Authors: Steve Mosby
Tags: #Fiction, #Crime, #Mystery & Detective, #General
The Cutting Crew
The Small Team Of Policemen Never Even Identified The Dead Girl, And For The Officers Involved Her Murder Came To symbolise everything that was wrong with the city: a haphazard sprawl of commerce and indifference. Four months on, that group is in disarray. Sean has disappeared into the city's black heart and not returned, and Martin is separated from his job, his wife and his friends. But then a simple note from his ex-partner forces him to re-enter an investigation he'd rather forget. 'I found her', it says. His search leads him from one side of the city to the other, in a downward spiral of violence and pain, and drags him into the orbit of the things that are really wrong with the city: the eight brothers rumoured by legend to have control over everything.
I undid the clasps on the box - one click, two - and flipped open the lid. Then, I sat back on my haunches, rubbing the skin around my mouth and inspecting the contents. The rifle was in three pieces.
It looked like a musical instrument that somebody had really loved: as expensive and well-kept as a flute.
Beautiful too, in its own way. It had been oiled recently, and I was willing to bet it was calibrated and fine. As accurate as when Sean and I had last gone shooting together, which meant he'd taken care of it and probably intended to use it. It was only right in an odd way, because a gun as well-designed as this probably deserved to be fired.
If you were going to be killed by something - if you absolutely had no choice - then you might as well be killed by a weapon like this.
I took the barrel out of the velvet case - and then turned suddenly, distracted by a cheer from the crowd outside.
There was an arched window at the far end of the room.
Outside, the sky was so bright that the edges of the window frame seemed to be dissolving into the light. The sun was visible in wedges, illuminating motes of dust hanging in the air. They were undisturbed for the moment but - a full storey above amongst the open beams - there were birds nesting, and every so often one would flutter down and out, and it would set this still world in motion.
Another huge cheer - a rumbling, contagious thing boiling steadily up from far below. I checked my watch and figured that the first of the boxers must have been coming out. It was about the right time, which meant it was time for me to start doing what I did best. Although given what I generally fucked up, that wasn't saying much.
I put the gun together methodically and carefully, but it didn't take long - one piece slotted naturally and inevitably into the next.
There was no mystery or difficulty to it. Sean had kept bullets in the case. I loaded it without thinking too much about what I was going to do - with premeditated murder, I've found that you need to think very clearly about nothing at all. When you're killing bad men, there's always emotion that will carry you through if you let it. But if you think too much then your reason gets hold of that emotion and keeps your hand in check. So you learn not to think.
You let the anger fill you up, and then it's done before you know it: an immense act that's actually surprisingly ordinary.
Most of the time anyway.
I headed over to the window. The spread of the city appeared, stretching away into the distance. It was a sandy, fractured tapestry of jagged roofs. As I walked closer, the buildings opposite came into view, and, as I stopped, the main square itself, eight storeys below. Not so much a square as an octagon, really. It was about five hundred metres across, bordered on all sides by three-and four-storey buildings that gave it a sense of dusty enclosure. I peered down carefully.
There were thousands of people here. They were crammed onto the balconies, waving scarves and flags and arms. Hanging out of the windows. All of the buildings looked papered with them. The main square was tight with thousands more: packed all the way from the streets that led off into the city's districts to the very centre of the square, with people crowding as close to the boxing ring as the barriers and stewards would let them. There were occasional breaks in the crowd for official tents and food vans, steam spiralling up from them, but other than that the square was simply full of people. Some had even climbed up the streetlights and were now balancing precariously down their length. A patchwork of men and women. It was only really possible to separate them into individuals when they moved, but, even then, so many of them moved at once that it was pointless trying.
And here I was: far above it all. This clock tower was visible from the furthest districts of the city, sticking up on the edge of the square. Not so much like a needle as a stack of odd, dirty blocks piled roughly in line. The top held a bell tower, but that hadn't worked for longer than I'd been alive. The enormous iron bells above me appeared to be rusted in place by damp and cobwebs, and on the outside, the white, circular clockface was stuck at a perpetual three-thirty.
Nobody came here - certainly not this high up - but there were ways in. Admittedly, you had to trust your luck a bit in climbing the maze of broken staircases to reach the top, but I'd stopped feeling as though luck had any part to play in what had been happening to me, and so I'd been quietly confident on my way up here. Now, here I was, with a clear view of the city's annual inter district spectacle. The best seat in the house.
If you were going to shoot someone, you might as well choose a vantage point like this.
Historically, our city is divided into sixteen different districts, all of them named after animals. Every year in late Spring, we hold a competition. Eight districts compete one year, with the remaining eight competing the next. It involves weeks of buildup, training and publicity. Fighters are chosen via a series of internal bouts, amidst a great deal of fervour and marching and shit-talking, and then the final eight boxers come together for an overall tournament.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across the city cram themselves into the main square, or as close as they can get, to watch and cheer; and more people travel from all corners of the country. We're a tourist attraction. For this single day each year, if you want a hotel anywhere in the city you'd better book early.
