Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Pokémon Detective; The Counterfeti Badge - part 2

[Note: "Pokémon", the Pokémon world, Pokémon creatures and some characters I've used are property of Nintendo and Gamefreak.]

Chapt. 4
       Mike went back to the tavern to pick up his bag. Then, after a quick stop at the Poké Mart to stock up on some supplies, they headed out of town. As they walked down the road, Mike pulled out his new Pokédex and turned it on. “Let’s see what moves you know, Pearl.” He pointed the lens of the ‘dex at Pearl and tapped the button. The electronic voice said; “Prinplup, the Penguin Pokémon, and the evolved form of …” Mike touched the “Moves” button on the screen and read the display; “Brine, whirlpool, hydropump and cut. Those will be a big help for us, we’re going up against at least one fire-type. Let’s try out that ‘cut’ move …”
       Mike turned off the main path into the trees and underbrush. Pearl effortlessly cut a path through the shrubs. They soon ran across a wild Kricketune. “Alright Pearl, let’s see how we work together.” Pearl jumped forward and took a balanced combat stance. It had been a long time since she had gotten to battle in earnest. An excitement was rising in her that she hadn’t felt for far too long. There was some hesitation between them initially, but they defeated the Kricketune with Pearl taking only a couple of minor hits. It was exhilarating.
       Mike gave Pearl a healing potion. “Well, Pearl, for our first battle, I think that went pretty well.” Pearl simply nodded. Over the next few hours, they had several encounters with wild Pokémon and a few with wandering trainers. With each battle they improved, their responses to one another speeding up. Mike was finding that Pearl was as strong and fast as he could hope for. Much faster than he’d expected for the level she was at. She battled silently, not making battle cries, not responding to the taunts of her opponents nor crying out when she was hit. Her attacks were powerful enough that they had been able to take on several wild Pokémon which the ‘dex indicated were several levels above Pearl. And, with each battle, Pearl felt her mind working more and more out of the fog she had been in. She had sat idle far too long in the lab.
       Outside of Jubilife City they stopped for a break and a quick meal. Mike made a small fire and put on water for tea. He pulled out a box with a hard cake of Pu-erh tea. He broke off a piece and put it in the small infuser. He watched Pearl eating for a few minutes as his tea steeped, thinking back to his previous partner. He sipped his tea, enjoying the deep earthy flavor and noticed that Pearl was watching him as well. “Well, Pearl, we both come into this with our own histories. We both know the pain of losing a partner … a friend. It takes time for us to come to terms with such a loss. But, at some point I guess we have to decide to pick ourselves up and move ahead. We won’t ever forget them, but we still have to go on.”
       He finished his tea and stood up. As he started packing up, Pearl put out the fire. “Thanks Pearl. Let’s head into Jubilife City and see what we can find out.” It was after dusk when they walked into the city. He found a little inn a couple of blocks from the Jubilife TV station and got a room. He dropped off his gear, pulled out a snack for Pearl and stood up to leave. Pearl stood up too. “That’s alright Pearl, I’m just going down to the bar… you can stay here and get some rest. It’s been a long day for you, for both of us. I’ll be back in a little bit.” Pearl gave him a slightly skeptical look, but turned and curled up in a comfortable arm-chair.
       Mike went down stairs and took an inconspicuous seat at the end of the bar. He ordered a shot and a beer, and sat observing his surroundings. The bar part of the inn was moderately big. There were a few tables around the dimly lit room and a pool table off to one side. It had a bit of a run-down look, the floor was dirty, the furnishings were old and there were webs in the corners. There were several people scattered around the room. But this was not a family place. The clientele were here because it was off the beaten path; it was a place where other people didn’t care much about who you were. But, the food smelled good and the beer was cold. The chalk-board menu listed a few fried snack-type foods, along with burgers and sandwiches - very basic fare. Mike ordered a burger and onion rings and a refill on his beer. He was glad the food tasted as good as it had smelled.
       As he ate, he saw two men come in and sit at a table against one wall. The way they were looking around caught Mike’s attention … they were carefully checking their surroundings, checking the other people in the bar. He turned a little bit so he could watch them without seeming to be interested. One man was fairly tall, about as tall as Mike, but portly, with unkempt, oily hair and a few days growth of beard. He wore rumpled clothing that hadn’t seen the inside of a laundry for at least a couple of days. The other man was taller and thin, with prominent cheekbones, a tapering jaw and close-cropped dark hair. His clothing was much neater than the other man’s. They spoke quietly for a few minutes and the greasy man slipped something to his companion, Mike caught a gleam of polished metal. The thin man examined the item for a moment then nodded. He passed across a bulging envelope, then stood up and walked out the door. The fat man finished the beer he had ordered, then he also left. There was something naggingly familiar about “Skinny”, but he couldn’t place it. Mike dropped some money on the bar and followed them out the door.
       The night was cool and misty … and dark. Mike followed the fat man partly by the sound of his steps as well as being able to see him as he crossed the pools of light created by streetlights. They were walking away from the middle of town and into a poorer section. He soon found that there were no more streetlights and the little man turned down a dark alleyway. Mike stopped at the entrance to the alley to watch and listen. He heard a key turn in a lock, then a door opened and a fan of light spread out across the alley, illuminating trashcans, oily puddles of water, and an old derelict passed out just inside the entry to the alley. He saw the fat man slip into the doorway and the light was cut off, but not before Mike was able to see just which door it was. He stepped down the alley to the door and reached towards the latch, and his head exploded into stars. As he crumpled to the filthy pavement he glimpsed a thin figure standing over him. Darkness embraced him.
