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    Default A Study in Saffron

    The very first piece of fanfiction I ever wrote, retitled and reprinted for your edification. I'll rate it as 15 to be safe (if I remember correctly, there is some swearing, and possibly some other stuff too), and, without further ado - I shall begin.

    Oh yeah, and it's not nearly as serious as it looks.

    Chapter One: Russell Curtis, P.I.

    The client’s chair is the most important part of the detective’s office. You haven’t got a chair, you haven’t got clients: simple as that. And then, it has to be a good chair – no damage, no stains. If it isn’t a good clean chair, no self-respecting client’s going to sit in it – and then, like I say, you don’t get any clients.

    My client’s chair was a beauty. It sat, as ever, on the opposite side of the desk from me, and was upholstered in shiny black leather – real Miltank hide, not some cheap plastic stuff like they use in the Game Corner – worn with the friction from a thousand restless legs and oiled with a million teardrops. It wasn’t new, but it was clean, comfortable, and inviting – about as close to good as you could get in this town.

    However, the person sitting there right now was in no position to appreciate this. He wasn’t even a client.

    He was about eleven years old and slumped, sullen, in the chair, his red baseball cap low over his downturned face. Behind him, a massive, dark blue figure stood, all rippling muscles and huge, aggressive eyes. This figure, I knew for a fact, was named Poli – a name so hopelessly diminutive and applied to such a huge creature that it was almost enough to make me laugh.

    The silence had been going for about five minutes now, and I was beginning to get impatient.

    “Kid,” I said at length, “basically, you’ve got two options. One, I can send you back home now, or two, I hand you over to the police.”

    That got his attention. His hands clenched tighter on the edges of the seat and his shoulders tensed; he wasn’t stupid and he knew that the chief of police didn’t like him. He also knew what happened to those people that the chief of police didn’t like: they slipped and fell on the notoriously slippery tiled floor of the station.

    “I came here for a reason,” he said, voice quiet. He still didn’t look at me. “The Rockets―”

    “Are none of your business,” I finished for him, a note of anger beginning to rise in my voice. “Red, it doesn’t matter what the Rockets do! I don’t give a damn and neither should you – that’s someone else’s business. Unless someone pays me to look into it.”

    “But―” He looked up for the first time, some emotion appearing in his voice. He felt passionately about what he was talking about, that was for sure.

    “But nothing! Your idealism might work back in Pallet Town, but here in Saffron?” I made a dismissive noise. “Kid, in this city there is no black and white. There isn’t even any yellow, really. Just endless shades of grey. Rockets, Sabrina, the police – all of them, none of them good guys or bad guys. Just grey guys. Like everyone else in this city.”

    “What about you?” Red replied defiantly, looking at me in the eyes for the first time. “What about you, Russell? What colour are you?”

    I hesitated, then answered.

    “Grey,” I said. “Grey, just like everybody else.” I stood up and called for Mardek. He stalked in from the other room moments later. “I’m going out,” I told him. “Wesley said he’d be here at some point today. If he comes, keep him here for me, yeah? I won’t be long.”

    He blinked once, slowly, with dark, shrewd eyes, then inclined his head in something that might have been a nod.

    “Are you taking me to the station?” asked Red. Behind him, Poli tensed, massive muscles tightening beneath his dark blue skin. Mardek traded glances with the Poliwrath, and I knew what he was saying. Don’t bother, he said; if it’s the police you don’t stand a chance anyway.

    “No,” I said. “God knows I should. I’m taking you home.”

    Red looked relieved. Like most people in Saffron, he’d slipped on that floor at least once before, and like everyone else he had not enjoyed it. I had seen the scars.

    I walked him down to the Magnet Train station, through the night-scarred streets of Saffron. The moon was nothing but a sliver, as if turned away because it couldn’t bring itself to look upon the city. I couldn’t blame it. I knew this city better than most, and more than anyone wanted to: I knew the dark grey nightmares that polluted the original yellow dream; I knew the gamblers and the harlots at the Game Corner and Club Rocket; I knew the milk addicts and the smugglers; the swindlers and the strongmen; the men at the Silph company where they sell you stolen dreams that fade on the morning air like childhood memories in the dank air of Saffron’s back roads. I looked at the moon and I saw all that spread out beneath it, a patchwork quilt of sleepless nights and wishful thinking that men call a city. I shook my head and went inside.

