Friday, September 21, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 2 - Mikey


The next part of this whole deal is how to acquire my targets and then to decide the best way to end them. I give a brief thought to just taking the BMG .50 cal and popping holes in them all from a distance.  I dunno.  Still seems so impersonal and killing someone is a very intimate thing for me.  I like to look my victim in the eye and watch their reaction to the realization that they’re done.  It’s very fulfilling.  Besides, if dragon fire won’t penetrate his armor and warding, I’d be willing to bet a projectile is gonna bounce off his gear as well.  Might work for the minions though.  No need to individually stare twenty men in the eye…although it  would be a new personal best. That settles it…pointy things at hand-to-hand range it is.

That choice makes packing easy.  I walk over to the armoire on the wall opposite the entrance to my room. It’s a gaudy, overdone thing with relief carvings on both doors of scenes from Greek mythology. One door shows Perseus’ battle with the Kraken and the other depicts Hercules’ battle with the lion.  The center of the two doors has a snake carved into it that begins on the leftmost door, winds through the handles, and ends on the right hand door. The snake not only locks the handles together, but it is also the security system that prevents forced entry.  Touch the snake and it will hiss as a warning to the would-be intruder. Pull hard on a handle or try to break the snake. and it will pull its head free of the door and strike.  The venom it carries is deadly and fast. Once its job is done the head will reattach to the door, locking them tight once again.  It was a gift from a grateful client, and it’s very cool.

I put my index finger lightly on the head of the snake. When it hisses, I speak the Greek word for peace, “Eiríni.” As the last sound of the word ends the snake crawls out of the handles and coils itself on a rock in the carving of Hercules. Now I can open the door and not die. Funny thing is that’s not even the coolest part. What’s inside is the part that’s truly mind blowing to someone who grew up on a world completely devoid of magic.

 If you look around the side of the cabinet, there’s a space between it and the wall.  From the outside it’s about thirty inches deep and about fifty four inches across.  Inside though…that’s something entirely different.

If I had used a different password it would open up to an standard armoire with my clothes hanging  neatly in a row on one side, and shelves with folded items and boots on the other. Like so many things here in The Bar, when opened correctly, the door to the armoire is actually a doorway to somewhere else. The particular password I used to soothe the guardian opens a doorway to my armory.  There’s a slight tingle as I step through into the armory which is a room roughly twenty feet by thirty feet. It is lined on both walls with weapons of every kind imaginable.  There’s even more than a few that were purpose built for me to use on specific jobs.  I never throw anything away though.  I mean, you never know when a wrist mounted scorpion launcher will come in handy.

In the center of the room is a forge, a workbench, piles of raw materials, and Mikey. Mikey is my weapon smith, quartermaster, and one twisted piece of technology.  Mikey’s an intelligent automaton.  At one point in his existence I think he may have been flesh and blood.  Never really got him to commit on that but some of his stories lead me to believe he hasn’t always been a mechanical being. He’s got a sick sense of humor and has created some of my more sadistic weaponry.  A tendency to violence like he has can’t be programmed.  It’s got to be nurtured and grown in a life of tragedy…ask me how I know.

Now though, he’s a clockwork man.  Reminds me of some of the things from steampunk novels I read in my youth.  He stands about four and a half feet tall and kind of looks like an old pot belly stove with arms, legs, and a head.  There are no real servos or anything anywhere on him.  His arms and legs are literally metal bars with a hinge where the joints would be. In all honesty I don’t know how he works.  Nothing about him looks like it should function the way it does.  He came with the armoire, so I don’t question it too much.  He’s handy to have around though.

“Morning Mikey,” I say as I walk into the room.  He’s jumped me before when I snuck up on him. Punches from a metal fist hurt, so I’m careful to announce my arrival now.

He looked up from his workbench and said, “Hey Boss-man! Since you never come in here just to hang out and shoot the shit, I’m guessing it’s time to do bad things to people again. I’ve been working on a small, wrist mounted dart gun that uses those neat little compressed CO2 canisters you brought me  to fire little metal darts laced with your choice of substances from poisons to hallucinogens and anything in between.  It’s really quite good…if I do say so myself, and I do.”

“Thanks Mikey, but I think this one is going to be a strictly pointy things into other people kind of job.  Problem is the intended target is magically armored and warded.  Impervious to just damned near anything a dragon can throw at him, so it might come down to catching him taking a shit or bedding a woman, so I can sneak up and stab him somewhere soft. Although I do have to deal with about twenty henchmen along the way.  Tell you what.  Load it up with some kind of sedative that will keep a big man down for a couple of hours.  This could be fun after all.”

“SWEET! I’ve got just the stuff for you!” he squealed as he started rifling through things on his workbench pausing to look up each time a new idea hit him.  “ I was looking at that vial of liquid you brought back the last time…what did you call it? LSD?  That stuff shows some potential.  I mixed it with a small amount of venom from that spider from Orta’ahn.  Should make the victim very calm and open to suggestion if it doesn’t just kill them outright. Might even make an orc a little woozy for a good while. Heh…yes, that will do nicely…” Mikey was bouncing up and down and clapping his little metal hands.  I swear he’s got to be every bit as psychotic as I am.

He spent the next few minutes demonstrating the dart gun. The darts were lined up in a little five round magazine that ran the length of my forearm.  They were made of surgical steel and had a cavity that held about half a milliliter of the drug he had come up with. There are several other magazines on a harness around my forearm that can be rotated around and loaded into the gun without pulling up my sleeve. The CO2 cartridge inserts into a small tube on the underside of my wrist, and he’s made a pouch for my belt that holds several more. The gun itself was uses a spring to load the darts and is fired by pressing a small button that rested in the palm of the hand. It could be reloaded and cocked by flexing the wrist back and then forward. I spent about an hour practicing with it until I could hit a target the size of a gold sovereign consistently from about twenty feet away.  This thing might be fun after all.

I also chose a couple of medium length daggers, a short sword, a pair of bracers that were enchanted to make them all but impervious to steel.  I’m pretty sure they won’t stop a weapon designed to pierce a dragon’s hide, but then again I’m not planning on giving him the chance to bring that particular weapon into the fight. Lastly, I load my trusty, spring loaded stiletto onto my other forearm.  I’ve only not had it with me once and I wished I had.  When it comes to the choice of pointy things I take on a job, I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

As I tuck the last of my weaponry into place I turn to my twisted little friend and say, “Mikey, I’ve been thinking maybe I should start wearing something a little more protective than a loose fitting shirt. I don’t want to go to plate or even scale mail armor, but I’m getting more and more scars every time I take a job.  Give it some thought would ya?”

“Sure thing boss.  I’ll have a few ideas drawn up by the time you get back. Try to not get dead before I get the chance to…” His voice trailed off as he walked back over to his workbench and started sketching on a notepad.  I stood there for a second waiting to see if he wanted any input from me, but he never looked up again.  He just sat there scribbling, muttering, and tearing pages off of his sketch pad and wadding them up.  Nutcase…dedicated nutcase but a nutcase nonetheless.

With that I closed the door to the armory and put my finger on the head of the snake again.  I felt it move a little under my finger, so I said, “ Prostatévo,” the Greek word for “protect” to lock the cabinet and reactivate the security system. It crawled across the door from the rock it had been resting on to wind itself around the door handles once again.

