It was just another of those days that go on forever; no real beginning, no real goal to work for. The prospect of going home was as dull as the prospect of having to go to work again in the morning. I considered sleeping in my office – it didn't look less chaotic and comfortable than my flat, anyway.
The rain had been dripping at the windowpane mercilessly for hours now, filling the room with a monotonous melody of gloominess. I had been looking at her picture, again, like I had done too many times lately and the rain was a fitting companion – it always seemed to me like the falling drops were the tears I seemed unable to shed… I blamed the dirty rain for being able to cry when I couldn't and that's why I hated it even more. There had been a time when I liked the rain, though. I had believed then that it could wash the town clean – but then I realized that when the little drops splash apart on the ground of the city, they get as dirty as the streets.
It was the same with our dreams – once they burst, there was nothing left but a filthy mass that filled our mind and heart…
"Mano, what's the matter? You were supposed to report this morning, remember?" A voice dragged me out of my self-dug pit.
Mano… Only one person still called me by that name: Hugo Agreian, one of the best cops in Notia. He was ambitious but still had a kind heart; he was trustworthy and composed and I was fortunate enough to be able to call him my only and best friend. Unfortunately, in his position as Major at Lester Department, he was also my boss and had a right to be pissed off about me, since I hadn't shown up that morning in his office…
"I'm sorry," I told him and truly meant it. "But honestly, I didn't know what to report… You know that there haven't been any new cases lately."
He pointed at my desk that was covered with a dusty mess of papers, unopened letters and files. "There is a bunch of new cases, but you don't seem to be interested in them. That cannot go on, Mano. I know how you feel, but you are a Captain! The Chief wants to know what you – what we – are doing here for our money and right now I don't know what I should tell him!"
"These are no cases, only jokes." I picked up a file and read it to him aloud: " ‘Mrs. Justina Born, Amabat Str. 4, has reason to believe that her prize-winning tom cat by the name of Raul has been stolen.’" I threw the paper onto the pile again. "Hugo, this here is the section for organized criminality and corruption, not for petty offences! I'll tell you what we should be doing for our money – we should go out and destroy this damn Yason clan, once and for all!"
The mention of the name "Yason" never failed to set my blood boiling – nowadays it was, next to whiskey, probably the only thing that gave my life a meaning. The Yason family was one of the oldest and wealthiest families in Notia – and a criminal network that spanned over the whole city and suffocated it. Corruption, black-mail, smuggling, murder – you name a crime and you could be sure that someone of the Yason was caught up in it. Hundreds of files in my and Hugo's file cabinets were about the atrocities of this mafia-like clan, but most of these cases had never been closed. Every time we had tried to bring a Yason before court, witnesses disappeared, victims withdrew their accusations or one of the city fathers himself paid the bail for the arrested culprit – the Yason had good connections.
The clan saw itself in the role of the great benefactor of Notia – they owned companies, bars and restaurants and offered plenty of jobs to anyone who wasn't asking many questions. Notia's government shut their eyes to their doings as long as they kept the city calm and held the other clans at bay.
I knew, though, that the Yason were not the gentlemen gangsters they were playing – they were cold killers and in my opinion lower than the lowest robber.
"Mano, I know how you feel – I want to get my hands on them, too," Hugo said, "But in order to do that we need this section and if we don't show them that we are working, they'll transfer us to another department!"
I did my best not to laugh out loud – Hugo knew, as well as I, that Lester Department was no longer what it once had been. It had been founded during a time when the city wasn’t as depressed and engrossed in corruption as it was now; in a time when the people had cared for the truth and had been willing to stand up for what they believed in. I had been one of those people, too – but then, with the election of a new government and the rise of the Yason, the downfall of Notia and Lester Department had begun. Only to give the citizens a false sense of safety, they hadn't closed the section for criminal corruption yet, but had "only" limited our authority severly. We were like fish in a bowl – we could see the outside world, but couldn't influence it.
"If you don't want to take on some of the smaller cases, I have another job for you. The chief informed me that we have a new officer… He's waiting outside. Take care of him before Sergeant Haren does, will you?" Hugo said grinning.
"They sent us a new officer? Was it a transfer for disciplinary reasons?" I sneered sarcastically. "Anyways, what am I supposed to teach him? How to reach the sad state I'm in?"
"Captain Calintz," Hugo put a hand on my shoulder and gave me an encouraging glance, "you are still my best man and there's a lot you can teach this young officer. I want you to make of him a good addition for our section. You could straighten out your trench coat, though – if you refuse to wear a uniform, at least try to take care of your street clothes." His tone was official, but his mouth was smiling. Before he left the room, he gave one last look at the picture on my desk.
