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Old August 24th, 2011, 11:07 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over this curious narrative of criminals and the law,
As I was writing, mind a-whirring, I thought that I perceived a stirring,
As of something gently purring, purring by my chamber door.
'Tis just the cat,' I muttered, 'purring by my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

That's my way of saying that I was distracted yesterday and forgot to post this. I'm not sure why it had to be a parody of The Raven. I don't even have a cat.

Oh, and olih, I always envisioned Looker as being French. It fits him so well. I mean, he acts and speaks like Inspector Clouseau.

Chapter Four: In Which we Expose the Iniquity of Bus Conductors, and the Truth about Iago

'In general, buses in Sinnoh are not a reliable means of transport. Continuous roadworks, poorly-maintained vehicles and conductors that appear to be recruited from among the ranks of the demons all conspire to ensure that any trip taken by bus will be one that the passenger will regret for the rest of their life. The advice of this writer is to travel by train wherever possible.'
—Sir Topham Hatt, Bt, The World Guide to Public Transport


“Who is Looker?” asked Ashley. He seemed annoyed that I knew something he didn't, so I stuck my tongue out at him.

“Not telling.”

“Then I’ll ask him,” he said and walked off to speak to Rennet and Looker. Feeling faintly stupid, I stood there for a moment, and then ran to catch up.

“Ah, Ashley,” said Rennet, turning to him. “This is Looker. He's an agent of the International Police.”

Ashley regarded Looker with a level eye.

“Good evening, monsieur,” Looker said brightly. “I have been told you are in charge of the investigation here? The Diamond, are you not?”

“Bonjour, monsieur Looker,” replied Ashley. “Oui, je suis le Diamant. Et vous voulez...?”
Looker's face lit up like a Christmas tree, and he conversed rapidly with Ashley in French. Once or twice, both men glanced over at me, and Looker chuckled; I ground my teeth and shifted from foot to foot impatiently.

At length, Ashley was done; he took one of Looker's cards politely, bid him au revoir, and told Rennet that if he knew what was good for him, he would leave this bombing alone before he got into something bigger than he wanted. After that, he took my arm again and steered me gently out of the station.

“He's hunting for Liza,” he observed. “But then again, I think you knew that.”

“What were you saying about me?” I demanded to know.

Ashley sighed.

“This is why I don't work with a partner,” he replied. “I always have to explain things to them.”

“Just tell me!”

“I introduced you as a world-class assassin turned detective, and asked him not to tell anyone of your true profession for fear of compromising our investigation.”

I stared at him.

“Why would you do that?”

Ashley smiled again, which would have deflected the anger and melted the heart of a woman who wasn't quite so good at being cross as I was, and said:

“If I have to keep you around, I might as well amuse myself with you.”

“Bratchny!”

“Let's not get personal, Pearl,” he said as we walked out into the square. “I'd like to keep things amicable.”

The riot had dissolved; there was no sign it had ever even occurred. It wasn't the best part, but it was one of the rules: you always cleared up after your riot, otherwise it actually did become illegal.

“Ashley, why do you have to be so nasty?”

“I'm not being nasty.” We walked across the square to the taxi rank. “This is camaraderie, isn't it?”

“No, you're just setting me up in tricky situations.”

“Interesting.” Ashley nodded deeply and held out a hand for the nearest taxi. “I'll work on that.”

Somewhat nonplussed, I changed the subject:

“What's a taggant?”

“A chemical added to something – in this case, plastic explosive – to identify it. In this country, it's mandatory to tag gelignite with boiled-potatoes scent, because our police forces lack enough sniffer dogs to be sure of catching subtler smells. Northanger Road, please.”

The taxi began to move.

“Are all plastic explosives made to smell like food?”

“Yes. Semtex is bacon, for example.”

I gave Ashley a sideways look; I thought he might have been joking, but then again, I wasn't sure he was capable of it. Despite my suspicions, though, his face remained serious.

“Right,” I said slowly. “What are we doing now?”

“There is a bus leaving for Eterna forty minutes from now,” Ashley replied, showing me the timetables on his smartphone. “We will be on it, along with Iago. Once there, we'll investigate further.”

