Oldtown - Coffee and vice


A mercifully short on-the-spot inquest was held at the scene of the crime, after which the police allowed us to return to the hotel. The Sergeant leading the investigation asked us not to leave the city in case we were needed as witnesses at the upcoming trial. Philippe asked why there would be a trial when all the suspects were dead. The Sergeant shrugged and said: "I don't make the rules around here."

Back at the hotel the rapidly dwindling tourist group was in anything but high spirits. Except of course for Helga and Stavros, whose newfound romance helped them to forget the horrors of the Downtown shootout. In the evening they suggested that we go to Oldtown as planned.

Larry advised them to postpone the trip so as to give Mara a night to mourn her cousin. Mara, however, was adamant to see Oldtown as soon as possible. Larry, sporting a blackened eye, quickly changed his mind and agreed with her.




*



We took a subway train to Oldtown, the second oldest part of Con City. When we surfaced from the tunnels we felt like we had traveled back in time.

Oldtown was first built in 1904, and its original function was to house the business offices of the city, in a safe distance from the river and the abundant floods of the time. Essentially, Oldtown was the Downtown of Con City, and this did not change until the end of the 20th century. In the 1990s the City Council deemed that the riverbank, then protected by state-of-the-art lowhead dams, would offer a nicer environment for business offices and increase the productivity of their workers. Hence much of the city was rebuilt, and the former East Side was turned into the new Downtown. The old Downtown, renamed to Oldtown, was left in the original state it had been in at the end of the 1980s.

This is why Oldtown looks like a perpetual movie set for a thriller taking place in the 1980s. Old buildings, strip clubs, bars, giant neon signs atop nearly every building, old fashioned cafes, you name it; if you've seen it in an 80s movie you can find it in Oldtown.

The list of things you can find in Oldtown of course includes hookers, cheap motels, and abandoned derelict buildings as well. Also, drug dealers, which, as we eventually learned, was the reason why Mara had been so eager to visit Oldtown less than twelve hours after her cousin's death.




*



We found a very nice cafe on the corner by the subway's exit. Classic 80s tunes played inside. A man in a black suit was having a lemon cake with coffee by the window. His warm smile suggested he liked the place. The group did not want to go into the cafe, however, as they preferred to sample some of Con City's cocktails. To this end, we went in search of a night club.

Three blocks away we found the Green Prawn. A popular night club, the Green Prawn started out as an ordinary strip club but was later expanded to provide more services. When we entered, pole dancers were entertaining the guests on an expansive stage. An elaborate "Strippers Here" sign pointed to a side room, while an aging green neon sign spelled out Green Prawn behind the bar. Larry quickly made his way to the side room. Oddly enough, Gabrielle and Philippe followed him after a drink. The show must have disappointed them, though, as they came back out after twenty minutes. Their seats must have been uncomfortable as well, judging by how creased their clothes were.

By the time they returned, Helga and Stavros were so drunk they were singing along to the songs playing in the background, and were in no condition to stand. Mara on the other hand was quite sober, chatting with the bartender over a half full cocktail glass. The French couple tried to give her company but she shooed them off, so they sat with me instead.

A few minutes later the bartender handed Mara a folded piece of paper and she promptly left through the back door. Gabrielle took notice and decided that we should follow her before she gets herself in trouble, all alone in the alleys of Oldtown. Philippe agreed, so we followed. We left Helga and Stavros to their singing and Larry to his chosen form of entertainment and sneaked out the back as quietly as we could.

The alley stretched for a good distance in both directions. To the right the alley led out to the streets, and a scantily clad hooker stood on the corner conversing with a prospective client. To the left, we just barely caught a glimpse of Mara disappearing behind the corner. We followed and turned the corner, then promptly hid behind a dumpster when we saw that Mara was talking to a suspicious looking character down the alley.

The man was bald and dressed in jeans and a torn denim vest with no shirt underneath. A green sweatband marked with the anarchy symbol adorned his head. He had a diplomat's briefcase with him, locked with a numeric keypad.

Gabrielle's eyes went wide with excitement. She took out her notepad and started taking notes, while Philippe took out his sketchpad and started drawing the scene. Mara handed the bald man a sizable wad of cash, and the man unlocked his briefcase.

"Today's selection," he said to Mara as he opened the lid. She observed the contents of the briefcase with scrutiny and pointed at something in the corner. The bald man took a small packet full of white powder out of the case. He locked the case and held up the little packet.

"This one costs extra," he said. "But it'll blow your mind it's so good. That is what you're after, right, Missy?"

Mara nodded and reached into her pocket for her wallet. Before she could open it, two other men showed up from the far end of the alley. They were wearing leather jackets and red bandanas.

A silent argument followed that we couldn't quite make out, though phrases such as "you owe me, pendejo" and "I'll have your shipment" reached us over the wind. The bald man nodded after a while and held out the briefcase to the newcomers.

That was the moment when all the day's frustrations descended on Mara to the point where she lost all self control.




*



Mara grabbed the briefcase and smacked the bald man in the nose with it. Then she hurled the briefcase in our direction, which landed with a loud thud just beside the dumpster we were hiding behind, and then she grabbed the bald man by the neck. Using him as a human shield he pulled the bald man's gun from its makeshift holster behind his back and aimed at the two leather-clad men.

By that point the newcomers had drawn semiautomatic pistols on her. Holding them sideways like any self-respecting illiterate thug in Oldtown, they threatened to pump her full of lead if she didn't bring back the briefcase and place it in their hand.

"It's my briefcase!" she yelled, and she opened fire. The leather-clad men did the same. Philippe froze stiff as the gunfire started, while the pen slipped from Gabrielle's fingers. The hail of bullets quickly put the bald man out of his misery, while Mara's shots reduced the number of her opponents by one. As her human shield became a dead weight she was forced to let the bald man go. Mara and the remaining leather-clad man then emptied the remainder of the clips in their guns into each other. As it turned out, neither of them was wearing a bullet proof vest.

Surprisingly, Mara was still alive after the shootout, despite the multitude of gaping wounds on her chest. She collapsed against the side of the alley and tossed away the gun. She picked up the little packet of white powder the bald man had tried to sell her, and ripped it open.

"This is for you, Paul," she said, raising the packet like a glass, then she lowered it to her nose and snorted its entire contents in one go.

According to Philippe, who had seen a number of gunshot victims in France during his brief stint as an illustrator for a coroner's magazine, Mara would have had a forty percent chance at surviving her gunshot wounds. Sadly, the contents of the little white bag reduced that chance to zero percent.




*



With Mara no longer with us, we quietly walked back to the Green Prawn. Inside, Helga and Stavros were miraculously standing, atop the bar no less, and singing so loud we could barely hear the vocalist in the song that played. We did not want to ruin their mood, so we walked back to our table and sat down.

A few minutes later Larry came out of the side room, adjusting his belt, and sat down. With a broad smile on his face, he expressed how much he loved Oldtown, and asked if we wanted to score some drugs from his friend who deals in the alley behind the Green Prawn. The lack of a response from either of us, coupled with the hard stare Gabrielle gave him, made him shift in his seat and look around for the rest of the group.

"Where's Mara?" he asked when he failed to spot the Australian truck driver.

Gabrielle visibly took a wicked pleasure in explaining to Larry the demise of his drug dealer friend.



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