I watched the camera footage in my office, making notes as I went. Caribow’s assessment seemed right on at first. Airdancer had tried to help his friend, and been slaughtered for his trouble.
I was watching the tape for the third time when I caught it. It wasn’t much, but it was interesting. Before the fairy had turned on Hammerfell, the two had spoken. There was no sound with the footage, but I could see them, clearly, having a brief conversation.
The fairy’s back was to me in that scene, but Hammerfell was looking almost directly at the camera. As his mouth moved, I could make out two words reading his lips; what now?
What now? There was a two second period where the fairy didn’t move, and then he struck down Hammerfell. Then, calm as you please, the fairy exited.
Now, there are three kinds of fairies in North Pole territory. First are the Pixites, the little winged fairies that you’ve all seen represented in the movies. Yes, they’re cute. On film. In real life they are just as mean as the rest, only smaller.
Next are the Hamerites. They’re shorter than people, like me, for the most part, but heavily muscled, and very agile, considering they’re usually as broad as they are tall. We don’t see many Hamerites, since they tend to keep to themselves when they aren’t working in the mines.
Last are the Tolites. Tolites are huge. Just massive walking mountains of flesh and muscle. Mostly they worked in the woods, cutting and then replanting trees in Pole Territory. They are immensely strong, and very violent. You don’t have to work to piss one off, since they’re always pissed off. Hammerfell had run right into a Tolite.
While Tolites are just as dangerous, if not more so, than Hamerites and Pixites, they are usually more self-controlled. They tend to settle their own affairs amongst themselves, and avoid any dealings with other Pole residents as much as possible. This one, not so much. Which again reminded me, I needed to find out how much he’d had to drink before the killings took place.
Now, however, I also had to wonder about that brief exchange between the Tolite, and Hammerfell. What now? That’s a helluva thing to ask someone who’s just killed one of your own kind. Not to mention someone you were having a beer with just seconds before. I scratched another note to myself to find out if Airdancer and Hammerfell were friends.
It seemed unlikely, considering their caste differences, but it wasn’t unheard of, I guess. Still things just didn’t add up. No Privileged elf should have been in a place like the Lump o’ Coal to start with. That was one thing. The two elves being from different castes might be another, but I didn’t know that for sure.
Hammerfell’s question to the troll was a definite red flag. I don’t like red flags. They bother me. They keep me from tying cases together in the nice, neat packages I prefer. I needed to talk to both elves’ families, and soon. First though, there were ‘witnesses’ to question.
And I needed to ID that Tolite.
I walked into Interrogation One, where the bartender was sitting. He looked ill at ease. I didn’t blame him. The camera footage showed him clearly standing at the bar when the fight broke out, yet he had told officers on the scene he ‘hadn’t seen nothin’. Yeah, right.
“So, Mister. . .Bloglass. Yes? Bartender at Lump o’ Coal for what, seven years now, isn’t it? Want to tell me how you were standing right in front of all this when it happened, and still claim you didn’t see anything?”
“I already tol’ them other cops, I wasn’t watchin’,” Bloglass mouthed, trying to act surly to cover his fear. “Now, I’m tellin’ you. Can’t hold me here on account o’ I ain’t did nothin’.” I frowned at his accent.
Pole Territory was home to all kinds. Mostly European, where humans were concerned, and of course the Other races. But Bloglass’ accent was not one I’d expect. It spoke of under-education. No matter who you were or what you did in the city, Pole Territory didn’t allow illiterates to immigrate. Yet, here one sat.
“Bloglass, I’m gonna level with you,” I said, taking the seat across the table from him. “This isn’t some random drunken brawl. You and I both know that Tolite hadn’t had more than one drink. I know it. You know it. Because you served him that one drink.” Bloglass looked up at me, suspicion in his little buggy eyes.
“I also know that you aren’t the illiterate imbecile you’re trying to play. You want to keep playing, that’s fine. I can play, too. I’ll have you held on suspicion of something or other until I can find something better. Now all I want is the truth. I want to know what happened in your bar, tonight, that left me with pieces of elf all over your floor, walls, and furniture.”
Bloglass eyed me belligerently for a minute, as if seeing whether or not I was serious. I simply waited, letting my look assure him I was deadly serious. Finally, with a long sigh, Bloglass seemed to relax.
“Look,” he said, his ‘accent’ now gone, “I make it a habit not to know, okay? I gotta job to do, and I do it. Friggin’ fairies are mean. You know that, probably better than I do. So when a hulking Toli’e comes struttin’ into the place, I just serve him, and leave him be. Now that’s the truth if it’s ever been told in this room.”
“I can understand that,” I nodded. “And I don’t blame you for that habit. In your place, I’d be the same way. What I want to know, first, is how many drinks he had before the fight broke out?”
“Just the one,” Bloglass shrugged. “He’d been nursing it a while.”
“Can you remember how long?”
“Maybe half-an-hour,” he replied. “No more than forty-five minutes. Just kept sitting there, taking a sip once and a bit. Creeped me out.” I nodded.
“I can see where that might be the case,” I told him, sympathy easing into my voice. “Do you remember the two elves coming in? Together?”
