Tag Archives: Deacon and Morvengarde

A Postcard Homage on the Occasion of the Nth Burning of the Civic Archives

For the last six days I have been holed up in Brooklyn, blissfully enjoying a writing vacation that I’ve spent working on the second draft of a new manuscript that, at the moment, I’m simply calling Charlotte Underground. Yesterday I wrote a page for the beginning of the book, introducing the location. As you might’ve guessed, as I’m posting this here rather than on my “professional” site at www.clockworkfoundry.com, this story is set in Nagspeake.

Charlotte’s story touches on a lot of the things I love about this city: feral metallurgy, architectural drift, the legendary smuggler known as the Gentleman Maxwell, and Bud Chell’s wonderful Shore to Shore radio program that, unfortunately, currently only broadcasts in Nagspeake and along the Odd Trail. The opening page doesn’t remotely get into all of that wonderfulness, but maybe it gives a little bit of the sense of the city anyway. In any case, writing it made me a little wistful and homesick–if the term can be applied to a place that isn’t, technically, your home–for my little flat in Shantytown with its restless fire escape, Annabelle Bechamel’s homemade lavender madeleines and rotgut gin, and the constant warring of the muddy, vegetal smell of the Skidwrack River with the clean brackish breezes off the Magothy Bay. And since I haven’t posted here in ages, and since it’s Burning Day, which despite my mixed feelings on the subject seems to demand some marking of the occasion, and since anyway I have no way of knowing if this page will survive the next draft, here it is.

There is a city on a bay.

It is a city of shifting identity: it has been a pirate stronghold, a smuggling hub, a derelict ruin, a major beach destination, the victim of ruinous plots and depredations, and the architect of others. It is a city of shifting nationality: it speaks the languages of nearly every country that ever colonized North America or sent ships in that direction (you have to really, if you’re going to be a halfway-decent pirate hotspot), but it had never truly belonged to any of them. These days it is connected by train, one mostly-forgotten road and a very patchy uplink to the country it shares a continent with, but those are the extent of its ties.

It is a city of shifting history: several times every century the citizens burn the Archives building and all the records in it, then spend the years until the next burning vigorously debating the past they spent so much time and effort erasing the evidence of. It is a city of shifting alliances: it has sheltered thieves and lawbreakers, maniacs, visionaries, dissenters, and saints; it has been under the thumbs of terrible mayors, a despotic mail order catalogue empire, and at least one prophet (there might’ve been more, but if so, records of them have been lost). Sometimes it has even turned on itself like a snake rearing back to bite its own tail. And that’s just the citizens, doing what people who live in close proximity with thousands of other people sometimes do. But cities are more than just the sum of the people who live in them.

This is also a city of shifting waterlines. It is a city of shifting sands: great dunes that sweep across streets and have to be fenced in. And it is a city that sometimes simply, inexplicably, shifts itself. Sometimes the shifts are small and amount to nothing more than disorientation and inconvenience: a fence, a balcony turning up in an unaccustomed place, or a garden one day having two gates rather than one. Other times (to the eternal annoyance of tour guides and printers of street maps) they are larger ones that require people to file changes of address with the postal service. To be fair, though, these bigger shifts are rare enough that most people in the city ignore them, if they believe in them at all.

Happy Burning Day, Nagspeake.

Shifting Sands at the Chip-n-Putt Emporium

As I type this, I’m sitting at Magothy Treats, drinking homemade gin that Annabelle persists in garnishing with cranberries so that I won’t feel like I’m taking shots to dull my fear, so I apologize if my syntax isn’t perfect.

