Below is the second installment of Chapter 1. Thomas is an increasingly enjoyable character to write; noir predicates itself on writing an analogy a second, especially in the mind of the detective. Luckily, Taylor has played the part well during game and given me plenty to work with. I can’t wait to introduce Mycroft next. Just imagine Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne without the superhero counterparts. There’s no world needing rescue (yet), and Mycroft is anything but bored.
“Prelude to Millennium”
Part 1: A Detective’s Protocol
Chapter 1.2 (Thomas Raith to Vivian Murphy)
14-32-9:12n, third moon of Esther
I’m on an undercar now and thought I’d write again. The smell down here, friend. I’d say it’s like something crawled down here and died but I’m not sure if it’s dead yet. I’ll change cars at the Fourth but, until then, it’s hobo piss and century-old tack. It’s the only time that I prefer the smell of the steam and tar mix over anything else. And this car’s particularly tarred; lotta black steam billowing out of the side vents, unfortunately blocking my view of the under-filth that our great metropolis stilts itself on. Then again, technology has never favored my presence. But, that’s for another letter, one where I have a little time to get all expository on you. For now, I just wanted to let you know how I figured out the guy’s a Vanderbilt. I think you’ll get a kick out of it.
And, if, for no other reason, that it’ll impress you, I think.
So, earlier on Tuesday – it was Tuesday, I’m pretty sure – I get this call from some office broad who asks if I’m looking for work. She must’ve seen the fake ad I placed in the Champion when I was trying to smoke out Vaughan. (Side note: good ol’ Vaughan died in a repulsor crash today; swear I didn’t have anything to do with it. I just needed an answer or two.) At least, that’s the fake ad I think she saw. I’ve placed a few, Viv. That was some damn good advice. It’s worked better than Charlie’s javashots do when you’ve pulled a few all-nighters.
On that, thanks for recommending Charlie’s. I’m pretty sure I carried them through last year’s recession.
“Looking for a Mr. Freund,” the office candy squawked like a trained parrot.
“This is he?”
I answered it like a question! I’m slipping in my youth. Shit, Viv, it took me aback. I didn’t know what to say; hell I had even forgot that I used that alias. I placed that ad six months ago.
“This…is Mr. Freund, I suppose?” she came back, like a jaded ex finding a snap of the new skirt you’re with.
Vanderbilt’d get a kick out of this, I’m sure. Maybe I’ll open with it. Hell, he probably knows the chair-job.
“Yes, of course. I apologize, I just stepped out of the shower,” I responded.
“Oh that’s no problem, Mr. Freund. My name is Cassia Carmen, and I’m calling on behalf of Phrobsson Mining Consortium. I’m responding to the ‘Seeking Work’ ad you placed a few months back?”
All business, this chick. All business and fingernails. I could hear them clacking away on her holokeys, probably responding to another ad at the same time. Multi-tasking at its finest, made possible by some cosmology institute valedictorian.
“Oh, yes! Of course, mah dear. Thank ya for responding so…promptly.”
Finally, my Freund accent kicked in. I’d been practicing. Patterning the dipthongs after the Commissar-General himself, actually. That, mixed with a little “indeterminately grizzled”, makes for a fine Freund.
“That’s not a problem, Mr. Freund. Mr. Phrobsson is looking for new employees to start this Fall. Are you still seeking?”
“Who isn’t, these days? Heh.”
I don’t think she appreciated the joke, Viv. She came back with this half-breathed “a-hm” that clearly indicated she was sharing more than just an office with Phrobsson. Don’t have to care about a recession when daddy-boss-man is fronting the bills. I bet she doesn’t even pay for those acrylic talons. Hell, maybe Phrobsson likes a scratcher, a real hawk in the nest.
“Very good, Mr. Freund. However, Mr. Phrobsson did tell us to warn all new potential employees that this will not pay very well at first but has—“
She paused. She had to read something that wasn’t rote yet. She was new. Maybe the last one was gonna blow the whistle to the mama bear of Phrobsson’s cave. Whatever. Let me tell you, I called what she was gonna say next right before the words came out of her. “The potential for advancement and promotion.” I bet the world five Korunas that I was dead on, even. You might be wondering where I had the money to make such a chaotic bet. I’ll get to that.
“…the opportunity for promotion and potential advancement.”
Okay, so I was close. And don’t worry: I wedged five K’s behind an iron-lime sconce in the undercar tunnel before I got on this sweat box. Don’t ever say I’m not a man of my word.
“Well, sweet’art, that sounds mighty fine to me. Any work is good work in mah book,” I said, punching the accent to a cartoonish level, just for s’s-and-g’s.
“Very good, Mr. Freund. Now, before we get this paper work started, we need to know: is Freund a legal name or a work name?”