"As hard as it is, you have to move on, Mano. She wouldn't want you to feel responsible forever. And the next time you have an appointment with me, I'd like you to appear in my office regardless of whether there is something to report or not. I'm also your friend, you know, and we can just talk, as well…"
"Thanks, Hugo..." I knew that he only wanted to help me – after her death he had been the one who had saved me from giving up my job by talking the Chief into making me Captain. Otherwise, I would have probably landed in the gutter and drowned in alcohol – now I was only drowning in bitterness and boredom, although occasionally I still preferred a drink to it. Maybe more than occasionally. Right now, I felt like deadening my senses with a stiff drink, too, but I had to follow Hugo's orders – I did not want to let him down, again.
It was enough that I had let her down.
In the hallway the rhythmic clatter of a typewriter greeted me, but then was drowned out by a loud voice:
"What shit is that? Ya mean to tell me that I have to work together with this little kid!? He's even skinnier than Calintz!" That not really flattering comment – I had to admit that I didn’t look like the most muscular of men, although size did not say anything about strength – could come from no other but Sergeant Haren, one of the people who was unfortunate enough to work with me.
"Do I have to remind you that it was the "skinny" Captain that beat you last time in training?"
The calm voice who defended me belonged to Eonis, secretary and always reliable girl-for-everything at Lester Department. She had the rare ability to pacify even the most heated character and was also the only one who really got along with Haren.
The clattering of the typewriter stopped as I entered the lobby. Eonis greeted me with a friendly nod, looking pretty as usual with her perfectly fitting grey outfit and her brown hair that was neatly styled in waves after the newest fashion. Hugo had once remarked that if Haren had as much brain as he had muscles he would have made her a marriage proposal long ago. From the way Eonis was always smiling even at Haren's most offensive remarks, I was sure that she would agree immediately, although I wondered if she wasn't too good for him.
Haren was leaning on the wall with crossed arms and was looking reproachfully in my direction. He was a grim and muscular giant and it was a mystery to me where they had found a uniform for him big enough to fit. Due to his uncontrollable violent temper, Sergeant "the bull" Haren, as he was called respectfully and fearfully from both police officers and criminals, had been sent for disciplinary reasons to this section half a year ago. The change had not really calmed down his temper, though – in fact his hate for the Yason was nearly as big as mine. One year ago, his fiancée, Felicia, had gotten caught in a shooting between two clans and had died. Since that time Haren had secretly sworn to destroy every clan in town.
"Why are they sending us someone new? I thought they wanted to close this section?" For the first time I noticed the black haired, slim officer that was standing next to the Sergeant – he looked very young, nearly like a child.
"Captain Calintz, this is Officer Azel. He volunteered for the job here." Eonis informed me and started to type again.
"Volunteered, eh?" I took Azel's file from Eonis' desk and scanned it. "It says here that you were under the top three of the Police Academy absolvents. You had a great career waiting for you, so why did you choose to work here?" Working in our section was a road to nowhere – that was if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, it could even be the road to ruin.
The new policeman took a step towards me and saluted. "Captain Calintz, Sir, I wanted to work under you! You are my idol."
My lips cracked into a little smile. Another one who believed that the "old" Calintz still existed – an ambitious young policeman who believed in his work and in justice and who had solved the cases quickly, and had risen in rank even quicker. He had lived in the old Notia, in other times, however, and those were long gone. It seemed that Azel had not realized this yet, and thus I decided to dampen his enthusiasm a little:
"Well, officer Azel, let's see if you are fit for the kind of work you will sooner or later do here. Take the following question into account: You were able to track down a clan head. After an exchange of fire, you have only one bullet left, but are still surrounded by several armed gangsters and the boss. How do you escape this situation?"
"I hope that other units will come to my aid. In the meantime, I try to negotiate to buy time," Azel answered.
"Wrong, kid!" Haren let out a disdainful chuckle. "You wait for a backup? Boy, if any cop in this town realizes that you have tracked down a clan boss, he will take to his heels and do everything possible not to get involved in the affair. No sane person will risk his rank and, even worse, his life by helping you!"
The answer seemed to confuse the young officer and he gave a questioning gaze towards me – his eyes were, despite his young appearance, intelligent and open-minded.
"So, Captain, how do I escape?"
"There is no escape." I told him matter-of-factly. "But since you are going to die anyway, you could as well try to get the boss with your last bullet."
"But we learned at the Academy that you shouldn't take unnecessary risks when--"
"I never said that this was the answer the academy would give in such a case," I interrupted him coldly. "It is my answer, though. Welcome to my team."
I gave him one week in the section. No more.
The next day, I was at work even earlier than normal – I guess I wanted to have some moments alone before I had to play the rookie instructor again. I had to admit, though, that Officer Azel looked promising. He had a good eye when it came to shooting and possessed a quick, receptive mind. He was too naive and trusting, though, and I could only hope that these traits wouldn't be his downfall one day. He certainly could have used some of the mistrust Sergeant Haren was holding against nearly anything and anyone in the city – including my decisions – as it often seemed to me. I had to admit, though, that following orders never has been my strong point, as well…
"Good morning, Captain," Eonis greeted me as I entered the police building. "You already have a visitor. She asked specifically for you and I told her to wait in your office…"
"Thanks…" My forehead creased with a frown as I made my way towards my office – a she?