As I turn from the door to the armoire I glance at the carvings.  The one of Hercules has a grapevine in the background on it. The image musty have touched some back part of my brain that handles hunger because my stomach started to grumble that it was empty. That thought leads me down another rabbit hole wondering if the world I’m about to go to will have anything I can eat there.  I’d better grab some road food from downstairs. Bobby makes a mean energy bar out of grains, nuts, and dried fruit.  Packs a lot of calories into a small package.

I grab a small pouch that ties onto my belt and head down stairs to load up.  While I’m there, Bobby puts a sandwich, an MLT...mutton, lettuce & tomato on rye just the way I like it, where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe, along with a bottle of dark.  It’s like he knows me. While I’m eating my sandwich, he fills up my pouch with his energy bar creations.  I take a second bottle of the dark and head back up to my room.

Just as I’m about to open my door I hear Bobby say, “Have fun storming the castle!”

I laugh, shoot him the finger, and head back into my room shutting the door behind me. I turn back to the door and activate the runes that shift its purpose from a doorway to The Bar to a portal to my intended destination.  I put the dragon scale in my palm and press it to the last rune in the center of the door and picture my new employer in my mind.  I feel the magic of the portal connect, so I open  the door, draw daggers, and step through.

After the momentary dizziness of stepping through a dimensional gateway clears, I take a look at my surroundings. I’m standing in a hut.  Looks like a two roomed building with a thatched roof, daub walls, cobble stone floor, and a cozy little stone fireplace.  The furniture is rough construction and simple but looks study and comfortable. There’s a trap door in one corner that likely leads to a root cellar. It kind of reminds me of some of the old country cottages in the British Isles back home. Well, this is not what I expected at all…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Please Feel Free to Call Me a Hack

Like I said in an earlier post, these stories are just random thoughts that are running in my head.  Comments are always welcome as is criticism be it good or bad. All I ask is please don't leave me in a bloody mess on the floor.  When I write I tend to get drawn into thoughts and find myself running down rabbit holes all of the time.  One of the unintended consequences of indulging my ADHD is that i will sometimes contradict something I have said in a previous entry.  Call me on it.  I want to have consistency in these, so please feel free to point out when I blow something up.

I do want to thank Lawdog, OldNFO, my wife, and my daughter for taking up this banner already. Without their encouragement Tole would still just be an interesting idea that I talk way too much about.

So if you like them, please say so and feel free to share with your friends.  If you don't care for them, tell me that too.  It'll keep me grounded and may even push me to try and be a better writer.

Thanks.
Tole

Monday, September 10, 2018

Quick Blurb on Being Old and Broken

So after the doctor spent about twenty minutes or so shocking the ever loving snot out of me nodding and "um hmm"-ing to himself the entire time, we have confirmed what I already knew.  My wrists are well and thoroughly FUBAR.

It was an interesting experience though.  He'd shock me and look at the screen of the machine.  Next he'd take out his phone and use it as a calculator to do some math that the machine wasn't doing for him. Lastly he'd take a pencil (yes an actual yellow #2) and jot some numbers onto a form.  It was all kind of a surreal mix of old and new technology.

When it was all done he said, "well these numbers are text book for carpal tunnel syndrome. Is one hand worse that the other?"

I told him that the left seems to be dead to the world more often and more deeply than the right.

"I see that too," was all he said.  Then he discussed my options which include physical therapy (not his recommendation since the wrist braces haven't helped at all), steroid injections, or surgery.  The latter of the two required referral to an orthopedic surgeon.

YAY!

So that's pretty much where we are.  Numb and waiting for the phone to ring. Writing is slow but it is happening.

