The Ober night air was cool. A dense fog rose from the Coldwell filling the streets alongside the river. Despite the nasty conditions, the weather did nothing to stem the traffic along Coldwater Street. Ever since the collapse of the causeway, people crossing the Coldwell River had to pass through the streets of Old Town in the shadow of Dargon Keep on their way to the ferry beneath Coldwell Height.
The ferry had dropped its passengers on the southern side of the river and was taking on more for the return trip to the north side. Two men wearing shabby, threadbare clothing stepped from the ferry dock onto the landing.
“Sometimes I wish I had me a nice house and a wife,” the younger of the two men said.
“What would you do with a house?” the older man asked. “You’re not going to make enough to buy a flop room, much less a house, working for the Rattler.”
Both men worked for Dargon’s eerie garbage man, also known as the Death Rattler.
“He don’t pay much, but we get a place to sleep and what passes for food,” the younger man said.
The older man was Jacer, while the younger was Ratche. On a normal night they worked in a section of town on the northern side of the river but tonight Varrus, the Rattler’s second in command, had sent them to clean the streets in the residential area of Old Town. They were early for work and had some time to kill.
“Wait, what about this place? It looks like they might have a warm fire to take this chill from me bones.” Ratche pulled his tattered cloak tighter to keep out the damp fog. Both men’s clothing was dirty. Ratche had a large hole in the bottom of his left boot. “Damn this fog, it just seeps into you and won’t let go.”
“Aye, I could do with some ale,” Jacer said. “And a bit to eat wouldn’t be bad. Maybe some soup or rat on a stick. But this place don’t look like a tavern, it looks like a house.”
“That’s because it is a house. Or it was a house,” Ratche said. “I think some smart fellow made it into an inn to take advantage of the causeway collapsing. I don’t think they will have rat on a stick here.”
The inn door stood open. The light, laughter and music spilling into the street were invitations for those out in the fog to come inside where everything was bustling. A crowd stood near the bar and another large group was gathered in a corner listening to someone spin a tale. Smoke filled the air, as well as the scent of roasting meat and stale ale. The group near the corner erupted into raucous laughter.
“Welcome to Maxim’s,” a harried looking middle-aged woman dripping with sweat shouted at Ratche and Jacer as they entered. She was making her way through the crowd holding a tray with a pitcher and several tankards on it. “Take a seat if you can find one, I’ll be with you when I get there.”
Ratche and Jacer stood just inside of the open door looking across the crowded common room for a mene until they saw a young couple get up from a table near the kitchen door and head toward the entrance. Ratche pointed to the table, and then he and Jacer made their way to the vacated seats as quickly as they could. On the way, they passed near the group by the corner. The men were drinking ale and one of them started telling his friends a joke, “There was this man and he walked into a tavern…” The rest of the joke was lost to the noise of the crowd, but Ratche was sure he had heard it before.
“Have you ever seen a place so busy?” Ratche asked after they had taken their seats at the table.
“What? This?” Jacer waved his hand at the crowd. “This is nothing. I’ve seen hundreds of people packed into a room so small they couldn’t breathe.”
“Sure you have,” Ratche said. “According to you, you’ve seen just about everything.”
A mene or two later, the barmaid stopped at their table. She wore a low cut one-piece dress with a bodice that pushed her more than ample cleavage up for display. A string cinched around her waist and tied with a red ribbon in a bow showed her womanly curves. Sweat dripped from her hands and onto the table as she set down two tankards of ale and said, “Good evening fellows, my name’s Floralee. What are you having? We got a little bit of roasted mutton left or lamb if you prefer. We also got our house made tuber stew with bits of fish. Some say it is as good, if not better than, Salamagundi’s stew down on the docks. Then there’s summer sausages, cheese, bread and of course, ale or wine.”
“That all sounds good,” Ratche said. “I think I’ll go for the mutton, some cheese, bread and ale.”
“I’ll take the stew, some bread and ale,” Jacer said.
“I’ll bring it round as soon as I can,” Floralee said. She used a towel sitting on her tray to wipe the sweat from her forehead. “It may be a mene or two before I get back this way; as you can see I’m all alone and swamped. I keep begging my penny-pinching husband to get me more help. Does he listen? Tomorrow he says, always tomorrow. I doubt he will be alive tomorrow ’cause I’m going to kill him.”
