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Old August 19th, 2011, 04:13 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
To celebrate the launch of this new story, have Chapter Two a whole day early.

Chapter Two: In Which Pearl Almost Kills a Man, and Meets a World-Class Practitioner of an Unusual Profession

'There was this one guy who was known throughout the underworld. He was one of those guys who's famous even outside of the country; he'd been to Europe and America, and made a killing there. It was a pity he wasn't a real person, or he'd have been the most respected guy in the business.'
—Griff Derre, The Collected Memoirs

I ran to the end of the street before admitting to myself that I’d lost him. I could say what I liked about Ashley, but he was excellent at vanishing; whenever he disappeared, I never had any idea where he went.

I swore petulantly, and went down to the police station. If this organisation had wanted me dead, there was no way I was staying out of the investigation.

“I want to see D.I Rennet,” I told the officer on duty. He looked puzzled.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I'm Pearl Gideon. I saw him earlier?”

“Really? The only person I can remember coming to see D.I. Rennet was this really ugly wom— oh God, that was you, wasn't it?”

I nodded wordlessly. It could have been me being an impulsive idiot, or I might have just been very action-oriented right then, but I was about five seconds away from punching him. I suppose I only had myself to blame, though; if I’d woken up earlier and spent some time fixing my appearance, I wouldn't have made such a bad impression.

“Uh, yes, sorry about that,” he said, scratching his head self-consciously. “I'll tell him you're here.”

He spoke briefly into a telephone, then nodded me through the doors.

“Sorry,” he called again, as I left the room; I considered making a snappy reply with an obscene gesture, but felt that doing that to a policeman was probably illegal.

“Miss Gideon,” said Rennet, as I slipped back into his office. “How can I help?”

“Why didn't you tell me that those spacesuit guys were under orders to kill me?” I demanded to know.

He looked like a chicken presented with a Möbius strip: mind completely blown.

“What?” he asked helplessly. “What?”

“Ashley showed me a paper they had that told them to kill me on sight,” I told him.

“Ashley? You know Ashley?” Rennet was now gaping like a fish out of water.

“Since about forty minutes ago,” I confirmed. “What's going on?”

Rennet blinked at me.

“Miss Gideon,” he said, with the deep dignity of a very, very confused man, “I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about, and I would very much appreciate if you'd tell me what's going on.”

So I sat down and told him all about Ashley and the death warrant.

“Well, he didn't tell us any of that,” he said when I’d finished.

“Why not?”

Rennet shrugged.

“He doesn't usually feel he has to,” he explained. “Usually, he just explains everything to us at the end. I thought we were already at the end of this case – just a mugging – but it seems there's more to it than that.”

“Are you going to investigate? This is important, it's my life on the line here.”

Rennet leaned forwards over his desk and smiled warmly.

“Miss Gideon,” he said, “the most competent agent in the city is on the case.”

“Who's that?”

“Ashley,” he replied, as if it were obvious. “Not much we can do. We're all completely useless here!”

He seemed to find that very funny, and laughed uproariously at it. Needless to say, being a citizen of Jubilife whose life was in danger, I didn't find it nearly as amusing.

“Right,” I said. “Er, is there any way I can contact him?”

Rennet shrugged.

“I'm sure there is,” he told me, “but I don't know it.”

I was now very close to leaping out of my seat and throwing it at him; perhaps he saw it in my eyes, because he hastened to add:

“But look, if you really are involved, I’m sure he'll be in touch. He'll want to keep you abreast of further developments.”

I was tempted to tell Rennet how useless he was, but I didn't because he was a cop; in the end, I contented myself with making my goodbyes, leaving and kicking a trash can really hard.

What was I to do now, I wondered. My investigations had got nowhere. I didn't know why or how I was mixed up in this, and I hadn't found Ashley. I sighed, and was about to go home and start copying Stephanie's notes, when I thought of someone else I could ask.
I smiled to myself and got on the next bus to the Albert Warner General Hospital.

---

“Professor Rowan?” I asked, putting on my talking-to-old-people voice. “It's me, Pearl Gideon. I called the ambulance for you last night.”

