Ch. 166. The Second Round

Finally they seemed to be onto something. Though the fishgriller didn’t say much, he clearly knew something and the silver was enough to remind him. The weathered face of the old seaman wasn’t easy to read, but his glance was unmistakable. Lotye had enough experience in the business of dealing with stolen goods herself to know that this glance would be enough to notify an accomplice. Whether he notified somebody of a possible customer or of a possible threat, though, she couldn’t tell.

Peino chose a place with the alley wall in their back, which led her to the conclusion that he wasn’t sure, too. The way he looked around didn’t do much to calm her down, either. It reminded her of some of the more dangerous deals she had watched, the kind where weapons had been hidden under skirts and cloaks. Usually, people looking at their environment like Peino did now was a clear signal for Lotye to get out of the area. This time, that wasn’t a possibility.

So he joined him in watching the people around him while she nibbled at her fish. The pair that approached them were so inconspicuous that they nearly stood out and Lotye noticed them right away. She was relatively sure that neither of them was the dealer she had stolen the cards from, so they probably just were two simple thugs paid by someone. That meant there was a good chance that this whole thing wasn’t just about a single seller, but about a whole criminal organisation and if she knew one thing, then it was that this didn’t shine the best of lights on their situation.

For the first time Lotye really missed her old knife which was still held as evidence by the guardians. She didn’t know how to use it for much more than cutting bread, but it still was better than nothing, a piece of security to carry around and show that she wasn’t completely helpless. The female thug’s hand resting on the butt of her own dagger made her wish she’d had it with her. The man didn’t show any weapons like this, but Lotye was sure he wasn’t unarmed. Nobody really was, except for her, least of all inconspicuous people wearing broad-brimmed hats and talking to strangers in alleyways after the discreet exchange of silver coins.

“It’s easier to eat without the mask, friend,” said the man.

Lotye was sure he didn’t mean her when he said “friend”, but she was divided over what to do anyway. Nobody would know her face and when somebody would try to follow them, there were enough other characteristics to recognise them by. The Prince on the other hand had a lot more to lose. But what if those people would insist on seeing their faces before continuing to talk? She didn’t have to worry for long though, as Peino made the decision for her.

“I’m sure we’ll get by just fine.”, she agreed with him. Good thing I only chose a half-mask. No problems to eat here, she added for herself.

As if to prove her point, she took a bigger bite of her portion and chewed it appreciatively. Then she quickly wiped her hands on the newspaper wrappings and laid them demonstratively on the table to show that she had nothing to hide.

“Anyway, this fish tastes great.” Not the best way to defuse this risky situation, but what else was there to say?

The rain started to pour down as if Manawydden personally had decided that the situation needed to cool down a bit. Every bit of sunlight seemed to be gone from one moment to the other, it was as if the rain had brought the night with it. Lotye watched the people hurrying to get on dry land for a moment while the first puddles formed on the cobblestone street. There was a boy trying to move from awning to awning, from dry spot to dry spot, but they all where too crowded and so he mostly had to run through the rain, getting more than just a little bit wet in the process. The boy’s fate brought a little smile on her face until she turned back to the two persons on the other side of the table. The splatter of the rain and the murmuring of the crowd reduced her words to a whisper, even though she spoke in a normal, businesslike voice:

“Listen, we are interested in these cards and I’m sure we could come to an agreement. It’s just a matter of the price, isn’t it?”

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