A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One
Scene One: Fired
Denario sipped a penny ale as he considered his dilemma. The mayor had refused to pay for the final installment of his audit. He had, in fact, tossed Denario out through the front door of the town hall with the help of three toughs. The accountant had shaken his fist and cried, “You can't do this!” but, in fact, it had already been done. Two of the mayor's loyal men kicked him when he tried to stand.
“Like I told you,” said the mayor. “If you're still around by nightfall, you're dead.”
Kevin, the red-haired guard with shoulders that belonged on a horse and who Denario had once liked, brushed his hands of the dust they'd accumulated in throwing him out.
“The stagecoach,” he whispered, “leaves before sunset.”
Then he kicked Denario again. The mayor stomped back into his office and the toughs watched Denario for a minute to make sure he didn't try anything stupid like re-entering the building. He hobbled away with bruises on his thighs and arms. At least they hadn't broken his fingers, he thought. He knew that these country folk in towns like Ziegeburg killed outsiders with little excuse, often in mobs at night.
As Denario drank, he wondered if he were immune to their lynchings.
Surely he had made enough friends here. He'd lived in the boarding house for nearly three months. The farmers and tradesmen seemed to like him and they didn't particularly care for Mayor Figgins. It was Figgins who'd broken the contract, not Denario, and the accountant wasn't his first victim, either. But that was Denario's real problem with leaving: the contract. He had been depending on the final installment to pay his way home.
“Bless, Denario.” A tanned, gnarled hand clapped him on the shoulder.
“Gordi.” He nodded. He'd heard the old man coming.
“I stopped work early today. Ye too, I hear. I know ye've got to skip town.”
“Well,” he began, unsure how to respond.
“'Ave ye got time for a last game of darts?”
“Of course, Gordi.” Denario downed the rest of his ale. He was good at darts. It was very nearly his only physical gift. He couldn't outrun a pregnant milkmaid. His arms could just about manage a bale of hay if the bale didn't knock him down. He could swim but he feared the water. He'd hired a man to teach him swordsmanship but the instructor had given him one lesson and returned the rest of his money with the advice, 'Don't waste your time.' Denario couldn't even hold his beer. He was a three-cup drunk.
He could throw, though. He was decent with a half-brick or anything lighter. Darts was his favorite activity – or at least his favorite of those he got to engage in regularly. He supposed he would have to say goodbye to his fiancée before he skipped town. He wasn't looking forward to the conversation and hoped she would at least try to talk him out of leaving. Sometimes he thought she was too good for him despite his coming from the big city. Most of the time, in fact.
During the Three Handfuls game with Gordi, he kept score of each dart sequence and secretly kept score of a second game in his head. For the secret game he chose Poke Jonni, which involved scoring a number immediately after the other fellow scored it. That was different from getting triplets in each number, as players did in Three Handfuls, so it kept Denario extra entertained. It was hard to win at both games at once. It was fun keeping score in both, too.
“Ah, ye win again,” said the wheel-maker at the end, as Denario sunk a triple fifteen right behind Gordi's fifteen. Denario had won both games, in fact, including the Poke Jonni in his head.
“I think you let me.” He pulled out the darts and handed them back to his friend.
“Nah, ye always win at darts. I always win me money back at cards.” It was an odd trend they'd developed and it was strange to Denario because he knew he was excellent at cards. Yet Gordi was better at certain games, especially those in which he could bluff. Also, Gordi cheated a little, probably, although Denario didn't really mind. The accountant didn't want to make his money from gambling.
“At least let me play you a game of Mad Kings to make it up.”
“My favorite.” Gordi gave him a regretful look. He'd won drinks from everyone in the bar at that game. “But no, ye have a stagecoach to catch so I hear. Can't keep ye.”
At the bar with the penny he'd won from Gordi, Denario started to panic. If a farmer had learned about Denario's troubles then the news was all over town. He checked the other faces in the Proud Pony. He knew them all, the miller's deadbeat son, the cloth merchant, the pot-bellied rancher, and they had all been watching him until the moment he turned around. Their glances shied away, a mixture of embarrassment and curiosity. Even Gordi wouldn't meet Denario's gaze as he sat next to his rancher friend.
The town of Ziegeburg was large by regional standards and it supported, barely, three drinking establishments. One was called Hippogriff's. It had gilt lined doors and sat in the center of a neighborhood referred to as The Towers. It was far too rich for Denario. Hippogriff's would admit an accountant grudgingly but it would have thrown out a wheelwright or a potter unless accompanied by a better member of local society.
That was the best place to drink. The worst was the one that occupied the southwest end of town just outside the gate. It was called Bottoms Up. The place was too cheap to have a wood floor, just straw over dirt. The Proud Pony had a dirt floor, too, but it was cleaner somehow. The barman didn't tolerate thugs or bandits. His establishment catered to the wealthier farmers and part-time tradesmen like Gordi.
Denario had no idea what went on in Hippogriff's but he was sure that the news of his disgrace had already reached all ears at the Proud Pony and Bottoms Up.
“Last beer?” muttered the barman.
“Alfie,” whispered Denario with both hands on the bar. “This is terrible. I can't leave but everyone is telling me I should. What about you? Do you think I should buy a place on the stagecoach? What happens if I miss it?"
Alfie's eyebrows rose. His lips moved but no sound came out for a while. When he finally spoke, he checked to make sure no one was too close to hear.
“If you miss that stagecoach,” he said, “walk.”
“Seriously? Won't bandits catch me on the road?”
“Maybe. Maybe they'll catch the coach, too. They sometimes do, nowadays. The roads aren't as safe as when I was a boy.” He picked up a clean mug and decided to clean it some more. He rubbed it hard with his rag. “But getting robbed is better than having the mayor's men hang you by your neck off the jailhouse at the center of town. That sort of thing scares the children. I got a little girl now who I don't want to see that.”
“Hadn't thought of it your way.” He slumped against the bar top, the image of his body dangling from a thick rope in his mind. Now he realized why those three joists jutted out from the south wall of the jail. He should have clued in when he heard someone call them the gibbet beams. “But I'm engaged to Widow Brightli, you know. And today I'm getting chased out because the mayor's brother pocketed a share of the baron's tax collection.”
“I have no idea what you're talking about,” said the barman with a stony face.
“It's why the mayor wants me to leave. His brother ...”
“And don't say it again.”
“Ah.” Denario nodded He sat upright. “I suppose I should have another ale, then.”
“One penny, sir.” The barman had clearly been about to give it to Denario for free but must have changed his mind when he heard the crazy notions swirling in Denario's head. There was a heavy, round copper piece pinched in Denario's fingers. He handed it over. The barman's stuck it in his pocket and grabbed a mug in his thick fingers. When he slid it, full to the brim, across the counter, he said, “I'd drink fast, sir, if I wanted a word with the Widow Brightli. And if I were in your situation, I would want that last chance, sir.”
“I need a plan,” mumbled Denario to himself.
“Kiss the widow and step on the stagecoach.” The tough man softened his tone just slightly. “That's your plan, sir.”