Thursday, June 4, 2009

Page 50

"Mind your course, Perez! Do not let the evil intentions of ne'er do wells, stifle your noble direction!"

The comment suspended his perusal of the room’s assembly of swords, and daggers - some, hung on the walls as ornaments; others, carried by patrons in the tavern.

Perez replied, "And what do you know of my course? You, who I've been in the acquaintance of for a mere score of days, and I am not at all sure - "

Devereaux interrupted, "I meant no offence, young traveler. I simply wished to warn you of the unseemly character of those recent introductions - "

The stern glance shot at Devereaux silenced him.


Devereaux knew that his new friend was involved in something of great import and wished to be there for the payday.

Over his many years, he had encountered several men of Perez's type, and had never failed to garner fair harvest with the attachments. Sometimes... the host had to die. He also knew, however, that this one's intellect and resolve could prove too deadly in turn, and that he would have to watch his step very carefully.


Perez spent no further time intimidating Devereaux. He had silenced the weasel and did not wish to feed him more information than was useful. If it were not for the great part Devereaux would play in future events he would not have tolerated his presence beyond their meeting three weeks before.

Perez' focus returned to the contents of his mug. It had been a long time, indeed, since he had last stopped at the Black Boar Inn, and even longer still since his last encounter with Cedric Balfour.

Just moments ago, Balfour had introduced his three companions to Perez and his own reaction to the exchange was that of muted surprise since he and Balfour had never been friends. He now wondered why he would have gone to the trouble to introduce him to anyone.

Two of the three that accompanied Balfour were obvious thugs, while the third had a glimmer in her eye and something in her carriage that revealed she was, at the very least, partner to Balfour - perhaps even his employer.

Suspicious was an understatement. Perez wondered if the attention he had received was not rather due to old seaman that accompanied him. Time was on his side - he could afford to be patient.


Devereaux studied Perez for a moment, and took a drink from his mug. His gaze wandered about the Inn as he pulled on his ale. His eyes stopped at Balfour's table.

He set down the mug, and glanced for an instant at the young woman introduced to Perez simply as Anne. Devereaux wondered if he had seen her before. She seemed very familiar, yet he could not place the face.As young as she was, Devereaux reckoned that he might have seen her last as a child.

He was sure that if it were a more recent encounter, he would have remembered her. The concept troubled him some, and he returned to his mug for comfort. He wondered when Perez would have his fill of the place, and they could finally move on. He chanced the question.

"What do we wait for, Perez?"


Perez paused as he searched himself for the most advantageous response. He quickly glanced at the table across the room, leaned forward, and slowly whispered, "We wait for a friend... his name is Castille. When he arrives, we will find out if fortune smiles upon us or not!"

Perez knew that his answer was perfectly executed and might even convey the idea that his partner was their group's leader. His hope was that the mere mention of it would lessen the relentless maneuvering that Devereaux was engaged in and offer him relief.


Devereaux sat back quietly. He knew he would now have to change his strategy considerably.


Balfour and Anne sat at a long table that jutted out from the wall. The two hired thugs, William and Jean, sat at the opposite end joking back and forth oblivious to the two who had hired them.

Anne and Balfour sat with their backs against the wall, and faced the table where Perez was seated with his friend. It made it easier for them to stay apprized of the situation. The only obstructions between them and the objects of their on-again-off-again attentions were the mindless antics of the two brothers that worked for them as bodyguards.

Balfour hated this Inn! It smelled so much of pine pitch, mildew, and spilled drink it made it nearly impossible to eat there. As soon as circumstances allowed, he would pay off the brothers and put this miserable trial behind him. This girl who called herself Anne had better pay the full amount of hire, or he would visit some of his present misery on her.


Anne looked beyond the younger of the two brothers to get yet another studious glimpse of the other table.

She had heard of Perez and his partner, Castille, and from the descriptions of the latter, this could not possibly be the man that was with Perez now. No, this could only be the man she had searched for since the tragedy suffered eleven years past.

