A familiar face ran into him as he left the bar: Harry Wilhelm, on his way in.
“Mr. Rollins!” he said, too happy to see Zebra. His grin cut across his narrow face like an open wound, and the fangs his enthusiasm put on display combined with his red eyes and pointed ears to betray vampiric heritage. His carrot-like hair, kept short and neat under his fedora, betrayed something else in his blood. No proper vampire was ever a ginger.
He’d gotten a head start at home, or another bar, by the smell of him.
“What are you doing all the way out here in the city?” he asked.
“Looking for someone.”
“Ms. Jones?” His expression shifted to one of concern. “Is she alright?”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
Zebra waved him off. “Don’t be. It’ll be fine.”
“Can I help at all?”
“Do you know where she is?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Then I don’t know how you could help,” Zebra said, fishing his phone out of his pocket.
“Well—” Harry started, but Zebra cut him off with a raised finger. Harry watched him as he dialled, pulling a flask out of his own pocket. He drank from it, and returned it to his long, canvas coat as Zebra realised that he didn’t know which cab company he should be calling.
“Do you know which cab companies run around here?” Zebra asked him, lowering his phone.
Harry smirked. “Mr. Rollins,” he said, “I am an investigative journalist. Of course I know what cabs operate in this part of Snowtown South.” His smirk split into a grin. “But even better, I know which cab company has a deal with the proprietor of Hammer & Shark.”
“And that company is?”
Harry deflated a little, but his smile remained. “CanaryCab. If Mitch called a ride for Ms. Jones, he called CanaryCab.”
Zebra resumed his call. The operator connected him, and it wasn’t long before he was on the line with a CanaryCab dispatcher. Unfortunately, no matter how much he tried to convince her that he needed to know, the dispatcher would not tell him anything about their clients’ destinations. He hung up, deeply annoyed.
Harry put a hand on his shoulder and he glared at the halfbreed.
“Sorry that didn’t pan out,” Harry said. He looked it, almost dripping with sympathy, the freak. “But we can still find her — she’ll be alright.”
Zebra sneered before catching himself and schooling his face into something calmer. Still more angry than anything else, but composed. Harry was right to feel too important to be written off. Zebra did not know where to turn, next, and if Harry had ideas, then Zebra needed to keep him around.
He took a breath. “How?”
“You told the dispatcher she was here with other kets yesterday morning?” Harry asked, and Zebra nodded. “There’s not a big ket population in this area. If we ask around, we’ll either find her group, or someone who knows where that group is.”
That sounded plausible. It was certainly better than anything Zebra had, which at the moment mostly involved murder. “How do we find them?”
Harry considered. “We’d probably be best off finding a tag,” he said, finally removing his hand from Zebra’s shoulder. “If we can find a ket gang’s territory, we can maybe convince them to help us out. Though, if I’m honest, that’s a bit of a long shot. Still, worth trying.”
“A ket gang?” Zebra asked, incredulous.
Harry nodded. “We could also just wander around until we stumble onto a ket somewhere, but like I said, they’re not the most populous demographic in this part of the city. We’ll find about seven of them for every hundred people we run into. Either way, we want to head north, though.”
He started walking, and Zebra followed his lead. Harry was tall, and long-legged, and Zebra struggled to match his pace.
“They’re more common north of here?” Zebra asked him.
“The closer you get to Shelton, the more common they’ll be, yeah,” Harry said, his expression serious. “Shelton has the highest ket population in Snowtown — just above ten percent. That’s mostly where they end up when they immigrate, because they don’t come with very many resources, or valuables. You know how it is.”
Zebra didn’t, really.
“We won’t have to go all the way to Shelton to find something, though,” Harry said, his tone a little brighter. “They aren’t common here, but Snowtown South has the second highest ket population, and a lot of the gangs that live in Shelton keep territory down here. We’ll trip over something.”
Zebra was not actually interested in a rundown of Snowtown’s population statistics, so he wasn’t really listening to Harry’s spiel. He let him talk, but mulled over the notion that Katters may have joined a ket gang, and the implications of that. It didn’t sound like her — certainly, running away from home with no word to him or Sor or anyone, to join a gang, that was a far-fetched idea indeed. Maybe fifteen years ago, when she was a teenager. But not now.
It didn’t sound any more plausible than anything else she’d supposedly done lately, at least.
A cloud of smoke wafted into his face, and he coughed. Harry’d lit a cigarette while he was talking, and apparently was not being conscientious about it.
“Sorry,” he said, switching the cigarette to his other hand.
It was possible Katters had been abducted by the gang for some reason, but then why would she be celebrating with them in the bar? Someone was making an incorrect assumption, and Zebra worried that it was him.
“Here,” Harry said, stopping suddenly. “Ket sign.”
There was something sprayed onto the wall next to them, about ten feet off the ground. An angular symbol in a vibrant orange-red. It looked to Zebra like a capital T with an extra stem, and a backwards L nestled in next to it.
“What does it mean?” he asked.
Harry shrugged. “It means this is some gang’s territory,” he said. “I don’t speak it, or read it, for that matter.”
“So, we found their territory. How do we find them?”
