The prosperous twin towns of Kern and Ankell grew up on the flat lowlands either side of the river Widewater. For years they were ably served by boats and ferries moving people and goods back and forth from either bank or the delta. Both were successful ports and despite being run by very different rulers, they prospered in parallel and better than they would have on their own.
Many years ago, the third Lord of Kern ordered his engineers to design and build the first wooden bridge across the estuary to Ankell. Naturally, anyone crossing his bridge would have to pay him a toll for its use. His rival across the river, Lord Ankell was outraged and decided to build himself a bridge, right next to the first, so he wouldn’t have to pay his opposite number in Kern for the privilege of crossing the water.
This second crossing, known as the Ankell Bridge, had barely broken ground when the main ferry operator who had known for some time his business would be in trouble decided to get in on the action and a third bridge, that would undercut both in price, was commissioned. The ferrymen had only charged a copper coin to cross the river in one of their boats and the population had winced at the more expensive cost to use the new-fangled bridges. Because the Ferryman's bridge was a commercial venture and not one of vanity, he encouraged businesses of either town to take up stalls on its length and become a meeting point for trade. He would not charge a toll for its use, he would simply make his money back from shop rent. And they did flock to the Ferry Bridge because they benefitted by not having to pay any land taxes to either Lord. It was a great philanthropic idea that unfortunately worked too well, the bridge became so crowded with shops it became a crowded bottleneck with large shops teetering over the sides.
Lord Kern’s eldest son did not like the fact that his father’s original bridge was now being sidelined as the most northerly and constructed a fourth crossing, the New Kern Bridge, to the south. Being a military man, his plan was tactical to bracket the two rival bridges on either side with a Kern controlled crossing. His bridge was a much grander affair that was wider and built of completely cut stone and allowed for the rapid crossing of knights on horseback and large regiments of foot soldiers.
You would think that was enough, but the cement had barely set on number four when yet more bridges were planned and built. The success of the Ferryman's Bridge with its traders inspired other prosperous merchants to follow suit, forming consortiums to erect their own crossings. At one point three bridges were being simultaneously built alongside one another with tinkers and mongers of all kinds flocking from the land onto the bridges to be at the centre of a new community.
These bridges had affiliations with certain Guilds who backed their construction in order to concentrate their members into specialised markets, in much the same way certain towns have distinct quarters. Over time, the original names of these crossings were forgotten and given simpler labels such as the Spice bridge, Diamond bridge and Leather bridge.
The Lords' bridges, each of which had previously undercut each other's crossing fee became outdated models of pride and as the years past the increasingly desperate descendants of the original nobles realised too late their grandfathers had poured far too much of their fortunes into the crossings. The tolls which should have paid for their construction had had to be reduced so many times and so massively to compete with the free bridges that they never recovered their initial outlay and had only emptied the coffers of both Lords. Eventually, they had no choice but to allow free passage like the others and invite shops and also dwellings aboard for a rent and slowly they began to fair much better.
Despite there being more than ten bridges, they became cramped and precarious extensions began to protrude sideways to hold even more tenants. But tensions remained and the uneasy truce between rival bridges came to a head when a fire broke out on one of the many wooden bridges, Cottonbridge. It burned for several days, completely destroying the central section and rumours spread that it had been deliberately set alight. No-one knows for sure who was responsible but accusations of arson were attributed to both Lords of Kern and Ankell neither claiming responsibility. The useless remnants of either end, now little more than arched piers were extended sideways to link up with the nearest bridges so they could salvage passing custom and continue to trade.
Shrewd merchants followed this example and saved money by only constructing raised platforms nearby and inviting their neighbours to span the gap with timber pathways that jutted out between the crossings. Linking the bridges with these jutting out additions caught on and multiplied rapidly, becoming a spider's web of walkways braced between the bridges. When enough wood formed a lattice, paths became floors and shacks appeared and then houses and shops over the water. Trading posts, shops and even houses built on bridges wasn’t a new idea but this became a colossal endeavour. The merchants traded away as around them the structure swelled with more and more timber being added, reinforced and continually replaced as the town grew. Over the next few years anyone with the money to do so, built a bridge or linked plinth adding to the existing ones and would end up being absorbed into the growing settlement.
