It wasn’t snow or smoke obscuring his vision. Barras stomped along the scaffoldwalk, a few levels off the floor of this pit. He noted the substandard job the ‘shovels had done here. Deep fissures lined the walls, cracks entire families could hide in. It meant the walls weren’t stable. He cursed that some ‘shovel worker got paid for this, when he got rejected.
He heard the grunt. It was a kind of grunt a man only makes when someone was beating the heat out of him. Barras knew that sound well.
He peaked around the corner of one of the fissures. It had leveled off, forming a natural kind of alley. Three men loomed over another man on his knees. He wore his heavy coat and a thick hat, but blood ran down his cheek from his eye.
Barras didn’t like it when people ganged up. Didn’t make a fight fair.
Good thing he was in a fighting mood. He could even things up a little bit.
He ran in and tackled one of them, sending them both sprawling on the stone floor of the fissure. Barras aimed a punch for his nose. His padded gloves protected his hand. Hopefully it wouldn’t protect the guy’s face too much.
Crunching bones make a distinct sound.
The goon under Barras grunted. His nose had been broken before, apparently. Tears streamed from his eyes and blood from his nose. He wasn’t crying so much as he was angry. He grappled with Barras.
Something pulled Barras back. Something hit him in the side of the head. He saw stars. The other two goons had turned their attention on him. One held him up. A fist pumped into his stomach. Oh, they wrapped their gloves in iron bands. Smart.
He felt the air rush from his lungs. He grunted.
Something whistled. Something whistled again. The something holding him back vanished, and he fell to the rocky ground. He heaved for breath.
Footsteps. A gruff voice challenged, “Ain’t you boys a little far from home?”
“No, officer, we were just on the way when these two boys jumped us. Wanted some of our heat, you know?” The voice was perfectly innocent. Of course it was.
“Boys, I want to see your cards.”
Some shuffling. Cards given. Barras heard the chirrup of the officer’s scanner.
The officer sighed. “Get out of here, boys. I don’t want to see you in this pit again. Am I clear?”
“Perfectly, officer.” They shuffled out of the fissure.
“All right, Lambton, get up.”
“Sure, Rev.” The other man – the one who’d been on the receiving end– struggled off the ground to lean against the stone wall.
The officer finally walked into Barras’s view. He wore the distinctive fur hats that only those who worked for the government got. He crouched and examined Barras’s face. “You. I don’t know you. Care to explain?”
Barras heaved, “Well, I hate seeing an unfair fight. And I was looking to send my fist through someone’s face. It seemed convenient.”
“They were working me over when he stepped in,” the guy with the bleeding eye added.
The officer shot him a look. He turned back to Barras.
Barras looked into the officer’s face. “Huh. I didn’t notice the scar there before.”
“Happened when I got mixed up in a fight that wasn’t mine. Glass bottle to the face will do wonders.” He stood and looked at the other guy. “Lambton, what’d you do to piss off Graston?”
Lambton froze. “Graston? Those were Graston goons?”
“Yep. Notes all over their records.”
Barras felt much colder than he should. “Graston? I just stepped into something Graston’s involved with?”
The officer turned. “Yeah. Not feeling so cocky about failing to break up a fight, are you?”
“I work for him.”
The officer’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? You didn’t like getting heat at all, did you?”
Barras shook his head. “I didn’t know them. They didn’t know me. No way this should get back to me. They’ll just think I was, um, Lambton’s friend or something.”
The officer nodded. “Maybe. Look, you gotta get out of here, ok? Get back to your side of the Pits. Stay out of fights.”
“You’re not gonna scan my card?”
“Why should I? I’d only have to report it, and Graston would know who you were then.”
“Why’re you doing me this favor?”
“You helped my brother out here. Well, you tried, even if you failed. I figure this puts us even.”
Barras nodded. “Thanks.” He stumbled out of the fissure and began weaving his way home.
He didn’t notice the goon trailing him across the pit and one level down.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Dining on Ash, here.
Read the next story, Shopping for Greenery, here.