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Early evening Saturday Night, Bedlam City, April the 8th. 


Fat Joe was rotund as ever. He was a tall man, bald, always wearing sunglasses in the worst of weather, with a smile that nearly split his face and wobbled his jowls. He knew plenty of people in Bedlam, and got on with most of them. He sported a missing front tooth from the one time his friendly demeanour just got some crook up the wrong way. But, as he said, he was damned if he was ever gonna stop smiling. 


Fat Joe sold hot dogs on the street. They weren't particularly good, but they weren't bad either. More onions that meat, usually. He just liked selling them, and people like buying them. He liked telling jokes, and demanded his customers tell him good ones. If it was a good one, they got extra mustard and two sausages in the bread. He didn't make a whole lot of money, but he didn't starve either. Clearly, he didn't starve. He was 25 stone, easy. 


"Say, Smith, what's brown and sticky?" he asked the Tattered Man, giving him his toothy smile. 


"And how about I give you extra onions if you help me out?"



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John chuckled. "I think I'm good on onions." he looked around subtly. Nobody was paying them any mind. Still he tried to keep his voice a little lower, keep things conversational. Joe was an alright guy. Everyone in Bedlam was hustling for something, some more honest than others. Nobody got anywhere without a little dirt under their nails or skeletons in their closet. Joe was cleaner than most, he suspected. By Bedlam standards, that made him good people.


"What's up?" He asked. A guy like Joe heard all sorts of stuff. Guys like Joe were invaluable, but also risky. Information peddling was dangerous work in Bedlam. Keeping neutral was especially hard on the streets. John had started cultivating a reputation as someone who knew how to hit but was a lot harder to hit back.

Edited by Thunder King
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Joe gave a grin, but if felt poisoned with discomfort. Joe didn't get all awkard very often. He stroked the back of his neck a moment, a neck that was thick and now covered in sweat. 


"Have the damn onions. They are good for your spleen" he said, shoving as many slightly caramalized onions as he could onto the meagre hot dog. "And help yourself to my special mustard. Only for valued customers. Like you" he said, shoving a plastic yellow bottle into Smith's hand. 


"Look, I know you can handle yourself. Gotta real good nose for trouble. Finding it, and causing it. Least, if it needs to be caused. I my be stupid, but I ain't dumb" he winked. 


"There was this girl. Vanity, they called her. Real nice. Pretty. Sung in a Jazz Club called the Bad Beat. Sticks of smoke and sweat and even a little gunpowder, if you know what I mean. Half full of starvin' jazz musicians trying to be cool, half full of crooks trying to be cool. Don't know which half I would spit on first, but that's not the point". He said, hugging his armpits. 


"No, the point is Vanity, well she was good to me. Had the sweetest voice, like crushed velvet on warm ice. Man, I could hear her sing all day. People liked Vanity. But she was turning sour, ya know? Singing sadder songs, and then she stopped smiling. At least, not real smiles. No, the kind of smile you get when you ain't really smiling at all. Like people stretching her mouth to make one. Well, then she got a whole new smile. She wound up dead in a dumpster"


He was almost crying. But it must have been dust in his eye. 'Cos Fat Joe didn't cry. No sir. 


"Cops barely even filled out the paperwork. Cops don't really dig anything to do with the Bad Beat, unless it involves getting paid off, I guess"


"Anyway, folks round here, we liked Vanity. She could melt a man's heart and even the ladies didn't seem to get green over her. So, I thought I would ask you, seeing as you are you are. Wondered if you might fancy righting a wrong" he finished. 


"And the answer to my question. What's brown and sticky? A stick!" he said, with a laugh. 


But Fat Joe was upset, and he couldn't hide that. Least, not completely. 

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John nodded. "A girl ends up dead in Bedlam. Not a unique story." He sighed and shook his head. "That's the problem with Bedlam, though. Most of the stories have bad endings, and it's gotten to the point where nobody gives a damn." 


