Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Curse of Alexander Braker, Chapter 3

     The streetlight outside of McTaggart's Pub was broken, leaving a patch of darkness at the front door. A sense of anonymity was maintained by those who worked there. The lack of atmosphere tended to keep the clientelle limited to serious barflys and those who had business there. So far as Sam knew, no one named McTaggart had been involved in the business for ages. Ownership had changed hands several times with none of the new owners bothering to change the name. He was sure that he could track down who claimed to be the current owner, but that would be more information than he needed.

     Instead, this anonymous little pub was one of the more regular haunts of the mysterious figure known as Liberty. The leader of the Resistance of New York tried to remain accessible to the people in his command, particularly to the more powerful members.

     Sam counted in that second number as the one mage in the city's Resistance. He went by the codename Quisitor and served both as magician and investigator. Anyone considered for membership in the Resistance would undergo Sam's scrutiny, almost always with the subject in complete ignorance. Sam had managed to spot a couple of potential plants the Empire had attempted to emplace.

     Despite the best vigilance, there was still concern for security.

     No one looked up as Sam entered the pub. The three people who seemed to be drinking kept their heads down. Sam knew they weren’t there for the booze any more than he was. One thing he did notice was that each man had his right hand concealed.

     Sam stepped over to the bar.

     “Help you, Mac?” asked the bartender. He acted more interested in his bar rag than in any service he might render.

     “Yeah, how about something from Kentucky?”

     “How old you want it?”

     “Twelve years at least.”

     Empty right hands appeared as the tension in the room melted. The bartender smiled and poured a shot of bourbon into a highball glass.

     “The man’s in back, I take it?” asked Sam.

     “Yes he is. Head on back.”

     Sam drank down the liquor and headed to the back room. He knocked on the door. A man with a Thompson opened the door and stuck his head out. He scrutinized the room as if he never received the silent signal from behind the bar. Once his vigilance was satisfied, he ushered Sam into the cramped room.

     The room was scarcely larger than the card table in the center. A single bulb cast its light onto the table and little else.

     What the light did show was the man seated behind the table. Sam knew that if the man stood he would be about six feet tall. He was broad shouldered and wore working man’s clothes. The only sign that he pretended to anything more than salt of the earth was the vigilante style mask that covered the top half of his face. Despite Sam’s position in the effective inner circle of the Resistance he did not know Liberty’s true identity.

     “Quisitor,” said Liberty, “always good to see you.”

     “Same. Thanks for meeting with me.”

     “Have a seat. What brings you back into the cold?”

     “I have a job, and I have some questions about how the Resistance is hitting my subject.”

     “I’ll tell you what I can, but you do understand that your job will only give you slightly greater need to know.”

     “I understand. My client is the Baroness Braker, wife of Baron Jonathon Braker, owner of the Albany Wichita Railroad.”

     “I am familiar with the railroad,” said Liberty, “they tend to get more military transport contracts than their competition, but not to any great degree.”

     “It seems that they have been getting hit hard by the Resistance of late.”

     “One of our cells, they go by the name of the James Gang, has made the AW Railroad a favored target.”

     “Any reason for that? Something personal?”

     “Purely speculation, but I think that they have some sort of source of information on the inside. I can’t say for certain because I make a point of not asking.”

     Sam nodded. That type of security was de rigueur for the secretive organization.

     “I understand,” said Sam, “that the original Baron, Alexander, was a collaborator.”

     “Yes, he was, and I can answer your next question right now. No, the Resistance had nothing to do with either his death, or that of his son.”

     “And no interest in going after the current Baron?”

     “None at all.”

     Sam leaned back from the table. Liberty seemed to be a step ahead of him, and as a mage, Sam preferred to be the one in that position. Still, he was getting nearly all of the information for which he knew to ask.

     “One last thing,” said Sam, “I got the impression that Baroness Mildred Braker, Alexander’s wife, seemed to be a near pariah immediately after the invasion. Would you have any idea why?”

     “Actually, I would. Back before the Invasion, Mildred Braker was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. It was her husband’s connections that kept her from imprisonment or being stripped of her family assets.”

     “A collaborator and a member of the DAR. I can scarcely imagine what their home life must have been like during the war.”

     “Unfortunately, she has been a good lady of the Empire since then. I would gather that she got set straight since then.”

     Sam stayed quiet for a moment or two.

     “Anything else, Quisitor?” asked Liberty.

     “No, I don’t think so. Thanks for the time.”

     “Stay safe out there.”

     “Always my first interest,” said Sam. He turned toward the door, but was stopped by the guard. The man pressed a button on the speaker box by the door. A second later, a soft buzz came from the speaker, and the guard opened the door. Sam gave a small wave to the barkeeper and headed toward the front door.

     As he walked down the street, Sam’s mind was divided. One part stayed alert for anyone watching or following. The other part ran down the information that he had just learned. He felt that he had a good base to work the party two nights later, but he still wondered if there were one more question he should have asked.