She had been twelve then, and had only seen part of his face - his eyes - just for a moment. It had been frigid that day, and most of his face had been covered. All of these years - through fifteen regions in four different countries - she had followed a reputation really more than a memory. Could this truly be the end of her quest?


Castille knew that he would be riding for at least another three miles to reach the Black Boar Inn before dark. He had not ridden very hard and could probably press his mount to arrive sooner, but did not wish to risk the horse's reserve. He decided he would save the strength of the animal in the event of an emergency.

He had received a sealed note by messenger eight days past, stating that Perez had found that which they had sought for the last year and a half. It was six months ago that the leads, by sheer number, required them to split their efforts.

They agreed on ten message stations for reports of progress, and on four sites for actual rendevous if their quarry surfaced. They had numbered the Inn as their third rendevous point.
The sealed message sent by Perez simply said Three. It had spoken volumes.


Devereaux's calm appearance hid the anxiety produced when Perez revealed that he had a partner. He was always prepared for variables such as this, but this could prove to be an eleventh-hour turn of events that could easily spell out his own doom.

His thoughts raced to make adjustments in planning. Should he continue with this enterprise? Should he gracefully bow out? Or should he simply disappear as quickly as possible?


Perez gave every appearance of being totally engrossed with his ale. Wishing to stay aware of his surroundings, he maintained his vigil peripherally while staring into his mug and sipping at it rarely.

Nearly escaping his notice was a man who had arrived only moments before Balfour and his group. Everything about that one seemed average. The only reason the man had gained his attention at all was the fact that he arrived alone... and remained alone.

Perez set down his mug for a moment and looked around the crowded hall of the Inn. There, across the room opposite him, on the same wall where Balfour and his group were seated, was the stranger.

He had obviously situated himself to survey the majority of the little tavern. Perez did not allow his gaze to linger on the stranger, but forced his own assessment of the room.

His gaze traveled to the counter, behind which, Alfonse, the proprietor, kept himself most of the time.

Alfonse's youngest son, Frederick, was a brute of a man with a reputation for violence and avarice. He stood at the counter, taking an occasional drink, while turning occassionally to look at the stranger who had entered his father's establishment.

Perez did not have to wonder long as to what would soon transpire. Frederick picked up his mug and slowly walked to the stranger's table.


Frederick was beginning to feel the first waves of the stupor that he had been drinking all morning to generate. Slowly, he moved toward the stranger. He had been feeling the lint in his pockets for days and knew his father would soon stop his line of credit.

After watching the stranger for some time, he was certain he could shake some silver out of him and remain in his father's good opinion. As he approached the stranger, he calculated his possible moves according to how the stranger might flee.

He reached the table where the stranger sat, and placed his empty mug on the table. He leaned forward to begin his extortion, when the stranger slid a gold crown to the center of the table. Without looking up he asked, "What would you be willing to do for ten of these?"
Frederick’s brow furrowed. "I'd be willing to risk prison!" he grunted.

"Then sobering up, and waiting for my signal should not present a problem for you?" Trying to recover, Frederick recalculated. He picked up his mug and began backing away.


"Here. A down payment for your services." The stranger pushed a small pouch to the center of the table and retrieved the crown. The pouch contained just enough to allow its new owner to get good and drunk - and the former owner knew it


Frederick stared at the pouch for an instant before picking it up. He looked at the stranger again, and then again.

The stranger never acknowledged him with eye contact. While Frederick made his way back to the counter, he thought that he may yet have his ten gold crowns without having to do any service to earn it. The amount offered by the stranger was large - a small fortune actually - but if he could acquire it with little risk . . . well, he would bide his time.


The stranger watched as his new hire retreated with his first installment. He knew he would have no more trouble from him. Even if the oaf decided to renew his former intentions he would be too drunk to be taken as a serious threat. Moreover, the incident seemed to have been sidestepped with no one noticing - except Perez. The stranger knew that little escaped his careful eye.


