'You know, I don't think that's going to open.' I mused.
'Hey shut up you idiot! I never asked for your opinion.' Cab turned to me with a sour expression. I thought he was about to hit me when he apparently changed his mind and handed me the pick.
'You do it then.'
With a thoughtful look, I raised my hands in front of his face, waggling them suggestively. Cab completely ignored me and stared at the lock instead. It seemed I would have to try opening the door with my wrists tied together, wonderful.
'And hurry up, we don't have long.' He hissed at me.
I let out a barely inaudible sigh and knelt in front of the wooden door. The lock, on inspection, didn't seem too complex, the problem was the pathetic excuse for a pick that I'd been given. The wire was bent in several places and felt as though it would break upon entering the lock hole. However, I had the lock open is less than three seconds, rewarded by a satisfying click. I turned my head to see Cab surveying the empty street, he hadn't noticed my success.
I smiled to myself let out a sigh. 'You're right, this is hard. I'm not sure the poor wire pick will make it.'
'I knew you'd be useless.' He snarled and grabbed it back. 'Move aside!'
Keeping my face straight, I quickly got up and watched my captor. Cab thrust the pick into the lock once again, then swore when it broke.
'Is it open?' I asked peering over his shoulder.
'What do you think? I broke the stupid–' He stopped mid sentence, as the door silently pushed open. 'Huh, looks like force works with this door.' He mumbled.
With a final glance up and down the street he grabbed my shoulder and pushed me through the door. I stumbled in the dark, blinking as Cab came in behind me and gently pushed the door shut again.
'You stay here and if I hear one sound out of you I shall...' He trailed off, possibly from lack of threats.
As an answer, I sat down on the floor. My eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness and I could make out a passage way ahead.
After a quick glance in my direction, Cab started making his way along the passage – then turned around a corner.
I relaxed. Slowly and silently, I shuffled off in Cab's direction and peered around the corner. He was no where in sight. I straightened and swiftly tugged off my bindings, pocketing the string that had tied me. Once I was around the corner in the passage way where I could no longer see the door we had come through, I noticed a fork in way ahead. Pondering as I approached, I looked carefully down each route. The path to the left was straight and darkness swallowed it before I could see an end. The second passage was similar, yet I could make out another turning in the dark. I presumed this was the path taken by Cab and it was also the direction I needed to go.
I headed off quietly, keeping a look out for any signs of my ex-captor. I almost went past the entrance without seeing it.
Doing a double take and going back a few paces, I raised my eyes to the ceiling of the passage and noticed a small and barely visible trap door.
'That'll do.' I decided, and gingerly pushed upwards. The door opened easily, and I saw nothing but darkness beyond. I jumped up, trying to get a decent grip on the edge of the opening. Finally I managed to haul myself through.
Immediately I felt something crash into me, falling to the ground on top of me. Someone hit me in the face, and I struggled underneath. Finding a hold, I threw the body off me, rolling over. Just as I was gaining the upper hand, I was surprised from behind. Another assailant joined in the excitement and succeeded in grabbing one of my arms, preventing me from hitting the first attacker long enough for him to push me over again. I attempted kicking out, but in the dark I missed and found only empty air.
Too bad, I thought, I've been caught once again. My arms were twisted behind me and I finally saw a figure in the darkness. No – more than one person; as my eyes adjusted I made out several shapes around me. No one moved, they all appeared bent over, or huddled up in groups.
'Who is it?' Someone broke the silence, a mere whisper in the still air.
'Don't concern yourself lass,' a rough voice came from right behind me, presumably the man holding my arms prisoner. 'Come on, Darry, let's take him to the room.'
I twisted to try to get a view of the man who spoke, but was roughly pushed forward. Irritated, I complied. 'The room' was tiny, but thankfully well lit. Candles glowed from all four walls, compared to the previous gloom it was wonderful.
A dozen or so adults sat around the room, some looking particularly studious, others simply appeared lost in thought. All turned and looked at me as we entered.
'What's this?' An aged man asked.
The other man who'd accompanied me, Darry I guessed, closed the door, locking it. 'Let him go, Bill, we're fine in here.' Darry turned to address the elder man as Bill released me. 'He came up from Door 12, I've no idea where from.'
