They call me a dick because I am one: Dick Richards, Private Eye. Though there’s more than a little truth to it, at least I’m less of a jerk than this guy:
"The issue," Count Fantabuloso says, leaning closer across the table between us, "is armament not of my issue." He’s mastered that tone of voice that makes you feel stupid for asking a reasonable question, or in this case simply making conversation.
I’ve been working with him long enough that I should probably expect it, but it still stings.
If you didn’t know the man, you’d laugh. Outlandish hat complete with wide brim and ridiculous feather, baby-blue alligator suit, indoor sunglasses rimmed with diamonds—his dress sense would put any pimp to shame, and he likes it that way. It makes people underestimate him. They don’t see the man in the opera cloak as a threat until it’s too late.
This, along with his intelligence and ruthlessness, was how he became Tipton’s sole magical weapons dealer. If a dwarf in Tipton wants to brain a goblin, he gets his runic shotgun from the Count. If an elf needs components for a magical poison, she gets them from the Count. And if a troll thug looking to go up in the world even thinks about increasing its arsenal, it first gets permission to have that thought from the Count.
That’s why he’s concerned. One of his lieutenants, the Baron Marcus, recently found a handgun in a Dumpster. Count Fantabuloso keeps meticulous records so he knows it isn’t his. He doesn’t know where it comes from either, which is where I come in.
He nods and the Baron Marcus, who’s been hovering nearby, places the gun on the table in front of me. Beyond him several esquires, grunts in the Count’s organization, maintain a cordon of privacy.
You might wonder why I work for a guy like this at all, but while he’s very much a warlord, he qualifies as an enlightened one. Since he’d supply both sides in any war, with careful accounting and the persuasive application of force he can shut troublemakers down cold. In his own words: "Peace is a fool’s dream; tranquility learned." The Count honestly thinks people will eventually become tame enough to think twice about violence. I doubt it will work in the long run, but I can’t argue with his results so far.
If weapons start freely streaming into Tipton, the delicate balance of power the Count has carefully cultivated will topple like a fat man with one leg. Millennia-old racial tensions, hanging in the air like gunpowder, will explode the first time someone fires a warning shot. All in all, he’s a lot better than the other assholes I could be working for.
I glance at the gun, then take down specifics in my field notebook. When. Where. How. The Count doesn’t have much info, but it sounds like someone dumped it to avoid getting caught. I don’t know why the Baron Marcus was snooping around in Dumpsters, but I don’t ask. Everyone has their reasons and few are beautiful under close scrutiny.
"Please find this fool," the Count concludes, "so I can beat him like an MMA poseur wannabe." He brandishes his omnipresent Differance Stick, a heavy-duty cane topped with a brass knob. A small plaque on the side reads, “Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. Making a Differance Since 1831.” The feather in his hat—long, bright green, and hopefully fake—wobbles in agreement. I’d hate to meet the bird it came from.
After checking the safety, I tuck the handgun under my right armpit, into the spare holster Raven insisted I wear today. It feels reassuringly heavy in my hand, but there’ll be time to inspect it in more detail later. My favorite sidearm, a business gift from the Count, is stashed under my left.
Our business concluded, I excuse myself and make my way past the cordon of esquires. Tharaveir, the owner of this fine establishment, is making a rare appearance behind the counter, checking the till and scowling daggers at the Count. While the Pub, as it’s called, gains a certain cachet from being the Count’s favorite watering hole, whenever the Count actually shows up most patrons are too scared to stick around. With his gaunt, almost hollow cheeks and aquiline features, not to mention his five-foot-eight stature, it’s not hard to make Tharaveir as elven, but there’s more than the normal amount of casual menace leering from his blue eyes. He’s managed to get kicked out of both Alfheim and Svartalfheim—the elven and dark elven homelands, respectively—and if he ever decides the Count is more trouble than he’s worth, the shit will shower down like an avalanche and the fan won’t have a chance. Tharaveir will never win, but he’ll never give up either.
I exit without incident and humanity explodes around me. Evergreen Court is only four stories tall, but the incessant squawking of specialty shops, restaurants, and ATMs, all clamoring for attention like hyperactive four-year-olds, is barely contained by the sound-absorbing foam embedded in the safety railings. A middle-aged man, in the slack-jawed, head-slightly-tilted posture that comes standard with vidscreen sunglasses, glides past on the moving walkway like a digital zombie. He’s far from the only one.
I shoulder myself into the tide of flesh, letting the walkway take me where I want to go. A "public service announcement" from a tattoo parlor informs me that the first five people to get a phoenix stenciled on their liver will win an all-expenses paid trip through the daytime talk show circuit, as if there aren't enough attention whores already.
My next stop is an express elevator nearly filled to capacity. It smells faintly of deodorant. The corporate logos in the sound-absorbing carpet are worn flat and a kid lost in an e-book nearly elbows me in the stomach. It can be hard to tell whether those kind of moves are on purpose, but unspoken etiquette allows retaliatory knees to the junk. I don’t. Unspoken etiquette and legality are not the same.
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