The cabbie nearly drove off the road.

“You're going by bus?” he asked in the low, husky voice of one who has a debt to the Devil, and has just seem him in the seafood restaurant across the street.

“Yeah, Ashley, I think that's probably a really bad idea,” I agreed. “You know what they're like.”

“Yes, I do. And that's why Tristan and Liza won't expect us to go by bus. They'll expect us to go to another train station, like Lattre or Volze.” Ashley leaned back in his seat.

“Don't do it,” advised the cabbie, slowing down for the traffic lights. “It ain't worth it. Nothing's worth that.”

“Really, Ashley, I think he's right—”

“Thank you, Pearl, but my mind is made up.”

“I'll take you to Lattre Station for free,” the cabbie offered. He sounded like he was on the verge of tears. “Please, just don't do this to yourself.”

“Ashley, I refuse to go by bus!”

“Then you can go home,” he replied. “Look, Tristan at least seems to be native to Sinnoh; he doesn't even have a trace of an accent. He will expect us to go by train, and by the time he and Liza have found that we haven't, we will be out of the city.”

The cabbie shook his head, and heaved a great sigh.

“Well, I’ll take you to the depot,” he said, in the sort of voice that suggested he was talking to a pair of condemned criminals. “But on your own heads be it.”

And with those ominous words, he drove us towards Northanger Road.

---

“Three singles to Eterna, please,” Ashley said. I watched the bus conductor's face carefully, and my heart sank as I saw his eyes flash yellow with Hadean fire.

In the end, we had come via my apartment, where Ashley had given me five minutes to get together anything I wanted to take with me; since I was me and not Stephanie, I’d decided that as long as I had access to money, I could buy anything I needed, and probably packed way too little. It's the excitement, I think – I always just want to skip the boring preparation and go straight ahead to the fun bit. Ashley raised his eyebrows when he saw me come out with nothing but the handbag I’d gone in with, but said nothing.
Now, we stood at the front of the queue with Iago, attempting to buy a ticket.

“The fox,” the conductor said. “Double for him.”

Iago looked like he was on the verge of striking him down with as much fury as Jules Winnfield, but Ashley stopped him with a look.

“I'm going to pay for three adults,” he said, “and if you want more, I shall loose Pearl here on you.”

The conductor looked at me, and made some remark about that plainly not being a bad thing. I felt that I was probably meant to play along with Ashley's scheme here, and threatened to ram his unnervingly sharp-looking teeth down his throat. Even if the man was a demon, he apparently feared injury, and gave us no more trouble for the time being.

“Thank you,” said Ashley unexpectedly, as we made our way down the aisle. “That was kind of you.”

I gave him another sideways look.

“Are you trying to be nice?”

“Is it working?”

“I'll get back to you.”

“More importantly,” said Iago, “we need to hurry up and get the back seats.”

“Why?” asked Ashley, puzzled.

“Because that's where the cool kids sit,” I explained, wondering how he had made it through his teenage years without learning this. (This was, of course, assuming he wasn't a teenager now; I still had no idea how old he was.)

“Is it?”

“Ashley,” said Iago, laying a friendly hand on his shoulder, “you're a fine detective. Almost a Kadabra, even. But sometimes you can be quite an idiot.”

And he guided him to the back of the bus, much to the relief of the queue that had built up behind us but didn't like to interrupt what looked like a decidedly shady interspecies gathering.

Naturally, Iago grabbed one window seat right away, and moments later Ashley took the other. I sighed and sat down in the middle one.

“It's hot,” I said.

No one said anything; the other passengers were busy arguing with the conductor and taking their seats, Ashley was staring out of the window, and Iago was tapping his claws impatiently on the seat in front of him.

“It's really hot in here,” I said, adding some emphasis in case it would make someone react.

Still no reaction. The guy in front of Iago turned around and asked him to stop tapping; Iago replied that he thought tapping on a chair paled into insignificance when compared to the genocide perpetuated against his race in the forties by humans, and the man was forced to back down.

