The Forensic squad didn't exactly move aside to let me pass, but they also didn't drop anything in my way, or give me a helping push between the shoulders when I reached the top of the stairs, and I've learned to be grateful for small mercies. I ooh-ed and aah-ed my way down the stairs as muscle and bone protested against misuse and my brain ignored them. I spend most of my waking day in pain anyway, so a few more misfiring nerves is nothing I can't cope with. At the foot of the stairs I stopped and sniffed – fresh urine, about ten minutes old, I thought, so likely not the Forensics team – and then went out into the night. Heading downtown.
The orange glow of the sodium streetlights picked out light and puddles; it had been raining for nearly two weeks now, like the city was in mourning for the loss of its innocence. I had my doubts about the purity of the city before its fall, but I can understand regret on a deep, physical level, and I sympathised. I mostly plodded through the puddles, splashing myself and any random passers-by as I did so, but here and there I could see the eddies and currents that told me the hole was deep and dangerous, and then I'd have to stagger around it, trying not to slow down and stop in case my hips seized up and decided they didn't want to go on. The city outsourced the road-repairs to a company called Tar'em'n'car'em, telling people that a modern company didn't worry about letters when there was punctuation to replace it and that the name was descriptive of a vibrant, forward-moving, fast-thinking, business-capable organisation that would bring traffic back to the streets and free-up the snarls of modern transportation. And, best as I can tell, no-one stopped to listen to any of those words and they voted all in favour of it. So now when it turns out (though not so many people know this yet) that Tar'em'n'car'em is a subsidiary holding company that links ultimately back to one Natasha Monkeybutt, and that it's worth worrying about anyone who tries to describe their line of work as "business-capable" or talks about "bringing traffic back to the street" (where did it go? The playgrounds? What traffic are we talking about here?). The company repairs potholes by the cheap expedient of digging material out of the pavements, because the cars don't drive on the pavements and pedestrians should be made illegal. So we have holes that run down to the sewer systems, to old rivers that were long built over, and to darker, danker places where strange creatures are rumoured to live. And when they fill up after long rains, and you misstep and plunge into the depths, you can find yourself lost and drowning far too fast.
Still, it's convenient for people like the Anger Management, who specialise in finding locations for people that prove rapidly fatal.
I passed a pizza joint that was doing a busy trade at this time of the evening and my stomach rumbled. I don't much care for pizza; tomato's just a little bit acidic for my stomach these days. Even so, the smell of the baking dough and the slightly-rancid anchovies was enough to make me drool, and my thoughts turned to where I might get some food from. I could see what my room-mate had left in the fridge, but I'd been living with him for long-enough that I knew it was likely to be some combination of alcohol and lube and probably not that nutritious. Then, as a bus roared past, filled with screaming passengers, I saw the dim lights of the Blue Swan tavern across the road and remembered that there was a line-cook working there who owed me for rescuing his daughter a few years back and probably wouldn't spit in any food I ordered. That was good enough for me.