Story Snippet: The Sequel to Rum Luck, pt 1

Today I have the beginning to a sequel for you, a continuation of the story I started in Rum Luck (rough draft of that story can be found here).  If you like Andre and Jerome, you’re in for a treat.  It does end rather abruptly, but there’ll probably be more soon.  Read on, and enjoy!

***

“Huh.” Jerome stared at the pillar of sparks rising into the sky. “That’s not part of the plan.  Right?”  He looked down at where Andre stood beside him, squat and stout like a heavy brick, as a dwarf should be.  “You said you’d make a distraction.  Was that your distraction?”

Andre pursed his lips, eyebrow cocked as he watched the firefly-flicker of embers rising in the moonless night’s cool air.  By his best guess they were coming from near the harbor wharf, which meant that someone had lit a very expensive fire indeed.  He stroked his beard and smiled mischievously up at his tall human friend.  “I’ll happily take credit for it.”

Jerome nodded, then paused.  “Wait.  Take credit?  Did you do it or not?  How would you have done it?”

“Promise you’ll buy me a round after I tell you?”  Andre stuck out his hand to shake on the deal.

“Promise.”  They shook.

“It wasn’t me, and I’ve no idea who did it.”  Andre guffawed while Jerome gave him a sour look.  “But it’s better than what I’d come up with, so let’s use it, yeah?”

Jerome muttered something that Andre took as agreement, and the dwarf lead the way out around the corner.

***

They were about a block from Baltusar’s house when they heard the scratch of many feet on paving stones, the sounds of a large group trying to move silently at speed.  Jerome and Andre flattened themselves against the side of a house, standing still as they watched a crowd slink across the intersection ahead of them in the dark.  The leader of the group carried a shuttered lantern, shedding just enough light for her to see that the path was clear and to show Andre and Jerome that she was a woman armed with a cutlass.  The group following her looked like a raggedly dressed bunch, sailors by the way they walked; it was hard to tell in the dark, but Jerome thought their weapons were clean and carried professionally.  The two friends did their best impressions of being part of a wall, and didn’t make a noise until the party was out of sight.

Andre’s sigh of relief fluttered his mustache before muttering, “Well boy, I’m guessing that was part of our distraction.”  The distant sounds of bells, whistles, and guards’ rattles still echoed through the night from the harbor, and the fire clearly still raged on.

“So, if that was part of our distraction…” Jerome peered down the street, trying to catch sight of the group before ducking back into relative cover, “why are they headed to Baltusar’s house as well?”

Andre frowned, shrugged.  “Perhaps they’re determined to be the best distraction they can be?”

Jerome scowled.

“Look boy, if I’d had more time to talk it over with our probably piratical friends, I’d have been more clear.”  He took on a pompous tone, “Feel free to burn things in the harbor, but all the gold of this wealthy merchant ass is ours alone, understood?”

Snorting, Jerome shook his head.  “Fine.  Maybe we’ve found his other other business partners, or perhaps they’re his other other business partners’ competitors.”  He stared at the intersection, up at the flickering motes of fire that danced and drifted across the stars, then back at his friend.  “You know, if there’re that many of them, and if they’ve already set fire to something in the harbor, there probably won’t be much left for us when we get there.”

Andre nodded soberly.  “You sure you don’t want to just back out of this one, friend?”  He patted his friend comfortingly on the hip, “We could try to find someone else that worked with your family.  It doesn’t have to be personal.”

Jerome rested his hand on Andre’s thick shoulder, emotions washing across his face.  “No Andre.”  Confusion and frustration gave way, “I want to know why this goat-lover turned around and tried to screw us, when he’s worked with my family for so long.”  He frowned, angry and rueful.  “And if I can take his gold and hang him out to dry like the backstabbing ass he is while I’m at it, so much the better.”  He shook his head, then smiled down at Andre.  “Thanks for being here Andre.  I couldn’t do this without you.”

“Aye, well,” Andre mumbled, touched, “don’t forget, the dumb monkey went after me too.  Besides, it’s what friends are for.”  After a moment he added, “Besides, I want some of that gold of his.”

He rubbed his hands together, then peered out around the corner.  “If we want that gold,” he trailed off.

“We’d best get a move on, yes.”  Jerome finished for him.

***

The two of them walked quietly along the streets as though they were simply out for a stroll, then scuttled around the side of the building that fronted onto the back side of Baltusar’s property.  The barn-turned-warehouse seemed much as it had on their last visit, except that it now had a passel of pirates by its open doors.  More pirates crowded round the edges of the main house, and it looked like they’d stopped, waiting for some signal.  As Andre and Jerome watched from the shadows, the pirates lurched into motion; they threw open the house’s doors and flooded inside, still moving with hardly any noise.

“Well, that’s torn it.”  Andre mumbled to his companion.  “I don’t know how we’re supposed to question Baltuspar now.  Not unless those pirate fellows are feeling friendly.”

“Shit,” Jerome muttered with feeling.  “We could probably grab some of the gold, but then the pirates might go for us.  What do we do?”

Andre sucked on his lip for a moment.  “Well,” he spoke slowly, “which is more important?  Playing Twenty Questions with Baltustart, or taking his money?”

Jerome stared hungrily at the barn, thinking of the gold inside.  With that gold… he sighed.  “Questions.  We can find some other way to make money, but there’s only one Baltusar.”

