All In (Volume Two of The Book of West Marque)
by Richard Parkinson
Copyright © 2017 by Richard Parkinson
"You had to go put your beak in it," James Bonnyfield said to the boot-scraping-of-a-man sprawled in front of him.
The man, who called himself Alan Sharp, didn’t respond. This was no surprise. Sharp was breathing his last, his breath coming in ragged gasps. He wasn’t dying easily, but few men did.
Bonnyfield had wanted to wound the man, not kill him, but Sharp was alert and had reached for his pistol. Out of instinct, Bonnyfield struck out with what was in his hand. He realized it too late to turn the blade of the small axe. The head bit into the side of Sharp’s head, with his cheek absorbing some of the blow — but not enough.
"You’re a Giver-be-damned spy, Al," Bonnyfield continued, "and I hate spies, spies of all sorts — high and low — from those agents who skulk into the High Marshal’s chambers and dig through his letters to the old gossip who sticks her ear up to the wall to hear what her neighbor has to say.
"Damn all spies," he cursed. "You look inside chamber pots and are surprised when you find something unpleasant."
He lashed out with his boot, laying a kick into the wheezing wreck. Sharp managed a groan, which was something. It might be the last real sound he would make.
Pup was next to him, sobbing.
Pup’s real name was Sam Longtree, but, as he was the youngest man in the outfit, everyone called him Pup. Bonnyfield had hoped Pup wasn’t involved in it, but it turned out he was. A damn shame. He liked the kid.
"Stop your blubbering, Pup," Bonnyfield said. "I told you your end will be as swift and painless as we can make it." It was the wrong thing to say, no consolation for the young man staring down at the abyss that leads to the great beyond.
The boy wailed and strained against his bonds. They held easily enough. There was little fight left him. He had blood in his blond hair and his nose was broken. He had soiled himself as well, judging by the smell. There was no shame in it, or judgment on Bonnyfield’s part. A man was allowed to lose control when he was about to lose his life.
"Now, why would you get yourself partnered up with a sack of excrement like this?" Bonnyfield wondered for the tenth time that night. He held up a finger, staring down at the kid. "Spare me your answer. I didn’t like your answer earlier and I doubt it’s changed."
"Money," Pup had said. It was about the money.
"Why the hell would you need more money?" Bonnyfield ran his hands through his long, greasy hair out of frustration, and then rubbed his face, palms grating on the coarse stubble. "I pay you well enough, more than enough."
But Pup was like most young men. Enough was never enough. Every man in the Bonnyfield outfit made good money, including Pup. The others, the older and wiser ones, always set some aside, but not Pup. He was quick to spend what he earned, quick to show off, and quick to blow his earnings on drink, bluster, and a bit of snatch.
Yes, a woman was involved. Of course a woman was involved. Pup said he loved her dearly, but the damned girl threatened to run out when the money did.
"I was young once, too," Bonnyfield said, "but I was never so damn stupid.
"Why couldn’t you be more like Harry?" Bonnyfield pointed at a big lump who was looming in the shadows. "Harry gets his share of tail, but it’s affordable tail. Isn’t that right, Harry?"
"A pinny a pop," Harry said with a grunt and a nod.
"A pinny a pop," Bonnyfield repeated. "You could have bought yourself a lifetime of tail with all the tin you’ve made."
"Instead, instead," Bonnyfield trailed off. An owl hooted out in the darkness. "Instead you’re gonna end up as dead as a doornail."
"Food for wolves come morning," Harry added. This made Pup blubber again. Bonnyfield ground his teeth. He would have struck Harry if he had been closer to him. Instead, he shot the man a nasty glance — a pointless action as it was getting dark and Bonnyfield’s face was in shadow. The only light, which came from a lantern, was directed into Pup’s face by Charlie’s steady hand.
Sharp managed to make some noise again. He coughed, bringing up a lot of blood through his split face. "You’re the cause of this, Al," Bonnyfield yelled down at him. "You damned liar. Probably lied about your name, too."
