“So you’re saying that none of the weapons shops had what I wanted?”
“There’s only the one shop in town, sir, and no, they didn’t,” answered Janette from that attentive stance she always took when it seemed she was in risk of getting chewed out over something.
I just turned my back and looked out the window. Out there in the back courtyard of the inn, a worker was taking down the laundry in the twilight glimmer of the last hour of daylight. They didn’t use rope or cord for hanging laundry here, but wooden poles suspended from large stakes in the ground. Seemed they were notched for the poles to be hung on them. I stared at those poles a little wistfully before turning back to Janette and starting in on plan B.
“Okay, in that case, hit up a general store or something. I have something very specific I want you to buy.”
I gave Janette the detailed description of what I wanted and then dismissed her with the words, “And tell Callic to get some people to drag the innkeeper up here to meet with me. Violently if he has to.”
As Janette left, I picked up the clothes she’d brought for me from her supply shopping today. I’d had her and some helpers purchase a few changes of clothing for every member of my little caravan group for later. For right now though, I was still in my purple sweat pants and an undershirt, so I hurriedly changed into the used, but clean, garments. The fibers seemed a little stiff, as though the processing of materials in this world was an ongoing process of discovery, but the stitching was fine and even. Because of that the joints between the pieces of fabric were smooth and didn’t cause any chafing. Sewing machines probably exist in this world, I guess. And the fashion sense was more like post-industrial revolution, using buttons and buckles for securing clothes instead of medieval peasant leather straps for tying things in place. But none of that mattered as much as the fact that the legs of these brown pants were nice and roomy, and the charcoal grey shirt was long enough to cover my torso, even when I lifted both my arms up high.
Yes, I’ve had to do that check with every shirt I’ve bought since I was 12. Tall guys have their problems too, ya know.
Shortly after I secured the button to close the collar, as according to fashion, people’s torsos were meant to be completely covered under normal circumstances, there was a pounding on my door. Giving permission to enter, Callic stepped through followed by two men from his unit. My unit? Who cares. They were holding the innkeeper up between them, and he seemed to have a swollen lip.
“Close the door behind you, gentlemen, we’re not in a barn,” I said lightly. “Now, innkeep. I was told that you tried to stop my soldiers from taking down a door. Why?”
“Heah,” laughed the innkeep in his voice that was something between a hoarse croaking and a grating wheeze. “The military has a lot of power, but the one thing you’re not allowed to do is steal! Of course I’d stop you from stealing my doors! My customers need them so they can hump each other in private!”
“Even after you were told it was for a dying man?”
“What’s a dead man gonna do with one’a my doors? Slam it shut on his way to Paradise? Pull the other one.”
“I was that dying man, innkeep. I don’t appreciate the fact that my broken body was being kept waiting because of your pigheadedness.”
“Well, you seem to be right dandy, now, ain’tcha? Didn’t need one’a my doors after all, now did’cha?”
When in the face of such consummate stupidity, there really is very little one can say, so…
“Callic, whenever I give you this signal,” I lifted my hand appropriately, “I want you to punch this guy hard. Below the neck though, I’d hate for you to bruise your knuckles.”
The innkeper cried, “Whoa, now! No need for that!”
“Yes there is,” I said with a sarcastic smile, and gave Callic the indication. The innkeeper nearly bent double from the bodyblow. Ah. I feel better already.
“Okay, I apologize yer manliness! Sorry for throwing up a fuss over you trying to take my property!”
I indicated again. Let’s hope this satisfaction doesn’t go into diminishing returns, for the innkeep’s sake.
“Okay, I’m sorry! Really sorry this time! Can I go now?!”
“Actually, I didn’t bring you up here to talk about the doors. You just peeved me off is all. I want to ask you about the three men who attacked me and about someone named Nigeman.”
The innkeeper’s face went white. Wait, is he more afraid of that name than of me? Now I really want to hear.
“I can have Callic keep going if you want…”
“No! No! That man, Nigeman… he owns this town…”
“Literally owns it or…”
“No, not literally. What are ya, daft?!”
