Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Chapter One

At first, Brambleshot didn’t see any connection. At first, it all seemed decidedly random and, of course, in some ways it was meant to seem that way, but still...

The near miss with the bus as he crossed the street; the sidewalk lamp-post falling a little over an inch away from him; the fleeing bank robber who sprayed a proverbial hail of bullets in Brambleshot’s immediate vicinity without actually hitting him. Any of these events, individually, would be worthy of introduction into a conversation, or a suitable response to a "How was your day?" query. Collectively, this series of events would make him the focus of attention amongst the story-tellers down at the pub for hours.

Unfortunately, Brambleshot never went down to the pub and thus did not view things in terms of the stories that could be told about them. Indeed, he didn’t even have anyone interested in asking, "How was your day?" Let alone actually listening to whatever answer he might have.

So, it wasn’t until the piano plummeted down and crashed into the sidewalk in front of him that Brambleshot got the message. It wasn’t the piano itself that triggered the realization. It was the complete lack of ropes, cables, pulleys or any form of hoisting equipment whatsoever. That and the absence, in the building he was passing, of any windows large enough to pass a piano through.

It was then that the realization (if not the piano) finally struck him.

Someone was trying to get his attention.

Brambleshot quickly looked around, examining every face in the crowd. Almost immediately he spotted the person he was looking for. It was a frazzled looking, middle-management type with a boring suit and an even more boring haircut. It was also the only person looking the other way.

Under normal circumstances, not looking at someone is the perfect way to hide the fact that you are watching them. However, when a large piano suddenly drops from absolutely nowhere and shatters on the sidewalk, not looking is the perfect way to stand out like Bea Arthur at a Spike Lee film festival.

While a crowd of apparently suicidal on-lookers rushed toward the remains of the piano, seemingly to fling themselves into the path of a potential second piano, Brambleshot casually circled around the group to approach his watcher from the left side. Another problem with not actually looking at someone that you're watching is that, unless you're very good at it, you can easily loose track of them and end up not watching them at all. Thus it was that Brambleshot managed to get within ten feet of his target before the little devil decided to look back at the piano and the crowd and not Brambleshot.

"You!" growled Brambleshot in his most intimidating voice. His watcher turned his head so swiftly in response that Brambleshot actually heard bones snap in his neck. Not really an issue for this particular person, Brambleshot knew, but still, it was nice to be able to instil that degree of shock and fear into one of Big Red's minions, even after all this time.

"Gah!" screamed the minion before being engulfed in a thick black cloud that smelled of brimstone.

"Oh, no you don't," said Brambleshot as he lunged with startling speed to clamp his fist around the scrawny neck of his prey. When to smoke and stench cleared, Brambleshot drew the smaller man's face close to his, let his eyes redden just enough to show that he was not in the mood for games, and snarled, "Why are you here?"

"Ow!" Yelled the red-faced creature held in Brambleshot's grip. "Look what you did. That hurts."

Brambleshot hoisted his captive a bit higher so that he could get a better look at the rest of him. There wasn't much to see. Flailing arms in a white shirt and dark jacket. A dark tie hanging from a sweat-stained shirt collar. All of it coming to a sudden stop just below the ribcage, cauterized in an almost perfectly straight line from side to side. Portions of the jacket smouldered and sizzled, ruining the aesthetic balance of the line.

"Well, you have to expect that when you wear cheap polyester," said Brambleshot.

"Not the suit, you big lummox. Me! My legs are gone."

"Quit your whining. They'll grow back," replied the larger man and, as if on cue, the bottom of the severed torso began to bulge outward. With a horrible crunching and cracking sound legs formed and grew until they reached the ground. With a smirk, Brambleshot glanced down and said, "That's got to be embarrassing. Put some pants on."

With a defiant snap of the fingers, the smaller man invoked dark pants, black shoes and, for reasons Brambleshot could not fathom, white socks.

"That's probably better," commented Brambleshot as he lifted the fashion-challenged demon a few inches higher, raising the newly formed black shoes off the ground. With a slight shrug, he released his grip on the smaller creature's neck, letting him drop so suddenly that he nearly slumped into a heap before leaning against a parked car to regain his balance. "Now," continued Brambleshot, "I asked you a question. You haven't answered it yet. I hate repeating myself, but you're obviously a slow-witted little fellow, so here we go. Why are you here?" He let a slight rumble rise from the back of his throat before adding, "Don't make me ask a third time."

"No need to get nasty," came the reply. "The boss sent me. He, uh, he needs a favour."

"You're kidding."

"I'm not kidding. I don't do kidding. A bit of mischief, random deceit, but no kidding. It's, you know, too continental."

"Yeah, right. Whatever you say, Slick. What kind of favour does Nick need?"

The demon scratched nervously at his horned forehead and looked around. "He wouldn't tell me. Just said he needs your help and I should bring you to see him. Something about his daughter."

Brambleshot reached out and grabbed one of the horns on the creature's forehead and snapped it off with a flick of his wrist.

"Hey," cried the demon. "Growin' things back gets tiring, you know?" Already the open wound on his temple was healing over and forming a pointy lump.

"Tough. What in the nine circles makes you think that I would voluntarily go to him?"

"I don't know. He just said, is all."

"I walk back in there of my own free will and I'm a prisoner of the pits again. No, if he wants my help, he can come up her himself. He can come to my office, like anyone else who wants my help." Brambleshot flicked a business card at the demon and turned to leave. "Tell him to call first, make an appointment."

The nervous demon slumped relieved to the ground and watched the huge, former demon walk casually down the street, moving through the crowd and stepping effortlessly over the piano rubble. Reaching down with a shaky red hand, he pick up the business card and looked at the raised lettering. The words, "Ignatius Brambleshot - Private Investigator," stared back at him.

In a burst of filthy black smoke, he disappeared, leaving only the smell of sulphur as evidence that he had been there at all.



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