Tole

Friday, August 31, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt. 2

I decided the best course on this job would be to learn as much as I could about my target then choose the best tool for the job and then formulate my plan to put it to use. Sounds complicated right?  That’s because it is.  When you’re going up against a target that is well protected and three times your size, planning is key. I’m naturally a sneaky bastard and like to make sure I’ve got at least half of my ducks in a row before I run off and get to work. That’s just how I roll.  A plan to get in, two plans to get out, and the creativity to improvise when it all goes to shit has always served me well. Don’t see any reason to change.
All of that factored in I chose to spend some time living with the tribe. Valsh and I would have to come up with a cover story about why I am there. I mean if a stranger shows up for no reason and suddenly the chief drops dead, the stranger is going to be the natural suspect. Gonna have to play this one out carefully.
Valsh had left me a little carved, wooden totem with a stone base as a link to him on his world.  Ugly damned thing…kinda like him.  From the way he told it the totem is capable of opening a portal just big enough to pass it through to a small altar Valsh keeps near him. If it is safe for me to come across he will return it to me through a similar portal linked to the stone base along with something else to link me to him.  Then I can travel via my usual method.  It’s all so James Bond.  I dig it.
I press the little purple stone in the top of the totem’s head and a small portal opens directly behind it.  I can feel the hot, humid air of the orc world through the opening.  I can also see the top of what looks like a table just the other side.  I pick up the totem and set it through onto the table behind.  As soon as I pull my hand back through the portal it closes with a little pop leaving the smell of ozone in the air. I put the small stone base on the table beside my bed. I grab a glass of water  and a piece of hard bread and some cheese from the plate on that table. Then I sit on my bed to eat.
I have no idea how long it will take for Valsh to signal me to come through so I decide to finish getting cleaned up.  I’m starting to sweat out the Scotch I was drinking last night, and I smell like death. Bad enough that it’s corrupting the taste of this cheese. Right, time to wash my nasty ass.
There are a lot of things from my previous life on Terra that I don’t miss.  I gave them up and never looked back.  A hot shower and soap are not on that list. There is something ritualistic about it for me.  Maybe it helps me center and focus my ADHD brain on the task at hand. Maybe it calms that nervous cat that lives in my hindbrain. Maybe it’s that and a whole lot more.  Regardless I enjoy it.
The room came with a wash basin in the floor that’s big enough to use as a tub and Bobby helped me rig it into a shower.  The shower bit is really just a small barrel of water hung from my ceiling that refills from some rainforest planet through…you guessed it…a small portal that I can open just above it when it gets low.  The water is heated by a small magical gemstone that I can activate with key word.  The plumbing is super simple. Had to be because I had to make it, and I am NOT a plumber.  It consists of a small piece of pvc piping attached to the bottom of the barrel with a valve that opens with a pull chain and a shower head on the end. It’s rustic but it gets the job done.
Somethings about life in The Bar and life back on Terra are exactly the same.  Every time you get in the shower the goddamn phone rings! I was just starting to lather up my hair when I hear the pop of the portal close from, I assume, the return of Valsh’s totem.  Sonofabitch! I rinse everything quickly and dry off.  I follow that with the usual strapping on of clothing and kit, including a wide array of pointy things.  Finally I think I’m ready to go.  Hopefully nothing has changed in the time that has passed, and Valsh is still ready to receive company.
On the table next to the totem is a gold earring that Valsh sent through when he returned the totem.  He was supposed to send me something to link directly to him…oh nasty! That’s the ring he had through his goddamn tusk! Oh well, it does create a vivid image in my mind.  Should make it pretty easy to travel directly to him.  I keep forgetting he’s not stupid.  I’ve got to get those fantasy novel stereotypes out of my head. One day it’s gonna get me in trouble.
I walk over to my door and start the routine that will change its destination from The Bar to Valsh’s home world.  I know I’ve said this before, but everything in The Bar works on this principal.  Every door is a portal.  This one just happens to default to the landing outside of the guest rooms in The Bar unless it’s aimed somewhere else.  The runes carved into the door are what allows me to change where it opens. Just before I activate the last rune, I close my left hand around the ***shudder*** tooth-ring and focus my mind on Valsh.  Once I have his ugly mug firmly fixed in my mind, I touch the last rune. It kind of tingles under my touch signaling a connection. That’s my cue to make my entrance, so I open the door and step through into the jungle on the other side.
When the momentary dizziness of walking through the portal clears, I see Valsh sitting by a small fire chanting softly under his breath.  We’re in what appears to be a camp in the jungle.  I’ve seen ritualistic chanting more than a few times in my travels, so I decide to let him finish before I speak.  The chant goes on for about five more minutes before he finally stops and opens his eyes.
“Thank you for not interrupting my prayers Tole.  Communing with my gods is the source of my shamanistic powers.  It is through their benevolence that I am able to do what I do,“ he said rising to his feet. “Would you like anything to eat or drink? We are going to be here for at least a day before we can return to my village.” Motioning to a log that had been crafted into a bench he said, “Please sit.”
“Why so long?” I asked. “I didn’t bring provisions for camping in the jungle.”
“The camp is well stocked and what we lack the jungle can provide. I left the village under the pretense of a religious retreat to seek guidance from the gods in our War Leader’s planned assault on the Green Mountain Tribe’s village. These retreats usually last three to four days, and I have only been gone for two.” He picked up a gourd and tug a long pull from it followed by one of the more impressive belches I have ever heard. “My intent is to bring you back with me as having been sent by the gods to aid us in the battle. We do not know much of the Green Mountain orcs and you are of a good stature to be able to sneak around their village and gather information that would prove useful in the battle.”
“And your leader would be willing to take help from an outsider? I mean if your people are as honor bound as you have said won’t this be an affront to their prowess as warriors?”
“If you had just walked into our village offering to do it, you’d be dead before you finished your first sentence.  If you come with the blessing of the gods and under my protection, no one would dare touch you.  My War Leader may be insane, but he is also devout in his beliefs. He would never question me in matters of the will of the gods. Funny thing is, you actually are here at the will of my gods.  Just not for the reason I will give.  You were sent here to end the needless deaths of my people.”
Oh great! That’s just fucking perfect! I’m working for a nutcase! Oh well, as long as I get paid.
“I was hired to end a target.  Saving your people isn’t even on my radar. I’m just here for a job. It’s all business to me Valsh.  Any side benefits are purely coincidental.”
He laughed at that.  That big booming laugh carried out into the jungle and things cried out and fled before it. “I always find non-believers amusing,” he said once his laugh was under control. “It has been my experience that things like our meeting do not just happen.  Random circumstance rules most of our lives because the gods must use our actions to judge us worthy or unworthy.  That said though, when something dire befalls a people, the gods do intervene.  If they do not, it is likely because they are the cause of the dire happenings. Your name was given to me during prayer as was the plan I now follow. Believe what you will small one, but the gods do watch over this.”
“Whatever,” I said with a little chuckle. “I’ll trust my skills over divine intervention any day.  Just point me at your target and get out of my way.  Tell your gods to do likewise and their will gets done.”
Valsh walked back to the small hut in the camp laughing under his breath. He had to turn sideways and squat a little to enter.  My first thought was that the door was a terrible design for someone as large as these orcs seemed to be. After a second of thought though I saw the genius in it.  No one can kick the door in and charge into the room with the way that door makes them contort to pass through it. I’d have no problem with it, but then I suppose one my size isn’t considered much of a threat. What a way to live. Always on guard. Always vigilant for someone or something wanting to kill you.  I could get used to this place.  It suits me.
Valsh came back a few minutes later carrying a small leather pouch and a bowl filled with a black paste. He placed the bowl on the log next to me and then unrolled the leather pouch.  It contained several small steel needles and what I can only guess were branding irons. It also contained a brush, small knife, and some waxy looking thread. After he finished arranging his implements he took my left arm in his hand.  It looked like a grown up holding a baby’s arm. He turned my arm over in his hand a few times examining the skin.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked him.
“Thought I’d give you a down-payment on our agreed upon price.  How do you open your portal home?”
I took a small stone and a small piece of leather out of my pocket and showed them to him. “I put this stone on this leather and activate the runes inscribed on it.  The stone carries the magic of The Bar in it to power the spell so I can open the portal from worlds that have no innate magic.”
“Bah!” He spat. “Cumbersome and risky.  What if you lose the stone or the hide? How will you get home? Let me show you something. Press hard here with one of your fingers.” He was pointing to a spot on the inside of his forearm, so I pressed like he said. I could feel a hard spot. I cocked an eyebrow at him and he continued, “I have a power stone much like yours imbedded deep in my arm. It serves to power the runes that have been inscribed on my flesh. I would do this for you if you are willing.”
I nodded at him and he took a small brush out of the leather pouch.  He dipped it into the black paste and carefully began to draw runes on the inside of my forearm. I was so focused on the work he was doing it took me a second to realize he had begun a kind of sublingual humming. Something told me that it was part of the ritual of inscribing the runes and that there was more to this that simple tattoo work and jamming a rock in my arm. The level of detail and precision that Valsh was able to get despite the size of his hands was amazing.
It took him the better part of an hour to finish his work. I assumed that this was the pattern he would use to do the final tattoo work.  I’ve got more than a few tattoos from my life before and that’s how it’s always worked.  The artist spends a little time laying out his plan in ink before he begins the painstaking work of tattooing. I was so wrong. When he was done with the inscription, Valsh looked at me and said, “Brace yourself. This may sting a bit.” Then he gripped my arm to either side of his work and said something in orcish. It felt like he’d set the ink on fire.  I won’t lie…I screamed and the world went white.
When I came to I could smell burnt flesh.  It took me a second to realize it was mine.  The runes, however, were there on my forearm seared into my flesh in the darkest shade of black I’ve ever seen. The last rune had a tail that trailed to a small incision that was held closed by very small and delicate stitches.  I guess he put the stone in while I was unconscious.  He started putting a foul smelling paste on the incision and then covered it in a bandage.
“I cannot use magic to heal the incision.  It would interfere with the connection of the stone to the runes.  By the time your work here is done it should be healed enough to let you travel home. Here drink this,” he said as he handed me the gourd he’d been drinking from when I arrived. It was sweet and tasted kind of like fermented pineapple. It had a kick.
“That hurt like hell,” I said. ”Will all of the work you are doing for me as payment hurt that bad?”
“No. I thought I’d do the easy one first. The others will be much worse,” he said with a toothy grin.
“Worse?” I asked and then took another long pull on the drink he’d handed me.
“Much…” he said and then burst into that deep laugh of his all over again.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Don't Taze Me Bro'!

In the ongoing saga of my sleeping hands...neuro-conductivity testing.

If you've ever had it done that's all I need to say.

If you haven't, basically I'm going to pay a doctor to use a taser on me...on purpose.

***sigh***

Getting old is not for wimps.