Perez had carefully scrutinized the transpirings and was somewhat surprised by what he had observed. When Frederick had crossed the room to the stranger's table, Perez was certain there would be lively entertainment in the offing.

He had heard of Frederick retrieving money from terrorized travelers who had wandered into the Inn alone. Perez wondered at the manner in which Frederick had been put off. Things were suddenly becoming very interesting.


Castille rounded the last treeline that obscured his view of the Inn from the opposite end of the valley. He could now see the thatched roof of it’s two stories, and the smoke curling from the distant chimney. He knew, that even though he would be meeting his partner shortly, he would not be able to share the things that he had discovered, nor would he receive much of an update himself.

He now felt confident requesting more speed. He applied his heels to the mount.


Devereaux had served for many years as a first mate on a large vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. There had been those who had said that it was probably a pirate vessel, though no proof was ever offered. He had learned countless things during his long life that had kept him breathing in many a tight spot.

The more unseemly tactics, he admitted, he learned as a sailor. As he sat at the table with Perez, he was gaining confidence again, having considered many possibilities. He would reconsider the situation after the arrival of this Castille that Perez spoke of.

Devereaux was certain that he would be able to discern and come to his decision about their partnership within an hour of his arrival. He knew in this setting, if need be, he could depart and no one would be privy to the fact - at least, not for a while.

He could accomplish his disappearance in short order, and could watch the two from a distance.


When Frederick returned to the counter, he called his father over and handed him the pouch. They appeared engaged in heavy, albeit quiet, discussion. His father had taken his mug, filled it, and returned. They had been involved in discussion ever since. Being preoccupied, Alphonse left his pouring duties to the serving maid. He turned away several times, as if to resume pouring, then returned to Frederick with yet more questions.


William and Jean were not at all interested in draining one mug after another. They concentrated their efforts on eating, being loud, and by their raucous treatment of one another intimidating others in the room. No one would come to this table except to bring food, drink, or serious trouble - and Balfour knew that when he hired them. The two were well-known in the region as responsible bodyguards, although quite unorthodox.


Castille came through the front door accompanied by a blast of cold air.

Entering, he quickly shot a glance around the hall to size up his surroundings and spied his partner, Perez, sitting at the table just to the right of the front door and the third table toward the room's center. His eye was, if that was possible, even more keen than that of Perez.

He immediately took notice of Balfour's table, as well as the huddle between Frederick and his father. His eye stopped for an uncomfortable instant at the stranger's table. Taking off his cloak, he moved toward his partner's table.

He gestured for service as he made his way. Perez rose to greet Castille, and as he did, Devereaux rose, as well.

Castille did not acknowledge Devereaux's presence except to gruffly ask, "Who is this?"

Perez smirked as he replied quietly, "This is someone who could prove valuable enough to include in our little affair."

Castille feigned a look of surprise and quietly said, "I really think we have all the information we need. And, another share to disappear from the total... well... "

Perez answered, "After you hear out this man's contribution, you may change your mind." With that, the three sat down.


Devereaux gained confidence with the exchange of the two, and though he remained very cautious, liked his situation better. When the serving maid arrived, Castille ordered food and drink. He told her where his horse was so it could be stabled and fed.


Alphonse's daughter, Marie, opened the double-doors at the back of the Inn, and in stepped her two eldest brothers, Lorenzo and Gregor. They carried a large steaming tub filled with various selections of cooked beef, chicken, and pork. The aroma filled the tavern, as another cold blast of air filled the room. The former sense was welcome - the latter was not. The sudden chill on the air promised an early snow.

The two brothers had been outside all day tending the cook pit, and preparing the property for the coming season. Gregor's son entered with them, and was shutting the doors behind, when the serving girl informed him Castille's horse needed tending. The lad quickly looked over to Castille who returned a nod and the boy retreated outside through the smaller back door the one that most of the regulars used.