       He felt what must have been 5 gallons of water splash over him and someone was roughly shaking him. He groaned and tried to push them away. Another flood of water washed across his face and he opened his eyes to see Pearl standing over him. The yellow light from the open door shone on her face, a face with an expression changing from concern to aggravation. She pointed one hard-tipped wing at him and exclaimed “prinplup! Prin prin! Plup!!”
       Mike sat up and groaned again. His head throbbed and his side ached. Apparently Skinny wasn’t satisfied with cracking his head, he had gotten in a kick or two as well. He looked over at Pearl and said, “I know. I said I’d be right back. Thanks for finding me.”
       “I really should have known better. It’s such a cliché though. In the movies, it never fails that when the detective goes off without his partner, something happens.” He looked into the doorway, “I suppose they’ve cleared out?”
       Pearl nodded. Mike realized this was the first time she’d uttered a sound to him.
       Mike felt the back of his head and winced as he brushed across a cut. There was a pink tinge to the water on his hand. “Could’ve been worse,” he thought. The ribs on his left side felt bruised, but intact. He checked his pockets and found he still had his ID and Pokédex. He supposed that the two guys were in a hurry to get out and didn’t bother rifling his pockets. He stood up and braced himself against the doorway and peered into the building. “Well, let’s go in and see if they left anything helpful.”
       The door opened onto a narrow flight of stairs going down to a basement apartment. There was a sharp tang of chemicals in the air mixing with acrid smoke. The combined effect of the fumes almost knocked Mike out again. The main part of the apartment had been mostly converted over to metalworking. In one corner was a pile of brass and steel bars. There was a small gas-fired forge in the opposite corner. There were grinders, cutters and polishing equipment as well as equipment for working with the pile of chunks of colored glass. To one side there were some chemical baths which he thought might be used for plating the metals. In the middle of the room a pile of books and papers were ablaze, with the fire starting to spread across wood planks used as grates on the floor.
       “Pearl! Knock those flames down! That’s it, careful on those papers, some haven’t burned much yet.” Pearl used strong jets of water on the wood flooring, but eased up as she put out the flaming pile of papers. Mike started looking through what was left. Most of the papers that had been thrown on the fire appeared to have been torn up first. A few that survived appeared to be receipts for the materials scattered around the room. It appeared that there had been a lot very thin paper which had burned very quickly. There were remnants of receipts from “Bronzong Scrap Dealers” in Jubilife City, but none of them appeared to have a customer’s name. He saw a burned edge of paper that had been washed between two of the boards of the floor grating, and he gently pulled it out. It was lined paper and appeared to be from a small notebook. He could still read the word “Bets” and part of a phone number written in pencil on what was left. The scrap was carefully placed into his notebook which was slipped into an inside pocket.
       He picked up a partially finished gym badge from a work bench and examined it. “Well, it looks like we found where the counterfeit gym badges were coming from.” There was one badge on the floor which had been plated already, and he found pieces of colored glass which appeared to be in various stages of being fitted into badges as well. There were no finished badges, those had apparently been taken.
       He stepped through a door into a small bedroom. It was obvious that whoever the tenant had been, they had left in a hurry. There were signs that room had been a mess before this – it was a disaster now. Bureau drawers had been dumped on the floor and a desk had been almost torn apart. Mike guessed the desk is where most of the papers had probably come from. A hidden compartment under the desk had been left open – it was empty. There was an old, black telephone on the desk, using a handkerchief Mike picked up the receiver and heard the satisfying hum of a dial-tone. He dialed the operator and asked for the Jubilife Police.
       Mike stood up from the bumper of the ambulance and looked down the alley to where the Jubilife Police Officers were carrying items from the apartment out to a white van. Portable floodlights illuminated the alley. The bright light did not improve the view; it was still a stinking, narrow, garbage-strewn alley. A man in a gray sports jacket stepped over to him. His hair was cropped high and tight, he was built hard with his jacket pulled tight across a muscular chest. His walk showed that he had worn a uniform and duty belt for many years, and his eyes were always moving, taking in everything around him. He introduced himself as Lieutenant Dodson.
       “I wanted to thank you, Detective. Sinnoh L.E. has been looking for this group for some time. This should slow down their operation for a while. Damn glad you had your Prinplup with you, if the fire had reached those cans of solvents and other chemicals; the whole building would’ve gone up. Possibly the whole block.”
       Mike thought “yeah, I was luckier than you know.” Out loud he said, “You’re welcome Lieutenant. Do you know who these two guys are?”
       “Well, from your description, the heavy-set one sounds like a guy we busted several years ago. If it is him, his name is Karl Chester; usually goes by ‘KC’ or ‘Chubby’. The print lab will be able to match up what we lifted inside. He was a jeweler and did some engraving on the side. He’d gotten involved with a gang of paperhangers and went down with them. Got 8 years for engraving the plates they used for their counterfeit checks and money. He would be getting out next year, but got an early release for ‘good behavior’ and walked out about a year ago. Apparently he’s found a new job.
       “The second man doesn’t sound familiar to me. I suppose he might be from out of town, or he could have come in from another region.”
       Mike mulled that one over. In light of the fact that he thought he had seen “Skinny” before, coming from another region seemed likely. But where did he know him from? When he’d first seen him it had been in a dimly lit bar, so he hadn’t gotten a great look at him. And of course, he was losing consciousness the second time.
       “So, Lieutenant, do you think the murder up in Hearthome had anything to do with all of this?”
       Dodson gave him a very bland look and in a flat voice said, “I have no information about anything of that nature.”
       Mike was, to say the least, disappointed in the statement and way it was delivered. This Police Lieutenant was apparently part of the cover-up, or at least had been told to keep shut about it. That meant he was part of the problem. Just how far did this go and what and who was at the bottom of it? “Thanks for the information, Dodson. C’mon Pearl, I think we’re done here.” He turned away and started down the street.
