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.