The tenement building is quiet, for once, this morning. No rows (yet), no fights. A quiet that is disturbed by someone repeatedly pushing the tradesman's button, causing a loud buzzing sound to echo down the halls.
Ishmael was upstairs a floor, continually sketching his rough estimations of what murals would look best where, when the sudden sounds causes a sharp and dark line to be noticeably etched across the paper. He scowls. Thankfully, it's just pencil and can be remedied easily enough. The teen stands, gathering and slipping into his jacket, journal tucked under his arm. Descending the stairs in a number of quick strides, he's at the door within a few minutes and releases the deadbolt, opening it a crack. "Who's there?" He queries. His face is bestubbled and tired looking, short hair tousled about as much as it could be.
"Good morning young sir!" greets the weasel-faced man standing outside. He has a small moustache and slicked-back black hair, and is wearing a suit that's at best outmoded, and has a red handkerchief shoved into the pocket. He's carrying a brown leather briefcase. "I have reason to believe that we may, in some sense, be distantly related!" he continues, his English-accented voice falling into a well-worn pattern. "Unless I have got my directions messed up again, and this is in fact the Golden Duck Chinese Restaurant, in which case, Ah Pong, I apologise."
"Whatever your sellin', we don't want any," is the stiff reply, the teen making no attempt to staunch the thick inner Northern Cities dialect that might affront some people so far away from the urban centers of the East. "You got the wrong place if you're lookin' for Chinese," he continues, "But unless you can gimme some names, I can't really be lettin' you in, yeah?"
"Well, I got a steer her by a lovely lady - name of "Kaz". Said I might find "Mouse" and "Lefty" here." Harry's voice has dropped, to a conspiratorial whisper. "Personally, sounds like someone's been watchin' cartoons, if you ask me."
Ishmael snorts softly, not disagreeing with the man's assessment. "All right," he relents. "You can come in. Though I 'spect you already know that anything you see or anyone you meet should be kept quiet, yeah?" The door opens fully, and the boy steps back to allow the visitor entrance.
Harry enters, and closes the door behind him. "Mum's the word," he promises. "Now, are you by way of having an introduction, or at least a name? Cos if you do, that I'll give you my moniker and we can start to blow through the fol-de-rol and down to the actually interesting bit."
Ishmael shifts somewhat uncomfortably, feeling more and more like this is a business transaction he might regret. Still, he offers forth a hand politely, tipping his head. "Ishmael's the name," he pauses, and adds after a moment, "Ishmael Chavez. Cub. Theurge. Glass Walkers."
"Harry Hall, Bone Gnawer," Harry says, shaking the hand firmly. "Businessman, and new to this parish." He grins and releases tbe hand. "I'm a cliath. I should be an adren by now, but they grade on a curve." A pause, and he fetches up his briefcase. "Now the important question : What do you need? Stuff of any sort. I can get it for you. For only *reasonable* rates."
"Stuff," echoes the cub. His brow raises. He looks incredulous. "Nothing I can't go purchase a few blocks away. "Why?" He eyes the briefcase dubiously.
"I just want to help out it whatever way I can," Harry says. "Infermation! I find out infermation all the time. And I know lots, I've been around." He winks. "There must be some questions you want to ask, but are scared of the big pyjamas' reaction? I'll tell you the absolute truth, swear to the deity, celestine or incarna of your choice. And not breath a dicky to anyone else."
Ishmael pulls the journal from beneath his arms so he can cross them over his chest. The dubious look has not faltered. "For a price 'o course." He 'hehs' and smiles crookedly. "Well 'smuch as I'd like t', I got no money. If you want, I can pass your services along t' some o' the others around here."
"Heyhey!" Harry says, his nose twitching. "A young gentleman like you has no need to pay for anything in cash. Especially not fer infermation. Look, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours in a non-literal sense, because you do not look like the sort of person - unlike some of my tribemates - who take that saying literally. Look, I'll help you out with some infermation, and then at some point in the future, maybe you can help me out. I mean, you've got to have wondered how much of that stuff they feed you is bullshit, don't you? Or perhaps stuff they're hiding. For example : have they told you what percentage of cubs survive to pass their rite of passage?" A raised eyebrow. "It's a simple statistic."
"I've already had a friend culled," Ishmael replies sharply, eyes flashing anger. "I'm aware." But the anger passes quickly, and the tired expression replaces it. The smile is gone, and he looks away, not-so-suddenly realizing how wholly ignorant he really is. He nods slowly. "All right. What've you got to offer me, then?"
