18/02/2016: Orchard: The Burning Lily and the Midnight Thieves

(This piece of prose requires some backstory.

So last year I had two breakups. One was amicable. The other was not. In order to get over the not-amicable breakup, I started writing stories about my friends and I. The first was plainly just me being unfair and angry at my ex and I soon lost interest in it. The second was abandoned because it was bad. The third was actually kind of good, until I got a really long way in and then realized that I had gotten so invested in the story that I now wanted to make it work and the only way to do that was to start over with original characters.

So here is me doing…I guess you’d call it a prologue piece to the whole story. It introduces a few of the major players and major concepts. Also, I clearly can’t quite get away from author and friend inserts, because there are a couple here. Ah, well.

Fourth time is the charm?)

It was raining again.

The detective looked up and scowled, irritable, as the rainwater ran down the ever-deepening worry lines of his face. He gave himself a quick shake – whether it was warding off bad thoughts or demons, he wouldn’t let himself think.

Walking purposefully through the downpour, he made his way to the gardens of the city – mostly uninhabited on this bleak day – to a park bench where he sat, scowling ever deeper.

After a moment, he registered the smell of tobacco from the bench behind him.

“Don’t you ever make noise?” he asked, annoyed.

“I made plenty,” said the figure, taking a long drag on their cigarette, “You were just too busy beating yourself up about…whatever has you feeling guilty. I’m guessing this dropoff.”

There was a tightening in the air.

“Oh please,” sighed the figure, “Whatever my accomplice may have lead you to believe, I hold no grudges with the police. Relax. Give us the information, and we will see that what you request is done.”

There was a quiet moment, as the detective’s mouth worked furiously, and then what sounded like a sigh from the figure behind him.

“Look,” it said, in a softer tone (was it a man or a woman? The detective couldn’t figure out), “You are one of the few non-corrupt police in this town. That’s the only reason you’re getting this offer. I am not unsympathetic to the spasms your conscience must be going through, but we are working on a schedule here.”

Something in the figure’s word struck the detective, and he clearly came to an internal decision.

“…Fine. Here are the files you asked for. Copies of everything we have on the heads of all four gangs, as well as the most wanted criminals on the list.”

“Didn’t ask for those,” noted the figure.

“They’re all in the same file.”

“Hm. Who are they?”

“We don’t have names for all of them, only the heads. But the most wanted…well…

“One of the boys at the station likes to call one of them Ripper. Thinks it’s funny, especially since, near as we can tell, he only ever uses knives. Scary though – gets a lot of work done with them.”

“I imagine he does,” replied the figure coolly.

“Then there’s Bonnie & Clyde. Well, we think they’re a Bonnie & Clyde. There’s definitely two of them, working together, though how even a fifth of the stuff they do is possible, I don’t know.”

“Mmm.”

“Then of course, there’s our Burning Lily, almost certainly a member of the Crazy pile – though no one knows why they’re burning buildings. Or even how. There’s rumors it’s do with that orchard people keep talking ab…”

It was at that point that the detective realized he’d been talking to silence for at least a minute. Unnerved, he clipped his case shut, and started to walk away.

A good five-minute walk away, the figure stubbed out their cigarette and glared at the files, as if they had done them some hideous wrong.

“Stop that,” said the slightly taller brunette she stood beneath a tree with, “You keep glaring like that the pages will catch fire.”

“You organized the rescue of Detective Awlsley’s kids?” the first figure asked, as if it were unimportant.

“Oh, yeah. Turned out it was your gang who kidnapped them. Prob’ly at someone’s behest.”

“I dunno, my gang’s got into some hairy shit. Kidnapping a detective’s kid ain’t off the radar for ’em.”

“Let me have a look,” the brunette, her hair wound in a tight bun, grabbed the files off the figure, who irritably pushed their hood back and lit another cigarette, “Shit, really? They’re comparing ol’ Johnny Boy to Jack the Ripper?”

“He does cut up an awful lot of people,” said the hooded woman, her voice muffled from the cigarette in her lips.

“And we’re Bonnie & Clyde?”

“Correction: am Clyde, you are Bonnie.”

“Yeah, yeah, Miss Gender Neutral. And…they have…Burning Lily…but don’t know…”

Silence fell for a minute.

“There’s a new tattoo in town.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And it’s probably one of ours.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And the police don’t know yet.”

“Mm-hmm.”

“Welp. Guess we got work to do, right Clyde?”

Bonnie.”