Last week I posted a piece on the NBTC website at Nagspeake.com about the Funicular Railway in the Slope. In it I basically accused four men a century or so ago of plotting murder to cover up something that happened at one of the city’s most exclusive, mostly-annual events, the Shutter Club’s Sepia Ball. The four men were a former mayor of Nagspeake, a railroad magnate, the son of the man who developed the district known as the Slope, and the visible half of the mail-order principality known as Deacon and Morvengarde. It’s not the first time I’ve posted about something toeing the “iffy” line around here, but it is the first time it’s brought a knock on my door at home rather than at the NBTC offices. Or rather, a death-rattle from my doorbell. So I put on an insulated glove that I keep by the intercom buzzer for just this purpose (the wiring in my building is, shall we say, intermittently deadly), and shouted “hello” into the resulting static.

Somebody at the other end of the intercom said something back that sounded a lot like Balthazar Morton–but given the static and the dim possibility that the person on the other end was being electrocuted even as he or she attempted to identify him/herself, I was pretty sure I had misheard the name and my visitor probably wasn’t actually the current Mayor of the city. Still, I shouted a warning to step away from the intercom and buzzed the visitor into the building, hoping he was wearing gloves to dull the shock that’s pretty much a guarantee any time anybody touches the front doorknob. Then I waited for my visitor to hike up the stairs to my seventh-floor flat. I waited a really long time, and I admit that I waited most of that time with my eye glued to the peephole. It isn’t that I think the Mayor’s a bad guy, but you can’t live in this town without becoming something of a conspiracy theorist. Plus, Morton’s got a family link to Deacon and Morvengarde, and I think if I ever turn up on their radar, it’s not going to be as a fan. And I live in probably the easiest part of town for making people disappear. So I was just being, you know, a little careful.

After what seemed like enough time for anybody to get to my floor, even with frequent breaks for hydration, I cracked the door open and peered onto my landing. Nobody. I listened; you can always hear people before they get to this landing, thanks to some miracle of accoustics and the fact that usually they’re breathing pretty hard by the time they get a couple flights up. I couldn’t hear a thing. Then I noticed an envelope sitting neatly on the doormat. Deep plum-colored paper embossed with the seal of the city of Nagspeake: a lantern surrounded by a tendril of iron. I kicked the envelope inside, slammed the door, and locked it, half-expecting to hear the thudding of, I don’t know, arrows, or a hail of bullets, raining against it. I don’t know why. Too many spy thrillers on tv this week or something. Not to keep you in suspense, inside the envelope was a single sheet of paper, with a question and a location printed on it. The location was SEPIA SANDS, SUNSET. The question was: How much do you want to know?

I’m not making this up. I guess if you’re going to run a city like this, you have to have an overblown sense of the dramatic.

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In the Hacker’s Bazaar

The Printer’s Quarter is universally distrusted in Nagspeake; at the same time, everybody wants to live there, go to parties there, be able to talk casually about “last weekend in the Quarter.” (In this city, starting an anecdote with “last weekend in the Quarter” is like opening up with “one year at band camp.” You just know something is going to go  dreadfully wrong, and the only question is whether hilarity or slaughter is going to ensue. At the end of the anecdote the listeners sigh, wishing they’d been there for the highbrow hijinks/funny romantic escapades/death and dismemberment because it was clearly the social event of the season.) It just makes sense that when anything goes not-quite-according-to-plan with disastrous citywide consequences, it originates in the Printer’s Quarter. This time it started with nomenclature.

When you know there’s a pretty strong likelihood that your writing is only going to survive for only a finite period of time, measurable in the twenty-five year increments between archival burnings, it creates a certain sense of urgency. This urgency manifests itself in weird ways amongst academics, of which there is an abnormally high concentration in the Quarter. For the last month a debate between a cabal of professors from the City University’s Crypto-Urban Studies department specializing in Architectural Drift and a pack of Conservatory for Urban Expression editors has been slowly elevating past theory and discourse into the realm of monomania. The debate is this, and I am not kidding in the slightest: does the term feral metallurgy really apply, when most supposedly feral metals tend toward expression that can be interpreted as conforming to urban form and function?