'Door 12? You know that means nothing to me, I don't like to go out there.' The wizened man sighed, then spoke to me. 'So, who are you young man, and what is your business here?'
'Um...' I sucked in a breath. I didn't like to lie. 'Well you see, my business has nothing to do with you, or at least I don't think it has. I was simply trying to find a person I know of. I thought this might be a short cut.'
'A short cut?' The man named Bill cried. 'You had the mind to simply stroll up here, burst through our space and scare us all with your sudden appearance, just for a shorter way to where you're going! I don't know, but that all sounds a little insensitive to me.'
'Well now you've assaulted and interrogated me and insulted my character (whether true or not), can I go please? I am actually in a hurry.'
'You may go,' the old man said softly, 'but you'll do us a favour first.'
As I waited for him to elaborate, silence filled the room. Bill suddenly looked at Darry who consequently widened his eyes and in turned stared at the old guy. Who was all the while staring at me.
'We should send him down there?' Darry broke the silence.
Bill looked like he was holding his breath.
'Well why not?' A new voice chirped. It was a woman. 'If he makes a promise then he can do our favour and go about his own business at the same time. We all know where he's going anyway, right?'
'Madda! You're going to give everything away soon.' The man chastised her, chuckling. 'How are we supposed to make this all seem mysterious when you go and make it that simple? You're quite right though, it's time we claimed what's ours.'
I cleared my throat and straightened slightly. 'Ok then, sounds like a good plan to me. I'm a man of my word. Now, what's the favour?'
'See?' The woman piped up. 'I told you.'
'Fine,' Darry sighed, 'there's something down there that belongs to us. You have to return it. The Crazy Madam stole our hour glass.'
Hiding my inner alarm, I asked 'Hour glass? Could you tell me what it looks like... just incase she has a collection?'
'A collection?' The old man chuckled. 'She may have a weakness for hour glasses, but I doubt it. It's wood and silver holding the glass in place; the dust inside is quite black.'
'Sounds interesting,' I murmured, 'but there is a problem. I can make no promise to return it to you, for as I have mentioned, I have my own business down there which will prevent me from fulfilling your promise.'
'Why?' Ventured Bill. 'If you're in too much of a hurry then you can return here once your business is completed.'
The old man simply sat and watched me.
I uneasily turned to Bill. 'If you are sure there is no rush for you to get your treasure back. I can't say how long it will take.'
'Sorted!' The aged man cried. 'I'm sure we can trust you if you promise to come back with it, but just incase, I'll ask you to leave something of your own here.'
'Um...' Anxiously I felt my pockets for something valuable, and brought out the tattered piece of string I'd shed with dismay. 'You see, I don't have–'
'Don't lie!' The man shrieked, 'I know you have a precious knife on you.'
No! I cursed inwardly. 'I wasn't going to lie, I only meant to say that I have nothing I wish to part with. And what if I need my knife to rescue your dear hour glass?'
'You'll manage. Now hand it over, or we'll have to detain you here.'
'Oh but you won't. You need me to do this for you, I know.' I sighed, nothing ever worked out as planned. 'Have it your way then!'
My knife was my best tool in the world. I could ask it to perform a great variety of tasks, and it had never failed me yet. It was quite fancy, with a carved bone handle and a wickedly sharp shiny blade. The thought of succeeding in my mission without it was most depressing. However I carefully held it out to the elderly man.
'I promise to you that, providing I succeed in obtaining the hour glass and that I still live in an able body, I shall return it to you here. I shall do my utmost to prevent any damage to befall it, and shall be as swift and efficient as is reasonable.' I looked the man full in the face. 'And I charge you to take care of my knife for me. Let no one use it, for it is mine alone.'
I heard Bill behind me murmur something to Darry, but ignored him as I waited for the old man to respond.
'As you ask. I promise I will keep it safe for you.' He smiled.
The lump in my throat prevented me from returning the look, but I nodded.
Black in the darkness, I reordered my priorities. This little trip had added significantly to my plans. I would have to do almost twice as much journeying, become ten times more sneaky, and may well loose my reputation as an honest businessman. I would say thief, but it doesn't fare well to introduce yourself so. Besides, I haven't been stealing nearly so much in the last year, if you don't count those girls I encountered, and heavily avoided since, back in the Spring.