It seemed that this morning had more in store for me than my usual hangover.
I opened the door silently and thus had the chance to study my visitor. She was sitting with her back turned to me; a slim, elegant figure in a knee long, red suit and matching high heels. Her brown hair was only shoulder-length, in the way the modern girls on the boulevard wore it. Judging her posture, it seemed to me that the woman was studying something on my desk.
"You wanted to see me?" I addressed her.
She gave a start and hastily turned around. Her features turned to fear as she beheld the look on my face.
I couldn't believe it – she looked so much like her; the big eyes, the nearly child-like features, the full lips, the way her eyebrows were curved--
"Reith?" My voice sounded hoarse.
"Wh--what?" Her surprise pulled me back into reality again.
"I'm sorry. I mistook you for someone else." I still couldn't take my eyes off her - the similarity was astounding. "So, what can I do for you, Miss–?"
It seemed that my stare had been more than obvious, since my visitor blushed slightly. "You can call me Serina." She offered a slim gloved hand to me – I did not take it, but sat down, opposite of her, which seemed to unnerve her slightly. "Captain Calintz, I have heard much about you…"
"Most people have and usually not good things," I leaned back in my chair. "But certainly you have not come here to talk with me about my "glorious" past – or are you from a newspaper?" My tone was harder than I wanted it to be, but I hated journalists – they were as filthy as the scum they were writing about.
"Do I look like someone who wants to interrogate you?" She averted her gaze. I felt pity for her in this moment and wondered why she was so insecure. Her answer came unbidden only a second later.
"Captain Calintz, I need your protection." She said it like it was the most normal thing in the world to ask of me.
My voice turned to stone and I believe my expression did the same. "I'm a captain of the department for organized criminality and not for personal protection." She was probably afraid of her ex-boyfriend or something like that – love, unless you bought it, had no chance in times like these and even less in a city like Notia. "I'll tell the secretary to give you the address of--"
"No!" Her voice was firm all of a sudden and she looked at me now, her big brown eyes full of fear but also desperate resolution at the same time. "I know about your section… That's why I came to you – you may be the only one who is able to protect me from them…"
My ears pricked. "And who is 'them'?"
She bent a bit towards me, as if she was afraid that others could hear what she was about to say. "The Yason family…"
This was better than a hangover, indeed.
It turned out that Miss Serina could be a great asset in the solving of a case that had exercised my mind for quite some time now: It was the matter of the death of a certain Mr. Astal, who had died in the flames of his house one week ago. The police report stated that "The 40-year old pharmacist Henry Astal had dozed off with a cigarette between his lips" and had two interesting points: First off, it concealed the well known fact that Mr. Astal's had also been a mediator between Notia's government and the Yason. Second, it stated that Mr. Astal's death had been an accident when in reality he had been murdered. And it was just this murder that Serina had witnessed.
"I came late from work and my way home led past Efferia Street. That night, I saw a red glow in that direction and out of curiosity I hurried into the street to check it out – Mr. Astal's pharmacy was standing in flames, as well as the flat above… I wanted to make a dash for the next telephone cell to call the fire department when I saw this man exiting the house, like the flames did not frighten him at all…"
"And why do you think that he was a Yason?"
"I couldn't see him very well from the distance, but his face had an unnatural white complexion and he had coal-colored black hair. He looked like the devil himself…" She buried her face in her hands. "I'm sure that it was the man they call Azhadi…"
The description indeed fitted Azhadi Zoren, but there was something else that bugged me about her tale. "Azhadi is one of the four highest ranking Yason. Not many people know how they look – how comes it that you do?"
"I worked as a waitress, Captain Calintz – and not in the best part of town. I've heard my share of stories about the Yason and it is no secret that Azhadi looks like a monster…"
I decided to believe her explanation – the likeliest place to see a Yason were indeed the poor parts in town, since the clan often recruited new men there. "So what did you do, then?"
She averted her gaze, ashamed. "I ran. I was terribly afraid."
"So you don't even know if he saw you? Did he follow you?"
"I don't think so…"
"Have you gotten any threatening letters or phone calls yet?"
"No…" Her voice was small now, as if she knew what I was getting at. "Are you telling me that I don't need protection?"
"I'm terribly sorry to be so blunt, but if a Yason really had seen you, you would be either dead by now or had at least received a warning of some sort…"
"But I feel like I’m being watched!" she insisted. "Captain Calintz, my life is breaking apart – I don't dare to go out in the dark anymore and have lost my job because of that… Are you telling me that I should just wait until the Yason murder me? Do you want to risk that?"
I frowned. On the one hand, I was cautious regarding her tale – women were quick at speaking, quick at lying and quick at making the wrong assumptions. Well, most of them. On the other hand, if she was telling the truth, it was not only my duty to look into her case, but also a chance to shed a new light on the case of Mr. Astal. If I could find any proof for her fears, I maybe could convince her to testify against Azhadi before a court together with me. I was sure that the judges would have to listen this time -- if the Yason had truly sent one of their best men to murder a mediator, it meant that they had finally decided to break the ties with the government. It was like a declaration of war -- even Notia's corrupt rulers wouldn't close their eyes before this…
"I'm not really sure if I will take your case, but if it calms you, I will escort you to your flat and let two of my men guard it. If you are truly getting watched, we should be able to find out."
