Rain fell in blinding sheets. Bujilli paused at the brink of a thoroughly ruined section of the old tenement. Behind him a false wall hid the twenty drones he knew were stationed there to defend Idvard's connection to Wermspittle. Leeja stood beside him. A hefty bundle of gonnes slung over her shoulder. He'd offered to carry the bundle. She refused. No point arguing.
The stairs had been repaired. They didn't look like it, but he had been assured they would be safe to use. The traps were turned off so they might pass unharmed.
Down they went. Six flights. Lightning flashed through the filthy windows. A few were gaping holes where the old glass had been broken or shot out in some riot or whatever. The graffiti became more elaborate, more colorful as they descended. There were Feral Children running around this area. Orphans. Wilders. A few Refugees had set up a camp beside one of the collapsed buildings less than a block to the East. Unfortunates were known to wander this area at night. Idvard had volunteered all he knew about the area. For the most part it gibed with what Leeja knew or had heard.
Schroedingers and Cave's Curiosity Shop was not far. Even in the rain. So they headed out into the weather.
Into the darkness of Wermspittle.
Thirty feet into the wildly blowing rain they hear the howl of a tortured beast. Three steps further and they knew with a sickening realization that it was no beast that was being tortured to produce that sound. They stopped. Looked at one another. The gurgling cry came from only a few yards ahead. It had to be some gang. Some gang that liked to hunt in the rain. Something twisted and inhuman. Leeja had heard stories...
Leeja grabbed Bujilli by the hand. She ran. They ran.
Around the corner. The Streetlight stood there dark and inert. The electric pentacle built into it was dead. Burned out or broken.
Down an alley. Through a trash-strewn court. Across a cratered street. Through mud. Past flooded basements. Mounds of vine-choked rubble.
It was then that Bujilli realized, as they finally slowed down a bit, that the red weeds were growing fewer as they moved along.
Leeja led the way. Down a sort of ramp. He couldn't read the signs in the darkness and rain. But he knew they were on one of the Low Streets. Like the one where Unfred had dragged him. To sell him to the Butcher Shop. They were on the bad end of the Burned Over District.
Leeja stopped. She was smiling. Pointed up at a cracked and peeling sign that read 'Schroedinger & Cave: Naturalists, & Dealers in Curiosities, Prodigies & Antiquities. (discrete).' The date they were established was eaten away by some sort of corrosion.
It was a scruffy, dingy place. It had definitely seen better days, but then so had most of Wermspittle. Leeja opened the door. A little bell jingled overhead. A cat regarded them with an incredibly bored expression. They came in from out of the rain.
Heaped, mounded, cluttered and piled. Sagging shelves filled with all manner of oddments and fragments and peculiar things reached up to the tin-sheet ceiling. Dust covered everything. Even the little placards that read 'Caveat Emptor.' He counted six of the things before he shrugged his shoulders and just ignored them.
"This must be the place."
She lugged her wet bundle back through the narrow aisle to the counter at the back. An old man, tall and thin, with a hook nose and bushy eyebrows was perched on a stool at the counter. Behind him a woman sat in a rocking chair. Knitting.
"No books." croaked the old geezer.
"I know Mister Schroedinger. No books. I've brought you a few other things that I thought you might find interesting." Leeja sat her bundle down. Untied it. Started to lay the better specimens onto the counter.
Old Man Schroedinger blinked. Scowled. Each gonne she put before him caused his scowl to grow more pronounced.
He picked up the first gonne. Examined it carefully. Expertly. Sat it back down as though it were a venomous snake.
He looked at Leeja. At Bujilli. Harumphed meaningfully. Pulled out a register book from under the counter. Began to flip through it. Found the page, the entry he was looking for. Glared at Leeja. At Bujilli. Sat down the register book. Picked up another gonne. Checked it against the register. Another. Another. He dutifully checked them all against his register.
Schroedinger sat back on his stool after setting down the last gonne. He was unhappy. Profoundly displeased.
"See here miss. These gonnes. You claim to be bringing them to me from out of the rain. Intending to sell them to me, yes?"