Tole

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Affairs of Dragons Pt. 1 - The Offer


For someone not in my profession it is hard to explain that I really don’t care who’s on the side of right in any situation.  From my point of view the person paying me is always right.  Good, bad, benevolent, or malicious is all irrelevant to me.  I really couldn’t give two shits as long as the money spends. Does that make me bad? Amoral maybe, but not bad. Bad would mean I never do the right thing.  That’s not the case.  I honestly don’t care about right or wrong.  I care about getting paid.
A job I did earlier in my career comes to mind.  It will serve as a shining example of what I’m trying to explain. A dragon was terrorizing the countryside of this little backwater world.  It had been eating virgins, burning villages, hoarding treasures…standard stuff really.  The locals were getting really tired of its shit, so they had gone out to find someone to kill it.
I know what you’re thinking, and no, it wasn’t me.  Fighting a dragon is insane.  Those motherfuckers breathe fire, and the more intelligent ones use magic as well as any other race I’ve ever encountered. Nope, fighting a dragon dances dangerously close to joining a cause, and as I’ve said before I don’t do causes.  Causes get killers killed. Knights take up causes, and the people had found a good one.  That’s what got me hired.  The dragon didn’t want to fight this particular knight, so it hired me to kill him before any kind of a fight had to happen.
Yeah, you read that right.  The dragon hired me, and I took the job. Did I mention hoarded treasure?  Yeah, a big old pile of gold speaks to me more than saving a damsel in distress ever could.  I did that once.  Never again.
I’m getting ahead of myself though.  Let’s go back to the start because this one is worth hearing from the beginning. I’d only been in the business for about a year at this point, and my reputation had already started to reach out across worlds. I’d had quite a few people come to me hoping to find a champion or a white knight.  That’s not me.  Most got sent away disappointed. Some ran away with fear or disgust in their eyes once they realized what kind of a person they were dealing with.  Either way I lost about three seconds of sleep over them all…in total.
The night I landed the job we’re talking about though was one that still stands out in my memory years later.  I came down from my room for supper.  I was on day three of a three day bender and really wasn’t in the mood for people and/or people-like things.  Bobby won’t let me eat in my room, so I have to come down if I need food.
I found an empty seat at the bar and planted my scrawny, hungover ass on the stool.  I kind of waved to Bobby. He came over with stew and bread already in his hands which he placed in front of me with a grunt.  He tapped his finger twice on the counter which meant there was a token under the bowl.  Someone in the bar was looking to hire a killer.  I just happened to be a killer in need of a job. What a coincidence.
I raised my head and looked at Bobby with a cocked eyebrow.  He pointed to a table just to the left of the fireplace where a man was sitting having a bowl of the self-same stew that I was getting ready to shove in my face. I nodded a thanks to Bobby while gathering up my shit and made my way across the common room to the table where my new prospective client sat.
It’s almost a reflex to do a threat assessment on anyone I get close enough to see the color of their eyes.  If I can touch them, they can touch me, so I run scenarios in my head to be prepared in case things turn violent.  There may be nothing coming, but in my line of business retribution comes in many shapes and from many directions.  Killers who aren’t vigilant don’t stay killers for long. I’m pretty sure Bobby wouldn’t send me into a situation like that…if he saw it coming. That being said, it’s just good practice to always watch your ass and plan for the worst.
First thing I noticed was that my prospective employer wasn’t a man as I had first thought. The darkness of the room combined with the shadows cast by the fire made it difficult to tell from across the room.  She was wearing a wide, flat brimmed hat which hid her face in shadows. Add to that the fact that she was probably close to six feet tall with shoulders and upper arms like a linebacker and the mistake was an easy one to make. Doesn’t matter that he was a she as long as the money was good.
Second thing I noticed was that she was wearing scale armor which probably also meant she was armed.  Bobby doesn’t have any “disarm at the door” rules, so that too was no big deal.  People didn’t start shit here usually because Bobby was more than capable of finishing it and he could magically bar entrance to his establishment once the dust settles.  I hear getting bounced out of here hurts.  Don’t plan on finding out though.
Last thing that stood out was that she was sitting with her back to the fire and facing the door.  That spoke volumes to me.  Sitting with your back to the main light source would obscure your features to anyone coming into the room and that could give you precious seconds to react while someone looking for you waits for their eyes to adjust to the light levels and searches the crowd.  Facing the door just magnifies your advantage in that your eyes are already adjusted and you get first look at everyone who comes in.  She’s smart and wary. I like her already. The only thing that could spoil it is if she’s looking for a rescuer. Something tells me though that she’s not the damsel in distress type.
“Mind if I join you?” I asked as I sat my food on the table.
“Depends on if you’re the company I came here to find.” Was the reply.
I sat the token on the table, and she nodded to a seat to her right that wouldn’t block her view of the door. Smart.
I parked my butt in the chair and made eye contact for the first time. Her eyes were a kind of orange-yellow and shone out from under the shadow of her hat like glowing embers in a fire…literally.  They were fucking GLOWING.  The weird part of it was I couldn’t look away.  My eyes were locked on hers, and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t look away. I was unable, and maybe even a little unwilling, to look away.  I have no idea how long we sat there, but when she finally turned her head away I sagged into my chair. Every muscle in my body had been tensed and now fatigue was hitting me like a freight train.
“Yes,” she said, “you’ll do nicely.  I see the killer in you, and it speaks more to me than any words that have reached my ears.  Once you are pointed at a target that target falls or else you do.  I can admire that.”
As she spoke she pulled a small cigarillo out of a pouch at her waist and placed it between her lips. She turned to the fire and reached into it with a bare hand pulling out a coal lighting the small cigar.  Once it was lit, she casually tossed the coal back into the hearth, took a long drag on the cigarillo, and turned back to me.
Magic…great.  Once I realized what had just happened I got a little angry. I was just about to express my displeasure with the point of the dagger that I had up my sleeve when something in the back of my mind made me stop. I replayed the last few seconds in my mind and when the light finally dawned on my marble head I sat back into my chair.
Like I said before, the threat assessment process is almost a reflex, and this time it probably just saved my ass as my thoughts crystalized into a realization.  One, she just stuck her bare hand into a burning hearth and pulled out a coal without even the slightest hint of pain. Second, the scale armor she was wearing wasn’t armor at all.  When the light of the fire hit it, it revealed it to be reptilian scales and not metal ones.  It was her goddam skin!  Glowing eyes, immunity to fire, and scaly skin all pointed to one conclusion…dragon.  I’m sitting across from a real deal, fire breathing, shapeshifted dragon.
There’s a saying that I used to think was funny, but I suddenly found it very applicable.  It went like this, “Never meddle in the affairs of dragon for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.” I wonder if that still applies if you’re on the dragon’s side in the aforementioned “affairs.” I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet Bobby would have a tough time bouncing her if shit went sideways. Probably best for all if I don’t try and find out. So be nice Tole!
“So, what does a dragon need a tiny little man like me to kill that she can’t just burn down herself? I mean, if you can’t handle it what chance would I me have?” I shoved a spoonful of stew in my face as I finished my question, partly because it was getting cold and partly to keep my snark under control. Snark aimed at dragons is only tolerated for so long.
She laughed at that. Her laugh was musical and genuinely heartfelt. When I heard it I breathed a sigh of relief.  Maybe I won’t be a charcoal briquette before this is all done.
“Don’t think I haven’t tried,” she said once her laugh died away. “The dragon hunter that has been sent against me is one of the best in the realm where I reside.  He has had a long career and has killed many of my kin much older than I.  He uses weapons created to easily pierce our hides.  Nasty things created by mystical beings from other worlds. His armor wards him against my fire, but it also protects him from cold, lightning, acid, and magic.  He is all but immune to any attack a dragon can bring against him.  It is why he has lived so long. He forces us to close combat and his cohorts trap us with nets and cables fired from ballistae.  Then he strides in the confident champion and dispatches us at his leisure.  It’s disgusting and it makes it all but impossible for us to be victorious.”
“Why come to me?  Why not look for help on your own world? Surely there are men of questionable character there?” I realize I’ve reached the bottom of my bowl while I listened to her talk, so I wave Bobby over for a refill and ask him for a beer to go with it. He grunts and goes back to the bar to get them.  As he returns with my order, my new friend takes up her story again.
 “That is a valid question.  Of course there are those like that on my home world.  However, when it comes to helping one of my kind, everyone on my world is of a similar mind.  Everyone has lost at the hands of my race at some point.  They’re far more likely to help my foe than me, so I am forced to seek my help elsewhere. I have heard you are a man who does not trifle with moral implications and once a bargain is struck you will not waiver from your goal.  That is why I am here.  That is why I have chosen you, but know this. Should you decide to betray me, I will burn you to ash with my dying breath.”
“I can respect that. I have never turned on a client, and I don’t intend to start with you. I have however ended more than one client who turned on me.  If I suspect for an instant you do not intend to honor our bargain, that hunter will be the preferable option for you.”
A puff of smoke rolled out of her nostrils and I didn’t remember seeing her take a drag on her cigarillo. Great Tole, make the dragon mad.  Good idea. I was just getting ready to defend myself, when she leaned forward and took my hand.
“No one has dared speak to me in that manner in a long time, and none have done so that I honestly believed could follow through on the threat. I find it…invigorating. You are an interesting man assassin.  If you were a dragon, I would consider taking you as a mate. Hell, I’m half tempted to finish my transformation to human and do it anyway.” As she finished that statement her eyes flared a little brighter and smoke curled from the corners of her upturned mouth. I’m not sure I’d survive that particular joining. I’d better find a new direction for this conversation to go.
“I am honored, but I have a strict rule about romantic involvement with my clients.  It’s never a good idea to mix my kind of business with pleasure.  Emotions can cause me to hesitate and hesitation can cost me a client or even my life. I’ll kill your hunter for you. The price will be significant because in order to provide you the true result you seek…safety, I will have to kill his entire hunting party. If I don’t there’s nothing stopping his second in command from taking up the mantle and coming for you later.”
She leaned back in her chair and seemed to relax a bit.  She drug a nail across the table carving a small furrow. The wood curled into a little roll as she gouged it out. A small growl rolled up her throat.
“Too bad. I think you might find it enjoyable. Perhaps another time.  You do raise a valid point about the hunter’s cohorts though.  I had not considered that one might rise to take his place. There are fortunes to be made in the killing of my kind. Name your price killer, and it shall be done.”
“Twice my weight in gold and exclusive first option rights to similar work for you and your kind in the future,” I said extending my hand to seal the bargain with an exchange of grips.
“Done,” she said as she took my hand. As she did she pulled me to my feet and forward and kissed me...hard. It bordered on pain but wasn’t unpleasant. As she leaned into the kiss deepening it, she exhaled softly and heat came with it. Smoke curled up between our lips and rolled from both our nostrils. It was damned sexy and I almost threw my rules out the window.
She glanced down at the part of a man’s body that tends to have a mind of its own and smiled.
“Definitely another time.”
With that she vanished in a cloud of smoke. As she did a single scale fell to the table. It would provide me the link I need to find her on her world.  This shit is gonna be interesting.
After she was gone and my pants weren’t doing their impression of Barnum and Bailey’s big top anymore, I went back over and sat down at the bar.  Bobby met me with another beer and another bowl of stew in his hands. Did I mention he’s my hero? When I looked up at him, he had the biggest shit eating grin on his face.
“What?” I asked.
“You kissed her huh? She offer to have sex with you?”
“Maybe, but you know I don’t mess around with clients…especially not ones who could cook me if I piss them off.”
“Probably for the best,” he said. “I hear it can be kinda dangerous. Also hear Serilla’s worth the risk.” He finished that sentence with a wink. Then he spun on his heels and walked away.
“Bobby! Bobby! What do you mean worth the risk?!?  Hey! How do you know her name?!?! Bobby! Answer me goddamit! Bobby! BOBBY!”
That motherfucker just laughed and kept on walking.
After I finished my last bowl of stew, I went up to my room to get ready to go to work. I may or may not have grumbled under my breath as I climbed the stairs.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