Ashley stared at the concrete walls of the bus depot, and sighed.

I tapped the air conditioning button above my head.

“This doesn't work,” I said, hoping that this would attract some attention. I was right; it did.

“Pearl, we're in Sinnoh, and on a bus,” Iago snapped. “This is a machine designed by Satan specifically to torture poor saps who can't afford train tickets.”

This drew some unfriendly looks from the passengers ahead of us, and I scooted over a few inches towards Ashley, desperately trying to look like I wasn't with Iago.

“I don't know him,” I whispered conspiratorially to the people in front.

Ashley sighed again, and I heard the pneumatic hiss of the bus doors sealing.

“The bus will depart now for Eterna City,” said the conductor. Through his speaker system, he sounded like some hideous cross between Darth Vader and Jigsaw. “There will be no stops.”

I could have sworn I heard a note of malicious glee in his voice; however, I did nothing but settle down and try to get comfortable in my seat, which seemed to be made mostly out of broken glass and beach stones.

As the bus rumbled slowly and noisily out of the depot, I wondered if travelling with Ashley and Iago had been such a good idea after all. I gave it fifteen minutes before we had our first breakdown – which was, in fact, wrong. It only took ten minutes before the bus stalled, halfway down Mansard Avenue.

No one was allowed to get out; we remained in the stifling heat of the bus for the full ten minutes it took the conductor to get out, direct some infernal wizardry at the engine and get the machine started again. All the while, a storm of car horns blared behind us, and while the bus's walls did an admirable job of keeping the heat in, they didn't keep the angry noise out.

A baby started crying, and I slumped in my seat, defeated.

“God, I hate buses,” I murmured, and tried to fall asleep.

---

An hour later, we were driving slowly along the motorway, a few miles north of Jubilife. We had broken down twice more, the baby hadn't stopped crying, and the conductor's grin had broadened until it seemed to cover his face from ear to ear, which was not only unnerving but kind of scary.

Now we hit the roadworks.

Sinnish roads are not great. We're the first to admit it; it probably doesn't do much for our tourist industry, but the first thing any Sinnish person tells a foreigner is that they should go everywhere by train, if they can. For the government cares a lot about our road network, and therefore it's almost always being repaired.

So it was that we became stuck in a seventy-vehicle tailback on Route 204, while someone resurfaced the roads up ahead.

It was at this point that Iago rummaged in the fluffy fur that made up his tail, withdrew a small bag and pulled out an Oddish leaf joint.

“You smoke odd?” I asked, surprised. “I thought Kadabra didn't like distracting their minds.”

“In case you haven't noticed,” Iago replied, “I'm not an average Kadabra.” He lit the joint and stuck it in his sharp-toothed mouth.

I glanced at Ashley, who might have been dead, asleep or thinking; I didn't like to presume any one of the three.

“I don't think you can smoke here,” I said.

“Actually, I can,” Iago replied. “I need this to get through this hell without going insane.”

I looked at the other passengers. They appeared to be studiously ignoring Iago and the plumes of sweet-smelling smoke curling out from between his moustaches; in fact, more than one of them was smoking themselves, and at least two of those were smoking odd.

“Fair enough,” I replied.

Now, I could write down what Iago talked about after that, but it's basically drivel about how blue my hair was and how he wanted to enslave humanity, repeated for three hours as we drove past Floaroma and up to Eterna. Iago might have enjoyed his bus ride, but I think he made it significantly worse for all the non-stoned people on board. The conductor should really have thrown him off, but he was probably enjoying the way he was ruining everyone else's journey. Thankfully, I managed to fall asleep, only to wake up a few hours later with a horrible pain in my neck. I was fairly certain that the seats were designed to do that to anyone who slept in them, as punishment for trying to avoid the torture of the bus trip by sleeping.

When I came back to our depressing reality, Ashley still hadn't moved from the position he'd been in when we set off.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“About twenty minutes from Eterna,” Ashley said, without opening his eyes – or indeed moving his lips. I supposed that that was how he'd given me the answers back in the bombed train station.