“I like her,” Ratche said after Floralee had walked away. “I like the way she thinks.”
“You don’t like the way she thinks,” Jacer said. “You couldn’t take your eyes off her tits.”
“So? Them be some mighty fine tits, if you know what I mean.” Ratche laughed to himself. “And I didn’t just look at her tits; I looked her right in the eye.”
“Being a little bit extravagant are we?” Jacer asked. “When did you get rich? Ordering mutton?”
“I’m not rich. No more than you are,” Ratche said. “But we did find a few Rounds last night.”
“You found silver Rounds? Where?” Jacer asked.
“Bohall and me were doing a sweep near Merchants Way when we found …”
“Bohall smells like fish, you ever notice that?” Jacer asked, interrupting Ratche. “You said you were working on Merchants Way?”
“Straight,” Ratche said. “Bohall and me were…”
“Aye, whatever. Don’t care no more,” Jacer said. “You talking about Merchant Way put me to thinking about them new people. Ever since the bridge fell, it seems they’ve been coming out of the woodwork.”
“Who?” Ratche asked.
“Them new foreigner people,” Jacer said.
“What foreign people?”
“You know, them Daringee,” Jacer said.
“Who?” Ratche asked. “Ol’s balls, I sound like an owl.”
“The Daringee!” Jacer took a sip of his ale. “Will you quit taking a poke at me? You know I have trouble keeping names straight ever since I got hit in the head by the bucket of night soil that lady threw at us.”
“Do you mean the Doravin?” Ratche asked.
“Yeah, the Doravin,” Jacer said. “That’s what I said.”
“No. That’s not what you said,” Ratche said.
“Yes it is,” Jacer said.
“Straight. Doesn’t matter, go ahead,” Ratche said.
“So, ever since them Daringee showed up in Dargon they’ve been getting all kinds of special treatment from the duke.”
“What do you mean special treatment?” Ratche asked.
“Well, just the other day them Daringee completely knocked the old causeway down,” Jacer said. “They used their evil magic to cause all the stones to fall into the Coldwell. And then the stones floated in the river.”
“Stone don’t float, everyone knows that,” Ratche said. “And what’s that got to do with special treatment?”
“From what I heard,” Jacer said. “Gilvelle Marser, he’s Dargon’s Master Architect…”
“I know who the architect is,” Ratche said. “Since that barge hit the causeway and knocked part of it down, I think everyone has learnt his name.”
“The Master Architect was trying to repair the causeway,” Jacer said. “He had this plan to save it, but them Daringee took it upon themselves to make sure the causeway collapsed.”
“You’re full of gong,” Ratche said.
“I swear by Ol’s hairy beard its true,” Jacer said. “And the Duke didn’t do nothing about it. He let the Daringee get away for knocking down the causeway.”
“How do you know all this?” Ratche asked. “I still think you’re full of gong.”
“I heard it from Stanant, you know him don’t ya? He works at the keep as an apprentice to the gong farmer,” Jacer said. “So one day he was working when he overheard the duke talking. On top of all that, Stanant said the duke said he was thinking about draining the marsh and giving the area to the Daringee to settle in.”
“The Doravin,” Ratche said.
“What?” Jacer asked.
“You keep saying the Daringee, but you mean the Doravin, right?” Ratche watched the confused look on Jacer’s face. He enjoyed taunting Jacer.
“That’s what I said. The Doravin!”
“Straight,” Ratche said. “What about the people who live in the marsh now?”
“Well. From what Stanant heard he’s going to order them to relocate,” Jacer said.
“Relocate?” Ratche asked. “Where is he going to move them?”
“They’re going to build some homes for them to live in, all of them,” Jacer said. “I think he said they’re going to put the new houses along the stretch of the Street of Travellers between the New City and the old causeway.”
“I don’t think the people who live in the marsh now will take kindly to that,” Ratche said. “Even if they do get new houses to live in I don’t think I would like being forced to move.”