There are big decisions, and there are little ones, that change the tides of time, that cause it to warp and shift and turn and alter.

Not deaths of butterflies. Think boulders in streams.

This is the Truce Pub, though it’s name is actually The Road, and it’s never called the Truce Pub (there are many of them around, often where one gang’s territory meets another’s).

But The Road, deep in the heart of the city, is the one bar in the city where all bets are laid off, all weapons sheathed and, it’s occasionally hinted, even police are occasionally welcomed, if they don’t make too much fuss, because the thing about The Road is that if you’re drinking in The Road, the last thing you want is something that will send you straight back to work again.

Gang members and police officers are oddly alike in that respect.

And, as expected from a pub that serves all four (or are there six? There are rumors in this city, after all…) gangs, the staff know more than they say, and what they say is rarely partly-true, or wholly-true, or even, in at least one case, the answer to the question you were planning to ask…

It’s quiet at The Road tonight. Three staff are on, and Jo – the figure in the hood – groans in despair when they see that one of the staff on is a handsome fellow, currently walking a coin over his fingers, in an attempt to impress his somewhat androgynous workmate.

“Red,” they say, with a nod to the coin-walker, who grins, flicks the coin up and makes it disappear. Briony, Jo’s cohort (and Bonnie) is less subtle: she oozes seduction as she sits beside Jo, and it takes all of Jo’s willpower not to facepalm. The androgynous figure cleaning glasses raises an eyebrow coolly.

Hi, Handsome,” all-but sings Briony, and Jo doesn’t even try to hide the eyeroll. The grin on Red’s face is the grin of a man with absolutely no more fucks to give.

“Heya, beautiful ladies. What can I getcha?”

“Information,” says Jo, before Briony can embarrass herself further (Jo is better than Briony at reading people; they know Briony doesn’t stand a chance as long as Violet is in the room).

“Well,” and now the grin on Red’s face is directed solely at Briony, and Jo feels the shiver on their skin; Red tells only lies, but all Briony sees is a pretty face… “For that, you might wanna talk to Violet.”

“What if I wanna talk to you some more?” flirts Briony, and Jo has had about enough of this.

Briony,” they snap, “Go. Talk to Violet.”

Briony scowls. It is not pretty. She picks herself up and humphs over to the androgynous figure with the dark hair, who is idly examining their own fingernails.

“So, Violet,” says Briony, cheerfully, “Have you heard of someone named the Burning Lily?”

Violet looks at Briony, as if she’s a cockroach and Violet is considering the best means of destruction, before they open their mouth and answer.

“Midnight Thief, let me tell how you will die. You will not die old, in your bed, surrounded by the love of a family. You will not die glorious in blood and war beside your fellow Thief. You will get to watch as your dreams are shattered and as your loved ones are taken, and eventually, when all is dust, you will die, alone and in despair…now get out and stop hitting on my boyfriend you callow bitch.”

As Violet spoke, the blood slowly drains from Briony’s face, before she swallows, hard, then turns, exiting The Road, and slamming the door behind her.

“Da-yum, but Violet is hot when she’s angry,” growls Red, and Jo looks away from the door in time to see Violet smile at Red, unusually sweetly, before their default flat expression takes over.

“You wish to talk to Blue, over there.” Violet instructs. Jo nods, and walks to the other end of the bar, where a man wearing blue-tinted glasses waits. Behind the glasses, Jo can see that his eyes are filled with rage.

“Hi there, Blue.”

“Hello there, little Thief,” he says, “What do you want?”

“Whiskey, on the rocks.”

He watches Jo, for a second, before sighing and fulfilling their request.

“I always said, you are too smart for this game. ‘Tis why she gave you what she gave you.”

Jo’s eyes are sharp.

“Why she gave me what?”

Blue tilts his head to one side.

“Don’t play dumb. You’re smart enough to have spotted the pattern with the Orchard by now. So, you can find the Burning Lily with exactly one question…”

“What question?”

There’s pity in his gaze now, as well as rage.

“Why fire?”

Jo stares at him, dumbfounded, before standing and leaving as abruptly as Briony, their drink left untouched.

“You’re welcome,” calls Blue, before knocking the drink back himself. He then looks questioningly over at Violet, who shrugs.

“No wisdom, no sense. Like the other, their heart will break before the end. That is how they die.”

“Cheers to that,” says Red, and any onlooker watching might take this moment to realize that every smile of Red’s up to now is fake, and the smile he gives now as he tosses back a shot of whiskey is the fakest and most lovely of all.

 

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