The Professor glared at me from under bushy white eyebrows. His eyes flicked to the left briefly, and I saw with some trepidation that they had been looking at his stout stick, which was at the end of his bed. I didn't think he'd be strong enough yet to start laying about me with it – I thought it was pretty impressive that he was looking as strong as he was – but I didn't want to take any chances.

“What do you want?” he asked gruffly. “Some sort of reward?”

“No, no,” I protested. “I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about it.”

“Ah. Are you with the police?”

“No, I’m sort of a freelancer.”

“Ah. Like that young man who came by earlier.”

I couldn't help but let my eyes narrow a bit. I was a bloodhound, and I’d caught my quarry's scent.

“Oh? Did you get his name?”

“Some French nonsense,” replied Rowan. “Lackey or something.”

“Lácrimere?”

“That's the one.” He sat up a little, and looked at me suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”

“Er... he's got some vital evidence,” I said carefully, “and the police have asked me to find him so we can get it off him.”

“Can't they just ask him?”

“They don't have his phone number,” I replied truthfully. “Now, Professor, did he say where he was going?”

Rowan thought for a moment.

“He got one of those things you get on your phone,” he said, “and said he had to meet a friend for lunch.”

“One of those things you get on your phone – a call?”

“No!” cried Rowan vehemently, as if I were an idiot. “With words on the screen!”

“Oh, a text,” I said. “OK. Did he say where he was going?”

“No, he did not,” Rowan said. “Is that all? You don't want to hear about the gunmen?”

“In all honesty, no,” I told him, biting back the words because, you know, I saw them. “Thanks for your time.”

As I left the hospital, I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Things were going well. I knew Ashley had met a friend for lunch: that was something I hadn't known before. Now I just had to figure out where.

“If I were a genius detective,” I muttered to myself, “where would I have lunch?”

This line of thought got me nowhere. I wasn't a real detective; I couldn't work out where Ashley would have eaten from the colour of his coat or whatever. In the end, I did a circuit of all the restaurants and cafés within ten blocks of the hospital, and predictably enough, I didn't find him.

However, I did find the muggers from last night, having an all-day breakfast at a place called Café Desolée.

To give them their due, they were quite well disguised. Their spacesuits were hidden beneath long coats and their weird-coloured hair didn't really stand out much; back then, it was fairly fashionable for Sinnoh's youth to dye their hair strange colours. Mine, for instance, was dark blue at the time.

I only noticed them because the memory of turquoise bowl-cuts was still strong in my mind from last night. Still, noticed them I had, and so I thought I’d go in and see if I could talk to them.

This is the point where you tell me I was stupid, going after two criminals who'd shot a man in cold blood the night before. But it was broad daylight and the café was pretty busy; I was sure they'd realise that shooting me – or just pulling out the gun – would cause more problems than it would solve. So I wandered in and sat down at their table, at which they both looked up from their meals and gave me long, penetrating looks.

“Who,” asked one of them – the man, “are you?”

“Add to that, what the hell are you doing?” put in the woman.

“I think you know who I am,” I said. “You were meant to come and kill me last night.”

The man choked on a mushroom, and I watched with increasing concern as he tried to dislodge it from his throat; eventually, when he had gone bright red, I leaped up and thumped him on the back a few times.

“Oh, God,” I said, panicking, “it's not coming out!”

“Do you know the Heimlich manoeuvre?” the woman asked. She had gone white as a sheet, and appeared to have forgotten the forkful of egg that was halfway to her mouth.

“No, I don't know the Heimlich manoeuvre!” I cried back.

By now, half the restaurant was in uproar; people were shouting advice from their tables, and I was wishing that I’d handled the situation better. I’d come here to find stuff out, not kill people.

“I'll try,” said the woman, throwing her fork down and grabbing the man from behind; he'd gone a very nasty colour now, and the choking noises he was making were getting weaker and weaker. She wrapped her arms around him and jerked a few times – but absolutely nothing happened except that her friend tried to yelp in pain and ended up choking himself worse.

And it was at that moment, when I was sure that I’d just accidentally killed a man, that Ashley sauntered over from the back of the restaurant, administered a swift tap to the man's back and sent the mushroom flying across the room.

“That,” he told me coldly, “was definitely not the way to approach a situation like this.”