“Straight. I think there may be trouble a brewing,” Jacer said. “Weren’t you just saying how you wanted a house? You think maybe we could get them to build us a house if we could make them think we lived in the marsh?”
Ratche shook his head, staring at Jacer. “How stupid can you be?” He asked. But he was thinking that might not be a bad idea. Did anybody really know who lived in the marsh? He could get a new house, and if he had a house, he could get a wife. He looked around the room and spotted Floralee standing behind the bar. Maybe a wife like her.
“As you know, I’m a loyal supporter of the duke,” Ratche said. “But I think he may be on the wrong side of this one. Taking sides with the Doravin.”
“Let’s drink one for the duke!” Jacer lifted his tankard for a toast.
“Here’s to Duke Dargon,” Ratche said.
“Aye, to the duke,” Jacer said. Both men downed their tankards.
Eventually, Floralee returned with a large platter holding Ratche and Jacer’s orders. She set a steaming bowl of white soup in front of Jacer and a large slab of mutton down for Ratche. Another plate held bread and cheese. She refilled their tankards from a pitcher of ale on her tray.
“There you go boys,” Floralee said. “Give me a shout if you need anything else.”
Ratche and Jacer ate in silence. Around them, the revelry continued unabated. A bard strumming a lute sang a bawdy autobiographical, or so the bard claimed, song about a fair young damsel losing her virginity to a handsome traveling troubadour. The group gathered in the corner grew louder as the evening grew later and the more ale they consumed. Ratche watched Floralee running from table to table, doing the best she could to keep all the patrons happy. He would love to have a woman like that, dedicated and hard working. Floralee was maybe five years older than he was, but that was fine. He would be happy to have any woman, especially one he did not have to pay.
Once they were through eating, Ratche pointed to a table where an older man and a beautiful, well-dressed woman were sitting. “Isn’t that Captain Koren over there?”
“Isn’t that Madame Tillipanary from the Lucky Lady he’s sitting with?” Jacer asked. “Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be able to spend a night at the Lucky Lady.”
“Straight about that,” Ratche said. “Captain Koren looks like he is getting old. Do you think he will ever retire from the Town Guard?”
“Not many men retire from the Town Guard,” Jacer said. “They usually get killed before they’re old enough to retire.”
“I don’t think I would want to be a guard,” Ratche said. “Of course, it does have it benefits.”
“What do you mean? What benefits?” Jacer asked.
“How many guards you ever heard of getting arrested for drinking and having a good time in public?”
“Oh, I get you,” Jacer said. “But I don’t think that is what you would call a benefit.”
“Would you like a piece of apple pie?” Floralee asked as she stopped by their table to refill their tankards and pick up their dishes. “They’re made with fresh apples from Leavenfell. I’ve only got a few pieces left.”
“I’ve heard that Leavenfell apples are the best,” Ratche said. “Give us each a piece.”
Floralee put her hand on top of Ratche’s, and then smiled at him as she walked away. Ratche knew right then that he and Floralee were going to hit it off and not just because she was making sure he was getting some pie. There was movement in Ratche’s nether regions and a warm flush filled his face. An image of he and Floralee, rutting like pigs, flashed through his mind.
“I hope you’re paying for the pie,” Jacer said. “How much did you find on the body?”
“My cut was a few Rounds and I’ll pay for the pie,” Ratche said absently mindedly. He reached into his pants and moved his manhood around into a more comfortable position, not caring who saw him. It only grew harder as the image of Floralee lingered.
“You touch it more than two times and you better take it to a private room,” Jacer said. “Silver Rounds, who did you find? He must have been somebody special.”
“He was dressed like a fancy pants,” Ratche said. “Fine clothing, all nice and clean except for the blood. He even had a good pair of boots on. I could have used those boots.”
“I could use a good cloak,” Jacer said, “Mine’s got a few holes in it.”
“So, when we found the fancy pants he was stone cold stiff and had two smiles, if you know what I mean,” Ratche said. “The normal one and one that ran from ear to ear. Bohall looked him over first and found some papers on him. He was wearing a couple rings. Gold they were too, the rings, not the papers. Now that I think about it, there may have been a gold seal on the papers. Around his neck, I found a small soft pouch on a string that Bohall missed. I managed to pocket the bag before Bohall took everything. He turned it all over to the Rattler.”