Castille gave an inquisitive glance at Perez.

"It is harvest time, and Alphonse has been expecting an influx of customers who will be eating."

Castille nodded and asked, "So... does this partner have a name, or no?"


As the introductions and explanations continued at Perez' table, Anne and Balfour made their own assessment of Castille's arrival.

Balfour had known Castille many years longer than he had known Perez, and had hated him for the last eight of those years. The two had been partners once, but because of Balfour's sadistic nature, Castille ended their business with the threat of a sword. Balfour had indicated that their dealings with one another were far from over, though they proved to have had rare contact since.


Anne recognized Castille immediately. He fit his many descriptions well, with or without the beard. No one could mistake his dark eyes and commanding presence. Alone, one might not be able to pick him out of a crowded street, but Perez had already been introduced, and with the various fitting descriptions... Yes, this must be Castille.

She thought one of the two would be hard enough to handle, but together... well, she had hoped for an earlier resolution.


Lorenzo and Gregor listened to their father as they moved the meats from the tub to the warming pots.

The stranger had much to keep an eye on; Castille's arrival and the reaction at Balfour's table, the transpirings at the counter with his new hire and what appeared to be his family, not to mention the usual chaos of the Inn.

The stranger, however, did not seem moved in the least by anything that demanded his attention. He suspected that the tension would soon break

Anne leaned over the table to give Balfour some instruction, then sat back.

Devereaux seemed to be quietly explaining some very important information at length.

Castille appeared very skeptical when suddenly his brows rose and he sat back in his chair thoughtfully as Devereaux continued.

Gregor pretended to look around the Inn in an effort to catch a glimpse of the stranger - even that did not escape the stranger's notice. He thought to himself Yes, things here will soon be very dangerous. He reached inside his cloak and removed the safety strap on his dagger.


The hair on Perez’ neck stood on end as he watched the exchange between Anne and Balfour - between Balfour and William. Without interrupting Devereaux, who was still busy trying to sell himself as a partner, Perez signaled Castille. Castille never looked away from Devereaux, but nodded ever so slightly in response


Devereaux could tell something was about to happen, but gave no indication to the pair that he had noticed the signal. He continued with his explanation. He knew from his experience that trouble was likely break out from another table.

If this duo had planned any harm to him, they would not have bothered to signal each other in such a way. If trouble came from another source he would, indeed, convince the two of his worth.

Devereaux guessed that for the others to be so bold, they must possess some sort of knowledge that one of these two carried written information about the fortune they all sought. Things looked better and better.


Anne had informed Balfour of the necessity of separating Devereaux from Perez and Castille, but she never expected what followed. Without a word, Balfour moved to the end of their table and whispered to William. She suspected that there might have been some history between Balfour and Perez, maybe even with Castille by Balfour's reaction at his arrival, but she hoped history would not interfere with her present.


Balfour's instructions to William were pointed, “I will take Castille, the one newly arrived. You and Jean keep the other two busy. Kill Perez if you have to, but stay your hand with the old man. Be ready to rise when I do, and follow my lead.”


Anne was not privy to the instructions, and Balfour did not allow her to question him. When she made the attempt, he raised his hand slightly to stifle her query. It troubled her greatly. She now expected the worst, for she knew she could not thwart his intentions without tipping her own hand.


Balfour waited patiently for Castille's dinner to be served. He would time his advance to coincide with the server's arrival at his table. He knew that the confusion generated by the arrival of dinner, and his attack, would be to his advantage and serve him well.

He watched as the girl picked up a platter with a few plates and several mugs on it. She left the counter and headed toward their table. He made sure of her direction and speed, calculated, and then he rose.


Perez pretended not to have noticed when Balfour and his henchmen stood to their feet. Instead, he lifted the mug to his face. That had been a long-standing signal between him and Castille.