Stonemasons, carpenters and engineers learned more with every bridge they built and their employment was continuous when one bridge was finished, another would begin straight away or they would have to go back and repair or underpin an existing link. Time passed and the number bridges passed twenty but with the myriad of additions, it was hard to accurately tell anymore. Bridge building fathers retired and their sons and their sons took over. Sometimes you might have three generations of a family working alongside each other on the same structure, this gave financial security but came with ever-present risks of building quickly at the limit of their knowledge and means. Over the years there had been several big collapses that had devastating consequences for families, robbing entire families of several generations of their men in a flash.
As the population were already leaving the land either side, the twin towns of Kern and Ankell emptied of people and became neglected and forgotten. They crumbled away over time; empty houses had roof joists looted for their timber and the stone houses were broken up and used to brace the bridge supports. The looted dwellings became merely overgrown footprints and were reclaimed by the green fertile marshlands as the farmers moved back in.
With the south side of the river estuary the widest, no bridges went beyond the big, stone built Military Bridge formerly known as the New Kern Bridge (or number four). This worked both as a backbone and also afforded a fast unbroken bypass route along the coast without needing to get lost amongst the crowd of the town. This side of the bridge was better engineered and became more desirable as it boasted impressive open views over the sea. Prices rose and better premises were added. This new conurbation became a town called Greatbridge.
Apart from avoiding the exorbitant feudal taxes of living in Kern or Ankell, one of the big advantages of living in Greatbridge was improved urban sanitation. Buckets of human waste hurled from upper windows could now fall into the river, not the street. Bylaws were passed to make sure peoples’ aim improved otherwise they would be fined or ejected back onto the land where they would have to join a long waiting list to get back onto the bridges. As a result, the streets were comparatively immaculate, with the only complaints coming from the shitmongers who's job was to shovel and sell this human excrement to surrounding farmers. They had to either rely on the meagre amounts from passing horse manure or move to work under the bridges. A whole underclass of workers existed permanently in the space beneath the city, but above the water. Teams of these shitcatchers waited in their favourite spots at certain times of day like fisherman but with buckets affixed to poles, catching the fresh waste as it rained down toward the river. Apart from clearing the bridge foundations and associated supports of shite, they also maintained the integrity of the structure and compensated for the new developments being added above by strengthening and widening the bridge pillars to counter the increasing weights pressing down on its base. Rats could sometimes a problem but cats kept them in check and the dogs kept the cats' numbers in order.
After a rash of violent disagreements between rival guilds, Greatbridge pioneered being a weaponless city, banning weapons within its walls by using the old toll booths as weapon checkpoints staffed by city guard. After initial reluctance -- particularly from the weaponsmiths -- the populace came to embrace the ruling. These pleasantly clean and safe streets brought in even more trade and the town increased again and Greatbridge became a city.
Eventually, the insane addition of further crossings began to slow as people were moving too far from the centre. But demand was high and restless developers who had a need for more expansion but were reluctant to spill back upstream, began to build upwards on the newest side. The town, now big enough to be called it a City, reached into the sky and the architects referred to it as an ‘urban tiara over the river’. That name didn’t catch on and in truth, the tall conurbation was more like a flat side of a wedge of cheese. Most other towns were only two or three stories tall -- with the exception of churches, cathedrals and castles -- but Greatbridge lived up to its name by shooting high buildings skyward, often with perilous staircases winding up between buildings. It stood proudly surrounded by low land and sea and looked like nothing else.
And what of the almost destitute houses of Ankell and Kern? Well, as the generations passed and the bridges expanded, the 18th Lord of Ankell found that far from bickering with his opposite number, the newly elevated Lady Sylvia Kern was, in fact, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. They embarked on an unlikely romance that sent secretaries on respective sides tearing up centuries of precepts and starting anew. They married quickly and modestly and had a happy life together with seven children. They moved onto a neutral palace built on one of Greatbridge's largest towers and tiring of their staff scrabbling about and failing to agree terms, they simply relinquishing most of their benign powers and lived a long, happy and simple life together.
The four soldiers of fortune bounded down from the steep foothills below The Chair and its surrounding peaks glad to be back onto the soft fertile grass of the flattened valley floor. Ahead they sighted the main trade road and yomped across the fields to meet it. Feeling good they had finished their route over the mountains in one piece, the team maintained the good pace, hurried on by the darkening sky of the storm that was following them off the hills.
Through the mist, they could see the outline of the high roofs and higher spires of Greatbridge looming in the distance. They knew that their arduous shortcut had indeed saved themselves a few days travelling and by not going the long way round they now had the upper hand.
