Barker found himself in a small quiet cafe. He usually ate at Sins Eatery, but today he had other things on his plate. It wasn’t about the food in this subpar little joint. It was about the cook. Major Bane, a stand out in the armed forces, had been dishonorably discharged three years back. Going from Major too short order.
It seemed Mr. Mane had a thing for gambling. Gambling was always an easy fall back for the poor who became suddenly rich. Barker knew many of the same types. There were many gambling rings inside the city, you could find one just about anywhere, but there were only a select few worth noticing.
Mane had found himself a top-tier service, it was just too bad that the authority also found them. Now, Mane stood behind a greasy stove and flipped burgers, not the noblest of endings.
“What can I get you to drink, sweetie?” said the waitress.
Barker tapped on the menu with his claw. There in the fine print under was the word coffee. “You take any sugar or cream?” the woman wrote down the order on a small paper card. It was pitiful that she couldn’t remember a single drink.
“I will take it black,” Barker was in no mood for frivolities. He had a mission to achieve this morning. “Also, who mind you is the cook today?”
The woman stopped her scratching on the pad. “I believe we have Mr. Mane,” she looked back as if she could peer through the walls. “He is an excellent cook, makes the best little burgers in town,” she said.
Mane was here today, that meant all Barker had to do was wait for the man’s morning break.
“That is great,” Barker flipped the menu over. “Then I will take one of those,” he said.
The woman paused a moment, “You don’t want a moment to look over the menu while I grab you your drink?”
“No, I will take the burger, thank you,”
The woman looked disgruntled. As if no one had ever ordered food before their drink before. “If you insist, sir,” she grabbed the menu that Barker pressed into her palm.
“Make sure the coffee is quite strong,”
The woman nodded and moved away, glancing over her shoulder as if he would change his mind before she made it to the counter.
The cafe wasn’t overly busy. Barker could count ten people aside from him enjoying the services. He evaluated them each individually and made up his mind that each lived a rather boring and mundane life.
Most probably worked around the area, which was mostly a low-income suburb. Another one or two were from out of town, and no one had bothered to inform them of the better cafes in the city.
“Here is your coffee, sir,” it looked lukewarm as the steam was not roiling over the lip. Barker thought to complain but changed his mind. It was of no matter, it was merely a stall tactic anyhow. He had his morning coffee before he had visited Dotton. The poor Captain who was probably at the moment swimming in a sea of vomit. Barker needed a shower after that hole, but first, he needed to speak with Mane and maybe Plancer, but first Mane, better to stay on track. “You sure you don’t want to glance at that menu one more time?”
She was persistent. “I am fine,” Barker looked up towards the order window. There was his ticket on the ledge, not on the spinning wheel. She had really expected him to change his mind.
She stood there at his table a moment longer waiting for him to say anything else, but he was silent. She finally moved off in the direction of another table.
Barker sat patiently, at least as patiently as he could, waiting for Mane to step away from the grill. Just a small conversation was all he needed. The only glimpse of the former Major was of his golden brown paw. The paw, however, was enough to inform Barker that Mane was no poodle.
His burger came out long before Mane showed his face. It tasted like grease. Barker could have floated the patty in the saucer. He barely finished the first bite. He would not be sending his compliments to the chef.
Barker pushed the plate away from him. This cafe was growing worse by the minute. He needed a way to hurry the process. If he still needed to talk with General Plancer today then he was running short on time.
Barker looked around the cafe again. Still the same people, an older gentleman had joined the counter group, but nothing seemed to be overly pressing for a cook. The waitress was lazily wiping down tables adjacent to him.
Barker looked back at the burger. The bun was soggy now with the juices, and his fries looked like tiny boats in an ocean.
“Waitress,” Barker turned his shoulder to wave over the woman. She looked thankful to be done with the act of cleaning.
“What can I do for you, sir?” she glanced at the table, “more coffee?” she would busy herself with guessing if Barker allowed her the choice, but he did not plan to allow that.
