The Sudden Adieu: Part 3
Big Brylk and his men were a bunch of softies. I knew nuns that could knock me out in one punch. These guys didn’t put a dent in me. Except the big guy, he hit me real hard. I lost two of my teeth.
I had tried my classic distraction technique when I was caught. I made my wand glow as bright as it could and attempted to run out of the room. How was I supposed to know the giant henchman was blind? He snatched me up as soon as I started to run. Not my proudest moment. I did manage to put the letter from Brylk’s desk into my hidden pocket, so I had that going for me.
“Where is it, Dick?” Big Brylk said in his raspy, self-assured voice. He was standing three feet in front of me with a bejeweled dagger in his hand that was longer than his forearm. He was trying to be menacing and he was pretty good at it, but it did reveal his hand. This letter was very important to him. Figuring out why may be the only way I survive this mess.
“I sent it off to with the mail carrier.”
Brylk approached with his dagger, getting very close to my face. The smell of spiced meats on his breath was a pleasant change of pace from most goblin breath I had encountered. He plainly looked into my eyes and if I didn’t know better I would assume he was coming on to me.
“You are in no position to make jokes. What were you doing in my office? Who told you about the letter?”
“I just got lost on the way to the tracks. Is this not the cashier’s cage?”
He cut the side of my cheek pretty deep, the warm blood trickling down to my neck. He said with a growl, “Last chance. What are you doing in here?”
“I was looking for information on a client. Someone actually in your possession … or at least was in your possession. Asher Casksmith.”
He leaned back, not expecting my answer. “What business do you have with him? We have him, that is all you need to know.”
“Well you had him. He is dead. Has been for some time.”
He scoffed. “Yeah? And how do you know that?”
“You had him at the Cabin on Buford Hill. Couple hours out of town. I found him inside, about a day and a half into decomposition. Someone had gotten to him in the cabin. Unfortunately the evidence of this is gone. Someone burned the cabin to the ground, tried to burn me while I was inside.”
This was apparently the first time Big Brylk was hearing this information judging by his reaction. I continued, “Someone has been making themselves out to look like Asher and is trying to take his big win at the racetrack, the wager placed with the money borrowed from your organization. Looks like you are not getting paid back for your loan. Sorry to be the one to tell you.”
He took a while to process this new information. He was a hard man to read and I couldn’t tell how he was taking it or what the revelation meant to him.
“Where is the letter?” Back to the point at hand. Why was he so focused on it? It must have been important to him, and anything important to a mob boss must deal with money. It was worth something to him. With my brief look at the ledger, Asher’s loan was the most significant one on the books that I could see. Then it all clicked.
“Don’t worry, my lips are sealed. Your race fixing is safe with me, as well as your interests. You do have some loose ends that can come back to bite you. Just let me go and I can make everything go smoothly for you.”
He had had enough. I may have said the wrong thing. “Empty his pockets.” The blind Oaf untied me and held my arms roughly behind my back. They removed my possessions, setting them on the counter. My dagger, wand, money pouch, cigarettes, flask, and Asher’s ring from Kethend. I saw this as my only opportunity, I had a sneaking suspicion I knew what was coming next. I took one last stab at it.
“I have told my secretary about what I found here. If she does not hear from me by morning she is going to the authorities with the letter. It is up to you. This whole thing can be just between you and I or we can get others involved, up to you.”
He looked at the wand on the table, analyzing it. He shook his head, saying “With that joke of a wand, I doubt you have the capability of sending that letter to anyone.”
“Can you really take that chance?”
He paused, mulling over the words. “Yeah, I think I can. It will be hard to talk to anyone sitting at the bottom of the ocean. How long can you hold your breath?” Big Brylk said with a devious smile. He was enjoying himself. He nodded to two of his henchmen, who produced rope, chains, and a rag from a trunk in the corner of the room. They moved toward me as the monstrous man standing behind me held my arms tightly.
An accident when I was younger allowed my right shoulder to dislocate easily. This was mostly a pain in the ass but every once in a while it proved to be very useful. I popped it out of place and spun out of my captors grasp. In the split second before I was tackled I was able to retrieve a pair of my shorter lock picks from my secret pocket and throw them into my mouth unnoticed. They were nearly swallowed as I was shoved to the ground but I managed to pull it off. I knew that my talking for the night was now over.
I had heard enough rumors about the mob to know that their Modus Operandi for getting rid of unwanted people was to drop them into the ocean. Luckily, I was right. They wrapped an excessive amount of heavy chains around me and dragged me out the door. As I was being dragged off, Big Brylk made sure to tell me that this was “nothing personal.” A nice touch.
My only fear, beside dying, was that they would put me on a boat and take me out into the middle of the ocean. Thank the Gods that these henchman were lazy and brought me to the edge of the docks, just down the street from the Warehouse. I had no idea how long I had been trapped in there or even what time it was. I was covered in a thick wool robe with a gag in my mouth, complicating the matter. The air was chilly and I could hear the gentle clatter of a city just coming to life. I would guess that it was just about dawn.