Once on the road, they joined the procession of people drawn lemming-like to the vertical city. Pedlars and other travellers repeated the long journey to the markets weekly, twice weekly or even daily with loaded packhorses. Mothers carried little bundles of children around them and still balanced lofty piles of goods or textiles on their heads, the elderly leant on sticks and walked more slowly but still with purpose and young children full of energy ran alongside the convoy -- jumping onto the verge, chasing their pet dogs and having fun. Farmers herded their sheep and cows alongside the convoy too, bringing fresh livestock in for the butchers waiting in their abattoirs. The squad wound their way through the throng and overtook a pair of huge lumbering cob horses pulling a wagon train of three carts filled with sawn timber headed towards the wooden city, bringing yet more necessary materials for further construction.
They tried to mingle in with the mob but defined by the big weapons they carried about them and with Grog towering over the rabble, they weren't that successful.
HERE COMES THE RAIN AGAIN
Dirty, hot and sweaty, the team of mercenaries knew they wouldn't quite make it to their evening lodgings before the rain that had been threatening all day announced its arrival with a rumble of thunder. As they were caught up by the curtain of water that overtook them, cloaks and hoods were deployed and collars on buttoned-up great coats were turned up to keep the water at bay, but the deluge was too heavy. The road turned to mud and hollows quickly became flooded puddles that slowed the waggons and made the drivers even more eager to push their steeds harder to arrive at their destination.
Greatbridge was right in front of them now, its unusual triangular shape curving high to the right, the very top disappearing into the low clouds that quickly tumbled around the Highside spires of its south facade that watched over the turbulent sea lap and break across its foundations. With what was left of the setting sun now hidden behind the thick grey clouds dusk arrived early. The rain-soaked wooden towers darkened and looked shiny when the lightning crackled and lit its silhouette up. As the deluge continued, rainwater flowed off roofs and spouts giving it a more ominous appearance, like black stalagmites under a waterfall.
The rain looked like it was here to stay for days...
CHECK YOUR WEAPONS
As the crowds neared the city, the procession split up and headed for different gatehouses with bridge twenty-three being popular tonight; the one closest to tonight's weekly haberdashery bazaar. As the team was fine for buttons, they instead headed for what was essentially Greatbridge's main entrance. As it was illegal to bring weapons into the Greatbridge, all the bridges had their own checkpoints to enforce the citywide ban.
Weapons had to be handed over before access was granted and you would be given a chit for you to reclaim your weapons when you left. The main Holgate entrance was located on the wider, military bridge which skimmed the seaward-facing south wall of the city. This bridge's gatehouse was unique in that it sat halfway along its length, so if you were coming from the East, you could enter the city for whatever business you had and then collect your weapons from the same point on your exit and continue your journey West.
The city guard had a profitable sideline of selling on bulk unclaimed weapons to other towns four times a year on blade day. Of course, whenever there is a ban on anything, there will always be a black market, but penalties for possession of as much as a single blade or weapon were severe.
As the team neared the main checkpoint, the pace slowed down as they waited in a short queue. They had passed prominent signs saying 'New arrivals make your presence made known to the City Guard', 'No weapons beyond this point' and 'All weapons to be handed in, No exceptions' warning travellers of Greatbridge's radical bylaws. This was the price of visiting such a progressive place and one of the reasons why it had prospered.
With such a downpour, the central checkpoint was busy with people keen to get indoors. Luckily, it had a large covered searching area with tables and multiple guards searching people and confiscating weapons into the storage armouries on either side before allowing cleared people to enter through turnstiles. Guard dogs on handlers' leashes watched the process intently waiting for the command to attack. A hassled usher urged people to keep moving and promptly directed them to be frisked.
Valguard noticed Severan becoming twitchy and tried to calm him.
"Take it easy. You'll get them back."
"I don't surrender my weapons," he protested.
"You do today. Everyone does," he insisted. "We've got enough heat after what happened in Waterglass."
"That wasn't me," he said quietly leaning close. He had a point, that was before he showed up.
"I'm freezing, wet and tired. I just want some food, a hot bath and a soft bed."
"Beer and fanny!" said Grog from leaning in from behind, proudly describing exactly what he wanted.
"Alright," said Severan. "But if I lose them, I'll hold you responsible."
"Balls you will -- hold the guard who takes it off you responsible."