Castille's back was to his opponent, when the serving girl arrived with the platter. Castille rose as if to make it easier for her to place his refreshments. Devereaux continued talking as Castille carefully watched the eyes of his partner. Balfour closed the distance.

Flanked by the brothers, Balfour neared his enemy's back. As he advanced the last few steps, he drew his sword. Castille was at the ready when Balfour reached for his weapon, and Perez made eye contact with Castille

Hearing the draw of the weapon, Castille became a blur. He wrenched the serving platter from the girl, and with most of the food and drink still on it, he whirled around, upending the platter sideways as he spun. He hurled the cargo at William's knees.

In a lightening move, Perez rose from his chair and grabbed Devereaux as he attempted to stand, and shoved him toward the near corner. Drawing his sword and dagger, he turned toward the attack.


William's immediate reaction was to jump over the load that was thrust at him. The mess caught him just below the knees and pitched him forward.

Castille had unsheathed his sword and answered Balfour's blow with a powerful parry and swift lunge to the heart.

Perez was upon Jean before he could even react. He drove his sword deep into Jean's left thigh and left it there, as he whirled around to check on Devereaux. Regaining his feet, Devereaux drew his weapon and quickly advanced on William.


Anne was somewhat stunned and looked to the stranger. He returned her glance, and gestured for her to keep her place.


William had not quite recovered from his fall. Devereaux stood above him, weapon drawn, to stop any effort of his to salvage the situation. Perez watched Jean, who had been incapacitated, and gave an occasional glance at Anne and the stranger, as he briefly surveyed the room.


Balfour lay dying, a single wound to his heart. His passing did not take long.

Castille's dislike for Balfour had grown over the years, but it had never matched the unbridled hatred Balfour had toward Castille. The last thing Balfour saw was Castille standing over him shaking his head.


The crash of the platter and Jean's scream had silenced the room. Those who had been seated slowly stood, and though no one dared approach, all searched for the origin of the commotion. Once the initial shock sank in, the serving girl fainted away. Castille leaned over and snatched Balfour's kerchief to wipe off his blade. He looked up at Anne who had seated herself again.

Devereaux stood above William who was laying face-down, the point of his cutlass kept him in place.


Perez quickly scanned the room for more assailants. Realizing no apparent threat, he pulled his sword from the writhing Jean, who gave another cry of pain. He looked at Devereaux and gestured that he would allow William to attend his injured sibling. Jean was not bleeding profusely, but the sooner they would allow William to bind the wound, the better.

Lorenzo slowly approached open-handed. He gestured toward the girl and Perez responded with a wave of his hand. Lorenzo knelt to wake the girl and remove her. Once again, the Inn became noisy, but the sound was certainly different. Before, the mood was light-hearted - nearly musical - now, the background sounded dark, tense, and foreboding.


Perez, having assessed the situation, informed Castille of his intention to speak with the lady who sat with Balfour. Castille's only response was a concerned look that let Perez know he still needed to be careful.

Castille asked Lorenzo to remove Balfour's body and he seemed very happy to comply. Having a body lying on the diningroom floor made for poor appetites. And besides, he would go through Balfour's pockets in order to pay for the damages.

Perez slowly navigated the room toward Anne's table as he cleaned his blade with a rag, then sheathed it. As he approached, he felt as though the eyes of the stranger were burning holes in him. He did not return the stare.

"Anne, is it?" he gestured as if he wished to sit with her. She nodded her response. He sat down across the table from her to afford himself clear sight of the room - especially the stranger.

Anne maintained her composure, as he asked, "Will you tell me what you may know of your party's attack upon us?"

"Balfour seemed to have had his own agenda. I hired him to be my bodyguard. He hired the other two. It seemed as though he had issues with you... or your newly arrived friend."

Her eyes held his attention. He saw sincerity there, and yet, something more.

Perez measured Anne's honesty as she responded. He thought that there must be something that she was not telling him. He glanced back to his own table as he constructed his next question.

