A Tale of Rum Town, is completed. This will likely not be a free download as it is many times better a tale than “Bounty for the Taking”. And in celebration a change of theme. Something nice and green but still slightly old style.

Don’t despair, though, for I will give the first chapter away.

A TALE OF RUM TOWN

CHAPTER ONE

Crottle stepped quietly through the shadows of Mastview Alley. Once upon a time, he supposed, you could see the masts on the wharves of Ferris. Now the buildings were all at least three stories high and so close together many parts of Rum Town were in permanent shadow. If only he was like Patchwork and could traverse Rum Town from end to end without touching the ground – leaping from rooftop to wall to rooftop. That would be the way to travel. No risk from gangs, beggars, cutpurses and footpads. If he could do that he could operate at any other time except the dead of night where he was now.

Parkey said that Patchwork never goes to the surface except for a contract. Patchwork even sleeps in a place that you can’t get to unless you jump from a six-storey tenement. Anyway, what does Parkey know except the bottom of a jug of rum. This night Parkey was probably slumped in an alley full of rubbish so drunk he’d filled his pants with his own nightsoil. Rats would be nibbling off what was left of his ears.

No, Parkey was not to be worried about. Crottle’s days of having to pay Parkey with coin or booze just to learn about Rum Town, without having his pocket picked or his throat slit, would be over after this. When he completed this job for Harkett he would be out of Rum Town and down to East Freeport where he’d finally see daylight anytime he wanted. That and he’d work for The Cartel. Harkett had made him a good offer and Harkett was the collector for the leader of The Cartel – Medesca. That was a man to respect and fear. Crottle hadn’t seen him but he’d heard a lot about him – oh yes. A genius at plotting and getting away with all kinds of heists, burglaries, thefts and contraband sales. In Crottle’s mind Medesca was going to take over all the underworld of Ferris.

Slick black cobblestone led into the blind alley. It was narrow enough that he could touch both walls by just bending his arms at the elbows. Two people would touch if they tried to pass. It was at this point that Crottle started to climb. He pressed his back against one side, toes of his supple boots against the other, and then lifted and braced his way upwards.

In a few dozen accelerating heartbeats he reached the shutter and braced in position to fix a stiff guard on his wrist. He would have to brace across the narrow alley with one hand to open the shutters. Crottle had trained for four weeks to build his endurance but his wrist wasn’t strong enough. He still fell on the mats and rags until the idea of a wrist brace occurred to Crottle. He built one out of old boots and an archer’s vambrace and that made the difference. With the brace he could maintain the position long enough to get open the shutters with one hand.

Now he carefully slid out his tools. Long and of steel the probes and hooks were in a buckram roll with each tool in its own firm pocket. All Crottle needed was one of those tools now. With all the practice he was surprised that the latch of the shutters came open so easily. A small tin flask of oil with a pointed nozzle was the next device to deliver lubricant to the hinges. They opened with very little sound.

This was going well, Crottle thought.

Meeze, the street rat, had kept an eye on Murchison’s house for a a week. All Crottle had to do was feed Meeze, and give her the lure of a shilling at the end of it all. That shilling was costly but Crottle thought it worth so. Meeze was only about nine or ten years old but a tough little rat of a street urchin. She was also very smart. Crottle thought of her as like his niece. If this went well he would offer her a place to live and run errands for him once he was out in East Freeport. Murchison had left today with travelling bags and Meeze was quick to report. It was too good an opportunity to let go.

Crottle braced again and sorted his gear. He worked the oil-paper window with his probes then oiled the hinges just like with the shutters. With great care Crottle eased into the window, gripping the top of its frame with a steely grip.

It was so dark he could see nothing of use. Just blocky shadows amongst pitch-black. Closing the window and the shutters he set about lighting his tiny shuttered hand-lantern. Outside he heard voices.

‘Thought I saw ‘im go in here. I’m sure it was Crottle – stinking rat-turd thief,’ a nasal whining voice said.

‘Could have been a rat,’ said the other, deeper voice.

‘It weren’t no rat, hare-brain,’ said the first.

Crottle’s neck grew cold and he quickly hid against the wall of the room that faced the alley then shuttered his lantern.

‘Where are we?’ asked the deeper voice.

‘I think we’re near that money-lender – Murchison’s house,’ said the nasal voice.

Who were these two? Crottle asked himself. He heard their feet scuff through the detritus of old shingles, potsherds, and smashed tiles. They stopped almost right under the window.

‘I smell’im,’ said the nasal voice.

A deep laughter came out, ‘You can’t smell anything since Harkett broke your nose. You said so yourself!’ mocked the deeper voice.

Now Crottle knew who it was. Jenk Sonner the smuggler and his bodyguard, Hurmgaal – the half-ogre. Even though he was up in Murchison’s house and there was no way either of them would climb up he felt afraid. Ever since Crottle had scouted Jenk’s stash of grapeleaf-nectar, and stole it for Harkett, Jenk had been after him for revenge. It didn’t matter that Harkett kicked Hurmgaal in the groin then broke Jenk’s nose they still wanted to catch him – perhaps moreso, now that he was looked out for by Harkett.

‘He ain’t here,’ Hurmgaal said, plainly indicating he though they were wasting their own time.

‘Well not now but he was. I swear,’ Jenk was begrudgingly ready to go.

‘Sure. Let’s go where we’s meant to be,’ Hurmgaal said.

The two in the alley made their way back out. Scuffing as they went completely careless of how much noise they made.

Crottle slowly relaxed and unshuttered his lantern. The room was quite sparse. A trunk and a chest of drawers near a bed-frame. It looked like it hadn’t been used in years and Crottle could plainly see that he was leaving tracks in the dust. He silently cursed and decided he’d have to clean the whole room since he couldn’t put the dust back where it was meant to be.

Creeping through the dark house interior Crottle finally found a locked door. After deftly bypassing the lock and the pathetic needle trap he found a small room that contained an large iron bounded trunk. Using his probes and listening carefully he picked his way over the floor to the trunk. The lantern guttered as it ran out of oil and started to fade. The pointy bottle of oil was used to top it off with little risk of a fire and light was safely had again.

The trunk posed a problem. Crottle had to get out most of his tools and carefully apply pressure in three ways to pop the lock and not the dart-trap. If he ever lost his legs he’d make better traps for chests. As the lid swung open Crottle saw small buckram sacks that looked to be filled with coin – and they were. A small fortune in shillings and florins. He started stuffing his chestpack and kidney-bag then slowed down. Time was his. Murchison wouldn’t be back at least until tomorrow. Crottle picked the bags by their silver content and when he was laden left the rest. If he felt up to it he could come back. No, he wouldn’t, on second thoughts. Crottle locked the chest and then the small room before dusting off the floor where he entered Murchison’s house. With difficulty bracing on one arm he managed to latch the window and shutters then descend to the narrow alley.

The sun was just beginning to light the east into a grey line when he returned to his back-lot tenement bolt hole. Some bread he’d left behind from his evening meal was eaten and a nearly sour goblet of wine washed it down. Within minutes of shedding his loot and hiding it behind the wall panel he was asleep.

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