"Well, yes, that was the idea."
"But how am I supposed to buy them from you if they're already listed in my register as being on-hand as part of our already registered stock?"
"What?!?" They both asked incredulously.
"See for yourself." He held the register out to them. Leeja took it gingerly from his hands. He picked up a gonne and handed it to Bujilli.
"Read the number stamped into the plate there." He pointed out the serial number.
"86759340010103-B" Bujilli read off the numbers.
Leeja dropped the register book.
"Exactly." Nodded old man Schroedinger.
Bujilli looked from one to the other. He didn't get it.
"The number. It's the exact number in the register. The description matches it exactly. This is their gonne."
"But then how was someone using it in their attempt to ambush us?"
"Indeed. That would be one of the questions I'd like answered. These gonnes are all right out of our inventory. Did you steal them? hoping to sell them back to me? Take advantage of a poor old man?"
"Absolutely not. You know me Mister Schroedinger. I've come to you dozens of times before. You've always been good to me. Honest. Fair. I would never try to cheat you. Never."
"Ah but you work for that lout Unfred--"
"It's a long story. I don't work for Unfred any more. he...had an accident...so to speak...and he's not himself any more. In fact, I doubt he'll be around much any more."
"Hmph. Good riddance I say."
"We didn't steal your gonnes. We, mostly she, took them off of the dead bodies of a group of would-be assassins who were determined to kill me, us."
"Hmmmm." Old Man Schroedinger scowled even more deeply. He studied both of the wet and bedraggled would-be customers with a minute scrutiny usually reserved for examining the exotic foreign postage he liked to collect.
"I believe you. I know the young lady here. but I must admit that I am perplexed as to how your enemies might have acquired these particular gonnes in order to carry out their dirty work. Most peculiar. Perhaps Mrs. Cave might be able to shed some light on the matter?" He turned to his partner. She stopped rocking. Laid down her knitting. Rose from her comfy chair and came over to the counter.
"Logic failed you again?" She teased playfully.
"Ahem. I admit to being most vexed by this particular conundrum. I'd be most appreciative if you could resolve the mystery for us. Perhaps your gift for psychometry can unravel this matter. I am concerned now as to just what else might be missing from our shop. We'll need to conduct a full inventory now..."
"Pish tosh. It's a simple enough matter. I'm sure it's all just some silly oversight or mistake of some sort. Perfectly innocent--" She froze. Her hand on the first gonne.
Mrs. Cave's eyes went wide. Shock. Disbelief . She laid her hands on each of the gonnes. One after another. Her face contorted. Her eyes glared. She bowed her head lest she reveal too much.
"But my dear--"
"PAY THEM!" she shrieked. Her eyes averted. Her tiny frame shivering in rage.
Old Man Schroedinger only paused long enough to make sure his eyes and ears were not playing tricks on him. Satisfied that there was only one course open to him, he opened the till and counted out a stack of six square electrum coins. He slid them across the counter to Leeja.
"I can pay you the recovery value for returning stolen goods..."
"That will be fine Mister Schroedinger. I...am...sorry to have caused Mrs. Cave such an upset--"
"Take the money and leave." She shook as though on the verge of a seizure or fit.
"Yes. Perhaps it would be best if you were on your way then..." He tried to smile, but failed miserably. He was too concerned over his partner's odd behavior.
Leeja took the coins. Slipped them into a small pouch that hung on a thin cord she wore around her neck.
She considered saying something. Anything. But nothing occurred to her.
Bujilli nodded. Wished them both a good evening and followed Leeja back down the narrow isle.
"That was damned rude Mrs. Cave--"
"Hush you old fool." her voice smoldered just on the threshold of their hearing; "These damned gonnes not only came from this shop, it was Gudrun who gave them to the ones who were supposed to kill these two--"
"Gudrun?!? Your daughter?" Old Man Schroedinger dropped the gonne he had been re-examining.
Bujilli pushed open the door. They got out of the shop. It was still raining. Leeja took his hand again.
They began to run again. Away from the old woman. Out into the rain. Into the darkness.