He considered his options. "I can find out who took her out and hit them back a little bit. I doubt I can make the cops care, but I can at least get a little justice for her. Make her rest better, you know?" He ate the hot dog in silence and thought about what to do. He didn't know exactly where the club was, but that was hardly a problem. Do a little research, lean on things a little bit, see what pops up. 


"I'll be back to you in a few days, Joe. Thanks for the hot dog." He finished his meal in silence and started walking.

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Something in the hot dog tasted off. Well, it wasn't exactly the best of cuisines normally. But it didn't taste like wet paper either. 


Fat Joe had put a scrap of paper in the hot dog. 


"Dick Young.  Old Frend. Used to be a cop. Giv him a cawlwith a number scrawled beside it. 


Even with the onions, fat, and mustard, Even with Fat Joe;s terrible handwriting (and spelling), John could make out the number on the paper. Local number. This neighbourhood. Land line. Maybe Dick didn't like mobile phones. 


It was food for thought. Went with the hot dog for the stomach, one might say. And it was Fat Joe trying to be helpful. He knew plenty of people, did Fat Joe, and most of them weren't clean. But there was a kind of community of sorts, and Fat Joe was the gravitational force that held it together. He was certainly big enough, of flesh and persona, to exert that gravity. 

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He found Vanity's obituary. It was short, succinct. He wondered who put it in the paper. Possibly some fan. Dick Young was an old, retired cop, might know a few things. John decided not to give him a call, rather, looked up his phone number.


Bedlam cops didn't generally make it to retirement clean. John didn't survive that long. Still, clean in Bedlam was relative. Even some cops on the take could be trusted to do their jobs to an extent. Young lived in a small, modest home. John knew he was an old man, didn't want him scared to death. So, he just let himself in and resolved to keep things calm.

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Dick's flat was first story, small but pleasant. Dusty sunlight streamed in, giving a languid air to the place. There was a smell of coffee, and a radio playing big band through slightly cheap tinny speakers. 


A few medals were on the walls, a few photos of family now departed from Bedlam. Happy faces, for the most part. An urn full of the ashes of a dead wife. Some framed papercuttings of minor cases solved. Not big news, but little carvings of pride. 


A young cat curled round his feet as he entered, keen to get to his milk. The bowl had "Old Pussy" wrote on it. 


Dick Young was an old man, with little hair. He had a pleasant dark tone to his skin, suggesting a blend of many immigrants and heritages, although he tended to wards African in look. He was dressed in a shirt and trousers, with a light hat on his head. His clothes were a little too big, as if he had become withered and shrunken. He was perhaps a little on the short side, and his physique gave the impression of a frail man in contrast to his strapping youth. He was lightly asleep, a faint smile on his head lost in memory or music or both. John could almost imagine that Dick was tapping his foot to the music even whilst asleep. 

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John tried his best not to chuckle at the name on the cat's bowl. Old man had a strange sense of humor. He didn't want to bother the man, just had some questions. John looked down at the man and sighed. Best be kind. "Excuse me, Sir. Dick Young?" He said, trying to stay quiet but also trying to be loud enough to make him wake up. "I have some questions. Don't worry, I won't hurt you."

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"Mwah...hmph...Matilda? You...oh! Who are you?" said Dick, with a start. He pushed the hat up, so he could better see the Tattered Man standing above him. 


"You betcha ass you won't hurt me, son. Ill kick your ass, see if I don't!" he said, reflexively. He paused a moment to look at the Tattered Man, and seemed to realise that he could firstly not kick his ass if he tried, and secondly he did not need to. 


"Coulda knocked you know. I swear Bedlam, gone to the darn dogs. Why do you think I have a cat? Cos' the towns gone to the dogs. Yes Sir. Gone to the dogs, and smells like the back end of a dog too" he complained. 


He got up, a little stiffly. He was a venerable man, and walked with a limp. "Whatcha come here for, Son? You don't look like ya twitching from drugs, and if ya wanted to steal somethin', ya wouldn't have woken me up. Guess its questions. Well, don't stand there slack jawed, son. Ask away. But first, tell me why you askin' em...."