    I bought Red a one-way ticket to Pallet from a bored-looking youth behind a tiny glass window. It seemed I spent a lot of time doing that these days. We stood together on the platform as the train glided in, almost silent as it passed between the magnetic rings.

    “Don’t come back here,” I told him, as I did every time. “There’s a lot of stuff in this city that can harm a eleven-year-old kid.”

    And, as he did every time, Red replied: “I’m not like other kids.”

    “A Poliwrath, a Bulbasaur and a Pikachu are not adequate defence against Saffron, kid. Stay with your mother. She worries about you.”

    Red was silent, then he turned and got on the train without another word. He always left like that: not so much as a goodbye, or even a thank you for the ticket.

    I watched it go for the three seconds it took for it to pass out of sight, then left the station and walked back to the office. When I got back, Wesley was in the client’s chair.

    *

    The client’s chair. What kind of people come to sit in it? Whether you’re in New York or London, Berlin or Paris, Lilycove or Saffron, they’re all the same. Mostly they just want me to confirm the suspicions growing in their hearts that cast a shadow over their eyes, the ones that end up with me spending long nights in a cold car looking for the twitch in the bedroom curtains. However, sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes, they’re people like Wesley.

    He was thirty, or forty – it was hard to tell beneath the grime and the week-old beard. His eyebrows burst forth like twin hairy caterpillars writhing in agony on his forehead, and the eyes beneath them receded as if stomped into his face by their thrashing. He wore a battered old coat and smelled strongly of whisky.

    “Wesley,” I said, and sat down. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”
    He was silent for a moment, then spoke.

    “I’ve got a problem, Russell.”

    “What kind of a problem?” I took a bottle of whisky out of the desk drawer and poured him a glass. He gulped it and continued, fortified.

    “Some guys came to my house last night and stole Charla.”

    I said nothing yet. Pokémon theft was traditionally the Rockets’ racket, although they hadn’t dabbled in that since they had taken over the gambling scene. If this was the Rockets’ work, getting involved would result in a bite from a rabid Zubat and a painful convalescence in hospital – and that was a best-case scenario.

    “You remember Charla?” Wesley asked. I did. Four, five feet tall and loyal as only an immature Ponyta, bursting with fiery pride undimmed by the city’s cynical atmosphere, can be.

    “Yeah,” I answered at last. “You want me to find her?”

    Wesley nodded, his sunken grey eyes watering. I understood; in this world, about the only person who you could count on not to betray you was your Pokémon, and friends like that aren’t two a penny. I sighed. Wesley’s request was dangerous, but... Old friends are there to be helped, and not, unfortunately, for monetary reward.

    “I’ll do it,” I told him. “I’ll find Charla for you.”

    As soon as he’d left, aglow with thanks, I pulled on my coat and hat and walked out again, this time taking Mardek with me. If the Rockets were behind this, I knew where I would find them.

    *

    The Club was a building like any other, a dreary grey door in a stone wall that was once yellow but was tarnished now, as much by the people who came and went there as by the ravages of passing time. The manager, Donatello, knew his stuff and the clients knew Petrel: there was no need for advertising or flashy exteriors. I waited in line and went inside.

    I could describe the inside, but what would be the point? The most famous nightclub in all of Kanto, a heady mixture of liquor and neon and strippers, swirling in the fug of cigarette smoke, half lit by disco lights that served only to pick out the curves of the Rocket girls who served here. The stage had a group of dancers on it, some women and some Jynx, and all could be found later at the back for extra entertainment that would last all night. I didn’t even care anymore. This was Saffron, after all, that cure-all number of the soul and muddier of morals; if there was anyone here who really cared about it they were in the minority.