       The sun was coming up as they arrived back at the inn. They climbed the narrow staircase and approached their room, but as Mike reached out for the door, he hesitated and Pearl became tense and alert. They had both heard a movement in the tiny room beyond. Mike motioned for Pearl to wait and then casually said, “I want to thank you again for coming to look for me Pearl.” He knew they would’ve been heard coming up the stairs. He squatted by the doorknob and examined it and the latch. “You’re a smart one, I’m glad you decided to travel along with me.” There were fresh scratches on the strike plate. Someone had forced the latch. He pointed at Pearl and pointed to the right then to himself and to the left. He began to reach towards the doorknob when the door was suddenly opened from the inside. A tall thin figure stood inside.
       “Good morning Detective Kohler. No need to be sneaking around outside of your own room.”
       Mike felt Pearl begin to take in a deep breath. He held his arm out, forestalling the attack she was preparing. He studied the thin man for a moment. He was tall, his hair very neatly trimmed and he had a thin mustache. He had an almost gaunt face and was thin, like a long-distance runner. He was dressed in a pale blue polo shirt and tan dress slacks with a narrow belt. The clothing was casual, but still looked expensive, though it wasn’t new. Mike nodded; “Hello James. Long time no see.”
       James spoke with a slight accent, which Mike knew he didn’t have before; “Ah! I’m pleased that you remember me, Detective. It has been a long time.”
       James stepped back in to the room as Mike and Pearl walked in. Mike waved him over to the single arm chair and took a seat on the edge of the bed. “Well, you were younger when I saw you last. Good to see the complexion has cleared up. Almost didn’t recognize you without your blue hair though. And you’ve lost weight, you’re even thinner.”
       James gave a half-shrug, “Well, I’ve been living pretty lean lately. Anyway, I was hoping that your head didn’t hurt too badly,” and he grinned.
       “No, I’m alright. Though I think kicking me in the ribs after I was down was a little low.”
       “Ah. I am sorry about that. I’m afraid my, um, ‘business associate’, was a little upset about having to vacate his premises on such short notice. He got in a couple of shots before we left. I suspect he wished to do more, but I convinced him we should leave well enough alone.”
       “Well, I’m still alive, so thanks. I guess this pretty much makes us even on the favors. I’m a bit disappointed though. I had hoped that, after your friends ended up in jail or scattered, that you would’ve gone straight.”
       “Oh, I did try Detective, I did. But I think I missed the excitement of it all. In any case, you have put a rather large dent in my budding operation here in Sinnoh. It’s going to take me some time to get my friend’s operation going again.”
       “Well, sorry about that. Too bad I couldn’t have laid ‘Chubby’ by the heels.” James gave a half smile at that. Mike asked, “Did you have any ideas about where to set up his new shop?”
       “Oh, one or two … one or two, but I believe I’ll keep that to myself for the time being. I’m sure you understand. But that isn’t what I came to chat about. I wanted to let you know that I, we, had nothing to do with what you’re really investigating.”
       Mike frowned a little, “And what makes you think that I wasn’t here just to break up your operation?”
       “Oh, let’s do be honest, Detective. My petty little badge business probably wouldn’t have even shown up on the P. W. L.’s radar if it hadn’t been for the murder up in Hearthome City.” James held up his hand as Mike started to protest. “The news of that has spread much more rapidly through the criminal world than it has the rest of the population. However, though I have heard about it, I can assure you that neither myself, nor Mr. Chester were in any way connected with it. Really, homicide is just not my style as you should be aware.”
       “Well, you could’ve branched out. But, no, I guess that really isn’t very like you. So, what have you heard about the case?”
       “I’ve not heard very much actually. I believe that the killing itself was to send a message, and people are taking that message to heart. They’re just not discussing the details because they’re afraid the same might happen to them.”
       “Can’t say as I blame them.” Mike pulled his notebook out of his pocket and withdrew the partially burned slip of paper. He showed it to the other man, “do you recognize this?”
       James examined the paper, taking note of the burned edges. “Bets? It appears to be my associate’s writing. From the condition of this, I assume you rescued it from the fire we had set in Mr. Chester’s apartment?” Mike nodded. “This does help explain his unstable financial situation. ‘Bets’ would probably be a bookie in Hearthome City who goes by the name of ‘Billy Bets’. I was not aware that Mr. Chester was making use of his services.”
       “How big of an operation does he run?”
       “I gather that his business is quite brisk and fairly wide-spread within the region. However I’ve heard rumors that he has been having some problems of late.
        “Alas, Detective, I feel that I’ve taken up too much of your time now. I don’t know that you’re under any surveillance, but I really don’t want to take the risk of being captured you see. So, if you’ll excuse me, I really must take my leave.” He rose and quickly strode towards the door. “No, no, don’t bother yourself, I’ll show myself out.”
       Mike said, “One more thing James; like I said earlier, we’re pretty even right now, so I’m not going to stop you. Maybe I should, but it sounds like you and ‘Chubby’ are a problem for the locals here. As you rightly observed, I’ve got a bigger concern right now. But, they do know who he is, and I expect they’ll be on your trail now. You might want to lie low for a while.”
       “Why thank you, Mike, though I wonder if you’re just trying to get one up on me again. But that’s okay; we’re old friends now, you and I. Perhaps you’ll need some information again someday. Ta-ta.” He opened the door a crack and listened for a moment, then slipped out into the hallway and was gone.
