of Monster and Mushrooms
by Lesley Herron
Chapter 5, Trametes
“You had one job.,” Vel grunted as he hauled Attila down an alleyway by the hem of his poncho. “Just one. It was a simple task, really.” They passed many darkened doorways and boarded windows, empty shops and a more than a few shifty eyed citizens. “So simple, in fact, that a child could have minded better than you. Don’t get separated! That’s all I asked. Stick together. And you! You go and wander off on your own!” Vel could feel his headache return with an angry pulse.
“When? You didn’t tell me anything except to eat a tomato.,” Attila replied sulkily.
Vel spun, abruptly, on his heel to glare at Attila. He lifted a finger, as if to point out just -how- wrong Attila was. But then his memory clicked into place, and he recalled, quite clearly, that exact moment. Attila was right. He had said that to Errik. Crap. “And -did- you eat it? No!,” Vel snorted, turning his back on Attila and stomping off down the alley. It certainly wasn’t the telling off he had planned, but it would have to do.
Errik’s capture had become another mission in their laundry list of tasks. A very unnecessary and problematic task. Vel knew enough about the city to know that Errik would have been carried off to a holding cell while he awaited judgment. If he made it all the way to trial, there would be no hope of rescue. They had to break him out, and now. And, of course, that meant bribes. Vel groaned internally as he dug his fingers into his temple again.
“Here. Try one of these.,” Attila piped up, shaking the bottle of pain killers he had swiped from Errik earlier that day.
Vel looked over at the pill bottle and groaned. The noise of the pills rattling around in their plastic prison irritated his migraine. He shoved Attila’s hand away. “I’m fine.,” he grumbled.
“Well…,” Attila began, unable to deter the smile settling in on his face. “If it persists for more than four hours you should -really- consult a physician.”
“Shut up and keep moving.” The sooner they got Errik back, the sooner they could finish this ridiculous rescue mission. And that would mean he’d be rid of Attila and his damned headache all in one go.
The cobblestone gave way to black gravel and dirt roads, as if this part of the city was a recent addition. Even so, the street was flooded with lights and people milling about. The walls of the cavern were so much more visible here, indicating the edge of the city.
Vel stopped and turned on his heel once again, this time jabbing a mechanical finger just under Attila’s collar bone. “Well because -you- couldn’t follow simple instructions, you get to go in there.,” Vel mention, using his free hand to gesture across the busy street.
“Again. Not my fault.,” Attila murmured, as his eyes followed the motion of Vel’s hand. Out of all the things he was expecting, an old western style saloon was certainly not even among his top ten. Like a beacon, the place illuminated it’s tiny corner with welcoming pink neon lights. The sign above the door, made of metal and lights, showed an animated pig with an apple in it’s mouth, and the words ‘The Greasy Hog’. Attila didn’t need the throngs of people pushing their way in and out of the building to tell that this was the ‘bad part of town’.
“I don’t understand what getting hammered in the middle of the day has to do with getting your brother out of jail.,” Attila commented, his head shaking a little.
Vel grit his teeth as his face was pulled into a painfully forced smile. “As much as I would love nothing more than to drown out this memory in alcohol, that’s not why we are here. You need to go in there and find out which of the guards are open to the occasional bribe.”
Attila watched as a pale blond haired man was shoved out of the way by a pack of those four armed wolf men. “Uh…,” Attila began, pulling his eyes away from their howling laughter. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just break him out?”
“No. We need to -bribe- him out. So get in there and find out which guards respond well to financial incentives.,” Vel repeated through grit teeth. He grabbed Attila by the shoulder. “You’re wearing a poncho and a cowboy hat.” A wicked grin crawled across his face. “You’ll fit right in.”
“But it’ll be so much easier if we just -blast- him out! I’ve got the explosives, you’ve got a mechanical arm!,” Attila laughed, flipping the end of his poncho over his shoulder to reveal a tactical vest full of different size canisters of incendiaries. “Between the two of us we could take over this city!” There was the tiniest hint of maniacal laughter hidden in his words.
Vel’s eyes widened for a brief moment before he reached up to grab Attila’s poncho. “I’m going to pretend I didn’t just see that.,” he grumbled, pulling the poncho back down over his vest. “And, no. We’re not going in ‘guns blazing’. This needs to be discreet. So get going. And try not to draw too much attention to yourself. We don’t need you making an impression down here. The sooner we get out of here, the better.”
“Well, okay. That’s a good plan. But, how about this one? Why don’t we both go in there? Or better yet! How about…,” Attila paused, moving back into the alleyway some. “You go in there, and I’ll wait out here all broody and angst-y.” Attila plopped down on a crate, doing his best impression of Vel.
