Easily the part of Titan with the highest crime rate. An endless row of warehouses, small factories and sweatshops and airports. More then half the goods sold in the city moves out from this part of town. While well policed, it's well known that most of the patrolmen in this part of town are in the pocket of one or more of the crime families.
William Martin turned up the collar of his leather jacket against the drizzle, as he trotted down the gangplank. After a week aboard the aging steamship, the mingled odors of fuel oil, truck exhaust, and the hint of garbage rising out of the water were a welcome change. Even a couple hours after midnight, the docks were still crowded, bustling with longshoremen offloading cargo onto the trucks which would carry it into the city.
William hadn’t been in the States for quite a while, but he’d needed a timely exit from the Falangist-controlled Canary Islands, and it hadn’t hurt that the San Marco would take him home for the first time in five years. Hoisting his duffel, he headed towards the row of cargo trucks and, picking one at random, hopped on the running board and leaned through the passenger-side window.
“Hey, Mac, you know of a decent hotel around here?”
The driver turned his slab-sided face to look at William, and scratched his head through a hole in his watch cap. “It’s Terry.”
William cocked his head. “What?”
“Terry, not Mac. How much are you lookin’ to spend?”
William shrugged in a way that seemed to indicate that he had money to spend but didn’t want to spend too much. Terry opened the door and stuck out his hand. “I know a place.”
Terry dropped him off in front of a roughly cube shaped hotel with a sign designating it ‘The Benson’, which occupied a corner three blocks north of Chinatown. William reached across the lobby desk to shake the night clerk awake and was given a third floor corner room, overlooking the intersection. When the clerk had gone, he threw his jacket into the armchair in the corner and lit a cigarette, watching the lights of the city sparkle across the darkened canyons. William had been from South America to Mongolia, but there really was no other place like it. He exhaled a cloud of smoke which rose slowly towards the ceiling.
“And it’s good to be back.”
[Dr. Ernst Rydberg]
Dr. Rydberg burst into the Experimental Control Facility’s break room with a speed and vigor that belied his advanced years. "Good news, everyvun!" he cried. "The Submolecular Bonding Glue Gun iss functional! Now ve need never again vorry about our posters falling off der valls."
The black Greyhound - Rydberg’s constant companion - wagged his tail eagerly, happily acknowledging Rydberg’s announcement. He was the only one. A bored laboratory technician pored over a dog-eared copy of Amazing Stories in one corner, and at a table a security guard was snoozing. Both had learned long ago that Rydberg’s announcements were so commonplace as to defy notice.
The aged scientist fumed silently. "I’ll show you," he muttered. With an effort, he made his face brighten as he walked to the lab tech’s table. "More coffee, young man?" he asked.
The young man looked up, surprised. "Oh! Dr. Rydberg! Sure, I’ll take some more. That’d be swell. Thanks a bunch," he said as he handed up his coffee mug.
"Mention it not," chuckled Rydberg genially. "Ein moment."
Rydberg walked over to the counter where the massive percolating coffee machine - an invention of which he was particularly proud, with its reverse-osmosis filtering and fusion-powered heating unit - was installed next to a double-sided stainless-steel sink. He made a show of rinsing the cup carefully, then, while his back was turned toward the technician, he pulled a small, pistol-shaped contraption from his lab coat’s hip pocket.
It was a strange-looking device, vaguely shaped like an airbrush artist’s painting tool, down to the metal reservoir affixed to the top. A smaller reservoir was installed directly behind the large, off to one side. The muzzle was a conical nozzle shaped not a little like a cake-decorating tool; in fact, Rydberg would proudly tell anyone who’d listen that that was precisely what it was. Toggle switches and lamps allowed control.
He flipped a switch on the top of the machine, which illuminated a tiny yellow lamp and made the device vibrate slightly. After a few seconds, the yellow lamp winked out, then changed to green.
"Ah," whispered Rydberg. He kept his body between the counter and the technician as he used the device to place a bead of pearly white gel on the bottom of the heavy porcelain coffee mug. He carefully wiped the nozzle on a rag which lay on the counter, but the towel petulantly refused to be shaken from the device; it was stuck fast. Scowling, he looked from the cup - which he dared not set down - and the rag-covered device. With a sotto voce mutter of frustration he replaced the device in his pocket and filled the mug from the urn.
Rydberg walked back over to the technician and placed the mug on the table. "Zere you are, Smitty," he said jovially. "Haf a nice day."
Rydberg turned and sighed dramatically. "Come along, Fred," he said to the hound sadly. "If no vun vill credit our genius, ve vill go back to der laboratory."
As the pair reached the door, they heard a rather loud "plink" followed by a muffled curse. Rydberg looked over his shoulder to see the technician holding the handle of his mug, staring confusedly between it and the body of the mug, still full of coffee, resolutely affixed to the table.
Letting the door swing shut, Rydberg paused to scratch Fred behind the ears. "It vorks," he grinned.
Fred wagged his tail and agreed.
Moving through the storm drainage tunnels, Sergeant finally sees what he has been looking for. Bodies of rats scurrying back and forth down a side tunnel. Following this verminic trail will lead him to the Tunnel Rat.
Easy way to find the Tunnel Rat when he is above ground is just follow your nose, you can normally smell him from half a mile away. Underground follow the rats. The Tunnel Rat said they were his eyes and ears, that nothing ever escaped their notice and therefor never escaped his. Sergeant didn't know how true the statement was but he did know that if it happened within the area of the Docks the Tunnel Rat always knew about it.
