“What do you mean, it’s gone?”
“I…well, the morning shift arrived to guard the, uh, anomaly, and it simply wasn’t there. It was just a wall again.”
Commander Rumwell took a seat in the chair behind his desk, lit up a cigar, and rubbed his temples for a few moments. He ground his thumbs in hard, and then laid his hands on the surface. “Things like that don’t disappear in Pigtown. What time did the shift arrive?”
“Seven in the morning. You…know how hard it is, getting some of these guys up in the morning.”
As best as they’d been able to figure out, everyone in Pigtown passed out for the night by around dawn–about five in the morning, this time of year–and were all transported home, with no memory of how they got there. Seven in the morning was about the earliest they’d ever been able to rouse themselves, and that was usually with a good dose of stimulants a bit stronger than coffee, that were only used by officers in these sorts of situations. That’s still a two hour window where something, apparently, had happened, and the fucking hole in the wall they’d found the day before had disappeared.
“Also, there was this,” the officer said, and slid a sealed envelope across the top of his desk towards him. “From The Warden, apparently.”
Rumwell opened the letter, and found a short, handwritten note inside. Apparently, the shade that the officers had brought in Thursday night had somehow managed to escape. No further details or explanation as to how the escape happened were included. He tore the note up, struck a match, and burned the pieces in his ashtray. “Any other news you’d like to deliver me this morning, officer?”
“Rod asked for you to, uh, ‘grace him with your presence’ in the Depot VIP lounge at your earliest convenience.”
“I see,” the commander said. The room fell silent for a moment, aside from the crackle of ash forming on the end of the cigar, as Rumwell took a long drag, an inch long cinder sprouting on the end of the fresh stick. He heaved an exhale, a massive plume of smoke settling over the desk like a fog. He stood up, carefully unbuttoned his shirt, and hung it over the back of his chair.
“Did they send you because you can take it?”
The officer gulped, but the bulge in his uniform was well apparent. “Because I like it, honestly. Be as rough as you’d like, Commander.”
A couple of hours later, the officer stumbled out of the commander’s office, nearly tripping over his feet into the wall ahead of him. He took a moment to put his shoes on properly, made a cursory attempt to straighten his cum, piss and ash stained uniform shirt, and stumbled down the hall, where another officer was standing with a folder. “Is…did you just come out of the commander’s office?”
“Commander gave me the day off, but he’s still a little feisty. Might want to come back later, I mean, unless you know…” he said as he passed him, and went down the stairs. The officer with the folder watched him, looked at the door like he was considering it a moment, and then followed him back down. It could wait.
Rumwell breathed a heavy sigh, lit his fourth, or fifth, cigar of the morning–he’d already lost track–and sat down in his chair again. He hadn’t bothered to put his shirt back on yet; he was still dripping with sweat. The rough fuck had cleared out most of his frustration at the three bits of news he’d been greeted with this morning, but he couldn’t help but feel that, if he’d been moving just a little faster, connecting the dots over the last day, he could have stopped some of this. It couldn’t be a coincidence, though none of the three bits appeared to have anything to do with one another on the face of it. But if Rod was involved, well, then something very serious was happening. He stood up, put his shirt back on, straightened himself up in the mirror he kept behind the door, and left, telling everyone he would be taking a long lunch, and be back in the afternoon.
He made his way over to Depot, though it would be hours before the bar was officially open. He pounded on the door until a bleary eyed barback, who likely had just woken up in the backroom, opened it up for him. He didn’t bother asking for directions. He’d been in the VIP room a number of times before, and had never once enjoyed his visits here. He didn’t know who, or what, Rod was, but all of his instinct told him he was close to the secrets of this place. That if he could one day unravel him, perhaps the rest of Pigtown would unwind as well. He knew it was a hopeless thought. Pigtown was an engine and had long ago become self-sufficient. It created its own fuel, after all. The best Precinct 27 could do was starve it a little, keep as many men as they could from sliding deeper and deeper into the center of the district, where no one, as far as he could tell, had returned from. He’d sent a few patrols in, but the deepest they’d gotten, and returned to tell about it, described a city that was no longer this city at all. It obeyed no maps, the men there could barely be described as men. There was something else at the heart of it all, and worse, he could feel it calling to him. They could all feel it, every man who’d been drawn here. It wanted to eat them, and perhaps, the men wanted to be devoured just as much.
