Clara

The small, plastic horse left the hand of the weasel-faced assassin, spun through the air and rebounded off the dirty brick wall of the alley. The spin was perfect, the flick of Mishka’s wrist perfect and the horse stopped dead and dropped, falling no more than an inch from the wall. Clara stepped forward and trapped it under the toe of her boot. There were howls of complaint from the assembled gamblers.
“You can’t do that,” snarled Mishka.
“Just did,” shrugged Clara. “Tell me what I need to know.”
It was a cool response, but Clara felt anything but cool. She felt like she was sweating inside, her breath short, every sense on high alert ready to run. This alley, running to the side of Emer’s bar, was not a safe place for her to be, and these were not safe people for her to be talking to, especially not Mishka. But safety was rarely high on Clara’s list of priorities. Getting the story, on the other hand…
Mishka was actually bearing his teeth now, showing off the fangs that, on occasion, he’d been known to use to gouge the flesh of his victims. His fists were clenching and unclenching, sweat was popping out all over his brow and his eyes were wide and wild. Clara calculated that she had about twenty seconds left before she would have no choice but to move her foot.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” grinned Mishka, the grin looking as much like a threat as any grimace.
“Just give me a sign,” said Clara. “None of these fine gentlemen,” and at this point she gestured to the huddle of gamblers who were many things, but not a single one would be considered a fine gentleman, “will be any the wiser as to what you told me, or why. Hell, they didn’t even hear the question, did you fellas?”
There was a rumble of agreement from the group. They hadn’t heard Clara’s question, because Clara hadn’t asked it, not here, not today. She had been pursuing this piece of information for some time, it was possibly the final piece in the jigsaw that would allow here to write the damned piece. Or maybe it was the opening of a further can of worms, she didn’t rightly know and didn’t completely care. She just hated roadblocks like this, and Mishka’s silence had proven to be quite a roadblock. Hence she’d taken her life in her hands and come here to piss him off.
“Fine,” spat Mishka. “You really want to know? Yes.”
“All I needed to know,” grinned Clara, removing her boot from over the horse. It sat upright, on its hooves. There was a yelp of delight from Mishka and a grumble of complaint from the rest of the crowd. “Nice throw, by the way,” she said, as she turned and left.
A hand grabbed her arm before she could take more than three paces. She looked down into the grubby face of a familiar snitch.
“Mouse,” she sighed. “What?”
“He’s lying,” sighed the diminutive snitch, simply.
“What? Why? There’s no… How do you know?” she spluttered.
“Because that was the wrong answer to the question,” explained Mouse. “He’ll give up Emer, just did, to protect the person who really asked him to kill that family.”
Clara shook her head. But this explanation made so much sense. It was Emer’s style, shutting down people who owed him money and weren’t about to pay. And Konoroz had owed him a lot of money, and had no way of paying it back. He worked on a doughnut stand, for goodness sake, a loyal husband and father. Who else could possibly want him dead?
“What do you know?” she demanded, turning and pinning Mouse against the wall.
“Eww,” complained Mouse, “do you know what’s smeared on these walls? What did I ever do to you?”
“You’re being oblique,” Clara explained, “and I’m tired. And I have to be clever about how I get Mishka’s attention but you’re easier to push around.”
Mouse shrugged, he couldn’t deny that.
Look,” he squealed, “I don’t really know anything. I just hear whispers. People talk and they forget I’m there. And I spend a lot of time in Emer’s.”
“Get on with it,” snarled Clara. Mouse was right, this wall stank of something unpleasant.
“It wasn’t Emer.” Mouse started to talk more rapidly. “I’m certain of that. Ninety percent of Mishka’s work comes from the fat bastard, but not this time. There’s a web, and I don’t know who’s pulling the strings on this one, but I do know that Konoroz isn’t… wasn’t who you think he is.”
Clara groaned in frustration.
“Get to the point! Who was he?”
Mouse only mouthed the answer to that question, each syllable soundlessly and exaggeratedly enunciated.
Re-sis-tance.

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