The men in the room turned their attention to the pretty girl standing on the table. Maybe they thought after the singing comes the go-go dancing.
“Sorry to interrupt. I thought you might like to know the man who just left put something in your drinks.”
A confused murmur drifted around the room.
“I can’t be absolutely sure, but I think he drugged you so it would be easier to grab you when you leave here and force you to join the army.”
The murmuring escalated into objections.
“What are you saying?”
“Why would he do that?”
“Not true. Not true.”
The natives started to get restless. I tried to move away from Betty Bigmouth, but I was in a booth so it was hard to get any distance.
“Please, I don’t want to start any trouble—” Yeah, right “—but I saw him squeeze a few drops of whatever was in the small pouch on his belt into each of your mugs. Maybe they were vitamin drops and he’s secretly boosting your immune system, I don’t know, I’m not a doctor . I’m just warning you, if you leave here and run into him, there’s a good chance he’s going to try and sign you up, whether you’re interested or not.”
This gave the men pause for thought, but none of them seemed convinced. A scruffy man with a bushy beard stood up on the far side of the room.
“I don’t know why you’re saying these things, but I known Crunchy since we were boys—same as most everyone else here— and there’s no way he would do something like that. No way. I mean, why? Why would he do such a thing? It makes no sense.”
There was general agreement with this sentiment.
“I don’t know,” said Jenny. “Does he get paid a commission for the men he brings in?”
An awkward silence fell on the room.
“He do,” said Bushy Beard, “but not enough to turn on his friends.”
“What if he managed to bring in every man in this room. Would it be enough money to tempt him then?”
Everyone looked around, counting the number of men and doing the calculations. There were twelve men in the room.
“I, I still don’t believe it,” said Bushy, sounding unsure of himself. “You say he put something in our drinks? Well, I feel fine. More than fine. I think you just be seeing things. You wanna be more careful who you go around badmouthing, young lady. I had enough of this. I’m a going home.”
He pushed away a chair and walked over to the exit, paused to give Jenny a disapproving glare, and opened the door.
A gust of cool, fresh air rushed into the room and struck Bushy like an undercut to the chin. His head tilted up and he staggered a few steps backwards before collapsing.
A couple of the men nearest rushed to help him up. They got him back to his feet but his neck had turned to rubber flopping his head from side to side.
“Remi, what’s wrong? Are you okay, Remi?”
His only response was a stream of giggles. A sense of panic pervaded the room.
Jenny climbed down from the table and sat back down next to me. She smiled at me like job well done.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I said.
“All I did was warn them,” said Jenny. “It’s up to them if they want to do something about it or not.”
“And you think that’s all? No blowback?”
Jenny shrugged. “Why would there be? We can just leave.”
Holy shit, she actually believed that. It must have been pretty great being someone whose life always worked out for the best. I on, the other hand, was a guy whose life never did. Irresistible force, immovable object. Who would win?
“He’s just drunk,” said a bald man over by the bar. “You’re all going barmy over nothing.” He stood up, took a step forward like you do when you get to the bottom of the stairs and thinks there’s one more step when there isn’t, and went down like a very drunk sack of potatoes. He lay on the floor giggling.
All around us, men began to stagger and go limp. Weird, unnerving laughter filled the room.
A younger guy sitting by the window suddenly stood up. “It’s Corporal Ween, he’s back. He isn’t alone.”
“Lock the door,” cried out the barman. “Shutter the windows.”
The three bar staff ran around shuttering the windows, skipping around the incapacitated customers.
“We’re going to have a lock in,” said the barman. “You’ll all stay here until you sober up.”
“I can’t stay here,” said one of the men who was still able to remain upright. “You any idea the bollocking I’ll get if I spend the night in pub? My wife’ll cut me goolies off.” He stumbled towards the door which was closed, locked and had a bar across it.
“What do you think she’ll do if she finds out you’re fighting on the frontlines and there’s no one to support her or the kids?” said the barman.
