Wyn sprinted across the bridge only slowing when she was off the main road and lost in the relative peace of the triangle. She was sweating under her coat and her heart beating as if she’d just finished one of her runs.
“Get a grip,” Wyn muttered as she entered an empty alleyway. The trouble was behind her, but it didn’t take much to pull her back to those dark moments in the metro. The sector had never been a quiet place, but she’d never felt scared being out in it. If it hadn’t been for the importance of her task, she’d have taken a taxi back to the Magdala and shut the door.
The Takoma was tucked away at the end of a street lined with pubs, stuck by the bins and the kebab shop. Wyn paused at the top of the steps, working up the nerve before entering the busy underground bar. The door opened as a couple came out, holding onto each other as they skipped up the steps, brushing past Wyn. They ran off, complaining loudly about the rain.
The bar was heaving, and a wall of music and heat rolled up the steps rocking Wyn back. She really didn’t want to go in there, would be rather back at home, with Misha and Alex but she knew she couldn’t look either of them in the face if she didn’t try and get Tom released. She swore under her breath and caught the door before it closed.
People moved in a dense pack shifting a few steps from side to side, responding as a single organism to the music. Wyn felt out of place, her mind was operating on a completely different level to the drinkers, and she felt an awkwardness seep into her bones as she struggled to reach the bar. This had never been her crowd, no rebellion in her teenage years, no late nights with a head full of noise, drinking until the early hours. Her youth had been spent studying to pass exams and getting up with the dawn to run the streets, racing against her personal best. She couldn’t blend, her shoulders were hunched, her back too straight and movements too sharp. Heads turned to watch her, a shoal of fish parting to let a shark glide through.
The bartender, all angles and tattoos spiralling out of a tight vest, broke off and came to the end of the bar, ignoring people that had been waiting longer. She rested her elbows on the bar and lent forward until she was on tiptoes, stretching to hear Wyn.
“Who are looking for?” the bartender asked, eyeing Wyn’s open jacket, searching the dark recesses.
“Tony,” Wyn said almost shouting.
“Who?” The bartender furrowed her brow and then glanced at the crowd.
“I’m just after his advice on something. It’s about a friend of his.”
The bartender straightened up and gripped her side of the bar. Wyn glanced at the tattoo wrapped around her muscular arms, at first taking it for a snake but the bartender rotated her shoulder revealing the ivy motif.
“You just asking?”
Wyn nodded and the bartender tilted her head to a short corridor beside the bar. “Downstairs.”
The bartender winked but Wyn was already making her way down the dark corridor, black walls and red carpet. A light over the toilets and then a roped-off stairway leading to the basement. The musical onslaught relented as Wyn descended to the lower level.
“If you’re after a private room I’m sorry but the basement’s closed,” a barrel of a man said as he crossed in front of her with a stack of chairs in his arms. Wyn stopped a few steps short of the bottom and watched him as he set the chairs down.
“Are you Tony?”
“Depends on who’s asking,” Tony said glancing over his shoulder. He raised an eyebrow at the tall stranger standing on his stairs. “I’ve not seen you before.”
“I’m looking for someone. I’m told you might know them.”
“I know a lot of people.” Tony rubbed at his back and winced as he worked a knot. “I’d love to help but waters pouring in through the wall and I’ve got furniture to move before it gets damaged.”
Wyn followed Tony’s line of sight to a wet patch seeping out from under one of the doors.
“My cellar’s probably looking the same right now.”
“You got a pub?” Tony asked walking past to pick up another chair.
“The Magdala by the flower market. Do you know it?”
Tony made an appreciative sound. “Auntie’s pub. She’s not sold up, has she? Thought she’d be running it until the day she died.”
Wyn lowered her gaze and stared at the wet carpet.
“Damn it, I’m sorry. I didn’t hear.” Tony brushed the sweat from his brow with a beefy forearm. “How long ago?”
“Early spring. I’m her niece, Wyn.”
Tony stomped over and shook Wyn’s hand. His grip was strong but surprisingly gentle. “Now that I think about it, you look a bit like her. Auntie helped me when I was just starting out in the business so if there’s anything I can do to help you just ask.”
“Thanks. I’m hoping you can tell me where a regular of yours might be. I’m told Tay Garson drinks here.”
Tony chortled. “A regular is putting it lightly, she’s more of a fixture. Not that I’ve seen her for a few months. She’s not been causing you trouble, has she?”
“How well do you know Tay?”
“Since she was a punk kid.”
“She still is.”
Tony cocked an ear to the stairwell, picking out a disturbance despite the pulsating music blaring from the speakers. “Excuse me, I just have to deal with this.”
“With what?” Wyn asked as he brushed past her on the way up. “What is it?”
