This week, sadly, there are no illustrations as Meunier is in convalescence.
The Story So Far
With just to days to go before their second and last pre-season game, Mytilan Militantes’ owner Cassandra Thordwall learns that someone is spying on their training sessions. She dispatches her bodyguard Umberto to find out who the spy works for, cautioning him not to reveal himself. She wonders if she’d better borrow some pirates when Umberto brings her answers.
The Militantes lose 2-1 to the Stonecarvers. They learn you can’t one-arm tackle a Dwarf, you can’t dodge clear of them easily, and you can’t let them form up or they’re hard to stop. After the game, Thordwall informs her team that the Dwarves had star players on the pitch whose game fees are beyond their ability to pay, but within the ability of the owner of a rival Guayamartí team, the Wharf Rats. She tells the team to keep training for the season opener against those same Wharf Rats and she says she has a plan to deal with the owner of that team, Eguardo Giamucci.
Sharks; the scheme only lacked sharks. Proper killer sharks.
But sharks were hard to bring inland and damn near useless when you did, so she’d settle for no sharks.
Cassandra Thordwall crept towards the villa, keeping to the shadows where the wan moonlight couldn’t penetrate. Umberto was a step behind her, and despite being so close, his footfalls were impossible to hear. She had wanted him to stay with the team at the Luffing Lateen but he had refused, saying “a bodyguard’s gotta guard.”
Four figures emerged from the inky night: her brother Horatio and three of the Menace’s best pirates, each one of them holding a bat. She clasped arms with her former crew before giving Horatio a hug. “Ready to sail?”
“We’ll be deep into the strait by sunrise,” he replied, referring to the Primactor Strait that separated the island of Gran Galán from Oscurisula and Guayamartí. She fought her pirate captain instincts to ask a dozen follow-up questions that would satisfy her the Menace was truly ready to make sail. It was now her brother’s ship, his crew, his responsibility. She had her own people to look after.
“Let’s do this,” she said.
Throat Slitter hoisted Yekko up onto his shoulders, Yekko stood and reached up, soundlessly hooking the grapnel to the villa’s outer wall. She was up and over in the blink of an eye. Horatio followed, then one-by-one the rest of them, Umberto dropping down last into the jungle-like garden. They slipped between stands of bamboo and silky oak, emerging from the greenery near the servants’ entrance. There was a lock on the door, of course, but Prassin made short work of it and they padded inside Eguardo Giamucci’s home.
They passed through the darkened kitchen and up a narrow servants’ staircase, emerging in a foyer with three doorways. Their insider had said the left door led to the bedchambers and the right to the study, while straight ahead lay the grand entranceway, foyer, and ballroom. Umberto pulled the red macaw feather from under his coat and handed it to Thordwall; Giamucci needed to know who had come calling in the night.
Horatio and the pirates took the right door while she and Umberto took the left. They emerged into a dark corridor that had one lamp spilling light through a doorway at the end of the hall. A pair of heavies guarded the doorway, lingering in the lamplight.
From so close to the lamp, it’d be hard for the heavies to see down the dark hall. An ornate grilled gate barred the way to Giamucci’s suite of rooms. She crept from the doorway, reached through the grill, and let the macaw feather float to the floor in arcing swoops. Their goal achieved, they returned to the foyer atop the servants’ stairwell. Umberto stayed behind while she rejoined Horatio and the others in the study. Being good pirates, Horatio and his crew had already loaded up four sackfuls of booty.
“Time to cause a fuss.” And for a moment she wasn’t Cassandra Thordwall anymore but Pillaging Peggy, her nom de guerre when she had been a pirate.
They started with the wine. They uncorked the first bottle, passed it around for everyone to have a swig, then Peggy threw it out the impressive, and expensive, window. The five of them burst into action, clubs smashing bottles, rare vintages exploding free in bursts of shattered glass and pouring onto the floor. Horatio went after the portraits, Throat Slitter the statues, and Prassin and Yekko the furnishings, breaking three chairs and throwing a fourth out another window. They brought the chandelier crashing to the floor, overturned bookshelves, heaved the oaken desk out the shattered main window.
The door burst open and three heavies barged in, short swords in hand. They lunged at Prassin and Yekko, who dodged clear, using one heavy to screen them from the others. Throat Slitter and the two Thordwalls came in swinging. Two heavies went down under the clubs while the third escaped through the door, yelling for help. The household had erupted in shouts, panicked wailing, and cries of alarm. The raiding party grabbed the sacks of booty and moved into the large foyer, where a rush of four more sword-wielding heavies came crashing into them. It could have gone badly then, but Umberto burst from cover and fell upon them in the rear. Yekko took a shallow cut, but no one else got hurt.
Except the heavies; they got plenty hurt.
The idea wasn’t to kill, so they burst out the front door into the garden, where Throat Slitter took care of the guard at the gate and liberated him of the key he carried. They went out the main entrance at a trot. The ruckus from the Giamucci household raised the alarm in all the other villas lining the street but no one unbarred their gates, perhaps counting themselves fortunate that the crimes of the night were being visited upon someone else.
They hoisted their sacks onto the awaiting wagon at the end of the street, hopped aboard, and rode off into the night.