The woman suddenly seemed to recognise him then, and, grabbing her friend's arm, hauled him past us and ran out the door, pushing through the crowd. The man fell over once or twice – he'd only just started breathing again, and could probably have done with a glass of water – but she never stopped.

“And now they're gone,” snapped Ashley. “Well, make yourself useful, then! Go after them!”

And that was how I found myself running past a bemused crowd, out of the café and down the road after a pair of criminals, all the while wondering how I’d managed to mess the situation up so badly with one sentence.

---

They didn't get very far, of course: one of them was barely able to walk, let alone run, and they'd got all of twenty yards down the street before Ashley and I caught up.
“This is so typical!” ranted the woman. “For God's sake, Tristan, what sort of criminal chokes on a mushroom at a critical moment like that?”

“I – was – surprised into – swallowing!” he croaked back, leaning heavily on a wall and gasping for breath.

“That's enough,” said Ashley sternly. “You two. Who do you work for?”

“I've got a gun,” warned the woman.

“She has,” confirmed the man – Tristan.

“There are at least thirty people on this street,” Ashley told them. “If you want to make sure you're caught, then I would advocate shooting either myself or Miss Gideon.”

“There's no reason we should talk to either of you,” the woman said. She seemed to be getting annoyed. “We'll just catch our breath and be on our way.”

“Perhaps I could turn you over to the police,” Ashley said. “They already know you're guilty of the attack on Rowan last night.”

“If you tried, I’d have to shoot you.”

“And then you'd get caught anyway, only your sentence would be worse.” Ashley raised his eyebrows. “So there isn't actually anything you can do.”

I had to admire him: that was clever. I supposed that this was what a real detective did, instead of making suspects choke to death on mushrooms.

“Well, that won't work,” said the woman. “Because Tristan's got his breath back.”

And they ran off down the street and vanished into an alleyway.

I was about to start after them, but Ashley held me back.

“Forget them,” he said. “I already got everything I wanted from those two.”

“You did?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes,” he replied. “I did.” He gave me a look. “Why did you come here?”

“I was looking for you, and I found those two instead – look, does it matter? I was doing some investigating?”

“Leave that to me,” he said. “I don't think you're very good at it. You almost killed a suspect, and you didn't even touch him.”

“All right, I accept that that went wrong,” I said, “but I still have a right to know about these people. They were going to kill me.”

“You very nearly ruined the investigation!”

“Then wouldn't it be better for me to join you so that you can make sure I don't?” I asked, in a flash of inspiration.

Ashley froze. He remained so still for so long that I thought I might have killed him too. Then he sighed, and said:

“If I let you tag along for a little while, will you promise never to cause trouble like that ever again?”

“Yeah,” I said, and nodded vigorously to show just how much I meant it.

“Then I suppose you can join me,” he said despondently, as if granting me this request could very well kill him. “Right. Come with me.”

“Come with you where?” I asked, following him as he turned to walk back up the road.

“To the alley behind that café,” he replied. “I have a friend waiting there.”

Now I was confused and intrigued, so I followed in silence. When we got there, I couldn't stop myself from staring in surprise.

Ashley's friend was a Kadabra.

---

I’ve always prided myself on being open-minded. I think I might have even written something staunchly anti-racist for a school newspaper once. But I was still a little bit unnerved by the Kadabra standing in front of me; it's just so weird to be looked at by an intelligent being who isn't human.

“Pearl, this is Iago,” said Ashley. “Iago, this is Pearl.”

“Um... hi,” I said, desperately trying to remember whether Kadabra shook hands or not. In the end, he held out his claw and I shook it.

“Nice to meet you,” he said. That was the second shock.

“You speak... out loud?” I asked. Most Kadabra communicated telepathically – in fact, I’d never heard of one who didn't.

“Yeah. I do. I suffer from a rare disability,” Iago said. “I have no psychic powers.”

I blinked in surprise, and asked exactly the wrong question for the situation.

“Why do you have a Jamaican accent?”

“Because I’m Jamaican.”

“Really?”

“No, you dumb nazz. I’m Sinnish. It's just, the way Kadabra mouths are shaped means that everything I say sounds like this.”

He seemed to be annoyed, so I thought I’d better apologise.

“I'm sorry.”

Iago snorted, which made his moustache ripple.