"Thank you, Captain." The way she smiled at me made my throat feel dry.
"Don't you want to inform Major Agreian that you are going to escort the young lady home?" Eonis asked, dutifully as ever.
I shook my head. "Just tell him that I'm doing patrol with the newbie…" I didn't want to bother Hugo until I knew if Serina's case was a case at all.
"Don't you worry a bit, Miss," Officer Azel said with such enthusiasm that it would have convinced nearly anyone, "We'll make sure that no one harms you."
Sergeant Haren was less taken with escorting Serina home and protecting her flat. "I'm here to kick the butt of some criminals and not to play the bodyguard for a woman I neither know nor trust…"
Haren's resistance to female charms seemed to be even greater than my own. After her death, I had shut myself to the pleasures of the world, though I wondered if love could get called a pleasure, anyway – for me, it only had brought pain. Still, Serina interested me --
as she sat next to me in the back of the car, I wondered how such a fragile person like her had even one day survived in this hellish city… The way she looked out of the car window with wide open, frightened eyes, she reminded me of a pretty little bird that could no longer fly away, since it had broken its wings on the hard reality of Notia's life. You couldn't escape the city and it broke everyone's belief sooner or later -- the only difference was whether you let it show or not.
I ordered Haren and Azel to stand watch while I entered the apartment building together with Serina. As we stood together in the little elevator, I noticed the fragrance of violets emanating from her – Reith had always used a similar perfume… Serina did not speak much and had her gaze averted mostly, only giving me a shy glance now and then. I did not really mind her silence – I was not really good when it came to making small talk.
Sometimes I wondered what I was good at anyway – next to drinking and leaving a mess wherever I went.
The house Serina lived in was in a desolate state: the dusty hallway smelled of mould and overcooked cabbage and the incoming day light was filtered by boards that had been nailed across the windows. It did not seem to be the right place for someone like Serina, but then again there maybe was no place in the city which would have been suited for a delicate person like her.
"Are you living alone?" I asked while she was searching for the keys in her bag.
"Yes…" It sounded regretful. "My family lives in another town – I don't see them very often…"
"But surely you have friends?" It was difficult for me to keep a straight face while asking it – as if I had any friends next to Hugo.
"I… I don't like to go out much… You see, I--" She paled as she tried to insert the key and found out that the door was already open.
"Wait here." I shoved her rather roughly aside, unholstered my gun and entered her flat.
Unless she was as messy as I was (and I doubted that) her room was clearly not in its original state, but had been devastated. The furniture had been thrown about, all drawers had been opened, and the floor was littered with broken pieces of glass – had someone searched for something or was it a warning? The kitchen was in the same sad condition, but before I could take a closer look at it, I heard a strange noise coming from the direction of a door opposite of me – obviously the bedroom. I breathed in deeply before storming into the room, weapon drawn – something colourful was fluttering through the air and then, with a loud bang, a little yellow ball sank to the ground. The little bird had obviously entered the room through an open window and in panic had lost its sense for direction and broken its neck on the window pane.
I heard steps behind me and before I could tell her to stay outside, Serina had entered the room and uttered a horrified gasp. It probably wasn't because of the bird, though, but because of the sentence someone had painted on the wall with red:
You know too much. Ice Queen.
"What does this mean?" she whispered.
"'Ice Queen' is the cover name for the head of the Yason clan." I told her calmly. "No one knows her real identity. It seems that you have made the mightiest person in the city your enemy…" I whirled around just in time to catch her lithe form as she slumped with a mangled sob. She was light in my arms and the smell of her sweet perfume made me feel dizzy – were women using perfume just for this purpose? To make us men dizzy and weak?
"So, do you believe me now?" Little, diamond-clear tears were beading in her eyes.
"I do and I will take on your case." I told her and, to my surprise, smiled while I did.
We brought Serina back to Lester Department, where I put her in Eonis' care.
"Where's Hugo – I mean, Major Agreian?"
"He's not in his office right now – he left some time ago." Eonis informed me.
"Good. Wait in my office, Miss Serina – you’ll be safe there."
"And what will you do, Captain Calintz?" Her big eyes watched me with worry.
"Well, I will definitely not wait. It's time to find out who exactly is after you and to put a stop to it. If I can get more proof that the Yason killed Mr. Astal, you have to promise me that you will testify against Azhadi before a court, though…"
Serina paled slightly at my request. "Yes… Yes, of course. But where are you going?"
"To a place where I might find some answers… The Venus Fly Trap."
"But that's in Epentar street! Are you mad, Captain Calintz?" Eonis looked at me, shocked. "Major Agreian himself has forbidden all officers to enter the Yason district unless ordered. It's part of an agreement between the Yason and the government."
