"The Barkeeper's Tale"
by Stonewall

Have a seat, right over there, boy. My old dogs always bark after standin' behind that bar for nine hours...Now, boy, let me talk to you. No need to explain who you are, or why you're here. I got ways of findin' things out, you got to, in this City. Never know when the Hammers are snoopin around, with their O of I snitches.

Your name is Peter. Your father is a barrel cooper a few miles out of town. Since he used to serve the Southern Earl, and right well, I might add, he wangled you an appointment to the Southern Guard. Right so far? Well, you didn't want to be a cadet, because you were afraid you couldn't live up to the Old Man's hero act. So you caught a cart into the city, where you don't know a soul, you're about out of money, so, after hearing the wild tales in my bar for a week, you come to me and ask how to become a thief.

Don't deny it. You got five coppers and one little piece of silver in that purse. Jaester had it twice, and couldn't bring himself to keep it...he put it back both times. Mauser had it yesterday, and put it right back. I had a peek myself not an hour ago, and you didn't even wonder why I brought you your ale. If you don't do something quick, you'll be broke tomorrow, provided you keep your purse.

Don't leave, boy, not just yet...I'm just gettin things straight between us before we start you on your new course. Thievin is a hard life, that's a fact, don't believe those tales you hear out front. You know the difference between a fantasy tale and a thief's tale? The fantasy tale starts out "Once upon a time..." and the thief's tale starts out "This is no shit..." Any difference after that is an accident.

Yes, thievin is hard, it ain't like they say, with riches just waitin to be picked up. I know, cause I was a thief myownself, when I was your age. I was raised under the best, my Dad was the greatest thief in The City, better even than Garrett, by a hair.

Garrett is the one, you saw him last night, the one Maygan kept givin free drinks to. She thinks I don't know, and she tells him she's stealin em...then she slips the money in the till when I ain't lookin. Garrett brings me his money later, and I slip it back to Maygan in her pay...she's got it bad for Garrett, but lucky he knows women slow you down....what in hell was I talkin about?

Ah, yes, my Old Man was the best, and he trained me from a toddler...walk silent, boy...shadows, boy, shadows...I can hear him now. And I was good, damned good. I guess I was good because I took my time...didn't see any point in getting killed for it.

Dad, he had a pet project, worked on it about full-time the last year he was alive. He was gonna get the Cloudstone from Baron MacInnis...ah, even you heard of that stone...well, the Old Man was obsessed with it. It was all he talked about, that stone was gonna be his retirement, his master stroke. One big hit, then that's it, goodbye. Then he got killed on a job any two-bit taffer coulda done, hell, you coulda done it. There was just one guard in the whole house, a big Army serjeant they called Bear. Dad hid in the wrong shadow, I guess, and the Bear cored him like an apple. I been waitin for the Bear to get out of the Army for near twenty years, then I'm gonna fix him, myownself. He dropped out of sight, just lately, but I'll find him again...the Old Man was all the family I had, never had no mother, it was like I just popped outta his forehead. Maybe he stole me, too... what in hell...oh, yeah.

So, the Old Man was gone, but I still had his plan, and a thing of beauty it was, too. He had the castle cased, the guards timed, the distances figured to a whisker. Nothin left to chance.

So I did the job.

Dad had it figured for four and a half hours. It took me nearly two days.

Now that's fear, youngster. Afraid to eat, afraid to sleep...too far in to back out, and some bloody great cretin with a sword ready to cleave your head in half if you breathe too loud. But I did it, and no one the wiser. Someday the old Baron is gonna open that display case and find his Cloudstone is nothin but a rotten goose egg. I just laid in bed and shook, for a week. Just like the Old Man had it figured, it was the last job I ever pulled.

When I finally got it fenced off, I had a pile of gold bigger than I ever knew existed. But I couldn't help but think how much bigger that pile woulda been, if I had found a buyer myself...so I became a fence.

I had a good stable in those days, most of the really good independents came to me, and after awhile, I could talk myself into the biggest mansions in the city to sell my goods. I was trainin, recruitin, orderin and plannin jobs, and makin money like a whorehouse. Maybe I got too big...maybe somebody got jealous, I dunno, but I woke up one night and the door downstairs was comin off the hinges. Hammers! I had no intention of having my palms scalded, so I slipped out of bed and down my rathole, into the sewers, and out of The City. Always plan ahead, boy.

When things blew over, I still had a good wad of gold, so I opened this little watering hole. You'll find most of the independent thieves around come here to drink, where it's private. I got good ears and I can close up pretty quick if the Hammers find out what goes on here.

And now we've come full circle, to your little problem. I got youngsters come in here coupla times a year and announce they are ready to become big time thieves, and most of them are no better than you...I just run em off, I ain't in the business no more, and them babies couldn't do the work, they ain't smart enough. Those guys out front, boy, you think they wanted to spend their lives ducking and running? Most of em was driven to it, some was born to it, but they never woulda lived this long if they wasn't smart.

But you got some sense, anyway, you figured out the right place to go and the right way to ask...

You ain't got no trainin, and I'm too damn old to start that again, thirty-five winters gone, but a lot of folks are livin up to fifty, these days. Cutty's out of the picture, now...perhaps Master Nightfall....if you go out on the street, they's nothin for you there....one of the combines will grab you, and they'll send you to prison for a spell, just to toughen you up. Once you got a record, boy, you're no damn good. They'll send you on two-bit jobs till your're used up or dead.

If you're gonna do it, you gotta do it all the way. Here's what you do...you go home, your mama misses you. I was out there just this mornin. Use a week to think about what I said. Don't breathe a word of this to anybody. I would advise you to go in the Southern Guard, but you're smart enough to make up your own mind. If you still want to be a thief this time next week, come see me. I might have a few things lined up by then.

Stay here tonight, sonny. If you go out this late, you'll get a cosh on the ear and end up in the wench-boy house with a leather collar on. This is a tough old City, but if we can get your ears dry and your head on straight, you might live long enough to learn a few tricks.

Go back to Library of Short Tales