The Golden Curse Chapter Three

Through a haze Deutsch saw movement around him, though he didn't understand why. Noises seemed muffled and distant, and his consciousness gravitated between mere delirium and total blackness, though he never completely passed out by virtue of Alteng's suturing procedure which even in this state conveyed periodic bouts of sharp (though thankfully brief) pain.

As Alteng had predicted, it took him a little over twenty minutes to put Deutsch in the kind of shape more closely resembling "healing up nicely". Deutsch was able to talk coherently so remarkably soon after the operation that Alteng had half a mind to finish the job and sew his mouth shut.

Deutsch was now sitting upright and mildly alert in the chair while Narrinda helped Alteng gather up the tools and towels. In the meantime, Deutsch said to Alteng "You heard everything I told Borsch about those men, but I was expecting our friend in grey to show up, and not four ruffians. What sort of man pays for a service he can easily do himself?"

"The sort of man who no longer feels the need to get his hands dirty" replied Alteng. "He probably just buys his way through everything in life. Apparently Narrinda's coin is well worth paying for to him. I can well imagine what he wants it for, what with all those stories about its good luck and moneymaking ability. The expense would be worth it to end up in someplace like Paris or London as a master gambler."

Narrinda chirped from behind Alteng's shoulder "Funny, I never noticed all this good luck when I had it."

"Maybe you're at that stage of your existence where luck doesn't matter anymore" replied Deutsch. "But from the stories I've been hearing, your old coin is going to make somebody rich."

"I've heard a different story" said Alteng. "I paid a visit to our friend the jeweler earlier tonight, and he seems to think the coin was cursed, that maybe it brought the plague to its last owner. By setting it in the bracelet with the other charms, he had hoped to nullify its nefarious powers. Now if his story is true, who would want to acquire a cursed treasure?"

"Maybe he plans to lay his own curse on somebody with it" Narrinda suggested. "I never tried it myself."

Alteng seemed to consider this possibility for a moment, then he vaguely shook his head and continued. "Could be, but I don't know enough about our gentleman stranger yet to give you a full hypothesis. Obviously he's well-to-do, he travels by coach wherever he goes instead of mounting a horse himself to ride through the current elements." He glanced through the window at the dismal foggy view outside and nodded. "I've tracked his prints at various times around town, and they show that he walks with a cane but not with a limp, and that he doesn't depend on the support because the tip only lightly strikes the ground without the force of his weight behind it, and only at intermittent intervals. Therefore the cane is but another symbol of status or wealth, possibly a blunt weapon in cases of self defense if he makes a habit out of dealing wrongly with the kinds of scum he's been hiring lately."

Deutsch turned his head back towards Alteng to observe his progress at cleaning the implements of torture. "But it all comes back to, what is so special about Narrinda's coin? By her own admission she doesn't consider it lucky. Is it the fact that it came from one of the "fairy folk", as the humans so often collectively refer to any reasoning being who is not like them, that makes it so valuable? And if it was so lucky, why aren't the jeweler and the cobbler who had it before him rolling in riches right now?"

"The cobbler's dead", interjected Narrinda.

"You know what I mean. Anyway, that's another point isn't it? If the coin is cursed, why didn't anything bad happen to the jeweler? I thinks it's all nonsense myself. I mean, humans are so superstitious, if they can't make the evidence fit the facts, they'll invent fiction just to make it sound good.."

Alteng gave the cleaned needles and other items to Narrinda, who promptly laid them back down on a small table and did nothing more. He then went to the door and reached for his coat which was hanging on a peg. "Well, I've overstayed my welcome here tonight, so now I'm going to go out and find one of our fine friends, maybe the injured one Klaus because he'll be easier to track, and see how much fiction he can invent. If he tells me what I want to know, I might let him live. Otherwise, I'll carve the family crest into his backside."

Narrinda instantly popped up and circled him like a dog ready for its nightly walk. "Let's go, I can take you right to the spot."