If you’re rolling your eyes now, so was the rest of city academia. Except for about ten people who were laughing their asses off: City University’s actual department of Special Topics in Feral Metallurgy. Yes, that’s right, the actual academics at CU whose purview this was were not involved, except for being the shit-starters behind it all. The Architectural Drift people are notoriously touchy about the fact that their specialty is widely considered to be along the lines of researching Bigfoot, and somebody in Ferroculture sidled up to somebody in AD and did some faux commiserating. We understand your frustration; nobody takes us seriously either, look what they call our department. Feral Metallurgy, when half the city wouldn’t be standing today if not for the Old Iron holding it up. Feral, like it’s a badly-housebroken dog.

Well, if there’s one thing your average Architectural Drift researcher can do, it’s get his back up over a perceived slight to the legitimacy of somebody’s line of research. And since the average AD researcher hasn’t got the evidence to back up his own research, it’s like a gift from above when he can get on a high horse about something like Old Iron which , if not precisely explainable, is at least observable. Old Iron exists for sure, which is more than you can say about unanchored abandoned houses that supposedly move at will around the city.

The people at the Conservatory for Urban Expression are not a bunch of kids looking for a fight. They are a no-nonsense bunch, they like quantifiables, and they felt that debate over exchanging the term Feral Metallurgy for Civically-Minded Holding Us All Together Metallurgy was a waste of everybody’s time. But the Conservatory Press is City University’s publisher, so that’s where AD went to whine. The Conservatory, predictably, told the AD people to go bugger off and find something real to do with their time. The AD people went for the strategy of annoying the hell out of the Conservatory until it had no choice but to answer back. The resulting firefight has involved everything from scholarly debate to TP-ing Conservatory editors’ front yards. The Conservatory fought with pen and ink at first, publishing editorials about the absurdity of it all, and then they gave up on the pens. They posted snipers with ink-filled Super Soakers on the Conservatory’s front turrets. They turned up at Architectural Drift classes, locked the doors, and set off sprinkler systems in the classrooms in which the water had been miraculously replaced with ink. Supposedly one AD professor opened his car door only to have a flood of ink pour out of it, the way beer pours out of cars in those commercials about the evils of drunk driving. All good fun and games, until the AD people decided to do a little infiltration of their own. They decided to try and find a way to rig all the typesetting machines at the Conservatory Press so that every time someone tried to enter the phrase feral metallurgy, the machine would override it and set the acronym CMHUATM (civically-minded holding us all together metallurgy) instead.

Amazingly, this plan had a shot. Conservatory Press still uses phototypesetting machines, and when the typesetter wants to enter a phrase, he or she enters it on a keyboard with no display and types it a second time to confirm the content. If the two entries match, a piece of punched tape comes out. You feed that into the typesetting machine, and the machine produces an image of the page that’s used to make a plate for printing. So all the AD people had to do was figure out how to get the keyboard to recognize the hated phrase and replace it with the new acronym. The substitution would be caught eventually, but it would certainly freak some people out in the process, and maybe, just maybe, drive the point home. They probably could’ve found a consultant somewhere in the city to do this; however, if these were men and women willing to look for the simplest solution, they would never have wound up in Crypto-Urban Studies in the first place, let alone in Architectural Drift. They went straight to Shantytown, and this is where things went wrong.

There are lots of dodgy places in Shantytown. Most people avoid the tenements behind the basilica of St. Horace Rye, where sometime in the last century the groves of trees that had once decorated the cemetery were torn down to build the thin, tall tenements that stand like overgrown mausoleums among the gravestones. Most keep out of Slaughterhouse Row, because it is what it sounds like and blood literally runs in the gutters. Considered worse than either of these, though, is the Hacker’s Bazaar, a short street of warehouses not far from where I live in Creve Coeur.