Andre nodded.  “Right then.  Time to go make friends with some pirates, don’t you think?”

***

The short walk to the pirates standing outside the barn felt as though it took ages.  They didn’t want to raise the suspicions of other neighbors if they could help it, so signaling their approach was more or less out of the question.  But if they showed up suddenly, they were likely to be skewered by their surprised would-be friends.  Of course, they both knew they might be skewered anyway, but that was simply a risk of doing business.

“Hssst,” Jerome hissed at the figures by the barn door, “hey!  Parlay, please?”

The figures, lit faintly from a lantern inside the barn, jumped and turned.  Though Jerome couldn’t see enough to tell exactly, one of them was pointing something at them.  Probably, and this was a stomach-churning thought, a crossbow.  His imagination could see the fierce barbs of the bolt all too clearly.

Andre joined in urgently, “Parlay parlay parlay, please don’t shoot!”  His harsh whisper carried well.

They couldn’t be quite sure, but it looked like one of the pirates beckoned them closer.  “Right,” came a quiet voice, barely audible, “come a bit closer now.”

Andre and Jerome paused several feet from the three fellows guarding the barn door.  It was a crossbow in that woman’s hands, and it was still pointed straight at Jerome’s gut.  The bolt was less awful than Jerome had imagined, but he still had a terrible twisting feeling as he watched the bolt’s unwavering tip.

“So,” murmured the man who’d spoken to them before, cutlass loose in his hand, “why shouldn’t we just gut you and leave you to dry?”

“Er, well,” Andre laughed nervously, “you see, we were planning to do much the same as you’re doing just now.  On this very night, in fact.  We haven’t any trouble with whatever you’ve got going here, we just…” the usually calm dwarf was totally uncertain for a change.  He glanced at Jerome for help.

“What my friend here is trying to say is, well, we’d like to join in.  That merchant,” Jerome’s finger pointed towards the house, “screwed us over pretty hard last time we were in town; hired us for a job, then hired someone else to rob us, then didn’t pay us for failure to deliver his goods.”

“You want revenge?”  The spokesman interrupted.  It was eerie hearing his voice, seeing his figure, and not being able to see his face at all.

“Well, sure.”  Jerome nodded, “But I want to ask him why he did it too.  He used to work with—,” Jerome caught himself, “with people I know.  I thought we had an understanding.”

That got a few laughs from the three pirates.  The crossbow still didn’t shift.

“You look old enough,” spoke the third pirate, one holding a cudgel, “I wouldn’t have thought you were an innocent babe.”  This brought more laughter, still quiet.  “Merchants, especially ones like this ‘un, they do whatever it takes to make their money.  You’re just grist for the mill, kiddo.”

Jerome opened his mouth to reply, then closed it.  He’d rather have them think him an innocent rube than give away his family’s connections just yet.  Andre looked at him, a slice of light from the crack of the door on just enough of his face to show his sympathy.

“Right, well, be that as it may,” Andre looked back at the pirates and cleared his throat, “we’d very much like to talk to that merchant fellow if at all possible.  We might be able to help you find a bit of gold while we’re at it, too, though if we did we’d like a share of the treasure.  Each, of course.”

The pirates’ faces were still dark, but Jerome could feel them perk up at the word of gold.

“Course, if you want help finding the gold…,” Jerome trailed off until he was certain he had their attention, “I’d appreciate it if you pointed that thing elsewhere.”  He jerked his thumb at the crossbow.  The pirates chuckled again, and for a tense moment Jerome worried that they’d threaten him with it, but then the woman with it let it point at the ground instead.

“So.  You want to make a deal of this?”  The spokesman stepped forward just enough that they could see his face in the fine nimbus of light cast at the edges of the bar of illumination pouring out of the crack of the door.

“Aye.”  Andre stepped forward.  “That we do.”  He stuck out his hand.

“How about this.  You show us where we can find some gold.  If you show us some gold, we’ll give you a share and let the captain know that you’d like a word or two with our fine mutual friend.  If you don’t show us any gold, we’ll take whatever you’ve got and let you go afterwards.”  His toothy smile was easy to see in the dark.  “Deal?”

“One share for each of us, yes,” Andre nodded, “but otherwise deal.”  The dwarf and the pirate shook on it.

The five of them stood there in the dark for a few moments more.

“So.”  The pirate spokesman shifted his weight.  “Where’s this fine gold?”

Andre and Jerome grinned like madmen, and Jerome butted in, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

***

Jerome pulled his arm back out of the small barrel of rum, his consternation showing on his face.  “It’s not in this one either!”

The three pirates who’d been on watch outside had joined their four friends inside the barn, bringing Andre and Jerome with them.  None of the pirates looked very happy.

Andre scratched his head.  “Well, what about the next one?”  Jerome shrugged, nodded, rum dripping from his fingers.  His sleeve was rolled up to his shoulder.

“Wait,” Andre and Jerome paused, looking back at the spokesman.  “You’re fools if you think I’m going to let you keep busting up perfectly good rum.”  He jerked his chin at the row of barrels they’d broken, three so far.  “That’s worth plenty on its own, and here you are making more work for us if we’re going to take any of that with us.  Besides,” he considered them with narrowed eyes, “what kind of asshole would hide his gold in a rum barrel in the first place?”

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