Her destination was the personal home of Terrent Glover, a corner building on a sleepy street on the north side of lowtown. The streets dipped and bucked atop sandy seaside foundations, and pools of murky standing water dully reflected the glow of the moon and stars.
Syr, panting, dodged the last of the pools and tiptoed up to the last door on the left and rapped on it. “Good evening,” came the answer muffled by two inches of iron-bound wood.
“Late business. Glover in?” asked Syr.
“He should be returning soon. Who might this be?”
“Um,” Syr puffed. “I’m new. One-leg sent me here.”
“You’ll need to wait, then…”
“Hey, I’m not any trouble, I promise.” Syr chucked a glance over her shoulder and into the gloom. “I’d rather wait inside.”
“And I am instructed not to let you. If you are being chased it would be quite rude of you to lead them here anyway. Come back in another bell, if you please.”
Syr made herself scarce for a time, and then she came back in another bell. The door opened this time, and a remarkably large man with a remarkably large beard and an embroidered cap appeared in the frame.
“Good evening. New cat in town?”
Syr’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you calling a…”
The man raised his hands, de-escalating. “Oh, no no. It’s a term of art, not a… look, come in, would you? Let’s talk.”
Syr followed the man through a little mudroom and back through what looked like a darkened kitchen. They turned the corner through a small larder and through a door in the back. This little hole of a room was cramped but clean enough, with space enough for two chairs and a desk between them. The desk was bare but for a quill and inkwell.
The man closed the door behind them and produced a small, thick clay cup filled with a steaming drink. “Please.”
Syr sat, a heap of dirty rags and fatigue, and cradled the drink. She winced as her swelling shoulder met the chair.
The man seemed to remember something and cracked the door again. “Li, could you… yes, thanks.”
He shut the door, sat down opposite Syr, and smiled sweetly.
“Now then. I am Glover. I think of myself as a friend to those of independent persuasion. As a friend, I extend my help where I may. It is good to be Glover’s friend.” He leaned on the word “good” the way a drunk would lean too close to a stranger’s face, Syr thought.
“And I take you to be a cat,” he continued. “A cat burglar. You sneak in and sneak out, taking property from its owner, none the wiser. Inexperienced, I think. But the grace and talent are plain to see, even in this condition.”
Syr did not feel particularly graceful or talented right now. She brushed the “compliment” aside. “Sure. Cat burglar. You fence, right? One-leg said you were a trustworthy fence.”
Glover seemed to pout. “Oh, yes, I buy and sell. But my friend One-leg is underselling me. There’s so much more to be gained by knowing each other and by working together.”
Syr was already retrieving the stolen goods from the turns of the chestwrap.
“Oh, no, no, no,” interrupted Glover. He sighed. “I see what’s going on here. Here’s what I’ll do for you. We’ll talk goods later. First, listen to me and let me tell you about myself. You tell me about yourself. Proper introductions. Maybe I can help. Then we can do business. Do me this kindness, would you please?”
Syr paused, calculating. This Glover character was up to no good. His smile was refined, his fingers practiced in their neat little steeple. His grooming was immaculate. His words were slick like the feathers on a waterbird. But then again, Syr was herself up to no good, which seemed somehow to undercut this judgement. And if Syr were intending to make any friends in this town, she wouldn’t do it by rejecting overtures from shady folks like this Glover.
“Okay,” she said. She turned one of the pilfered rings over in her fingers. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Splendid. As I have said, I am Glover. Friend to independent souls. Are you acquainted with the lord in his hightown estate? Your face tells me you are.”
“Yeah,” Syr admitted, noting that she should improve her deadpan.
“Then you know the score. He benefits from an orderly little town with orderly renters and a fat levy imposed on good that pass through his port. And he cares very deeply about that. The money and the order both. If you take his money, you take his livelihood, and if you insult his order, you insult him.
“I make friends of people who do both. It’s not personal. It’s simply a way of living. You might understand…?”
