loom. The warp and weft was the plaster, the threads were the wood, and Dice was the shuttle. A few brisk back-and-forths and...
When Dice removed his hand, the door had been sealed to the wall around hit. It was impossible to open. No more escapes through there.
"I'll get that on our way out. You can start looking at the speakeasy now," Dice said. He paused on his way back out of the kitchen. Tom's offer for him to go back... his smile made it clear that the senior officer knew what had been on Dice's mind. His stupid resentment, the childish impatience. He was being very kind, when most men wouldn't be. It made the shame flare hotter. It didn't exactly stop the resentment either, but it tempered it with extra awareness of how unreasonable Dice was being. "...Don't put yourself out. I'll be here the rest of my life, probably," he mumbled, not meeting Tom's gaze, then bustled on back upstairs to report the find. The scene upstairs was largely unchanged, and the Chief was even further embroiled in a lot of directing and examining. When Dice tromped back downstairs it was at the head of a small team of forensic examiners, including the lights-and-camera men. They all squeezed back through the increasingly-irritated questioning officers, and through the entrance to the blind tiger.
The illicit jazz hall was virtually identical to the legal one in every aspect. Decorating-wise. There was even a second stage. Dice wondered if the owner paid two seperate bands to play at the same time, or if they alternated which stage. Maybe he had the front stage for bands who didn't condone drinking and the back stage for bands who didn't care. What did Dice know about running a business.
This place had obviously been vacated in something of a hurry. Chairs were knocked all askew, and even right over in some cases. Glasses had been abandoned on tables, and cigars left smoking in ashtrays. One butt was still burning on the floor. Dice snuffed it with his heel, casting an anxious glance at the forensic guys as he did so. Nobody yelled, thankfully.
"Well, spread out and start bagging samples," one said, with a shrug.
"I'll find the escape route," Dice said. To mostly deaf ears. He'd be more use at that than picking up samples. Even if Tom had found the entrance in the end. Man was psychic or something. He'd just walked right up to it like he knew where the door was already.
...Huh. That was a thought.
For later, though. For now, Dice paced the perimeter. The back door wasn't hard to find, as it was concealed in more or less the same manner as the entrance. From the outside, anyway. It'd appear as part of the back wall. The inside, though, had a handle. Once you were in, it was no big secret. Dice sealed this door, too, just in case. Then it was back through the halls to see the Chief again. On the way back to the kitchen, though, Dice passed beneath the window to Jones's office. There was a second employee staircase here. Dice pulled his sleeve over his hand and opened it as carefully as he could.
This staircase was just the same as the first. In fact... it was the first. Another one of those doors that was only visible from one side. This was the easiest way up to Jones's office for someone who'd been downstairs, drinking.
The most likely way Matteo Sorenzo had gotten upstairs to kill him. Dice looked around with sharper eyes on this ascent. Nothing was visibly amiss. No scuffs, no bloodstains. Until he got up to the door to the office, and finally noticed that the handle was askew. Dice leaned down and examined the lock. It was broken. More than broken, the pins had been sheared right off. The handle was intact enough, but warped somehow, just slightly. Dice put his bare hand on it, no longer worried about fingerprints. His fingers slipped into indents, exactly in the shape of a hand. A small hand that had dented metal like melted chocolate.
The Chief glanced over, in the middle of some conversation. His face went red. "ALLDYCE, WHAT DID I JUST SAY TO YOU ABOUT TOUCHING EVERYTHING?"
Dice looked up from the handle blankly, not letting it go. "Chief, Matteo came up this way from the speakeasy to get to Jones. This door's all busted, but not like somebody picked the lock, like somebody just... broke it. Bare-handed. It's gotta be..." Dice swallowed. "I think one of his guys is a golem."
The apartment was empty. There was the same old sofa that'd been there when he'd bought it, a fridge, a counter. Nothing to decorate it, just the simple things needed to live a life. No frilly things or lace or furls, nothing pink or cutesy. It didn't feel lived in, or rather, if it was lived in, he'd never guess it was a woman living here. It was utilitarian, but kind of sad. "So unfeminine," he said, shaking his head. Little Timmy had nothing to say. He usually didn't.
