Though Hell Should Bar The Way – Snippet 03


I looked out the window of my room, holding aside the towel I’d nailed up to cover the casement. Not that anybody across the broad arterial was likely to be looking into my fourth-floor room — or that it would matter if they did.

At least I could pay for the room tomorrow. I’d told the disbursing clerk to give me my time, so I had three days wages in my pocket. Plus the florin and thirty-five pence I’d had left from last week’s pay.

Pascoe, the clerk, had heard Fritzi bellowing. I’d closed the office door when I went in to explain, but that didn’t help much. Pascoe hadn’t asked Fritzi whether “Get out!” meant with my pay, and he’d even given me the hour I was still short of quitting time for the day. I hoped he wouldn’t get in trouble for it.

I could generally pick up casual labor on the docks, though it wasn’t steady enough to afford the room. I really didn’t want to move into a flophouse, but I guessed it was going to come to that.

Tomorrow I could start walking the chandleries again. Or I could go to the shape-up at the docks and then look for something better in the afternoon if I wasn’t picked. I’d sleep on it.

Somebody knocked hard on my door — on the doorframe, not the panel. I wasn’t sure the panel would have taken that kind of use.

“Come in!” I said. If it was Mistress Causey, coming for her rent early because she’d heard about my job, then I wasn’t going to be polite.

The door opened. In the hall were a fellow of maybe thirty in a business suit, and an older man who looked like he ought to be leaning against a barn chewing a straw.

“You’re Roy Olfetrie?” the younger man said.

I swallowed. “Yes, I am,” I said. “And I’ve seen your picture. You’re Captain Daniel Leary.”

God and the saints: Miranda was married to that Leary. The war hero.

“I know that,” said Captain Leary with a friendly smile. “Now, come down to the bar and let me buy you a drink while you tell me about things I don’t know. About yourself.”

“I’d be honored to drink with you, sir,” I said, stepping out into the hall with him. I wasn’t much of a drinker, but I’d sure thought of tying one on this afternoon when I left the chandlery. “Ah, the bar on the ground floor here isn’t a great place, though.”

“I’ve drunk in worse,” said Leary.

The rustic got to the stairs ahead of him but called back over his shoulder, “I’ve carried him out of worse, legless and singing ‘I don’t want to join the Army.'”

Nobody tried to come up while we were going down, but a man was sprawled in the corner of the second-floor landing. He’d been there when I came home, too. He might as easily as not be dead, but there was nothing I could do for him.

Leary and his companion stepped over the fellow’s legs just as I had, so I supposed they really did know about buildings like this one. It had been new to me when I moved in, but I’d learned fast.

The bar was pretty busy for midweek. There was a piccolo in the corner wailing that it wished Mama didn’t flash her tits. There was an empty booth in back.

“What’ll you have, Olfetrie?” Leary asked.

“Beer, I suppose,” I said. It was less likely to poison me than spirits in a place like this, and I wanted to be awake early to make the shape-up.

“Hogg, get us a pitcher of what they have on draft,” Leary said. “Bring it over to the booth.”

We went to opposite sides. As I started to slide in, the bartender called, “Hey! That booth’s Cabrillo’s office when he comes in!”

I got out again. The rustic, Hogg, said, “Well then, we’ll discuss that with Master Cabrillo if he comes in, won’t we?”

He reached into a pocket of his shapeless tunic and came out with a knuckleduster. I guess he touched something because a blade shot out of the top end.

“Till then…” he said. “A pitcher and three glasses. Clean ones if you’ve got anything clean in here.”

“Sit down, Olfetrie,” Leary said. “I don’t expect we’ll be long enough for there to be a problem. If there is one, we’ll deal with it.”

“Yes sir,” I said and sat down. It looked like it was my day for getting into fights. Well, I’d had a lot of new experiences since Dad shot himself.

“I looked for you at Petersburg Chandlery,” Leary said mildly. “They told me you didn’t work there any more?”

“The owner’s son-in-law took a swing at me,” I said. “I swung back. It escalated a bit, but I think the medicomp will have him fit for work in a day or two. As fit as Cady ever was.”

I grimaced. “Fritzi wouldn’t have cared about explanations, so I didn’t give him one. Besides –”

I managed a smile. “No excuse, sir.” The Academy answer.

Leary grinned. “Which is another thing I was wondering about,” he said. “You dropped out at the start of your third year. Your grades were all right. What was the problem?”

He wasn’t supposed to know my grades, but I don’t guess it’d been very hard to learn.

Hogg brought a tray over to the table. He filled one of the mugs and said, “I’ll stand here for a bit.”

He stood at the end of the table. His right hand was in his pocket. He sipped from the mug in his left, his eyes following every movement in the bar.

Leary filled the other two mugs and slid one to me. I said, “The problem was that my father had been cheating systematically on large contracts with the Ministry of Defense. When this was uncovered, he committed suicide. All our accounts were frozen. I dropped out of the Academy because I had to earn a living.”

It wasn’t quite that simple. I might’ve been able to manage living expenses, but my dad wasn’t just a crook: He’d been stealing from the RCN. I’d have been shunned in the Academy — if I’d been lucky. Chances were good that my fellow cadets would’ve beaten me to a pulp every night until I resigned.

“Umm,” Leary said as I tasted my beer. “People have been accused of things that aren’t true, you know? There was a reshuffle in the Ministry of Defense not long ago.”

“Yes, sir, that’s true,” I said. I drank more beer, because my throat was starting to choke up and I hoped swallowing would help. “But I went over Dad’s private accounts. I don’t know what the inspectors will be able to prove — they won’t see Dad’s files, I’ll tell you that. But the allegations were true.”