“They’ll find us. They’ll find us faster if we make a nuisance of ourselves. Do we want to make a nuisance of ourselves?”
Zebra considered. “How do they deal with nuisances?”
“Depends on the gang.”
Zebra considered further. “No,” he decided. “We want them friendly. If we annoy them, they might not help us.”
“Then we wait.” Harry leaned against the wall, tilting his hat back so the brim wouldn’t fold against it. “This tag is pretty recent, so they’re sure to come through here sooner or later.”
Zebra peered at the tag. It looked a little old to him, scuffed away around the edges. “How can you tell?”
“Because it’s still here. Ket tags don’t stay up long, they get washed away or painted over well before the gang responsible for it can decide to abandon the area.”
That didn’t sound definite, but Zebra was prepared to concede the point. He joined Harry by the wall, sitting down with his back against it. He checked his phone, both for the time and for any new updates to Katters’ social media profiles. Evening was setting in, and there was nothing new.
Harry pulled his flask back out and spun the top loose. “Remind me why we’re here,” he said, taking a drink.
“Waiting for ketal,” Zebra told him.
“They might know where Katters is, which is information that I would very much like to have, myself.”
“Ah,” Harry said, taking one more drink and putting the flask away. “Right. Must be tired.”
Or drunk, Zebra thought. He tried calling Katters. It rang twice, then went to voice-mail, and Zebra pulled the phone away to stare at the screen in disbelief. Someone had dismissed his call.
“Look alive,” Harry said, nudging Zebra with his foot. Another cloud of smoke followed his voice, and Zebra stifled another cough.
Two ketal were walking down the street toward them, talking to each other with words that Zebra couldn’t understand. Their conversation trailed off as they got closer, and they regarded Harry and Zebra — who were staring at them, in turn — with suspicion.
They were both taller than Zebra, but shorter than Harry, and wearing unremarkable street-clothes.
“Hi,” Harry said, smiling and removing his hat. Zebra stood up.
“Haseir?” one of the ketal said, glancing back and forth between the humans. The ket was wearing a scarf in the same orange as their ears and the tag on the wall.
The other was in a thick, leather coat with fleece lining the collar and cuffs. A knit cap, also orange, was pulled down over their ears.
They were both wearing sandals, unusual in the cool weather, but the unclipped, sickle-like toe-claws the footwear left exposed suggested a different intent behind the gesture than climate-related comfort.
“Seir tii vhen secat seir?” the one in the hat said, too fast for Zebra to catch. Not that he could have understood it if he did.
“Uh,” Harry said. “Ee—” he stumbled. “Iul. Rhaten.”
The ketal gave him a blank look and his smile widened in embarrassment. “Sorry,” he said.
“Why are you here, seiket?” the ket in the scarf asked him, their accent still tinging the words. They had green scales, a shade lighter than the forest-green hoodie they also wore.
“We’re looking for my friend,” Zebra cut in. “A ket. She’s been missing for two weeks.”
“Two weeks? Maybe your friend doesn’t want to be found, seiket.”
“That could be, or she could be in trouble.”
The ket nodded. “Also this could be, seiket.”
“Who is she?” the other ket asked. This one had blue scales, but the colour was in patches that Zebra was sure would be rude to comment on.
“She has light brown scales,” he said, putting more thought into the description than he had for his fellow humans. “Black hair, usually in a pony-tail. Sky-blue ears, and a scar on her nose. A few of them, actually. She’s about so tall.” He held his hand level about five inches above his own head. “We think she was at the Hammer & Shark yesterday morning with some other ketal, celebrating something.”
“Pony-tail, seiket?” the green ket asked.
“Tied back.” Zebra pulled his own hair back to demonstrate. “With a red ribbon.”
“Tii iulikia huthal a? Irusal sa ket,” the blue ket said to their friend. Their tone sounded sceptical.
“Vasuliuk ete a.” Green’s ears flicked down, and their mouth pulled back to show more teeth than usual. But they were looking into the middle distance, not at Zebra or Harry. “Hir ete kaki talikur niinne a? Irasal ket.”
Blue shook their head. “Vasuliuvaren kuu et luenal. Vasuliurien et ket.”
“Tii sta susaal tekaki Marhsen Sevial talikur niinne a?” Green jerked their head to gesture behind them. Toward the Hammer & Shark? “Sulmasal etal sa ket.”
“Tii iulileta se ete livien etal ta enal a ket?”
“Lin vasulmarhsenia etal ket.” Green shrugged. “Have—” they continued, to Zebra and Harry. “There’s a tribe, it has reason to celebrate. Maybe they have your friend, or they know where she is, seiket.”
“Where are they?” Zebra asked.
Green turned back to Blue. “Tii nekimaki se anvheir etal a ket?”
“T-t-t-t,” Blue clicked thoughtfully. “Varileraki kuu. Tii ulmatse ete matun ge ta enal a ket?”
“Iulileta kuu lina vhika enal. Sulurhit kuu mketat enal ket.”
“Sulkaet ete a ket.” Blue rolled their eyes.
“We’ll take you there,” Green said. “It’s not far, seiket.”
The ketal started walking. Harry put his hat back on, and he and Zebra followed.Bookmark the permalink.