Closing Up Shop
Lee Toren stood before all of the gathered contestants, and once again he felt the tension among them. But this was a different kind of tension, an expectant sort. Everybody was in place, and everybody knew what they were supposed to do. He held up his hands to cut short their idle chatter, and his eyes briefly passed over Twitch, who stood as confidently as ever among his agents.
According to Flint, who had spoken with him the morning after the meeting of the guild heads, his informant would be in the park that night when everybody gathered, if Lee could get it arranged. This, combined with the recorded confession Portenda played back for him around noon, got Lee’s gears turning in a hurry. If everything went smoothly, the Games would be declared over, and the villainous Mr. Twitch and his Shades would be dismantled and jailed.
Deus, Lee saw, was still trying to whisper to Flint, whom she was pestering repeatedly to know who the informant in the military police was, and how she intended to get the drop on Twitch when the park was so open and viewable. “Don’t you worry about that,” was all that Flint would say, which infuriated her to no end. Still, Lee thought, things are coming to an end.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that we have the treasure event completed, and the following are the winners. In third place, the Lenak Petara. In second place, the Pack of Liars. And the winners of the event, are the Tacha Forus, thanks to their literarily gifted Mr. O’Toole,” he said. The Cuyotai Q Mage took a bow to the mild applause of the guild members, and then stepped back. Now, Lee thought, now is my cue. I don’t know why, but Flint wanted me to be sure about this. “Before we continue on, I haven’t been very good about letting our hosts for this year’s Games make any sort of announcements of their own,” said Lee. Twitch gave the gathered agents a grin and a nod. “Anything to say to the contestants?”
And just before Mr. Twitch could step forward to say his piece, Tania Hardin, who had remained relatively quiet throughout the entirety of the events, took one step behind him, leveling the tip of her auto-crossbow at the back of his head. “I have something to say, honorable judge,” she called out. Ridley Poe and Wreck’s replacement, a gangly Human Pickpocket, started motioning for their weapons of choice, but found themselves in the crosshairs of several other crossbows trained on them by police officers who had just sprung up out of hiding places around the competitors. “Arthur Longly, also known as Artemis Twitch, you are hereby under arrest for conspiracy in the murder of Sylvia Sado, Koby Nellis, and Seth Logan.”
“What the hell is this,” demanded Poe before Kenneth O’Toole used a Silence spell to disrupt his use of Aeromancy. Poe twisted his fingers, but found that he could not bring his mana to bear. Glaring daggers at the Cuyotai Q Mage, he was muscled to the ground by a pair of arresting officers.
“By order of Special Investigations Division Three,” called out Hardin, “I hereby declare that any other ranking member of the thieves’ guild known as the Shades who is present at this location may leave without charges being pressed against them. However, should these individuals remain within city limits, they will be tracked and arrested for various crimes committed throughout the city prior to the onset of these Games. That includes you, judge Tortulona,” she said.
Twitch was placed in handcuffs then, and screamed and ranted the whole way as he was dragged from the park. Tortulona fled along with Poe and the replacement man for Wreck. When the dust had settled, Lee Toren stood surrounded by the remaining participants, who were all looking at him rather expectantly. “There is no winner for these Games,” he muttered aloud. “And they are hereby declared to be over and finished. You should all start making arrangements to get yourselves home.”
The Games had certainly come to a rather abrupt end, and although the winnings they had all been competing for weren’t claimed, Lee Toren wasn’t about to let the money sit and rot. He distributed the prize money amongst everybody that he could the next morning, though the Sisters of Night and the men from the Tacha Forus machine shop were already gone from Ja-Wen, off to their respective hometowns to get the whole ugly business behind them.
At the primary rail station heading west, bound back for Desanadron, the Hoods, the Midnight Suns, and the Pack of Liars all stood about, the groups from back west getting ready to go. But Stephanie Claudis clung to Flint’s arm, ready to board and go west with him and Deus, while Calvin Licht, the Jaft Thug, had been persuaded by Esmerelda Logan that he might enjoy staying with her, Gabe and Jefe. Jefe didn’t have any problems with it, so long as the ‘blue boy’ did his fair share of the work around the place. Calvin agreed quickly to that stipulation.
The Midnight Suns representatives, Thaddeus Fly, Akimaru Tendo, Rage and Niles Potts all stood a little way apart from the other two groups. They had learned a lot about Ja-Wen in their time here, and despite the fact that the Games had basically been canceled, the contracts and agreements with certain law enforcement officers proved to still be in effect. Thanks to that, Fly had been able to gain access to the Ja-Wen Artifact Museum when it was closed in the dead of night, and the security systems were on minimal alert as part of the Games agreement.
He hadn’t been sure about what to take at first, but the katana now resting in his long black traveling trunk turned out to be his selection. He wasn’t sure what it did, or how the weapon was enchanted, but the value tag put under its display declared that the katana was worth thirty-thousand coin, easily. He wasn’t about to pass that up. That more than made up for having to share out the prize monies from the Games.