In the Interim


I received a scolding from a friend that I need to put up a blog post. In all honesty he’s right, but I have sworn to not discuss politics or any kind of divisive topic.  There’s enough of that going around without me kicking in my opinion, so don’t expect any of that sort of drek out of me.  Not gonna happen. I just don’t feel the need to prove I’m right. (Please read that with the appropriate amount of snark.)

I’m also not going to talk too much about my personal life. Not because I’m worried someone will discover my secret identity and expose me to the world. Ask anyone I know and they’ll let you know I am not one to shy away from attention.  I thrive on it.  In all honesty I’m not talking about me because I would bore the hell out of you in about 6.7 seconds. Unless, that is, you guys would like to hear about budgeting and preparing for a year-end audit for the financial statements of the company I work for.  No? Don't blame you.

Well, there is one thing I could talk about that has developed in the last couple of years. Wait, that’s not true.  It’s an addiction I’ve had all of my life but just now got to a point where I can sort of afford to indulge it. Since high school way back in 19…something or other I have had an unreasonable love for the Ford Mustang.  I have set a goal to have one of every generation at some point…even the Mustang II from the 70’s. See?  I told you in was unreasonable.

Maybe, I'll mix some things about that stuff in as I go along if anyone cares to see it. Might even put up some pictures of the custom stuff I'm doing to them.

For now though, there's a story that needs my attention.

Tole

Friday, July 13, 2018

To Kill a War Leader - Pt.1

You’d think after a couple of years of living at The Bar and traveling between worlds I’d be used to the unexpected. Still there are days that I run across things that catch me completely off guard. Today though, I found myself standing on my balcony with a slack jawed expression on my face looking down at a new visitor to The Bar. I say new. Let’s go with new to me.  I mean hell, who knows how many people have passed through here in the millennia before my three year stay. This guy however just reached right back to the part of my brain that was a nerdy teenager and woke it right the hell up.

Luckily I’m really hungover and not fully conscious, so I didn’t squeal and run down the stairs like an idiot.  I mean, I’ve got a reputation as a stone cold killer to think of after all. Can’t let the public know that there’s an old school gamer lurking in the back of my mind that just keeps pissing his pants every time I come across something straight out of the fantasy novels I read as a kid. I’m supposed to be unemotional and difficult to shake up goddammit.

It was my intent to come down the stairs with a casual air of indifference.  You know be cool…smooth even.  Unfortunately I spent most of last night drinking myself stupid on the cheapest shit Bobby keeps behind his bar and smooth was not on my list of capabilities. I did, however, manage to get within two steps of the main floor before I tripped over my own sluggish feet. I also managed to have enough reflexes still functional to keep from landing flat of my face on the stone floor.  The tuck and roll I executed may not have been the best in my long list of moves, but it at least I managed to end it standing up.

I managed to walk the rest of the way to the bar without further incident.  I sure hope this guy isn’t looking to hire me, or at least he’s willing to overlook my first impression. Once I get there, I take a seat a few places from what I can only describe as an orc.  He was well over six and a half feet tall probably closer to seven and had to come in around 350 pounds. Did I mention he was green? His skin had this really dark green hue, kind of like the undergrowth in a rainforest. His face and arms were covered with tattoos in tribal designs and what I assume were symbols from his language.  His arms also had raised brands where some of the symbols had been burned into his skin. He was dressed in buckskin pants and a buckskin vest adorned with feathers, wooden beads, and small skulls.  He had a mace hanging from his belt that was fashioned from the leg bone of something roughly the size of a T-Rex. It too was adorned with feathers and skulls.  His right tusk had a hole drilled through it and a large gold ring passed through it.  He was an orc’s orc.