Wyn followed him back to the bar where the crowd had moved back leaving a small clearing around two men grappling with each other. A stocky woman stood to one side brandishing a knife and threatening anyone that dared to intervene.
“Both of you get out!” Tony bellowed as he slammed a hand on the bar.
One of the fighters caught the other by the throat, digging his fingers in before turning to give Tony a weasel-faced grin.
“We warned you to pay up. This is our territory now,” the woman snarled and spat at Tony’s feet. She brought her knife up as Tony took a step toward her. “Give us what you got, or we’ll burn this shithole down.”
“This is my pub, and I won’t put up with any more of your shit,” Tony said, his voice so deep and threatening that Wyn gave the thugs credit for standing their ground. “Now let him go and get out.”
“What the fuck are you going to do?” The woman took a jab at Tony’s stomach, but the barman dodged backwards. “I could cut you, fat man.”
“This doesn’t have to be like this. Leave now and I’ll forget about it.”
Wyn came out from behind Tony, moving to the side. Everyone had stopped dancing and backed off until there was a gap around the thugs, no one daring to get involved.
“Answer her,” the woman’s partner said as he punched his victim in the stomach and let him drop to the floor. “What the fuck are you going to do? I don’t see any police, do you? No one gives a shit about your pub. If you want us out, you’re going to have to pay up.”
“We’re the police now!” the woman shouted lashing out with the knife, but Wyn darted in grabbing hold of her wrist, snapping the arm back. She screamed as Wyn jerked the arm knocking the knife out of her hand to clatter on the floor.
The weasel-faced thug leapt to her defence and punched Tony around the side of his head. Tony reeled back a few steps before gathering himself and grabbing a handful of the thug's hair and slamming his head into the bar.
“We don’t need the fucking militia here,” Tony growled as he hauled the dazed thug onto his feet. “I can handle little shits like you. Now, I want you out of here and if I see you back here, I’ll make you regret it. Understand?”
“Fuck you, Tony. I go—”
The weasel's head bounced off the bar again, blood running freely from his forehead.
“I don’t want you bleeding on my floor, damn it.” Tony changed his grip and marched the thug towards the steps. He gave Wyn a look as he passed. “Have you got that one?”
“Right behind you,” Wyn said pushing the arm up and eliciting a howl of pain.
The crowd parted, clearing the way to the door, and they took the pair outside. Wyn patted the woman down before pushing her out into the rain.
“Hey, that’s mine,” the thug said as Wyn pulled a revolver from his waistband. “Don’t you fucking touch that.”
“If you want it back you know where to find me,” Tony said giving the man’s neck a little squeeze before shoving him into the street. For a moment it looked like he would run at Tony, but the woman pulled at his arm, and they slinked off into the night.
“You’ve done that before,” Tony said as he and Wyn watched the pair turn down a side road.
“A few times.”
Tony gave her an appraising look. “Police?”
“Come back in and I’ll buy you a drink.” Tony stood by the steps waiting for her. “You had questions for me, didn’t you?”
Wyn brushed a hand across her face. She caught her hand shaking and clasped it in the other.
“Come on,” Tony nodded to the warm pub. “We’re a friendly bunch.”
This time a path was made for her, people nodding as she passed.
“Karen, get our friend a drink,” Tony said as Wyn joined him at the bar. “Whatever she wants.” Tony patted Wyn on the back as he passed her on his way to help the injured man get back on his feet.
The bartender retrieved a bottle of vodka and two glasses, setting them on the bar. She filled both and took one for herself.
Karen mouthed a thank you as she tapped Wyn’s glass with her own and knocked it back. Wyn did the same, revelling in the burn as the alcohol slipped down her throat.
“You’re having a drink with me,” Tony said popping up next to Wyn. He slapped a hand on the bar, blood running from a cut on his forearm. “No arguments. Karen, are you okay?”
“I told you they’d be back.” Karen shot Tony a look before setting the bottle down in front of him.
“I know, I’ll deal with it.” Tony topped up Wyn’s glass before filling his own.
“What was that about?” Wyn asked as she inspected the gun discreetly; it was scratched, and the hilt covered in tape, but the workings were clean. She offered it to Tony, but he waved it away.
“I don’t want it. You keep it or throw it in the canal, I don’t care. Having a gun just causes trouble,” Tony said as Karen handed him a towel. He wrapped it around the cut on his arm and tucked it in with a practised hand. “Thanks for stepping in. It seems every week we have someone in here trying to shake us down.”
The bar was quickly returning to the way it had been. If anyone was perturbed by what had happened, they covered it by being louder than before.
“Is there not a local group you can turn to? A friendly gang or private firm?”
“Nah, the triangle’s no man's land, always has been. Everyone thinks they can do what they want here and that there’ll be no repercussions. If you hadn’t been here that might have turned out differently.”
