The morning was a little rougher than usual, which came as no surprise. I managed to manage just fine for the most part, despite the fact that I could have used a little more vegetable juice and my place was still trashed, compliments of Desmond and Patricia Wolfmin. I didn’t dilly dally at all this morning like I usually do, but I did make sure that my soul was in my body, that I was presentable, and that I had a full stomach before I went out tracking down werewolves. It’d be silly to do it any other way, and I used up all my silly yesterday so I really had no choice in the matter. I’m no hero, just a victim of circumstances of my own creation.
I skipped my usual long-form breakfast routine in favor of the express version, which to be honest wasn’t that much different, just compressed. After a quick half a piece of toast and three gulps of coffee, plus the rest of the vegetable juice followed by a hasty round of ritualistic morning hygiene routines and a gross overestimation of and reliance on the restorative powers of vitamin supplements, I was out the door and headed to my office, which was also a mess from what I remembered about from last night.
The walk to my office was boring and devoid of any excitement, which was fine by me. I wasn’t looking for anything exciting or interesting, there was bound to be plenty of that later in the day and I was pretty excited to take a sober, unexciting stroll for once. When I got there, it was a mess, just like I knew it would be. I wasn’t there to clean it up, I reminded myself, just to grab a few things and leave. There were more important things to tend to, repairs would have to wait. I checked the safe hidden behind a picture of a soldier kissing a nurse- not the one you’re thinking of- and found it was still there and still intact. Werewolves are awful at being good at cracking, let alone locating, wall safes. It’s just not in their DNA to look behind things. I took this as a good sign. I don’t usually take signs, as they’re difficult to store and transport, at least in my experience, but there was something about this one that couldn’t be ignored. So I heeded it.
Inside the safe is where I usually keep my gun and where I always keep my special ammunition. I make enchanted bullets from silver covered wooden steaks and hide them in my safe when I don’t need them for what should be obvious reasons. These bullets make killing monsters easier for me. Now, it’s true that you don’t have to kill every monster you run across, but when you do have to kill one, you’re going to want them dead as quickly and cleanly as possible. Used to be a time when I had to either carry two guns or switch out my ammo depending on whether or not I was shooting at werewolves or draculas. Now I just shoot without worrying about it. I’m glad those days are far behind me.
Sam and Frank Stein were still being held captive by the Wolfmins and I really needed to get on top of doing something about that being as I got pretty plastered last night instead of dealing with my problems. Normally I don’t condone that sort of behavior from myself, but sometimes a person will find themselves with a problem that can only be solved with the kind of clarity that comes to one when they are hungover. When faced with those sorts of problems, I’ve found the best course of action is to go ahead and acquire that hangover and let it do its thing.
I often find myself thinking about why the hungover state of mind isn’t considered a mystical head space akin to drunkenness or eating things that make you see the stuff. After all, it’s a profound shift in perspective, it just lacks the drama of a full on load, is all. It’s a well-known fact that being hungover is prone to make you less likely arm wrestle a chimpanzee, instead of more likely, which we all know is what happens after a few drinks. To me, that’s a headspace worth seeking out and celebrating. Not everyone agrees, nor should they. After all, it’s different opinions that make the world so interesting, if you ask me.
I took a look around my office before leaving. It was an ugly sight for sure. Nearly everything was broken, smashed, or crumpled up depending upon which method of destruction its original composition lent itself most easily to. I wasn’t looking forward to the cleaning up, it was going to be a real treat, ironically speaking.
The Wolfmin’s sure made sure they made a mess. Last night I was pretty annoyed but drunk enough not to get too pissed, today, when I looked at what they’ve done in the light of day and with a clear head, I find myself out right livid and increasingly hell-bent on making them pay for making me buy extra trash bags.
I had my gun and all my special bullets, so there was no real reason to stand around my office being mad when I could be out doing something about it, but I was doing that anyway. I had 21 bullets, currently, and if today went my way, I’d be putting 19 back in the safe later tonight. I wasn’t counting on today going my way, that’s why I counted my bullets instead. I had no idea where the Wolfmin’s were holed up, I was hoping the street urchins would have something for me on that front. When I had what I needed, I left my office without bothering to try and make the door look like it was on its hinges.
Some illusions and most lies aren’t worth the energy it takes to maintain them. Smart people and those that pay attention tend to realize this by watching those that aren’t or won’t learn it the hard way. I don’t remember exactly where along the line I finally got hip to that fact, but I do remember it hurting. I’m not an idiot, nor do I consider myself an Einstein, but I have been an example of both the good and bad varieties to others on several occasions.
I walked into Sam’s bar and found Jax in his usual spot. He was wearing a fancy gold chain around his neck, which I don’t seem to remember him wearing last night. I wondered where he got it.
At the back of the bar, a group of street urchins was gathered around a grey parrot of some sort who was busy walking around a table holding a deck of cards in its beak. A street urchin sat across from the bird eyeing it up with nervous suspicion. I wondered what they were up to before asking Jax for a glass of OJ.
Before I could wonder about anything else, it occurred to me that I was wondering about a lot of things at the moment, which is usually not a problem, but I had important things to do for once and couldn’t risk being sidetracked. So far I was wondering about Jax’s necklace, what the hell was going on with the parrot in the back, the whereabouts and well being of Frank and Sam, how I was going to deal with the werewolves, and when I was going to get time to do that laundry that’s been piling up for a few weeks now.