Chapt. 5
       Mike gathered up their things and put them in his bag. He shouldered the pack and stepped to the door; “C’mon Pearl. I know it’s been a long night for both of us, but I’m afraid we’ve got to get going.” He pulled open the door, and immediately stepped back, balancing on the balls of his feet.
       “No need to worry, detective,” said Lieutenant Dodson. “I’m sorry I startled you.”
       Mike relaxed a little; “Dodson. I’m sorry, we were just leaving. I don’t really have time for a sit-down and chat.”
       “That’s alright. I’ll walk along with you a little ways. I like it better out in the open, where I can see who’s around.” He stepped back into the hallway and went down the stairs.
       Mike looked up and down the hall to make sure there were no more surprise visitors. He and Pearl then followed the Police Lieutenant down the stairs. The fog and mist of the night before were beginning to burn off with the morning sun. A few billowing clouds indicated that there might still be rain later in the day. Dodson was waiting a few yards up the cobbled street, Mike walked up to him, “Okay, let’s walk.”
       As they moved up the street Mike noticed that the Lieutenant was carefully watching their surroundings. They walked in silence for about a block. As they rounded a corner, Dodson stopped and looked back down the street they had just left. As they proceeded up the street again he said; “Okay Detective, I think we’re okay. I couldn’t really talk openly earlier, there were a lot of folks around at that moment. A lot of eyes and ears, and frankly, I’m not sure who might blab about what I have to tell you.”
       “So, you do know something about the murder?”
       “Well, I know of it anyway. I also know that apparently some folks are anxious to make sure that information about it isn’t leaked. Not even to other cops in the region. To be honest, I’m surprised that they asked the C. I. branch for assistance. I think there are some who don’t want the case looked into. What I do know is that someone told my bosses to make sure nobody in the Jubilife Police were talking about it or asking questions. The word came down to us the day after the murder, we weren’t helping with any investigation and we weren’t to be getting curious about it either. It was strictly on the q.t. Along with that, we were told to report anyone who was getting too nosey. So, with all of that, you can see why I didn’t really want to talk to you with all those other cops around.”
       “Yeah, okay. But why do want to talk now?”
       “It’s all wrong. I know they had a homicide over in Hearthome and it appears that it’s being covered up. I’ve been a cop for a long time now, and I didn’t get into this line of work to ignore crime. If this situation continues, it’s going to be very bad for Sinnoh law enforcement. It stinks of corruption, and once something like that gains a foothold, it will spread. I’m not sure how much I can do from where I am. But I think you have a good chance of finding out what’s going on.”
       Mike looked at the Lieutenant. “So, you want me sticking my neck out instead of you? I suppose that makes sense though, it’s basically what I’m here for. To do what you local folks can’t, or apparently won’t do.”
       Dodson looked relieved, and just a little guilty. “Look Kohler, there are some good cops here and in Hearthome City, men and women that I know I can trust. When it comes down to the wire, let me know. I’ll try to get as many together as I can to back you up. Here, this is my card, my personal number is on the back. And here’s the name and number of Sergeant Kamara in Hearthome. She can be trusted. In the meantime, I’ll try to gather what information I can from this end. If I find anything, I’ll leave a message for you at the Pokémon Center in Hearthome City.”
       They were coming to the east side of town. He took the two business cards and put them in his notebook. “Thanks Dodson. I appreciate it. I’ll be in touch soon.” Mike continued walking east with Pearl and Dodson turned and walked back into town.
       As they headed east on Route 203, Mike asked Pearl; “Well, what did you think of the Lieutenant?”
       Pearl looked at Mike and tilted her head. “Prinp?”
       “You don’t know either, huh? I’d like to believe him. I certainly hope he can come through like he said. But this case is getting thick and I’m not sure who we can trust. Either way, we should be able to get to Oreburgh by early afternoon. But I think we’d best push on and try to get to Hearthome City by tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll be able to find the missing pieces of the puzzle there.”
       They’d been on the road for about half an hour when they came across a young trainer who challenged them. Mike started to say they couldn’t battle right then, but Pearl nudged him hard in the thigh. He smiled and said, “Okay, I’ll battle you. I guess we could use the practice.” Pearl stepped forward, the boy threw out a Pokéball which popped open and released a Roselia.
       Mike said, “Pearl, cut!” The battle was on. Pearl had a tough time against the Roselia, but won in the end. Mike gave her a potion as the other trainer sent out his next Pokémon, a Monferno, the evolved form of the region’s fire-type starter. Mike squatted down next to Pearl and quietly said, “Okay Pearl, this will be good practice for what I think we’re going up against. Let’s see what kind of team we make.”
       “Prinplup!” Pearl exclaimed and nodded.
       The trainer gave a command; “Flame thrower!” The Monferno screeched “Ferno!” and shot a searing hot flame at Pearl.
       Mike shouted “Hydropump!” Pearl’s hydropump hit the flames just before they reached her and knocked them back. Steam hung over the battlefield. The young trainer said “Fury swipes!” The Monferno hit Pearl with a series of attacks using its claws. Pearl reeled back slightly and Mike said “Whirlpool.” A large swirl of cold water shot up and enveloped the Monferno, soaking it and damping its fires as well as dealing damage. Pearl continued to battle silently, but it felt like they were coming together as a team. Pearl was reacting almost instantaneously to his commands.
       The boy across from them ordered “Flamewheel!” The Monferno shouted “Mon!” and became enveloped in flame and shot towards Pearl. Mike began to shout “Pearl – Dodge!”, but she was moving before he’d finished her name, throwing herself to the left as the fiery Monferno shot past, brushing her right wing and causing her to spin and stumble. Mike could feel the heat as the ball of fire turned back towards its trainer. Pearl was already back up, “Brine!” The water attack shot towards the fire-ape whose trainer shouted “Dodge!” and the attack missed. Then the lingering whirlpool again doused the Monferno, spinning it around as well leaving it panting.
