Part One

There were some things in Baycloak you simply did not do.  You didn’t walk alone through the Veil after dark without an offering for the vampires.  You didn’t fail to step aside for a Crown Company on patrol.  But the most important thing, the one everyone from the finest lord on Silk Street to the basest beggar in Cobbletown would tell you, was that you never, ever, no matter the circumstances, failed to pay Banner Malkin what you owed him.

Clearly, Tooks hadn’t been speaking to the right lords or beggars.  He’d been caught just as he set foot outside the Meadow Gate, headed north to Urgenlaerd.  Malkin’s men had tailed him ever since he left the Maiden’s Tear, and could have grabbed him anywhere along the way to the gate.  They just thought waiting until Tooks thought he’d made good his escape would be that much funnier.  Which for them, being on the opposite side of the situation, it was.  For Tooks, not so much.

He’d been brought through the twisting streets of the Shadow Quarter to what was referred to as the Tabernacle, the vast open space beneath the Quarter where Baycloak’s sewers converged, where Banner Malkin held forth.  He sat on a thick wooden chair perched atop a mound of silt the sewer runoff had built up over the centuries.  Stone arches vaulted high above him, and sewer tunnels extended from the Tabernacle in every direction like the legs of some great spider, off to run beneath Silk Street and Cobbletown and Crown Corners and all the other districts of Baycloak.  It was a poor thief indeed who didn’t know their way through those tunnels; poor, and most likely paying an extended visit to the Grips.

Malkin stifled a bored yawn as Tooks spoke.  “Is there a point to all of this?” Malkin said.

“Well yeah,” Tooks said, wringing his hands together.  “I would never be wasting your time on something what didn’t have a point to it.”

“Then please get to it before one of us dies.”  Tooks laughed, the implication soaring a small distance above his head.

“You see, I didn’t come away with nothing from the job, you see.  Crown Company came by on a roustabout, you see.  Now I ain’t as smart as you, but even I knows that part of nothing is still nothing, you see.”

Malkin stood and stomped down from his chair.  “And in what world did you imagine that would in any way absolve you of your debts to me?”

“This one, I would hope.”  Malkin winced; sometimes Tooks didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.

“I provide a service,” Malkin said, standing a good head taller than Tooks.  “I give you leads on good jobs, provide you equipment for those jobs, in this case even bribe the right people to make those jobs go more easily.  And I do this not out of generosity or benevolence or any other motivation save one — to make money.”

“Gen … bene … I don’t get what you be saying, sir.”

“I DON’T DO THIS FOR FREE.”  Tooks fell to the ground and Malkin’s voice boomed through the Tabernacle.  “Stand him up!” Malkin snapped, and two of his men rushed forward to drag Tooks back to his feet.  “I don’t care if General Wyrmharrow and the entire King’s Regiment showed up and politely asked you to put everything back.  I held up my end of our deal, and now you need to hold up yours.”

“I’ll pays, I’ll pays I will!” Tooks whimpered.  “I’ll finish the job!  And you’ll be getting the lot of it!  Everything!  Not a copper for me!”

Malkin leaned over Tooks, who tried to burrow away from Malkin’s gaze into the damp ground.  “And why should I believe you?  A man in your circumstances will say anything to forestall the quick cut.”

Tooks swallowed.  “I’ll pay you.  I swear on me own mother’s grave.”

Malkin stood, while his gathered men exchanged hushed murmurs.  “You actually have a mother?  I thought you guttermen just spawned fully grown from the runnels of Cobbletown.”

“She passed on just this last spring, gods sing her to sleep,” Tooks said, drawing his finger across his forehead in respect.  “I loved me mum, I did.”

Malkin nodded and smiled.  “A grave all ripe for the swearing.  Well then, how can I deny an oath so earnestly spoken and so freely given?”

Tooks’ eyes widened.  “You mean it, sir?”

“I’ll take coin over a dead gutterman any day of the week.  It’s better for business.”  He turned to his men.  “See him back to the surface.  But Tooks?”  Malkin’s men roughly hoisted Tooks from the ground and turned him to face Malkin.  “Three days.  By then, either have my money, or be prepared for a rather uncomfortable family reunion.”

Now the only thing Tooks loved about his mother was that she’d finally had the good sense to die and leave him alone.  But he respected her.  Anyone who’d raised seven mewling brats like Tooks and his brothers deserved that at the very least.  And it was out of that respect that he waited all of eighteen hours before fleeing Baycloak.

Part Two


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