"I know, but Hugo never has to find out, right? And not a word about Serina, please." I felt bad for asking her to lie for me, but there was no other way.
"He's right, Eonis. You've got to help us." From Haren's words I could suggest that he had already made up his mind to accompany me, as well as Officer Azel:
"We're going into the heart of Evil? I'm with you, Captain!"
Eonis sighed deeply. "Fine. When Agreian asks about you, I will tell him that I have not seen you yet. But this is the last time I'm lying…"
I cracked a little smile and gave her a wink. "What would we do without you? I'm sure that Sergeant Haren will repay you with an invitation to dinner for that… Isn't that right, Haren?"
The only answer from the giant was a grunt.
The Venus Fly Trap was the most famous Night Club in Notia – the fame was a sad one, though, as the establishment, like the name implied, had the habit of sucking in people and swallow them whole. Since it lay in Epentar Street, it belonged to the Yason district in Notia and was off-limits for anyone who wanted to live the next day.
I didn't care, though, since I knew that it would be the ideal place to get some answers: The Venus Fly Trap was run by Carian Lora, one of the four Yason top members.
The club was, although it was mid-day, reasonably filled with customers. As we entered the place, all eyes were on us and it probably was only thanks to Haren's imposing stature that no one was pointing his gun at us. The interior of the club was exclusive and luxurious – it often was in life that the most beautiful façade hid the most hideous inside: On the red chaise lounges, men with lots of money, but no souls, were sprawled, amusing themselves with women with too much make up on their faces and not enough heart. Under the light of the gold lustre and behind closed satin curtains, the most dangerous men in town were plotting their newest crime or sharing the money of their latest coup and the fancy drinks in their hands had more than once contained poison.
I approached the bar, where I had spotted a familiar face – the bartender was none other than Chris Arcway, a crafty and handsome fellow and probably the most unconcerned person in all of Notia. I had dealt with him a few times when women had accused him of having not only stolen their heart, but also their money. But all in all he was neither on the bright nor on the dark side of life, only on his own. Chris took everything Notia offered – he would have scooped up vomit from out of the gutter if it was worth a cent.
"Still working for the Yason?" I asked him.
He gave me a lopsided grin. "Still don’t know which places are good for you and which are not?"
"I could ask the same question to you. It is a surprise to me that you are not in the ground of the river by now – the Yason do not take lightly to outsiders."
He shrugged, unconcerned. "Who says that I'm an outsider?"
"Let me guess – you let yourself in with a Yason woman… Couldn't you get something better?"
He smiled suggestively. "Women are like wine, Captain – unless you haven't had a real bad one, you can't tell the good ones apart."
I frowned at his remark. Maybe it was because I wasn't much for wine -- it didn't burn in the throat like whiskey did and was solely made for enjoyment, not for forgetting – so I didn't know if he was right. Or maybe it was because I refused to compare someone like her with something as profane as alcohol.
"Well, speaking of bad women – is Carian in the house?"
"Just arrived for your welcome." Chris motioned towards the great staircase dominating the club where Carian was just making her grande entrée, floating down the stairs in a long, tight black evening dress, her chiselled face half hidden behind an expensive looking feather fan.
Azel gasped behind me. It was a common reaction of men when they saw Carian – she was probably the most beautiful woman in town, but also the most dangerous. She was a Venus Fly Trap in person.
"Oh, what an honour…" Upon seeing me, Carian approached the bar. "Captain Calintz, the intrepid fighter for justice visits my little refugee… What can I do for you?" She laughed brightly and fell on one of the soft cushioned bar stools, crossing her long legs seductively.
"You could answer some questions," I told her, sitting down opposite of her.
She said nothing and put the fan down on the counter, now showing the full glory of her glossy brown hair, her creamy white skin, the red lips and the dark eyes with their thick lashes. Out of her handbag she took a long cigarette and a slim, golden lighter, which she offered to me.
"You are a gentleman, right, Captain Calintz?" She smiled before she took the tip of the cigarette between her lush lips, waiting for me to light it.
Although I couldn't suppress a grunt of displeasure, I followed her wish – it was better to play her game for a while, if it just would give me the answers I was searching for. Satisfied with my obedience, she took a deep breath and then blew out the smoke out in little rings, the smell of tobacco and her expensive perfume filling the space around us.
"Thank you. I'm afraid that I can't help you with your questions, though. You do know that this place is off limits for the likes of you – unless your Major has given you off and you want to find some… distraction from work." She did not take her eyes off me and took another deep draw on the cigarette. "Tell me one reason why I shouldn't rush my henchmen on you and your little sad group, right now…" She pointed with the tip of her cigarette behind me, where Azel and Haren were remaining in a state of constant unrest and alarm.
"Tell me one reason why I shouldn't come with a squad of policemen tomorrow and tear this place apart?" I grumbled. "I'm sure we would find some interesting things here… Illegal things."