In front of them, carts and wagons were having their wares checked before access was granted through the big gate, likely looking fellows were searched for concealed steel.
Hawkwood grew impatient at his bleating, "Just check your weapons, Severan."
"I can hide my blades in your guts so deep they'd never find them, would you like that?"
Hawkwood ignored him and stepped forward to the beckoning guardsman to be frisked first, his sword belt already unbuckled and politely offered in his hand along with a few minor weapons. Easy.
"The staff too," said the guard.
Hawkwood's smile dropped at the thought of being separated from his beloved staff -- he thought he'd be able to sneak that through. "It's... a walking stick," he protested.
"It's classed as a weapon. Hand it in."
This made Severan smile. Serves him right, he thought. And then it was his turn. Slowly, reluctantly, he passed over his swords over, not letting go until the third tug from the guard, before being patted down by another.
"Nice longsword," said the guard.
"Nice! Nice? That's the finest blade ever made!"
"Take care of that."
"We always do," said the guardsman who had heard it all before and wished he'd not said anything now.
"If you upset it, it will cut you later," he warned in a slightly weird way as he was flagged through to rejoin the irked sorcerer, making sure he was also held responsible.
"If they lose that sword, you owe me an even more expensive one."
"Isn't that why we're all here?" he replied looking confused.
Severan watched his blades get taken into the armoury and down at an insufficient receipt of parchment with a number on it. He felt naked and was not happy as he walked in a daze through the gate to the city.
"NEXT! Name?" barked the guard to the next in line.
"No, what's your surname?"
"Both your names are Valguard?"
The guard gave up, "Just hand in your weapons please."
Valguard didn't mind giving up his weapons. He was fond of them but not especially so unlike many soldiers, he hadn't named them and he wasn't superstitious so he didn't consider them lucky tokens, he had no problem improvising with whatever was at hand. He unbuckled his holster under his coat with his two short swords and laid it on the table. A couple of thin maces that were little more than billy clubs, a few throwing stars and a knife. A caltrop. A smaller knife. Some leather cord and a spoon.
"What exactly is your purpose in Greatbridge, sir?"
"Visiting an old friend."
"Do you not like him?" asked the guard looking at the items laid out on the table that were all being put into a crate. Valguard shrugged with his arms out as he was frisked. Shaking his head, the guard tore off a receipt and waved him through the gate.
Last was Grog. The guard looked up to where a head should have been but was only staring at his chest, he raised his eyes even higher to see the big face towering over him. Grog's club slammed down on the table, making the last of Valguard's weapons on it bounce, the attendants jump and one of the guard's dogs start barking at the giant. "Easy, Spike, easy," commanded its handler, straining at his pet's chain.
"Gently!" said the guard and then he thought he'd better add "er... please, sir," before Grog's enormous two-handed sword was also released from his shoulder scabbard and softly rested on the table, he pushed it towards a waiting guard who struggled to lift it and take it to the armoury. Grog ducked and squeezed himself through the person entrance and back into the rain, catching the others up.
Inside the armoury, the guard holding Grog's colossal double-handed sword looked frantically around for a space large enough to store it.
JUST A MINUTE
Although not thrilled to be separated from their weapons, the team had passed weapon control at the gatehouse without being stopped, recognised or starting a fight. This in itself was an achievement, but before they could disappear into the myriad of walkways and overpasses, another official followed from out of the gatehouse office with a couple of the ever-present city guards. He was tall and had a completely bald on top with hair at the sides. He wore jam jar lens glasses that made his eyes look huge.
"You look like trouble to me," he said.
"Thank you," grinned Severan proudly. "We often are,"
Hawkwood tried to put the official at ease, "But not tonight."
"Why are you visiting the peaceful city of Greatbridge?" Severan, Valguard, Grog and Hawkwood each gave answers in turn.
"The tobacconists on Hogarth."
"Any of them right?" wondered Valguard.
The watch boss didn't like smart answers but he knew he couldn't do anything against this lot as they hadn't done anything yet, but he still sneered back.
"This is Greatbridge and I am the Leader of the Watch."
The soldiers clapped enthusiastically back. The watch leader was riled at their sarcasm, "Just remember... we are always watching," he warned with a finger.
"That'll be why you're called the Watch, I guess," reasoned Hawkwood not in the slightest bit intimidated.