Vel fought back the flicker of an impulse to put Attila through the nearest wall and exhaled slowly through his nose. “I cant. I’m…I’m not allowed back in.”
Was that a touch of embarrassment? Attila smiled a little, standing as he asked, “Oh, reeeeeally? And what did you do to warrant that?”
“Well, I may have tried to break the bar with the bartender’s face. Big misunderstanding, long story.” He made to wave the whole ordeal off with his hand, but stopped when Attila started laughing. He rolled his eyes and grabbed Attila, again, by the shoulder, his fingers digging in harder this time. “Get. In there.,” he growled, giving him one last shove.
Attila could have done without that last jab to his upper back. He took a deep breath, pulled down his hat brim, and stepped forward. His boots crunched on the gravel noisily as he followed two more wolf-men into the bar. Usually Brig would have done the smooth talking, with his way with words and all. Attila had always considered himself more the muscle of the team than the brains. When in doubt, incendiaries breed diplomacy quicker than words.
The outward appearance of the saloon was certainly deceiving as Attila looked around the swanky joint. There was a bar set up against the far wall where patrons could sit and watch a couple of wolf-men scrap in a boxing ring near the rear. Hog shaped pool tables and odd spinning poker boards dotted the floor. Tables and chairs, of varying sizes, shapes and colors, cluttered the spaces in between. They were occupied by patrons of equally diverse sizes, shapes and colors. Though the majority seemed to be wolf-men.
The bar itself was bathed in pink neon light, highlighting it’s many shelves of assorted liquor containers and glittered off the crystal decanters. It filled the bar with dancing fairy lights. The top row of shelves were filled with bottles in various shapes of animal skulls, each one filled with a different poisonous looking concoction.
Attila realized that, perhaps, he had been standing in the doorway for a bit too long, and was starting to attract glares from many of the patrons. He stepped inside, purposely adjusting his poncho to reveal his vest full of explosives. Many of the patrons returned their attention back to their respective tables. Incendiaries breed diplomacy.
Attila reached the bar and looked up at the biggest wolf-man he’d seen yet. He was easily eight feet tall, with muscles on top of muscles. His four arms were busy making cocktails, cleaning the counter, and wiping clean a row of dirty glasses at a dizzying rate. The bartender had a long scar across one of his eyes, and a crooked muzzle. This…is the guy that -Vel- beat up?
“Hey handsome, what can I get you?,” the bartender asked, leaning a little closer to get a good sniff.
Oh my God! Attila’s flicker of awe faded at the sound of the bartender speaking. He could hardly believe his eyes, or his ears. Her voice was still low and gruff, animalistic, but there was definitely a female resonance. The wolf-creatures must have larger females, something that could easily lead to a misunderstanding. He caught sight of her broken nose again. Vel’s a dick!
Attila, realizing his mouth was still ajar, finally found his voice. “I’m not here for anything to drink. I was uh…,” Attila began, treading carefully over his words. He didn’t want to get thrown out for saying the wrong thing. “I’m looking for some information.”
The bartender gave Attila a scrutinizing look, her nose wiggling furiously as she sniffed him again. She then leaned in closer. “What kind of information?”
“Some stuff. About some things. That may or may not be illegal.” Smooth. Brig would be proud.
The bartender barked a laugh. “I see. Well, Lady Lola over there has been around as long as dirt. Her family dates back to the days of the Surface. She’s very well connected, and has her finger’s in all the pies. Many of which ‘may or may not be illegal’. If you’ve got some questions, she’s got your answers.” The bartender grinned before adding, “If you can get on her good side, that is.”
Attila followed the bartender’s gaze and sighed. Sitting in the only booth in the bar, was a large, well rounded, well fed she-wolf. She was wearing a snappy pant-suit in blood red, with a sleek black fur shawl. Her face had been powdered, and a black dot of eyeliner pressed into her fur to create a beauty mole just under her right eye. With one gloved hand she was fanning herself with a large paper fan, another holding a fizzing pink drink, and the other two were shuffling a deck of cards.
Attila swallowed back on his resolve, and got to his feet. He could do this. He’d done things like this before. It’s like riding a bike. Doin’ this for Errik. Yep. Attila forced his mind to be quiet as he sidled right up next to Lady Lola in her booth. “Mind if I -cut- in?”
Vel sat in the alley across from The Greasy Hog, tuning the micro pistons in his cybernetic arm with an old screwdriver. It was a bit like tuning the fine strings of a piano with a sledge hammer, but you work with what you have. And all he had was that screwdriver and an arm that had been acting up since Attila had pried it open yesterday. Speaking of which, it had been a couple of hours since he sent the idiot across the street. Perhaps he got lucky and someone kidnapped the walking disaster magnet. This thought brought a small smile to his face.
