The False Shopkeeper

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: House of Ghosts

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Anti-Samuel Software and a Criminal Affair

Submitted: April 27, 2017

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Submitted: April 27, 2017

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Chapter Six - Anti-Samuel Software and a Criminal Affair
 

Hangovers were God’s way of letting you know that you’re a sinful bastard and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. It’s a cruel fate for those who found its consumption too easy. One glass became ten and ten became twenty. Eventually, the whole night became multiples of ten until I was the last man standing amongst the drunken rabble who dared challenge an otherworldly Scotsman to a battle of livers.


Both heads throbbed as I awoke to the glorious sight of morning rain. There was no better forecast for my heat-hating body. It felt like I was on home ground and I needed all the luck I could get in the coming days. I was embarking down a slippery slope. I understood that my recent actions had, in a lot of ways, gone against my nature. No amount of juvenile remarks or forced humour could disguise that. I was making choices that I would have never dreamed of back home but I guess that’s exactly why I made them. I was a powerless foreigner in a strange land but I possessed knowledge. Knowledge of a different world, a different way of living. Knowledge of what it took to turn a foe into a friend and vice-versa. Knowledge on how to look dashing despite feeling dead inside.

 

I looked into the mirror and two dull chestnuts stared back. My black hair was even messier than usual but no amount of gel could ever restrain the tips from spiking in any direction they pleased.

 

“Ugh.” The almost silent cry for help escaped my hoarse throat. A dryness similar to eating cheap victoria sponge cakes engulfed my innards. It was a tortuous occasion but I had no time to rest. The deadline for paying the debt was closing in and I still had much to do. I threw on a fresh shirt, leaving a top button open so I could breathe.My jeans from the night before smelled like Vulkan Spirit so I opted for some dress trousers. I slowly made my way to the front of the shop. Greybear was already up and stacking shelves.

 

“Furio, drinking bad,” he grumbled.

 

“Hey, it was all part of my plan, sort of.”

 

“Your plan, crazy. You, crazy.”

 

Apparently, I had informed Greybear of my grand scheme after getting home the night before in a drunken confession.

 

“Thanks for the confidence boost”

 

Greybear shook his head, bringing a swift end to the conversation. As usual, it was a challenge to understand what he was thinking. At the very least, the fact that he hadn’t kicked me out meant he had no qualms about housing a potential criminal. Not that I planned to get caught.

 

“No go out. Help shop.” Greybear called on me just as I reached the door.

 

“Ah, sure, guess I should help out.” I didn’t have much right to refuse him.

**

 

I had been minding the shop for a couple of hours without much trouble. A few customers had trickled through here and there. I was just about to take a break when a familiar face walked in. A storied face and an intimidating glare. A man with whom a drink I did share. Okay, so I’m not much of a poet, it was Welker.

 

“Furio, ya sure look the part behind that counter, Should we get you an apron too? I think you’d look great in floral patterns.” Welker grinned, once again showing his rapid change of expression. He looked like a caring grandfather in one light and a murderous old crook in another.

 

“Just make sure it doesn’t have roses on it. Never liked them.”

 

I slipped round the front of the counter giving Greybear an explanatory gaze. He replied with a silent nod.

 

I met with Welker in an alley to the side of the shop. “So, what brings you here?” I asked.

 

“Just letting you know that I found some willing men to gather the magus stones with me. I haven’t told them the specifics, just said the client was willing to pay well.” Welker scratched the top of his eye patch. I’d noticed him do it quite a few times.

 

“Good. I guess all that’s left is to arrange a buyer.”

 

“You’ve still got to think of some way to frame this Samuel guy if you want to avoid jail-time. The Guild doesn’t fuck around when it comes to magus stones.”

 

“Point taken but don’t worry, that part will take care of itself.”

 

“You know, I already knew this but you’re a weird guy. Like, super odd.”

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

“I ain’t never seen a man plan a crime so calmly. It’s like nothing even bothers you. Like your somewhere else. Not saying I mind, yer just an odd one.”

 

Somewhere else? That was about right. I was literally somewhere else. Far removed from the pleasantly boring world of my home and I was aware of the oddities that Welker spoke of. A silent force of confidence had surged within me. Perhaps it was just my way of coping with being ripped away from everything I knew? Maybe I just needed validation that there was a purpose for my coming here. Or maybe I just liked the idea of easy money and the associated thrill. Probably a combination of the three.

 

“I mean, I can’t say a lot of what I've seen here counts as normal either...but more importantly, what info do you have on the black market?”

