Authors: Paul Kater
by Paul Kater
Published by the author at Smashwords -
Copyright 2010 Paul Kater
License Notes, Smashwords Edition:
Thank you for downloading this free ebook.
You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be
reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes,
provided the book remains in its complete original form. Thank you
for your support.
Sweaty, dirty horses pulled carts up and down
the street, from where most cobblestones had disappeared. The
cobbles had been put to good use over the years, to repair houses
or to be thrown at coppers on some raid or other. Someone had done
a reasonably good job in making sure that the carts would be able
to go through the street despite that: there were two paths in it.
Calling them lanes would be overdone, but there was one cobblestone
side and one made of sand.
The street was in a neighbourhood that, let's
face it, did not belong to the better parts of town. Nor would it
fit in the more regular ones. The rows of low buildings on either
side of the road, the slate roofs in various states of miserable,
were not appealing to the eye, yet there was a lot of business
going on in front of some, and inside some others. The few
buildings that lay abandoned were unfit for living creatures so
much that even rats preferred taking a detour around them.
The street looked raggedy, and not at all
cared for. It was perhaps best portrayed by looking at the few
people that lay huddled up under motley blankets and other pieces
of fabric that were meant to offer some protection against the
elements. They had found their refuge in what had been a
blacksmith's shop. The blacksmith had long since gone, lacking
paying customers. The shop had remained though, and access was made
easy through now non-existent windows and the missing door.
Opposite the improvised 'homeless shelter'
was Lena's brothel. Business there thrived at the strangest hours.
Most of the time nobody was aware of the squeaking and moaning in
the rooms of Lena's employees, but on the odd moments that the
street was calm, it was easy to determine how many customers were
in at the time. The walls of the houses in the street were thicker
than folded-up newspapers, but not by much.
The door of Lena's establishment opened and a
woman stepped outside, blinking her blue eyes against the light of
the setting sun. She had made an attempt to tuck up her blond hair,
but half of that had fallen down again. She couldn't care less, it
seemed. Her clothes were crumpled and had seen better days. Under a
mostly blue cardigan showed a green blouse, its collar worn from
too much wear. Her long black skirt had originally been adorned
with white flowers along the seam, but like its current owner, the
dress had been deflowered long ago.
"Hey, Dotty," a carriage driver in typical
dark workman's clothes yelled at her as he passed by, "blown a good
Dotty raised her hand and showed the driver a
finger, in a very unladylike manner. "Fuck you, Tommy."
The man laughed. "Only when it's for free,
Dotty did not pay him more attention. She
crossed the busy street and walked along the uneven sidewalk,
cursing the pitfalls in it. Dotty did that more out of habit than
from being annoyed; it had been like that since too long to get
worked up about it, and no complaint had ever done anything. She
stepped over a sleeping person who had not made it inside the
blacksmith's place and walked the last steps to Bromsky's. The
clatter of glasses, the off-tune piano and the laughter brought a
smile to Dotty's face. They were the sounds of her second home.
Bromsky's did not look like much on the
outside. (Truth be told, it did not look like much on the inside
either.) The outer wall consisted mainly of dark, weathered bricks.
A considerable number of them were still the same kind. Many places
showed repairs however, done with a staggering lack of
craftmanship. Chopped-off bricks had been pushed into holes and
were kept in place with something that looked suspiciously like
newspapers. Behind a rough rectangle of wood had once been a
window, but clearly glass had been in short supply at the time of
Dotty pushed the door open. A gust of warm
air rushed up to greet her, treating her to a familiar mix of
smells. As usual, the smell of beer in all its varieties won. Sweat
and smoke were competing for second and third place, and the
everpresent fumes of oil lamps and candles that fought the glum
darkness inside the place permeated everything without demanding
Bromsky's was filled up nicely already,
considering the relatively early hour. Dotty wondered what the
reason would be. Usually, if Bromsky's was so full, Lena's place
would be more occupied also, like on pay-day. Something special was
going on. Determined to learning more, Dotty pushed through the
throngs of people in their dull greys and browns, heading for the
bar behind which Bromsky was lord and master. As long as his wife
Kate was out of sight.
Bromsky was his normal self. The threadbare
bowler hat he wore kept itself together out of sheer determination,
not reaching the short grey crown that circled the man's head.
Forty eight years of life had taken all colour from his hair, and
most colour from his face. His deep-lying eyes missed nothing that
went on in his establishment. The everpresent stubbly beard on his
meaty face hung beneath fat lips that held a stump of cigar.
Bromsky was busy: the cigar had gone out and he had not taken the
time to relight it. Only the fact that he was behind the bar was
evidence that Bromsky was the bartender. He was dressed in the same
uncheering greys and black and browns as his customers.
"Hi Bromsky," Dotty said loudly, to be heard
over the sea of voices in the pub, "what's the big commotion
"Summin' bad at the airship plant," the
barman muttered, "they all talk and hardly drink."
Dotty stared at the used glasses on the
counter for a moment. It couldn't be so bad as Bromsky painted the
situation. "Give me a beer, and write it up, will you," Dotty then
"Write it up, write it up," Bromsky started
his litany. "You all gonna be the death of me." He grabbed the
small worn blackboard under the counter, produced a smudgy piece of
chalk from somewhere and scribbled something down. Then he pulled
her a beer and hawk-eyed the crowd again.