“What was in the bag?” Jacer asked.
“One of them sigil things,” Ratche said. “You now, the things they set in wax.”
“A seal?” Jacer asked. “Do you mean a sigil seal?”
“I think so,” Ratche said.
“Do you have it on you now?” Jacer asked.
“No, do I look stupid?” Ratche asked. “Don’t answer that, I know you think I look stupid. I got the thing stashed in a safe place. No one will never find it.”
“Do you know what the papers said?” Jacer asked.
“You know I can’t read. Neither can you,” Ratche said.
“Never said I could,” Jacer said. “Never had no reason to learn either. What good is reading to the likes of us? I thought maybe the Rattler might have told you what they said.”
“The Rattler has never told me nothing, since he can’t talk. Always waving his hands about at Varrus.” Ratche said. “But him and Varrus have been acting strange the last few days. Like Varrus sending me over here to the southern side of the river instead of down town like normal. It’s like they’re trying to keep me away from something in town.”
“As they say, the Rattler works in mysterious ways,” Jacer said. “Or is that Stevenic? I’m not sure any more.”
“Speaking of Stevenic, did you hear about the murders at Fifth I loading house?” Ratche asked.
“What murders? Was someone murdered?” Jacer asked. “And what does Stevenic have to do with murders?”
“Yeah. Someone was murdered,” Ratche said. “How could you have murders if no one was murdered? I think there were five of them.”
“Five what?” Jacer asked.
“Five murders,” Ratche said. “And if I recall, Cephas Stevene was murdered, was he not?”
“Oh shut up and tell me what happened,” Jacer said.
“Well, I know this guy, his name is Anglesa. You might know him; he is married to Lastor’s sister? No? So, it happened just about a sennight ago. There was this crate with a strange symbol on it that got unloaded from a ship named The Island Winds by accident. As it turned out, the crate contained a Nisheg. As soon as it was released the Nisheg went wild killing Fifth I workers.”
“What did they do?” Jacer asked.
“Well, Percantlin, he’s the owner of Fifth I, he rounded up some men and hunted the thing down.”
“How did they kill it?” Jacer asked.
“From what I was told, they cornered the thing and shot it through the heart.”
“That’s so sad,” Jacer said.
“What? It was just a creature,” Ratche said.
“So, creatures need love too,” Jacer said.
“Are you going soft on me?” Ratche asked.
“No, but I do have to go piss,” Jacer said. “I’m gonna step out back for a mene.”
“Don’t get lost like you did the other day,” Ratche said. “It took almost a bell to find you.”
“I wasn’t lost,” Jacer said. “I was looking for something. Just can’t remember what it was.”
Jacer rose and headed toward the kitchen where a back door opened onto an alley. Ratche sat, sipping at his ale. He knew he normally would get into trouble if he arrived for work after having too much to drink. But tonight they were on the south side, which meant there was no one here but him and Jacer. Varrus, Bohall and the Rattler would be on the north side where they always were. On the south side, people tended to clean up after themselves and there was less need for their services. As far as Ratche knew, they had never found a body on the south side.
“Here’s to the Rattler!” Ratche raised his mug and toasted to himself and the Rattler. “May he only look like he’s death and not actually be him.”
Just then, a man sitting at a nearby table cried out as if he was in pain and then put both hands over his eyes. Ratche saw two men and a woman sitting at the table. One man was tall, with dark hair and the other man was smaller with blond hair. Ratche thought he recognized the woman. He tried to remember her name, Kay, no, that didn’t sound right. Then it snapped into place. It was Kryna. Kryna and the two men appeared to be playing cards. From what he knew of Kryna, the game probably involved the losers removing pieces of clothing.
The blond man rose from the table and staggered towards the stairs just as Jacer returned from outside. As he was making his way across the crowded room, the blond man bumped into Jacer.
“Little too much to drink, friend?” Ratche heard Jacer ask. Jacer put his hand on the blond man’s shoulder to steady him.
“Something like that,” the man said.
The blond man hurried on his way toward the stairs as Jacer sat down at the table with Ratche.