“Callic,” I said, about to raise my hand.
“No, no! Wait! Goddess, man, would you relax a little?”
“Tell me about Nigeman. From the beginning.”
“Okay, okay. He showed up about six years ago, him and a few other guys loyal to him. He started kicking the shit outta some other crooks to make ‘em work for him, then started shaking down businesses. Anyone who doesn’t pay gets end up with broken goods or broken bones. He keeps the payments reasonable, mostly, but sometimes he charges extra on a whim. Just to make sure we know our place.”
“He’s been getting away with this for six years? Those guys were bashing up the shop in broad daylight. Hell, they dragged me into the street to give me that beat down! Are you seriously telling me the cops aren’t doing anything about these thugs?!”
“Copse…?” asked Callic, his head and everyone else’s’ tilted in confusion. Fucking language barrier, always popping up just when I forget it’s there.
“The guards, those mercenaries, the lawmen, whoever. Don’t they do anything about these slimeballs?”
The innkeeper looked at me a little funny and asked, “Are you alright in the head?”
Callic slapped the guy upside the head and stepped close to me to gruffly mutter, “Mercenaries are only in charge of protecting the villages and the gates from attacks. Keeping the peace is the job of garrisons, and the city lord. In other words, the military.”
I gave a curt nod to try and not tip our hand to the innkeeper. I don’t want my ignorance to get too well known. Callic moved back over to where he was without giving me any guff. I guess maybe he was interested in this topic of conversation, too.
“Innkeep, doesn’t the city’s lord know about Nigeman? Why hasn’t the local garrison been set upon him and his cronies?” I seriously doubt a lack of evidence would count for much in a world like this.
The innkeeper sort of fidgeted a little, so I called gently to Callic. “Okay, already! Yeesh. We think, we business owners, that is, we think Lord Bahwell is getting paid to look the other way.”
“Your reasons for this?”
“Well, he’s the only lord of this city I’ve seen who’s lived so well. And it sure as hell ain’t because of family connections. And some people have seen Nigeman’s people enter the lord’s estate with packages every now and then. If that don’t prove he’s on the take, then what would?”
It definitely wasn’t evidence of bribery. But it’s enough for me to be wary of Lord Bowel. Even his name sounded dirty. And if the local street toughs are confident enough to beat a man in the street, and no one would give aid, even after the thugs left, then the local lord being in Nigeman’s pocket was the likeliest scenario.
Well, Nigeman seems like a bad enough dude to deserve some comeuppance, but let’s not lose sight of my goals here.
“Tell me about the three guys who assaulted me.”
“What makes you think I’d know about them?”
“You’re the innkeeper. You’d know everything in town worth knowing and everyone passing through. You’re the best source of info I’ve got, and the guys who beat on me were collecting one or two streets over. You’re probably on their work schedule. So. Tell me about the guys who collect from you.”
“…What do you want to know?”
“Everything you know. Especially where I can find them, right now.”
The sign from the bar proclaimed it to be “The Barn Door” with a subheading claiming it to be “Always Open.”
I don’t know if you could say I stalked inside, or strolled, or sauntered. But I entered the building with purpose and a veneer of nonchalance. The inside was lit with quartz lamp sconces in the walls with mirrors backing them to cast lighting. As such, there were no dim corners, but the entire room felt drab anyway. It was a plank wood crafted box meant for people to get drunk in, whether it be at a round table in the center of the room, a square table against the walls, gulping booze while walking around, or downing shots at the bar.
Reminded me of a place a friend forced me to go to once. It was a wasted evening.
I moseyed around the room a little, checking faces and groups. I eliminated entire areas of the bar before I saw them, grouped up, sitting on stools, bellies up to the bar itself, just having a few chuckles after a profitable day of work. I tried my absolute best not to look directly at them as I stalked into a spot around the corner of the bar, using some burly laborer to hide most of my body so I could get a good look at the three guy’s faces through furtive glances, trying to time my looks when they were being noisy or rowdy. Which was often.
Yeah. It was them.