He was happy to share his information too if you could pay his price and his request where sometimes comical, sometimes expensive, and sometimes horrific. Once Sergeant had to dig up the body of a woman and bring her corpse, coffin and all, to the Tunnel Rat. Another time he merely asked for 20kg of sturdy canvas. He rounded a corner and the smell hit him, it was a physical thing like a meat hammer right between your eyes.
Sergeant quickly closed the fliter on his gas mask and slowed his advance. "Tunnel Rat, you awake mate? Hey rat face its me can you hear me?"
A thick musk of sweat and ammonia knifes through the mold-smell of the drains.
"Goddamn freaks, always slinking down here stealing my air. It's rainin' out, don't you know? Choking this whole place. And you, sucking in all my good air through that mask. What the hell do you want?"
The voice was half-spoken in clips, whistled through broken teeth. His gnarled brown beard grew from his face like the roots of an old tree and covered something that looked like a blood stain on his white sleeveless undershirt.
"Power, and that requires knowledge, and you have it especially about the docks."
Sergeant straightend and place on hand on his hip above the handle of his Revolver in case, and digs a pack of cigarettes out and tosses them to the Tunnel Rat.
"I'm in a hurry so I might have to pay you in full after the fact. I'm looking for a girl, pretty young Coal Town Girl, would have been brought here by Toothpick Billy, small money man for the Russo Clan. You help me out I can guarantee a tasty apple pie from her mother, she is famous for them."
The Rat catches the smokes and chokes out with a laugh, "A pretty young thing you say? I have just what you're looking for!"
With that statement still echoing in the over-sized drainage tunnel, the Rat turns and begins bounding across islands of garbage and shipping palettes towards a side-tunnel.
Follows Tunnel Rat, keeping one hand on his revolver, scanning side tunnels as he moves. For Tunnel Rat to be this fast means either the auction has already begun, or something really bad has fallen the young Adler girl.
It didn't take long to twist through the pipes, but the lack of reference and direction belowground made Sergeant's mental compass spin like a shell casing. But, he could see the lanterns burning ahead and decided to aim for those while the Rat danced across the damp masonry steps like an epileptic ballerina.
Inside a cramped chamber once used for the moles who dug this line, the Rat signaled that it was okay to come in.
The room was lit with three fat lanterns, little more than soup cans filled with grease and wicks. A quick scan revealed that this wasn't a sleeping quarter, or not set up as one at least. Instead, it had more of a treasure room feel. Along the walls were paintings, some caked with mud, but otherwise professional, others had a primitive feel with lots of expressive lines and earth tone colors.
The lighting from the lanterns constantly fought with the air currents pouring through the tunnels, causing them to gutter then burst to life again. The effect was a shadowplay of the grotesque on the Rat's face as he walked past a makeshift easel set in the middle of the room.
"I like... pretty young things. What do you think so far? It's not my best, but it's also not finished. It's so hard when they keep moving."
The picture on the cardboard canvas was a mess of simple shapes scrawled in something that could be charcoal, but most probably motor grease. He seemed proud of it and continue to limp over to the heavy burlap tarp in the corner. With both hands, he pulled the tarp over carefully, so as not to disturb the subject of his art.
Beneath it, the bloated corpse of a woman sat upon a couch made of shipping palettes. A fine cut red dress covered her from breast to ankle, but the skin you could see was pale, soft, and framed by a tangle of black hair. She had obviously been down here for a few days, judging from the small movements you could see beneath her flesh.
"What....happened" Sergeant was use to death, to slaughter, to war, but he could never get use to wasted life.
"Who killed her? Where did you find her?" His fingers where cold around the handle of his revolver. He never pictured Tunnel Rat as the murdering kind, deranged, greedy, and perverse, but not violent overall. Sergeant wondered how wrong you could be about a person, about how hard it was going to be to explain this to her parents, about how the injustices of the world, and about how much blood he would have to spill before things became right.
"This one washed in about two nights ago. Such a shame. She was so pretty. I tried to capture her beauty before God took her back, but the water never helps."
"People just think you dump things in the lake and they go away. They never do. Everything comes back eventually."
The bedraggled corpse lay, mouth open and head back, a thin black line cut around her throat. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, no jewelry to speak of, but obviously upper-class or pretending to be so by the shape of that dress. Other than her throat, the only other sign of injury was the missing finger on her left hand. Someone got greedy.
His shoulders relax, it isn't her, too old far to old. Still he is sadden by the waste of life.
"It is a tragic lose, but it isn't the girl I'm looking for. The one I'm seeking is younger barely 17, chestnut hair, light hazel eyes, too skinny like most the youth of Coaltown. Most likely of been brought here in a black whiskey runner by toothpick Billy and the Jackson Twins."
He tossed a battered flask to the Tunnel Rat after taking a heavy draw.
"Oh, her?" he let the question and the words linger as he collected his thoughts.
"Far too young for me."
"There are plenty of strays around here, but this one was a fighter. Her uncles said she was in a jam and needed to stay low for a bit until her old man came to his senses. It did seem a little queer at the time, but it wasn't the strangest thing I've seen this week," he said glancing at the model in the corner.
"You're not looking to hurt the little one, are you? Her uncles seemed to be rather 'connected' and I don't want to see her or anyone get hurt. 'Specially if I can help it."