Oh why did it have to be the hour glass they wanted? It would have been a thousand times simpler if the two parties I happened to be working for didn't wish for the same item. But then, the life of a thief is never straightforward.
I caught a whiff of citrus in the air. Now that did not seem to belong here. Searching for the source I discovered a wall to my left. The wall had a grating near the base, and if I pressed my nose against it, I could still smell the alien scent.
Maybe the Crazy Madam wore a lemon smelling perfume, or perhaps enjoyed the sweet flavour of oranges. Either case might ease my search of her, but I doubted it. Continuing along the wall, I soon found a door. It was so short that I almost missed it. The height came only up to my waist, and the width was just as reduced.
I didn't think it would be a problem. Feeling all round the perimeter, I found no catch or handle. I pushed and shoved, but in vain. Now, if I had my beautiful knife with me, it would be clear to insert the slender blade in the crack between the door and wall in order to ease it open. If it opened in my direction and there was no lock stopping it, of course.
There seemed like no other option. Hoping that I wouldn't make too much noise and that there was no one on the other side, I stood up and dealt a swift but hard kick to the small wooded obstacle. I was rewarded by a soft cracking sound. I kicked again, and this time the door flew open.
I hurriedly stooped to inspect the other side of the opening, and to my relief found no evidence of anyone around. The door seemed set fairly high up on the inside wall, but there was nothing below to stop me landing safely. I sat down on the ledge, inserted my legs, twisted onto my belly and slid through. I had to turn on one side to get my hips and shoulders through. Clinging onto the the doorway for a second I hung in the air, then dropped to the ground quietly. How satisfactory. Straightening, I looked up at the evidence of my breaking in, and did my best to fix it. Once done, I looked around the room and decided what to do.
It had been four days since I'd started journeying here. It wouldn't normally take long, but I'd had the misfortune to run into Cab on the way. To be honest, this whole affair had already been increasingly complicated even before I'd stumbled on those folk in the dark attics and lost my knife. Let me explain.
At first, this was just a job, like any other paid work. Just less than a week ago I'd been wandering around with no work to occupy my mind. I'd had a pleasant break after a recent robbery, and then felt restless once again. Passing through a large town, my trusty ears had picked up a rumour. Apparently there was some rich man in the local manor who was looking for someone. There's nothing like a potentially scandalous mystery to intrigue the local inhabitants and give them something, bless their hearts, to gossip about.
After a little prying here and there, a few gentle inquiries, I decided it looked like I might have a job coming up. I sneaked into the manor, into the lord's own chambers, and gave him the fright of his life. I'd felt a demonstration of my skills was necessary if I was going to get the job. It worked, after all.
He wanted me to steal a certain item from his ex-aunt-in-law, Lady Cecile, also known as the 'Crazy Madam'. She had a rather unique hour glass; I'd not known whether there was something special about it, or if George – my new boss – was simply feeling spiteful. Of course I'd gladly accepted the mission (the payment would be very satisfactory) and headed immediately in the direction of the Crazy Madam's residence.
Oh yes, next comes my interlude with Cab. He's somehow connected with George (probably just a lowly servant in that big manor) and resented not being given the job. Like he'd be any good, he has the noisiest footsteps and couldn't even get a simple lock open. Cab, it seemed, was a little determined. He followed me and caught up with me in a village not far from our destination. I'd been making my own sweet time, of course, otherwise it wouldn't have been so easy for him. He'd spun some pathetic story about how I'd mugged him on the road and he persuaded a few stout young lads to join him. I obviously hadn't been on my guard.
Not meaning to brag, but I'm sure I could have smoothly escaped the inconvenience of Cab thinking I was his simple captor and detained him longed enough for me to complete my skilful theft and return to George and my well deserved money. But why bother when he's heading in the same direction? I had no idea why he wanted to take me with him, possibly he knew he'd need my help, but I was sure there was no fear of Cab beating me to it. I doubted he'd even get near the desired hour glass, nor even his master's ex-aunt. Perhaps I was just lonely, and certainly Cab amused me with his arrogant stupidity.