I sipped at the beer I’d ordered in the big glass mug. Seemed glass didn’t shatter in my hand like quartz did, so that was lucky. Then, when the four soldiers who were my backup entered the bar, I stood up from my stool and rounded the bar counter to get out of my prey’s line of sight. Using my back as cover, I held two fingers under my eyes – I see – lifted three fingers in count – all three – and turned my index and middle finger into a pointing hand while looking directly at the three stooges at the bar – right there.
The four of them, privates all dressed in civvie clothes, since Callic would have stuck out like a sore thumb, meandered closer to our targets as though they were heading to the bar for a drink. I turned around and had a bit of an idea. Because I recognized the guy on the left side of the three stooges as the one who’d hit me from behind. I needed to pay my respects.
There’s something you need to know about me. I’m Sicilian descent. Being American, I’m automatically a bit mongrel, but I identify myself as Sicilian. My family had a specific recipe handed down from the ancestors for pasta sauce, for instance. But really, what makes us Sicilian descent, is our attitude towards life, in our open kindness to visitors on down to the way we lose our tempers. Whether it’s nature or nurture, when the men in our family really lose our cool, we either ruin our knuckles on walls, or ruin our property to “safely” get the rage out. Just like mobsters in the movies.
My father was almost exactly like what Tony Soprano would have been if he’d become a cop and found Jesus rather than becoming an amoral Wise Guy. Except better looking.
But there is another defining trait that I attribute to my lineage. My creativity with violence. Because anyone can just punch a guy.
I lightly leaned into the bar over a stool and pantomimed trying to get the barkeep’s attention, before glancing to my right, doing a double take, and speaking directly to the guy who’d clubbed me from behind. I knew his name thanks to the innkeeper, and said in that tone of voice you use when seeing an old friend, “Hey! Rownie! Remember me?”
I’d lifted my empty right hand up in a gesture of open friendliness, all smiles, and as Rownie’s head turned to look at my face, trying to place an old friend, I used the momentum of my “friendly gesture” to plant my right hand on the back of his head and slam it as hard as I could into the hardwood bar.
Heads don’t bounce when they strike hard wood. Not if you do it right, and I did. But because Rownie’s head didn’t bounce, I couldn’t slam it a second time. So instead, I tossed the remains of my beer into Rownie’s eyes to blind him as I gripped the collar of his shit to drag him off his stool, laying him out on the floor. Then I kicked him a few times in the kidney. Just the one. The accumulated damage might cause it to burst, but I wanted to make sure he pissed blood.
I looked up real quick and saw my soldiers had secured Rownie’s pals, then looked back down and kicked Rownie in the kidney one more time. It was time to go… but I was still holding my empty beer mug, and had another idea. Well, waste not, want not, after all.
I threw and smashed the mug on the floor, just past Rownie, and then grabbed for his feet. Rownie had some of his senses back and tried to fend me off. So I punched him in the nuts once and grabbed his ankles while he contorted. Then I started pulling Rownie outside the bar, making sure to travel through the patch of broken glass. Rownie started screaming as I dragged him, streaks of blood from his back appearing on the planking as he passed.
“Rownie, old buddy, old pal,” I said lightly as I dragged him, and then ended it in a Jack Nicholson growl. “We have so much catching up to do.”
Tables and chairs flipped as Rownie tried grabbing anything for leverage. Patrons of the bar scattered everywhere or gazed on in horror. But no one tried to stop me. I successfully removed Rownie from the bar, dragging him into the street, quickly followed by the soldiers who’d infiltrated the bar with me, escorting our other two captives. We met up with another four soldiers who quickly shoved rags into our captives mouths, tied them down with gags, and then put burlap sacks over their heads before tying their hands with rope. With that done, the nine of us escorted our captive across the street where a street urchin of a boy was waiting to escort us through the back alleys back to the inn.
I took that extra step of precaution to make sure no one could follow us after leaving the bar. After all, I didn’t want any interruptions with these three.
I had plans for them, after all. Tonight was gonna be a night to remember.
I am accepting questions for the second Q & A event. If you have any questions about me, the series, or the website, go ahead and ask.