The boys had taken a quick liking to Alan Sharp. Bonnyfield had to admit he had initially liked him, too. He was likable. He was quick to laugh, to joke, and was one of those people blessed with the ability to join in any conversation and add to it.
But there was something about Sharp that prickled Bonnyfield and he had almost not hired the man. It was his smile. He smiled a lot, and when he wasn’t smiling he wore an oily smirk or shit-eating grin. Bonnyfield found it hard to trust anyone who always wore a smile. "Stuck as I was, though, I had little choice but to hire you," he said.
"Why are you bringing that up now?" Harry wondered.
"Shut your hole, Harry," Bonnyfield shot back. He stepped away from the man and the situation for a moment to gather his thoughts. He crouched down and stared out into the woods. The forest was deep in the Teeth, the mountains that separated Shieldgate and Seawall. It was pretty country, the kind of country a man could lose himself in, in the right situation. This was not the right situation. The trees were dark and looming and everything civilized seemed remote.
"We’re alone out here," he whispered to himself.
"What’s that boss?" Harry wanted to know.
"Nothing." He got back up and turned to look at Sharp.
Sharp had been a quick replacement for one of his drivers who had suddenly fallen ill. That ill man, the man who was replaced, was actually an agent of Seawall’s shadow cabinet — and technically Bonnyfield’s employer, or at least the man who paid him. It was no coincidence. Bonnyfield realized that too late. "I get it all now though," he muttered, holding up a hand to stave off another one of Harry’s interjections.
For several months the Bonnyfield outfit, known for its ability to smuggle just about anything through the mountains, had been running wagonloads of goods over the Shieldgate border into the Four Valley Region. What was in the crates that his wagons carried was anyone’s guess. Bonnyfield’s rule was never peek at the goods.
Sharp had disobeyed that rule — and Pup, as his accomplice, did, too. They did their skulking when the camp was asleep and the lookouts were on patrol. They had peeled back the canvas that covered the loads and opened up a few crates. They took their peek and they broke the rule.
Bonnyfield was ready for it. He had seen Sharp having quiet conversations with Pup. At first, Pup would smile, shake his head, and want none of whatever Sharp was selling. But soon they were sitting far back from the fire in the evening, whispering in the dark — conspiring, as it turned out.
Bonnyfield had kept a close eye on the pair from that moment, and he instructed Harry to do the same. Harry and Jim had been together since the beginning, since before the outfit even was an outfit. Jim Bonnyfield could rely upon Harry at times like these.
And it was Harry who noticed Al and Pup making their move. He had quietly woken Jim and whispered in his ear that they were up to something. Bonnyfield and Harry had snuck over to Pup’s wagon, where the pair were huddling, and caught them in the act of opening the crates. They moved in fast and overcame them quickly.
Bonnyfield saw what was in those crates, and Harry did, too. They also saw what was stamped on the side of the crates — the seal of the Seat of Seawall. The crates were full of rifles, powder, shot, and weapons of other sorts.
While Harry set to securing Pup, Bonnyfield set to re-securing the crates before any of the men, who were starting to stir, could see their contents. "Not a word," he hissed to Harry, as he pulled the canvas back into place. Harry nodded.
Seeing those seals and knowing what the crates contained could damn a man, especially if the Seawall agent got wind of it.
When the boys lumbered up to ask what the hell was going on, Harry had had to break Pup’s nose to stop the boy from spilling the beans in his panic. That got the men squawking and yelling at Harry. A few threatened violence toward him for abusing Pup so. It took a few moments for Bonnyfield to restore order and explain to the men what was going on.
"Pup has joined ranks with this man," he had said, pointing at Sharp, who was bleeding out quickly on the ground. "This man is a spy, or some sort of lawman," he continued, "who means us harm." That brought forth a heap of questions, which Bonnyfield did his best to answer.
And now, here they were, in this uncomfortable position.
"Damn." Bonnyfield had had enough. "Goodbye and good riddance," he said, as he stomped down on Sharp’s neck. He ground his heel until he heard the satisfying crack of bones. "Worthless scum." He spat into the dead man’s face. "Toss him over the falls, fellas," he said to no one in particular. "See that you toss him far out into the river. I don’t want him to get caught up in the undergrowth along the bank."