“You could really do with some security on the door. It’s not as if you’re short on customers.”
“I did but they tried to steal from me,” Tony said bitterly before shaking it off. “Maybe it’s better the devil you know.”
The drink went down smoother the second time and Wyn set the glass down carefully.
“Another?” Tony said pouring the vodka without waiting for an answer.
“I should be out there looking for Tay,” Wyn said but made no move to leave. Leaning on the bar seemed like a natural pose for her right then, leaving would have just taken energy she didn’t have.
“She was here. I let her sleep in one of the rooms downstairs, but she only stayed a week.”
“How long ago?”
“A couple of months maybe. She was in a bad way. I tried to help her, but I think something was working at her from deep within. Guilt maybe, she didn’t say.” Tony gave the door a look as if Tay was about to come back in. “She cleared out one morning and I haven’t seen her since.”
“Do you know where she went?”
“That damned temple of hers. It's where she always goes when her life turns to shit.”
“Are you sure? You wouldn’t know how to find them would you?”
Tony tipped his glass back and Wyn did the same.
“An old department store on the Kenning high street, Robin’s, something like that. But they cleared out a few weeks ago, no idea where to.”
“Why would she go back to the temple, I thought she hated them?”
“It’s her family, the only one she’s ever known. I love that kid but there’s something broken in her, she can’t rest. She’s special you know?”
Wyn let out a weary sigh. “She is but I’m damned if I know why.”
“It’s not for us to know,” Tony said and gave her a conspiratorial wink. “Our Tay is a force of nature, like the wind or this pissing rain. Us mere mortals can’t comprehend her path; all we can do is keep her alive and make sure she doesn’t forget to eat.”
“You make her sound like a god,” Wyn said.
“She’s been run over more times than I can count and shot at least once. I’m only surprised it took so long.” Tony knocked his glass back and pointed at a dark corner of the bar. “She overdosed there, was dead for going on five minutes until I brought her back. I seem to recall she fell off a building once, not a small one either.”
“That just means she’s unlucky,” Wyn observed. She took the glass but kept it firmly on the bar. A tall woman with piercing blue eyes brushed past Wyn, smiling at her as she made eye contact. Wyn turned her back and leaned on the bar, focusing on her drink. “We’ve all had our share of scrapes.”
Tony shook his head vigorously and came in close to be sure to be heard over the loud music. “The opposite, the complete opposite. You’re mistaking bad choices for a cursed life. Mark my words, one day Tay will figure out what she wants, and it will be a terrifying thing.”
“You’ve given this some thought,” Wyn said studying his wide honest face. The burly barman seemed like an obvious surrogate father for Tay. A sheltered basement where she could go to ground and burrow into the earth.
“Can’t help it, I was hooked the first time I met her.” Tony grinned as he spoke and Wyn got a glimpse of his genuine love for Tay.
“When was that?”
“Have you met her friend Osiris?”
“From what Tay’s said they might not be that close anymore.”
Tony shook his head and refilled his glass. “Osiris and Tay are the same creature, different skin. They might fight and argue but they’re inseparable. Way back when I was working at this club, they robbed the place. Osiris clocked me with a hammer, damn near cracked my skull.” Tony turned his bald head and tapped a small scar above his left ear. “They got away with what was in the till but the next day this scrawny kid came in with my takings and set it down on the table in front of me. It was Tay. She felt bad about what happened and wanted to see if I was alright. That took nerve and I respected that. We all did stupid shit when we were kids. I know I did.” Tony knocked Wyn’s glass with his own. Wyn raised hers and took a sip. “Osiris though, she’s rotten to the core.”
“Oz operates on different levels. Let me put it this way. Tay is an open book, it’s one of the endearing things about her, she can’t lie, doesn’t see the point in it but Osiris’s entire being is built upon deceit. She lies about everything. Her entire life is a sham.”
“You really don’t like her, do you?”
“No.” Tony pointed through the crowd at the front door. The danger now passed the pub had returned to its boisterous norm. “If she came through that door being chased by the devil, I’d throw her back out and lock the door. I always suspected her of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing but now I know it. I don’t know whether the temple made them the way they are or the streets but those two are both worth watching.”
“They’re just street kids,” Wyn said dismissively. “Most come out wanting to fit in, but some seem to veer to either side. It used to break my heart but there’s nothing special about them. There are thousands of them like Tay and Osiris in this district alone.”
Tony shook his head. “Not like those two. Keep looking for her and you’ll see.”
“I know someone that would love to talk to you,” Wyn said. She raised her drink, the effects already working on her. She should be out in the rain, pounding the streets but something was holding her back. She wanted not to care, to not have to think about anything else, at least for a while.