"I am very sorry to hear that," Harry replies. He bows his head. "I hope that his next time around is better than this, and that Gaia looks well on his soul and doesn't reincarnate him as anything unpleasant. Like the Get." This is all said with utmost solemnity. "Whatcha want to know? The truth behind the litany? When it was all written? What the Red Talons do when one of their tribe falls?" He drops again into his patter. "I know secrets that nobody else can tell. I know who winds the clockwork motor behind the puppet show. What's it to be. Come on, you're a cub. You must be curious about *something*?"
"The rites," Ishmael begins again, nervous. "What's it like? For Theurges. I... don't really know what to expect." He's quick to add. "Not like it's gonna happen anytime soon, though. And I got other questions."
"Well now," Harry says, finding a flat surface to sit upon. "The Rites of Passage vary from tribe to tribe and from ritemaster to ritemaster. They can range from the comparatively simple, through the gut-wrenching, the terrifying, the near-impossible, until you reach..." his voice drops to a whisper. "...the fatal." A nod. "It all depends on the Ritemaster, and how much he likes the candidate. It's all a fix, to an extent. Course, you got to make it look good, but the fair-haired children - I don't mean the Get - I mean the favoured ones, they get an easy ride. And then, to keep quotas up, the others." He shakes his head, sorrowfully. "Apart from my lot, the Bone Gnawers. If you can survive *to* your rite, it's a good chance you can survive that. And it ain't us that kills you, it's the city streets. It's the cold. It's the cough that you can't quite shake off. Anyway, I digress. In truth, I don't know what *your* rite will have in it. Some kind of quest up in the glassy turrets, I bet. But one thing's for sure. It will go easier on you if you butter up the person giving it. Keep your nose clean. Stay on the right side of the maharajahs."
This does not make Ishmael happy, and the disdain is written all over his face in figurative calligraphy that pleasantly spells out 'Fuck them all!' "Yeah, s'bout what I figured," he grumbles sourly. "All I do nowadays is train and sit on my ass, lest I find something for myself to do." He taps the journal. "Fight, sit, fight, whoops, ya died. Better luck next time?" The kid turns and drops his hands, shaking his head. "Well, anyways. Given the opportunity to ask whatever I want, I can't actually think of much I really want to know." Though he suddenly glances back. "Hiding," he says slowly. "You mentioned they were hiding something?"
"What *ain't* they hiding," Harry replies, eyes wide. "How long you expecting to live, kid? You're a theurge - they do pretty well. You might make thirty. What're you now? Fifteen? Welcome to middle age kid. Start counting downwards, cos it's all downhill from here." His voice gets even lower. "But here's the big one. We're in a war. They've mentioned that, right? We're losing. Badly. And in a war, especially one that you're losing, there's no room for compassion. You train them up, a bit, and throw them at the enemy."
"I was thinkin' you meant somethin' in particular," Ishmael shrugs, imperturbed. "I figured it had to be somethin' like that. Desperation and shit. Whatever. Beatin' your head against the enemy isn't the way to go, but no one's gonna listen to me anyways. I just don't let myself get all pissy and angry about it." He looks away again, finally deciding to lean against the wall and finding the comfort more than he expected. "Why don't septs keep in close contact with each-other?"
"Oh, that one's easy!" The Bone Gnawer says. "It's because...how to put it. If you were the king of your own little castle, you wouldn't want anyone from another castle telling you how to run it, would you. Especially not if you'd spent your whole life being told what to do, and hurt if you don't. So, the big cheeses, they like to have control. Contact with other Septs, well, that would weaken the control." A shrug. "Look at the rules - they're all set up to make sure that the big cheeses can stay the big cheeses."
Ishmael snorts. "No wonder we're losing. We got egos bigger than the Wyrm." A finger is raised and twirled in an exasperated gesture. "The fuck. But whatever," he says, inclined to not let these things bother him for the moment. "What kind of info're you lookin' for?"
"I got a question, and maybe you and some of your friends can find out the answer for me," Harry says, rubbing the side of his nose. "Because no-one looks at kids in the same way as they do an old man." He looks serious, and pulls a bus timetable out of his briefcase. "See this? Notice anything about these buses?"
Ishmael leans over to peer curiously at the proffered schedule. "Never been one for busses, myself. Just mostly moved about in the alleyways." He glances up. "What's wrong with it?"