       The boy standing across from them hesitated a moment and said “Mach punch!” Mike said “Hydropump” at the same moment. The Monferno shouted again and balled up a fist that blurred from incredible speed and struck Pearl square in the chest, knocking her backward. As she stumbled back, she shot the hard jet of water square in her opponent’s face. Pearl dropped to one knee, but the Monferno tumbled backwards. It started to rise, then fell back over. The battle was over, Pearl had won.
       Mike bent down and gave Pearl another healing potion, then handed a couple of them to the young man who they had just battled. “That’s a strong Prinplup you’ve got there,” the boy said. “Odd how it never made any sound during the battle though. Kind of unnerved me a little I think.”
       Mike shrugged and said, “Well, I guess she just doesn’t have much to say. It seems to make her a little faster though, not wasting breath will all the shouting. Thanks for the battle, that Monferno is pretty tough.” He turned and walked in the direction of Oreburgh City.
       The path they were following began to get steeper and rockier. The road itself was fairly wide and well travelled but was tending upwards. It was late afternoon when they reached the short tunnel called the “Oreburgh Gate” that would take them to Oreburgh City. As they walked through the dimly lit tunnel a trainer challenged them; “Your Prinplup won’t stand a chance against my Shinx!” He threw out a Pokéball and out popped the dark-blue electric-type Pokémon.
       He stopped and turned towards the young man. He motioned for Pearl to wait where she was, and stepped over to a puddle of light cast by a flickering torch. The boy looked up at him and said, “So, are you going to battle me?” he had a determined look on his face. He was young and his inexperience peeked through behind the stubbornness.
       Mike sighed. That was the problem with travelling on foot. Every trainer and their Pokémon wanted to battle you. He remembered what it was like to be young and on your Pokémon journey – you were determined and always looking for a challenge. And you just didn’t refuse a challenge, it would be an insult. He’d have to catch another flying type one of these days; he could get around more easily. Not to mention quickly. But he didn’t think he was ready for that just yet, it was still too soon. He looked at Pearl who just tilted her head as if to say “it’s up to you.” He said; “Look kid, it’s been a long day for us, can we put this off till later, maybe tomorrow?”
       The boy and his Shinx looked at him, both had an almost identical sneer on their faces. “What’s the matter mister, you scared?”
       Mike rolled his eyes. He used to be just like that, all full of fire. He reached into his pack and pulled out a bottle with a spray nozzle on the top and tossed it over to the kid.
       “What’s this?” the trainer asked.
       “It’s the healing potion you’ll need in a minute. Are you ready?” The boy gave a curt nod and the Shinx set itself. Mike turned towards Pearl gave her a little bow, waving her forward and said, “Go ahead.”
       Pearl shot a stream of water at the little Shinx, hitting it square in the face. It shot back and struck the tunnel wall three feet behind it and slumped to the floor. The young trainer stood there with his mouth hanging open, water dripping from where he’d been splashed by the spray from the Hydropump. He gave himself a little shake then said, “Wow mister! That is the fastest attack I think I ever seen! And it was unbelievably powerful!”
       “Thanks. But to be honest, she kind of held back. Look after your Pokémon.” He pulled out another potion and handed it to the boy. “Here’s another one for later, in case you need it.” He started to turn away.
       “No, wait mister! I … I lost, I’m supposed to give you something …”
       “What’s your name?”
       “Uhm. Curtis …”
       A lot of memories were flooding in, good memories from his youth, of his first journey when he was a lot like this boy. Then some others that were more recent, more painful. Memories of going up against a woman with huge grudge against him. A woman who had seen her plans go up in smoke and was now facing prison because of him. A woman with murder in her heart and a strong Glalie and a very strong Electabuzz. They fired a combined attack directly at him – his Pidgeot intercepted it. The force of that attack caused part of a wall to collapse onto him and his ‘mon. She walked away laughing, with him pinned under half a ton of bricks. When the dust cleared and he’d been dug out, he had a couple of broken ribs, a broken arm and a concussion. His Pidgeot had taken the brunt of the attack as well as the collapsing wall – he did not survive.
       “Hang on to your money Curtis, and I’ll give you a little bit of advice. You’ve gotten a fair start on your journey. But, you need to learn to temper your passion and your aggressiveness a little bit. Battle with confidence, yes, but with respect as well – respect for your opponent, their Pokémon and their abilities, as well as respect for your own Pokémon.” Once again he turned towards Oreburgh and walked away with the sound of the young trainer spraying the healing medicine on his Shinx echoing through the cave.
       He looked down at Pearl as they walked away, thinking back to a ten year old Mikey Kohler. He was so full of himself then, just like the young man behind them. And just like him he had been full of piss and fire and ready to take on the world. “Hopefully that kid will settle down and learn that not everything goes your way all the time … before he becomes too angry and goes down the wrong path.”
Chapt. 6
       The sun had set by the time they trudged into Oreburgh City. Mike could tell it was a mining town just from the smell. Vent stacks scattered around the town attested to the fact that the mine itself, at least in part, ran directly under the city. These vents carried air out of the mines, air that was stale and musty and smelled of rock dust, explosives and the sweat of hard-working people and Pokémon. The buildings were built of stone from the mine and the roads were paved with it. It appeared that most of the buildings were roofed with solar panels, though he had seen power lines coming into town – he guessed most of that electricity went to the mine. The streets weren’t exactly dark, but he’d seen better lighting in other places, though a glow to the south showed where the mine and processing plant were.