She put her head back, exposing her long, white neck and uttered a high laugh. "Are you making threats? You should never forget that the Venus Fly Trap is famous for things not only the Yason appreciate quite a bit -- you would be surprised just who visits this place on a regular basis. You would never get a search warrant unless you wanted to arrest some of Notia's highest celebrities."
I growled – she was right. Carian had seen the defeat in my face, as she suddenly smiled sweetly and put one of her hands on my knee.
"Don't look so angry – I'm not your enemy. We are both only creatures out of flesh and blood… I can make you forget your pain…" Her words were like poisoned honey and her manicured fingers with the blood red, razor sharp nails crept upwards.
"Sorry, but I'll have to recline…" I told her coldly. "They say you treat your men like cigarettes – sucking out their strength and will, blowing the sorry rest of them out, and if they still have life left in them you press it out with the sharp heel of your shoe until they are lying cold and dead in the gutter."
She took another draw of her cigarette and blew the smoke right into my face. "But at least they get to feel my lips before that…" she whispered, "I'm sure that I could make you feel better than she has ever done." She was peering at me through the misty tobacco clouds with a predatory look and a cruel grin on her beautiful face.
I slapped her hand away from my knee. "Talk about her again like that and your pretty face will rot in prison, Carian. The Yason were responsible for her death and now you are after a young lady who witnessed one of your murders… I will not let you have your will this time!"
"I don't know who you are talking about…" Carian rose from her seat and pressed out her cigarette in a tray. Then she bent forward -- her lips were nearly touching my face. "But know that I always get what I want."
"Does that mean that you still intend to kill Serina?"
For a moment it seemed to me as if Carian's eyes widened in shock, but in a matter of seconds, she was back to her cold, calculating self. "I still don't know what you are talking about, but if this Serina interfered in Yason business, that's just too bad for her. You know from experience that it is not possible to protect people from their righteous punishment… Think of your little bitch…"
"Don't take the word "righteous" in your mouth, you little whore!" Rage got the better of me and I grabbed her roughly at the arm, feeling the alarm of my companions behind me – Carian was staring at me like a snake, her look changing to one of triumph as I loosened my grip – she knew I couldn't hurt a woman, even if she was a member of the Yason.
Unfortunately, Haren was less restrained. "Damn, Captain! How long will you listen to the lies of this Yason scum -- if you won't do anything, I'll show her what righteous punishment is, myself!" he thundered behind me, ready to draw his gun.
"Try it." Carian snapped her finger and in the matter of seconds four 'Turibos', Carian's special bodyguards – uncouth and highly dangerous ruffians had appeared behind her. Chris was obviously used to such scenes and ducked behind the counter – I surely would not get any help from him. Inertly I cursed myself. We had played and set too much – in this kind of establishment, in the middle of the Yason district, one could only lose.
"I think you want to leave now…" Carian's voice sounded like steel now.
"The hell we'll–"
"Haren, that's enough–" I silenced him and turned once more towards Carian. "We'll go. But know that I will watch you from now on… If I find out that you have sent a killer into Serina's flat, I'll make sure that she goes to court with her accusations. It'll be the end of you and the Yason's rule in Notia!"
She uttered a disdainful snort. "That will never happen. You know nothing, Calintz – not even the things you should know. But it's not my turn to enlighten you." She turned to the brutes. "It seems that Captain Calintz has forgotten how to act in front of a lady. Give him and his men a lesson they will not forget!"
Before I could grab my gun, one of the Turibo already had me at the arm and another one was advancing on me. I did the only thing I could in this situation and sent the incoming brute to the floor with a full left punch that left me inertly wincing in pain – the scar on my left shoulder still hurt sometimes.
"Hands off the Captain!" Haren had the attacker at my arm at the throat, dragging him back.
"You are really trying my patience…." Carian scowled and from out of nowhere, more Turiobo appeared – we were severely outnumbered.
"Captain!" I heard Officer Azel's voice – as I turned around I saw him nervously trying to finger out his weapon – a Turibo was faster and brutally twisted his arm around. Azel cried out in pain as I rushed to his aid, giving the attacker a punch the other would never forget – especially when looking at his nose in the morning. My "heroic" action had brought my own person in a kinda unlucky position, though – one Turibo threw himself at me from behind, whirling me around at my shoulders, while another one dealt me a well set fist in the stomach that left me gasping for breath and blurred my vision. Behind me it seemed that at least Haren was still fighting, but I knew that he alone had no chance… I cursed that I had taken the two with me and tried to reach for my gun –
And then I heard his voice–
"What is going on here? Stop this at once, Carian!"
Unknown energies revived my strength and with a head knock, I was able to get out of the grasp of my attacker. "Get out of here!" I shouted to my companions with my last breath.
"But what about you, Captain?" Azel's voice was pain-stricken and Haren's cry of rage suggested that he was not fond of my idea, either.
"Let them through…" It was his calm and dark voice again. My field of vision was still limited, but good enough to see him now, standing there smoking, the smooth grey hair, the–
"Captain! What are you waiting for?" Azel was shouting from farther away now.
