A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Half Dozen
Scene Two: A Well Informed Captain
There was morning bread and soup but no Captain Eberhardt. The prisoners didn't get much talk from the guards. Vir watched the men in their armor carefully. He was looking for something but he didn't seem to find it. Denario scraped his bowl with the last chunk of bread before he handed it back.
For a few hours after breakfast, Vir slept. It was the first time Denario had witnessed the man in a relaxed state. Even unconscious, his muscles flexed. When the guards locked up another drunk, Vir woke enough to listen. He seemed to decide it was harmless and nodded off again.
Denario watched the drunk get shut in. The angle was bad but the guards mis-dialed the lock and so they let Denario watch them twice. He was pretty sure they used zero, twenty-five, zero, another default sequence.
The early afternoon passed quietly except for visits by two wives. They entered the cell hall one at a time and it looked like they paid the guards two pennies apiece for the privilege. Their men were sober and vocal. The wives complained about having to bribe the guards and the husbands complained about the food and drink. Both sides wondered why the men were still being held. Denario wondered, too. It was Captain Eberhardt who had refused to release anyone because he thought there were spies in his jail. There had been no sign of the man for half a day.
The second wife, who wore a dark green dress, pulled a green bottle from her bosom. She slipped it through the bars of her husband's cell window. Denario guessed it was wine but, he realized, it could just as easily have been a weapon or a secret message.
As she left, she slipped the guard another penny.
It wasn't until late afternoon that Captain Eberhardt made another appearance in the jail. He stormed through the door. There was a spring to his step. Denario hopped up to see him approach. He noticed a slight smile on the captain's face.
Eberhardt had changed clothes. His armor shone. His eyes still looked puffy but otherwise he seemed rested and washed.
“Math teacher!” he shouted as he saw Denario's face in the cell window. “Or is it gambler? Or thief? How are you finding our jail today?”
“Not much fun,” Denario said. Then, lest he be misunderstood, he added, “But fair. We're decently fed. Thank you.”
“Huh.” The captain hadn't expected that last part. He rocked back on his heels for a second. “You're an odd one, teacher. Well, I've got a question for you. Why did the wizard send his goat to talk with you this morning? What business have you had with him?”
Denario didn't ask where the goat was. He couldn't imagine the captain letting it in.
“I hired the Amazing Markar to send a message,” he explained. He opened his mouth again and hesitated. With a thrill of fear, he realized that he'd almost slipped up right then and admitted that he was writing to Ziegeburg. “It was a personal note.”
“I borrowed something ... by accident ... and I wanted to let my friend know that I'd pay him back.”
That got a laugh. The captain slapped himself on his breastplate.
“How do you borrow something by accident?” he asked.
“I picked up my friend's leather case in a hurry. It looked like mine. But when I unpacked my saddle bags for the night, I found that I had two cases.”
“Huh. That's almost believable.”
“Any chance of letting me out today, captain?” Denario filled the slight gap in the conversation with the possibility that was most on his mind.
“No one gets out until I say so.” Eberhardt scowled and shook his head. “My informants tell me there's going to be a bandit raid on the jail tonight. They want to break someone free, I'll wager. Maybe your cell mate here. Maybe one of the three or four others we've got. Maybe you. No one leaves. Not until I get answers.”
Eberhardt stopped looking directly at Denario. From the angle of his gaze, he was studying the mountainous, half-bald prisoner at the rear of the cell. The captain must have come from visiting his informants, too, because he seemed to have a better grasp on the situation. He'd already heard the news that Vir had told his man to spread around.
“What about you, mister Badli or Baldy or whatever your name is?” said Eberhardt. “Are you expecting anyone?”
“Captain,” replied Vir, quietly, without rising from his seat “The folks comin' tonight are no friends of mine.”
“And how would you know that, I wonder?”
“Have ye talked to Hans about me?”
There was such a long silence that Denario had time to wonder who was lying. He guessed it was the police captain. It was hard to imagine that he wouldn't grill his predecessor about this dangerous-looking fellow.
“Ye could release a few of the drunks,” murmured Vir. “Those that yer sure of. Fer their own safety.”
“So you admit there's danger? Because of you?”
“Ye could save everyone trouble by admittin' that ye've got no reason to hold me here. Yer informants have disappeared, haven't they? There's no one to speak against me. No one at all.”
Eberhardt's face went dark.
“But yer all filled with ideas of being heroic,” Vir continued. “I can tell. Ye think ye can hold off the Raduar. Maybe. Maybe ye can. But ye don't have to do it.”
“You mean I should just let you go? And what about the process of law? You were accused of attempting a robbery. And what about these armed men who came into my town? Some of those fellows have the same markings that you do.”
There was another silence. This time, Vir got an expression on his face that Denario had seen on one or two mules before.
“What would the baron say about you?” wondered the captain. “Does he know that your folks come over the mountain?”
Denario expected Vir to fly into a rage over that. He wasn't sure why. But when he looked, he saw that the big man's face held no emotion at all.
“Screw this!” shouted Eberhardt. He'd noticed the same lack of expression. He pounded his fist against the pommel of his sword. “Manfrit! Douglas!”
“Yes, sir?” Their replies came instantly. They'd been listening as closely as they could from the other end of the hall.
“Do you have courage, men?”
“Well, I ...”
“Ready to stand up to a gang? We'll take them easily, I promise. I know how to do this.” He started to wind down a little. He was thinking harder. “Anyway, we can't just let strangers roam Hogsburg in full armor.”
“Well, sir ...”
“This town needs law and order!”
“Yes, sir. One o' them got a crossbow, sir.” Douglas approached quietly for such a fat man. His voice was meek. “Fritz says he seen it.”
“We've got crossbows, too,” said Eberhardt.
“There are six or seven, all told. But there's only two or three of us here at any time, usually just one at night.”
Eberhardt laughed. It was a long, pleasant sound, full of confidence. Denario realized that Vir had been right. The captain did like heroics. In fact, he was probably the sort of man who was only comfortable when he had a clear goal and someone to fight over it.
“There are six regular officers and a dozen men who watch the gates,” said Eberhardt.
“The gate men will be at the gates.”
Eberhardt chuckled again.
“The foxes are in the henhouse now,” he replied. “I'm not worried about closing the damn doors. Come on!”
He pulled his men to him with a wave of his hand. Then he was gone.
Chapter Six, Scene Three