“Actually, I would like to compliment the chef,”
Again, her eyes glanced at the table. She could clearly see that he had no more than touched the burger.
“I see,” she glanced back at the pick-up window. “It is awfully busy at the moment,” she said.
It wasn’t busy. Barker counted ten people when he entered. Eight received their food before him and two moments later. Only the old man sitting at the counter was without a plate and Barker was aware that he had only ordered a cup of coffee.
“I will just be a moment,” he could press the obvious lack of customers, but this type of person reacted better to a different manner. “I am amazed by the work you and he have done. I can tell you face to face and so it is only fair he receive the same,” flattery. Barker wasn’t fond of the tactic, but again he didn’t have the time to fiddle with the ego of this woman.
She paused a moment. Barker supposed it was hard for this woman to process information. If she couldn’t scratch it out on her notepad it probably was lost in the messy swamps of her addled mind. She finally came to a conclusion, however, “Seems like it would be fair,” she pranced off towards the kitchen.
Barker thought about hiding the burger in the trashcan before Mane showed up. He could pretend he had devoured the remaining portion, but he decided he didn’t care that much to keep up this facade. Instead, he straightened his tie and sat back staring out the window.
The scenery in this part of the city was drab. Gray steel, gray roads, gray sidewalks, gray suits, and it just so happened this on this afternoon there were also gray skies.
“You had something to tell me?” Barker turned from his drab thoughts.
Mane stood a good foot taller than Barker was ever comfortable with. His surname fits him to a T as his mane circled his entire face. Today, it was in disarray. His meaty hands were pressed against the table and his claws were longer than Barker’s canines.
“Well,” Barker started, but a lump caught in his throat. So, instead of talking he had himself a coughing fit and then tried to wash it away with the brown cup of coffee before him. It was wretched and cold, so he had to put all concentration into not spitting it into the massive Mane’s face.
The concentration turned out to be a good thing, as he ceased his coughing fit.
“Well?” Mane didn’t seem like the kind of man you kept waiting for long periods of time.
Barker straightened his tie. He may have lost his dignity for a moment, but he wouldn’t be seen doing so without a presentable appearance.
“Would you care to have a seat a moment,” Barker flipped his paw out with as much grace as he could muster.
“I am working,” Mane said, clearly with no intention of keeping Barker company.
“Yes, I know. However, I have some questions for you,” Barker drew the small Polaroid picture from his coat pocket. The same picture that had brought Dotton into a vile state of mind, did nothing to Mane. Not even a flicker of emotion.
“Can’t say I am too worried about this,” Mane turned to walk away, clearly tired of the situation at hand.
“I know you were his Major for some time,” Mane stopped, Barker wondered how much his military days still chafed him.
“So, what?” Mane’s head drew a little higher, but he didn’t bother to meet Barker’s eyes.
“Just a few quick questions,” Barker hoped the questions didn’t turn into broken bones as well.
Mane turned and took two long strides for the table. Barker was ready to flinch, but Mane just sat down hard across from him.
“You have ten minutes,” Mane’s face was anything but sociable.
“Fair enough,” Barker slid the picture to the middle of the table. No effect was the sign Barker was looking for. If he cared nothing for the man and the scene didn’t bother him, then it was likely he could be the killer. Just as likely as anyone.
“You ever saw a thing such as this?” Barker asked. Mane looked to be a man who went to gruesome scenes for a stroll to clear his mind.
“I was a Major in the armed forces,” that was explanation enough for Mane.
“Indeed, you were. Actually, as it falls you were the Major to one Captain Lucky,” Barker pulled the picture away. There was no need to continue staring down the face of death. “What do you recall of the man?”
Mane scoffed, “Imbecile is what he was, looked at his feet more than the battle. How he got to be captain I couldn’t tell you,” he said.
These words rang true in Barker’s ears. This was the Lucky he knew. Not a valiant helper of the weak. Lucky was weak. He was powerless. He had been the whipping boy of Psitticus, and yet the people loved him. People tend to forget your flaws when you died early enough.