"I'll follow! Start the damn car!"
He was still standing there, watching me unmoving. Guilt filled me – I had forced Eonis to lie for me and had now lied again to my companions. I wouldn't follow them. Not before I had dealt with the man before me.
"Orha Duren – you will pay for Reith's death!" I growled and lunged at him with my last strength. His dark eyes were watching my advance, calm and nearly sad…
The next thing I felt was a punch in my face and everything went black.
I dreamt of her, of that fateful day when I had started to hate the rain…
It had rained that day also, but it had not mattered to me, since she had been besides me in her bright coat, laughing and joking under the umbrella I held. She always wore bright colours – yellow or white and her soft brown hair would curl around her face when she was happy. She had been happy that day, too – it was as if she had forgotten that her life was in danger, that I was hired to protect her from the Yason, since she wanted to testify before court against some high ranking clan bosses, maybe even against the Ice Queen herself.
The moment Reith had entered my office, I had fallen in love with her, and, on this rainy day under the colourful umbrella, I had forgotten about everything but her, as well. I heard only her laughter, and not the car that suddenly stopped next to us with screeching brakes; I had looked into her big, innocent and beautiful eyes, but had noticed too late the men that suddenly surrounded us – her scream woke me up, though, and I grabbed her hand tighter and told her to run, flinging the umbrella aside.
She nodded, trusting me like always, and we ran, but then, suddenly, someone called her name and she stopped, her warm, slim fingers slipping out of mine as she turned around towards the voice despite my protest. She cried as the shot hit her and I knelt down on the dirty pavement next to her – her eyes were wide open, her coat soaked red with blood. A sharp pain went through my left shoulder and I bent forward over her body with a cry of rage - the next thing I knew was the sound of police sirens, incoming and escaping cars – then Hugo was standing beside me and was telling me something. I couldn't hear him, since the echo of the shot still was in my ears, together with the last words Reith had spoken to me, before she died and in my dream, her pale corpse kept repeating them over and over:
"Mano, I'm sorry… Kill him and put an end to all of it… For me…"
I turned around then, and saw Orha, the gun still in his hand…
My head hurt worse than usual when I woke up and my vision was blurred. However, I could make out the outlines of–
"Reith?" I wanted to ask, but had to clench my teeth as a burning pain spread over my forehead.
"I'm sorry – I know that the whiskey burns, but I need to treat the wound…"
"Damn Captain, why didn't you follow us?" a dark voice enquired next to me, not in the least bit polite.
"That's not the right tone!" a female scolded.
My sight finally readjusted and I realized that I was in my office, sitting in my chair. Eonis, Sergeant Haren and Serina were staring down at me, worried – or angry, as it was in Haren's case.
"How did I get here?"
"They threw ya out onto the pavement like some bag of trash..." Haren had his fists balled. "For a moment I thought that you had kicked the bucket and that we would kick it too, with all the Yason scum standing in the doorway… That Orha swine just told us to leave, though… It was so damn humiliating to run away, but since you and the lil' kid were hurt and I wasn't feeling great either, we hadn't much of a choice…" For the first time I noticed that Haren's face was a mixture of blue and green.
"Officer Azel was hurt?"
"That damn Turibo nearly broke his arm – he's at the hospital…"
"I see…" I felt sorry for the young officer, but secretly hoped that the whole matter would convince him to switch to another section.
"Mano!" The door to my office was flung open with force and Hugo stormed in. His surprised glance fell on Serina and I felt her stiffen next to me as he addressed her:
"Who are you?"
"She's my case," I answered in Serina's stead while carefully examining my forehead – next to an open gash over my eyebrow, a lump was building on my skin.
"Everyone out of here, except for Calintz." Hugo's voice was so hard and sharp that my head began to hurt even more. "Eonis, take care of the lady here."
Haren was reluctant. "Major Agreian, we–"
I silenced him with a gesture of my hand. "It’s alright. Try to get some rest – I'll see you tomorrow."
As the door closed, I braced myself for the lecture my friend would give me. To my surprise, Hugo only slowly advanced towards me and studied my face carefully.
"Did you only get hit on the head?"
"I think so…"
"Good." His fist hit my jaw – strong enough to make me wince.
"What were you thinking, taking on the case of a total stranger without telling me? You had Eonis lie for you, then you stormed with two of our men, one of them a new officer, into the most dangerous and off-limit place in Notia!" he hissed, more enraged than I'd ever seen him. "Don't tell me you had a good reason!"
"I just wanted to–"
"Captain Calintz!" It was seldom that Hugo addressed me with my official title.
"No… It was too rash of me…" I admitted, massaging my hurting jaw.
He laughed without humour and started to wander about the room. "Rash, yes? Your little "rash act" will be in every newspaper tomorrow: 'Mad cop storms famous night club!' The Chief will have some questions–"
"I'm sorry, Major Agreian." I knew that I had disappointed my friend and couldn't look him straight in the eye. My throbbing head made it kind of impossible to do anything straight, anyway.
