“Hey! Speak of the devil-fish!” Aliyah laughs at her witticism as she and Cala stride into the bar behind their station. Cherry and Rosemary, still disagreeing about the name, are variously calling it the Celestial Bunny, the Urban Bunny, the Drunken Guardia, and many other names. Those customers, so far almost exclusively those working in the station next door, but little by little including nearby residents and those who pass through the area as the word spreads that it’s the safest bar in the ward, with the prettiest bartenders, tend to call it just “the Bunny Bar,” though when Cherry and Merri grow heated in their usually good-natured argument over the name, some of their patrons join in with ideas of their own, many of them bawdy jokes, such as Casa das Coelhinhas. And thus the pool of names grows and the argument shows no sign of ending.
Cala, entering just behind Aliyah, says drily, “Hello, Cal… We were just talking about you.”
The bar’s newest customer swivels on his barstool, a half-dozen of his shorter tentacles clinging firmly to the stool and one longer one slapping onto the bar to keep from tipping over. The other long tentacle is around Rosemary’s waist, the redheaded bunny laughing at something he’d just said, her freckled face pink.
Cal says, “Ugh… and Ah was havin’ a lovely day too, ‘till youse two showed up…”
Aliyah leans against the bar with a grin. “Aww, Cal…you know you love us!”
Cala crosses her arms and looks disapprovingly at the tentacle he has around Merri. “So what brings you here?”
Cal grunts and removes the tentacle after giving the Bunny a little squeeze, whispering to her, “Sorry, sweetcheeks but this one ain’t gone no sense of humor like you and me do.” He produces a soggy note from somewhere in the recesses of his mantle and extends it to Cala. “Ah came fer this note I got sent. What’s this ‘bout a bill, coppers? Ah give youse access, cooperate with youse and ye’re makin’ me pay?”
Cala takes the bill and checks it, then glares at him. “This all seems perfectly reasonable. We could have just arrested you, you know. In fact, we still could.”
Aliyah quietly orders a beer from Merri before she loudly adds, “Yeah, and Nate an’ Syro don’t exactly work for free, y’know! They’re experts!”
Cala leans closer to the cephalopod’s huge eyes. “And that doesn’t even take into account all the harm you’ve done! People are still recovering!”
Cal throws a few of his tentacles up in the air and flashes red. “Ah was gettin’ them closer to tha Great Cuttlefish!! Ain’t mah fault youse human people ain’t cut out tah receive divine messages!”
“Excuses!” Cala explodes. “Always excuses with you! All right, that’s it! I’m going to speak with the Sergeant… You know, Cal, we’ve kept this quiet until now, but–”
“Wait a second!” Aliyah interrupts, beer halfway to her mouth, one hand held up in a “stop!” gesture, obviously struck by a sudden thought. For a long moment she just stares at the wall of the bar, at the cheap posters of local singers and amateur sports teams. Then she looks at Cal. “You know, you really poisoned some people. But stickin’ you in jail ain’t gonna help nobody. I think…maybe I got a better idea.”
Before she can stop herself, Cala mutters, “Oh no…”
Cal crosses four of his tentacles and harrumphs. “Ah… Ah was wonderin’ when tha ‘special requests’ would start. Youse law enforcers are all alike, ya are. Spill it, copper. Whaddya want tah make this go away?”
Aliyah waves that off. “No no no no! Not a bribe! I’m talkin’ about showin’ some real community spirit here! Helpin’ everyone, no matter if they have legs or tentacles! Nate’s been taking’ about this for awhile now…”
Cala brightens. “You mean…the hospital?”
“Yeah! I mean think about it! A hospital with the Great Cuttlefish right there plastered over the doorway!” Aliyah holds her hands out, describing it through gestures along with her words.
Cal mutters as he considers it. “Hmm… A house o’ health in tha name o’ tha Great Cuttlefish… That…could work… Ah’m already in tha pharmaceuticals business, anyhow…”
Cala sharply cuts him off. “You will not be prescribing any drugs!”
Ignoring Cala, Cal looks at Aliyah sideways. “An’ supposin’ Ah’d be willin’ tah play along wi’that. Who’d be in charge o’ tha…ye know…tha gold bills o’health?”
Aliyah thinks about it. “Well Doc Nate’s gonna be in charge, but yeah, maybe he needs a secretary.”
Cala adds, “Not you, though, Cal – you are the spiritual benefactor. And a grifter of long standing. It’ll have to be someone that everyone can trust.”
Cal angrily retorts, “Are youse callin’ me dishonest? When have Ah been dishonest, tell me? Ah’m tellin’ ye, copper, ye’ll nevah meet a cuttlefish ye can’t trust! Them squids now…”
From back in the kitchen, a squeaky voice calls out, “Flames n’ butter!” Immediately following, Cherry squeaks in surprise and shouts, “Who the heck are you and what’re you doin’ in my kitchen? Go on, scat!” The sound of her rattling a pan sends the young cuttlefish scurrying into the main room, and Cherry spots the Guardia. “Oh hey guys! Thought I heard you two out here.”
Cal looks at the cops then shrugs. “Come on, ye gotta at least admire the lil’ bugger’s conviction…”
Aliyah waves hello and then returns to the earlier point. “Well, there was that time you tried to sell nonexistent stocks to those little old ladies…”
Cala interrupts her. “Let’s not even get started on counting all the lies Cal has told. The point is…” –here she pauses to look at Aliyah in admiration– “that’s a really good idea.”
Aliyah grins. “Aw, thanks! I do have one, once in awhile…”
“Must be the booze talkin’…” Cal mutters.