“What else can you tell me about him?”
Mane’s claws retracted and his paws curled. Barker decided he never wanted to be on the other end of a swing from Mane. If Mane was to be arrested, then the patrol would be doing the honors.
“His rise to Captain wasn’t by an act of valor. Matter of fact, I never covered him after he attained the rank. Because I was kicked out on my hindquarters. Transferred to another squad, because Lucky had reported me for gambling with the cadets,” Mane curled his fist even tighter.
“Was this true?” Barker was nervous, but he felt pressing was his best chance at this.
“Of course, it was bloody true!” Mane was ready to come up from his seat with the rage building inside him. “And something else, that little goody good was there the day I lost my Major stripes. He wasn’t a Captain anymore, no, he was one of you,” Mane uncurled a single fist and pointed a sharp claw at the chest of Barker.
Barker looked around. He and ten other customers. They would never pull Mane from his corpse before he was devoured whole.
“Lucky walked up in his fancy pressed suit. It was the first time I had ever seen his beady little eyes. He turned to his feet quickly enough as I got really angry, but he was there as they stripped me and took me into the squad car,” Mane’s hand dropped, but his anger did not subside.
“Lucky was the arresting detective?” Barker could not remember the case, it must have been too boring of a case.
“The entire gambling circle was rocked that day, but only I was able to be taken in,” Mane had grabbed the edge of the table.
The entire gambling circle was rocked? Barker would have to look into those case files. He knew gambling circles, and he wondered what simple little Lucky had found.
“I went away for three years.”
Mane had given Barker all the ammo he needed. Mane would be going away for far longer after Barker was finished today.
“Well, that is all I need,” Barker stood from the table. It wasn’t soon enough as the metal rim struck him in the chest. Mane had ripped the table from its tie-downs and threw it forward. Barker stumbled and fell, thinking the entire time not of hurting himself, but instead about that small stain of ketchup he would never get from his white dress shirt.
Mane was over him in a mere second. The patrons were screaming all around him. Ten distinct high pitched screams. Not a one willing to save him from sure death.
Mane leaned down, grabbing Barker around the throat. He expected his life to flash before his eyes, but nothing cliché happened at all.
Instead, Barker waited a moment longer to really let the witness’s feel the rage. Barker was lifted to his feet, but he refused to squirm, that was undignified.
Mane lifted him higher into the air. It was a good vantage point. Barker could see the crowd forming behind Mane. They would watch his murder. They would maybe be murdered themselves. If not, most of them would get the details wrong. Eyewitness testimony was a horrible thing to have to depend on.
Mane growled and started to squeeze harder. Barker wouldn’t be able to take much more, so he acted fast.
His paw darted into his front pocket and he pulled the small device from his breast. With ten thousand volts under the arm, Mane’s grip weakened.
Barker was impressed, terrified, but still impressed as Mane did not fall. Barker hit him again, another ten thousand volts. Mane stumbled and Barker was free. Barker hit him a third time and added a dress shoe to the chest. Mane stumbled backward, tripped over the table and slammed his head off the bench.
Barker placed the taser back into his pocket. He straightened his tie and jacket. Then, turned to the waitress.
“If you could kindly call the detective office and tell that mindless parrot I caught the man who killed Detective Lucky then that would be great,”
Barker stepped over the table and checked Mane’s pulse. He was still alive, but there was no telling for how long he would be knocked out. Barker pulled cuffs from another pocket, they would never fit around his wrist.
Barker settled for using the waitress’ apron string. It wasn’t his first choice, but if Mane woke up Barker needed at least a moment to pull the volts from his pocket.
Unlike Lucky, luck was on Barker’s side. Psitticus and the patrol squad arrived after only about ten minutes. They loaded Mane into the car and drove him straight to jail, not passing go as they went.
Barker left the cafe as well. They could clean up the mess themselves, it had not been entirely his fault anyhow.
He had one last thing to do with Mane. Then, he could go home and relax, and shower that smell of Dotton from his clothes.