My phone beeped, and I flipped it open, stared at the screen and shut it again with a sigh. Apparently I had seven missed calls from Stephanie, and one from Gareth; I didn't care so much about the first ones, since Stephanie had a key and could get her notes back – but whenever Gareth called, it meant I was missing a party. A big one. The kind that can leave people dead from exhaustion or alcohol poisoning. In other words, exactly the kind I like.

I looked over at Iago. He was staring intently out of the window, and occasionally making remarks about how futile all human endeavour was, because one day his people would rise up and destroy it all.

Uncertain whether he was still high or not, and sincerely hoping that he was mistaken about the warlike tendencies of the Kadabra race, I leaned back in my seat and tried to work out if there were several babies that were taking it in turns to cry, or whether there was just one with impressive stamina that had managed to keep it up all the way from Jubilife.

The closer we got to our destination, the slower the bus seemed to go. By now, it was about quarter past seven; the sun was starting to set, and I was beginning to go insane from the heat, the noise and the monotonously regular breakdowns. I wasn't the only one. A woman a few seats ahead of us was rocking back and forth, knees drawn up to her chest, and muttering about a happy place; a man two rows ahead of her and to the right was softly sobbing into his hands.

Something made a horrible grinding noise, and the bus glided to the side of the motorway and stopped.

“I regret to inform you,” the conductor said in his terrible voice, “that the bus seems to have broken down. Please bear with us while we see what the problem is.”

He got out; some desperate soul made a break for it, trying to rush out after him, but the conductor froze him on the spot with the force of his smouldering eyes and locked the doors.

“God give us strength,” I heard someone mutter, and wholeheartedly agreed, though I had doubts that any deity would choose to help us. After all, we were in a bus: if anything, God was punishing us.

At length, the bus started up, and finally the buildings of Eterna started to appear around us; a small cheer went up from the passengers who were still capable of hope, and in vengeance for this, the conductor deliberately guided us into a one-way street network that would take us away from the station. We made two circuits before he decided he had broken our spirit, and took us along to the bus stop.

When the bus finally drew to a halt, no one moved at first; we could hardly believe that our torment was at an end. Then Ashley, who didn't seem to have been affected by the horrors of the journey at all, got up and left, dragging me with him. Iago followed, pausing only to glare briefly at the conductor – and then slowly, everyone else got up too, heading cautiously to the exit like slaves who can't quite believe that they've just been freed. I noticed as we left that the conductor took a tape marked 'SCREAMING BABY SOUNDTRACK' out of the bus's cassette player; that was one mystery solved, and another black mark on the conductor's soul.

“Fresh air,” I said, hardly daring to believe it. “It's so wonderful...”

“I know,” breathed Iago. “Like scamming an old man out of his pension.”

“Pull yourselves together,” said Ashley sharply. He grabbed us both by the wrists and dragged our unresisting bodies down the road. “Come on. I want to start investigating.”

“Whoa. Wait.” I stopped in the middle of the moonlit street and raised a hand. “I'm not doing that tonight.”

“Yeah, I have to agree with Pearl for once,” said Iago. “There's no way I’m doing anything now.”

Ashley looked at us in astonishment.

“Why?”

“We're exhausted,” I replied.

“And still slightly stoned,” added Iago.

“Fine,” sighed Ashley. “You two find somewhere to stay, and I’ll find you later. Go and – and eat and sleep, or whatever it is you want to do.”

With that, he turned on his heel and stalked off into the night.

“Eat and sleep,” I said. “Sounds good to me.”

“Me too,” agreed Iago. “Let's go.”

We started walking away in the opposite direction to the one Ashley had chosen.

“Is he angry?” I asked. “Ashley, that is.”

“No. He just doesn't understand.” Iago twirled a finger around next to his head. “He's wired differently. Got more in common with an Alakazam with a human, or even a Kadabra.”

I decided not to reveal my lack of knowledge about what made Kadabra and Alakazam different from each other, and contented myself with nodding sagely.

“You don't know what I’m talking about,” Iago said. “Never mind. You're only human.”

“You're in a good mood.”