    I pushed my way over to the bar, Mardek helping me clear a path, pushing people out of the way with an ease born of long practice. I asked if Marcia was in, and the girl, one I didn’t know and who didn’t know me, refused to tell me; after some pleading, I managed to get her to promise that she would tell Marcia that I would be waiting at one of the tables.

    I worked my way back across the floor, skirting the dance floor and sinking into a hard-backed chair that faced the shadowy table on a raised dais at the back. Idly, I glanced across there and saw a group of men and women in black smoking and talking animatedly, a Hypno with the muscles of a Machamp standing nearby, looking menacing in dark glasses and whirling its pendulum around its finger in a way that suggested it wouldn’t hesitate to use it. I looked away before it sensed me; I had seen what happened to people who fell afoul of the Rocket Hypno and it wasn’t pretty. You just had to look away from the Rocket table and ignore whatever was going on there.

    “Russell?” came a silvery voice, and a vision in the curiously revealing uniform of Team Rocket slid into the chair beside me. A heart-shaped face turned to face mine, wide blue eyes framed by long locks of wavy, dark brown hair that poured down onto her bare shoulders. Marcia had arrived.

    “Good to see you,” I said, leaning back.

    “Russell, when you come here you don’t come for the show,” Marcia replied. “You want something from me, right?”

    “Yeah.” I let a silence grow for a moment or two, then continued. “How’s the Pokémon kidnapping business nowadays?”

    Marcia frantically shushed me, eyes whirling around to the Hypno and back again.

    “Shut up!” she hissed. “You don’t discuss Rocket business here!” She jerked her head towards the impassive, yellow-skinned creature, whose pendulum had started to sway in our direction.

    “Oh, right, I forgot. More than the job of a simple Rocket girl is worth.” I smiled a cold smile. You might think I was being hard on her, but Marcia wasn’t at all as soft as she liked to pretend. She was one of the few people I knew who carried a Remoraid – and as non-lethal, non-marking weapons go, those things were pretty damn powerful.

    “Meet me in ten minutes,” Marcia told me. She glanced back at the Hypno, which appeared to have calmed down somewhat. “At the Slowpoke Cart.”

    She left me without a word. I lingered only a few more seconds in the greasy, smoke-ridden air of the Rocket Club before departing, Mardek at my side.

    *

    The Slowpoke Cart: that eternal symbol of the city. It’s always there, on every street corner, and always operated by the same man. I don’t know how he does it – no one does – but wherever you are, there too will you find the purveyor of Slowpoketail. His cart is white and battered, with a parasol to keep off the nonexistent sun, and a basin of sizzling fat in which the bloated pink tails wriggle and bounce on the hotplate. The man is short and sturdy, with an eye patch and a round face, forever frozen into that customer trap he calls a smile. The man is Baku, the eater of dreams. His trade is just that.

    The Slowpoketail: all it consists of is the severed tail of a Slowpoke, cut from them fresh in the farms. They grow back within a month, though never quite as long or succulent, in accordance with the law of diminishing returns. It’s just a fatty lump of meat with lumps of cartilage and bone in the middle, and yet – when fried, it becomes the nation’s favourite treat.

    “Evening, Russell,” said Baku cheerily. He knew me – he knew everyone, just as I knew everyone. We were both denizens of the night, people who had spent too long walking the streets of Saffron in the dark with nought but the occasional flicker of a streetlamp for company.

    “Evening,” I replied, and bought a Slowpoketail, grease staining my fingers through the paper it was wrapped in. I took up a plastic knife and half-cut, half-ripped it in half, then threw the tail end to Mardek, who caught it deftly, one-handed, and nipped pieces from it with the tiny teeth within his bill.

    “It’s a cold night,” observed Baku. Not that he would feel it, of course; he had his brazier to warm his hands on, for he would be open all night and would wander the streets of the city like a ghoul, vending his grisly wares.

    “Yes,” I agreed. Silence. Then: “How’s business?”

    “Oh, not bad, not bad.” I knew, and he knew that I knew, that he was lying. Business was always good for the purveyor of Slowpoketail; everyone always wants a Slowpoketail. I’d seen his house – it was positively palatial. But, like the Medici disguising their power, Baku preferred to disguise his success and wealth.

