Thastus Faundler of the Copper Flies stood in giddy excitement, adrenaline coursing through his veins as he surveyed the scene of petrified commuters before him. In his duly callused right hand he clutched the chromed handle of his Caberra 45 calibre, pudgy fingers tight around it as he swept the weapon back and forth over the double rows of wide-eyed passengers, relishing the sheer authoritarian power, secure with the big pistol’s cold, reassuring heft. It was all about image really, and where image counted Thastus Faundler certainly intended to deliver. All the same, he could not stay his left hand as it crept up to twirl one end of his immaculately-trimmed handlebar moustache. Those whom fate selected to maintain an acquaintance (of no more than the barest necessity, of course) with Faundler knew he fondled that moustache only when his nerve threatened to let down its guard. And indeed – beneath the power-borne thrill he had always lusted for – Faundler was positively stricken with anxiety. No matter that he was scarcely aware of it. His heart palpitated; his breath came short, swift, sharp.
For it was, after all, his very first heist. It would set the standard for the rest of the protracted, illustrious career he had so boldly envisioned. It was authority he coveted; ranking as a lowly thug within the Copper Fly’s hierarchy would not satisfy him for long.
The vast concrete canyons and gilded facades of Malendar City swept past the oak-framed windows of the el carriage, bold rays of mid-morning light dancing aggressively upon the thin layer of grime that encrusted the glass. The single-car train clattered, bucked, and careened, noisily traversing the endless stretches of elevated railway that ducked in and out of the city’s boulevards and streets, soared over the sprawling rooftops of hulking apartment blocks, plunged into lightless tunnels within the enduring gloom of the dark, smouldering industrial districts. Every minute or two the el would roar past a packed station; with the barrel of the Caberra pointed ceaselessly in his general direction the conductor was not fool enough to halt the car. They would be approaching the terminal shortly, though, and there the track ran smack into a dead end – it was imperative that the darned blockhead Lance finish the job before the carriage drew too close to it. There the constabulary would be waiting, and no levelheaded brigand wanted any business with the constabulary. Now, speaking of Lance…
“Lance! Get a move on!” he barked.
A tall, lanky spectre in a patched dun robe, Cedric Lance flaunted a livid white scar that ripped its way across one cheek. Likewise on his debut as brigand, he seemed to have had barely begun the painstaking process of marching down the rows as a sneering, frisking cop would. Unschooled fingers fumbling their way into tight pockets and struggling to yank necklaces from pale, clammy necks, he turned out loot at but a fraction of the rate and efficacy the best in the business were revered for. He could only vent his frustration at his prey, an action which really only contributed to the intractability of the task as the passengers shrank deeper into their seats, frames rigid and movements sluggish with apprehension towards his person.
When Faundler voiced his impatience, Lance was fixing to terrorise a corpulent gaffer who looked on the verge of a swoon. Incensed by his assigned collaborator’s lack of empathy, he whirled round and snarled brusquely that Faust would do good to shut his trap. Having in possession a reputation of his own for irascibility, Lance had tired of mollifying the puerile tantrums of the stout dandy he’d been forced to regard as ‘comrade’.
The el carriage rattled across Tharbold Avenue; imposing commercial edifices of polished limestone glinted in the morning haze.
They would be reaching the terminal in no more than four minutes.
Having managed this once to assuage the fury that had risen within him at Lance’s rebuke, Faundler inhaled deeply, looked away, and assured himself that all was going well. That whether his bungling associate managed to finish with all the passengers or not, they would be halting the carriage just after Moriach – the last station – and making good their flight well before the police train that was indubitably giving chase managed to clap eyes upon them.
Of course, that was when the dour, burly gentleman in the row opposite to Lance hurled himself off his seat with a grunt. He hurtled, arms outstretched, towards Lance as the latter stooped to ransack a young woman’s handbag.
Even as Faundler shrieked at the man to sit down, a flash of rage, white hot in front of his eyes, did away with any semblance of restraint within the confines of his thick, shaven crown. The emotion in question having been only so recently suppressed, it cast the dykes of reason down and surged into his being. Before he knew it the big Caberra bucked in his hand, and a deafening blast filled the confines of the car. It rang in Faundler’s ears as he watched the object of his latest outburst plow hard into the wooden floor. The stricken man writhed and clutched at his reddening vest, a vacant gape of profound shock plastered for eternity upon his face.
Lance need not have turned to realise what had transpired.
“You magnificent idiot,” he hissed through stained teeth, ghastly countenance contorted in wrath. His eyes fell upon Faundler and bore through him. “We agreed we didn’t want cash overmuch ’pon our heads. I swear, once I’m done here I’ll have you.”
Now, Faundler had always roundly despised Lance – a sentiment that functioned admirably as a foothold upon which his seemingly boundless anger could, at present, ascend to overwrite the healthy fear of the man he had inadvertently cultivated. At any rate, if one was Thastus Faundler, fear would have had, in due course, been converted to anger anyhow.
The fact that he was, after all, the one holding the gun most certainly made its contribution as well.
“Have me?” sneered Faundler, spoiling now for confrontation. “I’ve put up with you long enough you worthless, scrawny dog.” And he steered the sights of the Caberra between Lance’s dark, narrowing brows.
Faundler could not have known the primal impulses he had just unleashed. Lance snapped as a coiled spring vanquishes its catch. With a howl of pent-up malice he leapt the four metres to Faundler and sent him crashing to the floor. In a flash his unwitting associate had been struck senseless, the Caberra slammed out of his grip to clatter across the vibrating floorboards. The gun came to rest against the rear door, and scrambling over Faundler’s prostrate frame with feline agility he grabbed it and brought its barrel to bear upon his companion’s now-cowering mien.
But fate that day proved the stronger, for at that very second the el lurched mightily, its suspension squealing and throwing up sparks in a spray that was visible through the windows. The el grinded to a dead halt just within the borders of the Hogarth industrial district, fifty metres from the rusted steel cage that was Moriach Station.
Lance blinked. The crimson mist of rage shelved in an instant, his senses returned to their optimal facility swiftly enough.
The conductor, he realised, had seized his chance and hit the emergency brakes. The pursuing roar of the police train was already clearly audible.
Cedric Lance paid no heed to the huddled mass of commuters at the front end of the carriage. Letting forth a steady, muttering stream of the vilest profanity, he aimed a robust kick at the rear door. He let fly, and with a resounding clang the door lost its hinges.
Lance dropped nimbly onto the tarnished steel trackway, where he was shrouded at once by the fumes that lay thick over Hogarth. Leaving his erstwhile companion to the wrath of the passengers he slipped down the sixty foot ladder that hung from the soot-blackened tracks. A silent, lone figure, he melted away into the smoke and chemical reek, at liberty to grapple with the law another day.