“Ratche, I think I’m being watched.” Jacer pointed toward the door to the alley. “While I was pissing in the alley, I swear there was someone out there watching me.”
“Why would anyone want to watch you?” Ratche asked.
“I don’t know,” Jacer said. “But I know someone was out there waiting for me.”
“Did you actually see anyone?” Ratche asked. “Did you hear anything?”
“No. I think they were hiding in the shadows,” Jacer said. “I barely had time to shake, if you know what I mean, before I ran back inside.”
“Excuse me boys.” Floralee placed two plates on the table. Each plate held a piece of apple pie. The slice of apple pie she gave Ratche was half again as big as the one she gave Jacer. “Now, if that isn’t the best apple pie you ever had, it’s on me.”
“It certainly smells good,” Ratche said. Ratche bumped his plate against Jacer’s and winked at him, making sure Jacer noticed the difference in the sizes of their slices of pie. “Tell me Floralee, do you always work this hard?”
“Ever since Maxim turned this place into an inn I’ve been working,” Floralee said. “It never stops, my day starts early with breakfast. Luckily, we get most of the items we serve from the baker or the butcher. Maxim roasts some of the meat and makes the soup. But, don’t tell anyone you heard this from me, but those good for nothings that said they were going to help Maxim haven’t done very much to help so far.”
“What good for nothings?” Ratche took his first bite of pie. It was as good as Floralee said it would be.
“His business partners,” Floralee said. “They’re supposed to help with running the inn, but all they do is collect their share.”
“You’re right. This pie is good,” Ratche said. He thought Floralee’s husband might be a crook, or at least working with some crooks. He did not say anything about it; he did not want to frighten her. But he might have to come to her rescue and save her from her husband.
“You’re sweet,” Floralee said. “But I can’t just stand around and talk all night.” She walked away from their table, but she looked back over her should and said, “Shout if you need anything.”
“Do you think that could be the same Nisheg they spotted over by the bathhouse?” Jacer asked between stuffing bites of pie into his mouth.
“When was that?” Ratche asked.
“About ten days ago, right before the bathhouse opened,” Jacer said. “There was some people having a good time out in the harbor on a barge and they said this Sea Hag’s daughter jumped onto their barge and scared the women.”
“I guess it could be,” Ratche said. “How many Nisheg can there be running around town?”
“I don’t know. How many Nisheg can there be running around town?” Jacer asked.
“Ha, ha,” Ratche said. “You made a funny.”
“My wife thinks I’m funny,” Jacer said.
“That may be, but I wasn’t talking about the way you look,” Ratche said.
“Oh, now you’re making a funny,” Jacer said.
“The only wife you have is Sharna, and she’s a whore.” Ratche took a sip of ale. “Do you know the difference between a slut and a whore?”
“No, what is the difference between a slut and a whore?” Jacer asked.
“A slut does it for fun, a whore does it for money,” Ratche said.
“So, you’re saying all women are either sluts or whores?” Jacer asked. “Before they get married, they do it for fun, and then once they’re married, they do it for money.”
“I guess you could say that,” Ratche said.
“So, which one is Floralee?” Jacer asked.
“Don’t you say nothing about Floralee,” Ratche said. “If you do I’m going to bash you.”
“You’ve gone sweet on her,” Jacer said. “You’re wasting your time. She wouldn’t have the time of day for the likes of us if you weren’t paying her.”
Ratche stood up, shoving his chair backwards. He lashed out with his mug, trying to hit Jacer, but Jacer stumbled back away from Ratche. People at nearby tables voiced their displeasure and turned to look at what was causing the commotion.
“Ratche, what are you doing?” Jacer skittered around the table, keeping it between him and Ratche. “Captain Koren might call the guards on us. Are you stupid?”
“Momma said I never did have no sense,” Ratche said. “Take what you said about Floralee back. I think I’m in love with her.”
“Ok, but that won’t change the truth,” Jacer said.
“It’s good enough for me,” Ratche said. Ratche up righted his chair and sat at the table. “Just watch yourself, or you might end up like Mr. Fancy Pants.”
