The Road Of Danger – Snippet 35

 

CHAPTER 9: Ashetown on Madison

 

          Daniel raised his hand to the barman and pointed to the beer pitcher. It wasn’t empty, but he took care of that problem by splitting the remaining contents between his mug and Hogg’s.

 

          “It tastes like dog piss,” Hogg muttered. He lowered the level in his mug with a series of deliberate gulps.

 

          The barman nodded to Daniel, but he was waiting with a quart of whiskey in his hand while the trio of locals at the bar agreed on which of them would pay for the round. Hogg and Daniel were at the rearmost of the four small tables; the pair of hookers at the front table had made a desultory try, but Daniel’s curt, “Not now!” and a glance at Hogg’s face had stopped them in their tracks.

 

          “Well, I don’t know, Hogg,” Daniel said. “It’s not up to our Bantry Brown Ale, I’ll agree, but it seems to me to have plenty of kick.”

 

          He took a swig and rolled it around his mouth. In a judicious tone he went on, “I don’t have any experience with dog piss, of course. That I remember. I’ll admit that there’ve been mornings that I woke up and really wondered what I’d been drinking.”

 

          Hogg half-lifted his mug to drain it again, then set it down. He looked fiercely across the table.

 

          “Look!” he said. “We can joke and tie one on, even on this dishwater the wogs here sell for beer, and we can say it’ll all be fine. But it won’t be fine, young master. Unless you’ve figured out a way not to sleep for what? Seven days running? Maybe ten? If you go to sleep, you’re not going to reach Cremona alive and that bastard Petrov won’t even pretend it was an accident. Why should he? And you know I’m right!”

 

          The bartender started filling a fresh pitcher. Daniel sipped, then drank deeply and met his servant’s eyes. “Hogg,” he said, “there’s risk and I know there’s risk. But I don’t know a better way to carry out my orders. It’s my duty.”

 

          “Well, it’s not bloody worth your life!” Hogg said.

 

          Daniel shrugged. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I ought to settle down on Bantry and be the squire. I could buy the estate through Deirdre, I’m sure. I don’t have any better use for my prize money. Is that what you want me to do, Hogg?”

 

          “What bloody difference does it make?” Hogg said angrily. “You’re not going to do that, whatever I tell you. And you’d go off your chump in six months with just a bunch of yokels to talk to.”

 

          He snorted. “Same as I would,” he added, “after all we’ve seen these past years.”

 

          Four spacers came in the front door. “I’ll be with you in a moment, gents,” the bartender said. He set down the fresh pitcher and swept up the three local coins–pistoles with square holes in the center–which Hogg had set out. Daniel had realized ruefully when they sat down that he had only Cinnabar florins in his purse.

 

          “Look, maybe if you work on Lindstrom–” Hogg said.

 

          The spacers in front of the bar carried lengths of tubing or steel reinforcing rod. Another man entered from the back alley and stood in the doorway. Peter Petrov, and he’s carrying a solar-charging laser from the Savoy‘s cargo.

 

          “No, Hogg!” Daniel said, grabbing his servant’s right wrist and pinning it to the tabletop. His eyes were on Petrov. “No, no trouble now.”

 

          “That’s right, no trouble,” Petrov said. He was holding the laser waist-high as though it were the nozzle of a fire hose. “Our little Cinnabar friend here has decided he doesn’t want to go to Cremona after all, and he’s coming into the alley with us so that we can explain why.”

 

          The bartender had tensed to get back behind the bar where he probably had a weapon. He would have had to push through the spacers with clubs to get there; instead he moved into the back corner behind the tables. The whores had retreated to the other corner.

 

          “And if anybody gets bright ideas, I’ll toast him good with this!” Petrov said, his voice rising as he slapped his weapon’s eight-inch lens with the palm of his left hand. “You better hope I don’t trigger it in here, because it’ll light this whole place like a pile of straw!”

 

          The business end of the laser was a foot-long cylindrical mirror array which multiplied the pulse twelve hundred times before releasing it toward the target. The charging panel unfolded from the stock. The lasers were better for hunting than for military use, but their power and the fact that they didn’t need to be supplied with ammunition made them useful for sniping and the sort of hit-and-run attacks that rebels were likely to make.

 

          “I’m sure we can discuss this like officers and gentlemen,” Daniel said, keeping his fingers on his servant’s wrist as he stood up. “Hogg, stay here till Captain Petrov and I sort this out, please.”

 

          He tried to sound casual, but he could hear his voice tremble. That was all right, because Petrov would take the rush of adrenalin as meaning Daniel was afraid.

 

          “That’s right, hobby!” Petrov crowed. “You stay right where you are or you’ll be a real crispy critter!”

 

          The four men with clubs were presumably the Savoy‘s crew. They seemed hesitant, but Daniel didn’t doubt that they’d pound him within an inch of his life–or beyond–if only because they were afraid of Petrov’s laser.