"Will do," said a voice in the dark. It was Pete, who was handy, capable, and always willing to see that a job got done properly. "Fetch another light and let’s get to it," Pete said.
Pete, Harry, and few of the other boys got to it, dragging the body off into the woods.
The Blue River was in a rush in these parts, running up to Harsh Drop Falls. The falls had another name, as well — the Grinder. At the bottom of a hundred-foot drop were jagged rocks that would chew a man to pieces — including a dead man. Anybody going over those falls would be nothing but scraps for the wolves, bears, and other scavengers by the time the Grinder kicked them out. The falls emptied into the Sluice, a wide, meandering river with an easy pace that flowed through the rest of the Teeth before emptying into the Snake River in Shieldgate. Even if the bodies didn’t wash ashore and get eaten, it was a part of Shieldgate where no one would care about two broken bodies tumbling out of the mountains.
"You hear those falls, Pup?" Bonnyfield said. "You’ll be going over them, too. But don’t worry. Old Droopy-eye will put a bullet into your brain before you take the plunge."
"That I’ll do, Pup," Droopy-eye declared reassuringly. "That I’ll do." He already had his pistol in his hand.
"Please don’t kill me, Jim," Pup pleaded. "Pleeeasse." He would have reached out and clung to Bonnyfield’s legs if he weren’t bound.
"Don’t call me by my first name anymore, Pup," Bonnyfield said, stepping back. "You lost that right when you betrayed my confidence — when you betrayed the confidence of every man in the outfit." There were over thirty men in total and all would be in jeopardy if Bonnyfield let the kid go. Pup, despite any declaration to the contrary, might blab. And that wouldn’t do. It was a big enough mess as it was. Bonnyfield cursed.
"Why would you betray us, Pup? You turned your back on all of us. For the dirty money that dirty man promised you." As if on cue, he heard the satisfying splash of a body hitting water.
He looked to the woods and saw the returning light of the lantern.
"It’s gonna be no easy thing, Pup, killing you."
"I’ll do it right," Droopy-eye promised.
"Make sure you do," Bonnyfield looked hard into Droopy-eye’s good eye.
"Any last words, Pup?"
The kid gulped. He sobbed and then mustered what courage he had left. "I’m sorry, fellas," he said, staring around at the men gathered in the darkness. "I really am."
"Giver-be-damned, Pup," a man wailed. "Why?"
The kid swallowed and licked the blood and snot from his upper lip. He nodded and looked at Bonnyfield. "Get to it, Jim, I mean, Mister Bonnyfield. I know you have to do what you got to do."
Bonnyfield blinked hard. I can’t shed a damn tear, he thought. He wanted to. He turned quickly and nodded to Droopy-eye. "Do it."
Droopy-eye stepped up, Pup opened his mouth and started to scream — squeal really — and Droopy pulled the trigger. Three times, even though the first one hit Pup square in the middle of his forehead, blowing his brains out the back of his head. "You have to be sure," Droopy said, lowering his pistol.
A heavy silence fell on the camp. One of the horses snorted, perhaps in disgust at what just happened. A man sobbed, maybe the man who wailed.
"Toss him in the river," Bonnyfield said, his voice seeming like the only sound in the world. "Then get to bed. We’re up early tomorrow. We have a lot of distance to travel and this cargo isn’t going to deliver itself."
Bonnyfield now knew what was in the crates they were carting, the same kind of crates they’d been carting for three months now. He knew, too, what it might mean.
He waited until he heard the splash of the kid’s body hitting the river before he turned toward camp. He started heading back with the rest of the men. No one was speaking. Most were hanging their heads.
"After we deliver this load, maybe we should move on, " Bonnyfield said to Harry, who had fallen into step beside him. "Maybe we should look for work in some other part of the realm."
Harry gave him a look, and then nodded. "I think maybe you’re right, boss. Yeah, maybe you’re right."