“Don't be. I prefer to hang around with humans anyway. You're easier to – actually, that's enough about that. You're the girl hanging around and asking questions, aren't you?” I nodded. “Yeah, I saw your performance in the café through the window.”

“I think we should return to the matter at hand,” said Ashley quickly, before tensions rose any further. “I only came here to pick you up, Iago. Shall we get back home?”

“Yeah,” agreed Iago. “Sounds good. I was getting tired of waiting out here; the last people who went past got into some trouble with me.”

“Did you speak to them?” asked Ashley, as we walked back towards the street.

“No,” replied Iago.

“Good. Then the police won't get you.”

I was intrigued and slightly scared by this conversation, but I said nothing. I had the feeling that Ashley might send me home if I started making trouble.

Ashley flagged down a taxi, and twenty minutes later we were pulling up outside a row of old terraced houses in the middle of Rana District. The taxi driver wanted to charge extra for taking 'that grazhny fox', but Ashley refused on the grounds that Kadabra were legally equal to humans; things might have turned ugly, but Ashley eventually talked so much and so confusingly that the taxi driver threatened to kill him and drove off.

“Did we just steal a taxi ride?” I asked.

Ashley paused on the steps of the nearest house, and looked back at me.

“You're not one to judge,” he replied. “You almost committed involuntary manslaughter. Besides, I provide a valuable service to the city. I’m owed a free ride now and again.”

“And I just don't care, because I have no morals,” added Iago.

“Is that part of your disability?”

“No, I’m just a sociopathic bratchny,” he said, with surprising honesty. The swearing was also surprising: I didn't think there were any Kadabra that were that integrated into human culture.

Inside, Ashley's house was more spacious than it looked, though it didn't look like it had been redecorated since the seventies. I suppose he just didn't care about its appearance; he was more bothered about his work.

“Sit down,” he said, “and I’ll tell you everything we have so far.”

I did, and Iago dropped down next to me; he was weirdly light for something his size, and barely made an indent on the sofa.

“Those two criminals are called Liza and Tristan,” Ashley said. “They came to steal Professor Rowan's briefcase, and to kill Miss Gideon and myself.”

“And you?” I asked, surprised.

Ashley pulled out a piece of paper just like the one he'd shown me back at my apartment, only this one had his name and photo on it.

“And me,” he confirmed.

“But not me,” gloated Iago. “I'm unkillable!”

“Actually, you as well,” Ashley replied, and drew out another piece of paper. This one had Iago's photo on it, and made the Kadabra gulp.

“OK,” he said, “so I’m not unkillable. That's a real blow to my self-esteem.”

Ashley ignored him and continued.

“Pearl, Iago and I gave chase to them, and Tristan, in a moment of panic, hurled the briefcase at me. I was therefore able to return it to the police; of course, I had a look inside first, and uncovered a lot of papers on Pokémon evolution and the energy given off when the process occurs.

“I went to meet you, and instructed Iago to track Tristan and Liza, since Kadabra can move with inimitable silence.”

Iago sniffed deeply; if he'd been a human, I would have said he was insulted, but Kadabra are different, and I think he was pleased.

“Iago then led me to the Café Desolée, where I took a table at the back and watched them. From their conversation, I deduced that they were both very hungry and on assignment from somewhere in Eterna City.

“Then, just as they were about to mention names, you walked in and almost killed Tristan.”

Iago chuckled, which sounded like a storm made of gravel.

“Yeah,” he said. “That was really funny.”

“It was freaking terrifying,” I retorted.

“That was what made it so funny.”

“Calm down, children,” said Ashley. “If you recall, I said you could only help if you promised not to cause trouble.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” I shut my mouth tight and sat up straight.

“Now,” he said, “do you remember when I told you that they wouldn't come to kill you because I had taken the warrant from them?”

“Yeah?”

“That was a lie. You are, in fact, in as much danger as ever. As are we all.”

“Oh, great,” sighed Iago. “First that racist nazz in the parking lot and now this. Today just keeps getting better and better.”

“Did you really think that they would just forget to kill you because they didn't have the warrant?” Ashley asked.

“I don't know. You tricked me,” I said, pointing an accusatory finger.

“I suppose I did. Well done me.” Ashley shook his head. “No, that's not the point. My point is that I have now told you everything I have so far discovered about these people. Now the only thing to do is to investigate this base in Eterna.”

