“All right. Don’t let anyone get smoke in your eyes; if they’re on the list, let ‘em in. If they’re not, you kick ‘em into the snow. Keep an eye open for weapons, but the rest of the guys should be taking care of that. Got it?”
Barras nodded at Pallas’s words. The jerk had remembered him from the ‘shovels and that he was a brawler. They needed extra guards for the doings tonight, and Barras needed a job. It all worked out well.
Barras pulled at his collar. He hated dressing up. He felt like a ‘shovel with no smoke.
Pallas looked at him. “You got this, Barras? Don’t mess up. You already lost one job this week. Don’t lose another. Your family depends on you, yeah?”
“All right. Get out there.”
Barras nodded one more time. He mentally braced himself and opened the hatch to the outside.
The screaming hit him first. A mad mixture of elation, fear, anger, and celebration assaulted him as he stepped into the cold. The snow fell heavily tonight in little pellets, but the rim of the pit was thick with people.
Some of them came to welcome the visitors. Some came to condemn. Some came simply to be seen.
Barras couldn’t believe how much one day could stir up the Pits. The visitors changed everything. People from outside. The Pits weren’t the only ones that survived from before.
And how does Old Man Graston react to the biggest thing ever? He throws a party to show off.
Barras stepped forward to the scaffold entrance. No one would make it past this line of goons, thugs, and general brawlers unless they were on the list. The sacred list. The list Graston himself had written up.
Graston’s place was two floors down. Bright windows shone out into the night. Lamps hung every few feet on the scaffolds, illuminating every spot anyone might go. Graston’s ornamented gardens at the floor of the pit almost glowed green in all the light.
And the people. They all wanted in. They all wanted a chance to meet the visitors.
“See if you can see them. I want to know about them,” his bride had said. She was so excited. This wasn’t just any job. It was security at the event that the Pits would always remember.
Patr had wanted to come with, too, of course, but he understood. “You’re the man tonight,” Barras told him. “You gotta watch out and make sure the family’s taken care of. I don’t know when I’m getting home.”
His son nodded and started patrolling the house, looking for any bad guys.
Barras wished he was back home with his boy.
He shoved his way to the front and started scanning cards. The other goons helped the guests form a line to get to Barras so the crowd didn’t harass him.
He didn’t recognize many of the names, but the few he did he knew were the rich and powerful of the Pits. He hardly even looked up. He held out a hand, received a card, and scanned it. No one seemed dumb enough to show up without an invitation and actually try to get in. Either that, or the goons did a good job of scaring off anyone stupid enough to try before they got to Barras’s scanner.
Card. Scan. Return card. Card. Scan. Return card. He started filtering out the screaming and the jostling.
And then a name caught him. He looked up. “Old Man McCrevich!”
A thin face with sallow cheeks scowled back at him. “Anton McCrevich. Thank you.” He snatched back his card.
Barras blinked at him. Old Man McCrevich. The other heat baron. He and Graston owned the Pits. Barras had never dreamed of seeing either of them, and now, here one was!
Barras scanned two more cards – for bodyguards, it looked like. They both came back negative. “Uh, I’m sorry, sir, but your men aren’t on the guest list.”
McCrevich’s voice blew colder than any blizzard. “They will come with me.”
“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t let you do that.”
Barras felt the goons around him step forward and stand tall. McCrevich’s two men returned the gesture.
The heat baron fixed Barras with a haughty stare. “You must be mistaken. I will not enter without my men.”
Barras stood tall. “They’re not on the list. If you choose to go home, that’s your choice.”
One of McCrevich’s men stepped forward. “I think you should scan my card again and find my name on your list. And the name of my buddy here.”
Barras offered, “I’ll scan it again. Your name won’t be on the list. You’ll go home or wait in the crowd. Got it?”
As he reached to accept the proffered card, the man said, “A wedding ring? I bet your wife’s a real looker, isn’t she?” His lips turned up into a smile. “She like big strong men?”
Barras’s hand was a fist before he realized it.
A hand slapped Barras’s shoulder. “Mr. Tenyer! It’s been so long!” a jovial voice cried out.
Barras swung around and blinked. “Officiant!”
“I’ve told you to call me Val,” Valerius McCay answered. “And Mr. McCrevich! A pleasure to see you! Are there any problems here?”
“None at all,” the old man answered. “This icebrain is unable to find my men’s names on his list.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding. After all, why would you need such men around when I’ve brought some of my finest officers to make sure everything runs smoothly? Mr. Graston asked me to provide security himself.” The officiant offered a dazzling smile. “You do have confidence in my ability to provide safety for everyone concerned, don’t you?”
McCrevich glowered. He looked up at his men. “Wait for me out here.”
One leaned in toward Barras as he stalked by. “We’ll get the chance to dance later.”
The heat baron turned to descend into Graston’s pit. As soon as his goons were gone, the thugs around Barras returned to simple crowd control.
The officiant laughed. “Mr. Tenyer, I think you might owe me! That could have been ugly!”
“The guy was already ugly. Anything I did to him would’ve made him look better.”
Val laughed again. “Very good! Here, you better scan me.” He offered his card. Barras accepted and passed him on. “And let me introduce to you a fine officer.”
Barras turned to find a very familiar man. The officer raised a hand to stop Val. “Better not to introduce us. I like plausible deniability.”
“Ah,” Val responded. “I see you two have already met. All right.” He nodded. “I can’t believe McCrevich is here. I don’t think the heat barons have ever actually met in person. This is a big night for a lot of people, Mr. Tenyer.”
Barras nodded. “Everything’s changing. When I heard about the visitors last night… well, it’s amazing what one day can do.”
“Yes. Yes it is,” Val agreed. “And I have a feeling we haven’t even begun to fathom the changes in store. Well, I should go meet these new arrivals and find out what they mean for the future of the Pits. Good day, Mr. Tenyer. I hope the rest of the night is boring for you, though I fear it won’t be.” With that, he tipped his hat and sauntered down into the pit, to a party that would change Barras’s world forever.
Read more of the world of Snow and Smoke here.
Read the previous story, Like Discovering New Heat, here.
Read the next story, Like a Bear in a Net, here.