My unusual meek excuse seemed to calm down Hugo and his stern expression relaxed. With a sigh, he went to the wash basin in the corner of the room and came back with a wet cloth. "Here. Sorry for hitting you – you already look beaten up enough. You could have gotten killed in there, Mano!"
I just shrugged.
Hugo regarded me with despair. "What were you doing in the Venus Fly Trap? Who's the woman that was just in your room and what case were you talking about?"
"She came to me because she needed protection from the Yason…"
"The Yason? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I know that you are obliged to give any information concerning the Yason to the Chief – you would have been held accountable for what I did today…" I told him truthfully, although I knew that even the truth would not be able to save me from some kind of punishment. I had clearly gone too far this time, although, in my opinion, it hadn't been nearly as far enough. I wasn't so reckless as to tell Hugo this, though.
"I didn't want to cause you any problems…" I told him instead.
"But you already did, Mano. By tomorrow, the whole town will speak about the brawl in the club!"
"I take the whole responsibility for it. Sergeant Haren, Officer Azel and Eonis only followed my orders."
"I will take your words into account, my friend. However, I fear that I'll have to suspend you from your post for a while. Your gun and you badge, please." Hugo said, his voice clearly pain stricken.
"What? But what about Serina? She's in danger and–"
"Don't worry. I have a meeting with the Chief in twenty minutes concerning your little escapade, but I won't mention her. "
"You'd do that?"
"Mano, as your supervisor and even more as your friend, I was responsible for Reith's death as well – I'll never forgive myself for letting you and her down back then and for coming too late with backup. I will not let you down again. I'll take care of Miss Serina's case, personally."
Reluctantly, I handed over my gun.
"Please go home and sleep, Mano..." Hugo told me before he left the room. "I'm worried about you…"
As the door closed, it seemed to me like the chance to finally get revenge had closed with it, as well. Feeling miserable, I reached out for the whiskey Serina had left on the table. Before I could take a sip, though, there was a knock at the door and Eonis stormed into my room, pale as death.
"Captain Calintz – we have a problem. Serina is gone. She went to the restroom to freshen up and suddenly disappeared! The Major told me to keep an eye on her until he came back from the meeting… What am I to do?”
Although my tired, heavy head tried to force me to stay in my chair, the idea that Serina was roaming through the streets all alone made me jump up immediately.
"I'll go after her."
Serina was sitting on the side of a street not far from Lester Department, shivering in the cold, rainy evening in her thin clothes. I approached her and laid my own coat around her slender shoulders.
"Captain Calintz…" She looked up, surprised and slightly ashamed.
"Why did you run away?" I asked, not nearly as reproachfully as I wanted to sound – she already looked frightened and sad enough.
"Because… because you were suspended because of me. Everyone overheard the discussion you had with the Major… I'm so sorry – everything is my fault…"
"No, it was my own decision to confront the Yason in the club. Don’t worry about your case, either -- Hugo will personally take care of it from now on…"
I frowned upon hearing Serina's vehement reaction.
"Don't you trust him? He's a good cop."
She tried to calm down. "I know, but I trust you more. Captain Calintz, I– I'm afraid…" Suddenly, she was in my arms for the second time that day, pressing against my body in a desperate, tight embrace.
"It’s the city – it frightens everyone…" Her hair was soft against my face, smelling sweetly of flowers.
"But not you…"
She was so warm in my arms, so calming. The last time I had felt this way had been with Reith and it was her that was on my mind right now, too:
"Serina – I'm not who you think I am… I am no hero – I once failed protecting someone and I–"
"I know… Eonis told me about it." Serina interrupted me and paused for a moment to study my face with a trusting and smiling gaze, looking prettier than ever. Then she whispered:
"To me, you look like the kind of man who wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, though."
She had me then – indeed I swore to myself that she wouldn't have to share Reith's fate and since I didn't know of any other safe place, I took her with me to my flat.
My apartment didn’t look any better than my office – it was dusty, littered with newspaper articles dealing with the Yason and the occasional empty bottle. The homiest thing in the room was probably the withered pot plant in the corner.
"You do not spend much time at home, right?" Serina asked me. I presumed that it was a nice way to tell me that my room looked horrible.
I shrugged. "No. If Hugo... I mean, if Major Agreian wouldn't throw me out on the weekends, I'd live in my office."
She took a place on the tiny spot on the sofa that wasn't littered with garbage and regarded me shyly. "Would your life be different if someone was waiting for you? Have you ever thought about settling down, living peacefully with a family?"
I had to chuckle. It always sounded so easy when women said such things – Reith had been the same, dreaming of a safe little life that just the two of us would lead. And maybe, for just a second, I had dreamt her dream with her. But that was the past – reality had destroyed not only this dream, but also my belief that something like a "safe" life was possible at all.
"You cannot live peacefully in Notia as long as the Yason are polluting the streets. You should know this best yourself. This city is no place for falling in love and settling down."