It faded quickly at the sound of raucous laughter coming from across the way. Vel looked up, the screwdriver in his mouth. What the… He got to his feet, shoving the tool back into his duffel bag. He swung his bag over his shoulder as he marched across the street, his boots stirring up dust in the gravel road in his wake. He pushed gently against the tavern door, peering through the crack. Attila was splayed out across the lap of Lola, the crime boss, while she was feeding him gummy like fruits from a jar. The entire bar was gathered around, as Attila told them a grand tale. The fighters in the ring had stopped their scuffle to lean against the ropes, their furry ears perked up in attention. Billiard balls and cues were forgotten, games left unfinished, and a poker game abandoned, it’s purse still on the table.
With everyone’s attention focused solely on Attila, Vel slipped inside.
“But there I was, surrounded by forty of the most gruesome thieves you ever saw! They were filthy with dirt and twice as ugly! And they had three swords each, every last one pointed at me.,” Attila boasted, puffing out his chest with pride. The crowd around him gasped together. And then questions were flying in every direction. “How did you escape?!” “Did you die?” “That’s a hundred and twenty swords!!” “WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!?!?!?”
Vel rolled his eyes.
“Well, you would think I was outnumbered! But they weren’t counting on my two headed, armor plated razor bear!”
Vel didn’t think he could roll his eyes any harder. An armor plated -razor- bear? Really? He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could put up with.
“My dear!,” Lady Lola chuckled, her deep baritone voice thick with a heavy accent and a deep rumbling gravel. “However did you escape?”
Attila was absentmindedly twirling his finger around her chin hair, his mouth open and awaiting, expectantly, for another gummy. When none came, he replied, “ Well. There I was, my back against the wall. The Forty were advancing, my razor bear holding his own against half of the horde. That left twenty going for my throat! With no other choice, I flipped up my eye patch and…used my LASER EYE!!!!” He nearly fell off Lola’s lap as he jerked up the thin flap of leather, revealing his cybernetic implant.
The crowd recoiled with gasps. A few of the patrons fell from their chairs, scrambling to back away. Vel couldn’t take anymore, the throb in his head threatening to explode. “Oh, what a load of crap!”
Attila sat up quickly, spitting out his gummy. “Vel!? But…But you said you weren’t allowed in here.”
Vel opened his mouth to say something in return, but stopped with he felt a large, furry hand on his shoulder. “He’s not.” The bartender’s voice cut through him like a rusty jagged knife.
The two of them had made it back into the bustle of the city market before Vel spoke. He turned to Attila, his neck crying out in pain with effort. “Yet another simple task that you failed spectacularly at.”
Attila looked up from his jar of gummy fruits, his mouth full. “What are you talking about?”
“All you had to do was find us a bribe. That was it. And instead, you chose to regale a crowd of drunk barflies with an over exaggerated tale of you and band of -street urchins-.,” Vel ranted, his anger boiling over. His left knee gave out and he pitched sideways into a wall.
“If this is about the wolf lady beating you up, that’s your own fault. You should have trusted me.” Attila offered the jar to him. “Gummy?”
“No! I don’t want a gummy! What I want, is for you to tell me the name of a guard but you can’t do that because you were too busy getting your yiff on.”
“Bob.,” Attila replied, his voice thick with gummy fruits.
Attila had said the name so nonchalantly, that Vel almost missed it. “What?”
“His name’s Bob. He works the night shift.” Attila grinned at Vel’s slack expression. “What can I say, Lola fell for my Animal Magnetism.”
Vel groaned, pushing his fingers into his forehead. “You seriously went there.,” he paused, lowering his hand. “You get five puns. That was one.”
Attila chuckled and popped another gummy in his mouth.
“So what was this big misunderstanding?,” Attila whispered as he ducked behind Vel.
The steps up the Ivory Tower were steep and slick. Attila had fumbled more than once, only to have Vel grab him by his poncho and yank him back up on his feet. They were moving too fast for either one of them to object to this arrangement.
“Really? You want to go over that now?,” Vel yelled back in a whisper, as they ducked into a darkened doorway.
“Yeah! Why did you hit her?”
Vel rolled his eyes. “I was drunk. What do you want from me? And before you say anything about sexism, in their culture the females are the warring gender.”
“Ooooh. So what happens if you hit one of the guys?”
Vel tugged on Attila, signaling them to run up the next flight of stairs. “I don’t know. One’s never pissed me off enough to try.”