Karsgaard Neuvil lifted his goblet in response to Gosling having done likewise.
It was well past midnight and the Luffing Lateen should have closed ages ago, but the crowd was only now thinning out … discounted ale and non-watered-down rum would do that. The players had enjoyed themselves at first, basking in the awed acclaim of the dockside footy fans, but it seemed to wear off as the night dragged on. Now some looked tired, others angry at the odd remaining drunkard trying to paw them (those got dealt with quickly either by the players themselves or by Sam Gosling’s bouncers), and a few others had actually fallen asleep, their heads cradled in their arms. The opening game of the season was two days away so Neuvil had let the Militantes dive into their cups all they wanted, but only one or two of them had drunk to excess.
One such was, surprisingly, Jacyntha. Usually reserved and watchful, she had taken to the fans immediately and encouraged their revelry, helping them formulate songs to sing at the Sanger.
If they turn out. Or rather, if they turn out and decide not to cheer the Wharf Rats.
That was the nub of the “why” behind the party. Yes, Thordwall had promised business to Gosling, and they still had two post-match celebrations to hold here in the Lateen, but the real reason why stemmed from that last game against the Stonecarvers. The damned Dwarves had brought a contingent of their own fanatics who had turned the Eztadio Menor into a seething cauldron. The Militantes had no one cheering for them. It had intimidated the players.
Neuvil had never really thought about it before; the Nordhammers had always been popular and drew good crowds wherever they had played. But that last game had convinced him the Militantes needed to build a fan base, something hard to do in a city that already had two established teams. The Imperials, Neuvil’s former employers, were popular up the slopes in the better-to-do neighbourhoods like the Monte Alto whereas the Wharf Rats prided themselves on the support they drew from the battlers, the common folk, many of whom lived here in the Barrio or the El Bosque wharf area. Neither team had won the Blue Blood Cup in ages, but they both usually won more games than they lost, so they had many devoted followers. Further complicating things was that Thordwall had insisted on naming the team from the Xonyxa home city in the heart of the N’Itgat Jungle.
Neuvil had done what he could. After every practice, he had come down to the Barrio with three or four players to grab hands in markets, pass alms to the poor sitting in temple doorways, hold court in some cantina. He had even organized one practice on the strand itself, though he limited it to passing drills. People had taken note. Some of them even seemed sympathetic. Then Thordwall had decided to hold a party to unveil her team formally and had put it about that there’d be cheap drink.
They came out tonight only because of the cheap drink. But they came.
Indeed, Gosling had resorted to posting bouncers on the doors to ensure the inside didn’t get too jam packed. People clearly wanted not just the drink but to see the exotic footy players from the jungle. Some of the enthusiasm was lechery but a good chunk of it was genuine. Jacyntha had latched on to those demonstrating the latter.
Just then the young, dark haired woman staggered away from a crowd of admirers and plonked herself down on the bench beside him. “Coach Karsgaar’ … you know … you’re not so bad.”
“Well, you’ve got a reputation, you know. I’m just sayin’ … you ain’t as bad as all that.”
“Hmm … that is reassuring.”
“I haven’t seen you strung out on rat-root. You haven’t hit anyone. You’re allllll … riiiight.” Her head flopped down, her chin near denting her chest. She was out cold.
He waved Belyna over. “Can you make sure she gets home?
Belyna nodded. “Yes, coach.”
“No! Wait! New orders. Do everything in your power to stop me attacking that man.”
Because a pack of men pushed past the bouncers and entered the Lateen. A big, balding giant of a man in his forties with an absurd moustache was clearly leading the others, who appeared to be more minders than anything. The big man looked around twirling the end of his curling moustache, shaking his head upon taking note of all the drunks and the passed-out players. Then his gaze found Neuvil and he gave a gap-toothed grin. Clapping twice to grab the attention of the minders, he thrust his chin towards Neuvil. The pack of them walked over like hyenas closing for the kill.
Neuvil gave a minute shake of the head to Gosling in answer to the question the Lateen’s owner had posed by moving his eyebrows up and narrowing an eye.
“There you are, Karsgaard. I’ve been looking for you.”
“I am not surprised it took you so long to find me given that we only let the entire city know we would be here. You’re not wearing that golden false tooth to fill the gap I carved out of your pegs.”
“Oh, come, come, Karsgaard. Do not be uncouth, mentioning things like that. If you must know, I wear it when on official business … unless I’m expecting trouble. It could get dislodged and lost in a brawl, you know. So I’ve elected not to wear it tonight, being familiar with your base desires. You see, the problem with you, aside from your criminality of course, is that you always want to fight when things go wrong.”
“What do you want, Rennigan?”
The scumbag, Rennigan Slythe, the man who had ended Neuvil’s playing career, smirked. “Do you know where that boss of yours is?”
It’s done, then, and Giamucci found the feather.
Neuvil shrugged. “Around here somewhere. It is her party after all.”
Slythe cracked another sickly smile. “Nice try, Karsgaard. It was a trick question. Thordwall ain’t here. I know, ’cause I just helped the procurator and a pair of inquestors throw her into gaol.”