 

“Well, it’s an underground market,” said Welker.

 

“Wow, really?” I feigned surprise.

 

“I mean it’s literally underground. Idleburg was built on the remains of another town from long ago. The criminals of this place usually gather in the remains below.”

 

“Oh, how classy. I take it you have a fence in mind?” Welker was well connected to the seedier side of Idleburg. His appearance kind of forced that life on to him but as I was shown on our first encounter, he had the acting chops to pull off his facade without breaking a sweat.

 

“Aye, I have one in mind. I’ll warn ya though, they’re not exactly what you’d expect.”

 

“Well, I guess I’ll just see when we get there.”

 

**

 

Welker lead me through a convoluted section of rarely used backstreets. Uneven cobblestone made me look more hungover than I actually was. At the end of the hidden maze was a well, a rusted old bucket shook momentarily in the wind.

 

“Down a well? Doesn’t this feel too cliche?” I asked.

 

“Just wait a moment.” Welker placed his right palm at the base of the well. “Avast avg norton.” The ground shook. A giant slab of stone moved out of the way and revealed a staircase to the depths.

 

“Hey, wait, wasn’t that spell just a list of Anti-Virus software?”

 

“I have no idea what you mean. Follow me.”

 

Welker took the lead as we descended into the unlit underground of Idleburg. The walls seem to keep closing in with every step until my arms couldn’t help but scrape against them. It was claustrophobic, that is, if I was claustrophobic. For me, it was just a pain to get a fresh shirt dirty so early in the day. Despite its darkness, it was clear to see that the steps we trod on were frequently used. Not a single time did I find my face tangled in a hidden cobweb or the like.

 

As reached the further down I began to hear faint sounds in the distance and their intensity continued to grow with each step. Music, voices, and an ambiance one would expect from a bustling town center. Soon my nose also became aware of the underground activity. Food, beer and a nauseating amount of scented candles. Then, when we finally stepped out from the stairway, my eyes laid their sights on an incredible view. I had expected a ragtag bunch of shoddy tents and bonfires but the expanse that was laid out before me could rival the town above. Winding streets of colourful stone, wonderfully weird houses, full of colour and curves. The kind of design that only magic could create. There were stalls as far as the eye could see and shoppers flocked to and fro, praying to the god of commerce with their hard earned (debatable) coin.

 

“Welcome to the underground, most know it as Avirah, named after the founder apparently.”

 

“You’re kidding me right?”

 

“What?”

 

“You just added an ‘h’ on the end!”

 

“Has the long walk made you insane?”

 

“I wish I could google this so you could understand my frustrations.”

 

“You talk some amount of gibberish Furio, come on.”

 

Welker lead me through the crowds of mysterious characters and oddballs. Everyone who walked through this underground sanctuary was likely to have had a dark past, except me of course, unless post-binge drinking blackouts count as a dark past. Several passersby took the time to nod respectfully at Welker’s approach. The universal body language for wordless recognition turned out to be universal.

 

“You’re a well-known guy, eh? I asked.

 

“Aye, I’ve been in the business a long time.”

 

‘The business.’ A term that Welker seemed quite fond of. It was an all-inclusive word to describe anything that involved less than legal practices. That vague concept was accepted by all who walked these shady streets, a criminal bond between friend and foe. We had been walking down what seemed to be the main street, which had a myriad of performers at either side, all practicing their art for a few coins. Even criminals are impressed by juggling, I was no exception. Indeed, it looked just like any other street. I saw people juggling knives, countless bored men dragged along by their wives and even one man juggling wives while dodging knives. It was noisy and crude but ultimately pleasant.

 

“This way,” said Welker.

 

We took a sharp right turn off the main street and found ourselves in a dark alleyway. The only illumination was provided by a glitchy neon sign. Welker stopped before a grey door. It seemed ordinary enough. That was true until he placed his hand against it, muttering a string of incomprehensible words. The once plain door was now decorated with a vibrant display of magic runes before they faded shortly after. Welker placed his hand on the door handle at opened it with ease after releasing the magical lock. I was encountering quite a bit of magic that day, as if someone up wanted to assure me that this was indeed a world of fantasies.

 

We once again descended some poorly lit steps until we reached a most unusual room below. It was a waiting room of some sort. The furniture was draped with seedy-looking red velvet covers and the surrounding aroma was like a violent clash between two armies of slightly different lavender candles. The cheesy love music and general ambiance screamed ‘awkward one night stand,’ which wasn’t exactly a position I wanted to be in with Welker.