“I'm not in my right mind. I’m aware right now that I hate you, but I can't bring myself to put the theory into practice.”

“I like you better when you're stoned.”

“Funny you should say that. Everyone does.” Iago paused. “Left here.”

I followed him around the corner.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“Food,” he replied succinctly. “Do you like Chinese?”

“Not really—”

“Great,” Iago said. “There's a nice Chinese restaurant somewhere along this street, if I remember right. And I always do.”

I sighed and followed. Maybe I didn't like Iago so much after all.

---

Ashley knew exactly where he was going. Though his work didn't usually take him outside of the capital, he knew the other major cities of Sinnoh fairly well, albeit in a completely different way to most people.

He knew, for instance, that in Eterna, the best place to go to ask about any nefarious doings was the Gardening Society headquarters on Sanck Street.

This building was small and understated; there was almost nothing about it that might reveal what went on within. In fact, it looked very much like the garden supplies shop of a Mrs. D. Periwinkle-Bazaar, open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This was the only indication that something out of the ordinary happened here, for there is usually no garden supply so urgently needed that it cannot wait until morning to be bought.

Ashley walked in and went over to the counter; Mrs D. Periwinkle-Bazaar was on the other side, and she looked up, surprised, from a magazine as he entered.

“Oh! I wasn't expecting anyone so late.”

“I wonder if you could tell me about this,” Ashley said, placing the torn-out Galactic logo on the counter and sliding it over to her.

Immediately, Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar's mouth tightened to a thin line, and she looked at him with renewed suspicion.

“I don't know anything about it,” she said. “This is a gardening store—”

“You know as well as I that this isn't just a gardening store,” Ashley cut in. “I want to know everything you do.”

“Who are you?” Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar's hand was creeping towards a pair of shears.

“I am the Diamond,” Ashley replied. “And unless you tell me what I want to know, I shall have no choice but to destroy your organisation, no matter how many old ladies attack me with garden shears.”

It did not do to underestimate the skills of a qualified Gardening Society member. Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar lashed out with the shears with the speed of a striking cobra; Ashley, taken aback, escaped a cut throat by the slightest moment. He ducked, lost half a lock of hair and took a step back, just as the pensioner vaulted the counter and swung the shears down towards his face.

“This is not how I wanted to talk to you!” Ashley cried, dropping to the floor and rolling left into a rack of flowerpots. He scrambled to his feet and grabbed hold of Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar's shear-wielding arm before she could raise it. “Now look what you made me do,” he said, annoyed. “I've damaged your merchandise.”

“I know who you are,” growled Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar, tearing her arm free and elbowing him viciously in the chest. “People like me have to protect ourselves—”

“I'm not here for you!” wheezed Ashley, staggering back a step and fumbling in the breast pocket of his coat. “Your organisation doesn't interest me!”

But the spinster was not to be stopped: the blades flashed towards his midriff—

—only to be stopped with a sharp snick as they met something hard, jammed between the blades.

Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar froze.

“Calm down,” said Ashley. “I don't want to have to use this, especially not on a woman of your standing. You have so much left to live for. Your crime syndicate, for example.”

“What do you want with us?” Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar asked.

“I don't want anything with the Gardening Society,” Ashley replied wearily. “You're too simple. Money-laundering and extortion, open-and-shut. I’m on the trail of something much more interesting. Now tell me about Galactic and I will leave this shop and most likely never bother you again.”

Mrs Periwinkle-Bazaar straightened up and withdrew the shears, then went around behind the counter again. This done, she raised her weapon in the air.

“I'll put these down if you put yours down,” she said.

“I think not,” Ashley replied. “I'm feeling a little threatened, so I might just keep it. Now,” he went on, “I'm going to ask you one more time. Please tell me everything you know about Galactic...”

---

“Are you going to eat any of that?” asked Iago. For someone so small and so light, he'd eaten a lot already, and I was hoping that he would be footing the bill.

“No,” I sighed. “I told you I don't like this.”

“That's why I came here,” the Kadabra said happily, taking my plate and twirling his chopsticks. “I knew I’d get to eat yours too.”