"Oh no, not tonight" Alteng muttered. "I can find my own way just fine. Besides, this is no job for a woman, and what I'm going to do to this bunch when I corner them won't be fit for a lady to see."

Narrinda would have frowned. "So now I'm a lady, am I? Besides, I can't just sit here and do nothing."

"And I wouldn't expect you to. That's why I need you to keep watch over the brother, and make sure he gets some rest." Alteng hurriedly changed clothes (mostly flat black clothing while retaining the grey wide-brimmed hat) and pulled on his deep maroon coat, and he made to go out the window. "There's fresh water in the pitcher by the bed, and that mutton should be done in another half hour or so, but don't go out to the common room and scare the natives to get it."

"Don't worry" Deutsch answered for Narrinda, "I'll go get it myself. I think I worked up an appetite, you know."

"An appetite for trouble, maybe, but I guess I only have myself to blame for that since I'm the one who sent you out spying in the first place. I should be back well before dawn. Be careful."

"But if I do go out there" Narrinda asked, "I'll need something clean to wear. Can I borrow some of you clothes, Teng-teng?"

"Don't." And with that, Alteng dropped down soundlessly out of sight, and was soon lost to the late evening shadows.

Narrinda's trek though the soggy alleyways with Deutsch's weight dragging along was ridiculously easy for Alteng to follow, and it was only a few minutes before he made it to the spot where the assault had taken place. The alley still retained a smell of burning sulfur, and there were the tell-tale imprints of fallen bodies. Near one wooden fence lay the well-used nail-studded plank. "Deutsch got some good shots in" Alteng thought to himself, "but he's still a young gentleman. I would have driven that board into somebody's head."

"Service! Service!!"

The big man lay face down on a long low bed, stripped down to his breeches. The right pant leg was ripped away, exposing the handiwork of a woman's needlecraft against his skin. The wound had been a neat puncture, but the large long sliver of wood that had been removed had in fact come dangerously close to a main vein, and there would still be an unknown chance for infection for several days.

Klaus was getting impatient, for the leg still needed to be dressed with cloth, and the drink he consumed during the operation was wearing off. Madam Gerta had not returned from her other duties yet, and he was a mean drunk (and little better when he was sober). He reached for an empty bottle on the night stand, but since he hadn't heard any of the girls come around with a fresh one, and he wasn't of a mind for female company right now anyway, he settled in desperation on sniffing the residual fumes straight from the bottle.

His curses split the air like spring lightning. "What's it take to get a bunch of goddam whores up here to fix me up!? Here I am ya great effin' cows, gimme drink or gimme love, but get your full moon fat arses in here!" It must be noted that Klaus was not known for being a great motivational speaker, nor even very good with words in everyday life, but he could at a moment's notice improvise such a string of paint-peeling profanity that it often made people laugh in spite of themselves, which of course only made him angrier.

Presently there was a noise of girlish talk and loud henhouse chatter from the lobby, and swiftly hurrying steps were soon heard running down the hall. Klaus blew out his breath in relief, for the leg was starting to build up a dull ache, and another drink should do the trick for a while. The door opened from behind him, and the new guest announced, "So sorry for the delay in finding you, sir. Let's see that wound." Then the door shut loudly and locked. The woman's gentle touch Klaus was expecting never materialized, but was replaced by the immediate impalement of a meticulously sharpened iron hook right into the spot that had just been repaired.

Klaus let out such a scream of agony that everyone in the lobby of the inn froze in place. The dozen or so women ensconced within the confines of the Filthy Pig (for that was the inn's name) were torn between guilt at letting the stranger in to see him (even if he was little, well-dressed, and of seeming small threat) or feelings of quiet satisfaction that one of their more unpleasant regular customers was about to take some of what he liked to dish out for a change. Like a gaggle of geese, the girls moved en masse down the hall to listen at the locked door, but they weren't too keen to break into such an obviously intimate situation.

The big man swung his left arm backwards and the bottle in his hand was aimed perfectly for nearly any attacker, except for this one who was too short. Klaus turned halfway over despite the pain and saw a flash of dark red. A smallish hand with a deceptively strong grip seized his throat and he heard what sounded like the snarls of two dogs fighting over a bone. "Doctor Altenglisch Hans Cuxhaven is making a house call tonight" Alteng growled down at him. "But his price is high!"