 

The door in front of us, covered in an array of multi-coloured furs, creaked open and invited us inside. What awaited me was a true member of Idleburg’s seedy underbelly. An honest to god crook, a fence for black market deals. My palms were sweaty but my knees were feeling fine so I walked in without much hesitation.

 

I have no words capable of possibly coming close to accurately describing my reaction to what awaited me inside. Two girls wearing a charmingly disordered arrangement of colourful garments were sitting on a couch, waiting for my arrival. The black haired girl had her arms wrapped around the white haired girl's shoulders. The two of them shared a bond of mutual affection. This was of course not my first time meeting them but certainly the first time under such circumstances.


“What...the fuck? Winry and Cindy?”

 

“Oho, this is unexpected,” said Cindy. “To think you’d turn up here, Furio.

 

“Have you finally fallen for our womanly charms?” Winry snuggled her head against Cindy’s with a purposeful smile.

 

“Your idea of charming a man is making him to unexpected DIY, si I’ll pass for today.” I turned to Welker. “Are these honestly the black market fences.”

 

“What, yous have met before? Well, that makes this easy then. Girls, yer friend here’s the one I was telling you about.”

 

“I have to say, I never expected Furio to come to us with such an audacious plan.” Cindy smiled. “You've only been in town for a few weeks and you're already trying to sell magus stones? I’m impressed.” Cindy seemed more professional than usual, her usual composure felt less mischievous than it did now. I guess I had the wrong assumption about her. There was much more than to her than I originally thought. On the other hand, Winry seems largely the same. She clung to Cindy with fearsome dedication. I assumed that she wasn’t as involved in the business as Cindy was.

 

“Trust me, I’m far more surprised to see you two here.”

 

“Cindy here’s known as Avirah’s Goddess of Fortune. Any deal with her name attached is guaranteed good money.” Welker rubbed his hands like a businessman selling the last roll of toilet roll to the world's most irritable man.

 

“Alright, guess there's no point questioning things at this point.” I slouched down in an adjacent chair and accepted the surprising identities of my future business partner. “So, how does this work? Kind of new to the whole potential criminal thing.”

 

“First of all,” Cindy looked at me, “you have to realise that at this point there is no ‘potential.’ The moment you set this plan in motion you became a criminal.” Her harsh tone was a bit surprising but she made a fair point.

 

“I can accept that, I think.” To say that my mind had fully adapted to this new life would be a lie, Everything was so fantastical that it felt like a lie but I knew that the world around me now was, in fact, my reality. The idea of finding a way home didn’t even spring to my mind so at the very least I was intrigued enough to warrant staying.

 

“Good, the actual transaction can be left with us. We’ll take an undetermined cut depending on how much we earn.” Cindy explained.

 

“Wait, you set your price after the trade is done?”

 

“Don’t expect me to operate like a normal merchant. This is Avirah, each man and woman makes their own rules.” The sudden change to ruthless business woman was interesting but also somewhat hard to believe considering Cindy still looked like a sexualised Christmas tree with her colourful clothing.

 

“Alright, guess I’m in no position to argue. I guess all that's left is for Welker to get the stones and me to make sure I can dodge a prison sentence,” I got up from my chair. “Well, I’ll see you all when the deal is done, hopefully, we’ll all be a lot richer.”

 

“I can drink to that!” Welker raised his fist.

 

“Make sure any plans you have for your fall guy are taken care off by the end of the week, that’s when I’ll do the trade. As soon as it’s money in our hands and not the stones, the Guild will know.” Cindy fired a word of warning my way before I left.

 

“Don’t worry, I have a good plan, it’s something only I could pull off.”

 

“That doesn’t fill me with confidence, but, guess I’ll see what you’re made of,” said Welker.

 

I gave a short wave before heading back above ground, not even stopping to take in the sights, smells and temptations of Avirah on the way.

 

**

 

My next destination was the residence of the one and only, Samuel Frankford. Located in the upper-western quarter of the residential district, an area of pompous hats and preposterous wealth, sat a small mansion surrounded by larger mansions. It was Samuel’s home but also a place where he was no longer the top-dog. It was expected really, he was a third-rate loan shark and thug at best but his less than legal activities had netted him an unfair sum of wealth. As I glanced at his home from afar it was also clear that his money had somehow netted him a wife and kids too. They would be an essential part of the coming plan.

