House of Rats – Part 8

Edmond Fache was absolutely not the kind of boy to be a pushover. Or at least that’s what he tried to convince himself of on the drive to Barreau Orphanage to pick up Quentin Vaugrenard. His radio station appearance had been a complete farce, and he was damn sick of being branded the laughingstock of the Dispatchers force all because Lucien Riviere’s mother had half the city authorities under her heel. Her precious boy got away with anything and everything. Never mind that he was as common a criminal as the rest, or that everyone down at the station suspected he was plotting his own mother’s death. They would all be sucking his metaphorical cock of power in no time at all, Edmond was sure—if they weren’t already doing so. But of course most of them certainly were. Now now, bend the knees and put your back into it, there’s a good lad. Fache managed to crack a smile in the rearview mirror.

They joked about Lucien down at the station, of course. ‘Here comes the mama’s boy,’ they would say. ‘There he is, the Prince of Viktorium!’ But deep down, they knew they would be bending over backwards for him during any of their dealings with the Barreau boys or the Outlanders. It was no secret that Lucien was in league with both, and so bribed the Dispatchers to look the other way.

No wonder Barreau Orphanage was in shambles; he spent all the money paying everyone to suck him off. Or whatever he did with that money. No one was completely sure. Edmond figured he ran some sort of underground business. Otherwise on paper, Barreau Orphanage had more than enough funds coming in to take care of all the boys’ needs. There was no reason for them to be sneaking out of the city to steal Dispatcher parts and trade them on the black market for extra cash. As it was, Lucien handled all of the trading as well. Any money that legitimately was funneled back into the orphanage itself was a mere pittance.

Edmond dreamed of the day he could catch Lucien for something, anything at all. To uncover his secret operation, whatever it was, and tell the whole world about it. Perhaps he could get in touch with that journalist, Benoit Laurent, who every hit man in the city had been contracted to murder ever since he began his publication of those articles on the history of Viktorium. Yes, that was the one. He would tell Laurent all about how Lucien was sneaking around, bribing the Dispatchers, how many hooks he had plunged into the rear ends of every single authoritative figure in the city, and together they would take down that snide, narcissistic, cunning, shit-eating little—

“You missed the turn,” Lucien sighed, interrupting his thoughts.

Edmond never felt more like jamming a knife into his own throat and spraying the whole windshield red.

“Sorry.” Thank you Lucien, I feel so privileged to eat your shit.

“What’s gotten into you lately, anyway? Ever since we left the radio station, you’re-”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I thought we were having fun.”

Edmond pulled the car into the alleyway as they had previously agreed and shut off the car.

“You want to know what the real highlight of my day is, every day?”

“What?”

“Every fucking moment I don’t have to deal with your sorry ass.”

“Aw, don’t be so glum, chum,” Lucien smiled. “You could at least pretend we’re friends, you know, like you did before at the gate? It’s just a while longer.”

“It’s always just a while longer with you. You know who else used to tell me that? The employer my parents sold me off to back in the real world. ‘Oh Edmond, not to worry, you’ll get your fingers out of those spindles soon, just a while longer.’ I’m done bending over for you.”

“Oh Edmond. I’m sorry your death has not changed anything for you. Oh wait that’s right, none of you on the Dispatchers force have ever had the privileges that come with death because you haven’t died, have you? Tough break. Look on the bright side, at least your buddy Georges ascended this morning. Play your cards right, and you might be next.”

“Fuck off.”

“No, I’ll stay here, you fuck off and go do the job I’m paying you to do.”

“One day,” Fache got out of the car. “One day, I’ll be there to see you getting yours. And it’ll be the most glorious day of my life.”

“Clock is ticking, chop chop,” Lucien grinned.

Edmond stormed out of the alleyway, attempting in vain to compose himself as his two fellow team members, Antoine and Isaac, joined him.

“Stop,” Isaac said. “We all hate him. That’s no reason to barge into the orphanage and drag Quentin out kicking and screaming by his hair.”

“Why not!” Edmond yelled, shoving him against the wall. “You know what it’s like to be called a fool because of that menace every day? Do you?!”