The hook in his leg twisted and pain seared his mind. With both his hands Klaus formed a double-fist and clubbed his attacker on the left side of the head. A grey wide-brimmed hat flew across the room and a scarred, eye-patched face was uncovered, but the throttling hand remained in place and the hook twisted in reality-warping torture. All Klaus could think to do was to keep on clubbing his pint-sized assailant until the grip on his throat loosened. Now the hand was punching him in every facial nook and cranny, but Klaus could take punches from much bigger men, much less from any freakish killer midget. He worked to get the hook out of his leg and in doing so they both tumbled off the bed onto the floor, but Klaus did manage the job. Slowly he rose to his feet, just in time to be knocked sideways by a head-first tackling dive aimed at his midsection.

They both rolled around on the bedroom floor amongst broken glass and overturned furniture.

Klaus ended up on top of Alteng, and with both hands was trying to strangle the life out of him. Alteng of course did what anybody faced with a life-or-death situation would do, he fought dirty, and the hook found its way back into Klaus' leg with added twisting and gouging for good measure. Ignoring the pain because he also was fighting for his life, Klaus grabbed a bedsheet, wrapped it around Alteng's head and pulled upward with all his might, hoping to break the Kobold's neck. Alteng began to turn purple and black spots invaded his vision. That's when he pulled his next dirty trick and planted both knees, over and over, into Klaus' human target-sized groin.

From outside the women could all hear the fight, and they began to bet amongst themselves on who would live. Several minutes worth of grunting, dull thuds, and sharp cracks and smacks could be heard from inside the room. The unmistakable sound of a chair being driven down onto an unyielding head brought further twitters from the group of women, many of whom were lightly dressed (and some not at all).

For well over a full minute, there was silence from within. No one dared to even whisper, for all ears were straining to hear the faintest sound, and it was feared that one of the Filthy Pig's most regular customers and the mysterious little man in red had killed each other at last. If only they could get into the room, the girls might be able to rifle some money or jewelry from the corpses before the authorities were called.

Without warning, the door seemed to literally blow outward. Girls, wigs, and petticoats were thrown against the opposite wall in the already cramped corridor. Through the remains of the frame came Klaus. He stepped slowly into the hallway with a re-injured leg which bled freely, and a dozen half-naked and fully naked women gazed up at him in awe. For even though he was in all appearances bad enough shape to be the loser of the fight, tonight he was to them the god of the Filthy Pig. But if anyone bothered to observe more closely, they would have noticed the glassy stare and slack-jawed countenance of a man who has just faced death and was not likely to soon forget what he's seen written in that face. He had no thought for raising his voice to anyone, either in boastfulness for his deeds or in accusation about why anyone had admitted that little one-eyed rat in the first place. Klaus just wanted to make it to the bar for a celebratory drink to himself.

From out of the settling dust, behind the departing form of the big ruffian, a form in tattered red rendered twisted by unappeased vengeance was rising once again. The seat of a wooden chair still hung broken and twisted around his neck, and he looked like a beaten dog that should have stayed down but didn't have the sense to know any better. Before anyone could react, he lunged with a vicious snarl and landed squarely on the back of the departing Klaus. The hooked hand embedded this time not into Klaus' right leg, but curled around his head from behind and stuck in his mouth. Alteng pulled hard as if he were reeling in a great fish. Klaus' scream was choked off by the impeding hook, now firmly anchored and sticking out again through his left cheek.

"Now," Alteng hissed in his ear so that no one else could easily discern what he said, "I'd like to ask a few questions before I carve out a second mouth for you. Won't you please come with me?" He slid off of Klaus' back while retaining his hold on the big man's jaw line. Finally Klaus gurgled his assent, and he allowed himself to be led back into the bedroom, with the girls gathering themselves up for a long night of cleaning up and explanations to investigators.