I checked out the ring. There were three fighters around the edge already. I stepped back from the window and, keeping both eyes open, took aim through the scope. As I centred on the topless, blocky men at the weighin, my vision doubled; I closed my left eye and one of the fighters came into focus. Whirls of hair on his chest, all the way down to the red and blue sash of Snail tied around his thick waist. Solid and old. He looked confident but more than a little stupid, and I didn't think he was going to win much here today beyond a trip to St Harven's.
Another rumbling cheer. I swung the aim of the rifle around across the craning necks and arms of the crowd and caught sight of the fourth fighter making his way along a path that had been cleared by the stewards. People from his district - he was wearing the purple and white sash of Horse - were slapping hands with him as he went. Through the rifle scope, I could see them shouting advice and encouragement, but the man was ignoring them and looked full of concentration. I'd have bet more money on him than the Snail fighter. He looked like a man who had something difficult to do, and I felt a certain kinship with him on that one. Plus, although I was brought up in Turtle, I lived in Horse now, so there was that allegiance to think about too.
I put the rifle down and moved away from the window.
Nothing as complicated and intricate as our city ever comes about by chance, but there are lots of different stories and histories about the how and the why of it.
In many ways, it's just like a person. People you meet have their reasons for being the way they are: the down and dirty reasons they won't acknowledge even to themselves; the boring 'this happened'
stuff that everybody already knows; and the legends - the stories, half-truths and wish-fulfilments in their heads about triumphs and failures, loves and fears. Generally, most of the real stuff falls into the middle category, but people can be difficult to disentangle and the truth is sometimes a complicated amalgam of all three. Our city is no different. Here is one story of how we got where we are.
A long time ago, there were eight brothers who owned all of this.
Back then, it was just farmland and woods, but the brothers lived here with their servants and they cultivated the ground and made a living for themselves. There was a stream where they could get water, and there were animals to hunt or farm; there were plentiful natural resources - although that didn't mean much to the brothers as they had no real contact with the outside world.
Everything was fine for a while, but one year all eight of them left the estate and travelled in different directions to seek out a wife. Two years later, they all returned and brought their new families with them, and a small community began to take shape.
But as well as coming back with wives and children, each brother returned with skills and experience from the different areas they'd visited. One came back and took over the estate's finances, for example; another returned with knowledge of science and power.
A third brought back music and literature, while a fourth had received medical training and could tend to everybody's health.
One had become a teacher; another took responsibility for law and order. And so on. Each brother represented a specific element of society, and together they complemented each other and thrived.
Often in opposition but, deep down, working as a team.
When our teacher had told us this story, she'd told us to picture all eight brothers in a circle, holding hands and leaning as far backwards as they could. They were all pulling in their own directions: all straining against one another. And, bizarrely, that was what kept each of them from falling over.
But the thing was, legend had it that one of the brothers had visited darker areas while he'd been away, and he'd returned to the estate representing crime. What happened was, he ended up pulling too hard - or too cleverly. He betrayed them all. His hands slipped and the circle collapsed and fell. The estate was over-run by his associates and burned to the ground; all eight brothers and their families were killed (Ms Roberts had embellished this part with a few gory details to keep us hooked); and our fair city grew up and out of the ashes.
It's not a bad story. I remember hearing it as a child and being captivated for about a day. It was the idea that everything was working and fine: not perfect, but as good as it was going to get.
Then one of the brothers had to try to make it that little bit better for himself, and in the process he ruined it for everyone. How fucked up is that? Although obviously my child's mind didn't frame it in quite those words.
But you grow older and you forget. It's just a story after all - a fable intended to illustrate a point. It falls into the third category I mentioned, when everyone knows that the real, grown-up history of the city can be found in the second one: the dull tale of bricks and dust and sweat that occupies the history books. But I believe now that the legend really is the city's idea of where it came from: something it has repeated in its sleep, until the idea of it has become written into the stones and the glass and the streetlights.
And, just like a person, I believe our city is difficult to disentangle.
The truth - if there is such a thing - can be found in those hard facts accepted by historians, but it's also present in dreams that are so dark and old and inescapable that they make the buildings shudder each night to bear them.
Another roar from the crowd as the next fighter arrived. I snapped my eyes open, not realising where I was for a moment. Then, I remembered: sitting on my heels with my back against the dusty wall, waiting. When the first bout started - that was when I would do it. In the meantime, I thought about all of the reasons why this man deserved what was coming to him. He'd been responsible for murder and rape and torture, and he would be again. They were the usual reasons to take justice into your own hands, but on this occasion things were different. This time, the people who'd been hurt included people I cared very deeply about. They had included me.
If you were going to kill someone, and you were me, then it would very definitely be this man.
This time, the anger was easy to find. I felt it churning inside me: an intense hatred for him and what he'd done. I didn't need to think about pictures or witness statements. I just concentrated on thinking of nothing, allowing the rage to seep in and fill my head. Over the noise of the crowd, I could hear that ringing in the air the ominous sound of loneliness and space that I now knew was also something else. It was the sensation of my heartbeat coming into time with the city's own. I just sat there, watching the opposite wall, with my vision slowly starring over. When all the fighters had arrived the first match would begin, and then I could let this feeling out of me. For now, it was folding back on itself, growing larger and larger.