 

A disguise consisting of a thin scarf across my face and a cap on my head allowed me to get closer. The family of four messed around in their exaggerated garden. The children hid behind strangely shaped hedges and Samuel looked happy as he feigned confusion in the universe's lamest game of hide and seek. It was at this point that I realised many would feel guilty about the plan I had in mind. Seeing Samuel as part of a loving family could have changed my mind. Except it didn’t, because good lord was I not an unapologetic cunt from a land far, far away?

 

The answer is yes.

 

The only item in my possession at the time of my world-transfer (name subject to change) was my phone and I had purposefully left it off for a moment such as this. I snapped a few pictures of Samuel’s family, making sure I got enough angles to work with. Totally normal. That was all I needed.

 

To finish the final part of my plan I needed time and privacy. Luckily I had scouted out a suitable bar beforehand so retreated there until the time was right.

 

The ‘right’ time was several hours later. The night sky had long since covered Idleburg in a starry embrace. Some helpful clouds assisted my plan by conveniently blocking the light of the moon. I made my way back to Samuel’s house by retracing my steps from the pub. (I write down directions.) By making my way around to the side of the house I could see a secondary door. It had a pretty basic lock on it, nothing more advanced than ones I had encountered in my own world. A couple of makeshift lock picks were all that was needed to break through the low-tech security. Where and how I learned to do that is a story for another time.

 

After closing the door behind me, silently, I had infiltrated Samuel’s home without much issue. My information in the interior was essentially non-existent so I had no choice but to guess my way through. I had two snippets of information that suggested his location would allow my plan to work. First, when I had surveyed (spied) his family previously I noticed something. He and his wife shared next to no interaction or affection. It was the kind of setup that existed solely for their young children. The second was Samuel's obvious ego. He was the kind of man that would sleep on the top floor because at a subconscious level he felt the need to be above all others.

 

One step at a time. Each step I took going up the stairs was slow and careful. Luck was on my side as the first room I encountered at the top of the stairs was sitting ajar. I peeked through and, as expected, Samuel was sleeping in a room separate from his wife. Once again my footsteps proved silent on approach. I reached into my pocket and took out a small but reasonably sharp blade.

 

“Wake up,” I said, pressing the blade against his throat.

 

“W...what are you doing? I demand you to-”

 

“Don’t make so much noise, you’ll wake the fucking neighbours.” I led his gaze towards the blade in my hand until he replied with a silent nod. “Good, you recognise me, right?”

 

“Furio...the kid from the shop.” His voice was timid.

 

“Superb. I’d give you a gold star but all I have is this.” I turned on my phone and showed it to Samuel. His face darkened with horror which meant I had successfully shown him the prepared images or it was an unintended dick pick.

 

“W...what is this?”

 

“It should be a gallery of pictures depicting the bloody deaths scenes of your family, am I right?”

 

“How is this possible, I just saw them, no! This is impossible, absurd I refuse to-”

 

“Shut up.” I pressed the blade against his neck. “This device here can show you snippets of time. These show you your family’s future. A future that will come to pass if you do not follow my every instruction.” In reality, they were just the photos I had taken earlier that had went through many hours of mobile photoshop.

 

“I’ve never heard of such a magical device! I don’t believe you. What is it you want? Money? I’ll give you anything you want, even clear the old wolf’s debt.”

 

“You’re going to clear the debt regardless, and don’t speak unless I tell you to. I understand you’ll need more convincing so how is this?” I showed him several random pictures that I had taken that day. “Each one of these is a captured moment in time. They show the past, the present and the future.”

 

“What do I need to do?” His eyes glazed over in fear and desperation.

 

“In one week the authorities will come to your door and ask you about a crime. You will confess to it. You will not say anything about this encounter. You will not say anything about Greybeard's debt. Do you understand? Your children’s futures depend on you. Don’t fuck it up.”

 

Samuel gave me a weak nod. Tears filled his eyes and snot ran from his nose. Even as his throat was released from the pressure of the blade his fear did not alleviate. I had broken him. Every man, no matter how cruel they are, or cold they are, all men have something to protect. Honour, family, life or a combination of the three.

 

I turned my back on the crying crook and left the same way I came in. Which one of us was the better man? The answer depended on which one of us was still standing with their head held high, Nothing else mattered in the end.

 

The final stages of my plan had been complete. All that was left to do was wait. Regardless of the outcome, there was no turning back for me. I could sense it. A downward spiral awaited me at the end the tunnel but nobody said the bottom of the barrel couldn’t be fun. As long as I could still laugh when I got there then everything would be fine.








 

 









 


© Copyright 2019 Craig Yorozuya. All rights reserved.

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