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"Friend of mine gave my your name, his name is Fat Joe." He said. "There was a killing, singer named Vanity. She sang at the Bad Beat. I was thinking maybe I can figure out what happened to her, start a bit of a fire. I need a match. Can you help me?"  John glanced around the room. It was evident to Dick that John was a cautious sort. John guessed that Dick would understand. You didn't get involved in Bedlam unless you learned to be cautious. 

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"Fat Joe, eh?" said Dick.


"Well, he sure is Fat"


He sat down again, apparently convinced that he did not need to fight, although trying to maintain the air that if a fight did indeed ensure, he could kick any kids backside. 


"Vanity, now. She wasn't fat. Yeah, I saw her. I'm a Jazz man. Big Band, swing. You know, when musicians played their instruments and singers opened their mouths without an auto tune machine being welded to it. Huh, kids today..."


"Now Vanity, she was just a kid. And beautiful too. I'm too old to deny it. Too old to fall for her charms, but not so old I didn't see she had them. Brown eyes you could drown in. And a voice that was pure silk..." he sighed. 


"She was a good kid, too. Everyone, or near enough everyone liked Vanity, Maybe a few liked her a little too much, the kind of folk that don't like getting knocked back. But that story is one that's as common as you like in this city" he said, darkening his brow for  amoment. 


"But sure. I can help. I can even get you into the Bad Beat if you want. As long as I can come along. Its full of bent cops and bent crooks and those who ain't sure they can the difference and don't care anyhow. Like me" he sighed, although it was punctuated with a chuckle. 


"Blowfish, thats the name of the club owner. A criminal who keeps his hands clean, but has thugs under him who have their hands as dirty as you could think. I've seen worse, but he is still dark and moody. Got an ear for music though, I give him that" he nodded, appreciatively. 


"Bad Beat keeps on running. They still got Amber, that's Vanities pal. She is a little more beautiful, but a little less of a singer. Pretty good though. I guess Amber's scared silly. Well, now I think about it, the pair of them had been acting scared recently. Amber's a pale red haid, but right now she looks like a ghost..." he mused. 

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John considered the idea. He knew the old man was mostly safe, but he was also concerned that if things got dirty, old Dick might end up in the crossfire. "I have ways of getting in where I might not be welcome." He said. "I can get into the club. I appreciate your help, but I too was a cop once. I know the drill." Blowfish, he'd remember that name, Amber, too. Maybe he could take Amber from them. Get her safe, get her out of town. That would be a real hit to whoever killed Vanity, that was for sure.

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"You do, do ya? Ya little..." 


He was about to some punk, or disparaging words to that effect. Before he smiled. 


"I guess ya do, son. Ya know, I got a good feeling about ya. You remind me of how I used to be. Before I tripped off my ivory tower and fell hard"


"Truth is, I'm no cleaner that half the cops in the Bad Beat. Its just I'm old enough to have come to terms with it. But when you fall...and everybody falls now and again, son...make sure you don't fall too far or too hard. And make sure you get up again". He gave a sad chuckle. 


He handed John a rather crumpled card. A flyer for the Bad Beat. Apparently it was business as usual, with Kim "Amber" Winerose playing with the Bad Beat Band what professed to be a "Night of slow smooth and sensual Jazz". It came with a bright red printed lipstick kiss. 


"Just watch your step in there. Gets rough from time to time. And even if the Bad Beat don't mention it, everyone gettin' the twitches about Vanity..."

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John went back to his motel room and searched through his belongings. He had a nice suit available, charcoal gray with a black tie over a light gray shirt. He would change his shape once he got closer to the club. This face was better looking. Strong jaw, easy smile. John shoved some cash into a wallet in case he needed go grease some palms. He packed the suit carefully into a suitcase to change into later. He would roof run across the city, find a place to stash the suitcase, and change into the suit, before walking up to the front door, looking dapper, suave, and, above all, important.

Edited by Thunder King
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At the Bad Beat


It was a little smaller than one might expect, and sunken half below street level. One could almost smell smokey wood and red wine stains outside. Other than a certain antiquity of building, a modest sign, and the suggestive aroma, it was otherwise easy to miss. 