Jerry Norbit, the Illeck working with the Hoods’ group, had felt a little devastated that he would not get to enjoy the rest of the Games. “I grew up hearing tales told of them,” he complained to anyone who would listen. “I was supposed to have a good time!” But even though he wouldn’t get the chance to finish up, Deus told him he could have a little down time when they got back to Desanadron to do what he liked, before returning to his usual duties. He was okay with that.
The 12 Line train pulled into the station a half an hour past noon, its doors hissing open with a hydraulic whoosh. The Hoods and the Midnight Suns boarded, waving final farewells to the Pack of Liars while Flint gave each of his cousins a fierce embrace, leaping on board at the last possible moment. He walked back to the Hoods’ car, the door already propped open for him. “You almost missed your ride, you know,” chided Stephanie as she popped her head out of the car.
“I’m aware of that,” said Flint. He gave her a peck on the cheek, breathing deeply of the strawberry-scented perfume she wore, just enough to be noticeable, but not so much as to think her a bimbo. “Hey, boss-man,” he said down to Deus, who was seated in the corner of the car closest to the door into the walkway. “Ready to get going home?”
“Actually, yes,” said Anna Deus. “I’ve missed Stocky, and certain, um, other people,” she said, meaning her husband. Flint understood the need for her to still appear to be a man, until she could leave the guild hall and go topside. He wondered how Harold Deus was going to handle the ‘welcome home’ sex this time, considering the fact that in Ja-Wen two of Anna’s operatives had found romance, while she’d been left with homesickness. He offered a quick silent prayer for Harold, and took Stephanie with him to the adjoining car, the bedchamber the Hoods all had to cram into.
“They’d better not make a mess,” was all Norman Adwar had to say of it.
Sally Ridge rode along in the back of her private autocart, smiling contentedly to herself. Yes, Lester’s passing had been a heavy blow to her heart, and to the company, but because the man had been so meticulous, she realized, anybody could take his place within the company so long as they took care to read all of his notes, outlines and reports. If they could mimic the procedure the company shouldn’t suffer too bad from elongated lack of efficiency.
But even though anybody could take Lester’s place insofar as his corporate duties went, who was she going to use as an envoy, as a silver-tongued diplomat to ensure that certain of the company’s experiments weren’t investigated by the governments of the world? The best Rogues she had ever met had belonged to other thieves’ guilds at the Games, and she had nobody else who she could think of right away.
She would worry about it another time. For now, she only had to lean back, relax, and sleep most of the way back home.
Portenda the Quiet sat anxiously awaiting the verdict two days later in the trial of one Arthur Longly and his accomplice, Wayne Traedo. The trial had been mercifully short, with the prosecutor’s office presenting all of the evidence that Akimaru had collected, the police had gathered, and the findings recorded on a digital voice recorder, admissions of guilt by Wayne Traedo that also implicated Longly, a.k.a. Mr. Twitch. The Shades’ lawyer, a stout Kobold fellow assigned to their defense through the city-state government, had not been given much chance to defend them. Secretly, he didn’t really want to.
When the jury of ten came back into the chamber, there were some murmurings and mutterings amongst the crowd. The judge, a Minotaur who looked horribly uncomfortable in his black robes, seated himself at his bench and pounded the gavel for silence. “Order in the court! Madam foreman of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
“We have, your honor,” said the woman called upon, a humble looking Human civilian.
“Would you please read your results?”
“In the case of the State versus Wayne Traedo on counts of first-degree murder of Koby Nellis and Sylvia Sado, we the jury find him guilty. In the case of the State versus Arthur Longly, on charges of conspiracy of the aforementioned crimes, as well as the first-degree murder of Seth Logan, we the jury find the defendant guilty. And lastly, your honor, on the charges against both defendants of the illegal operation of an unlawful guild, we find the defendants not guilty due to lack of evidence.”
The judge pounded his gavel three times. Portenda started to rise, but kept himself seated for reasons he could not quite explain. “Very well,” said the judge. “I have already taken the time to consider sentencing in the event you found guilty on these charges,” he said. Ah, here we go, thought the Simpa. Let’s see what happens to these two. “Mr. Traedo, please rise.” The Sidalis butler-fellow, allowed to continue wearing his usual garb, rose between two constables who kept stun-sticks at their sides. “Mr. Traedo, for your role in all of this horror you and your colleague have spread around the city, I am hereby sentencing you to serve a term of no less than thirty-five years at Ja-Wen City-State Maximum Security Prison. You will be held in the repression cell level for the duration of your stay there, and your term shall last no longer than forty years.”
The constables started escorting Traedo away, the color drained from his face, his long, hawkish nose turned down as he let the officers practically drag him out of the courthouse. “As for you, Mr. Longly, rise,” said the judge. Twitch, real name Arthur Longly, stood to his feet and still managed that smug look of self-satisfaction he got when he was being clever. “Let it be known that you are to be sentenced to death, Mr. Longly, the method of execution to be selected by the family of your first victim, Seth Logan.”