Syr considered the prompt.
“You probably don’t need to hear about most of it. It’s a real sob story.”
“I won’t be so rude as to pry. But do you mind… you are a foreigner, no? A runaway, maybe? You have a good accent, but your skin and face give it away to the keen observer.”
“Yeah, something like that. I grew up with both languages, so I sound like I’m from… not too far from here, anyway. But like I said… I’ve done my crying. Maybe I’ll do more later, but for now, I’m here, and I’m the only one watching my back. So I’ve done some sneaking around, and now I have some stuff to sell to a fence, so I can go get a good mutton chop…”
“Sorry, my friend. Mutton is pretty expensive here. You might try mackerel.”
“Mutton chop. And some new clothes. And a few nights on a real bed. But after that… I hadn’t honestly given any thought past the food. Maybe I do some more sneaking around. It suits me, anyway.”
“I thought as much. It’s easy to see why you’re so eager to haggle over the goods. Your prize is so very close.”
“Very. Let’s talk coin?”
“Let’s talk coin, friend.”
The actual fencing turned out to be much less gratifying than Syr had hoped. Her score was five delicate chains (all of poor craftsmanship), three gemstones (two fakes and a very small but very real diamond), a golden ring, and a thoroughly ersatz bangle. The diamond itself was enough to pay for over a month’s food and board after Syr held her ground in the haggle. But even despite the victory, it was hardly the wealth promised by the initial sparkle of the jewelry drawer. And it was just deflating to be presented with the list of unhappy appraisals, each indisputable.
Syr bit back the frustration the best she could as the conversation turned to Glover’s services. As he had indicated, he did more than just deal in stolen goods. His home, here, was a “public house” with (he claimed) a nearly sterling reputation with all comers. Seafarers hoping to get away from the extortionate prices of seaside watering holes knew to find good ale here. Day laborers found the bustle and cheer welcoming. Even the hightown crowd needed a place to play dice where they wouldn’t get mugged.
“Not in my establishment and home, never,” he flatly replied.
He went on to elaborate upon the benefits of being such a gracious host and how they might extend to the gracious host’s friends. Gossip, connections, sanctuary…
Syr felt increasingly hemmed in by the mounting vague insinuations and polite deniabilities.
“What’s the catch?” she blurted out.
“Catch?” Glover returned her question with pristine manners.
“I’m… not going to rat on you, okay? If I did I would cause myself more pain than I would cause you. You know that. So please just tell me straight. What do you want in return?”
Glover’s hands steepled again and he gave Syr a long, hard look through his dark eyebrows.
It went on longer than was comfortable.
And still longer.
“I hope,” he began slowly, “to be a host and a friend who cultivates relationships without finding them so… constrained by transaction. You understand, I hope? I want to be a friend and be befriended in return.
“But like all friends I have expectations”, he continued, after a beat. “Loyalty and honorable conduct. Respect. Shared interest. Bonds worthy of nurture and of celebration.
“I believe we already have a shared interest and some level of respect for each other. Your talents and mine are complementary. We should, in a just world, make great allies.”
Syr chose her words carefully. “Sure. I don’t see why not. But you’re going to ask for something and I would hate for that to become a problem.”
Glover sighed. “Yes, I see. There’s hope for us yet. Maybe you’d like to speak with some of the others? Hear it from them. I’m good to them, and they’re happy to be good to me.”
Syr, sensing a way out and an opportunity both, leaned in, projecting cautious eagerness as best she could. “Oh. I’d like that.”
“Perfect. Come back tomorrow morning. No, afternoon is better so you can find some proper clothes. I’ll introduce you to Moog and Mr. Sparrow.”
“Who says I won’t show back up in this?” Syr wasn’t sure if she was trying to lighten the mood or just express spite under the cover of humor.
“Well,” Glover mused, “there’s no rule against it. But I have a feeling about you. You like to make an impression.”
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