As Dotty made her way through the crowd, her
bum was groped many times. Somehow the mob always had time for
that, no matter how pressing the subject of their talks was. Dotty
didn't mind. As long as they groped, they were potential customers.
After all, she thought, you also squeezed a tomato before you
At one of the overloaded tables, men were
loudly discussing the problems at 'the factory'. Dotty knew that
they were talking about the place that made part for airships. It
was the one of the few factories around where the common people
were allowed to work, and this one was the main source of
employment for the neighbourhood. Actually they were needed there.
There were machine men there, but these things could not do all the
work. That's where the men came in.
"I'm telling you, there's more than six
blokes dead there," said Martin, one of the drinkers. "The load
that came down was humongous. Devil knows why so many were in the
pit too." Clearly he had been there when it happened, whatever 'it'
was. "The coppers were there real fast and they told us all to
bugger off for the day. Masterson was mighty pissed off by that,
but nothing he could do about it."
Another man, known as Bass, snorted. "You
won't find that half day in your pay, mate."
Martin fell silent, his face turning pale.
Then he uttered a few unfriendly words addressed to Masterson and
Another person entered Bromsky's then. At
first the man went unnoticed, but that changed rapidly as he pushed
himself through the pub, carrying a large bag that made many a
curse heard as it banged into people. The owner of the bag, rather
thin and dressed in a black suit that revealed nothing about him,
seemed to look for someone. His bag hit Dotty in a hip very hard.
"Hey, watch out mister!" she yelled after him, but the man was
oblivious to any of the comments that were thrown at him. "Bloody
idiot," she muttered, rubbing her hip. It felt as if she'd been
poked with a piece of metal. The man was lost from her view mere
The man in black made a few rounds through
Bromsky's. As he did so, he made an increasing number of people
feel hostile towards him, while his bag was to blame. Far in the
gloomy back of the pub where hardly a light burnt, he stopped at a
table. As most of the commotion in the place was centered around
the speakers in the front, hardly anyone was here. There was only
one man sitting at the table. Although... he had been sitting. Now
he lay slumped over the table. A glass had fallen over and its
contents had spilled over the table and the floor. "No desire to go
to work today, eh?" the man in black mumbled to himself.
He placed the big leather bag on one of the
wobbly chairs. He worked the brass clasp that held the bag closed
and took a few gloves and some goggles from it. He put the goggles
on his nose, slipped the gloves on and carefully prodded the man on
"Oy, what'cha doing there?" The question came
from a sturdy man, tall enough to paint the ceiling of Bromsky's
without using a ladder. The man spoke loud enough to attract the
attention of several others, and soon the table in the far corner
became the new centre of attention.
The man with the goggles stared at the sturdy
speaker. The glass in his eyewear made his pupils so large that
they seemed to fill the entire frame. "I was looking for this man,"
he said in a gentle voice, "and it appears that I was too late. Now
if you please let me do what I came here for..."
"And what are you here for?" Sturdy wanted to
know, putting a ham of a hand on the thin man's shoulder. More
voices made it clear that they wanted to know what was going on
there, especially the voices from people whose view on the corner
was obstructed by big men with broad shoulders.
Before the man in goggles could reply, the
shrill sound of a whistle sent a wave of unrest through the
clientèle of Bromsky's. It was unmistakably a police whistle, and
everyone in the pub had heard those things often enough to
recognise that. "Coppers," someone said needlessly.
The speaker was right. There were seven
policemen outside Bromsky's, deciding how they would all be able to
go inside. The place was just too crowded. One of the constables
made his way in and started sending people outside. Some went
willingly, others needed some physical encouragement. The more
people left the establishment, the easier it became for the
remaining law enforcers to enter.
"Hey," a coarse voice sounded from behind the
bar, "they still have to pay!" Bromsky was rather ticked off as he
saw how his valued customers quickly disappeared outside, urged on
by the police.
"Don't worry," one of the officers laughed, "all
these are honest and law-abiding people, they told us often enough.
Surely they'll come back to pay you when we're done."
Bromsky snorted loudly.
Finally the pub was empty. The policemen formed
a line around the far table, where the man in goggles stood. One of
the constables helped him to put the man on the table, after
writing down how they had found the person: very dead. The fact
that he had not resisted or grunted while being moved had made that
rather obvious. The large red spot on his chest was an additional
"Good of you men to come so quickly," said
Goggles as he peeled the sticky vest from the dead man. It revealed
a blood-stained grey shirt with a large hole in it. Goggles nodded
to himself. "Yes, straight through. I already feared that. Don't
touch." The last words were directed towards one of the constables
who had picked up the dead man's overcoat.
"What do you mean 'straight through'? There's no
hole in the coat," the constable said as he quickly put the coat
down again. Goggles shook his head, muttered something and
continued examining the man.
Bromsky had left his station behind the counter
and, pretending to clean some tables, made his way to the corner.
That was well lit now, as some constables had gathered lamps so
Goggles could actually see something. Before the owner of the pub
had reached the corner, Goggles put away the things he had taken
from his bag.
"Nothing more I can do here," the thin man
stated. "We have to get this body to the morgue. I will share my
findings with the people there, so they can confirm."