    At that point, Marcia showed up, and I gave her my half of the Slowpoketail. She tore a chunk out of it with her teeth, like a hungry wolf, and chewed it ravenously.

    “’Sgood,” she mumbled through a mouthful of meat. “Haven’t eaten since this morning.”

    “OK,” I said, glancing around for Zubat watchers. The Rockets often employed them to spy on people; their speed and acute hearing made for good eavesdroppers, though their blindness was a slight drawback. I waited until she had finished, then offered her the napkin that came with it, to dab the fatty slime from her chin. When she was entirely done, she spoke.

    “The Rockets haven’t gone in for that sort of theft in years,” she said. “But recently... I don’t know. It’s starting up again. I don’t hear much, I’m just a bar girl” – I suppressed a snort; she heard a hell of a lot more than she let on – “but it seems there’s some kind of experiment going on.”

    “Experiment?” I asked. Marcia’s eyes widened slightly.

    “Something they were doing with Silph Co. technology,” she told me. “I don’t know what... I only know because of this scientist who came back from the project. He said he refused to do it, whatever it was – the guy was shaking, terrified.”

    “Can I speak to him?” I asked. Marcia looked grim.

    “You’ll need a good medium,” she said. “He turned up dead two days ago. The Rockets don’t let loose ends dangle.”

    *

    I stood in the sun of the early morning, looking into the slate-grey waters from the pier. This was Vermilion, a city that wore its government colour with pride, as evidenced by the line of coloured umbrellas along the beach. According to Marcia, this was where they found the scientist’s corpse, bloated with corpse gas and washed up on the sand like a beached whale.

    Private detectives don’t do murder. That’s the police’s job. If a murder turns up in a case, I’m legally obliged by Kanto national law to inform the police and get my head out fast. But this was Wesley, and I’d promised – so I was going to continue.

    The reason we’d come here was simple. Marcia had told us where the dead guy had been found, and since he was the only lead, we were following him. Now, all we needed was to find where he was now, and that meant talking to the police. Which was not going to work.

    I turned from the restless waves and walked back down the wooden aisle, walled in by gently bobbing pleasure boats. At the end, I got back in the car and drove to Vermilion’s police station.

    It was, like all buildings in Vermilion, a bright shade of red, painted freshly every month during the summer when the tourists came. Now that winter was underway, the walls were faded and looked more brown than red; as I made my way up the steps to the door, I reflected on how sad a seaside town is when viewed out of season. For a few months each year, Vermilion was the place to be; then it lapsed back into a slow decline until the spring came around again, and a frenzied effort raised it back to its former glory. Oh, sure, the ships brought in trade and wealth – but that was all saved up for the summer, because nothing was so important to the town as tourism.

    Ernst Cooper, fire-breather and amateur watchmaker, stood in front of the desk and faced the officer on duty. He was a tall man, a little worn around the edges, bearing the tell-tale soot-stains on his lips that were the badge of his profession. His eyes were kind and grey, and he wore a battered old suit under a tan mackintosh. Behind him paced a Magmar, crooked eyes flicking left and right in the shady manner of those creatures.

    I hoped to God my disguise would stand up.

    The officer agreed to let me through as the brother-in-law of the deceased; any elation I felt at deceiving him was momentary, melting away as soon as I walked into the morgue.

    Thyme was there too.

    Stefano Thyme, the Saffron chief of police, and self-confessed nemesis of all private eyes. Six foot four and broad with it, a slab of muscle in a dark blue uniform. No cop likes a gumshoe, but this guy went way past the force minimum of ‘contemptuous dislike’. He was more of a ‘kill on sight’ kind of guy, and he did not look pleased to see me.

    “What the hell are you doing in here?” he asked angrily, seeing me enter. His voice growled like a threatened Kanghaskan and boomed like an anti-social drum. I swivelled around without breaking stride and walked out again, but he was fast as well as strong and I felt his hand grip my arm before I could make good my escape. “Well? I’m waiting for an answer, shamus.”

    “I was taking the air and thought I’d drop by for a cup of tea.”