“Yeah, just cause it was, ya’know, odd,” Bloglass nodded. “Don’t get many elves at the Lump, ya’know. Ain’t there kinda place.”
“That’s what I thought,” I nodded again. “How long were they in the bar before the fight?” Bloglass thought about that, and shrugged.
“I don’t really know, exactly. They’d had two ales apiece, so figure ten minutes, roughly. Then, the one got up, I figured going to the johnnie. Only he slams right into the Toli’e, and the fight was on.”
“Had the Tolite ever been into the bar before, that you know of?”
“I never seen ‘im before,” Bloglass said fervently. “He’s not the sort you’d forget. All cold and creepy. Mean looking. Which ain’t so much, since they’re all pretty damn mean. But he was mean looking even for a fairy.”
“Absolutely,” Bloglass’ head bobbed. “And when that elf ran into him? I ain’t sure, mind you, not at all, but I think the fairy made sure the elf hit him.”
“Oh?” my interest peaked here. “What makes you think that?”
“Fairy moved just a bit, right before the elf ran into him. He did it like he wasn’t watchin’ the elf, but he was. He was looking into the mirror behind the bar, and trackin’ that elf the whole way.”
Well, how about that.
None of the other ‘witnesses’ seemed to know anything of import. While they all had actually witnessed the attack, none of them were close enough to give the details that the bartender had. Most has simply backed away from the violence, and then made sure they were nowhere near the Tolite as he made his exit. Good idea, that.
I went through my notebook, separating what I knew as fact from what I now suspected. Wasn’t hard. I really didn’t have that many ‘facts’. Mostly conjecture. For instance, Airdancer being at a place like Lump o’ Coal was unusual, to say the least. But he had every right to be there. Discrimination wasn’t allowed anywhere on North Pole Territory.
Well, except in Kringle Village. The Kringle’s pretty much did as they pleased. That’s what happens when you have the power, and the money.
Anyway, like I said, no reason to be there, but not a crime. It did beg the question, though, why was he there? And that little exchange between the Tolite and Hammerfell. What was that all about? Did it mean anything? While it might not, it was nagging the hell outta me.
I was still going over all of this when my phone buzzed. I hit the inter-comm.
“Boss is on the way up,” the desk sergeant said softly. “Heading for your office.”
“Thanks,” I replied, and killed the connection. I sat back with a sigh. I had hoped I’d have a little longer to work on this before I had to speak with Chief Redshirt. As I thought that, there was a rap at my door.
A tech entered my office with a folder.
“We ID’d the Tolite, sir,” the tech said, handing me the folder. “He’s a hitter. Had a good file on him.” I took the folder, nodding my thanks. I was still looking over the folder when the Chief barged into my office.
“What are you doing, sitting here, when Airdancer’s killer is walking the street?” he demanded. His face was red, and his breathing seemed a little hard. Had he taken the stairs? Doubtful. Redshirt was a political appointee, and had never actually been a cop. Well, okay, not a real cop. He was distantly related to the Kringle family, and that was his primary qualification for the job. He favored them, physically. He liked to call himself robust, but. . . .
“I’m just looking over the file we have on the alleged killer,” I replied calmly. “Our Tolite is named Slashknife. Fitting name, I’d say, considering. He’s a thug for hire,” I added, handing over the file.
“Why aren’t you out looking for him?” Redshirt demanded, snatching the file out of my hand. He began to leaf through it, although he wasn’t really reading it.
“I just finished interviewing the witnesses, Chief,” I strained to make my voice calm. “And I was just handed this file, right before you got here. I’d say we’re making good time on this one. Already ID’d the killer, and. . . .”
“I’ll be the one to say when we’re making good time,” he cut me off, throwing the folder back on my desk. I nodded, collecting the folder, and the papers that had flew from it.
“I want this settled quickly,” he ordered. “As in today.” I looked at him, slightly surprised.
“Well, I can’t promise that, Chief,” I replied. “There’s some strange things connected to this case.”
“Strange how?” he asked, suddenly not as belligerent.
“Well, first, why was a Privileged elf like Airdancer in a bar like Lump o’ Coal to start with? Had every right to be there, but it’s still strange, wouldn’t you say? Then, there’s the fact that a witness says that the Tolite deliberately caused the initial altercation. Add to that the fact that he and Hammerfell, the second elf, had a short conversation before Slashknife hacked him up. Finally, Slashknife was in the bar, nursing one drink, for nearly an hour before the attack. I think, based on what we know so far, that he was waiting for those two elves.”
“The question is, which one was his target?” Redshirt looked startled.
“You think it was deliberate?” he asked, all signs of pompousness gone.
“It’s starting to look that way,” I nodded. “Slashknife doesn’t have a record to indicate that he just randomly starts fights in bars, sir. Every charge he’s had, and there are several, indicate that he was working for someone else at the time he committed his other crimes. Every one.”
Redshirt looked at me, thoughtful.
“This. . .that’s not good,” he said finally.
“I agree. If this was a hit, I doubt it was against Hemmerfell, sir. He’s just not worth the trouble. At least not at first glance. I haven’t looked into his background, yet. Was about to, when you came in.”
“So you think someone may have paid for a hit on a Privileged elf?” Redshirt looked stunned.
“It’s starting to look that way.”