With no ceremony at all, I was tossed into the ocean. I lost half of the precious air in my lungs when I hit the water from the shock of the frigid sea. Keeping my calm was going to be the only thing that would get me out of this mess. I retreated into my mind, going over my plan of escape; hard to do when I was sinking fast to the bottom of the ocean. The ocean floor was around fifteen feet down and with the weight of the chains I hit the soft mud quickly. I could feel the tools digging into my cheek and tried to move them from their position with my tongue. The rag they shoved into my mouth and the rope they tied around it to gag me proved very difficult. It took me a longer amount of time than I liked and with the pressure of the sea and the dire situation I was in, it took everything I had to remain calm as I lost most of the remainder of the air in my lungs. But I did manage to get the tools out of my mouth and onto the ocean floor.
Finding the tools in the thick mud and having no visibility to see where they went was a fool’s errand, but my only chance at escape. I flopped onto my back and felt around with my chained hands. My lungs burned and not being able to see the ocean’s surface had a crushing feeling, a pointless struggle against inevitability. I felt my father’s ring sloshing around my finger in the cold water and prayed for luck. My superstitious faith in this ring had gotten me out of dire situations before and I figured it couldn’t hurt. I felt the urge to breathe in the sea water growing stronger and fought it with every ounce of strength I had. I heard a metallic clunk when my ring bumped into the tools. I found the pointed end and in a relatively short amount of time the lock was off. The mob understandably used the cheap locks to drown their enemies. More cost effective that way.
My lungs were on fire in a way I had never felt before and the swim to the top seemed insurmountable. I removed the gag and with everything I had I pushed my way to the top, taking the most satisfying breath of air I had ever felt. I took in sea water with my desperate gasps and choked a little. I gradually swam to a ladder leading up to the docks and back out into the bustling city. The sun had just crested the hills in the distance, starting the new day. I had survived.
I sat patiently at the bar going over the last day’s events. It was coming up on noon and I would have given up a year’s salary to lay in my bed until spring was over. But there was one last thing to do.
I drank my whiskey and smoked the last cigarette I had. Big Brylk still had the bulk of my possessions, which I wouldn’t be seeing again. All I had was this drink, my cigarette, and a bar tab I was hoping I could take an I.O.U. on.
I had accidentally found Ulric making his rounds down by the docks as I was heading home to change. I told him that I needed to have a talk with him, to which he brushed me off, until I mentioned that I had a run in with Big Brylk and that he may want to meet me based on what I now knew. He looked nervous and agreed to meet me at The Pony and Pixie Saloon on his lunch break. I got a few things in order, changed into my slate gray suit, and drank as I waited.
He came in wearing a dull green tunic and, unsurprisingly, did not seem ready to return to work. He ordered some kind of clear iced drink and sat down across from me. His shoulders were high and showed a lot of tension.
“So, how much do you know?” He wanted to get straight to business.
“I’ll just lay it all out for you. You took out a large loan from Big Brylk while disguised as your acquaintance Asher. This gave you an out if your large wager on the race did not go according to plan. You must have gotten a tip that the race was fixed and wagered it all on that information. Correct so far?”
Ulric sat quietly, listening to my hypothesis carefully. He took his drink and leaned back in his chair. “Why would I take out a loan as Asher? How would I even disguise myself as him, I do not look anything like him.”
I smirked. “Simple enough for an accomplished illusionist. You had that ‘I’ on your uniform, designating you as an illusion specialist. Also, when you cast that spell to clean up your uniform, you hardly broke a sweat.”
“That may be so. Sure, I can cast illusions. You caught me red handed,” he said mockingly,” but what is my motivation? Why would I do something like that? What is your proof.”
“Well, for one, you had taken a large loan that you could easily get out of by using Asher’s likeness. Free money. Secondly, I had a look at Brylk’s ledger and it looked like you already owed him some money. If you tried to get another loan under your own name, he would not lend it to you. Loan sharks don’t tend to let people borrow more money on top of what was already owed. So, here is what happened: You disguised yourself as Asher, after vouching for him as Ulric, you took out the large loan in his name and won. Now all you have to do is wait for the winnings to clear and then you could take off with your new fortune, leaving Asher with your debts. Sound about right?”
He didn’t say anything.
“The problem with your plan was that I got involved. I was sent to find Asher. After some asking around, I ended up finding his body in the cabin. You tried to take care of the evidence by burning the body, to hide the fact that you killed him.”
“You see, something didn’t sit right with me. At first I thought that Big Brylk and his men had killed Asher. I had to understand why the mob would kill him, especially before he could get paid his large winnings. Why not force him to cash it out and take the winnings themselves. Hard to do that with Asher dead. So I did some investigating at Big Brylk’s and found that Asher’s loan had been half paid, in addition to a full payment for your original loan. I also discovered something, incidentally, that I found even more interesting. The big race, the one that Asher’s wager had won, was fixed. I have to admit, your scheme was not a bad plan.”