Castille was patiently waiting for Alphonse who was headed toward him.

Perez probed again, "Are there others in the room, that you know we need to concern ourselves with?"


She answered too quickly, "I am now alone." Aware of her obvious haste, she added, "I need to retain another escort to take me to my destination


He took his time in answering. He allowed her to search his face as he stared past her at the stranger. He suspected that she might react in some way that would indicate a possible connection between the two. The stranger had seemed very interested when Perez had approached her table. Even though Anne never flinched during his pause, Perez sensed her tension.

Perez finally broke the silence, "Yes, you will need to replace Balfour. I, of course, will try to help you secure a new escort. It may take some time. Balfour’s death, while he was in your employ, is not much of a recommendation... even if it was his own fault." He smiled in an effort to reassure her of his kind intentions and excused himself as he returned to his table.


Alfonse arrived at their table wringing his hands, "Mr. Castille?"

He bristled, "Just Castille."

"Sir, it is the custom to recoup any losses from a situation like this from the deceased..." He rested his assertion hoping for some sign of recognition on Castille's face.

Castille's stare made him even more nervous

He continued, "Sir, we were unable to find any money on the body and, after all, appetites have been spoiled by the bloodshed


Castille finally eased him, "Say no more. I understand completely."

Alfonse’s smile slowly vanished as Castille continued.

"If a few of your regulars have no stomach for spilled blood, then you should not allow the likes of Balfour to enter your establishment. You'll get nothing from me but the cost of our food and drink. And do not let me see you disturb the lady, either!" He gestured toward Anne, and though he never raised his voice, the command was earnest.

Alfonse bowed slightly, before retreating to his counter.


As the stranger had watched the events unfold, he had stood only for an instant when the three had fallen to the floor - one duped, one wounded, one dying.

More importantly, he had stood to see the room clearly and was fully prepared to rush to his sister's aid if need be. Confident that the skirmish was over, he had gestured for Anne to remain at the table.

Once they had regained their seats, they did not have to wait long before Perez approached Anne.

Her brother, Robert, could not afford to be distracted - he watched every move. When Perez looked at him, he averted his eyes and pretended to be disinterested.

As Perez left Anne's table, Robert glanced at his drunken hire, Frederick, and knew he would hear no more from him. But, now, it seemed that Frederick's father, Alfonse, had taken an interest in Robert and from time to time would actually stare at him.


The incident provided Castille and Perez something they might not otherwise have been able to acquire - a moment to discuss their situation.

When Castille noticed that Perez had finished his interview of Anne, he met him as he returned. They walked toward the door for privacy.

Castille queried, "How did you find him?”

Perez gave a quick glance behind him, "He found me, really. I overheard his name mentioned in the marketplace of Bien Bleu. Here and there, I discreetly asked for peculiar information about the Spanish Coast near the French border. Since he had spent many years in and around that area, I followed our plan to entice him. Bits and pieces of history surfaced.

I deliberately paid for some of the information that I knew would be very unique to Devereaux. Because of his interest in the legend of a buried fortune, it was not long before he showed himself and tried to interrogate me for what information I may have.

I forcefully put him in his place, but suggested that he and I might be able to form a temporary alliance. While he collected his belongings, I dispatched three couriers to our message stations. That was three weeks ago. We only arrived here yesterday morning.”

"So, this is our man,” Castille said. “We have done well, my friend. If this continues, our reward will be great. What did you find out from the girl?"

"She and the man in the far corner are connected. I am sure of that. I suspect that she might be interested in Devereaux and may have hired Balfour to mask her intentions."

Castille's brow furrowed slightly. "Why do you suspect her interest?"

"I found it very odd that when their party arrived they hadn't even been seated before Balfour introduced me to Anne. At the time, I thought Balfour's strange behavior might indicate her interest in the old man."

"How did you respond to the introduction?" Castille asked.

"I never introduced the old man, but bowed politely to the woman,” Perez answered.
Castille smiled.