Wires overhang the street like jungle vines. Occasional sparks run along them like little lemurs. The scents of ozone and melting soldering wire are omnipresent. Snips of stripped wire and tiny bits of the bright plastic coating accumulate in between the cobblestones along with candy wrappers and empty Mountain Dew bottles. The occasional castoff from a keyboard crunches underfoot like a little square beetle.  The hiss of a compressed air can makes you jump and turn to look behind you. From a window above, a burst of frosty air pours down onto you, air conditioning allowed to run wild and out of control. Where the makeshift curtains haven’t been yanked all the way closed, the flickering light from a LAN party illuminates a human head, neck bent at the unnatural angle of someone who is computing on the floor. From everywhere, you see the ghostly glow of tiny blinking lights like mismatched eyes. On market days, the streets are lined with booths piled with cardboard boxes full of parts, antique computing arcana, discarded manuals and cds of pirated software and anime labeled in Sharpie. Behind the boxes, young men and women studiously ignore you as they work on pimped-out electronics or play old-school computer games on their laptops or re-read Cryptonomicon for the fifth time.

It is the ultimate tech support zone: the answers to everything are there, held by a populace of geeks and nerds who may or may not render up those answers depending on whether or not you look like you already tried re-booting your system before bothering them about it. Most of them, raised on the hundreds of YourLittlePCs donated by Deacon and Morvengarde to underperforming school districts around the city in the 1990s, learned how to field-strip, diagnose, and repair at about age ten in order to be able to use the shoddy laptops. They are all-knowing, totally dismissive and yet vaguely threatening at the same time.

I don’t know–nobody does–what happened when the diplomats from AD ventured into the Hacker’s Bazaar looking for someone who could take on the phototypesetting machines at Conservatory Press. Somehow, somebody knew enough about talking the talk to get an audience with the Savant, a shadowy uber-geek who all but rules the Bazaar. Supposedly when he ventures onto the cobblestones, people actually look up from their screens, lower their dogeared paperbacks. When his navy appears in FreeCiv, all lesser empires tremble. He has more Twitter followers than Neil Gaiman. And when the AD people approached the Savant about their project, his entourage scoffed. Of course the Savant could do this. But why would he? Any two bit hacker out there in the Bazaar could do it. This is not the sort of thing you bothered the Savant about. Away, academic rabble!

But the Savant put out a soothing hand. Yes, any hacker could tell a phototypesetting keyboard to produce X when a user enters Y. But the great one was wise enough to see the potential here. What was being offered was a way into  the city’s publishing heart–something the Savant had wanted for a very, very long time. He agreed to the AD’s request.

The Savant’s program was installed and executed and did what it had been programmed to do: it replaced a thousand or so instances of Feral Metallurgy in the next few weeks, but that was only the smallest part of its functionality. It also made copies of everything it encountered and saved them remotely. It began to create an alternate archive in a secret location out there somewhere in the ether, one that would be protected from archival burnings forever. One of the Conservatory people discovered the hack; he was a kid who had grown up on one of those YourLittlePC’s and, when the acronym CMHUATM started showing up, he took apart the keyboard he’d been working on and found a little piece of something or other that he recognized from childhood days he’d spent tinkering with his own laptop. Immediately he knew something had been compromised, and when the AD people admitted to what they’d done, the Conservatory editor knew that the Savant’s program was some kind of Trojan Horse.

One of the great reasons the Hackers and their wild Bazaar are anathema in Nagspeake is the unease the city feels for any information that isn’t subject to the redemption-by-fire of the archival burnings. How can the city truly take back its history and give itself a fresh start as it claims to do every twenty five years if there’s a copy somewhere, a copy that doesn’t exist in the real world? (There are conspiracy theorists who hypothesize that Deacon and Morvengarde had something shady up its sleeve when it donated the YourLittlePCs to the city schools in the first place, that it somehow intended to raise this weird army of counterculturists, that it has plans for the Savant and his people. These theorists are held in only slightly higher regard than the Architectural Drift people–or would be, if they didn’t go to such great lengths to hide their identities.)