Curious as to how a golem lived her life, he poked around a bit, peering in cabinets. There was nothing in particular that stood out. Nothing hidden away that he could find. One cracked and snapped when he opened it, and he slammed it shut again before it opened fully. Something thudded against the inside, and he raised his eyebrows at himself. Well. Maybe that was a warning against searching further. Who knew what she'd done to the room.
For lack of anything else to do, he plopped down on the couch and sprawled out, getting comfortable. Something hard touched his hand where it fell, and he pulled at it, only to discover the handle of what looked to be a knife emerging from the couch. Quietly, he shoved it back into the couch's interior. The golem girl had some odd housekeeping habits. "She'd make a terrible housewife," he commented. A man would kill himself by accident just searching for a spoon in the kitchen.
Luckily he didn't have much longer to wait. The golem girl came in, looking no more or less pleased than she ever did. He only knew she was pissed because she ignored him in favor of running into the only bedroom in the apartment and changing like no one was there. "I've got a plan, sweets," he said, tilting his head. From here, he could just see the outline of her back, illuminated by the thin sliver of light. It was a nice back. Curvy.
The back was obscured by a voluminous robe, and he sighed. So Jones was dead? Damn. He'd suspect he'd done it, if he hadn't been there to see that he hadn't. "First thing, the boys are gonna have to lay low, what with the police poking their heads in everywhere," he said, tilting his head back the other way. "I'm gonna have to get my hands dirty and do things myself." He stood, then crossed his arms. "First things first. We talk to Tom. See what the police have got on us. He's not gonna be happy about it, which is why you're coming along, Laurel, but we ain't threatening anyone he knows yet, so he should cooperate like a good little kitty in exchange for us not blowing his cover." There was the issue that the last time he'd seen Tom, the guy had tried to rip his head off, but he'd calmed down by now. Probably. He'd go after Tom's partner but the guy's face had already slipped his mind, let alone his name.
"Then... we find the fucker that did this, and give him a one-way ticket to the bottom of the bay. No one kills in my name and gets away with it. No one." Matteo scowled at no one in particular. That was the most frustrating part of it. He hadn't even done anything! Dammnit. That man, woman, child--they were going to [i pay].
Laurel stepped out of the cab as it pulled up to the curb, practically before the vehicle had pulled to a stop. She walked away without looking back. Arturo, slow to emerge behind her, would pay the fare. She hurried up to the stoop of the square, concrete apartment building. It was an ugly thing. No decoration, no unique features at all. Modern. Not everything in this era was as big an improvement as the music. Visual aesthetics had really taken a hit. Or maybe that was just America, for all Laurel knew China was as beautiful as ever. She hadn't been back in a long time.
The entryway was dingy. Probably nobody had mopped the lobby since it had first been tiled. A place like this couldn't boast anything as fancy as a doorman, and even the front desk was unmanned as often as it was staffed. That was the appeal of the place, more or less. Records of residents were legal but... disorganized. Nobody checked who came in or out. It might as well have been an abandoned building for all the oversight that went on here.
It was where Laurel lived.
The stairs were technically carpeted, but the carpet had been worn down to the warp and weft in the center, and the edges were more dust and dirt than rug. It served well enough to muffle the sound of Laurel's low heels on the risers, and soften the boom of Arturo's feet. Up they went, up to the second-highest floor, then right. The first door, closest to the stairs, was where she stopped. Metal numbers nailed to the wood spelled out 400. Laurel fished a small iron key from her bra and opened the door.
Mingled relief and annoyanced filled her at what she found inside. Relief that she'd guessed correctly and that Mr. Sorenzo had decided to lay low here. Irritation that Mr. Sorenzo had decided to lay low here.
"Someone else is going to have to go for groceries. Or at least for henna. They've marked me," Laurel announced to the room at large. It wasn't strange. She was very striking in appearance. When undisguised, she was easily marked. She hadn't been designed for long-term subterfuge, just short-term ones, usually relying on assumed identities. The decline in the use of golems had reduced her to a more common sort of thug. Sometimes it seemed like a lot of trouble to remain free.
Still, better a free thug than a government one. Laurel had seen the last war. She had no intention of getting involved in the next.