    The hand tightened and I felt my forearm go numb. Thyme yanked me back into the morgue and slammed the door shut, spinning me around to face him. He had an ugly face that looked like it had been chiselled with hard lines from a cube of meat.

    “Don’t play your stupid games with me, shamus,” he growled. “Why are you here?”

    Client confidentiality would be the excuse many would spout now, but I knew better. That’s the thing that policemen really hate about us, you see – the refusal to tell them anything we know under the banner of ‘client confidentiality’. Saying this to Thyme would have just as certain a consequence as pointing a shotgun at my face and pulling the trigger.

    “I was reading a book the other night about Burke and Hare, and wanted to see the goods for myself.” I might as well have said that I couldn’t tell him on grounds of client confidentiality. Thyme’s face twisted and I slipped over and fell painfully onto the floor. Several times.

    It was either half an hour later or twelve hours later by my watch when I regained full consciousness, and sat up to have a look around the cell. As usual, Mardek had slipped quietly off somewhere; I just hoped he remembered where the emergency bail money was, or I could be here for some time.

    The cells were full of tramps, since this was Vermilion. Not that there were any more tramps here than anywhere else, but this city was so image-conscious, so desperate to defend the mirage of holiday allure that cloaked it, that vagrancy was the worst crime anyone could commit here, and those on the streets could count on being arrested very, very quickly. Sitting across from me was a man with a hat that looked like someone had taken a tin-opener to it, the top falling away at an angle like a half-peeled tin lid. Noticing me looking, he gave a pleasant smile.

    “Stray Meowth,” he explained, flicking his eyes upwards. “I was looking for food in a bin and found an angry cat. Woulda Slashed my eyes if I hadn’t moved – and now me hat’s gone.”

    “Did you get any food in the end?”

    “Found a dead Pidgey in the next bin, had that instead.” He held out a hand. “Me name’s Jacob.”

    I shook the proffered hand. “I’m Russell.”

    “Why’re you here?”

    “Thyme doesn’t like me.”

    He didn’t ask why Thyme didn’t like me. There were so many possible reasons why Thyme might dislike a person that it was best to just accept that Thyme didn’t like you, and leave it at that.

    “You hear about that dead guy washed up on the beach?”

    “Yeah, that was interesting.” I might have smiled enigmatically at that – I know some people who would – but I have professional standards to maintain, so I didn’t.

    A moment later, a haggard-looking policeman came to tell me my bail had been paid, and I walked out to find Mardek waiting for me at the desk, looking distinctly unimpressed. From the sunlight coming in through the window, I judged that I had indeed been out for only half an hour. I thanked the policeman for his time and left.

    *

    Mardek looked up at me. From our long years together I could tell what he was trying to communicate.

    Russell, getting arrested was stupid.

    “Yes,” I said, without looking down. “Yes it was. But I got what I wanted, didn’t I?”

    The Magmar sighed, which is quite unnerving when done through a beak. He tapped my watch with one claw, signifying: Is she back yet?

    “I said we’d meet her by the pier.”

    I stood on the waterfront street, near the entrance to the pier, and looked out at the sea of forlorn boats, anxiously awaiting the return of the summer when they would once more have purpose in their existence. A few moments later, the sea breeze reversed to blow from inland, and grew much colder; a vague shiver ran down my spine, and I seemed to hear soft voices whispering around me. I smiled and turned around. Priscilla was here.

    She materialised with that unmistakeable, jingling cry that all Gastly make, the one that haunts the dreams of small children. All savage eyes and grinning mouth, she was a repulsive sight, a nightmare reproduced in a cloud of toxic gas. She shifted in and out of definition almost continually as the purple-black gas that made up her body fluctuated in the wind. Breathing in a Gastly wouldn’t kill you, but it would definitely lay you out of action for a few weeks. That was why they were illegal to keep, along with most other Poison types. After all, a Muk is the one of the nastiest weapons you can use on a human, and a Victreebel doesn’t come far behind.

    “Anything?” I asked. In the morgue, I had released Priscilla from her Poké Ball before Thyme had taken his fists to me. It was the only way to get anything from a corpse – if they were fresh, a Ghost like Gastly stood a good chance of getting inside them and reading the imprint of their last moments.