Upstairs, Rod was waiting on his usual stool, with his usual drink. The same bartender was there as always, and Rumwell’s preferred Jack and coke was already waiting for him beside Rod. He avoided looking at the orgy that always seemed to be underway among the cushions there–it had always unnerved him, though he’d never been able to explain why, and took his seat. “You requested an audience?”
“There’s been some arrangements made that I feel you ought to know about.”
“Shadow will be given a house.”
Rumwell chucked his drink at the glass windows that looked out over the dance floor.
“You’re the one who told me he needed to be stopped at all fucking cost, and you’re giving him a fucking house!”
“It was convenient to have you at each other’s throats before, and now it serves no purpose. I’ll find you something else to keep your little precinct occupied instead, so you can pretend you’re all such upstanding citizens, and not just spending all day sucking cock like the rest of us.”
“No, fuck you, not after what the fucker’s done to my men, done to this fucking city.”
“I will admit that the precinct is special, for a number of reasons, but it too is a house, and must abide by the rules. If you wish to feud with him, that is your prerogative, but he will have a house, and he will have protection, so long as he abides protocol. In the meantime, Shadow and his shades are no a matter of your jurisdiction.”
“Consent is a protocol, if I recall.”
“I have informed Shadow of that stipulation, and he has agreed to modify his recruitment techniques to account for it. If he violates it, he will have much more powerful forces come to bear upon him than those your little precinct can wield. If you’d just move it a few more blocks in, you’d be much better off you know, anytime you want, just–”
“The offer always stands. You’re far too near the edge to have much in the way of power. Perhaps you like it that way. Less likely someone will challenge you, I suppose.”
“You did it, didn’t you? Made that…thing, that hole in the wall disappear, didn’t you? I should have fucking known this had your freaky fingerprints all over it. I don’t know what the fuck you’re up to Rod, but one day, I’ll figure out this fucking place, what makes it tick, and when I do, I swear you will come down with it.”
Rod just shrugged. “Perhaps. As for…whatever you’re talking about, I don’t know what it is you’re even talking about.”
“That’s even more bullshit that I’d expect from you. A guy doesn’t fart within ten blocks of here without you knowing about it.”
“Have a drink, Rumwell. It sounds like you need it. Maybe try enjoying yourself for once. You’re so serious all the time, it isn’t good for the heart.”
The commander stormed off without another word, leaving Rod alone in the VIP room. Once the sound of the heavy boots could no longer be heard on the stairs, the shadows collected in a corner behind the bar, and Shadow stepped forth, followed by Marlon.
“I trust that satisfies you?” Rod asked.
“How will I know he will abide by your word?”
“He will. He’s a stubborn fool, but he has too much pride in his principles to betray them. He knows better than anyone how fast turning on those principles would destroy him here.”
Shadow nodded. “Then, I suppose my only other question then, is where is my house?”
“Well, the House of Kings is still under construction, and they’re using up a good chunk of gruntwork right now. We do need storage space immediately though, so I know an old mansion or two that could work in the meantime.”
Rod gave him the address, and they shadow-walked there. It was decrepit, and some residents had taken up inside, using it as a base of operations for who knew what inside. “I’ll clear it out tonight, and have a team of hardhats over next week to assess and make necessary repairs. Are the works safe in the meantime?”
“Good, then we have our agreement?”
“We do,” Shadow said, and slipped back into the darkness, leaving Rod on the sidewalk. He didn’t mind, it had been a while since he’d walked the streets, and besides, Samuel’s studio wasn’t too far off from here–he might as well stop by and see what his prodigy was sketching next.