       He stopped as he came to a “T” intersection just inside of town and pulled out the Trainer’s Handbook that Rusty had given him. As he flipped through the book, a woman in work clothes, wearing a hard hat stepped up to him with a smile and a handshake; “Are ya lookin’ for sometin’ mister?”
       She gave him directions to the Pokémon Center and, after checking that he knew the way, continued her walk home. As he walked up the street toward the other end of the town, he ran into several other mine-workers who were on their way home. Most everyone greeted or at least waved a “hi” to him. Many greeted Pearl as well or commented on how fine she looked. Apparently, it was a friendly town. And almost all of the workers he met had Pokémon with them as well, Pokémon that looked healthy and happy. He found the Pokémon Center and stepped through the automatic doors into a brightly lit, cheerful and sparkling interior. It was designed to be a place where trainers could not only get their Pokémon cared for, but could get a meal and a place to stay. The bright colors and atmosphere of caring and happiness were almost palpable. It all left Mike feeling a little uneasy.
       The Nurse with bright red hair and her Chansey took Pearl into the exam room to run the appropriate checks and recovery routines. She told Mike, “Sir, you can wait in the dining area if you’d like. I can bring your Prinplup out when she’s through.”
       “Her name is Pearl. I’ll just wait here, thanks.”
       They came back out a little while later. Pearl was all cleaned up, almost sparkling. Mike smiled and nodded at her. “Thanks Nurse, looks like Pearl feels a lot better.”
       The Nurse seemed to remember something; “Oh! Pearl! You must be ‘Mike’ then. I’d almost forgotten, I have a package and a letter for you. It’s back here in our mailroom, just a moment.” She stepped through another door and returned with an envelope and a box about ten inches across. “Here you go, you’re Mike Kohler, right? Professor Salvia had sent this over for you.”
       “Yes I am, thank you Nurse.” This unexpectedly cheered him up. He opened the envelope and started reading the short letter.

       “Mike, First off, there should be a box with some of Pearl’s special food; I thought you might be getting low by the time you got to Oreburgh.”
       “Good news Pearl, she sent along some of her special ‘mon food for you.” He frowned as he continued reading;
       “I also wanted to give you a bit of information. Not long after you had left with Pearl, a couple of rough characters showed up here asking about you. They wanted to know who you were, what you were doing at the Lab, where you were going and so on. They said they were Police Officers, but never showed any identification. They didn’t really seem like ‘good guys’ though. They tried to tell me I had to answer their questions or I’d be in ‘trouble’. One of them grabbed me by the arm and forced me into a chair while they questioned me. I didn’t tell them anything, just that you had asked about what the starters were in this region and what wild Pokémon there were around here. I think it satisfied them. I’m sure they were up to no good. Anyway, it seemed like they were following you. I don’t know what they’re doing, but do be careful.” It was signed “Div”.
       Mike examined the envelope, it seemed perfectly normal. The bottom of the box however showed signs of having been carefully re-taped. He opened it from the top and found a zip-top bag containing what appeared to be the food Professor Salvia had sent. He opened the bag and carefully sniffed at the contents. It didn’t smell quite right. Stepping back to the desk he asked the Nurse if they had a lab there for testing for poisons.
       “Well, yes sir, we do. Why?”
       “Would you be able to test a sample of this food to make sure it’s safe?”
       The Nurse was quite taken aback. “You think the Professor sent you tainted food?”
       He shook his head. “Not at all Nurse – I think someone got hold of this box before it was delivered to me.”
       “Oh! I don’t see how that would be very easy for anyone to do. Still, I can see you’re pretty set on this. Okay, I’ll set it up, the tests should be finished in an hour or so.”
       “Thank you very much Nurse. And please handle that food carefully till we find what, if anything is in it.” Mike was relieved he hadn’t had to pull out his official ID to force the issue. He really didn’t want to have his name floating around anymore than was necessary. It was bothersome that someone was tracking him and trying to find out what he was doing. It was worrying that they had paid a visit to Div’s Lab. And it was a little frightening that they might not be above tampering with Pearl’s food. He was going to have to be very careful.
       Stepping out through the main entrance, he walked around the side of the building. It was full dark now, so he found a place in the deep shadows and set up his small camp stove and boiled water. He broke a small piece off his cake of Pu-erh tea and set it to steep. Fortunately, there was still enough food in the pack for both of them to have a decent and safe meal. “People following me and tampering with our food”, he mumbled to himself. “I’m going to have to be careful or I’ll start getting even more paranoid than usual.”
       “Plup?” Pearl looked a little puzzled.
       “We’re both going to have to be careful Pearl. If they did tamper with your food like I think, there’s no telling what else they’ll try. For the time being, neither of us will be eating anything we aren’t certain of. That means food sealed up in cans for the most part.”
       “Prin … “ Pearl shook her head sadly.
       “Yeah, I know … and I’m not the greatest cook either. But we’ll both be a lot safer. And that means no more wild berries for us either. Fortunately, I think we’ve only got about a day’s travel to get to Hearthome City if we push hard.”
       They were both leaned back against the wall of the Center. Mike was sipping his tea and Pearl was drifting off to sleep when she suddenly stood up, on alert. Mike heard soft footsteps coming around the side of the building. He got to his feet as well. A female figure in a pink and white skirt with a cap on her head stepped around the corner.
       “Ah. Nurse, uh …”
       “Joy, of course.” She gave him a small smile.
       Mike had never quite gotten used to the P. W. L. practice of cloning from the original Nurse Joy. Still, it worked well for young trainers, they knew that they’d always find “Nurse Joy” at almost every Pokémon Center, she’d be honest and trustworthy, and their Pokémon would get the best care possible. To him, it was a little disturbing; he missed the anticipation of discovering who was behind the counter of the next Pokémon Center. “Of course, did you find anything with your analysis?”