    Priscilla floated upwards slightly and then down again. Mardek opened the bag he was carrying and tapped the piece of cardboard in there. I understood; this would take a while and would best be conducted back at the office. I recalled Priscilla and drove back to River Street in Saffron, where my agency is based.

    *

    It’s part of a long row of terraced houses, many of which still fulfil that function. Several of them – including my office – have been converted into buildings of dentistry, or a veterinary surgeon’s. Mine is the only private detection agency – the only one in Saffron, actually. The name on the frosted glass door that all detectives have in their offices is ‘The Babylon Detection Agency’, but the man sitting behind the desk is just plain old Russell Curtis.

    Mardek took out the piece of cardboard and placed it on the desk, pushing the phone and lamp out of the way. He would have pushed the whisky, too, but I grabbed it before any harm could come to the bottle of client lubricant and put it away in the desk drawer. Mardek then placed an upturned glass on the centre of the board, and I let Priscilla out again.

    She flickered in and out of focus for a moment, and a couple of millilitres of her went up my nose; coughing, I berated her and she firmed up, becoming as tangible as possible. When she caught sight of the Ouija board, she floated up and down rapidly, as if bouncing with excitement, and immediately dived down towards the glass before disappearing into thin air. A moment later, the glass began to move, and I began to take notes of what Priscilla was spelling out.

    “H,” I said, “I, S, N...”

    His name was Johann Nielsson. He was investigating a Pokémon in a laboratory. The stolen Pokémon were part of it.

    I’d drawn the ‘é’ on the board specially. It always pays to represent every letter, even those with accents.

    “Do you know where this was?” I asked. The glass slipped down to ‘N’, short for ‘no’. “OK, go on.”

    Something to do with recombinant DNA.

    I was surprised that Priscilla knew how to spell ‘recombinant’, but wrote it down nevertheless.

    I have one more thing.

    “Go on.”

    The name of one fellow scientist: Professor Blaine.

    What?!” The point snapped off my pencil and flew away over the surface of the paper. “Blaine? The Blaine? Gym Leader of Cinnabar Island Blaine?”

    I didn’t believe there was anyone in Saffron who wasn’t pond scum underneath their exterior, but Cinnabar’s Professor Blaine was a different matter. The man was a genius – and there was no reason to suspect he was anything other than a good man. Mardek had even been a gift from Blaine; in my youth, like most people in Kanto, I collected a few Gym Badges before settling down to set up my detective business. I hadn’t taken the Saffron challenge (Sabrina didn’t hold it often anymore) but I’d gone to Pewter and beaten Brock, and to Cerulean to beat Misty. After that, I’d thought Cinnabar would be a good idea, and caught the fast ship there. I’d lost to Blaine, of course – he had a reputation for incredible power, though his quizzes were easy enough. But after the battle, when his Rapidash was nuzzling my then partner, a Sandslash by the name of Warren, he’d taken me aside and spoken to me with genuine respect, telling me that my battle style was something quite new and extraordinary, and he’d be honoured to challenge me to a rematch. He gave me Mardek then, as a tiny slip of a thing at Level 12, and told me not to forget to come back and fight again.

    I never did, of course. The money ran out and I had to come back to Saffron to work. But sometimes I wonder what might have been, if I’d come back with Warren and Mardek, and we’d won; if we might have earned a place among the eight Gym Leaders of the towns, or if we’d even managed to make it to the Indigo Plateau where the greatest of the great went, the hotshot kids with their Machamps and their Alakazam.

    Something sharp tapped me on the arm, and I flicked back to reality with a jerk. Priscilla and Mardek regarded me with worried eyes, and the Ouija board quickly flicked out: Are you OK?

    “Yes,” I replied. “Just a memory. But Blaine?

    Yes. Definitely.

    “OK. Thanks, Priscilla.” I recalled her and leaned back, wondering what to do next. Since I couldn’t think of anything, I told Mardek to keep an eye on the office and went out for a walk.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 26th July 2011 at 10:59 PM.

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