92. The Waiting Game

“He’s probably going to come at us with everything, isn’t he?” I said to Enwye.

“Oh, I don’t know about that. Thing about Crunchy is, he’s never been a big risk taker. Likes things to be in his favour before he makes a move. Sending out those boys naked like that would have put the wind right up him.”

The only reason I’d made them all strip was so the uniform I’d given Little Chicken wouldn’t be missed. But returning prisoners naked also had a nice psychological effect.

I went and sat down in the booth at the back of the pub, exhausted from all the running around and hitting people from behind. Just because it was cowardly and dishonourable, didn’t mean it wasn’t tiring.

Enwye went back up and nailed the door shut in case our little subterfuge didn’t work, although I wasn’t sure it would stop them if they really wanted to get through. A couple of slams with those shoulderpads would probably leave the door in smithereens.

But they’d have to come through a bottleneck one at a time, which completely negated their advantage.

Eventually, though, Ween would come up with a plan. Unless, of course, he had been told to wait for me to make my move first, which would be great since I planned to do absolutely nothing. Everything relied on Little Chicken, assuming he hadn’t taken his chance to leg it and disappeared over the horizon. 

As I sat there, I noticed my hand was remarkably clean considering all the blood that had passed through my fingers recently. Had I wiped it off without thinking? Or had Jenny’s claim to be injured been an elaborate ruse to be intimate with me? It was pleasing to think she’d go to such lengths to get me to fiddle with her bits, but how likely was it really? Wishful thinking.

Jenny slipped into the booth beside me and leaned on my shoulder. “What you doing?”  There was plenty of room for her to spread out, but she chose to sit as close to me as possible. I didn’t mind it.

“I was, er…” A guy staring at his hand after it had recently been in a girl’s pants probably didn’t give off the cool, laid back vibe I was hoping to send out. Maybe one step above “Hey, smell my finger.” I put my hand under the table like it didn’t belong me.

“Just so we’re clear,” she said, “what happened upstairs was a medical emergency.”

“I know. Why else would you let me put my hand down there?”

There was a long pause. “I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell the others about it.”

“Sure, no problem. Is it alright if I think about it when I’m by myself?”

There was an even longer pause. “If you want.”

Not the answer I was expecting. I turned to look at her. “I mean, it’s not like you could stop me, but thanks for the green light.”

She shrugged. “Makes no difference to me.”

It was a fair point. But I have to admit to feeling a tiny bit disappointed by her lack of concern. Perhaps she really did only see me as a useful medical device.

The bar staff were stationed at the windows, peering through the shutter slats. Snoring filled the room, topped off by the occasional involuntary fart. I sat with my elbows on the table, thinking about how to get out of Dargot without getting caught up in whatever scheme Gullen was cooking up. I could always try old faithful—running away—but I doubted it would work against Gullen. Or his dogs.

Jenny joined in the snoring. Apparently the threat of a horrible death at the hands of violent ruffians wasn’t worth losing sleep over.

The chances of my plan working weren’t bad, but they weren’t great, either. If this was a game, I’d have any number of skills and abilities to help. Stealth, AoE, persuasion… there’d be six different escape routes and a secret door in the basement—which I could find with my detect skill. But all I had was a door with a bunch of nutters on the other side.

I aimlessly started pressing invisible buttons. I had given up on the idea of this being a game, but I had learned magic in a random fashion, so maybe this would be the same. Which reminded me, I had to figure out how I’d managed to create that flash of light without using any finger movements.

Beep boop beep.

My hands froze in mid-air. That noise… Could it be....

I tapped the area in front of me with a finger. Beep. “Oh for fuck’s sake.” I turned to Jenny.

“Beep. Boop.” She grinned at me.

“Really?  You had to get my hopes up just so you could watch them crash and burn?”

“The crash and burn is the best part,” she said. Girls are cruel. “I asked Maurice why you keep doing that, and he said you think this might be some kind of virtual reality game.”

“It’s possible.”

“I don’t think so. I’ve tried Occulus Rift and I can tell you, it isn’t like this. It’s shit.”

“Is it? I’ve heard it’s quite—”

“Shit. It’s very, very shit. But even if this is some advanced VR simulation, why do you think there would be an invisible control panel? Why wouldn’t it be voice activated?”