They squeezed into a tiny crevice as they waited for the next group of guards to patrol by. The two were pressed, uncomfortably, up against each other, face to face. Attila’s knee was jabbing him painfully in his groin, and Vel could see the idiot had more questions. “How do we recognize this guard?,” he snorted, hoping this would distract him.
“Lola said he’d be on guard duty for Errik’s cell block, and most likely sitting in a chair, writing a book.”
Vel raised an eyebrow. “A book? What, like a coloring book?” As far as he knew, most of the guards had to use Velcro boots because they hadn’t mastered the art of tying their shoes, let alone writing.
Attila tried to shake his head, but succeeded only in knocking off his hat. It fell against his face, and muffled his words. “Nope. Full blown novels, with chapters and all. He works the night shift so people don’t bother him. Apparently.”
Vel shrugged. As long as he was open to bribes, what the hell. Maybe this was his way of financing it. They wrenched themselves free, and another fifteen minutes of sneaking up the base of the winding tower, they came across a barren cell block and a lone guard. He was leaning back in his chair, nose buried in a massive notebook, reading. The man had the standard build of a guard, beefier than a butcher shop window. And, by the looks of it, less personality than a glowing tomato.
Behind him was a small alcove, containing several rudimentary cells. Only one of them was locked, and Errik was slumped against the door, asleep. His arms were draped out in front of him, his forehead pressed against the bars, and he had a long line of drool sliding free from his mouth.
Vel made to approach the guard, but Attila put his hand out to stop him. “I got this. I have a way with these people.” Before he could protest, Attila was strutting across the distance to where the guard sat. “Hi there! You must be Bob.”
The man raised his eyes slowly from the page, regarding Attila with icy calculation. He said nothing.
“Huh. Uh…Whatcha’ writing?” Attila leaned forward, reading the handwritten scrawl across the cover. “Tony Mandolin Mysteries? Sounds…mysterious?”
Still no response.
Attila looked back at Vel for support. This wasn’t going as well as he had hoped. Vel had his arms crossed, and shook his head. However, he then held out two fingers and mouthed the words ‘That’s two.’
Attila cleared his throat and decided it was best to cut straight to the matter. “I was told that you…uh…like gifts? Of the…monetary nature?”
If anything the guard’s eyes grew even colder.
“That is, if you were to perhaps find a pile of credits laying on the table over there…,” Attila paused, gesturing, unnecessarily, to an empty table on the other side of the room. “That you would, shall we say, become -distracted-?” He pantomimed himself counting credits. “Maybe even forget your keys on the chair?”
The guard closed the book with a snap and leaned forward in his chair, looking back and forth between the two intruders. It was not a friendly look.
Attila chuckled nervously. “Well, let’s say-”
“Enough!,” Vel shouted. He stomped over towards Attila, and shoved him out of the way. “We were told you would take a bribe and let my brother out of jail. So. What’s your price?”
Attila threw his hands up in frustration. “Dude!,” He started, pausing long enough to give Vel’s shoulder a light slap. “You just broke the number one rule of bribery! Never say it’s a bribe, or they can arrest you for it!”
The guard gave the barest hint of a smile.
Errik chose this moment to snore loud enough to wake himself up. He smacked his lips, wiped away the drool, and slowly focused his sleepy eyes on the situation. “Oh. Hey guys! What’s up.”
Attila waved at Errik, but Vel had his focus set solely on the guard. “Listen -Bob-. I’ve been stuck babysitting these two for almost two days now. And I’m this close…,” he paused, moving his fingers to within a hair’s width from each other. “…to killing someone. So. Could we -please- move this along.”
Errik finally grasped the situation. “Uh…Vel?”
Vel whipped around, facing his brother. “What!? I’m busy trying to get your sorry ass out of here!”
Errik recoiled at being snapped at. He simply made a face in reply. “Never mind.” Jerk.
“Oh! We have guests!” A distinguished gentleman in a baggy uniform rounded the corner and marched, pleasantly, into the room. Apparently they didn’t make the uniform in anything other than extra extra extra large. He had a friendly smile that extended up to his eyes, showing it to be genuine.
The guard in the chair stood, towering over all three of them. He walked over to the other guard, and handed him the notebook. “Here you go, Bob. Chapter five needs some work.”
Vel’s face drained of color, as Attila jabbed him in the side and whispered, “See, I told you! Never admit to anything!”
“Thanks, Frankie!” Bob carried his manuscript carefully over to the table, setting down as gently as one would a newborn child. “And as promised, I cleaned the cells on block three.”
Frankie moved back to Attila and Vel, a dark smile written on his face.
“Same time next week?” Bob seemed focused on gathering his supplies, and was blissfully unaware of what Frankie was doing.
Click. Vel and Attila looked down at their new shiny shackles.
“Sure thing, Bob.”