“Great,” I said brightly. “When do we go?”

Ashley tilted his head on one side and gave me a look.

“What's that for?” I asked, feeling an ominous sort of sense come over me. “What's that look for?”

“You're a student,” he reminded me.

“Oh,” I said, suddenly remembering that I, in fact, was a student. And also that it was three o'clock and I had completely forgotten about Stephanie's notes. “I – no, I can probably manage. I mean, I could miss a day or two.”

“Really?” asked Iago. “Really? You think you're that smart?”

I couldn't think of a response that wouldn't involve a racist slur, so I ignored him and spoke to Ashley instead.

“I can do it,” I said stubbornly.

“No. I could do it,” Ashley replied. “You can stay here, and I’ll keep you posted.”

“I...” The problem was that Ashley was right. It was incredibly irritating, and I knew that there was absolutely nothing I could do to change his mind. “Oh, fine. I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll stay.”

“Excellent,” replied Ashley. “I think it's probably for the best. You don't seem to be the most competent of detectives.”

“Will you stop going on about that?” I asked, annoyed. “It wasn't even my fault!”

“You could have avoided it.”

“He's right,” said Iago. “You could have avoided it.”

“Stop blaming me! I’m new to this!”

“Fine.” Ashley smiled, which made him look surprisingly handsome. “I'll stop blaming you. Now go home and study.”

I sighed and got up.

“You'd better get to the bottom of this,” I said warningly. I might not have been able to continue the hunt, but I wasn't going to give up on working out why these spacemen wanted me dead.

“Trust us,” Iago replied. “There's a genius in this room. And Ashley's not half bad either.”

I lingered for a moment, then said goodbye and left. They were professionals, after all, and I had to trust them. Besides, no matter how much I wanted to go to Eterna, I had an essay to write.

---

“What do we do? What do we do?” asked Tristan.

“I'm thinking, be quiet!” Liza snapped, pacing.

They were currently occupying a garret on Tant Street, which was the sort of location where no questions were asked, no one went out without a weapon and no sane person ever visited. This was their base of operations for their tasks in Jubilife.

“OK,” said Liza at length, slowing her rapid pacing, “what do we know about these guys?”

“There are three of them,” replied Tristan. “That weird kid in the black coat, the girl and that fox. The kid's obviously clever, the girl seems stupid, and the fox is... I don't know. Does anyone know?”

“He'll be bitter,” Liza said. “All the Kadabra who live with humans are bitter.” She stopped and chewed her knuckle for a moment. “Look, they overheard us talking about the base in Eterna, so they'll go to Eterna, right?”

“Yeah...”

“So they'll take the train to Eterna, because that kid doesn't seem to have a car.”

“We'll blow it up,” said Tristan decisively. In the corner, the Croagunk croaked; his masters often spoke the words 'blow' and 'up', to the extend that he recognised them as portending something.

“Exactly,” Liza replied, smiling. “We blow it up and get rid of them.”

“Hang on, are we authorised to do this?” Tristan asked. “What will the boss say?”

“He hired me for this. He knows I won't leave any link between the explosion and the Team.”

Tristan nodded. It was clear that Liza was a professional when it came to this.

“There's just two things we need to do first,” Liza said.

“Which are...?”

“We need to find out what train they're taking – or bus, I guess – that's the first one.”

“And the second?”

“I need to go to 44 Ramsmith Road,” said Liza, looking out of the window.

“What? Why?”

“There's something I need to check,” she answered. “Do you want to come with me?”

“Not really,” replied Tristan honestly. “I'll just be happy to blow something up.”

The words 'blow' and 'up' had now been uttered so much that the Croagunk took refuge under the table. Doubtless, he thought, something was about to explode, and he wanted shelter.

“Come on, I’d like some company.”

“I don't want to go!”

“I'll buy you a Kinder Egg.”

Liza had calculated shrewdly. Tristan battled with his addiction for a moment – and then, as ever, it won.

“Fine,” he sighed. “Let's go.”

And they did, slipping away through the streets with such silent skill that it would have been hard to recognise them as the same crooks who had fled the scene of the shooting the night before.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; August 19th, 2011 at 03:18 PM.