The riots that followed have already been written about, as well as the city’s thwarted efforts to put Shantytown under martial law and raid the Hacker’s Bazaar. From my balcony in Creve Coeur I can see the cordon of police milling uneasily a few yards from the line of robotic guards holding them off at the near end of the Bazaar. The robots are a ragtag collection of weaponized Roombas and science-fair projects and the things that look like somebody’s attempt to build the bot from Short Circuit or Wall-E. I can see at least two life-size R2-D2s with something that looks like trebuchets mounted on top of them. I can’t see what they’re supposed to launch. The police are trying to get clear shots at the geeks that occasionally peer out of the windows of the warehouses on the assumption that they’re the ones with the remote controls. It’s the most absurd standoff I think I’ve ever seen, and somehow I don’t think it’s going to end anytime soon.

Every now and then, a silhouette in a long black coat emerges on top of one of the warehouses and crouches down to peer over the roof, keeping an eye on the tension below: the Savant, I have no doubt. In the right light, he stops looking like a geek and starts to look a little like a lonely, doomed anime hero keeping an eye on his army of mechanical ronin as he draws his duster around him like a cape. Which is probably the look he’s going for.

We call it research, Mr. Flyre

Here is what I wanted to do last week: I wanted to find out about Nagspeake’s train station. It’s this crazy Art Nouveau structure, all luster-finished glass and dark metal, old leather benches with brass nailheads, mosaic floors–and if you believe the most common story about it, it was ordered from the Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue by the city of Nagspeake sometime before 1900 and completed in 1903. There’s also the school of thought that says it was ordered out of the D&M catalogue sometime before 1900 by the city of Magothy Hill, thirty miles west of Nagspeake. How it got to its present location at the top of Whilforber Hill would make a great story for this column–or so I thought. I guess it depends who you talk to, and if you talk to Augustus Flyre, the guy in charge of the Terminus, it extra-super wouldn’t. It would just be me being nosy, and nobody has time for a nosy Parker, which marks officially the first time I have ever been called that.

In my defense, about twenty-two people have suggested I write about the Terminus since I moved here. It’s something of a favorite local story, one that both entertains and does civic duty these days, as it’s often trotted out by dissatisfied citizens to demonstrate the audacity of yesteryear, and how we’re just a bunch of whiny buggers nowadays. (Also in this category fall the Righteous Murder stories, but I’m still too new in town for the majority of Nagspeakers I meet to bring those up in polite conversation.) Figuring the Chief Conductor of the Magothy Terminus would be, if anything, even more excited at the prospect of talking about this favorite bit of Old Nagspeake history, I made my first order of business to seek out Augustus Flyre.

“I got nothing to say to you reporters.”  It was not the welcome I expected. My protestations of non-reporterhood fell on deaf ears (or rather one deaf ear and one that just wasn’t interested). “Don’t care, don’t know, don’t bother me. I got nothing to say. You reporters are trouble.” “Okay, Mr. Flyre, but I’m not a reporter. Wilmer Cobblebridge sent me from the NBTC. He said to ask you about the Magothy Hill story.”

It turns out Willie Cobblebridge and Augustus Flyre aren’t as close as Willie thinks–Willie thinks they’re bridge pals and Mr. Flyre thinks that’s less important than the fact that Willie took a girl to his senior prom that he had no business dating because she had broken Flyre’s heart in grammar school. Evidently he quietly, secretly hates Willie and only plays bridge with him because he loves bridge so much. So my introduction didn’t get me much in the way of points with him.

As Chief Conductor, Augustus Flyre (Willie calls him Augie but the second I laid eyes on him I knew this man would wish ill on me in every way he could think of if I presumed to call him Augie) has three basic responsibilities. 1) He runs the Magothy Terminus itself and acts as a liaison between the city of Nagspeake and the owners and operators of the Magothy and Whilforber rail line (which includes scheduling, ticketing, safety, and various other things that were fired off at me like verbal bullets too fast for human hands to record); 2) he runs the Iron Pony Museum, a railway history attraction on the Terminus grounds; and 3) he manages the local fulfillment of Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue orders because they all arrive by railway shipment. He has one full-time employee, a bicycle messenger named Linus Mirrock; for larger orders, of which there are many, he hires local freight agencies. Between the three jobs he is, as he explained to me, “too goddamned busy to waste time with goddamned reporters.”

