Throughout November I’ll be concentrating my posts on Welcome to the Valleys in honor of NaNoWriMo. If you’d like to catch up on this story, the first post of this story can be found at this link
Walter paid the party’s bill, grumbling about rising costs to the clearly disinterested server. The pair exited the restaurant just in time to catch a glimpse of their friends make their way down the street.
“So, where are we meeting Alec?”
Walter nodded toward his left. “About four or five blocks down the main road away from the hotel. My memory is a bit sketchy on specifics.”
“But you’ll know how to find it?”
“Oh yes, the place will stand out, trust me.”
Michael and Walter made their wait out to the main thoroughfare and turned left, bumping their way through the crowded streets. Several times the two got separated, requiring them to find a eddy in the traffic where they could reconnect.
“I should have kept Talum with us, the man’s annoying but his robes would have come in handy in this mess.”
“I don’t like this crowd,” agreed Michael. “You say Merkot won’t openly move on us in Riverside, but in this mix he could have people ready to strike. They’ll get away completely unnoticed.”
Walter nodded. “I can’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind. I don’t think that’s Merkot’s style, and I’m sure Alec has some people following us, but you never know.”
“How much farther?”
Walter pointed to a marquee across the street, about a block from their location. “That’s it. The repaired drum.”
“Positive. Look at it closely.”
Michael focused on the location around the marquee, and noticed something strange. Whereas the rest of the street was mobbed with bustling people, the sidewalk in front of that particular building was virtually empty. Three men were out front, apparently guarding the location. Squinting, Michael caught the slightest glint of a piece of metal on one of the men’s belts.
He turned to Walter, “A guard pub?”
Walter smirked. “Almost. It’s a pub, yes, but it’s also the unofficial guard house here in the Restaurant District. They cover the Great Bridge as well.”
Walter shrugged. “Official guard houses cost money to keep up. This one makes money through the guard’s presence, and the responsibility for keeping the place in working order doesn’t belong to the troop.”
“Fascinating,” replied Michael. It was clear he was not entirely comfortable with the arrangement.
“Listen, Michael. You and I both know Riverside plays by a different set of rules. Whatever else it may be, this arrangement works for these folks, and they don’t take kindly to outsiders telling them what to do. Even ones they respect.”
“I will be on my best behavior, sir.”
“What did I tell you about that, ‘sir nonsense?’” Walter looked at Michael, only to see him grinning. “Oh never mind. Let’s go. And stay near me.”
Walter thrust himself into the flow of people and navigated, with some difficulty, to the other side of the street. Then, hugging the walls, he and Michael managed to make their way to the clearing. As they emerged from the shadow of the crowd, one of the men standing guard stepped over to them with his hand up.
“Alright, folks. This is a private establishment, invites only. Why don’t you both move along?”
Walter tilted his head and scowled. “I’m expected patroller. I’m Senator Walter,” he pointed to Michael. “This is Captain Michael Averin of The Boulevard Troop. Has Alec arrived yet?”
“The guard smiled. Yah, he’s here. And you’re expected.” He stepped aside and waved them to the door. “Go on in. Not much of a crowd tonight, he’ll be easy to find.”
Walter and Micheal stepped through the door into a dimly lit space. Several small table were arranged in the middle of the room, and the pair could make out booths lining the walls. A large bar dominated the wall opposite the door, and a single man rested against it, sitting on a stool. As the pair stepped into the room a man behind the bar nodded in their direction, causing the lone drinker to turn.
“It’s about time, Walter. I was beginning to think you’d shown me up.”
Walter responded as he made his way to the bar. “I know better than to do that, Captain. We just had some business to attend to before we could come.” Walter held out his hand, which Alec took in his grasp.
“Ah, yah. I heard one of the Cracks dropped in on your dinner. How’d that go?”
“Alec, you and I both know you told Kaitlyn where to find me.”
Alec frowned slightly. “Doesn’t mean I don’t wanna know how it went.”
“Kaitlyn is as charming as ever.”
Alec barked a laugh. “Ha! Always sparks between you two. She don’t think much of you, Senator.”
“As long as she does what’s best for The Valleys I don’t care what she thinks of me.” He looked around the room. “Now, I’m supposed to buy some rounds in payment for you saving our necks on Great Bridge. Where’s the troop?”
Alec leaned back on his stool and crossed his arms. “Out. I don’t know what you did to tick off Weasel, but it ain’t been a quite night.”
“What do you mean?” Micael cut in.
“Ah, hey Captain. Didn’t mean to ignore you.” Alec offered his hand, which Michael took.
He reiterated, “What do you mean it’s been a busy night, Captain?”
Alec released his hand. “Ah. Well Weasel’s sent four squads from Meadowrun, all insisting they’re tracking dangerous fugitives and pulling out bogus orders allowing them to operate in town here.”
Walter shifted uncomfortably. “You didn’t let them in, did you?”
Alec smirked and cocked his head. “What do you think? No Crack’s lap doggies are gonna be working in Riverside while I’m still in charge. And if command told me I wasn’t in charge, I’d still be in charge – if you catch my meaning there.”
“I do indeed. You said they came from Meadowrun. Has anyone come down Second Run?”
“Nah, just Kaitlyn. We smuggled her outta The Ravine this afternoon and got her into town. We’re watching the road, but The Ravine troop ain’t friendly with Weasel. They’d warn us if they tried anything.”
“Alec, I can’t thank you enough for your help. You’re playing a dangerous game here, though. Riverside is making itself a target for Merkot.”
The guard shrugged. “We’ve always been a target for Cracks like Weasel. Riverside council doesn’t want anything to do with his ‘reforms,’ and we’ve got eyes in the Senate. We’ll be ok.”
Michael cut in once more. “You said you smuggled Kaitlyn here. Was that necessary?”
“Weasel’s got tabs on all the Senators, watching where they go. No one woulda stopped her from coming, but she mighta had some ‘issues’ if we hadn’t been there. Weasel ain’t happy with Kaitlyn.”
“He would have harmed a Senator?” Walter leaned in. “Merkot’s gone that far?”
“Nah. I mean he can’t stand you either and as best we can tell he just wants to drag your hide back to Meadowrun. If we weren’t with her, he probably would’ve found some smuggling charge to pin on her back – woulda given him more ammunition for his actions in the Senate.”
“But with you…”
“No one touches someone who’s under my protection. And you know that very well.” Alec clapped his hands. “Which brings us down to business. I told my squad you’d run a tab for the gents, seeing as they couldn’t be here. But since I am here. How about you buy a round for the Captain and me, and we’ll drink to the Weasel’s ill-health?”
Walter sighed. He knew it was just his imagination, but he could feel his money pouch growing lighter.