“It’s always something with you,” Jacer said. “You just can’t leave things alone. And you wouldn’t actually kill me, would you?”
“I guess certain things weren’t meant to be left alone,” Ratche said. “Anyway, it’s time to go to work. We can’t keep all that trash and those dead bodies waiting. I may stop by here in the morning after we get off and have a word with Floralee.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Jacer said.
“About killing me. You wouldn’t actually kill me would you?”
“No, I wouldn’t kill you.” Ratche said. “How would I explain killing you to the Rattler?”
Ratche and Jacer stepped out in the cold, foggy night. The fog had grown worse as the evening grew older, making it harder to see.
“That was a silver Round you left on the table,” Jacer said. “That was enough for a good dinner a sennight for both of us.”
“Straight. It was,” Ratche said. “It was for Floralee. She’s worth every bit of it.”
“You’re an idiot,” Jacer said. “She’s married. What’s her husband going to say about it? And even if she weren’t married, you ain’t got enough money to afford no wife. Not even counting the silver Rounds you got left.”
“I think I can deal with the husband,” Ratche said. “Shouldn’t be too hard.”
“What are you thinking about?” Jacer asked. “You’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking are you?”
“What you don’t know won’t hurt me,” Ratche said. “Just keep your mouth shut and everything will be just fine. As for silver, I was thinking about selling the sigil thing tomorrow. See what I can get for it. It might be important to somebody, and I bet they will be willing to pay quite a bit to get it back.”
Ratche and Jacer started walking slowly along Coldwater Street, the sound of their passage being lost in the fog. Ratche looked back toward the inn and for a fleeting instant saw the silhouette of someone standing in the doorway. He just knew it was Floralee watching him, maybe waving at him as he walked away. Who else could it be?
“Let’s check the area west of the ferry dock first,” Ratche said. “Then we can make our way back along the river and up toward the keep.”
“I think someone is out there,” Jacer said, “following us in the fog. Probably the same guy from the alley, and I don’t think he was trying to find out how large my pecker is.”
“Why would some guy want to know how big your pecker is?” The thought ran through Ratche’s mind that he would like to show Floralee how big his pecker was.
“I said he wasn’t trying to — oh, never mind,” Jacer said. “I don’t know why I try to talk to you. You’re always making fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun of you,” Ratche said, “I’m just poking at ya. I don’t mean nothing by it, you know that.”
They walked toward the river for a mene or two until they reached the area just below where the ferry docked. The air was heavy with the smell of dead fish and they heard the swift flowing river lapping at its banks. The moon, Nochturon, was nearly full and riding low in the sky. It gave just enough illumination through the fog for Ratche and Jacer to see something lying off to the side of the road.
“Ol’s balls,” Ratche cursed.
“Is that a body?” Jacer asked.
“I thought it was going to be an easy night,” Ratche said. “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?”
“What’re we going to do?” Jacer asked. He knelt over the body to look at it. “His throat has been cut.”
Ratche scanned the area, to see if anyone was watching and was relieved when he did not see anyone. The last ferry of the evening had dropped its passengers over a bell ago and was on the far side of the river at the dock. He walked over to the corpse and searched through its pockets.
“What are you doing?” Jacer asked. “We need to report this to the Rattler.”
“This is Old Town,” Ratche said while he searched. “On this side of the river they ask too many questions when someone dies. All them rich folk seem to care about who’s dead and who’s not. I’m not wanting to answer any more questions. You know that I’ve found two bodies in the last sennight. Someone might start getting the wrong idea and think I had something to do with them ending up dead.”
Ratche definitely did not want anyone to connect him to any more dead bodies. Especially since he was thinking about adding a third body to the count.
Ratche found a small pouch that tinkled with the sound of a few coins in it tucked away in the corpse’s pants. There was a good quality knife lying on the ground close to the body. Ratche took the pouch and tucked it in his tunic.
“What did you find?” Jacer asked.
“We’ll split it up in a mene,” Ratche said. “Help me drag the body to the river. If we toss it into the water, the tide should make it someone else’s problem.”