I don’t know what finally made him agree to talk to me. It might just have been the fact that I kept showing up, but I suspect it was something else: the turning point came when I finally suggested maybe I’d just contact Deacon and Morvengarde directly ((by every account I’d heard, of course, the Terminus itself was ordered from D&M, who, not being located in Nagspeake, presumably keep actual permanent records without burning them every twenty-five years).  Mr. Flyre blanched. “Why would you do that?” The question sounded genuine, and tinged with a little bit of concern, if not actual fear. “Because I figure they keep actual permanent records without burning them every twenty-five years,” I said. “Come back tomorrow,” Flyre said after a long pause. “Lunchtime.” Then he disappeared without further specifics, so I showed up at 12 only to endure ten minutes of lecturing because Flyre actually takes his lunch at four p.m. on the cafe car of the Bayside Brougham, which has a one-hour layover at the Magothy Terminus every day between three-thirty and four-thirty. Evidently the cafe server on the Brougham makes (and here I quote Mr. Flyre) “the only perfect John Collins”. (I said, “You mean a Tom Collins?” and Flyre said, “I do not.”) So, with four hours to kill I walked the unpaved cowpath from the Terminus to St. Whit’s Asylum (which is another story) and back in time to present myself precisely at 4 p.m. only to find out the three-thirty train was running late. It actually wasn’t until five p.m. that we sat down on the old wooden stools at the tiled bar in the dining car of the Bayside Brougham so that Augustus Flyre could rip into me again.

“You reporters all think you have a right. You think you have some kind of…some kind of right,” Flyre muttered as he watched the gaunt bartender pouring his perfect Collins. Somewhere in here is when he flung the nosy Parker accusation, which I maintain was unnecessary under the circumstances. “Look,” I said, “there’s plenty of people who want to talk to me about the Terminus.” I’d pretty much given up insisting I wasn’t a reporter. “What’s the deal? Why are you the only person in Nagspeake who doesn’t?” Then I caught him scoffing at the gin gimlet the bartender set down in front of me (which turned out to be exceptional, matched only by the ones made with Annabelle Bechamel’s heirloom gin) and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being scoffed at for my drinking habits. “And why don’t you want me to call Deacon and Morvengarde?”

Blanch. Flyre retreated into his glass muttering something about his good ear and stop mumbling.

Here’s what I already knew. The big controversy about the Magothy Terminus is that supposedly it was ordered by the town of Magothy Hill, meant to be delivered and installed in Magothy Hill, and the night after it arrived in Magothy Hill, it disappeared. Poof. It turned up a week later (it, or a railway terminus exactly like it down to the cast-iron and carnival glass sign proclaiming it to be MAGOTHY STATION) thirty miles east of its intended destination, at the top of Whilforber Hill just outside of Nagspeake. What nobody seems to know is how it got there. In Magothy Hill, the story goes that it was simply delivered to the wrong location, an easy mistake to make in 1905 when Magothy Hill was a very small town and hardly on the map. Why didn’t they correct the situation? Because, said Ted Bilton, deputy mayor of Magothy Hill, it had already been built, and certainly I didn’t think you could just go and move a railway terminus, lock, stock, and barrel, after it had been built?…Well…did I?