Devereaux kept watch on the brothers as the one tended the other.


Anne sent a serving girl to find out from William how much Balfour had promised for their hire. She intended to pay them their full amount as they did, in fact, lay their lives on the line.


Devereaux was certain that he had proven himself more useful than simply supplying information. He had, after all, stood with weapon at the ready. And Perez had given clear indication that he had a strong need for the information he held when he had taken the time to push him away from the fight. He felt his position with the pair was certainly a situation that he could live with.


Perez and Castille conversed for a few more moments before they both burst out in laughter. As they broke off their talk, Castille headed back to the table, and Perez made his way to the stranger.


Robert watched as he approached. He wondered what Anne might have told Perez that would have led him in his direction. He was certain he would find out directly. When Perez arrived at his table, Frederick took note of it. Even though he was drunk, he must surely be aware enough to know that his opportunity for service was gone.


Perez bowed slightly. "Good evening, sir. May I introduce myself?"

Robert rose. "Certainly, sir. My name is Robert." He bowed in turn, and gestured for Perez to join him at his table. He moved to the chair on his left, and offered Perez the chair with full view of the room - the chair that did not expose his back.

Perez smiled at the chivalry. "Sir, my name is Perez. As you must be aware, my friends and I have had a scuffle of sorts." Perez hesitated for an instant - long enough that Robert asked Perez to continue.

"The reason I came to you is that girl..." he nodded in her direction as he searched Robert's face for reaction. Robert looked at Anne, and returned his gaze to Perez. His expression never changed.

"Unfortunately my party has deprived the young woman of her escorts. We have prior plans that cannot be set aside. However, I noticed that you are alone... and that you stopped Frederick with ease."

Perez motioned toward Alfonse's youngest son. "For you to do so, showed an exceptional amount of poise and talent. I assured her that I would attempt to secure new escorts. If you are not otherwise engaged, may I suggest that I introduce you to the young lady?"

Robert's face showed little reaction, but Perez could tell that the young man was carefully calculating his answer.

After a moment, Robert said, "I, myself, have prior commitments that might be set aside, but I will have to give it some thought before making the young lady's acquaintance."

Perez smiled. "Come to our table at your convenience and I will be happy to introduce you. If you will excuse me, I will take my leave and return to my friends. It was good to have met you, sir."

They both stood as Perez spoke, and Robert responded by indicating his intentions to join them shortly.

Perez paused at Anne's table. He leaned over and quietly said, "I may have found your escort. I'm sure I'll be able to introduce you soon."


Anne had carefully watched the activity at her brother's table, and had wondered at the transpirings. Now that she knew, she still wasn't sure how to reply to his comment. Perez gestured that she need not respond, and turned to go back to his table.


Once Devereaux was convinced that there was no more fight left in the brothers, he put away his weapon and took a chair nearby to watch the binding of the wound. Occasionally, he would glance around the room to take stock of the situation. He was satisfied with himself and certain that he was now well-established within his new endeavor.

On the other hand, he also had a new opinion of these partners of his. In the future, if it proved out that they might have to be dealt with violently, it was now obvious that it would have to be done more with cunning, than the blade.

Because their exchange with the attackers was of such short duration, Devereaux now had a very thorough portrayal of their skill and efficiency. The speed of the dispatch was proof that these two were, indeed, experienced and proficient. He thought about the possibility of developing a long-standing partnership, but if this adventure turned out how he expected... he might rather retire from adventures altogether.


Castille had ordered another platter to replace the supper he had used as his weapon. It had been delivered just prior to his discussion with Perez. When Perez had gone to Robert's table, Castille had changed their table to one nearer the wall - and further from the mending of Jean - and was nearly finished with his chicken when Perez returned.

Perez drew his chair to the table. "It is set in motion. This should prove very interesting."

Castille smiled before taking another bite. He pushed the morsel to one side of his mouth and responded, "We should have the old one join us, again."

