I thought about taking the bus, but it was starting to get light, and the night buses in this burg only pick up if they feel like it. The bus drivers’ union has a line about refusing to pick up anyone obviously dangerous, or likely to endanger the other passengers, but the statistics speak for themselves: last year more people on night buses were held up and robbed by the driver than by anyone getting on the bus. Taxis generally don’t stop for me, and there weren’t enough people around for me to steal someone else’s cab, or even persuade someone else to flag the cab down for me. I was walking again, as it seemed I always did. It got you intimate with the city of course, and there aren’t many back alleys, rat-holes and forgotten streets that I don’t know about. I even know about the trap streets, both the ones the mapmakers use and the real trap streets that you should know better than to walk down. Mad Frankie’s Anger Management take things a little too literally at times.
The rain had stopped and the moisture from the ground was starting to swirl up and around into fog. Someone up at the museum had explained how it happened to me once, while I was on a stakeout for a bag-snatcher and snatch-bagger who had a thing for academics and people in horn-rimmed glasses. Somehow the city created a layer of warmer air above the ground, which was cooled by the underground rivers and waterways, and the moist air got trapped between the two layers and just hung around, shrouding us all in icy white curtains that could get thick enough that you couldn’t see your hand held out in front of you and left you soaking wet when you went back inside. I smiled a little at the thought that knowing how it all worked still didn’t stop me getting wet or blind by it, and plodded on, one foot in front of the other, just like my old dancing coach used to mutter.
Some would claim it’s hard to tell, but the streets around me grew poorer and I knew that I was getting close to where Boy Blue had lived. Might still live; I didn’t know that he was dead yet, just missing, presumed sheared. A road-sign appeared on the side of a house: Schalk Road. I turned in, and cut across the carpark of a housing block. At the other side I clambered over a waist-high metal fence, wishing I was still limber enough to just jump it, and pushed through the rhododendrons until I emerged in the car-park of a different housing block. Across that, under a low arch, and I was in the car-park of Boy Blue’s housing block. Every now and then I find myself wondering if the town planners ever bothered to learn about geometry in school, because the way they put things together beats human comprehension.
There were no police cars or vans in the car-park, but I knew what I was looking for, and in the furthest corner from the entrance was a maintenance van from Tar’em’n’car’em. Monkeybutt had left someone behind to keep an eye on the scene and tell her who turned up. The question now was, how many of them had she left behind?
These blocks are poor for a reason: their construction was done on the cheap three decades ago, and it shows. I went back to the arch and levered a brick out of the wall with not much effort at at; there were plenty of places where the local kids had already pulled bricks and half-bricks out. I dropped the brick on the floor, and it cracked into two pieces readily. I picked them both up, and lobbed one of them at the van with an underarm throw. I can throw overarm, but it usually dislocates my shoulder when I do. The brick sailed parabolically through the air, and landed with a thud on the top of the van, where it shattered into a rain of brick nuggets. I waited two seconds, and then threw the second one, which struck surprisingly close to the first. The van engine started up and the van reversed across the car park to the other side. When it stopped, the engine still idling, a man opened the rear doors and stuck his head out, looking up and back rather than from side to side.
“Bloody kids,” I hear him call, though his voice was thin and reedy at that distance. “They must have figured out we’re not local.” He ducked back inside, closing the door behind him, and I went and fetched another brick. Two more thuds, and the van moved to the gate and waited there, the engine running. I kept waiting, and was rewarded with the sight of a burly man with a prominent bald spot swaggering across the car park from the building. I recognised him as Lieutenant Drough, one of Natasha’s side-kicks. He was known behind his back as Dan, for the obvious reason.
“What’s the matter?” He had a strong inner-city accent; all t’s replaced with stops, dropped h’s and g’s and trouble with any word of more than three syllables. “Why’s youse moved the van?”
I couldn’t hear the other side of the conversation, but before it got very far a microwave crashed into the car-park from the fifth floor, and Dan turned to look. It was a slow, deliberate turn, and followed immediately by a slow, deliberate getting into the van. It was the inner-city completely: I’m not scared of you, and I think I know who you are, so I’m just going to get my mates and then I’m coming back. I’d be more impressed if I didn’t know that whoever threw the microwave was also getting their mates, and their mates’ mates, and it looked like there’d be a little bit of action here in about an hour. The van pulled out of the car-park, and I limped my way across to the entrance to the block. I needed to be in and out before Dan came back.