The bear tasted like ash.
Charles slipped another bite into his mouth. He paid for it. He was going to eat it while it was fresh.
The flute trio continued playing their somber jig in the background. The other diners continued their hushed conversations. The wait staff continued serving dinners.
Charles chewed the bite, letting the juices run over his tongue. Bear was rare these days. He wanted to savor the taste.
Even Charles didn’t always get what he wanted.
He stabbed a fried potato. The seasoning was perfect; the edges crispy. It tasted like ash.
He sipped some vodka. More ash.
Devon, in his tuxedo, slipped beside the table and offered a shallow bow. “A man to see you, Mr. Graston.” He proffered a silver platter upon which sat a card.
Charles glanced at it. “Send him in. Thank you, Devon.”
The steward nodded and returned to the door. A minute later, Pensley stood beside him. “Mr. Graston,” he stuttered.
“Sit down. You’re not in my office.”
Pensley fell into the chair opposite Charles.
“You like bear?”
“I’ve never had the pleasure, Mr. Graston.”
“You’re going to.” Charles raised a finger. When Devon approached, he ordered, “Bring the other plate you have set aside for me and serve it to Mr. Pensley here, please.”
“Yes, sir.” Devon slid to the kitchen.
Charles raised his eyebrows at Pensley. “If you’re interrupting my dinner, I trust you either have very good news or very bad news.”
“Yes. Of course.” Pensley nodded. Sweat broke out on his brow. “The boys have, uh, talked with Pallas. The guard who allowed seventy-two to be dismantled.”
“I see. And what did he tell us?”
“Only two people visited the new heat site that night. A woman of no importance who runs the Filtered Rooms. And an officiant.”
“If she knows something, she’s of importance. The officiant first. One of the ones in McGrevich’s pocket?”
Devon appeared. A bear steak sizzled on a white plate. Fried potatoes and a cabbage salad sat beside it.
Pensley’s eyes grew big. “Sir, I couldn’t.”
“You didn’t fight when I ordered for you.”
“I, uh, thought it might be code.”
“Pensley, I don’t speak in code. I don’t mince words. I am not enjoying my meal. I am being gracious and sharing my goods with you. You will enjoy the food here or you will enjoy finding employment elsewhere.”
“How is it, Pensley?”
“I’m sure. Now, between bites, why don’t you tell me about this officiant?” Charles took another sip of vodka as he waited. No, it wasn’t ash, but it still didn’t offer the burn he enjoyed.
“Well, sir, he’s an independent. He’s refused to do business with either McGrevich or yourself, other than what is absolutely necessary for him to have the heat he needs. He seems to spend most of his time with workers.”
“A man who actually does his job? How refreshing. Double your attempts to bring him into the fold.”
“Yes, sir.” He reached into his coat pocket to get his notebook.
“Pensley, you write down my order while ignoring this meal I’ll have your tongue chopped off.”
“All right. This officiant, and this woman. I know you claim she’s a nothing, but I need you to find out about them. Both. If they’re in league, and they’re the ones who took apart seventy-two, we need to know about it. There could be a new face trying to muscle in.”
“What about all of McGrevich’s boys that we’re, um, talking to already?”
Charles waved a hand. “If it’s McGrevich, he deserves it. And if it’s not, he’ll understand business and help me stomp down the new guy.”
“There is one more thing, sir.”
“Mr. Danal. The one who sold you the new bear. He stayed the night in the Filtered Rooms.”
Charles smiled. “Very good, Pensley. Very good. We’re starting to see some connections here. If that hunter wanted to charge me extra, the same day that someone attacks me personally… someone wants to start a war in the Pits. I think we should oblige them, Pensley. But we won’t be fighting old man McGrevich. No, we’ll be fighting them.”
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Hiding Something, here.
Read the next story, Valiant Knight, here.