Grog, who had a problem with authority most of the time, shrugged his cloak like a dog that had been for a swim, spraying an evening's worth of rainwater over the man's face, who spluttered catching his breath, blinking the water out of his eyes.
"Sorry there," said the giant barbarian, not meaning it.
The Watch leader just stepped back coughing and waved them away into the city as he wiped his face and shoved his lackeys back into his office.
WALKING IN GREATBRIDGE
Main walkways branched off in multiple directions, some widened, others narrowed but all snaked between buildings of different shapes and styles that were so close they had fused together. Most houses had only to build three walls, sometimes only two, as they were jammed into the crooked gaps between structures and the outer walls of their neighbour became an interior wall for them. They in turn would probably one day wake to find neighbours building on top of their roof.
Despite the late hour and the shit weather, the city was still busy. Shops remained open and merchants continued to hawk their wares by candle light late into the night. Locals sheltered from the downpour under oiled cloaks and got out of the way of the adventurers. As they neared the centre of Greatbridge, the paths became even more maze-like, with spots of lanterns showing people trudging along overpasses high above and also black walkways beneath them. A first time visitor here could get lost very easily -- especially at night -- but these four travellers had been here before and were familiar with the best, and the worst, places to go.
After a few more twists of the wet labyrinth of buildings, the team crossed onto the big arterial bridge to arrive at the bathhouse on Gresham Bridge. It was a tall building on many levels with rain water running down its walls and pouring over carved statues of naked female dancers. Despite the constant vertical rain, flames licked into the air from large oil pedestals, warming the air and illuminating the entrance. Several heavyset women were working the busy main door, vetting the patrons going inside and steadying the ones who were staggering out back onto the street.
"Try not to stand out. And don't make a scene," said Hawkwood to his friends.
"Shiv's expecting us," said Valguard to the doorkeeper in front of them. She had a big head and bigger neck and signs that her face had had to take many years of punishment in order to rise to the position of being in charge of the doors. After she'd had a good look at the strange foursome -- maybe trying to workout their story -- she smiled an uneven smile, pulled the door open and said, "Follow me."
© copyright David N Humphrey 2018. All rights reserved.
New chapter coming October 2018
© copyright David N Humphrey 2018. All rights reserved.
THE SCARS OF REDMIRE
Mal Grubbs, the stocky thug in charge of the checkpoint, saw the figure approaching out the deluge towards their gatehouse canopy. He stopped swearing and tapped his colleague's arm to draw his attention to the silhouette walking towards them, up the wet wooden planks of the steps into the checkpoint area.
"What have we got here, Billy?" he said, grabbing his belt buckle and thrusting out his elbows like wings to make him look wider and more intimidating, not just fat and ugly.
"Looks like trouble to me, boss..." said the younger man who always just agreed with his superior.
The newcomer heard them and stopped a few feet away to protest his innocence, "I'm not any trouble."
The ten guards behind Grubbs raised their pikes in defence of the checkpoint and afforded the leader confidence.
"What's your name, sonny?"
"Let's see your hands then, Rainey."
The man did as he was instructed and pulled both hands from his drenched cloak showing large, calloused hands, open palms facing up.
"You wouldn't be bringing any weapons into the peaceful city of Greatbridge now, would you?" suspected Grubbs.
"Just a sword," said Rainey unbuckling a longsword and handing it over to the younger guard.
The guards were not satisfied. "Anything else, sonny?"
"Sure about that?" asked his partner, underlying his boss's words.
"Maybe we should take a look under your jacket, just to be sure."
The stranger looked uneasy at the suggestion.
"Something to hide have we, sonny?"
"Probably not a good idea..."
"And why exactly is that then?"
"You heard of the Battle of Redmire?"
"Course we fuckin' 'ave -- we're not morons!" although they did a fair impression.
"I was there."
"Yeah, yeah. Everyone says they were there," Grubbs scoffed. "I suppose it was you that won the battle single-handed, was it?"
Rainey looked at him for a while Grubbs laughed. "I was on the losing side. Fifth harbour guard."
Grubb's cockiness fell away and his smile faded. "I heard no-one survived Redmire?"
"Four did, including me."
"How many died?" asked the younger Billy who clearly wasn't as informed.
Grubbs answered for him without looking away from the stranger. "They say two and a half thousand."
"What!? And just four lived?"
The strangers look confirmed the slaughter with a pained look. "I've had my share of fights lad. But that was just one long bastard massacre."