“Cool it!” Antoine pulled him back. “Of course we know. All of us talk about how we would love to carve that boy a new asshole. But you know what he doesn’t have? Legitimacy. On paper, he’s just another orphan. If he does do his mother in, we’ll have every opportunity to kill him. But not now, you understand?”

“Whatever,” Fache grumbled.

“Besides,” Isaac said, “you think one of these little alligators he feeds isn’t going to snap some day and break his neck? He’s got to be in debt to everyone.”

“Yeah,” Antoine said. “Feel better about that.”

Their leader shook his head. “I’ll be the one to break his neck soon. The only thing that will make me feel better right now is dragging Quentin the hell out of that building by his hair. I don’t care if he does come willingly. I’m tired of putting on a show. I do it enough for Lucien.”

The group headed out of the alley and up the Barreau block to the orphanage. It was rare they had to make a trip out here, but whenever they did, Edmond made it a point to take a good look around at the fruits of what corruption had produced. The narrow canal which ran inland from the sea to the end of Barreau Street was covered in thick layers of algae. Varying amounts of rubble and toppled stone structures lined the roads and walkways, and the bridges over the canal were in a severe state of disrepair. It was easy to trip over the cracked sidewalks if one wasn’t paying attention. Broken or boarded up windows and kicked in doors were a common sight. Shattered glass and debris were everywhere, and unattended gardens extended their weeds like decaying fingers into the street.

“This place is disgusting,” Isaac remarked as they lumbered their way up the crooked steps to the orphanage entrance.

“You can thank Lucien for that,” Edmond reminded him, pushing ahead of him to bang on the door. It came a bit more forcefully than he intended. Not that it mattered. They were on Lucien’s clock, after all.

A young, light-skinned black boy peered out the side window before opening the door. Edmond recognized him as Bernard from his last visit. He said nothing to the boy, instead shoving his way inside before stating his business. He had been taught during a basic training course that this motion of asserting your power was the easiest way to ensure full cooperation.

“Hello gentlemen,” Bernard said. “What might I do for you today?” His tone relayed a sense of annoyance. Edmond didn’t like it.

“Quentin Vaugrenard,” the Dispatcher replied sternly. “Where is he?”

“I’m sorry, he’s out running an errand. Would you like some tea-”

Edmond rolled up his sleeve and shoved the boy into the wall, activating his phase unit as he held him there. A blue pulse of electricity sparked up in Bernard’s face.

“I’m not going to ask again!” the second lieutenant barked.

“Take it easy!” Antoine scolded him.

“No!”

“What’s going on?” One of the other boys had rushed out of the hall to see what the matter was. “Leave him alone! Quentin’s not here.”

Edmond dropped Bernard to the floor and charged into the hall of beds. Several of the boys scrambled around, ducking behind cabinets or slamming drawers. Fache held up his hand and averted his gaze from one who had been changing clothes in the corner and gave a leisurely look around. Much as he wanted to catch them with their stolen Dispatcher parts strewn about, he resisted the urge. Lucien would give him shit for it. He looked up to the ceiling, perhaps expecting something incriminating to be hanging above. Then he heard the power of a phase unit activating behind him and slowly turned. It was Tomas, the boy who had run out to help Bernard. A blue pulse now danced in his face.

“Whoa, easy…”

“It’s all right sir, we can take him down from here,” Isaac said from the foyer. “And we can take this bugger in for stolen parts!”

“No,” Edmond sighed. “You can’t. At least not without a warrant. We just want Quentin,” he said, bravely pushing past the boy, who kept the unit trained on him. A thump came from high in the ceiling as he began to walk out. The lieutenant stopped and turned again on his heels to face Tomas. “Ah. Seems we found him. Let me guess. Crawl space?”

“Tomas,” Bernard said, shuffling into the hall, “give me that!”

“It’s mine.”

The young leader dragged him aside by the wrist and forcibly unstrapped the unit, ripping it free from his arm and tossing it over to Isaac.

“Here!” he said. “It’s all we’ve got of your equipment, I swear!”

Isaac briefly inspected the model before tossing it back.

