Hates Children and Animals
'Garrett Hawke on the line, asking if you're available for a drop in.'
Well aware of the grease on his fingers and chin, Anders pleaded with Lirene. 'It's my lunchbreak.'
'He can come later in the day,' Lirene said, expressionless.
Anders dumped the remaining drumstick and reached for a wet wipe already soiled beyond redemption. 'You've got my calendar. Why are you asking me?'
'Garrett Hawke. You know who I mean, right? The wildcat? You'll have to make time for him, you're booked all afternoon. What should I tell him?'
Two weeks and two days had passed with Lirene reporting her emails and phone messages to the beard unanswered, and Anders had resigned himself to needing to find a new home for the cat. He felt sorry for it, overgrown monster. A cookpot or fighting pit would probably be its end, and even Kristoff said to keep him for a month. To give him the chance he deserved. Anders was almost jaded enough not to care. Almost.
'Five thirty. Should only get him stuck in traffic from his place for an hour or so.'
'Petty. Mr Hawke paid his bill well before the due date.'
'I know, I'm awful. And today's one of my good days.'
Anders could have asked after the man's name earlier. Hadn't. Reasons unexamined. Nor had he told Kristoff more than the general disconcerting details, during one of those times when Kristoff surfaced and could approximate a real conversation. Meanwhile, Karl had been his usual magnanimous self when ringing through the blood test results. 'What the hell are you getting into, Anders?'
The "neighbour" who'd drugged a cat could have been a red herring, or Hawke could have nicked some rich guy's cat off the street at random. The blood could have been a prank. The cat's shock could have come from a bunch of children intent on torment. In this city, obsessed with its blood sports as it were, it could have been nothing more than the usual: an actual fighting cat for a betting ring.
The test results told Anders it wasn't nothing.
The cat turned outright broody after the worst of the lyrium dose wore off, a larger box given for him to practice his emphatic pacing technique. Anders had always hated cages, and took to letting the cat out after hours just to watch him move. In a motion towards truce, Fenris never bothered to fight being put back to bed, giving Anders instead a calculated glare. I choose not to embarrass you today. Appreciate my leniency. Anders was likewise careful never to walk the dogs out through Fenris' room. Evidently at some point in the cat's history, he'd had hounds set on him, and the dogs' characteristic lean profile generated a furor of spitting and posturing.
It almost terrified the dogs more than the cat.
Introspective as he fed the newest occupants of the clinic, Anders missed the buzzer when Garrett arrived, jumping a little when the shout travelled through from reception. 'Hello? Vet...person.'
All but two of the dogs stopped eating, alarmed at the strange voice.
'Through here. Out back, to the right. I'm keeping company with the dogs.'
'There's no receptionist.'
Delivered like a damning criticism. 'That's because it's after hours and she went home.' Not that this Garrett would get the point.
'You should lock your door, in this part of town all alone with a clinic full of drugs.' Garrett found his way through the warren of corridors, pausing at the threshold. The other two dogs stopped eating at the sight of him. Cowering.
'You see this lot? Their kennel fed them through a syringe. Vitamins, nutrients, raw calories and performance enhancers. A year old, and they hardly knew what to do with solid food.'
Garrett's forehead furrowed. He stepped back from the door, and if it was a silent apology it was good enough. Anders felt obliged to follow.
'How's the cat?'
'Alert and responsive, eating well. No bugs or illness, but still unsettled. How's your neighbour? Is he back yet? Demanding the return of his prize fighting cat?'
'No idea. I just got in again today.'
'Oh, lovely. This is a clinic, not a cattery. Next time you need someone to catsit, try your mother.'
Raging blue eyes. 'I paid his medical, didn't I? Anyway, I wasn't expecting to be called out so soon, I had no one else to ask— Just give me my cat. Please.'
Disgruntled, Anders led the man through to Fenris' room. 'So where were you? Island holiday? Your tan didn't take.'
A snort. 'At work. Mines.'
'I wasn't expecting that. I don't know why, considering this whole port city in the middle of nowhere surrounded by mines. Which one?'
'You hardly sound like a local with that accent. What part of the motherland are you from? East?'
'Speak for yourself, Fereldan. Why do people always have to ask—'
'Forget it. All I meant was, are you likely to know the difference if I tell you which mine is mine?'
'Try me. I've been here three years.'
'The Bone Pit.'
'Not even remotely challenging. Everyone knows the Bone Pit. Lord Amell's most unwise investment. It headlines in the Financial Times every couple of months.'
'Yeah,' Garrett said. 'That's the one.'
'And here you stand, possessed of every limb and your sanity besides. What's it like? Apart from the money.'
'Brutal. Especially the money.'
After a couple of close calls, Anders had taken to knocking on the door before interrupting Fenris' prowl time. Garrett didn't even give him a funny look when he did. The cat stood poised, one paw raised off the damp concrete, Anders having hosed the room down just before letting him out.
Garrett's shoulders eased at the sight, and Fenris actually sat down despite the water, tail curling neatly around his legs.
Anders closed the door. 'He must really like you. Took him four days before he would settle like that around me.'
'We have a history.'
'With your neighbour's cat. When you never even knew his name.'
Garrett gave him a look. 'You know the name of every cat using your porch?'
'There's a lot of strays around here, the names'd start getting pretty stupid after a while. Repetitive—'
Anders rubbed the sudden pain away from the image behind his eyes, and missed seeing Garrett sink to the floor. The knees cracked and popped, legs crossed stiffly, inflexible as the attitude. But the great boots were soundless on the vinyl, soles looking like they'd been dipped in acid. Garrett stretched out a freckled paw and whisked calloused fingers together.
'Fenris doesn't like being petted.'