Grubbs had enough of being outclassed -- he had spent his life shouting at merchants coming into Greatbridge surrounded by his guards. He'd never seen real combat.
"Even so, soldiers and war heroes gotta be free of weapons to get in here. So, lift your shirt, sonny. Let's see if you got anything under there."
He reached for the hem of Rainey's shirt and began to lift the material.
"What I meant about Redmire was, I got cut up real bad. It's not very pleasant to look at," explained Rainey.
Grubbs' hand stopped, unsure to continue.
"Caught a swipe from a longsword that crossed my belly and my guts spilled out. Managed to lurch across the battlefield holding my warm insides in me hands. No-one should ever have to see their own bowels. Like holding warm sausages full of tomorrow's shit. I made it to the physician before passing out. He got them back in, but I had to lose a lot of skin and muscle. It's a bloody mess and you might not like what you see. I try not to look at it myself."
Grubbs gulped. "You're taking the piss, sonny."
Rainey shook his head. "Sadly, I'm not."
The sentries looked at each other uncertain what to do next.
"If you insist on having a look, I hope you haven't eaten. And don't throw up on my new boots -- I only bought them last month."
The sentry decided not to take the chance and let go of the shirt, the torso remaining unseen. He backed away and left a space between the pair of the guards.
"Alright Rainey, you can.. er, go inside but we don't want any trouble mind."
But the guards did not raise their pikes believing him to not be properly checked.
Grubbs turned on his own guards and yelled at them, "I said raise your weapons! Let him past!" he had drops of sweat on his brow and the guards obeyed their superior and raised the pikes in unison, standing down.
"I'll be as good as gold," Rainey reassured them.
The stranger uncomfortably walked through their open cordon unchallenged and carried on his shambling journey. The pair of sentries watched him go into the downpour, leaving an unpleasant taste in their dry mouths and with Billy feeling sick, he tossed the last of his pasty over the railing into the river that flowed underneath. Grubbs shuddered, relieved he had been spared an awful sight and tried to think of something else.
A HELLO TO ARMS
The wounded veteran continued over wet walkways until he got to the doorway of the bathhouse on Gresham bridge, the doormen held open the doors for him unquestioned and he passed into the main saloon.
Sloanaker, a patron sat around a table noticed him enter and catching the man's gaze, rose and walked over to meet him in the corridor near the back.
"Did the guards at the checkpoint recognise you, Coll?"
"Nah, gave them an alias -- 'Rainey'."
"Rainy?" Sloanaker thought of the weather outside. "That must have taken the blink of an eye. I thought you were The Great Bullshitter?"
"They're stupid, it worked," he smirked.
"Quickly then, hand them over while the performance is on," his fingers twitching with excitement.
Checking the coast was clear, the smuggler, who wasn't really called Rainey, opened his coat and lifted his shirt, displaying a load of long knives -- almost swords -- hidden underneath strapped to his stomach in a harness belt.
"Thank fuck for that," Sloanaker smiled. "I thought we were going to have to use cutlery on these twats!"
Rainey quickly unbuckled the weapons, retaining one for himself and slipped them to his contact who in turn concealed them under his jacket. More importantly, Rainey's stomach was a taut and healthy without any unsightly injuries, just a wisp of hair around his navel. His friend looked impressed with his colleague's smuggling, the concise blades that would be ideal for their attack.
"Morton won't be pleased he won't get to use his flail, but these will have to do." The smuggler held up a hand to pause him as he looked behind Sloanaker's shoulder to the group of soldiers and in particular, a big man sat on a small chair laughing and clapping like a child at the show on the stage.
Rainey smiled, reached behind his back and produced a grim looking spiked ball on a chain from a concealed shoulder harness.
"Bloody hell!" said Sloanaker as he whipped off his cloak and wrapped the weapon before he was spotted. “I’m not gonna ask where that was hiding.”
“NOT there,” Rainey smiled. “Your champion needs his favourite toy.”
"Anything else?" Sloanaker said, eager to get back to the table before someone passes them.
"Only that the others are on their way -- just in case you need back up."
"Thanks," and his liaison dashed away furtively to the table with his associates to passed the weapons around while everyone was distracted by the cavorting of the nubile performers on the stage. Rainey went to the bar for a well-earned drink.
© copyright David N Humphrey 2018. All rights reserved. 28.9.18