“Keep it. It’s inferior anyway. Sorry ladies,” he smirked, winking at the boys.

“Upstairs,” Fache ordered, storming out the hall.

The three of them charged up to the second floor, intent on banging down the door to Max’s flat. But to Edmond’s surprise, the boy was already sitting obediently outside in the hall. Isaac and Antoine exchanged puzzled looks. He had been instructed to keep up his act until they were far enough outside the front door. Quentin stepped to his feet with a sigh, dusting himself off and feigning a yawn.

“About time you got here.”

“Keep quiet until we’re outside,” Edmond hissed.

“Why’s it matter? He could talk to me here anytime he likes.”

Fache responded by grabbing the boy’s auburn hair and yanking him over to the stairs. If he didn’t want to keep up the act, he wouldn’t have to. The seasoned Dispatcher would certainly make it real enough for him.

“Ouch, are you fucking kidding me!” Quentin yelled. “Get off, you son of a bitch!” The team dragged the young teen down as he continued hurling all manner of curses and insults at them. Isaac and Antoine clearly disapproved of their leader’s methods, but Edmond knew they wouldn’t argue with him in here.

“Where are you taking him?” Bernard stopped them at the bottom in protest.

“Stand aside,” Isaac warned.

“Look, can’t we just take a few moments to-”

“There is nothing to discuss,” Edmond cut him off. “This boy has been staying in the city under your roof illegally. The fact he’s an Outlander should frankly scare the shit out of you. These boys are cannibals, incapable of reform, and you all should have known better than to harbor such a dangerous criminal.”

“Listen-”

“If I were you Bernard, I would consider myself lucky that we don’t arrest all of you and shut this place down right now. It’s within my power to do so. Now I’m sorry, but this boy is no longer any of your concern. We’re just going to have a chat. Now stand aside.”

“Don’t worry Quentin, we’ll get you back!” Bernard called.

“You guys don’t have proof, I know it!” the boy shouted. “They don’t have any proof. Bernard, tell them! Where’s Max? I need to talk to Max. He’ll be right back, I swear! Get the hell off of me! Hands off my hair motherfucker, I’m walking!”

The Dispatchers shoved Quentin along like a rag doll past the rest of the orphaned boys who had crowded around in the foyer to watch the raucous display. Once they reached the landing, Edmond opened the door and hurled him all the way down the stone steps and onto the sidewalk. Several of the boys cringed and backed away as he turned toward them. Bernard had crossed his arms and stood staring at the floor, probably contemplating what to do next.

“We’ll retrieve his documents on the way to the station,” Edmond explained. “If he checks out, he’ll be permitted back under probation pending an inquiry at Immigration Affairs. If it turns out his papers were forged, well…let’s just say it won’t be pretty for any of you. Good day.”

The officer slammed the door shut on the sea of baffled expressions behind him and followed his team down the steps to the sidewalk. Quentin had spit out several rounds of blood-soaked mucus, leaving a trail of red in their wake. He looked as if he might slaughter them all once they made it to the alleyway. Edmond was sure he understood it was just for show, though now that they were out of that stuffy old building, he began to regret the particular amount of force with which he had handled the situation. It was probably a bit much to grab him by the hair. Actually, far too much. Tossing him down the stairs, definitely. Were the Outlanders still holed up in the city, Fache was certain they would already be feasting on his remains.

The group turned right into the alleyway and ducked Quentin into the back seat of the patrol car where Lucien was waiting in the front passenger side to speak with him. All the doors were abruptly shut and locked, the window shades drawn.

“Hope you enjoyed the radio show. Sorry for that little display,” Lucien turned back, producing a white silk handkerchief for the boy to wipe his bloody face. Quentin snatched it out of his hand.

“Fuck you all!” he snapped.

“Are you finished?”

The boy dabbed at his nose, saying nothing.

“That’s a good lad. I’m going to need you to do something for me tonight. It’s very important. But first I must ask you one question, and your answer will determine whether or not I can move forward on this.”

“What is it?”

“Captain Georges…is he dead?”

Quentin only smiled.

“Is he dead, Quentin?”

