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The King of Pain
The bar was seedier than even Jordan was used to, and his pursuit of the least expensive liquor possible meant he'd seen more than his share of seedy bars. Tim moved easily through the crowd, like he knew exactly what to do. In fact, he probably did.
Tim stopped by the bar and dropped some bills, getting two glasses for his effort. Jordan followed him as he turned towards the jukebox.
"I am not putting that in my mouth."
"Convenient, since it's not for you, it's for Rodney."
"Who is this Rodney anyway?"
"You'll find out." Tim set one glass on the table closest to the Jukebox. "Do you recognize the song on the machine right now?"
Jordan cocked an ear towards the outdated peice of imitation 1950s era decoration. "...That Ain't Love, by REO Speedwagon?"
"Yeah. It probably doesn't mean anything right now, but the next two or three songs might. If he's here tonight."
"And if he's not?"
"We try again later."
"Real comforting. Let me guess. This guy can use music to predict the future."
"More or less."
The machine cut off the end of the song and clicked over another track.
"In the town were I was born,
Lived a man who sailed to sea,
And he told us of his life
In the land of submarines..."
Tim nodded. "Looks like we're in luck. Check the door."
Jordan turned around and saw a very out-of-place man step through the doorway and into the bar. He looked a bit like a librarian, and carried a spiral notebook under one arm. When he saw the two men, he was visibly surprised.
Tim waved him over and held up the second drink, which didn't seem to reassure the man. Reluctantly, he came over and sat down.
"I shouldn't have come here tonight."
"Lucky for us you did, though."
"For you, sure. Not for me. I still remember what happened the last time I helped you out, Thornton. I'm lucky I'm not dead."
"Luck had nothing to do with it, and you know it. It was foresight and pointy knives that saved the day."
"Yeah, no thanks to you."
"Actually, if I hadn't gotten involved, you would have been facing five men instead of one."
"If you hadn't gotten involved, none of those men would have ever bothered me."
"You really beleive that? This world is not a live-and-let-live environment. It's more of a survival of the bad-ass-in'-est environment. Do you want to go back to your nine to five job now that you've seen what really goes on in the world each day?"
The man glared at Tim, then shook his head and slumped down in his chair. "No. Not my first choice. So waddaya want?"
"Some information. My friend here," Tim nodded towards Jordan "has told me about a little problem in Midtown that we need to solve."
"Midtown? You mean the Stiff-Bandit?"
"That's part of it, yes. What we need is muscle. Preferably lots of it. Bearding a Lion in its Den is best done with superior firepower."
"I dunno. If I help you, and someone traces it back to me, I could get the police on my case too."
"The police are not the real problem right now. They're flailing around as a reflex action, which means it's an ideal time to strike; their attention will be focussed inward more than outward."
"Rod, THINK about it. So what if somebody fingered you? What are you going to tell the cops? That you just do what the jukebox tells you? All they'll do is make you take a sobriety test and have you stay in the drunk tank, maybe. Worst case scenario, you get charged with being drunk in public. They're not gonna beleive you have any special talents."
"....alright. Gimme a drink. You want muscle? I'll find you muscle." Rodney grabbed the glass, swallowed it in one gulp, and opened his notebook. Jordan looked at the book for a split second, then stood up on the pretense of heading to the john.
'Numbers and song titles,' he thought.
When Jordan came back from the hadn't-been-cleaned-since-Nixon's-Presidency men's room, Rodney seemed to have loosened up a bit. The multiple empty glasses near him seemed to explain that mystery. There were some scribbles on the notebook page, and some letters were being drawn together with lines.
"Okay, okay. Yeah. Muscles. Lots of them, too. Twenty-six seconds to airtime."
Jordan walked over to the jukebox and waited until Bob Dylan's mumbled vocals faded to nothing. There was a scratching and clicking noise as the machine chose another song. The light next to one of the song titles clicked on, and Jordan peered down to read the display on the front as the song started.
"There's a little black spot on the sun today...
It's the same old thing as yesterday..."
'Police. King of Pain. That doesn't sound good.' Jordan turned towards the door and saw a relatively short man shuffle in, hands in pockets. The man grabbed a stool by the bar and the bartender poured him a drink.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jordan saw Tim hand Rodney a folded clip of cash and head towards the bar.
'Good. Let him do the social engineering.'
As the night progressed towards dawn, the bar became more lively and friendly. A few teenagers just barely old enough to drink legally had monopolized the dart board, and one of them had consistently hit the bullseye without even looking, scoring herself a number of free drinks from the spectators in the process.
Jordan memorized the girl's features for later, then turned to the matter at hand.
"As far as we know, it started in the Midtown Auditorium. That's probably where it's centralized. The trouble at the police station grew out of that."
Tim looked calmly at the new man, who reffered to himself as Eddy, and waited for the connections to be made. Eventually Eddy responded. "So this guy is the Stiff-Bandit?"
"We have to assume so. The two events happened way too close together."
"Huh... well, that figures. Only thing I gotta ask is what's in it for me."
"For starters, we'll owe you a favor. Secondly, we're willing to fork over cash or other resources in exchange for the help."
"Hmmm. Cash I'm not too strapped for right now. Tell you what. You help me with one of my problems, and I'll help you with one of yours."
"And what problem would this be?"
Eddy set his elbows on the table, laced his hands together, and rested his head on them, staring at Tim. "Here's the deal. I work at St. Blaise's Medical Center in Midtown."
"You're a doctor?"
"Janitor. But I'm better at medicine than those quacks will ever be. That's aside the point. There's been rumors in the break rooms and the halls that somebody's stealing drugs from the supply rooms. I need help finding and stopping the guy."
"...how noble of you."
"Nothing noble about it. First off, if they can't get results soon from normal measures, they might pick a scapegoat to try and show they aren't incompetent. My employment history sucks eggs, so I'm the most likley candidate. Second, if enough of those costly chemicals get lifted, the financial impact on the hospital will be enough to make them start cutting corners. Once again, I'm the most likely target, being bottom of the organization chart. It's pure self-preservation."
"Sounds like a deal then. What kind of information do we have on this?"
"Very little. The rumor mill doesn't go into a lot of detail, and asking for details in my place is just going to draw stares."
"Not a lot to go on." Tim scratched his chin and looked at the nearly-passed-out Rodney. "Lucky for us, we have an ace up the sleeve."
Jordan poked Rodney with his finger, and the man toppled off the chair onto the ground. "I think our ace needs some coffee first."
"Well, that went better than I'd thought." Jordan took a long, long drag off of his cigarette, then relaxed. "Four on one is a lot better than two on one. And all we have to do in return is some detective work."
"Yeah. And now that we have a direction, we'll be ready for the detour."
"Huh? What detour?"
"You need to get out of the office more and watch some of the actual plays and musicals. There's always a diversion right when the good guys get their shit together."
"Hate to tell you this, but this is real life, not a story."
Tim stopped and gestured towards a newspaper-vending machine. Jordan read the headline and suddenly threw down his cigarette, stepping on it viciously.
"That proves absolutely nothing. That's a tabloid."
"Stories COME from real life, Jordan. I keep telling you."
Jordan glared at the machine and yanked on the handle; it opened easily, letting him grab a paper from inside it. He started reading the story connected to the headline. "Sensationalist journalism at its worst, man."
Morgue-Robber Strikes Again!
-To Be Continued