“Sorry, what?” Idiot. I’d completely forgotten about voice commands.

“Have you ever played computer games?”

It’s not fun having your video game prowess looked down on. Even more so when it’s by a girl. Sexist? Yeah, but still true.

“Status screen,” I said. Nothing happened. “Control panel.” Nothing. “Open window.”

“Open sesame,” said Jenny.

“User Interface on.”

“Let there be light.”

“You aren’t helping,” I said.

“How do you know? It could be a special password. Show me the money! Ooh, did you see that? I think I saw something.” She was mocking me and thoroughly enjoying herself while she did it. “Maybe it’s Maybelline.”

I was saved from further psychological mauling by one of the sleepers on the pub floor. He

suddenly sat up and said “Eh? What’s going on here?”

The other men all sat up, almost in unison, like this had been the prearranged signal to rise from their slumber. The men looked around, confused and still a bit groggy.

“Everyone get up. On your feet.” Enwye went round helping them up. Once he’d done that, he told them what had happened in the last few hours. This caused shock and disbelief. Which turned into anger and fear. Which, inevitably, led to whining and complaining.

“Calm down, throwing a hissy fit won’t do any good,” said Enwye

“This is madness,” said Bushy Beard. His previous faith in his good buddy Crunchy had disappeared. “We can’t stay here forever.”

“That’s true” said Enwye. “Come sun up, Crunchy will have the authority to demand entrance. Nothing I can do about it. He’s still a member of the Dargot Army, even if he is a total dirtbag.”

There was some more grumbling about this.

“But his plan was to grab you all when you were shit-faced and get you to sign the papers without knowing what it was you were signing. You ain’t drunk now, so he can’t make you sign nothing.”

I doubted it would be that easy, but the men seemed mollified and made optimistic noises. Until, that is, there was a loud banging on the door.

“Who is it?” shouted Enwye.

“This is Corporal Ween of Her Majesty’s Royal Infantry, Third Division. Under the City Provisions Act, I demand entry to these premises.” He sounded very formal and officious.

“Yes, yes, I know the drill.” Enwye unbarred the door and opened it. The men all backed away.

Corporal Ween stood in the doorway looking very pleased with himself.

“Hello, Ween,” said Enwye without a trace of friendliness. “You’re welcome to check my licence and stores, but first you’ll have let these customers leave.” He shoved Ween aside and motioned for the men to leave. They were nervous and unsure of what they’d find on the other side of the door, but they slowly walked through it. At the end of the line were me and Jenny. Seemed like as good a time to leave as any.

Outside, the sun’s early rays presented us with an ominous scene. The wagons formed a semi-circle blocking us in, and all around the perimeter were large men carrying clubs. I did a quick head count and made it fifteen of them—it looked like he’d called in reinforcements— against twelve scared men with hangovers, a barman and three staff members, and us two. 

“Wh-what’s all this?” said Bushy. 

“Now, now, don’t look so worried. I just want a quiet word, that’s all.”

I pushed my way through the men. “Well, I’ll be off then.”

“Wait a minute,” said Ween. “This is official Army business. You’ll have to wait until we’re done.”

“No, I won’t. You can do what you want, but it’s got nothing to do with me, so out of the way, Crunchy.”

Roly-poly Crunchy who enjoyed a joke and a laugh was not coming out to play. Instead, I had his evil twin Corporal Creepy staring me down.

“You may be a visitor and all,” he said, eyeing me up like a lamb chop, “but you’ll do as I say if you want to avoid upsetting my friends.”

I did have a weapon and could possibly take out one or two of the carpenters if I got lucky, but I didn’t really fancy it.

“I think you’ve got it wrong,” I said. “I won’t be your opponent today. They will.” I nodded towards the men behind him.

He turned, didn’t see anything untowards at first, and then walked over to the wagons, pushing the  carpenters out of the way.

It was hard to see clearly because of the way the wagons were positioned, but coming down the street was a crowd. A large crowd of women and children.

“Wait a minute” said Bushy, suddenly looking twice as afraid as he had a moment ago. “Is that… Oh shit. What’s my wife doing here?”

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