If I am to maintain my flimsy pretence of being “a writer on the internet” as opposed to the shameless charlatan that I really am, I should probably get back to the business of writing.
I recently completed the fourth instalment of the Trials and Adventures of Mister Callis. This particular instalment, as you may now have guessed by now, is entitled “Seeing a Man About a Dog”. A delightful euphemistic colloquialism that can mean so many sly and terrible things. It fits rather nicely with the theme for Callis’ latest exploit, the rather laborious business of actually negotiating the price for a “hit”. This time the focus has shifted rather drastically from previous adventures. For a start no one actually dies.
This time I’ve moved away from the internal ramblings a musings of Callis’ diseased mind and into the seedy world of dialogue. I hate writing dialogue. It’s hard. I always find it is an extremely tedious balancing act. A balance between realism, wit and character. A balance that I invariably mess up a great deal of the time. In a bid to introduce witty banter and friendly repartee I quite often end up writing something that amounts to me having a conversation with myself. Now don’t get me wrong, doing that is great fun to write and great fun to read. However, (and it’s a big however, a big looming bastard of a however that haunts dark alleyways and preys on the broken dreams of the lost and forgotten,) it makes everything a little one the one dimensional side. Actual character tends to play a sad second fiddle to my desire to cram in as much wit as a possibly can, like I’m trying to cram Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward’s still warm corpses into a family picnic basket.
At the end of the day I can only give it my best shot. I am as of yet unsure whether it will appear in the Sci-fi e-zine, for there is a new editor in town and they may not take kindly to Mr Callis. I do hold onto the hope that they will be met with the usual situation of “Bollocks! No one else sent anything else in. I better use that story about the deranged murder then.” In the interim I shall post it in it’s entirety here. Don’t worry if you’ve never read any of my Callis stories before, they are by their very nature independent, disconnected and in no chronological order. It may or not contain a thinly veiled Reservoir Dogs reference, it is probably quite blatant. The opening paragraph is probably amongst my favourite pieces of writing (which naturally means it’s probably quite shit). I had quite a lot of fun writing that bit. As with nearly every opening paragraph to the Callis stories it wasn’t planned and just came steaming out of my brain like a rocket propelled freight train. The greatest difficulty was then trying to somehow fit everything else around it.
Seeing a Man About a Dog
It was dark in Salzeir’s. It was always dark in Salzeir’s. Not a warm comforting darkness. Nor a cold and frightening darkness. It was more of a sickly and insidious darkness. The sort that lurks and waits. Never doing anything offensive or malicious, but always carrying the threat. The threat that, maybe, just maybe, if you make one misstep it will devour you. It was in all of the sphere of the world, of all the dark corners, a darkness quite without peer. It was a special darkness, a darkness built by man to hide his deeds and swaddle his secrets. Most of the other peerless darknesses are wild or bestial, occasionally one of their number is a slavering malevolence. But since they are all ultimately, of nature, they carry with them a feeling that they could perhaps be tamed. Despite the enormity of effort that this task might entail, the slim chance that they could be tamed, imparts a transience upon them that makes them seem just a little less dark. Sometimes all you need is a torch.
The darkness in Salzeir’s is something quite different. Being as it is, a product of man, it has taken the qualities of man; it is cunning, deceitful, violent and patient. It is a construct of murder most foul, wrought in the forges of architecture and set loose upon an unsuspecting world. It has no master, it cannot have a master, for to master it would be to subvert its purpose and such an oversight was not included in its design. Perhaps this is all conjecture and in fact the lamps in Salzier’s are just a bit too dim to adequately illuminate the vaulted ceilings and colonnades. But it certainly feels unwelcoming. That is of course entirely the point.
* * *
The sound of urgent, dispassionate love making came from the adjacent booth muffled into a disturbing obscurity by wood scarred with the passage of time and careless patrons. Salzeir’s was not one of Callis’ favourite places. It wasn’t because it was dirty and sordid, because he quite happily fell into those categories. It was because it was so terribly unnecessary. The entire point of Salzeir’s was to provide a discrete and private meeting place for people from all walks of life. Somewhere where they could remain unobserved, unjudged and anonymous while being served a selection of fine wines, fine foods and fine narcotics. Providing you could afford the exorbitant rates. Salzier’s was the cloak that hid the fouler deeds and conspiracies of the lords temporal and criminal. After all, they claimed, even the most diabolically evil man still needs somewhere to meet his cohorts. Anonymity was the watchward of the family Salzier and its eponymous establishment. They had ever been keepers of secrets. This service that they extended to those who could pay was inviolate. They would allow no word of what happened within its walls to slip out. Callis always thought that exactly the same could be achieved with a dark alley and a picnic basket for a fraction of the cost. Alas money and privilege do often rob men of anything approaching sense and rationality.
It was always wise to take certain precautions when visiting; the doors to Salzier’s were ever watched by prying eyes in the shadows outside. Callis never used his real name here, that would be sloppy, careless, inelegant. To the denizens of Centillis’ seedy underworld there was no man called Callis, he was just a myth, a story told by naive lowlanders in taverns late at night. Something to scare wayward second-story men and ambitious enforcers. A myth that through a network of middle-men and intermediaries, through bartering and reasonable discussion could be hired out for a not so reasonable fee. As far as Centillis was concerned Callis was a very distant entity, and most certainly not a peddler by the name of Mordin Biet. The man they called Callis would never be found sitting in Salzeir’s opposite a small weasel faced man called Henry.
“You shouldn’t have rented an adjoining booth” said Mordin, glaring through the gloom at a nervous Henry. Despite his obvious nervousness, Henry sucked disparagingly through his teeth.
“Those other booths are pricy things Mordin. I’m not made of money you know” replied Henry.