“You're sober again, aren't you?”

“I have been for a while. I’ve just been screwing with you.” Iago grinned at me through a mouthful of fried rice.

I couldn't help but smile, even though he was being horrible.

“You're so nasty,” I said. “So why do I like you?”

“Because I make you like me,” Iago replied, motioning to the waiter and calling for more food. “See, I’m a con artist.”

I should probably have been surprised, but I wasn't. Instead I sighed, nodded and took a gulp of my beer.

“It's the perfect career for a Kadabra among humans, even if I don't have any psychic powers. I can read your faces and bodies like open books, and it's easy to make you do whatever I want. I grifted around the world, worked my way back to Sinnoh and scammed Wolstein's out of twenty million dollars.”

I widened my eyes.

“That was you?

“I guess so, but a psychiatrist once told me I’m a compulsive liar, so it might have been someone else.” Iago chewed thoughtfully. “It was a satisfying job, but it needed a guy they could trust, so I had to use a human frontman. Unfortunately, he double-crossed me, the bratchny, and ran off with the twenty million plus the nine hundred thousand I had left at the moment, then reported me to the police.” Iago snorted bitterly. “Ten years and that was the first time I was noticed. Of course, if you're a Kadabra who talks aloud, there's no disguising yourself; I couldn't get out of the country or dodge the cops. I went into hiding in Jubilife.”

He fell silent.

“I'm sorry,” I said, feeling monstrously inadequate.

“That's annoying,” Iago replied. “Why are you humans always sorry for things you didn't do?”

“All right, all right. What happened next?” I prompted. Perhaps it was the booze – he'd been drinking pretty freely, and he was a literal lightweight – but he'd been very open tonight.

“Next, we decided to leave the restaurant,” said Iago, and slipped out of his seat and ran outside.

I stared after him for a moment.

“You bratchny,” I breathed. “I...”

At this point, Iago reappeared.

“Look,” he said, hopping back into his chair, “if I’m going to mould you into someone I can bear to live with, you're going to have to learn to take a hint. I said we decided to leave. Note the inclusion of the word we.”

“We're not paying?”

“Do you have any money?”

“Some, but you ate about twenty thousand dollars' worth of food. If you want to dine and dash, I’m fine with that.”

“I thought you would be. You seem the impulsive type.” Iago's eyes flicked over to the waiter and back again. “Count of three. One... two... three!”

I can move pretty fast when I want to, and when I’m not drunk wearing high heels in the middle of the night. Iago and I were out of the door almost before our chopsticks hit the plates. The waiter shouted behind us – but we were racing down the street, and were out of his sight in less than ten seconds. Two minutes later, we'd lost him, and came to a breathless, giggly halt somewhere in Eterna's network of back roads.

“I haven't done that for ages,” I said through my laughter. “That was fantastic!”

“I know,” Iago replied. “I don't do that nearly as often as I should.”

“Ashley disapproves?”

“No, he just doesn't care. If he doesn't get a kick out of it, it's no fun.” Iago sighed. “Hotel and sleep?”

“Sounds good to me,” I replied, and we walked off. I wasn't sure whether we were friends yet, but it seemed that there'd been at least some improvement in our relationship.

---

At that very moment, in a building many miles away, there was a man sitting behind a desk and thinking. On the desk was another person; there was another chair, but this person, for whatever reason, wasn't using it.

Unfortunately, we join this couple halfway through a conversation, so we hear only a short, mysterious exchange that makes no sense to us without further exposition.

“How do you know all of this?” asked the man. He was very important, and so we shall henceforth call him the Important Man.

“We have our sources,” the person on the desk replied cagily. “We'll tell you when it's safe.”

“Well... all right. I trust you,” the Important Man said.

“If you can't trust us,” replied the other darkly, “then you can't trust anybody.”

“That's true.” The Important Man almost smiled. “Witty.”

“We know.” His companion's eyes smouldered. “It was our intention to be witty.”

“All right,” said the Important Man agreeably. “Now, I’d like to run through tomorrow's speech with you again...”
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; December 31st, 2011 at 08:12 AM.