A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One
Scene Five: A Desperate Game
Denario had less than an hour to get out of town. No one was going to sell him a horse or supplies. But he had a plan. And for his plan to work, he needed a few idiots. This bar had them in abundance. It shouldn't be too hard to attract them, should it? Farli had thought it would be easy. There had to be seven or eight men who looked greedy enough to lose their canteens or flints to Denario. Two of them were carrying cotton bedrolls. He didn't suppose he could win one of those but if he were to have any chance at all, he would need to hurry. There was only an hour until sunset.
To begin, he played a game of darts.
He tried not to use either of his own sets. The steel tips would have been a giveaway for sure. So he went from table to table saying, 'Got darts? Got darts?' but no one would loan any to him. The fellow with chain mail under his tunic didn't even acknowledge his presence. Finally, beer in hand, Denario pulled out his copper-tipped set with the black and white feathers to play a round by himself. This board had no bulls-eye. Most dart boards in this part of the countryside didn’t have one. Players scored in the wedges only. It was different than Denario had learned in Oggli but he’d gotten used to it. He deliberately missed to the right of the 4 and 13 wedges. Then he retrieved the darts from the tree slice, spilled his beer, bought another, and played again.
He missed the edges of the 4 and 13 wedges again. This time, he thought the other customers noticed.
“Ah, this is boring!” he shouted.
He sloshed as much beer onto his shirt as he could stand. He'd seen this trick done in many a pub in the midst of many a darts tournament.
“I'd fancy a game,” said someone. Denario took a long moment to turn around. He wanted to figure out who was talking but, more importantly, he wanted to put on a show of carefully focusing his eyes, like a patient drunk.
“Who're you?” he said to a farm boy in a tan shirt. The fellow didn't look like one of the bandits. He didn't wear enough weapons, for one thing, just a hand axe. His fur-trimmed boots barely fit him, like hand-me-downs from someone smaller.
“Jake.” The boy rested his thumbs in the drawstring of his trousers. “Don't got my own darts, though.”
“That's all right. That's all right.” Denario allowed himself a smile. He hoped this was when the plan started to work for him. “You can use mine.”
They played Three Handfuls, which was the only darts game that the boy seemed to know. Denario did his best to spill his beer, knock over barstools, and generally make a drunken nuisance of himself. He remembered to aim to the right just a bit on all of his shots. The farmboy was a good sport about it. He seemed to think Denario was funny.
“I need another drink!” said Denario, after letting himself be thrashed 315 to 66. “Let’s play another. For a beer, this time!”
“All right,” said the boy. He measured Denario out of the corner of his eye. He was a sharp lad, really. He seemed to know he was being put on. “You owe me a beer for the last one, then.”
“Right! Barkeep!” He waved, a little too drunkenly. He was worried he was overacting but no one seemed to notice. “Two more over here!”
“Keep it down!” said the bartender, as if Denario were any louder than his other customers. But he brought the wretched ales. Denario had tipped him a copper and he knew it would get him good service the rest of the night, no matter how loud he was.
The second game was slower. For one, the farm boy tugged on his forelocks and concentrated. He took his time, played his best, and didn’t let the sudden changes in Denario’s skill bother him. For his part, Denario felt the touch come upon him. He could miss or make his shots as he pleased. He was careful not to be too good. He didn’t want to scare anyone off. For all he knew, this boy was the best in Bottoms Up. Certainly, he was better than most of the players in The Proud Pony. The final score, when Denario let his opponent close out with a double 15, was 215 to 185. Denario had won by too much but it couldn’t be helped. For a while, the boy had gone cold.
“Hah!” he crowed. For good measure, he added a long, chilling laugh, thumped his chest, staggered into a table, and pounded it to grab everyone’s attention. “I’m the best!”
“That was just one game,” said the boy.
“The best!” roared Denario, ignoring him. The boy had clearly come straight for the fields. He had no real money and no evil heart, either. What Denario wanted, no, needed, was someone with field equipment and a taste for wagering. It had to be someone greedy.
“I guess I owe you a beer.”
“I can lick anyone in this bar!”
A huge, bald-headed ox of a man at the end of the bar rolled his eyes. “It’s only darts, innit?” he said.
“I’ll take all comers!” said Denario. “I’ll teach you a lesson in darts. I’ll show you the art. The art of darts. The lessons are cheap, too! I'll play for a canteen of water or for a wine sack. I'll play for hard tack. Heck, I'll play you a beer a game.”
“Thirsty fellow. You want to play for wine or beer, do you?” A mean-looking fellow at one of the tables raised his eyebrow. He and his mates had been playing cards for the past hour or more. They'd been playing when Denario first stopped in. A lot of money had changed hands without really going anywhere. “Is that all?”
“Is that all? I’ll play you a copper a round. No, a copper a point!”
“A copper a point?” The man half-rose, alarmed or just too interested. A hush fell over the entire inn. For a moment, Denario was afraid he’d been reckless. The stakes were too high for these fellows.
“That would be thirty coppers for our last game!” the farm boy exclaimed. “No one’s got that!”
“Yes, yes.” He felt abashed and showed it. But he waved it off. “Within limits, within limits. We couldn’t let it get too high. I'll take a good canteen or wineskin instead.”
“Really?” said the fellow at the tables. He smiled at the other card players. “Well then, how about a limit of forty coppers?”
There were gasps. The farm boy wasn’t the only one who didn’t know how much money could change hands in a game of darts. But this fellow was all too aware. He wasn’t playing along in quite the way that Denario wanted. Maybe it was close enough, though. If these greedy men lost money to him, they might well feel they were getting off cheap if Denario took their wineskins or food instead. None of them had a bedroll but they had fine boots. It was going to be a long hike alongside the Rune Kill in just his counting-house slippers if Denario couldn't buy something better.
This green-shirted fellow had the look of a local gangster. He was shifty without being poor. He had money to play cards, plus he cheated so anyone could see him but no one dared to call him on it. He had to be bad news if even his friends were scared of him. On top of all that, he wasn’t too bright. He would have lost all his money hours ago if he hadn’t been cheating.
“Forty is most of what I’ve got on me,” said Denario. Normally, it would have been a mistake to admit to having even half that much.
The other fellow stood up. He thought he knew a Loud-Mouthed Slow-Wit when he saw one and Denario was displaying all the traits of the species: bravado, ignorance, drunkenness, and money. Forty coppers was apparently worth this fellow’s time.
“Me and my pals have got that much, easy,” he said. “We might be willing to place a wager.”
“Sure. I’ll taken you all on!”
“Oh no,” said the green shirt. “Not one of us.”
Some of the other fellows in the bar groaned. They knew what was coming. The card players shot them dirty looks.
“Everyone can see that he bet forty coppers!” the fellow shouted to the bar crowd.
“A copper a point,” clarified Denario. He was starting to get just a bit nervous. “A copper a point, up to forty.”
The gambler grinned. “I'll be right back with our magician ... I mean, our darts player.”
Chapter Two, Scene One