       “Yes, I did. And you were right to be suspicious. Someone had sprinkled Stun Spore on the food. It was coating all the food as well as the inside of the bag. I’m not sure who you are, or what you’re involved in, but Professor Salvia said you were her friend, so that’s good enough for me. But, it does seem that someone didn’t want your partner there to be able to do much.”
       “What would’ve happened if she’d eaten that?”
       “Stun Spore is usually inhaled during an attack, so eating it wouldn’t have quite the same effect. She wouldn’t have been paralyzed, but she would’ve gotten sick. The concentration I found on the food wasn’t terribly high, but if you’d fed it to her for a couple of meals, the effect would have been cumulative. There would probably have been some lethargy, she would’ve slowed down. She wouldn’t have been able to think as quickly or as clearly either. It would have been similar to a person with a case of the flu. Once she had stopped eating that food, the effect would have been gone in a day or two.”
       “So basically, she wouldn’t have been effective in a battle, right?”
       “That’s right. At the concentration in that bag, you probably wouldn’t even try a battle … you probably wouldn’t have been travelling either. You would’ve seen that Pearl was sick and probably have brought her back to me. If it had been a lower dose, you might not have noticed until you were in a battle. It is unlikely a Pokémon who had eaten something like that could win a battle. Their reactions would be slow, both in their dodging, as well as reacting to commands.”
       “Would there be any lasting effects?”
       “I don’t think there would be. As I said, the effects would probably be gone after a couple of days. Also, a Full Heal would clear it out pretty quickly, as would a Lum Berry. But, Mike, what would be the point of doing something like this?”
       “That’s a good question. Thank you very much Nurse Joy. I’d appreciate it if we kept this confidential.”
       “Of course Mike. I’m glad I could help.” She walked back around the front of the building. There was a flare of yellow-orange light and an agonized scream. They ran around the corner of the building in time to see a flaming body collapse to the ground. Mike shouted; “Pearl! Water!” Pearl was already spraying down the Nurse’s writhing body. Then there came a gravelly laugh from above them. He looked up to see a black mass blotting out the stars above the roof of the Center.
       “That is what happens to people who get in my way – DETECTIVE! You are sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong. Leave Sinnoh to me or you’ll get the same!” The black mass spread out further, there was a rush of wind and they flew off, a spark of flame trailing behind.
       By this time Chansey had rushed out with sheets and a spray bottle of one of the healing potions. He knew they worked on people, but didn’t know if it would be enough for this. Joy was horribly burned and unconscious. Still, when the spray contacted her burned skin, she gasped awake and was able to sob as the pain began to subside. Many people who had been in the area were rushing to help, someone had called the Police. The gravely injured Nurse was carefully lifted onto a blanket and carried into her own Pokémon Center.
       A Police Sergeant walked over to the corner of the building where they were waiting for things to calm down. “One of the folks tells me you were the first one there when this happened. Mind if I get your name?”
       He reached into his coat and the Sergeant took a step back. “It’s okay Sarge, just getting my ID out for you.” He carefully pulled open his coat so the Officer could see the pocket and reached in with two fingers to pull out his wallet. He flipped open the wallet with his badge and ID. “You’re a bit jumpy aren’t you?”
       “Hell Detective, after what just happened, who wouldn’t be? There’s been other things too … I guess you probably know about what happened over in Hearthome?”
       “Can’t really say what I know about. Why don’t you tell me?”
       Sergeant Tomaka filled Mike in, but wasn’t able to tell him anything new. He asked; “Do you think this is connected with all of that, Detective?”
       “I don’t know.” But to himself he was thinking; “Oh hell yeah it’s connected. It’s completely fucking connected.”
       “One of the witnesses lived in that house just up the street. He saw a mass of flames shoot down from the roof of the Center and engulf Nurse Joy. Said she’d just come from around the side of the building.”
       “She had been talking to me about some tests she had been running.”
       “Ah. Did these ‘tests’ have anything to do with whatever you’re working on?” Tomaka looked at Mike’s bland face. “You can’t say, okay, I can understand that.”
       “Look Sergeant, I need to get over to Hearthome City. What’s the shortest route to get there?”
       “There’s only the one ‘route’, through the southern part of Mt. Moon. But that’s not the fastest way. The mine keeps several flying Pokémon of various sizes for doing quick errands, picking up needed repair parts, getting people to meetings and so forth. I would think you could get them to fly you over there.”
       The Sergeant turned back towards the patch of scorched pavement and grass. “At least it was just a clone, not a person.”
       Mike grabbed the Sergeant by the shirt and pulled him close to his face. “Sergeant, you remember one damned thing. She was here to help people and Pokémon. The law has given her the same rights and protections that the rest of us have and she sure as hell did not fucking deserve that. You got that ‘SERGEANT’?”
       “Yes sir! I’m sorry sir!”
       “I’d say she is a better human than you!”
       Mike released him and walked down along the building to gather his belongings. He was seething with anger. “If I had time, I’d get that son of a bitch busted down to sewer inspector.” As he calmed down he realized that the friendliness of the townspeople would be a blessing now. There would be plenty of help for Nurse Joy. He had seen it in the faces of the people as they gathered around her. The bigoted cop did not represent the people here. They cared. He shouldered his pack and walked towards the glow that showed him where the Oreburgh mine was. “Alright Pearl, let’s go see if we can hitch a lift.”
       He pulled open the door to the main building and stepped inside. A security guard with a Luxray standing next to her stopped him. “I’m sorry sir, but the building isn’t open to visitors right now.” Mike pulled out his ID and showed it to the woman. He sighed and thought “so much for keeping a low profile.”