Of course I did, because it was a more interesting idea, which is possibly the biggest indication that I have spent way too long in Nagspeake already. I certainly wasn’t going to tell Bilton that, though. Instead I got him to tell me how one went about ordering a railway station back in the day. It started out sounding a lot like ordering from Sears, Roebuck and Company: then, as now, Deacon and Morvengarde catalogue sells additional catalogues of plans for houses and other buildings. You could order the catalogues of plans for free, and for a small sum (back then it was fifty cents) you could then receive the plans for the structure of your choice. Your fifty cents were credited toward the purchase of building materials, which you also ordered from D&M. This is where it stopped sounding like Sears, Roebuck; the cost of your building materials included the services of a Certified Deacon and Morvengarde Architect and Builder Emeritus, who showed up along with the 20-40 thousand house pieces that needed to be put together. The A.B.E. handled all the subcontracting necessary to complete the house, and guaranteed the future homeowner the lowest possible prices on services–“by force, if necessary,” Mr. Bilton said. What did that mean? “It’s Deacon and Morvengarde, so I assume it means exactly what it sounds like,” Bilton said. “I’m quoting directly from the customer service promises in the catalogue.”

This is probably as good a place as any to remind readers who might’ve forgotten that Deacon and Morvengarde has always had a stellar customer service record but not always a sterling reputation among competitors or subcontractors…or basically anyone who isn’t a customer. Yet another good reason to turn to D&M, trusted since time immemorial, for all your needs. Every single one. Or else. Somewhere in here I started to formulate my new theory, and it was this theory that made me suggest to Augustus Flyre that I might call D&M. But back to the Bayside Brougham.

“It’s simple, of course. Whichever town got the rail terminus was going to survive. Whichever one didn’t was going to wind up like Magothy Hill,” Flyre said. (Magothy Hill is just fine, by the way; it’s hardly a dead town.) So why couldn’t Nagspeake just have ordered its own station? “Question of timing. Same time this was happening, railroads were popping up everywhere, and the stations that were built earlier had a better chance of being connection points in the grid that was developing, as opposed to stops along the way to those points.” So–not to beat around the bush–did Nagspeake steal the Magothy Hill station? Flyre gave me a withering look. “Of course it did. Why else is the station called ‘Magothy’ rather than ‘Nagspeake?’ I suppose you want to know how they did it,” he grumbled. I did. “Thing was built in five parts that came together clamshell-like. All of ’em were built on some kind of skids so you could position ’em right. So one night a group of fellows rode a couple dozen horses and mules down to Magothy Hill, cut all the power lines to the town so’s it all went dark, and just hitched the station up, in its pieces, to the pack animals and tugged it away over here to Whilforber Hill. Satisfied?” The last word was shot at me like a snarl. And of course, I wasn’t–this was the same story I’d heard from everybody and I’d been expecting some deeper look from Augustus Flyre.

“Mr. Flyre, I already knew all that,” I said. “Everybody knows all that. I was hoping you’d be able to tell me something new, something nobody else knows.” I took a stab in the dark. “Like how Deacon and Morvengarde was involved.”

That did it. Only this time, Flyre didn’t blanch, didn’t retreat into his glass, didn’t say anything for a long moment. He turned to the bartender and asked him to leave. When we were more or less alone, Augustus Flyre leaned in close and spoke in the nastiest whisper I’ve ever heard. “Listen. I don’t know who you are, or who sent you, and I don’t care who that idiot Wilmer Cobblebridge thinks you are, either. I haven’t kept my mouth shut for my whole life just to start vomiting answers up for you, whoever you are. Call Deacon and Morvengarde. I don’t care. Get Marcus Aurelius Deacon himself on the phone, for all I care, and see what he says. But you better be ready to watch your back for the rest of your life. And you better tell him you got nothing from me but what you already knew, or I’ll be one of the ones coming after you.”

Whoa.

I don’t know what I started protesting first, but in the end it didn’t matter. Augustus Flyre was finished with me.

After a few minutes the gaunt bartender came back and made Flyre another Collins. He pointedly did not refresh my gimlet. I left shortly after that. During the entire walk back to the platform where the funicular railway takes you back down to the slope, I had the uncanny feeling if I looked over my shoulder, Augustus Flyre would be standing on the platform, staring daggers into my back.

To be continued.

(From 16 September, 2008)