Bitter 184

The food arrived in large clay bowls. It was some sort of steaming soup or possibly a stew. It came with a spoon and a chunk of bread. Britta sniffed at it. The smell was overwhelming and she immediately felt hungry, her stomach gurgling in anticipation.

“One more for me,” said Stan to the waitress. “You two go ahead and start.”

Freddy hadn’t needed permission and was halfway through his bowl already. Britta took a spoonful of what was either a chunk of meat or vegetable. She put it in her mouth and still couldn’t tell, but it didn’t matter. The taste filled her mouth and the heat spread through her body. Spicy.

“Does this really fill you up?” she said quickly in between mouthfuls.

“Sadly, no,” said Stan. “Once you get back home, you’ll feel hungry again.”

“Yeah,” said Freddy, “that’s how I always feel, too.” He picked up the bowl to tip the last drops into his mouth. “More.” He waved the bowl at the waitress who was bringing Stan’s food.

“Take mine,” said Stan. “I can wait.”

Freddy’s eyes lit up. He took the bowl away from the waitress as she was about to place it in front of Stan.

Britta smiled appreciatively. He’d spotted how to get into Freddy’s good books very quickly and acted on it. Even if you didn’t like his methods, you had to admire his ability to put them to good use. And it wasn’t like his methods were evil. Not evil evil.

“What we need,” said Stan, “is to start gathering information. The main one being what it is the mayor has on your father.”

Freddy nodded as he drained his second bowl, his bobbing head causing liquid to leak out from both sides of his mouth. He put the bowl down with a thud and wiped his mouth with the whole length of his sleeve, from his cuff to his shoulder. Then he burped loudly.

“How do we do that?”

“Isn’t there someone you could ask?” said Britta. “Someone in the family who’s a bit of a chatterbox?” It seemed to her there was always someone like that in every family. No reason why there wouldn’t be one in a family of thugs and murderers.

“There’s Aunt Ginnie. She’s my dad’s older sister. She’s got a bit of a screw loose and throws things sometimes, but she’s very chatty when she’s in a good mood.”

“And what puts her in a good mood?” asked Stan. His food arrived, again, and he picked up the spoon. Freddy was staring at the bowl. Stan put the spoon down and pushed the bowl across the table.

“She likes young men, mostly.” Freddy slurped and chewed as he spoke. “Goes all giggly and weird. Dad doesn’t like it so she doesn’t get the chance very often.”

“What kind of men?” asked Britta.

“Like him.” Freddy pointed at Stan with his spoon.

Britta smiled. Stan frowned.

“She’s quite old then, this aunt of yours?” asked Britta gleefully.

“Ancient,” said Freddy. “She smells a bit funny, too. And sometimes she goes a bit deaf, but then she’s okay again. Not sure why.”

“Do you think she’d know what the mayor’s got on your dad?” asked Britta.

“She knows everything.” Freddy leaned over the table and lowered his voice. “Some people think she would have made a better boss than dad. Actually, my mum, mostly. She scares all the guys. They don’t like to be left alone with her.”

Britta smiled even harder. She couldn’t help it. “You’ll have to be careful,” said Britta. “She might get a bit frisky.”

Stan shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re getting so excited about, it’s not like there’s anything she could do to me.”

That was true—you couldn’t get messed with below the waist in this game, which was definitely for the best. Still, she’d still like to see Stan running around a table trying to avoid getting smooched by a randy granny.

“Can you introduce Stan to your aunt?” Britta asked. “See if he’s her type.”

“I suppose so. She won’t tell him anything about the family business, though. She’s not a squealer.”

“No, we’re just going to use Stan as bait. If she likes him, you can talk to her about arranging for them to get together, and in return, she can answer a few of your questions while she’s in a good mood.”

Freddy looked a bit dubious. Hitting people in dark alleys was more his comfort zone. Trying to wheedle information out of mad old aunts less so.

“Once we know what we’re looking for,” said Britta, “we just have to grab it and give it to your dad. He’s going be really happy with you.”

It wouldn’t be quite that simple, but she could tell by the look in Freddy’s eyes that he was already dreaming about being welcomed home with open arms.

“She likes guys with big swords and nice armour,” said Freddy.

Stan sighed. “I can get an outfit together.”

“I’ll need to find out where she’ll be tomorrow. Can you meet me here, same time?” Freddy was already on his feet and edging out from the table. He suddenly looked very shifty.

“No problem,” said Stan. “And don’t worry about the bill. My treat.”

It was only when Freddy relaxed that Britta realised he’d been trying to slip away without paying. Everyone was trying to get one over on everyone else. It didn’t feel like a bad thing though; it was like a game. It was fun.

“I didn’t think you were that sort of person,” said Stan once Freddy had gone.

“What kind of person?”

“Manipulative. That guy’s got some real daddy issues. And you used them against him beautifully.”

“Nothing I said was untrue. His dad is going to be happy when his son pulls this off.”

“Maybe. Although in my experience, rich old men are very hard to please. They see their sons as competition.”

They sat in silence for a moment and then Britta got up from the table. “I have to go. I’m only allowed to play for an hour on school nights.”

Stan shook his head. “Please tell me it isn’t junior school. No, don’t say anything, I’d rather not know.”

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