And here was the surprise that Portenda had sensed coming, why he’d sat back down. The rear doors of the courthouse opened, and in stalked Jefe Gabriez, Gabe Logan, Esmerelda Logan, and Calvin Licht, who darted into an open seat near the back of the building. The three Wererats approached the judge’s bench, and spoke in hushed tones back and forth. Finally, the judge nodded, and called on his analyst. A reedy-voiced Elven gentleman in a business suit approached, nodded, and then walked over to Longly. He cast some sort of spell, observed Longly, and then returned to the bench and gave a thumb’s up.
“The Logan family have just informed me, Arthur Longly, that you are to be burned to death on a pyre of shame,” announced the judge, to which Longly appeared to twitch and then start grinning. “In one month, then, Arthur Longly, you will be taken to a location of their choosing and set on fire in a chamber or container of their choosing. There will be several guards present, so escape is not possible. Until such time as the date of your execution arrives, you will be held in Ja-Wen Medium Security Prison. Guards, take him away,” said the judge, banging his gavel.
Portenda met the Logans outside, along with Calvin Licht. “So, what was with the Elf there,” the Simpa asked the Wererats.
“Oh, he’s an analyst. Makes sure the offender is susceptible to whatever form of execution is selected,” said Jefe. “That son of a bitch is going to burn, Mr. Quiet. He’s going to burn.”
“Indeed,” said Portenda, stalking away. “And that likely won’t be the last place he burns, either.”
Flint was the first one off of the train with Stephanie, the two of them running off down the street like a pair of teenagers, giggling and laughing together as Flint pointed out the various nearby landmarks and points of interest. Anna rolled her suitcase behind her, her rucksack securely on her back. The scents of the city of Desanadron, the mixture of food fumes, coffee vapors, the working class’s sweat and the slight essence of the ancient mortar that still lay between the bricks of the city’s most ancient buildings, all combined to give her mind a single thought. I’m back home, and it feels great.
“I am glad to see that Flint-san is happy with this girl,” said Akimaru as the white-clad Ninja stepped up next to Anna. “The way he is with her, he has never had a real relationship before, has he?”
“Only one that I know of,” replied Anna. “And that didn’t work out so well for him. She turned out to have a bounty on her head, and the status was dead or alive. When the hunter finally came for her, the poor girl didn’t stand a chance, but she fought him anyway.”
“Was it,” Akimaru began.
“No, goodness no,” said Anna with a grin. “Flint told me it happened about a hundred years ago, and Portenda the Quiet is still a very young man. I doubt he’s much more than sixty, an that’s very young for the Simpa race.”
“Indeed. Then his skills are remarkable,” commented Akimaru, mostly to himself. “So young, and yet so fierce. I will have to meditate on this,” he said, bidding Anna farewell.
“You do that,” she said. She sprinted ahead to give Flint a letter containing instructions for himself and for Stockholm. She would not be returning directly to the guild, and she wouldn’t be around for probably a week or so. She had time to make up with her husband, after all. All of this she had written in the letter, so that only Flint and Stocky would know why she was really gone.
Flint took the letter and, making his way to the nearest manhole, helped Stephanie down into the underground system like a true gentleman. Through the darkened twists and turns he took her, until finally he stood before the vault-style door that cranked open and exposed the main den of the Hoods’ hideout. “Well, here we are, my dear,” he said to Stephanie. “Oh, you know, I’ll have to take this notice to Stockholm, and then get the paperwork squared away,” he said. “Just have a seat on one of those sofas, and I’ll be back in a jiff,” he said, pointing to a plush crimson couch.
“All right. Hurry back,” she said, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. Flushing under his fur, Flint darted away into the tunnels and hallways, quickly coming upon Stockholm’s office door. He was about to knock when Hollister, the turtle-man Sidalis in their employ, approached him from one end of the hallway.
“Um, Flint, sir,” he asked sheepishly.
“Ah, Hollister, yes. What can I do for you,” asked Flint, turning sideways to the door.
“Well, um, that is, sir, um, I think Mr. Stockholm is likely to be rather, um, angry with you,” said Hollister haltingly.
“Angry? Why would he be angry?”
“Apparently you sent him a birthday present,” said Hollister. Flint frowned at the man, and then remembered the prostitute.
“Oh, that. What, did she short change him on time or something?” The door to Stockholm’s office flew open then, and all Hollister saw was an enormously muscled red furred arm snatch out, the fingers wrapping around Flint’s neck. “Hey, buddy,” Flint gurgled, hands immediately trying to pry himself free.
“Let’s have a little chat,” Stockholm’s voice echoed down the hall. Flint flew back with the arm into the office, the door slammed, and then there began much shouting and crashing as Hollister made a quick retreat.