Chapter 12 (excerpt)
Ron’s Bar was beginning to liven up again as the sun gently sank over the horizon; Ron was enterprising enough to not let a massive brawl the night before get in the way of his business interests. He only purchased cheap furniture, so that when a leg was torn off a chair and used to batter someone around the head, it would break, making it fairly useless as a weapon and hopefully not causing a spillage of blood all over the carpet. Even if the red stuff was spilt, the carpet was blood-red as well anyway. The general effect was of sweeping the mess under the rug without having to go to the trouble of lifting the rug beforehand. The bar was refurbished, and the evening proper could get underway.
No-one ever asked Ron what he did with the bodies.
After someone had ripped the front door off the hinges the previous evening, Ron had spent several hours painstakingly attaching new doors; saloon doors. Through a particular quirk of his work, he’d managed to make it so that, once swung upon, they would carry on going back and forth, squeaking quietly, until forcibly stopped. The idea was that it would remind people to close the door when they came in. Sadly, Ron had not accounted for the tenaciously stubborn nature of the average drunk, and so the bar was filled with quiet squeaking as the evening wore on.
Ron stood quietly behind the bar, idly cleaning a glass as he observed his patrons. There was a Viaggiatori in tonight, which unnerved him slightly, as he was sure that the two Viaggiatori from the previous night had somehow been responsible for what had eventually transpired. Tonight it was a different one, though, one of his regulars. A nasty little man who name was Lucin, or Lou-seen, something like that. The man came by a couple of nights a week, perched his horrible pet raven on the bar where it ate all the peanuts, and proceeded to win far too much money than seemed possible at the poker tables. It was tempting to bar the man, but for all their star was falling, it was well known that the Viaggiatori still had influence in the city. Peanuts were cheap anyway.
The quiet squeaking intensified slightly, and Ron glanced up in time to see someone new come in. The person stood by the doorway, illuminated by the lamp that Ron had installed to make sure he could case any potential new customers, as they held the swinging doors in place.
There wasn’t silence, as silence was a natural enemy in Ron’s bar, but the cessation of the squeaking that had been punctuating the natural noise for the last hour or so made a notable difference. Eyes turned to the newcomer, and Ron stifled a groan. Another Viaggiatori! A female this time, her colours subdued but visible under a long, dark purple cloak, who was looking around with the eye of someone casually interested whilst also disgusted in a detached manner. The woman spotted the other Viaggiatori, who had also seen her come in and ducked down in an effort not to be noticed, and went and sat down at the table he was playing on.
“Twenty dollar buy in, erm, miss,” said the hulking reprobate who was dealing at the table – a man who had probably never said ‘miss’ to anyone in his life, other than an ironic ‘I’ll miss you’ whilst dangling someone upside down off a bridge. A sudden influx of femininity that was wearing more than a handkerchief’s worth of clothing was not a common occurrence in Ron’s bar.
“Sure,” she said, waving a note absently towards the man, who took it and pushed a pile of chips towards her. She ignored them, however; she was staring at the other Viaggiatori, whom she had sat directly opposite. “Good evening, Lucin,” she said to the man.
“Master,” the short man returned blankly. “What brings you here?”
“You do,” she shot back instantly. “You’re a hard man to find. One would almost suspect you didn’t want to be found.”
“I like to keep to myself,” Lucin said, a man sat in a room with over fifty people.
“Either that or you knew I’d been looking for you. Been inside anyone’s heads, lately?” She nodded, almost imperceptibly, towards the large pile of chips he had amassed over the last hour or so. By Ron’s judgement, he was close to winning this game, as he had outright won the last one he played. That was how he worked; by joining the low-money games, winning more than he lost, and not drawing too much attention to himself. Ron had only noticed because he made it his business to find out the business of people who didn’t want to advertise their business.
“Lady, are you playing or what?” Asked the man to Lucin’s left, a mercenary whose name Ron didn’t know. Unfortunately, he was unable to eavesdrop any longer, as someone had attempted to touch one of his girls on the other side of the room, and been rewarded with a file-sharpened heel to the face for his trouble.
After dealing with the situation, he casually strolled over to the table where the Viaggiatori were, to collect glasses. Definitely not to listen in. The game was back in motion; aside from the two brightly coloured players, the mercenary was the only one still playing, and, as Ron quietly removed a pile of glasses from before him, he pushed all of his chips in.
“Aren’t you going to look at your cards?” Lucin asked, glaring at the woman.
“I’m playing blind,” she said casually, locking stares with the other man.
Ron retreated to his bar to watch from afar, aware that the situation was becoming heated. Lucin muttered a curse, and matched the mercenary’s worth. The woman did the same, which forced her to put all of her chips in as well. The cards were then revealed; Ron caught himself holding his breath, ignoring the man at the bar who was waving irritably, trying to catch his attention.
The mercenary had two pairs. Lucin had three of a kind. And the mysterious woman.. had four.
After a quiet moment, the mercenary sighed, tipped his hat to the other players, and left the table. The others at the table, who had been quietly observing, chose this moment to slip away, leaving the two Viaggiatori with their dealer, who made a complicated gesture to suggest that he had been overcome with temporary deafness.
“Alright, Eira,” Lucin growled, his face red and his fists clenched, “you’ve made your point. What do you want?”
“You know what I want,” the woman – Eira – countered. “Since you had your eyes in my head when I was planning it – which is why you hid yourself here in the hope that I wouldn’t find you.”
“I’m not doing it,” the man said bluntly.
“Believe me,” Eira said, “if I didn’t need you, I’d leave you to rot here. Reprehensible cheating bastard as you are, your Talent is useful, and I need to make use of it.” The dealer did his duty; again, Eira didn’t check her cards. “Do you think I don’t know how you win, Lucin? It’s pretty ingenious, really. But do you think the people of this fine establishment would appreciate being informed?”
“You wouldn’t dare,” the man growled. Eira’s response was a big, slow grin, spreading over her face in the same lazy way a cat stretches. “You would, wouldn’t you?” She nodded.
“Fine,” the man said, but you reimburse me double what you’ve just cost me. You say you need me, so I think I get to set my price.”
She appeared to consider. “You come with me right now, leave the winnings, and I’ll give you back double for that as well – when you’ve done what I ask of you.”
“Sold,” the man said, sparks of greed in his eyes overcoming his senses. He spat on his hand and offered it to her. She gave it a withering look, then rose, turned and was gone from the bar in the blink of an eye. Lucin spared a glance for his still reasonably large pile of winnings, alongside Eira’s own abandoned pile, met Ron’s eye, shrugged and followed her.
Unusually, there was a silent moment. Ron looked around; most of the rest of the bar were also looking at the mountains of chips. As one man, they pounced.
From a safe position ducked down behind the bar, Ron sighed, pulled out a pen and paper and started making a new shopping list for furniture, to the sounds of another good night’s brawl.