The bear pounded against the wall a final time. The cement blocks tumbled around it. A fog of cement dust and filthier junk flew up.
Blizzard held his breath.
He took the bear’s reins and stepped through. The air cleared enough he could inspect the room beyond. A vast chamber in the midst of the sewers. A war map of Barrelbottom on a large table. A dirty throne. A kid sittin’on the throne, his hair in thick strands that whipped around.
Blizzard smiled. “You, boy, are the spittin’ image of your dad. He and I… Well, the bear here owes his life to your dad. And now that he’s gone, we came to pay our respects. And to help out. I hear there’s rumors of foul play. An old varmint your dad always was against got the upper hand. Boy, my name is Blizzard McConnell, and I’m at your service. Until your dad’s killer is found.”
The bear roared his assent and offered a shallow bow.
The boy’s hands were shaking so bad, Blizzard could see it from across the room. He spat. “Listen, son, you will have to get some learnin’ in your head so you can control those arms of yours. If I were a bad guy, I could see how scared you were and take you out in an instant. Hold your hands still. If’n you can’t do that, hide them. Don’t let anyone see your fear. The one you fear is the one who controls you. Remember that, boy.”
The bear rumbled around the walls of the room, sniffing at the many rat holes leading away.
The boy squeezed the arms of the throne tighter. “Why are you here?”
“You an idiot? I told you. I came to help find your dad’s killer. Bear owes him, so I owe him.”
The bear sniffed in derision and continued his inspection of the walls.
The boy looked over at the bear. “Dad saved its life?”
“His. His life. Yeah. Years ago, right after he got here. The bear, I mean. I don’t know how long your dad was around.” Blizzard approached the table. “What’s all this? A search pattern, I see. You know who did your dad in?”
The boy’s face darkened. “The King of Mice.”
Blizzard’s eyebrows shot up. “The King of Mice? How you reckon that?”
“When I found dad, several mice were running away. Mice who had not sworn loyalty to him. And now we can’t find a single mouse in Barrelbottom. That’s what we’ve been looking for. A mouse to lead us to their king.”
The bounty hunter stared at the boy for a long moment. He took off his hat, revealing dirty, dirty brown hair. He threw his head back and laughed. “Oh, he got you, too?” he wheezed between deep breathes. “He got you believing that idiocy ‘bout some King of Mice warrin’ with him? Oh, oh that’s rich!”
The boy stood. He marched to the other side of the map on the table. His voice was cold. “If you’re here to help, you’ll find the King of Mice. If you want to mock my father in his throne room, though.” The boy raised a hand and snapped it.
Suddenly every nook and cranny of the throne room, every rat hole, every shadowed spot, bristled with rats. Each one held a weapon. Many had armor.
“You see, Mr. Blizzard, we don’t take kindly to threats. My subjects have already lost one king, and they’re out for blood.”
Blizzard shrugged. “Bear took care of how many of your troops? We ain’t scared.”
That’s when the bear crashed to the ground.
“Yes. And he sniffed at the pipes, breathing in all the sleeping agents my subjects could bring. Dad drilled them on what to do if an enemy attacked. My troops had to buy time.”
Blizzard cocked his head, examining the boy. “Better. You’re still scared, but you’re fakin’ it better. Keep learnin’. That’s good. Maybe there’s some hope for you yet.” He nodded. “Bear?”
Bear stood back up, shook his head, and growled at the assembled rats.
“You’re not the only one good at tricks. Bear can tell when somethin’ ain’t right. He wasn’t sniffing any of that in. But, good.” He nodded again. “So. King of Mice. Which never existed. He had your dad killed?”
“Well, if he exists, he’ll be dead soon. What’s the plan, new King of Rats? Let’s get our revenge on.”
This is a Barrelbottom Tale.