Still no answer.

“Quent I swear to god you sodding little turd-swallow, I’ll break every bone in your pathetic little-”

“No,” he finally answered. “And we are not actually cannibals. Igor just made up that bit to frighten everyone. Rumors are powerful things.”

Edmond let out a sigh of relief. He had believed it.

“Ah, good. We can proceed. So what is the pit Igor was referring to, if it’s not about skinning people alive?”

“Classified. Now what the fuck do you really want from me, Lucien?”

Edmond lifted a hand to conceal his budding smile, clearing his throat in case anyone took notice. He had to admire the boy’s courage, and the way he didn’t seem at all fazed or intimidated by Lucien’s childish antics. Fache envied Quentin. To have such command over himself, to retain his composure even amid intense pain and uncivilized treatment. They had knocked out at least two of his teeth throwing him down the orphanage steps, and Edmond tore out a decent clump of his hair somewhere along the way. That boy was iron.

“I need you to get this to your people,” Lucien said, passing him a beige sack with some sort of heavy equipment inside that clinked together. Edmond’s eyes immediately went wide.

“What is that?” he asked sternly.

“None of your business,” Lucien replied.

“It damn well is my business if it involves-”

“Nothing you need to worry about.”

The Dispatcher sighed and ran the hand he had previously used to cover his smile through his long blond hair. Lucien may well have bribed him blind and stupid, but Edmond was still loyal to his friends until death. If what this teenage monster was planning injured or took the lives of his comrades, he personally vowed to strangle the life out of him. And if he managed to come back from that, well then Fache would wait and strangle him again and again, if necessary. However many times it took to stop him.

“When do you need them delivered by?” Quentin asked, poking his head in the bag at such an angle to avoid anyone else seeing what was inside.

“Before the end of the dinner hour.”

The boy sighed. “Fine. I assume Igor knows what’s going down.”

“He does.”

“And do you?”

A confused look fell across Lucien’s face. “I don’t follow.”

“Igor is a loose cannon,” Quentin smiled. “You play with him, you’re playing with fire. You would do well to keep that in mind. The rest of us do. There’s something else too, and…this is actually very bad news for you in particular. He doesn’t exactly trust you.”

“I beg your pardon?” Lucien laughed nervously. “You’ve got to be joking. I have done everything for him, including letting him have more than his fair share! Who else would he trust, if not me?”

“Maxwell Ferrier, for one.”

Lucien rammed the back of his seat as far down as it would go, smashing it into Fache’s legs. The young Dispatcher resisted the urge to plant the side of his skull into the window.

“Why the hell would he trust Max?!” the boy roared.

“Igor respects that he sticks to his guns,” Quentin explained. “He’s consistent. He doesn’t stand for bullshit. And he has no incentive whatsoever to pay us off, aside from fear. You, on the other hand, have the entire city eating out of your palm.”

“So what, you’re going to bite the hand that feeds you?”

“Not my call to make. But dogs can grow so incredibly, insatiably hungry when just the right bells are rung. And as it so happens, you have a very long string of bells trailing behind you. I would watch my step. You’re standing on a minefield. Any idiot could see that.”

“Now you have the gall to make threats? You Outlanders would be DEAD without me!”

“Oh, Lucien. It must suck when someone you want to manipulate isn’t as desperate for your handouts anymore. Fortunately, you are not our only benefactor.”

The boy was teeming with rage now. Delicious. “Then who else? WHO ELSE?!”

But Quentin just smiled, lifting the handkerchief to wipe the rest of the blood off his face before folding it up neatly and stuffing it back into Lucien’s coat pocket.

“Who else, Quentin? Quentin, please tell me who else! Who else is there? Quentin!”

The boy got out of the car in silence with his bag, shutting the door behind him.

“Quentin goddamn you, who else! YOU FUCKING MENACE, I will have you killed! Come back you sodding piece of shit! QUENTIN!”

But the boy headed back down the alleyway toward the orphanage, even as Lucien continued screaming out the window at the top of his lungs in unrestrained fury.

This was the best day Edmond Fache had ever had since he first arrived in Viktorium.

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