Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Shop Talk With Von Mack

A few moments after Small Paul and his companions had left the inn, Badmann came sauntering in off the street and saw Mack sitting at a table looking at something in his hand. Noticing the splattered blood trail on the floor, he asked, "What happened here?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle.", Mack replied blandly, as he slipped a coin into his vest pocket. "Come follow me. I've got a private room in the back."

With that Mack picked up a bottle of schnapps and a couple of glasses from the bar, and lead the way to a backroom that was little more than a large closet, a table, and a couple of chairs. "It's cramped. I know, but it's not going to take us that long."

Mack sat down in a chair and opened the bottle. Badmann filled the two glasses and was about to sit down, when he noticed Mack had one hand under the table.

"What?!" Mack said at his friend's hesitation. "Oh...". He slowly raised his hand and reached for one of the glasses, as a relieved Badmann took his seat. "An old trick, but a good trick, none the less. Well...the bottle is opened, it must be drunk, and only truth spoken while we drink. Salute."

The glasses clinked, and soon the table was covered with an astonishing wide array of pistols, knives, daggars, garrottes, brass knuckles, and blackjacks, while the two inspected, sharpened, and cleaned their personal arsenals.

"So...what's the latest from St. Maurice? Any more of that 'zombie plague' business going around?", Mack asked.

"It's been pretty quiet for the last few months. There's been no new 'outbreaks' at any rate. Say, that reminds me. Whatever happened to that Rottenbrat fellow that escaped in the aftermath of our last collaberation? The Herzog was most put out, and I had to do some fancy tap dancing about him. There were no traces. It was like he dug a hole and pulled it in after him."

"How odd that you should say that.", Mack harumphed. "I came across his track just outside the city, and invited him to accompany me to the Felsigburg. I've never seen anybody with such a high tolerance for pain. He kept claiming that he was dead. So after a week of interrogation with no results, I agreed with him. In Raubenstadt we have a law that if a body is unclaimed by relatives after seven days, it can be given to the University's Medical College. I understand that the Professors and medical students were most anxious to examine this rare case. There must have been some spark of vitality left, because he kept screaming, 'No! No!!', when they were carting hime away. Who would have thought that someone like Rottenbrat would have had enough civic pride in him to donate his body to science?" Mack mused.

Badmann shuddered at the mental image, and downed another shot. "Steiner is recruiting at the Black Pelican in Tradgarland.", he said.

Mack was surprised. "I thought I burned that place down years ago."

"They rebuilt it after your fire, and twice after ones I set.", Badmann offered. "Syldavians are a stubborn bunch. So why have three Kerns' come to town?"

"Her Serene Highness, The Markgrafin of Raubenstadt is very annoyed that during the Reichduke's visit, her son Andrew was endangered by the Stagonian plot that was disrupted."

"But young von Meltzer is in charge of the Leib Squadron of the Reichduke, and a personal friend of Prince Wilhelm. There's danger enough in either of those positions!" Badmann exclaimed.

"I know. I know. I tried to explain this, but she wouldn't hear of it." Mack held up his hands in protest. "She's come to give the Old Duchess an earful about endangering her boy and settle some other matters that have long rankled her. Her brothers David and Paul, oh excuse me! Somerussian Guyovich are escorting her to make sure nothing happens to their sister, but I think Guyovich is hiding something. I've known them all since they were little, and as terrible as you think they are; they're not a patch on their father the Old Baron Kerns. I used to work for him when I was younger, you know. He gave me my first job. I still go to his grave every now and then. The children think that it's out of respect, but I really go to make sure that the cold bastard hasn't found a way out!"

Mack drew his hanger to sharpen it. Badmann noticed that even though the hilt, knucklebow, and handle were plain blackened iron in a mass produced Dutch style, and that the scabbard was positively shabby, the blade itself was of the finest Cologne steel, with the "Running Fox" watermark. "I have sworn an oath to protect them, and I don't care who I have to kill to do so. So what is the latest information the Frankzonian Intelligence Service has on Stagonian Agents in the area?!"

Badmann pondered, as he drank his drink, just how much he should tell this very, very dangerous man.

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Conversation with Herr Von Mack

It had become something of a tradition between Mack and Badmann that when each of them was in the other's area of operation, they would meet, clean their weapons, and trade bits of information and other "shop talk", before carrying out whatever mission they had been assigned. It was a mark of trust between the two professional agents. So it was that Mack was waiting for his friend at a disreputable inn that catered mostly to the bargemen and others who made their living off of the river traffic that had tied up to the docks of Frankfurt.

Mack spoke to the tapster behind the bar, ordered a beer and sat down at a nearby table to enjoy it, while he waited for Badmann to show. He was just about halfway through it, when a large, unkempt fellow sat down in the other chair at the table and said, "How much money do you have on you, Grandfather?"

Mack put his stein on the table, circled the lip of the mug with a forefinger, and replied, "Why do you want to know?"

"If it's enough for my thirsty friends and me to wet our throats, you might just be able to walk out of here in one piece.", the large fellow said, while cracking his knuckles and showing a yellowed tooth smile. "We've worked up a powerful thirst; rowing upriver all day!"

Mack smiled back and said, "I can see that you are a big fellow; and no doubt used to getting your way. Let me school you on why you should never sit down at a table with a man who has one hand under it."

The large man yelped and his confidence quickly leaked out of him as Mack continued in a pleasant conversational tone, "What you're feeling at your right kneecap is a very long, very sharp, and very slender knife. So keep your hands where they are. With only the slightest effort on my part, the blade will slide off the knee-cap and go into the joint, severing all kinds of ligaments, tendons, cartillage, muscle, veins, and perhaps an artery. It will be excruciatingly painful when it scrapes the bone as I twist it to pull it out."

"P-P-Please Sir! Don't!", the large man blubbered.

"What's your name?"

"Paul Peiper! They call me 'Small Paul'. Don't lame me!"

"You know Paul, it would be a terrible time to be out of work. You don't see very many one legged people working the docks. Well...except for beggers, of course. Now a stout fellow like yourself would probably survive the amputation, if this isn't the knife I used to dice an onion last night. Blood poisoning is a terrible way to die. I've seen men scream for days and days while their bodies rotted before their eyes; before the lockjaw granted them the sweet release of death. Good doctors who know how to properly saw off a leg are very expensive. They always want to be paid in advance. It would be months before you could even hope to stand again. Who sent you?"

"He never said. We were supposed to kill you and make it look like a robbery. The brass he paid was good.", Paul grimmaced.

"I'd wager that you wished that you'd asked for more right now. I'll see the color of his money. Now!"

A golden coin reluctantly fell onto the table. "All of them!", Mack insisted, giving a slight prod of the dagger. Two more coins joined the first.

"A pox upon the ragged man! And a curse upon his money!" Paul growled.

Mack drew a double barreled pistol from underneath his coat, cocked both the hammers back, and motioned to Small Paul's two companions to come over. He said, "Paul is going to need you to take him to a doctor." He then pinked him in the calf with the dagger. Small Paul yelled in pain and stood up. His two friends each grabbed an arm and supported him as they staggered from the inn. Small Paul cursed a coarse oath with every step. "Be sure to tell the surgeon to soak the bandages in vinegar, if you want to save the leg!", Mack called after them.

Mack put the pistol back on half-cock and slipped it under his coat. The daggar went back into it's boot sheath; two of the coins were dropped into a vest pocket. Mack looked down at the third coin. The profile of King Maurice of Stagonia stared back.