The guy stopped and leaned against the wall like he was giving the question a lot of consideration. He slowly slid down the wall and ended up in a heap on the floor, so I guess deliberations had ended.
“We can just leave, can we?” I said to Jenny.
She looked at me somewhat sheepishly. “There’s probably a back door.”
“Damn, the back door. I almost forgot the busted lock. You—” the barman pointed to one of his staff “—go to the back door and nail it shut.”
Jenny refused to look me in the eye. “It’s just a lock in. It’s not like we have to fight our way out of here.”
The guy who had played lute for Flossie suddenly called out. “Oh, no!” He was pulling large wooden shutters across the window at the front of the pub, but he had stopped and was looking at something out in the street. “Uncle Enwye!”
“What is it, Little Chicken?” said the barman.
To be fair, with his long scrawny neck and beaky nose, the kid did have a poultry look about him, but it was still a bit of cruel nickname.
“The men with Corporal Ween,” said Little Chicken, “they ain’t regular army. They look like they’re from the Carpenter’s Guild.”
“Oh, shit!” said the barman.
It was a bit of an extreme reaction, I thought. Granted, a carpenter might be useful for taking the door off its hinges, but I couldn’t see any reason for the abject fear on everyone’s faces.
I got up and walked over, partially out of curiosity and partly because I didn’t want Jenny to say anything else.
“At least it isn’t raining.” SFX: crash of thunder.
“What’s so scary about a few carpenters?”
The barman looked at me like I was an idiot. “There aren’t any carpenters in the Carpenter’s Guild.”
“Then why are they called the—”
The barman interrupted me with a long sigh and a shake of his head. “If you had a group of thugs and murderers for hire what would you call them? The Assassin’s Guild? Put it on a business card with your contact details, would you? Be a bit of a giveaway to the authorities, wouldn’t it?”
“Oh,” I said. “I get it. And the Thieves’ Guild…”
“The Cheesemaker’s Association. They do actually also produce cheese, but it’s more of a sideline.”
“So, these Carpenter Guild guys are pretty tough?”
“They take a blood oath before every job. Either they get the job done or die trying.”
There was a loud banging on the door. “Come on, now. What’s going on in there? If you’re having a lock in, at least let me in for a drink.”
The barman moved over to the door. “Ah, you know the law, Crunchy. Once the door’s locked, no one’s allowed in. Cost me my licence if I broke the rules.”
“I won’t tell anyone,” said the voice through the door. There was a fake jovality to it, but it wasn’t hard to spot the menace beneath it.
“Ha, nice try.,” said the barman, his fake jovality undercut with a nervous desperation. “Sorry, no can do.”
There was another round of banging. “Those men have got families to go home to, jobs in the morning. It’s irresponsible to let them drink all night.”
“It’s irresponsible to bring the Carpenter’s Guild into this,” the barman shot back. There was silence.
I went to the shutters and peered through the slats. There were three wagons out there and a bunch of silhouettes. Large silhouettes.
“I don’t suppose you have a cellar with a secret passageway out of here?” I said.
“No,” said the barman. “There’s no way in or out of here now.”
“Okay. We’ll just have to wait for everyone to sober up.” The customers were in various stages of passing out. On tables, on the floor, some even on their feet. “Let’s just hope Corporal Crunchy doesn’t try any FBI hostage negotiation techniques like setting the place on fire and burning us all to death.”
There was a sound above us. We all stopped and looked up.
“Oh shit,” said the barman, “I forgot about the roof. There’s a skylight in the back bedroom.”
Jenny sprang to her feet, ran across the room, headed for the stairs. I grabbed her as she tried to get past me.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I had her firmly by the shoulders. “I’m not going to get myself killed because you think you’re some kind of hero.”
She shook me off. “I didn’t ask you to come with me.” She patted me on the shoulder and then sprinted up the stairs.
She was right. If she wanted to throw herself into the arms of certain death, that was her business. Absolutely nothing to do with me. My job was to keep me alive. She was on her own.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I chased up the stairs after her. What the hell was it about this girl that made me run towards danger?