The day shift patrol on St. George was easy and pleasant. It consisted almost exclusively of meandering along the cobblestone paths, tipping his hat to little old ladies, flirting with the birds, and popping in on the shopkeeps. Everyone was mostly doing what they were supposed to. There was little excitement at all and frankly, Hickinbotham liked that just fine.
He would probably still be on that beat if it weren’t for Sally Boyle.
Hickinbotham was aware that Sally was the only producer of Blackberry. Blackberry was not illegal per se, but its use was restricted to the constabulary, doctors, and a few other high-ranking officials. As such, the number of people stopping by Sally’s business on any given day was highly suspect. They couldn’t be there for Blackberry and there was no reason to come all the way out to St. George if you just needed to restock your medicine cabinet with healing balm and Neximide. She must be selling something else. Something that you couldn’t get at Stewart Adams’ apothecary or from a Mood Booth.
Her advertisements practically said as much.
Hickinbotham decided to take the initiative. He patrolled loosely around her house until one of her clients, some posh Parade gent, came and went. He followed the client at a distance until he passed into a street with no one else on it. Hickinbotham closed the gap between them and placed a firm hand on his shoulder.
“Where are we off to in such a hurry?” he asked, turning the client around to face him.
“Back to the Parade,” he answered, his tone falteringly cheery. “Just here to pick up some supplies for the Design Centre.”
“Supplies? What kind of supplies?” Hickinbotham pressed further.
“Oh, uh… sewing kits?” the client chanced.
“I must ask you to turn out your pockets.”
Hickinbotham saw the debate in the client’s face, trying to decide whether he could outrun a constable. His eyes flicked around, looking for an exit, but finding none, he resigned himself and relented. He reached into his pocket and handed Hickinbotham two small silver rocket ships: Sally’s signature pill bottles.
Hickinbotham opened one and tipped some of its contents into his hand; green triangular tablets he recognized as Phlash. The other bottle was filled with round white tablets with a rocket ship embossed on them. Both street drugs, obviously. Illegal. He closed the bottles back up and pocketed them.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come with me to the stati-” He was cut off when the client shoved him back and tried to make a run for it. He stumbled backwards and only just kept himself from falling. A blinding rage flared in his chest, the kind of murderous fury that only comes from being startled by something smaller and weaker than you. He pulled his truncheon off his belt and bolted after the client.
His legs were a lot longer than his quarry’s and he caught up easily. Just as they reached the corner, Hickinbotham reared his arm back and swung his truncheon into the side of the client’s torso. The blow stumbled him sideways and he bounced face-first off the brick wall before crumpling like a folded umbrella. Hickinbotham beared down him, swinging his truncheon back for another hit. He smashed him in the face directly this time. The impact made a sickening crunch sound and the client’s mask broke in half at a diagonal, the top half flying away to land out into the street.
Hickinbotham was about to swing again when a little old lady rounded the corner.
“Oh my! Is he all right?” she asked.
Hickinbotham stopped. All the rage drained out of him all at once. Had he killed him?
Lord, no, he thought as he checked for signs of life. He’d lost control of himself, but that was no excuse. If he’d killed him…
The client was still breathing. Good. Hickinbotham felt a rush of relief. It was quickly replaced with a sense of righteous satisfaction. This miscreant could still face justice.
“He’ll be right as rain once the doctors take a look at him,” he told the old lady as he hauled the client up over his shoulder.
“Lovely to hear it,” she said, mincing off on her merry way.
Hickinbotham took the client back to Central.
Sergeant Sargent wanted a word. Assuming he’d taken a personal interest in the client’s arrest, Hickinbotham took the elevator and ascended to the holding cell floor in good spirits.
When he arrived, he found Sargent and another constable inside a cell with Sally’s client. The client, apparently having regained consciousness, was standing in front of the sink and trying very hard not to openly sob at his reflection in the mirror. His eyebrow was split and deeply bruised. His nose definitely wasn’t ever going to be straight again. He’d take a glance at himself in the mirror and the anguish in his eyes at what he saw there was disquieting, juxtaposed as it was with the artificial smile of the remaining bottom half of his mask.
“Come on now, lad,” the constable said, patting him on the shoulder and offering him a strawberry Joy capsule, “You’d better double up. It won’t seem that bad if you take another.” The client nodded absently, sniffled, and took the pill.
“Do you think the doctors can fix it?” he asked with the most pitiful hope.
The constable visibly struggled to find a tactful way to answer that.
Sargent saw Hickinbotham waiting and left the cell. Sargent did not look happy at all.
“Why are we mollycoddling a criminal?” Hickinbotham asked with a derisive snort. “And what’s he crying for? He’s lucky to be alive, all told.”
“Well, I reckon it’s because you’ve destroyed his livelihood,” Sargent said. “He came from the Design Centre, didn’t he? Even if he’s just a go-fer, half his job is being pretty and you’ve gone and busted his face up. They won’t let him back in the building with a mug like that.”
Hickinbotham looked back at the client again. The second dose of Joy had calmed him down. He now stared into the mirror with a look that could be charitably interpreted as wistful and gingerly prodded at the damage to his face. He pulled off the remnant of his mask and found he had a crust of blood on his mangled mess of a mouth. He steeled himself, preparing himself for the inevitable. He gave the mirror a small grimace, much as he could without hurting himself too much, and checked the state of his teeth. Some of them were broken. He shook his head in dazed dismay. The doctors couldn’t fix that. The attending constable pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and held it out, offering it to use to clean up the blood.
“He shouldn’t have run,” Hickinbotham said, more to himself than anyone else.
“Why did you stop him at all?” Sargent asked.
“I suspected him of purchasing illegal drugs from Sally Boyle.”
Sargent fixed him with a severe stare that his mask made all the more intimidating.
“Sally Boyle is under the auspices of General Byng and as such, disrupting her business by persecuting her clients can have far-reaching consequences for the constabulary.”
“She’s selling illegal drugs, Sergeant!” Hickinbotham protested, pulling her pill bottles out of his pocket to show him. “She’s not above the law just because she’s friends with General Byng.”
“Effectively, she is, Constable. Even without the General’s favor, she is also the only person in all of Wellington Wells who can make Blackberry. I am sure you realize what happens if we do not have Blackberry. We therefore do not bite the hand that feeds us. And by extension, we do not bite the hands that feed her. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” Hickinbotham said.
“Now go deliver those drugs to the Design Centre.”
“Sir?!” It was one thing to allow Miss Boyle to conduct her illegal business without intervening. It was entirely another to help her do it.
“On the double. The beautiful people are probably getting the shakes and wondering where their delivery boy is. And do it discreetly. The fewer people who know about the mess you made here today, the better.”
“Yes, sir,” Hickinbotham conceded.