Garrett huffed. 'Yes he does. Watch. Or better yet, don't watch. He's selfconscious.' Hand dangling, he looked in the opposite direction, lids heavy. Such thick lashes. 'Sit down, vet person. And look away.'
Interested despite his irritation, Anders sank into the antiseptic fug radiating from the damp concrete, hands on his knees and eyes on Garrett. After a few breaths, a shadow flickered at the outstretched hand.
Garrett's whole face softened when he smiled. How old was he? Younger than Anders first thought. Younger than Anders, for sure. He'd fallen out of the habit of comparison.
'You can look now.'
Fenris walked back and forth under those limp fingers, spine arching into the palm. Garrett made no move to hold him, the purr increasing in volume, eyes slitted with pleasure.
Garrett opened his eyes. 'I owe you board for the last fortnight.'
'You do. And you also owe it to the cat to bring him back, say in a week.'
Fenris kept monopolising the hand, but Garrett's expression shuttered again. Never the best reader of personality, Anders had little idea how to adjust his conversation for a face as cold as that.
'It's nothing major, I'm just not sure Fenris is fully cleared, and there's also other work he needs. The teeth, for starters. He's lost or broken a lot of them, and I'll need to anaesthetise him to work on them. Or you could find another vet at a larger surgery, someone closer to home.'
Garrett shrugged. 'Might be worth the drive to avoid the funny looks. I think it's the accent.'
If Garrett wandered around Hightown wearing miner's boots and looking as worn as he did... 'Something tells me it's not the accent they're staring at.'
'Flatterer.' Garrett said it so seriously Anders did look at him funny; Garrett bared his teeth, that unpracticed smile. 'There, you see? That kind of look. Still nothing compared to what they're like in Hightown. All that open curiosity and complete lack of acknowledgement. You'd think I was showing up at one of old Marlie's gigs wearing a lumberjacket and no pants.'
Shocked skepticism, one of the better catchall expressions when you didn't know what the customer was talking about, where benign interest tended to imply you wanted to hear more. Except Garrett looked unconvinced. The cold, wet concrete was starting to chafe regardless; Anders stood abruptly.
'So if you didn't know his name, how did you know Fenris was a fighting cat? And about the drugs?'
'My neighbour told me. He's a— what do they call them here? Big gold necklaces, silk shirts, mansion full of servants paid by food and board instead of coin.'
'Heh. Owns a few gyms. A manager, or a trainer or something, for one of the boxing federations. Bragged about having a cat who pulled apart a dog in a run; best fifty he ever spent, he said. Then one day Fenris here was stretched out on my porch in the sun. I saw him and thought, if I've ever seen a cat that could pull apart a dog, that's it.' A faint wistful look. 'Had a queer moment where I thought he was a wildcat or something, to be honest. I haven't seen one of them since I was a kid.'
How very disturbing, to have a guess founded in hyperbole prove right. A rush of words, 'That's awful. Cat teeth aren't made for grip and tug. No wonder his mouth is a mess.'
'Out of everything I just said that's awful, in a city where the government absolutely ignores the an obsession with blood sport, it's his mouth that upsets you.' A faint moue. 'What should I expect? The industry pays your bills.'
Barely. Bastard. Gruff with his own self importance. Anders felt the corner of his mouth twitching. 'Well, you can rest your conscience easy for the next few weeks, because you'll be paying my bills. Maybe for longer, if you're really hankering for a familiar accent. I'll have to memorise some poetry, give you a few theatrical monologues. I won't have it said this clinic's not value for money.'
'What was in his blood? You haven't told me.'
'Oh. You probably haven't heard of it. An ore, not a drug. Dangerously addictive, but there wasn't huge quantities in Fenris' blood—'
Something behind the beard shifted. Garrett swallowed hard, pushing past an obvious reluctance. 'That bastard fed his cat lyrium?'
'How do you know—'
A snort. 'What do you think we really mine at the Bone Pit? We would have been closed down if not for—' Garrett's mouth snapped shut. Opened again, 'You've been here three years, you know what it's like. No one helps you unless you can help them back.'
The papers touted the Bone Pit as a nickel mine. Anders felt strangely betrayed.
Even Merrill never really criticised the city's operations, focused as she was on her little rehabilitation mission. Piecing together the broken, without fighting fate. I've given up trying to change the world, Anders. But even I can still make a single life better. Karl was far too diplomatic for vocal complaint, a pre-war migrant who had actually made good, and if he was under added scrutiny now the city was overflowing with his countrymen fleeing the war, he was secure enough to glide through, blithe. Anders hated to think how many bribes and services had earned him that respect and security. And the usual battered race dogs Anders treated were kennel bred with profit focused owners, or street dogs brought over by Darktown's few well-meaning inhabitants. All of which which meant Garrett was the most vocal critic of the city's status quo that Anders had encountered in his entire time here - and Garrett turned out to be a pretender as well.
A proper Marcher. Weren't they all. You don't have to be committed to take the job, Karl had said, mellowing after his pipe. But no one's going to care about your credentials, and the more useful you make yourself to the blood market beat, the less likely it is you'll come to the attention of the authorities.
But an interest would help when facing constant abuse, Anders knew from experience. An interest at least gave the activity meaning. A polite, detached interest in bettering the lives of these poor battered creatures. This wasn't his city, wasn't his culture, and wasn't his problem, really, for as long as he could pass under the notice of the authorities.
Anders began to feel angry at Garrett without really understanding why.
'You should probably go. I'll get you an onion bag for the cat. Seeing as he doesn't like boxes.' Anders busied himself beneath the sink, digging for the requisite distraction. He heard Garrett shuffling to his feet and shoved the bag at him. 'I'll leave you to it. Just don't be all night about it. I have dogs to walk.'
Continue to Chapter 3 →
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