Once the initial gawking phase passed my rational brain kicked in and did a threat assessment.  He was big, and I was willing to bet he was strong as hell, but .  Probably not that quick though.  Best tactic would be strike and retreat repeatedly cutting  as deeply as possible and hope to wear him down before he gets a hold of me and pops me like a ripe grape.  Did I think I could kill him?  I’d have a better shot at it than most, but I would pay for it in pain and blood.  I mean if the Hulk had tusks, that would be what I’m looking at. Here’s hoping he’s not here hunting me.

I order my breakfast and tell Bobby to leave the pot of coffee. He does it with a little chuckle and a shake of his head then walks back down to talk to our new guest.  They exchange a few grunts and growls and then they both break into a laugh so heartfelt I couldn’t help but smile.  The orc notices my grin and bursts out laughing again even harder.  Paranoia kicks in when it dawns on me that they must’ve been speaking in orcish, and I must have been the butt of some joke shared between them.  I felt like that idiot nerd I had been back in high school and my face flushed red, not with embarrassment but with anger.  It took me a second to realize my hind brain was trying to decide if the possibility of pain was acceptably low enough to try and put this guy in a hole.

Bobby must’ve noticed what was happening because he turned and said something else to the orc and all laughter stopped. That’s when the really odd thing happened. The orc turned to me and lowered his eyes in deference and spoke…in English.

“I apologize if we have offended you with our laughter.  It was not at your expense. I was explaining to Bobby that I had heard tales of your deeds, of the ones you have ended, and they all portray you as a giant.  One who is able to crush his enemies with a mere flick of his hand. To hear those who have had cause to fear you tell it, I expected you to be…taller.”

He’s right.  I’m not tall at all. However, he’s also right that I have ended more than a few of my targets with a flick of my wrist.  It’s not that hard to throw a dagger or a flechette hard enough to kill someone with that little motion.  Provided you know where to put it when you do. That’s when I realize I had already dropped a flechette into the palm of my right hand. I tell myself it’s a bad idea, so I push it back into the scabbard on my wrist and turn back to my food.

“I get that a lot,” I say. “Usually from someone I’m standing over as their life is draining away. No offense taken. Please excuse my rash behavior. I’m still more than a little drunk and my emotions tend to run a little higher when I’m like this.”  I turn to Bobby and ask for a refill on my pot of coffee.  I  should probably get my head as clear as possible as quickly as possible, so my new friend doesn’t have reason to pop it like a zit. As a general rule I try not to die whenever possible.

The orc laughs again. The rumble of it makes my fork rattle on the bar.  I’ll admit it. I was impressed.

“We often drink and fight in my tribe.  Since we are orcs it’s usually not fatal.  My people do love battle, even with each other. May I join you? I’d like to talk to you about a proposition.”

I give him a nod and tilt my head to the barstool next to me. He crosses the space between us in a couple of short steps and the sound of his feet hitting the floor of the bar reminds of that movie about a theme park full of dinosaurs.  I look and sure enough the surface of my coffee is rippling from the impact of his steps. Damn. Easy Tole…do not sit here slack jawed…shut that gaping pie-hole!!

“I’m afraid we did not get off to the best of beginnings. My name is Valsh. I am the shaman for the Deep Valley Tribe.  My world is called Orta’ahn. My people need your help.”

Normally this is where I cut off the conversation with my prospective clients and tell them I don’t give a shiny fuck about their people and their need for my help.  I just don’t care.  All I need to know is who you want dead and if you’re willing to meet my price to have me kill them. However, this guy’s an orc and I’m a big old nerd so I kinda want to learn more about him and his people.  Who knows? Maybe some of the things I learned and read when I was a punk ass kid will be confirmed and maybe I’ll learn something I never expected.  Only thing it’ll cost me is time which I could use to sober up before I commit to something that’s gonna get me dead. I motion for him to continue.

“Before I can ask this thing of you I feel you should know who you are working for and what you are getting involved with. My people live for battle. We believe that if a man has honor and dies at the hands of a worthy enemy in a well fought battle will guarantee us a hero’s place in the Halls of War where can battle on for all of eternity. Without honor the guards of the Halls will laugh at us and cast us out.  This is what we strive for.  This is what guides us in everything we do. This is why I am here.”

“Our tribes are led by a chieftain we call our War Leader.  He alone is responsible for deciding where and when our warriors fight and die.  He alone can commit us to honorable battle to assure our places in the Halls of War. We fight and die at his whim. He is the commander we all follow…and he has lost his mind.”

When he said this last bit, his shoulders slumped forward and his voice lost its edge of  confidence and pride.  He was a man who was defeated and lost. He almost seemed…smaller somehow.

After a minute to gather his thoughts he continued, but now there was anger in his tone.

“He sends us against those with whom we have no hostility.  Weaker tribes have been wiped from existence. We normally absorb the women and pups from tribes that are devastated beyond recovery.  He orders them put to the blade as well. There is no honor is the slaughter of the weak. He has sent those who oppose his views into battle against much larger forces they had no hope of defeating.  Senseless waste of life for nothing but the displeasure of a maniac. It must stop.”

Everything he’s said to me so far sounds a lot like a culture of warrior monks or maybe something like what Gene Roddenberry envisioned for one of his alien races.  If so, a crazy leader shouldn’t be a leader for long.

“Sounds to me like someone in your tribe needs to challenge his right to rule…provided that’s how it works in your culture.”

“Normally that is exactly what would happen and if things were different it would have happened already. The problem with that is that he’s also one of the smartest among us and realized long ago that he wanted to rule for as long as he could.  He has surrounded himself with a cadre of fanatics who believe he is the chosen of both the god of battle and the god of death. They defend him with their bodies and their lives.  In order to earn the right to challenge him directly you have to fight your way up the chain to him. That means you have to kill them all, and no one in our tribe is that skilled.  The best of our warriors not in his personal guard fell at the third challenge. I fear we are left with a most dishonorable choice.”

“You want me to kill him when your best warriors have failed to? If I do this, you do realize I’m not going to face him in open combat. I’m going to sneak in and kill him in his sleep or poison him or shoot him from a very long way off. Are you ok with that?”

“Yes, I understand exactly what I’m asking of you. I am asking you to deny my leader his eternal reward.  More than that though, when he is found dead his guard will all take their own lives as well. Suicide for failure to perform your duty is required, but it also means denial into the Halls of War.  I am asking you to kill one but damn fifty. Does this change things for you?”

“Don’t see why it should.  Far as I can tell they all damned themselves. Choices have consequences.  Speaking of which, can’t be much honor in hiring a killer to do what you should be doing yourself. I can’t imagine I’ll be doing your personal honor much of a favor.”

“You are right,” he sighed. “I am also asking you to damn me.  I will not be given entrance either.  I know that this is the right thing to do for my people, but the Guards of the Halls will not see it so.“

“Like I said…choices.  Free will’s a bitch and we fuck ourselves as often as not.  Oh well, I have no doubt where I’m headed when I finally find someone deadlier than me, so maybe I’ll see you there.”

This brought another round of laughter from my green friend and he clapped me on the back nearly knocking me off my stool in the process. It was a lot like getting smacked with a fucking country ham.