Bar the queue outside. It was not long, but it was there. Some talked, laughed, smoked. Many were at least mildly intoxicated, and one might well guess (and guess correctly) intoxicated not just with alcohol. It attracted an eclectic mix of rich and poor, old, young, criminal, and artistic.


At the end of the queue was a woman in her fourties dressed as if she was in her twenties but living in the thirties. She appeared high on life and said intoxicants, and thus spoke a bit too loudly; "Poor Amber, I bet she's next in the dumpster haha!" she laughed with tears. 


"Shut your lips" snapped her boyfriend, or perhaps husband, a heavy set man with the scars of a Cheshire grin.


The queue was moving forward reasonably quickly, it would not be long before John was in, or at least by the reception. 

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John was in the suit, looking dapper and calm. Not the least bit intoxicated. He listened to the crowd, finding it much easier to pick out sounds than it ever was before.  He wanted inside the club so he could get closer to the stage. Whether he did anything tonight, he wasn't sure. He would seize any opportunities, but wouldn't force them. He'd keep his head down, order a few drinks, mingle a bit, but mostly pay attention. If anything caught his attention, he intended to pounce on it.

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A queue formed behind him, of the same character but same heterogeneous nature. Ahead, the queue shuffled forward. 


It was not long before he was in the reception, the couple in front dishing out what looked to be more than the official entrance price, and getting in without fuss. 


There were two at the door. An middle aged asian gentleman dressed in a black turtleneck with hands that looked like a pugilists and lips that said not a word. He took the money. 


In matters of speech he deferred to an extremely tall albino woman who was dressed in a deep purple gown. She was not beautiful, but she was striking. Perhaps 6 and a half feet tall, wearing jet black glasses that indicated at least some, if not total, blindness, and wearing a nose on her face that seemed to sniff the sweat and timbre of everyone coming through. 


She smirked enigmatically at John. 


"Welcome to the Bad Beat. Knock em dead, Handsome!" she told him, waiving any charge. 

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John smiled politely and walked in to the club. That, that was suspicious. He tried his best to look normal, and knew something might come up. He suspected that the woman might not be normal, in the same way he was. Either way, he decided to relax a bit. He'd brought enough cash for a few drinks, so he wandered towards the bar. He figured he could observe the club a bit better from there.

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It was a hot, smokey joint. Surprisingly compact too. John noticed a fire exit the other side, with a burly man beside it, but in case of panic of fire, there would be a dreadful, probably dangerous club. No doubt Blowfish, its shady owner, had bought of the health and safety inspects too. 


There was plenty of talk around about Amber, talk of how she was sad, depressed, and scared. Nearly everyone avoided the name of Vanity. The few slips were rewarded by an elbow or kick and "Shut up", before they had said any more.


The Band was a group of young skinny kids. The warm up. They weren't bad, but they weren't much good either. Looked scared and nervous. Drums, Sax, and Keyboards. They would pass for a warm up. 


There was a bar, where a fat black man in a suit and bow tie was quickly serving up drinks. There was a menu, but the food had a bad reputation and few were ordering. 


At the side, a table set out for Blowfish and two body guards. And the man himself was sitting there. He was average height, with a solid, slightly fat frame. Receding black hair. He might have been handsome once, but now, in his fifties, he had let himself go. He was angry and when he was angry, he puffed out his cheeks like balloons. Hence, his name. 


"Whhhfff....who are these musical assassins? Never heard a drummer so off beat" he complained. "Don't pay them. And if they complain, break their fingers. See how they play then...Whhhffff...."


"Sure 'ting, boss" nodded one of the men by his side. 


"Whffff...Vanity would be turnin' in her grave....its an insult to her memory, I tell ya...Whffff....Amber betta pull it off tonight...."


He spat out his Rose wine, and demanded another bottle from the frightened water. He was clearly as upset at the Bad Beats food and drinks as he was the mediocre warm up act. 