“Your friend is…” Mordin left the statement hang in the air.
“Yes but he’s not here is he?” Henry sneered. “Do you know how the rich stay rich Mordin? It’s because they don’t spend any fucking money if they don’t have to!” Henry’s cheeks were starting to take on a slightly flushed colour. He sighed “Look, you’ve gone and gotten me all riled up now.” Henry took a few quick deep breaths as Mordin smiled at him.
“It’s true. But our friends in the next booth are somewhat dampening the professional air of our proceedings” said Mordin jerking his thumb at the adjoining wall.
“Oh quit your moaning, you’re just pissed off that he’s late”
Mordin sighed and slapped his palms onto the table in front of him. “Is it so much to fucking ask for? These titled nonces strut around as if they own the place!”
“Mordin…They do own the place.”
“Oh stop being a fucking pedant Hen, I was speaking figuratively.” Mordin slumped back in his seat and sighed. “I swear I’m half tempted to sod the commission and just stab the bastard when he gets here.”
Leaning forward Henry rested his chin in his hand “It’d be messy…” Henry left the conspiratorial whisper to fester. He smiled, showing an unnerving amount of teeth. Mordin leaned forward to meet Henry and locked eyes with him.
“I fucking love messy!”
Both of them started to laugh. It was the hearty sort of belly laugh that idle men around the world enjoy over beer.
“One of these days your impatience is going to get you killed Mordin”
“And one of these days your face is going to get you killed Hen”
They both sighed and sat quietly for a while, the sound of grunts and squeals still emanating from the next booth.
“I fucking hate waiting.” Mordin’s comment wasn’t directed at anyone in particular. It was just one of those exasperated declarations aimed at nothing and everything, intended truly for the universe’s ears only.
“You think he’ll show?” asked Mordin?
“Oh he’ll show alright. You don’t start asking for Mr. Callis unless you really want someone properly dead.”
“As opposed to slightly dead, just dead or dead-ish?” Mordin retorted.
“People can be picky when it comes to death you know.”
Mordin sighed “I just don’t trust nobles. They’re just too…” Mordin waved his hand clutching for a word.
“Nobley?” Interjected Henry
The two men sat in their little booth wittering-on as bored men are wont to do. They argued and bantered long into the night, waiting. It was well passed midnight when he finally arrived, in one of those dark and mysterious hours in the sleepy dead-zone between midnight and dawn. The curtain to the booth was whipped aside with a flourish and a preposterously dressed man strutted in, drawing with him the smell of vomit and wet iron that pervaded the corridors of Salzeir’s. The hands of both Henry and Mordin flew to their hips tearing knives free from their belts. There was an uneasy pause as they decided whether they should stab the man who hand so arrogantly entered their booth. It took a few seconds for the realisation to filter through to their conscious minds that the only sort of man who would make such an entrance in such a clandestine place would be a noble, and a stupid one at that.
“Close the curtain and sit down, you idiot” hissed Henry.
The noble in question sported a shock of flaxen hair and a sickly sheen to his skin. There was a slight, dazed and puzzled look to his otherwise unremarkable face, which was as unremarkable as a face produced by generations of inbreeding can be. The noble just stood there, slack jawed at the impertinence of the weasel faced man who had just addressed him. Mordin slammed the knife blade into the tabletop and simply whispered:
“Sit” it was in that calm silent tone that brooks no argument, nor question. “You’re late” continued Mordin. “We’re not serfs who need to be taught their place. We’re businessmen. Serious businessmen. It’s unprofessional to keep us waiting.”
“How dare you talk to me like that!” squeaked the noblemen “Don’t you know who I am? I’m…”
“I don’t want to fucking know who you are! That’s not how it fucking works, do you fucking understand!” Mordin barked. The noble seemed suitably cowed by the outburst and begin a thorough examination of his fingernails. “For the purpose of our negotiations you are Lord Green. I’m Lord Purple and my friend over there is Lord Red”
“Well Lord ‘Purple’, I want a man killed” replied Lord Green.
“We’d gathered that…” muttered Henry.
Mordin pinched the bridge of his nose, he had a feeling that ‘Lord Green’ was going to be a terribly awkward client.
“Who do you want killing?” replied Mordin in careful, measured tones. The sort of voice you use when dealing with small children and elderly relatives.
“The Duke of Hacustra” replied Lord Green in a voice now free from its previous privileged vacancy, now it was filled with malice and hate like fresh forged steel.
There was silence. Both Mordin and Henry were stunned. The Duke of Hacustra was a big mark. Colossally big. Lord Green may as well have asked them to kill God. Mordin gathered his thoughts and took a deep breath.
“We’ll need thirty thousand marks”
“That’s quite reasonable” replied Lord Green almost giddy with excitement.
“No. You misunderstand me. We’ll need thirty thousand marks, each. The actual deed will cost you somewhere in the region of four to six hundred thousand marks.” Mordin spoke in the same careful, measured tones. Henry’s eyes were bulging; Mordin could tell his companion was only keeping calm through a substantial application of willpower.
“WHAT?!” Screeched Lord Green. “That’s daylight robbery!”
Henry licked his lips “No your Lordship, it’s murder” he replied. Mordin took his cue.
“And you’ve just engaged us both in a conspiracy to murder one of the single most power and paranoid men in the world. What we’re asking for is just a small commission, a consideration.”
Lord Green’s face had returned to its previous slack-jawed vacancy. Henry idly toyed with the blade of his knife.
“What my associate is trying to say is that the money is an incentive. An incentive to not slit your throat and dump you in the river.” Henry gave one of his obscene toothy grins and slammed his knife into the table alongside Mordin’s. “Just so we’re clear how things work round here.”