“Could be that you are right there. I think I like you Tole.  You may have the frail little body of a human, but I think you have the heart of an orc.”

After that we sat in silence for quite a while.  I finished my second pot of coffee and third plate of food before either of us spoke again.  I really didn’t know what I was going to say other than working out my price, but something told me that was not where I needed to go next.  I was scanning his body, studying the anatomy, and analyzing anything I could see as a potential weakness.  Valsh caught me doing it and cocked an eyebrow.

“Already planning where to strike? We haven’t even discussed your fee or even if you’re willing to do this thing. Like I said…heart of an orc.” He finished that last with another rumbling chuckle.

“You know damned well I’m going to take the job.  I didn’t want to risk insulting you by starting the price negotiations too soon.  Once you agree to pay me, I have no doubt you will. Normally I tell my clients that payment is not optional and imply that it can either be in currency or their blood.  I don’t think that’s an issue with you.  I know you will honor a bargain once it’s made.”

“I’m going to guess by your lack of shiny adornments that orcs don’t place a great deal of value in gold and jewels.  I do, but I also trade in favors.  You said you are a shaman.  Is it safe to assume that all of those markings and brands on you are mystical in origin?”

“They are,” he replied but his tone was now more curious. “and you are right in that my people do not value material things. I can see you have some markings of your own. Perhaps I can offer you something that will be of more value than trinkets that are easily lost.”

“My thoughts exactly,” I said while trying to hide the grin on my face that my mom used to call the cat who ate the canary.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Brief Update

A little out of character blurb real quick.  I'm back from my vacation and I am writing.  However, it is taking FOREVER thanks in no small part to carpal tunnel crap acting up.  Without the braces I can type for about five to ten minutes before my hands are numb.  YAY! With the braces I can type a lot longer but it is ungodly slow going.  Ain't life grand?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Snippet

I've depleted my backlog of short stories and I'm working furiously to get some finished.  That being said, I'm about to go on vacation, so it may be a couple of weeks before I have a turd that's polished enough to share.

In the meantime I thought I'd share some of the longer book I'm working on for this character.  Hope you enjoy it.

-Tole


Downtime sucks. There’s not a more delicate way to put it. I worked hard to become the best at what I am, so I live to test those skills against the next challenge. When the next challenge is taking its sweet fucking time showing up I get a bit testy. Sometimes I will take a trip into my memory and relive some event from my past. Once upon a time I used deep meditation and even a consciousness altering substance or two to enhance the memories. That was before I met Valsh.

Valsh is an orc shaman on Orta’ahn, an orc dominated world. Imagine if Sauron were an orc and had won the battle for Middle Earth. That’s Orta’ahn. It’s beautiful in its brutality. Only the strongest survive there, and it feels like a second home. I’m not the strongest by a long shot, but I’m smart and fast and that’s enough. They respect me for the killer I am. The ability to deal death in a decisive manner speaks more to them than any amount of gold ever could.

Valsh hired me to kill his War Leader. Apparently the old fellow was starting to lead his tribe into battles that were costing them dearly and his strategies had begun to cost them victories. Unfortunately he also had a very loyal cadre of personal guards that kept any significant challenge to his rule from getting close enough to do anything about it. That’s where I came in. I’m considerably smaller than even an orc runt, as if one of those would survive long enough to be able to compare it to me, so I was able to move around the camp relatively unnoticed. Only took me about two days to find my way into the old bastard’s tent at night and end his rule, but that’s a story for another day.

Valsh rewarded me with memory totems. I remember reading an article in my first life about how some psychiatrist, psychologist, self-actualization guru, or some shit had this theory that all memories are complete in our minds we just lose the ability to recall them. They said that with the proper mental discipline and through the use of meditation techniques we can recall even the smallest detail of a particular event in our lives. We can remember every smell, taste, sound, emotion, even if we didn’t give it our full attention at the time. It’s all encoded in our memories. I never got to that level with mental discipline and/or chemical enhancement. The memory totems pull all of that out of our minds and copy it into themselves. When you use one, it’s like being there all over again.

The orcs use them to store tribal history because their written language is as basic as they are. Not much use for scholars in a war driven culture, but you do need to keep records of important battles and victories. Warriors use them on the battlefield to record their deaths to bring honor to their families. You can imagine how precious these things are, and I have about thirty of them in a magically sealed chest in my room. I’m very well regarded among several of the tribes on Orta’ahn.

Anyway, back to the fact that downtime sucks. You can only train so much until muscle memory takes over and you hit the target every time. When I get to that point I turn to the memory totems kind of the way Sherlock would turn to his 7% solution just to pass the time until the next case came along. The problem with that is, just like Holmes’ cocaine, my memories are addictive and the more I use them the more I want to. Most of what I’ve stored there are memories of times with my wife, and when I use them, I want to stay in those memories as long as I can. She was glorious.

Bobby used to give me shit about not looking into her death. He just never understood why, if I loved her so deeply, I didn’t dig into why she was taken in the first place. I always told him I’m a killer not a detective. I’d dealt with the son of a bitch who killed her and that was all the closure I needed. That being said, as I stand here looking at this shelf I realize that every single one of these fucking totems holds a memory of her and our time together.

Huh. Maybe I’m not as done with it as I thought.

I carefully put the memory totem I have in my hand back in its place on the shelf. I close the door and activate the wards. I go sit on my bed and stare at that cabinet full of my former life. It only takes me about two seconds to make up my mind. Fuck it. Time to learn some new skills and go be a detective. If it just so happens I get to kill a few more mother fuckers tied up in her death, all’s the better.

First things first though.  I’m starving.  Thinking about it I can’t remember the last time I ate.  That happens when I get lost in my memories.  Better go get some Bobby Stew.

I sit down at the bar and Bobby turns to me. “Wondered if you were ever coming out of the goddam room,” he says with a grin.

“Don’t need smartass man.  I need food and beer.  Hook me up would ya?”

He turns back to the stove where the stew is bubbling away and dishes me up a big bowl of the meaty goodness.  He also gets me a really nice dark beer and a couple of hard rolls.  I’m in heaven.

“Hey Bobby,” I start and he turns to me with a quizzical look on his face. “You know much about that piece of shit bounty hunter I cooked in your hearth a few years back?”

He turns to face me fully and lowers himself down to eye level with me and fixes me in his gaze.

“Bout fucking time,” he says. 

He reaches under the bar and takes out a well-oiled old wooden box. He opens the lid and takes out a medallion made of some tarnished metal that looks kind of like old brass.  “Been keeping this thing for when this day finally came.  Knew you’d want it. Fell off of the corpse as you were dragging it across the floor.  Guild crest for that dickhead’s bounty hunter gang.  It’s a good place to start.”

I stop with a bite of stew halfway to my mouth and just look at it. After a second or two I set my spoon down and take it from him.  It’s lighter than I thought it would be.  Probably similar to challenge coins back on Terra.  Kinda shows who’s who in the guild.

“Thanks Bobby,” I say and put it in my coat pocket and go back to my meal. I should be able to use it to create a passage to the Goran home world from The Bar. Kinda how this place works.  You need an anchor to open a portal to a world.  Something to guide the magic to a destination.

I finish my bowl of stew and then another chasing them down with a really good dark that I bring back from Terra when I go to work there.  While I am chewing it gives me time to think about what exactly I’m going to do.  I mean hell, I’m usually the subject of an investigation not the one carrying it out.  The thought of me being on that side of the equation makes me laugh a little, and it catches Bobby’s attention.

