Friday, November 15, 2013

The Balanced Approach

Photo by Nilfanion via Wikimedia Commons

Author's Note: This story features a paranormal lawman, a talking knife, and is rated M for "Mature." For other stories featuring these characters, check out Carne Fresco right here on the blog.

If you go to a certain parking garage and enter the elevator, you will find yourself selecting between four buttons set into a sheet of scratched stainless steel. The panel is crooked, letting the lights behind the buttons seep out and destroy the illusion that technology is somehow elegant and flawless. You notice the magical light behind the panel is just a cheap light bulb with dusty wires looped around a plastic clip. You wonder if it’s even a good idea to be in an elevator to begin with, to trust your life to something so simple and easily broken. Shouldn’t it have computer chips or something? How old is it? Maybe you should leave it alone and use the stairs instead. That’s the safe choice, the one most people choose.

The idiots seem to believe that something as old as this elevator must be good for one more trip, and punch their floor. Death spares them once more, and the elevator delivers them without incident. They alight, mentally congratulating themselves for being so brave. At least that’s what I think goes on in their heads. Either way, all that matters is that no one lingers in this elevator for long.

When the doors close, I insert a key in the fireman’s slot, and punch out a pattern on the buttons. The elevator goes down four floors farther than it should. When the doors open, I’m greeted by three hundred and seventy pounds of muscle, fur, and teeth dressed in jeans and a Black Sabbath concert shirt.

“ ‘Lo, Angus,” says Tusk, putting down a book, “What the hell happened to your face?” 

Old joke, wasn’t even that funny the first time. Still, some forms must be observed.

“Nothing, why?”

“You were born looking like that? Sheeeit.” he says, shaking his head.

I look at the cover of his book.

“Tusk, is that fucking Pride and Prejudice? First time I've seen you with a book that didn’t have Elmo on the cover.”

“Get bent.”

“Get a haircut.”

He smiles and jerks his head down the hallway. Balance laughs in its sheath, vibrating against my back.

The Judicar’s hall looks like it was decorated by an overzealous clockmaker who experimented with art deco. Streamlined figures in exaggerated poses over brass and silver gears line the walls, floor and ceiling. Someone once told me that it was supposed to represent the special place Man held in the pact between the Light and Dark courts. I call bullshit on that. Man regulates the balance because neither Light nor Dark can be bothered or trusted to offer up its own citizens to see the pact enforced. I figure it's more likely someone on the appropriations committee was getting kickbacks on the materials.

Naturally, there is a Dark and Light side to the Judicar's hall and guess which side I'm visiting? I wrinkle my nose at the smells of sulfur, grave soil, and wet dog as I make my way through the crowds of imps, litchkin, and weir, feeling the stares on my back as I pass. Some wonder if they can take me, others ignore me, and at least one stares at me like someone who wants to buy a pit bull. The litchkin follows me with red eyes, calculating my potential to help or hurt its plans. Last time I checked, I wasn’t worth the effort. Bishops from both sides make sure hunters like me are as worthless as possible. When I glance over my shoulder, the litchkin is gone.

I come up to a door with a worn knocker that looks vaguely like a horseshoe made of black iron. I reach into my jacket with one hand and open the door with the other. A guy in a bow tie and long-tailed coat rises from a stool with a look on his face like I just pissed on the floor.

“Sir, the Bishop’s office is closed today. I must insist –” He stops as I pull Balance and send it flying in his direction. He yelps, and then looks up to find the collar of his jacket pinned to the wall.

“Buddy, he ain’t in the mood,” Balance says. “If you’d be good enough to announce us to the bishop, maybe he’ll take me with him."

The guy must be new, because he reaches up to take hold of Balance by the hilt. There’s a bright arc and he screams again, holding his fingers.

“Yeah, just try that again, meatbag," says Balance.

I walk past them, through a door opening into a kind of sitting room with paintings along one wall, and leather-bound books in floor-to-ceiling shelves on the other. At the far end is a set of lacquered doors which are opening. The Bishop comes out, a black haired, mustached man in a starched shirt, pinstriped pants, and suspenders. He carries his pistol in his right hand, sighted on my forehead.

“Angus.” He doesn’t lower the gun.

“Martin.” I nod

“To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“I'm hunting a carnal named Cree. I’m here to inform his bishop.”

“I stand so informed. What does this have to do with breaking into my office and assaulting my staff?”

I look back over my shoulder at the doorman whose eyes are nearly all white staring at Balance. The knife is talking about something I can’t make out.

“I need Cree's whereabouts. I assume your office has his registration record.”

“Come back later, when I’m open.”

I shake my head. “If I had that kind of time, I wouldn’t be here right now. Give me the registry, and I’ll leave.”

Martin grits his jaw. “If you were under my jurisdiction, Angus ...”

“Well I ain’t. You gonna give me what I want, or do I have to get the Judicar involved?”

Martin swears and holsters his gun. Dark Collars can’t interfere with a hunt without a reason a damn sight better than professional angst. He knows it, and he knows that I know he knows it. “Kenneth will see to your request as soon as you remove your pig sticker from my wall. Will there be anything else?”

“Yeah,” I say. “One of your uniforms tried to arrest me and a petitioner right after the hunt was called.”

“How do you know the officer was one of mine?”

“He didn’t check in with an elder first. Your people always show initiative.”

Martin’s lip twitched, almost a smile.

“Did you identify yourself to my officer?”

“Yeah, but his mundane partner already had gotten the idea to take us in. Your guys are supposed to make sure I can do my fucking job.”

Martin’s face flushed. “My officers have a hard enough time keeping the veil maintained, without witch hunters and shamen performing rituals in goddamn public spaces. Maybe I should see the Judicar about its agents flaunting the codes and jeopardizing the veil in a diner."

The slimy motherfucker. Never worries about the law until it serves his purposes. “You go right ahead, Martin. Make sure you don’t leave out the part where you participated in obstruction.”

“Obstruction? You’ve got some nerve.”

I hold up my fingers. “One, I never said anything about a diner, or a shaman. Two, if your man can’t recognize a hunter or a Calling he shouldn’t be on the force. Three, he saw my evidence and probably figured out it was heavy shit, or he wouldn’t have called you so soon.” Martin’s face goes from red to white. “You knew I was coming down here, and your door man tries to stop me? It’s enough for a formal review.”

Nothing deflates a bullshitter like getting caught in a lie. They then either have to give ground, or double down. Martin ain’t the betting type. “Get your information and leave,” he says with a tight voice. “One of these days, you’re going to take a wrong step, and I’ll be there to bring you to heel.”

“You’ll have to wait in line.” I say and turn my back. I walk over to the doorman. He’s got a look on his face like he wants to puke.

“... of course, it’s the lower intestine that’s really the messy part,” says Balance.

I yank it out of the wall, and snap my arm out to catch Kenneth before he hits the floor. He scrambles to his feet, takes a deep breath and looks me in the face.

“May I help you, sir?” he says. Say what you will about the Dark, but they are disciplined.

“Registry for Danny Cree”

Two minutes later, I’m walking out. Balance is still bitching.

“A couple of more minutes and I’d have had him heaving on the floor,” it says.

“If I had known you’d be like this, I would have used the gun instead,” I mutter.

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