       The guard saluted him and said, “I’m sorry sir, I didn’t know you were with the C. I. Branch.”
       Mike gave her a wry grin, “Good, I try not to look like I am. Are there any of the mine executives around right now?”
       “Yes sir, the Vice President in charge of transportation is in. Would he do?”
       “I think he is exactly who I need to talk to.” The guard locked the door then led him up to the executive offices. The VP, a Mr. Douglas, was very willing to lend the services of one of their Fearows. They went up to a rooftop aviary and Mr. Douglas called out to the large bird and gave it the order to fly Mike to the Pokémon Center in Hearthome City.
       Mike slung his pack to his back, tightened the shoulder straps and latched the chest strap. Once he was sure it was secure, he pulled out Pearl’s Pokéball and turned towards her. She put her wings on her hips and shook her head in a decisive “no”. “C’mon Pearl, it’ll lighten Fearow’s load and you’ll be safer in there.” She shook her head again.
       Mr. Douglas laughed. “Well Mr. Kohler, I’d say she’s made up her mind. Don’t worry, though. This Fearow is one of our best trained and strongest fliers. It’s never lost a load or a passenger. And it can easily carry two people, so you and your Prinplup won’t be a problem, will it Fearow?”
       Fearow squawked at Mike and nodded its head once. He dropped the Pokéball back into his pocket, glanced at the Fearow and hesitated. He hadn’t flown on a Pokémon for a long time. Pearl nudged him in the back; he shook himself then helped her onto the brown-feathered back and climbed on behind her. “Thanks Mr. Douglas, I appreciate the help.” He leaned forward as the large bird launched itself into the night sky.
       They touched down lightly in the street in front of the Hearthome Pokémon Center. Mike got down and helped Pearl to the ground. “Thanks for the smooth ride Fearow! You’re a fast flyer, that’s for sure!”
       Pearl gave a sad-sounding “Prin.” Mike looked down at her as she leaned against his leg, swaying just a little.
       “I told you you’d be better off inside your Pokéball.” She just gave him a dirty look and he grinned back at her.
       The long, feathered head cocked around at him and it said “Fearow!” and winked. They stepped back as it spread its wings and leapt back into the night sky.
       Mike looked around and didn’t see anybody, though he didn’t really expect anyone at this late hour. He checked the front of the Pokédex, it was 1:30 in the morning. Pearl was looking around too, but didn’t act as though she saw or heard anyone.
       Walking over to the door of the Center, it quietly slid open and they stepped inside. The lobby lights were dimmed and there was no one on any of the sofas or chairs. He stepped to the counter and looked around. There was a button with a sign that said “ring for after-hours service.” He pushed it once. A few moments later a large pink Pokémon stepped through a door. It was bigger than the Chansey at the Oreburgh Center. It smiled and said “Blissey!”
       Mike was curious and opened his Pokédex, but muted the speaker. He read “Blissey, the Happiness Pokémon. It is kindhearted and loves helping people. Blissey is the evolved form of Chansey. This Pokémon nurses sick Pokémon back to health. It senses feelings of sadness.” He noted that this Blissey was a female and very high level.
       “Hi Blissey. Thanks for helping us this late. We need a room, but we really need to have one by ourselves. We can’t really share with other trainers tonight … can you help us out?”
       Blissey nodded, “Blissey bliss!” It pulled out an old-fashioned, bound, ledger book, laid it on the counter in front of Mike and pushed a pen towards him. The front of the book had “after-hours register” neatly hand-printed in ink. He looked up at Blissey, then shrugged and opened the book. He had to flip towards the back before finding a partially blank page. He wrote “Mike”, started to write his last name then thought better of it and left it as “K.” He left the “occupation” column blank and wrote “Johto” under “home town”.
       Blissey pulled a key-card from under the counter and walked down a dim hallway leading towards the back of the building. About half-way down, she stopped and passed the card over the lock on a door with a “7” on it. Mike stepped inside and was pleased to see nobody else in the room. “Thanks Blissey.”
       “Bliss – sey” she quietly replied and walked back up the hall.
       Mike shut the door and put on the privacy lock. The room was nothing fancy and pretty typical for a Pokémon Center. There was a desk and chair and a couple of cloth-upholstered armchairs at the end of the room by the window. Two sets of wood bunk beds on either side of the room allowed the room to accommodate four trainers comfortably. The beds and other furnishings were simple but comfortable. A single overhead light and a desk lamp provided ample lighting. Each bunk had a small reading light as well.
       He set his pack on one of the beds, opened it and drew out a pint bottle whiskey. Taking a long pull at the bottle he sighed and said, “Damn, I needed that!” Next, he dug down a little and pulled out two steel cans connected by a piece of string. Taking a small sewing kit from a side pocket, he pulled out a heavy-duty safety pin. He pushed the pin into the door frame above the door then carefully hung the string on it so the cans dangled in front of the door.
       Pearl was giving him a questioning look. “It’s a cheap door alarm is all,” he said, choosing to answer that instead of any question about the whiskey. “If anyone tries to open the door while we’re sleeping, the cans will slip off the pin and make enough noise to wake us up.” He turned toward the window and looked it over. There wasn’t much he could do with that, though it did have a dead-bolt type lock at the bottom of the window, so he set that and just hoped for the best. He looked at the clock on the desk and saw it was just past 2:00 am. He set the alarm for 6:30. Taking another drink from the bottle, he closed it and slipped it back into his pack. “Let’s get what sleep we can. I’m tired as hell and I reckon you must be too.” He looked over at the bed across from him and saw she was already asleep.

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