Thursday, June 30, 2005

Intangible Assets, Chapter One

My senses came back to me in bits and pieces, and I didn’t like the picture they were giving me. I could hear a truck driving away on the far side of the thin warehouse wall. I tried to get a whiff of either low tide at the docks or of the coal soot of the rail yards. A dull ache where my nose should have been spelled out the futility of that effort. The coarse bite of hemp rope pinned my arms behind the chair in which I found myself.

I risked opening my eyes, only to find the left one swollen shut and to have light stab through the right all the way to the back of my skull. When my eye finally managed to adjust itself, I was treated to the lop-sided visage of Carlo “The Tusk” Tusconi. Carlo was ugly, even by ork standards. To say that he had a face only a mother would love would have implied that there was a woman out there willing to take that rap. No one was so far as I knew.

Carlo saw me open my eye. He smiled, showing the eponymous tusk all the way down to its yellow root. He raised a fist the size of a baron’s Easter ham, and suddenly the ache in my nose was no longer dull.

“That is enough for now, Carlo.”

The voice was smooth. Some Old World gent, I thought, probably Italian if Carlo’s working for him. The voice started behind me. I heard the click of his shoes on the concrete as he walked around his display. He walked the circle cast by the light of the hooded thirty-watt bulb over my head. When he came into sight on my right side (walking widdershins, noted my wizard training) only his pant cuffs and shoes were in the light. The pants were gray pinstriped blue, and the shoes were leather wingtips polished enough to kick a glare back into my face. Whoever he was, he had money. The suit would have set me back close to a year in fees, and you sure as hell couldn’t buy a shine that good at Grand Central or Midtown.

The Voice came a little farther into the light when he stopped to look me over. The light only came up a little above his waist, but that was enough to tell he was about five foot eight and in pretty good shape. He moved in that way that told me he could handle himself in a fight. If I had been fresh and not tied, I might have been able to take him. After the tenderizing job Carlo had done, old Mrs. Kranski on the ground level of my office building could have wiped the floor with me.

Mr. Dapper Suit took his time looking me over, almost as if Carlo was his favorite artist and I was the Tusk’s latest masterpiece. I looked up at the guy’s hands. As I figured, they were scarred across some of his knuckles like a fighter, but the scars were old, so he must have been out of the game for a while. Both pinkies bore rings with enough stones on them to make an heiress green. More important, though, was that he didn’t have a ring on his right ring finger where an Order of Illumination magus would wear one. That was the first piece of good news I had had all night. It meant that the worst these guys could do was kill me.

“Hello again, Mr. Watson,” said the Voice. “I would greatly appreciate your attention during the course of our conversation. Now, where were we?”

“I don’ know, last thing I recall is the side of beef you call an ork introducing me to his fist.”

You had to give it to the Tusk. He really knew how to fold a guy up like an old newspaper. I figure Mr. Dapper Suit must have had some words with Carlo while I was out about my needing my face to speak the words he wanted to hear. Carlo put this punch right in the breadbasket.
The Suit was examining his nails while Carlo was applying his trade.

“Where is Miss Tierney, Mr. Watson? Where is the comb?” The Voice didn’t bother to hide his boredom over this fourth asking of the same questions.

It took almost a minute to gather the necessary breath to answer. Such precious air needed to be used on a proper answer.

“Right where your boss left her. Plot eighteen, row twenty-two, St. Catherine’s Cemetery. And as to the comb, don’t bother, it won’t match your suit.”

The Voice didn’t like that answer. He didn’t like it the first three times either. Carlo certainly did not like the answer, and he proceeded to demonstrate that ribs don’t like it when angry orks pound on them.

Just great, I thought, a lot of guys end up worked over for a dame. I just get to do it for a dead one.

To be continued...

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