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John walked up to the man. "Hell of a place you have here, sir. I've heard the name. Amber? Beautiful girl, beautiful voice?" He said politely, with an easy smile. "Looking forward to the show. Heard good things."  He shrugged off the opening act. "People are mingling anyway. I'm sure the main event will knock my socks off." He imagined some of the goons were armed. Probably what they could scrape up. John could shrug off a lot, but he didn't like bullets.

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"F&^% off" said one of the lackeys. 


"Hold on, hold on" said Blowfish, patting the man down. "This here is a civilised joint. No swearing, huh" he chastised his employee. 


"Welcome to the Bad Beat. May I introduce myself. Blowfish. I'm da most respectables owner of this here place" he said, giving a little bow, dabbing his mouth with a napkin. 


"Please, have a seat. Have some Rose. On the house. Real good vintage" he said, offering a seat opposite him, and pouring John a glass of the Rose he had just spat out. 


"Amber, sure, she is playing just after these cra---I mean this fine youngsters, here" he explained, giving a little clap at the end of the drum solo that had just finished. 


"Voice that can melt ya at twenty paces. Da Star of the Bad Beat. Ain't none better in Bedlam. Best theres is" he proudly said. "I'm sure she will knock ya socks off" he said with a friendly smile. 


It froze slightly. "Ah I don't have da pleasure of your name, Sir. Ya must be new here? How'dya have da rocks to come over to me and discuss the main attraction?"

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"Thanks for the drink" He said, taking a sip. "I figured you were the man in charge. I'm James McDonald. I heard about this place a few weeks ago and finally got the motivation to come in. On my way in I heard about Amber and, well, curiosity got the better of me." He looked over to the stage. "This is a world where money talks, right, and money is the loudest voice in Bedlam." 


He waited for Amber. As he stood there, watching, he considered how best to hit Blowfish. He knew asking about Vanity would be a bad idea, but how to get information?

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"Well I'm be pur-leased to meet you, Ronald McDonald" came the sarcastic response from Blowfish. 


"Hey, darlin'" he snapped his fingers at the waitress. "Get my friend Ronald here a burger. Tell the chef to make it taste like a burger this time, eh?" he laughed as she scuttled off. 


"Money talks, my friend, sure. Opens mouths. But reputation counts too. That can open mouths and shut 'em too. I don't need money ya see, got enough to go around and make things happen. Reputation, now. That's a currency I do need. Hell, everyone needs a reputation in Bedlam, am I right?"


"You, well, I ain't heard of ya. Means you ain't got no reputation. But I admire your rocks, son. And ya know, sometimes being nobody is handy, ya know?" he said, hinting at future favours from both sides. 


"But speak plainly. Whatcha want with old Blowfish? It ain't a kiss, thats fer sure...Hwfffff....."


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John shrugged. "Just wanted to greet the owner of this lovely establishment." He said. Blowfish was not as powerful as he wanted to be. His club was fairly small, reputable for certain kinds of entertainment, but his power base was not what it could be. John knew Blowfish would have a tight hold on Amber, so it was better not to worry about that. "Sorry to bother you." He smiled. "I'm going to go enjoy the show."

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"Sure, sure, enjoy the show, Ronald" he said with a smirk. "Amber is up, and she is a swell girl. I'll be watching her. You'll be watching her. And Ill be watching you" he said, pointing at his eyes. 


"I won't forget you, Son" he said, ostensibly but unconvincingly friendly. 


The warm up band were scuttling off to the tune of lacklustre applause. The compere announced, with a brightly manner, that "The main attraction, Miss Amber and the Baaaad Beeeat Baaaaand" were up next, to considerably more enthusiastic applause. 


John caught sight of a woman watching him. And watching Blowfish. And watching him walk away from Blowfish table. Her stare was penetrating but not malign, full of observant curiosity. 


She was dressed in a professional and cold suit, much like her demeanour. A black suit, a white shirt, undone. Well done smoulderingly black hair, and smouldering black eyes. She was well off, one would say, but not rich. Smart, and with a restrained steely passion. 


Her eyes did not falter when her gaze met Johns, but kept steady, almost inviting, quizzical, like a candle rather than a fire or warmth. 

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