I let the words linger. They usually end up telling you more than you were prepared for. It took Ulric all of three minutes.
“So, what? Is this extortion? How much are you looking for? Ten thousand gold? Twenty?”
I did not answer but tilted my head and raised an eyebrow. I wasn’t shocked by the offer, but I was shocked to see tears start to form in the corners of his eyes.
“Fuck. This whole thing got out of control. I am not a bad guy, I’m not.” He pleaded, desperately. “You are right, I took out the loan. I figured I could pay them back before Asher would even know what happened. I was given a small retainer when I won but I had to wait a couple days for the rest of the money to be gathered. It was the largest win this season. I … I got carried away. I went on a bender and got wasted at the casino. I lost track of time. Before I knew it, it was noon the next day. I went to check on the wager and they told me it was still going to take a couple days. I tried to find Asher but he had not shown up for work. I forgot that I was supposed to pay Big Brylk that day for the loan. The mob had kidnapped him to make sure he would pay up, to which I am sure Asher said he knew nothing about and that he did not have the money to pay back it back anyway.”
He took a large swig of his drink and continued. “I asked around and found where they took Asher. I went to the cabin to tell him that it would be fine and that I would have it handled. He freaked out. He attacked me and in the … in the …” He paused and a couple tears fell down his face.
I finished it for him, “you killed him.”
“I didn’t mean to do it,” he spouted in defense. “He had me around the throat. I had to defend myself. I … I never meant for any of this to happen.” He finished his drink and looked down to the floor. “I just left. I went home and tried to sleep. I couldn’t. Before work the next day I checked on the winnings and they said it would be ready today. That was yesterday. Look, I never meant for any of this to happen.”
“I see. So when I came asking around for Asher, you decided to kill me as well. Not premeditated at all.”
“It wasn’t, I didn’t, I …,” He looked at me pitifully. “I did not know what to do. If you found the body I would be a person of interest and would not be able to leave Cardy Vale. I … I made a mistake and it just got so out of hand. I told one of the guards to keep an eye out for you and used a portal spell to appear at the cabin when you were inside. I thought I could fix the problem. It was nothing personal.”
“That is the second time I have heard that today. Well, I think I have heard enough.”
Ulric was the epitome of a desperate man. I did not know if he was going to attack me, run out of the door, or grab a hostage. He spoke rapidly, “What do you want? Half? I can give you half. I can do whatever you want. There is no reason to-” I held up my hand. This signaled him to stop and for my backup to approach.
I leaned in close to him. “And just to let you know, this is nothing personal.”
I removed the shell from my pocket and placed it on the table. A look of horror spread across Ulric’s face. Three guards in plain clothes approached from behind him and grabbed his wrists. He did not put up a fight, it was over. I handed the shell to Captain Woodleaf, an old friend of mine. I stopped by his office on my way home after my predawn swim in the ocean and asked for his help. He obliged. I also gave him the letter that spelled out the racing fix and Big Brylk’s scheme.
My demented day was finally over. I slept for the rest of that day after Ulric’s arrest and didn’t wake up until dawn the next morning. It was restless sleep. I kept having a nightmare about drowning. I may be developing a fear of the ocean.
I went to see Kethend the next day. She lived on a large ranch surrounded by orange groves. The ranch house was ridiculously oversized and blindingly white. She had a smile on her face when I approached that did not last for long. She was an ugly crier and let the tears flow freely down her cheeks. I decided to not give her all of the grim details. I simply said that he was an innocent and good man that got involved with Ulric. They got into an argument and there was an accident. I told her that the authorities had placed Ulric under arrest and that he had confessed, so she did get justice for her deceased boyfriend. She tried to give me more money but I told her that she had already paid me for three days, which only took me two. She would not take no for an answer and put a pouch in my hand with a modest amount of gold in it. I thanked her, gave her my condolences, and left.
I found out in the coming days Big Brylk had been arrested, as well as most of his gang. I had received word that there was a hit put out for me with a large sum backing it, which was understandable given the circumstances. I probably cost them a lot of money.
I also found out that Maya, my saviour, tried to cash out Asher’s winnings by disguising herself as him. Not only were there no winnings to collect, because it had been revealed that the race was fixed, but she was arrested under suspicion for fraudulent activity. I knew she would find her way out of it but the situation did put a smile on my face.
I was in the process of packing up my things and getting ready to leave. My time in Cardy Vale was up and I needed to move on before someone tried to cash in on Big Brylk’s offer. I was lucky to not have many possessions to speak of. I used Kethend’s payment to get another endless flask, cigarettes, a wand, and a new dagger. I had ten gold when all was said and done, just like when this all started. I hopped on a cart from a friendly radish farmer named Todd and set off for Afnan River Junction.
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you like it and please comment if you have any suggestions, edits, or just to tell me what you thought about it. I am going to start another episode of Rex Cabernet soon, shooting for next week. So far the working title is “The Maerelian Phoenix.”