Ratche and Jacer tried not to get blood on their clothing as they drug the corpse to the river’s edge. Ratche took the hands and Jacer held the feet. “One, two, three,” they swung the body as far as they could into the river. The corpse landed with a loud splash, causing Ratche and Jacer to look around. They still did not see anyone watching them.
“Now what?” Jacer asked.
“We act normal, that’s what,” Ratche said. “Oh, I forgot. You don’t know how to act normal.”
“I can act just as normal as you,” Jacer said. “What’s in the pouch?”
Ratche untied the small pouch’s drawstring and poured its contents into his hand. He looked at the coins in his palm and then divided them between himself and Jacer. “One for you, one for me,” Ratche said as he counted out the coins.
“Don’t try and cheat me,” Jacer said. “I know how to count just about as good as you do.”
Ratche picked up the knife, feeling its edge. It was sharp enough to cut the tip of finger. “I’ll hold onto this knife,” Ratche said. A flash of him holding the knife to Floralee’s husband’s throat passed through his mind. After the deed, he could just throw the knife away. If anyone found it, it might point to the dead man in the river. “Don’t want you cutting yourself like last time.”
“I did not cut myself,” Jacer said. “It was an accident. Are you sure you spilt the coins right?”
“Of course I did. Don’t you trust me?”
“Are you breathing? If so, then no, I don’t trust you,” Jacer said. “My momma didn’t raise no fool.”
“Are you sure?” Ratche asked.
“Am I sure about what?” Jacer asked.
“Never mind,” Ratche said. “Let’s get going before something else happens. If that guy had any friends, I don’t wanna be around when they come looking for him.”
Ratche and Jacer slowly made their way toward the residential section of Old Town, talking as they walked. Occasionally, they picked up a piece of trash from the streets and placed it in the sewer so the next rain would wash it away.
“I hope we don’t run into any more trouble tonight,” Jacer said. “I’m not sure I can stand all this excitement.”
“You said it,” Ratche said. “From your lips, to Ol’s ears.”
The rest of the evening passed just as Jacer wished. They spent most of the night walking around with very little to do.
As the sun rose in the east, Ratche and Jacer found themselves near the alley behind Maxim’s Place. The back door to the inn was open and a man was in the ally dumping trash into a container.
“Quiet, it’s Maxim,” Ratche said. “Now’s my chance to get him, then Floralee will be mine.”
Ratche waved at Jacer to be silent as he drew the knife from his belt and started sneaking up on the man in the alley. His intent was clear; Ratche had murder on his mind.
Maxim had his back to Ratche, oblivious to the danger he was in. Just as he was about to strike the killing blow, an explosion of pain ripped through the back of Ratche’s head and flares of red shot through his vision. He dropped to the ground, groaning in agony.
“What did you do that for?” Ratche screamed when he saw Jacer standing right behind him with a lead pipe covered with blood in his hand. He felt the back of his head and found a bloody gash.
“That was for your own good,” Jacer said. “You’re thinking with your crank, not your head. You will thank me for this someday. I’m just trying to do is knock some sense into you. Get it? Knock some sense into you?”
“You think that’s funny?” Ratche turned on Jacer, forgetting about the man he was getting ready to murder. Ratche slashed at Jacer with the knife, causing Jacer to stumbled and fall. He landed on the ground hard with a cry of pain. Ratche dropped the knife and started kicking Jacer, not enough to hurt him, but hard enough to make his point.
“Now what are we going to do?” Jacer asked. He was sitting alone in a cell at the Old Guard House. Ratche sat in the next cell.
“It’s all your fault,” Ratche said. “If you had let me alone, I would be with Floralee now, having her fix me breakfast. Or maybe we might be in her room doing the bump and grind, you know, the nasty!”
“If I had let you alone, you would be here and I would be with Floralee having breakfast,” Jacer said.
“Floralee wouldn’t even notice you, she’s all mine,” Ratche said. “And if she does, I’ll make you regret it.”
“You think they’ll tell the Rattler?” Jacer asked. “I think I’d rather stay in here than have to tell the Rattler.”
“I think when I get out I’m going to go visit Floralee,” Ratche said.
“I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again,” Jacer said. “It’s always something with you. You just can’t leave things alone. You’re more of an idiot than I am.”