“What?” he asks.

“Just amused by the absurdity of me trying to solve a murder instead of commit one man. I thought when I killed that son of a bitch that I was through with the whole deal you know? Figured life is tough and shit wants you dead.  Trick is to kill the things that want you dead before they get to you. Never gave it much more thought than that.”

He looks across the bar with a crooked grin on his goddamn ugly face and says, “Something tells me you’re gonna get plenty of chances to do what you’re best at. If you’re lucky, you might even get some answers to the shit that’s been eating you. A man should know why bad shit happens in his life, if for no other reason than to try and keep it from coming back around.”

That brings a thought up to the surface about that little punk that came after me a while back. “Damn right,” I say tipping my bottle his way. Then I turn it up and drain what’s left. Guess it’s time to get this shit show started.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Starlight Shines on an Idiot


I’ve spent so many nights sitting on this barstool in the only dive bar in the one horse town where I grew up that it’s hard to remember a time I wasn’t here.  Same people here every night.  Damned near all of them grew up here, and I’ve known them all of our lives.  That being said, I wouldn’t lose six seconds of sleep if the place was nuked from orbit and blown off the map.
 
I was sitting on the same damned stool, drinking the same cheap shit bourbon, and suffering through the third or fourth cycle of the same goddamn country song when I heard a commotion off to my left.  I turned on my stool to see two hands from the local ranch accosting a young woman I didn’t recognize.  They had her hemmed in and boy were the lewd comments flying.  Those boys obviously weren’t listening when their momma tried to teach them how to treat a lady.

Normally I wouldn’t have given two shits about it, but that’s when I heard a small cry of fear from her. It was like getting hit by lightning.  I found myself overcome with the urge to step in an protect her from the danger she was obviously facing.  Those boys were drunk and they were getting insistent.  I tried to turn my back and ignore it, but that little whimper just dug right into me and found a conscience I thought was dead.

“Sonofabitch,” I said as I finished my drink. “Something tells me I’m gonna regret this.”

I set my glass down on the bar and walk over to where they’re carrying on.  Now I know both of these  boys from back in high school and they’re both right at six feet tall, maybe a little more, and they have the muscle of men who work for a living.  I’m only about five seven or so, and I MIGHT weigh 175 fully dressed and wearing boots.  This is not going to be an even weight class fight. I’m mean as hell though and kinda drunk, so I figure what the hell.

“Hey fellas why don’t we dial the asshole level back down a few notches and let the lady be?”
Jerry, who’s the bigger of the pair, turns to look at me and says, “Tole, why don’t you go sit down and shut yer hole before we have to remind you of the ass whippins you took in school.”

Right, figured it was gonna go this way, but I had to try to settle it peacefully.  I like this bar and really don’t want to bust it up, but sometimes people only learn through pain. Once the decision for violence is made, I’m committed. 

I turn my back on them like I’m taking his advice while I run the scenario in my mind.  Jerry has a bad left knee from football.  Mike, the one holding the young lady by the shoulders has had multiple jaw fractures from fights just like this one and shoulder surgery more than once on his shoulder from football and baseball back in the day.  Ok, that’s my initial attack points.  I’d never last in a stand up toe-to-toe pissing contest.  Like my grandfather once told me, “Hell with fighting fair.  Always fight to win.  If it’s not an even match, equalizers are always close at hand.”

All this is decided before my foot hits the floor with my first step away.  When it does hit the ground it becomes a pivot point, and I spin planting a stomping snap kick to the kneecap on Jerry’s bad leg. It gives under the pressure and hyperextends with a very loud pop.  He falls back into the booth with a cry of pain.  Pretty sure he’ll get up in a minute, but he’s out of the way for now.

Mike shoves the woman to one side and advances toward me with murder in his eyes.  He throws a haymaker at me. Oh please, like I didn’t see that coming a mile away.  I duck inside his punch catching his wrist and extending the arm locking the shoulder joint forward.  As part of the same motion I throw a punch of my own to the front of his shoulder making sure the point of my knuckles buries itself in the joint where the ball and socket meet.  Releasing his wrist, I spin into him, landing an elbow to his jaw which I feel break under the impact.  He goes down in a pile, and I finish our transaction with a heel kick to his temple.  Pretty sure that leaves me with only one conscious opponent remaining.

I come back around just in time to take a punch in the face from Jerry.  Apparently I overestimated how much my kick was gonna hurt, or I underestimated his tolerance for pain.  I file that away for later as my ass hits the floor. Break the damned thing next time idiot! Mercy’s only gonna get you killed!

I feel him grab my shirt and haul me to my feet.  He puts his face right next to mine and says something that doesn’t register; however, what does register is that he’s close enough I can smell what he’s been drinking.  Getting that close to me is a bad move.  Should’ve stabbed me or shot me or hit me with a table, maybe then he’d have gone home with his nose.  I latch onto that goddamn thing with my teeth and bite it right off of his ugly face. Then I draw my head back and land a Liverpool kiss right where it used to be shattering whatever was left.

My feet hit the floor as he lets go of my shirt, and I plant a second kick on that knee making sure I break the fucking thing this time. Once he’s down at a level I can work with, I put three rapid punches to the base of his skull, and that’s all for him. I realize I still have a hunk of his nose in my teeth, so I spit it onto his shirt.  Maybe Doc can sew it back on. Don’t really care though.

I stand up and look around as the last of the water clears from my eyes.  He still hits like a mule.  I’m just better at taking a punch now than I was the last time he hit me. Once I can see, I grab what’s left of his beer and wash the blood out of my mouth.

“Thank you,” said a voice so soft and gentle I’m actually surprised I heard it over the noise of the bar.

At those words I turn and really look at her for the first time since this all began. I must’ve gotten hit harder than I thought; because, it was like those old movies my dad watched when I was a kid.  The outline of her face was softened and the lighting made every aspect of her beauty stand out and demand to be noticed.
 
She was tall and lithe.  Had to be close to six feet herself, but I’d be shocked if she weighed more than a buck thirty. She was wearing this blue diaphanous thing over a white blouse that was closed with a crisscrossed draw string in the front. Her pants were these form fitting leather things and her feet were wrapped in soft leather shoes. She looked like something out of a fashion magazine…not that I read a lot of those.  She was just flat out supermodel beautiful, and she was smiling at me…ME.

“This is gonna sound trite, but what’s a girl like you doing in a dive like this?  Hell, you don’t even fit this stinking town, much less this shithole of a bar.” I can’t take my eyes off of her though and then I realize I’m hanging there waiting for her to speak like my life can’t continue until she does.

“Strangely enough, I think I am here looking for you.”

And that was all it took.  I was totally hers.  I always called bullshit when I heard anyone talk about love at first sight.   I didn’t really even think love of any kind existed and the concept of instantly falling in love seemed like a weak justification for acting out of fear of being alone.  Now I am learning better.

She stepped in a little closer to me and my head swam. She smelled like lilacs and sunshine.  The aroma was intoxicating…even more than the bourbon I’d been slamming down all night.
“Maybe it would be best if we went somewhere a little less…hostile so that we can talk.”

In all honesty I would have followed her anywhere, but the thought of one of these jack-holes waking up and possibly hurting her made me think they’d be best off if I put them the rest of the way down. When she touched my hand though, all thoughts of that fled. I just wanted to get her somewhere safe.

We spent the rest of the night sitting in a booth in a diner in the next town over.  It was, I can honestly say, the first time in my life I can remember being at peace.