Perez turned toward the old first mate, "Devereaux! Join us." Pointing first at the two brothers and then gesturing around the room, "We are no longer threatened, and have business to discuss


Devereaux rose and took another glance around the room, before he joined them. He was sure the act would portray a devotion to duty in their eyes.


Alfonse had become increasingly agitated by Castille's rejection of his efforts to recoup the damages incurred by the skirmish. There had been virtually no loss of appetite from the other patrons, contrary to what he had told Castille. And, in fact, there had been more than enough money in Balfour's keep to pay for the losses, including the platter that went to the floor. But it was, after all, accepted protocol for the winner of such conflicts to give, at least a token of relief, to those afflicted.

In any case, he knew their visit at the Inn was not yet concluded and there may yet be time for a greater profit. No matter. He knew another opportunity might just present its self and he would have to be very careful how to take advantage of it - if at all. And he also knew, in order to continue his business at the Inn, he could not afford to create a reputation of preying upon those who chose his establishment.

His thoughts caused him to cast a disgusted glance at his son, Frederick, who was now so drunk he could barely stand. The spoiled baby of the family had nearly gained them that reputation. If Alphonse had not put an end to his son's extortions of the locals - and limited him to bullying travelers for their money pouches - the valley residents may not have merely avoided the Inn, but might have actually burned it to the ground.


Anne felt somewhat awkward sitting at the empty table. She waited for Castille to finish his meal, then, went to his table.

Gentlemen, may I join your company? At least, until I have my escort replaced?" she asked.

The three rose to greet her, and Perez responded, "I am sorry, miss... I should have offered you a place at our table. But, with the loss of your escort, I could not be certain - Yes! Please join us! Allow me to make introductions to my... " he hesitated and glanced at Devereaux.

He continued as she seated herself, "to my friends."

He gestured, "This is our recent acquaintance, Devereaux, and this is my longtime associate, Castille. Gentlemen, this is Anne... I apologize, again, miss, but Balfour never mentioned your full name

"Balfour, evidently, was an inept clod,” she said. “He took things upon himself that grossly exceeded his hire. As for social graces, I cannot slight him there. He never mentioned my full name for I never gave it. And hopefully, it will not offend you, gentlemen, if I insist on being known simply as Anne." Her countenance was firm and no one pressed her for more.


The brothers were finally picking themselves off the floor a few paces away and glanced over sheepishly. Jean leaned on William who asked, "May I take him upstairs?"

"Certainly,” Castille replied. "You needn't check with us again, young man. Our business is finished." William looked relieved, and turned to leave

"Wait! Your pay!" Anne said

Steadying himself against Jean's arm around his shoulder, William shook his head.

Anne was firm. "Nonsense! You cannot be blamed for following Balfour's lead." She placed a small worn leather pouch in William's hand.


Jerry slapped the cover shut on the tattered blue hardback, and looked again at the wrinkled masking tape with 25¢ scribbled on it.

He looked over the long table of knickknacks to the boxes of other books that he would search through. He had hopes of finding at least nine more that would be suitable and offer the lady a couple of bucks for them.

Before picking up another, he peered over the rim of his glasses and skimmed the rest of the yard sale. His gaze fell on the tools situated next to a stack of four used tires with a slip of paper duct-taped to them indicating she wanted fifteen dollars.

He looked up, assessing the bright cool morning, and smiled as he put Castille and Perez into his empty, plastic shopping bag.“Well, you sure picked a great day for a yard sale!” he called out to the lady sitting in the swivel recliner smoking a cigarette.

She laughed and yelled back in her gravely voice, “Yeah... so far! But you better hurry up! It’s supposed to rain before sundown!”

Jerry’s only response was a courtesy laugh and a nod of his bald head as he picked up a western.

And - as he did with all potentials - he opened up and began reading on page fifty. If this one could hold his interest for at least five pages, he would buy it, too.