All of a sudden I knew what kind of work it was: Mining Protectorations. She needed to know the legality of my name, just in case I bit it down south. She had to pre-will me to make sure Phrobsson Mining Consortium would “not be responsible for any death or dismemberment of its employees.” Can’t wait: I’m gonna slum it with some other back-alley no-names who fancy themselves solid in a fight, while we watch over twenty-something thieves and con-men, working their way to emancipation. Force those in the clink to pick out some ore, while those who should be behind bars watch their backs down in the shafts. Glorious.
“Why, of course it is, mah dear,” I lied, as I tore my place apart looking for the fake ID I made in Freund’s name. “Just gimme one second here, mah dog is chewin’ on somethin’…down boy! Down Frederick!”
She giggled. I’m lying too well these days, Viv. Also, tell Freddie thanks for the idea. Don’t tell him I still think he looks like a beagle.
“Thatta boy,” I finally said, when I found the ID on top of a pile of old newsies. “Sorry, dear. Yes. Charles K. Freund, born and raised.”
“Very good, Mr. Freund. The address in the ad still stands as correct, yes?”
“So it says on mah steam bills.”
Okay, that one was dumb. I’m glad she didn’t laugh at that one.
“Very good, Mr. Freund. We will be sending your papers and employment registry tomorrow. Check the post for it, Thursday at the latest. And thank you for choosing Phrobsson Mining Consortium for your future.”
I stifled my laughter ‘til she clicked. Then I looked over at my empty pantry except for an old jar of cinnamon and some dried farmfruit chips. My laughter stifled itself. I realized this wouldn’t be a new alley to sniff; I actually needed this job for real.
So, this morning, I woke up and checked the post. Sure enough, there’s the packet from PMC. I stewed my last few farmfruit chips into that delicious morning paste I have no clever name for (just “shit”) and garnished it with my last few flakes of cinnamon. I’d even kill for some Bowl Flakes at this point. I sat down with my breakfast reading material and popped open the metal tab.
Get this: first thing that fell out was 500K, I shit you not. Right there, on my table, next to my gruel, was enough money to pay a third of the year’s rent. I hadn’t even started and there’s what a gumshoe can hope to earn in half a year doing routine PI.
Attached to the wad was this note, wedged in the elastic band holding the cash together. I slopped some porridge in my gab and read the private school penmanship scrawled in fancy ink:
“Thanks for joining the winning team. Let’s meet for a drink at Rory’s in the Ninth, Thursday at 11 before we get to work.” –M
This must be from my new team leader, I figured. The guy in charge of the rest of the brawlers that make sure the real brawlers in chains don’t get shot (or shoot us). I knew it was customary for mining protectorate team leaders to send their indies some token of welcome…but 500K? I expected some gifty to go see a holofilm at half price or something. Feeling incredulity creeping in, I snatched the wad and thumbed through the rest of the bulk. Just to make sure that that top bill (a tenner) wasn’t the only paper with Councilwoman Magdrsson’s weathered mug on it.
Nope. I counted forty-nine other tenners, and ol’ Magdie’s lips even seemed to curl into a smile by the end of my flipbook flick, congratulating me on my “Opportunity for promotion and potential advancement.”
I should’ve stopped there. I should’ve put the money back in the packet, scribbled “return to sender/wrong address” or some bullshit and gotten on with the rest of my cinnamon sludge. But, hell, Viv, I had to know more. He picked Rory’s for us to meet. I know Rory. We both do, Viv. We both know what he is and who he chooses to let into his rat hole of a bar.
So, just like you taught me, I hit the newsies first. To see what was current. First thing I did was throw aside the Society pages because I didn’t need to know “who was where with whom who was where when.” (Hell, it’s all about definite pronouns with richies.) Four hours later and halfway through the business section, I thought about something you said a while back, Viv. When we were first starting.
The alleys you skip, the side-roads you walk on by, those are where your answers usually lie.
I always thought the rhyme was a little childish and stupid but, damn, if you weren’t right as the day is bright, Viv. Fearfully, I picked up the Society pages and there, right there, on the front was the headline:
VANDERBILT HEIR TO HEAD UP MINING PROTECTORATE TEAM TO LEARN THE BIZ: Kaarlsen Preperatory and Bennings University Grad Mycroft Worthington Vanderbilt, III — younger son of Mycroft Worthington Vanderbilt, Jr. – joins Phrobsson Mining Consortium as internship begins.
I could’ve rifled through all the newsies, Viv and found nothing because I scoffed at the Society pages and threw them to the floor. I would’ve satiated my curiosity with a lovely red herring, put the money back in the packet, and – like I said – gotten on with my cinnamon sludge. But I need to talk to him; we both know he’s a good connection to have, even if he’s going to be useless otherwise. So, now I’m on my way to meet Mycroft Worthington Vanderbilt, III for a drink at Rory’s, and I’m sure it’s going to be intolerable.
I hope you’re impressed I finally listened to you. Because I kinda hate myself for it right now.