She kicked off her shoes in the entryway and threw her shawl and hairband onto the nearby hatrack. The apartment was small, but at least it had two rooms, which was better than many places Laurel had stayed in the past. She marched through the sitting room area into the bedroom, past Mr. Sorenzo and his bodyguard. She left the door ajar so that she could talk through it, even as she threw off her dress and began rummaging for something not-blue. Something she could move in. Just in case. "Mr. Jones is dead, somehow. I don't know who could have done it between our departure and the police's arrival, but somebody did. Naturally we are the prime suspects." She pulled on a robe-like gown, loose and baggy, which belted at the waiste and went to mid-calf. The sleeves were long and wide, enabling her to switch to shorter, cotton gloves. A cloche hat went over her distinctive hair, covering most of it. All in shades of brown. No blue whatsoever.
"What are you going to do?" she called through the open door.
He had to take a moment to calm himself before he entered the precinct. Settle his coat into place, finger-brush his hair back down, settle the cap on his head a little straighter. Deep breath. Then inside, to fetch backup. It was calm at the moment, no one waiting to be processed, no suspects kicking up a fuss. He stomped straight to the Chief's office, not interested in wasting his time. Best to get there while it was all still fresh.
"Tom, the Chief is--" the secretary said, half rising as he stomped past her. He shook his head and yanked the door open. Not now. Not now.
The Chief was eating lunch, which he hurriedly dropped at Tom's appearance. "What?" he asked, already grumpy, dabbing at the mustard that'd dropped on his tie.
"Murder at Jones' Jazz Hall," Tom said, short and to the point. "The Sessas are involved. We need backup. Now."
The Chief frowned at him, but when Tom simply stared back, solemn, he sighed. "And there goes my lunch break." He led the way back out into the room, dragging his coat behind him and shouting, men leaping up from paperwork to follow him and Tom back to the jazz hall.
It was a short walk, but it gave Tom the time he needed to clear his head. When they arrived, the smell of blood no longer seemed so sharp, so alluring. Men bustled here and there, taking down evidence, questioning witnesses; neither things he was good at. Too much blood wasn't a good thing for him to be around, and while he was excellent at intimidating suspects, he tended to terrify the living daylights out of witnesses and make them clam up. Therefore, rather than get in anyone's way, Tom sought out Dice. What'd his junior been up to while he was gone? Something useful, hopefully.
Moving with padded, quiet feet, instinct taking over despite himself in the presence of blood and death, he found the man lurking on the abandoned stage, stands and music still propped in front of the emptied chairs. For a moment, he stood there silently, observing the man, then snorted, loud enough to make his presence known. "Looking for the entrance to the speakeasy, are we?" he asked lightly, a chuckle rumbling deep in his throat. It wouldn't be on the stage, anyways. All eyes would be drawn there. Any innocent patron there to honestly partake in the jazz hall would be alerted to it, and God willing, one of them might be a model citizen who'd report it to the police.
Tom looked around, searching for hints, then sniffed. It was cheating, sure, but no one had to know. The sharp scent of alcohol rose almost immediately, emanating from a nearby wall. He turned towards it. Food as well, meats and bread and bright acids, tinged the air in that direction. "We should start in the kitchen," he said. "They couldn't serve cold food and warm beer, now, could they?"
Gesturing for Dice to follow, he took the narrow hallway back to the kitchen. The smell grew stronger. If he bashed the wall in here, he knew he'd find himself in the speakeasy, but he held himself back. Best to save the wall-smashing for when he needed it. After all, he doubted it was their usual entrance to the space.
He came out into the kitchen. Witnesses were being questioned there; the officer doing the questioning glanced up at his entrance, irritated, but Tom ignored him. Alcohol and acrid cigarette smoke were strong as day was bright, and they led him to a wall with an unusual stain, right where he'd put the handle on a door. He pushed the stain, and the wall swung inward, revealing a plush interior and well-lit space. "Now, I wonder what we have here," he commented.
At the discovery, several of the witnesses grew more rigid, and one of them bolted for the back exit. "Tom!" the man snapped, exasperated, and gave chase. The other witnesses glanced among themselves, but before anyone could move, Tom stepped over to guard the back exit. They'd have to get through him. The witnesses settled, no one stupid enough to try that.
"Why don't you run and tell the Chief what you've found?" Tom suggested, smiling conspiratorially at Dice. He'd let his junior have this one. He was going to retire, after all. Might as well let someone who could use it take the credit.
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