Harry's finger stabs down on a photo of a bus. "Why does it have a Black Spiral Dancer glyph on the side? How long has it been there? Are they still there? Why?" He lifts his finger. "That's what I'm trying to find out. So, if you and your friends were to happen - without putting yourself at too much risk - to find out the answers to any of those questions, I'd be most grateful. We'd be more than quits." He pauses. "And of course, those who've shown that they have the ability to be good Garou have never found the favour of the higher-ups."
Ishmael scratches his head with the free hand not holding the journal, and examines the particulars of the glyph. "To be completely honest," the teen says, glancing up. "I lived on the streets for awhile, and while I don't think I've seen this particular symbol before, I've seen weird things like it. And people talkin' bout weird shit, too. Wouldn't surprise me if Dancers were crawlin' round in the underworld." He glances to the glyphs again. "I got some contacts I could ask, but I'm not allowed out without an escort. And they'd probably want money for the information, anyways."
Harry sighs. "You could get your escort and go and look. Or you could just go and look. I can almost guarantee that you won't get killed for that. I mean, they might be kid-murdering psychopaths, the cheeses, but you're a valuable asset." A pause.
"Asset?" Ishmael parrots, glancing up again with a bitter smirk. That's not one he's heard before. "Tool, maybe. Soldier-Meat. Everyone's been nice enough, but that's what this is really about. They might be pissed if they had to cull me, but I doubt they'd cry over it for long."
"You're right, squire. But they'd regard it as a missed opportunity. Every soldier's still a soldier. And they ain't got too many." Harry says. "You are indeed an asset, or rather a potential asset. And any asset has value. And you are in the unique position of being able to use that value for your own purposes! Not many assets can do that!"
Ishmael sighs and allows his expression to diminish into something more neutral. He raises his hands and rests them behind his head, journal still clasped. "It wouldn't be too hard," the teen explains, eyes piercing the ceiling into thought. "I know the streets around here pretty well--But that's no guarantee I'd be able to find anything," he's quick to add. "Besides, I'd rather not go alone if I can manage it. My ego can tolerate not being dead because I had someone to watch my back."
"Take some friends," Harry says, "like I said. Of course you need some people to watch yer back. And look, you can tell them that if there's anything good comes out of it, I'll owe them too. And I *never* forget a debt. Well, not to a *relative* anyway. My word is my bond. And most of my bonds are good."
Ishmael returns down his gaze to eye the man dubiously for a moment. "Why don't you just come with me," he offers slyly, gauging the man's reaction.
"Because," Harry says, "nothing looks more dodgy than an old geezer like me sneaking around with a fifteen-year-old boy like you. I do not want to get mistaken for a nonce and banged up somewhere where hide the soap is a daily pursuit." He pauses. "I have a memorable face, apparently. And an even more memorable suit." He gestures at it proudly. "Nah, nobody looks properly at kids. They're just kids. That's why I want you to do it."
"Seventeen next month," Ishmael corrects, regarding him cooly. "Eh, well. I'll see what I can do. Provided I can get out, I can ask about the symbol and see if anyone knows about it, but mentionin' the Dancers is a possible Veil breach I'd like to avoid if I can."
"Well, no, what I thought you could do was wander around asking people at random if they're a black spiral dancer." Harry's voice is sarcastic. "Look, here." He pulls out a little camera from inside the case. "Use this. Get some photos of people going in to the offices, perhaps. Be subtle. Look like a tourist. Whatever. Just find out what you can without getting killed."
Ishmael accepts the proffered camera gingerly, considering it noncommittally. "That goes without saying." The wall is found again, and he leans. "I'll see what I can do, yeah?"
"That's all I'm asking," Harry says with another wink. He pulls back his sleeve and glances at the old analogue wristwatch beneath. "Look at the time! Got deals to do, sales to make, quality merchandise to shift." He flashes a smile at Ishmael. "Look after yourself, kid. I'll be back in a few days." He closes up his case and prepares to leave.
Ishmael eyes the camera in his hand dubiously again, and then shrugs. "All right, be seeing you," he says calmly, well-informed of middle-men and the like, so not generally bothered. "I'll lock the door behind you."
"Best to be safe and sound," Harry says with a nod. "And who knows how many seconds those locks will keep out someone determined to get in." Still, off he heads, one more wink and a little wave.
There's a steady and wary glance to the man with that comment, and as promised, Ishmael waves a brief farewell, and then slide the deadbolt into place behind the man, lightly tossing the camera in his hand. "What've I gotten myself into?" He wonders aloud, leaning against the door.