That was too many things to be wondering about, a wonder load that heavy could easily turn into worry if one isn’t careful. I’m a firm believer that the best way to deal with an itch is to scratch it, so I decided to resolve my wonderings in the most straightforward way possible before acquiring any new ones or risking the ones I had souring into worry.
“Hey Jax,” I said, holding out my smokes so he could take one, “help yourself. What’s with the fancy necklace? You join a gang or start a record label or something?”
“Ha! I wish. Tell you the truth, I’m starting to feel married to this place. Being married, even to a bar, isn’t something I’m wanting to try again anytime soon, you know what I mean?”
I did know what he meant, at least I’m pretty sure I did insomuch as anyone could have. Street urchins have a strange culture and it keeps getting stranger every time I learn something new about it.
“I know exactly what you mean Jax. Bars and dames…”
“Can’t live in ‘em, don’t wanna live without ‘em. You know it, Mr. T.J.”
Jax laughed to himself before refilling my juice glass. I already had enough vitamin C for the week but saw no reason to stop taking it in. You just never know when extra vitamin C will come in handy, I always say it’s better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it. Especially during cold and flu season.
“Anyways,” he said while holding up his necklace, “the gang got me this on account of me having this job revolutionized our economy. We’re eating every night now and not just beans. Really improved our quality of life straight across the board, some of us even have futures now. Nothing exciting, but it’s nice to know you’ll probably get to be an adult someday instead of going to the big orphanage in the sky before you get the chance to need to shave.”
“I can see how that could take a load off one’s mind.”
“Settles a lot of hash, I’ll tell ya. So they got me this as a symbol of their collective appreciation.”
That’s one thing I’ve been wondering about put to rest.
“I’m glad it’s working out. Just one more thing. What the hell is going on back there?” I asked while gesturing with my thumb towards the parrot dealing out cards while about a dozen or so kids eagerly watched.
“You mean wit the parrot?”
I nodded as it seemed to be the safer route.
“That,” he said while pointing over to the small crowd and beaming with pride, “is an ancient street urchin coming of age ritual. It’s called ‘Passing The Parrot’.”
“I see,” I said.
“You possibly couldn’t have any idea of what I’m talking about yet. You asked me, so that means you don’t know. I ain’t told you nothing yet, so there’s nothing to see.”
“I see,” I said while nodding.
“That I can see that you see. Moving on. That parrot is an African Grey, smartest bird on Earth. Smarter or as smart as a six-year-old human, depending of course on both the bird and the human. Some experts think it’s capable of actually communicating and interacting with people, not just mimicking them. Can you wrap your noodle around that? It’s like talking to a tiny dinosaur.”
“You don’t say?” I said, genuinely interested in these strange kids and their creepy ways.
“I just did. Stay with me. Street urchin life is tough, we got no time for dolts and dummies. In order to ensure someone is ready to take part in our scams and rackets, they have to outsmart the bird at three card monte. Traditionally, the test is first given at the age of six and a half. Once it’s passed, the newly minted urchin proper is assigned a mentor, who shows them the ropes.”
“Does the mentor pull their coat too?”
“You know it. Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Damn straight,” I said while lighting Jax’s fourth cigarette. That was two things I’ve been wondering about out of the way. I made a mental note to ask Jax how the ritual went tomorrow, I wasn’t Elipitis Levi, I wasn’t going to be sticking around much longer just to see how it turned out.
I was formulating a plan for locating Sam when it occurred to me that Jax’s primary function in my life is to be the liaison for the street urchins I pay to gather information for me, not to manage Sam’s bar. “I should ask Jax if he’s heard anything before I go getting dressed in the dark.” I thought before following my own advice for once.
“Yeah, Jerry should be here any minute with news about that for ya. I was going to tell you when you came in, but you started with the questions before I could get a word in edgewise.”
“Great Jax, thanks,” I slipped him a twenty. Today was my lucky day. Three wonderings solved from one bar stool. While not a personal best, it was still better than expected and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
“One more thing, Mr. T.J., Mr. Sam said if anything like this were to happen, I was to give you this,” Jax said as he put a .45 caliber pistol on the bar. Mr. S said to tell you it’s ‘loaded special’.”
“Thanks, good to know,” I said as I put the gun in the back waistband of my pants.
I started to take a sip of what was left of my juice, but before I could finish Jerry ran in, “Mr. T.J. Come on quick. I got a cab out front, I’ll get you on the trolly when we’re on the way.”
I knew better than to say “What’s going on?” Or “You found Sam?” Or “Settle down and start from the top.” Or anything along similarly inappropriate lines. After all, he indicated quickness was in order and saying anything would slow us down so I stood up and followed him out the door.
The crowd of urchins in the back of the bar was silent now. Five of them had donned black robes and stood silently, demanding and receiving unspoken respect from their peers. The canadite sat in front of the parrot while a strange chanting was started to fill the joint. That’s all I could catch out of the corner of my eye on my way out the door.
Once outside, I shielded my eyes from the sun for a second like I had just come out of a tomb, or movie theater, and hopped in the waiting cab right after Jerry bounced into the back seat. The driver, who upon casual inspection appeared to be two kids in a trench coat and then upon a more formal scrutiny, proved to be exactly that, wasted no time pulling into traffic, heading North, towards hipster territory.