THERE WAS NOTHING A thief liked more than a boring, predictable person. Especially when that person was in charge of the security for the place he wanted to break into.
Asti Rynax had spent ten days trailing a man named Nel Pitter, and several more before studying him. In those days he had learned absolutely everything there was to know about the man, which was very little indeed. Pitter worked nights, so he slept during the day. His apartment was a second-floor flat in a whitestone in the tony southern end of Promenade in Inemar, which he shared with three other men. All four men in that apartment worked as security guards for the Pomoraine Building, in different shifts. Most of the residents of that whitestone worked at the Pomoraine. Asti imagined housing was part of the wage, as there was no way a security guard would otherwise be able to afford such an apartment, even shared with three others. The Pomoraine took care of its employees.
The Pomoraine was a seven-story office building, the absolute pinnacle of modern architectural grandeur on the south side of the city. It towered over its namesake street, just one block east of Lowbridge. Perfectly situated where the money of East Maradaine met the commerce of Inemar. It housed offices for trading houses, speculators, and merchant moguls.
And, most importantly, the legal offices of Colevar and Associates.
All of the men who lived in that apartment, including Pitter, were incredibly regular in their schedules. Asti had watched all of them, learning their habits. He had determined there was no viable moment of opportunity where he could count on the apartment being unoccupied, or everyone inside would being asleep. Breaking into the apartment wasn’t an option. But Asti had already dismissed that, since Pitter’s usual activities made him an excellent mark for a different kind of run.
He had explained it to the rest of the crew before they had prepared for the play.
“Pitter sleeps during the day, and wakes up at five bells in the afternoon each day. Helene can confirm.” Helene Kesser had scouted him through her scope from the opposite roof.
“Literally, the bells of Saint Ollickar wake him up. Not the three or the four. Just the five,” Helene had said. “It’s creepy.”
“Wakes up at five, hits the water closet, gets dressed. Always with pressed shirt and polished boots. Presses and polishes himself, every day.”
Asti had seen Pitter come out each day, right at six bells, looking as crisp as the vegetables in his sister-in-law’s garden. He would stride down to Low Bridge Street, arriving at The Gentle Shepherd for dinner. Or breakfast in Pitter’s case. His meal was always the same— alf a roast chicken dressed with pickled onions, cabbage soup, soft cheese and mustard, and a soft cider.
“Each night the same?” Asti’s brother Verci had asked. “You’re sure of that?”
“Not that the menu at The Gentle Shepherd offers much option,” Asti said. “But that’s his place. No change. Which makes him perfect.”
Asti sat in the back corner of The Gentle Shepherd at six bells, slowly nursing his own soft cider. Not what he’d nor
mally choose, but tonight was a run, so it was best to stay sharp.
The rest of the crew were in position. The only one he could see right now was Helene, dressed like a laundry girl. She had been disguised with Pilsen Gin’s ministrations, so her rich brunette locks were hidden under a mousy brown wig and gray kerchief. No one from the North Seleth neighborhood would recognize her. She even wore a set of spectacles— fake lenses— and sat at another table with her nose in a book.
That was the other thing their observation of Pitter had yielded— he man was a reader. His evening meal was taken while reading. When he wasn’t walking his patrol of the Pomoraine, he was reading. He read while eating his other meal at sunrise, and for another hour before going to sleep at exactly nine bells in the morning.
Helene was reading— r pretending to read— he Shores of New Fencal, the war novel that Pitter had been working on in the past two days of observation. She had balked at the idea of actually reading it herself. “I had enough of schooling when I ditched school.”
“You don’t curl up with pennyhearts every night in your bed?”
“You need to not be thinking about my bed and what happens there, Asti Rynax.”
So Asti had read it that morning and briefed her on it, or at least the first five chapters. Enough so she could fake her way. It was a serviceable enough adventure book, set during the early days of the Island War, though it was based on fantastical ideas about a squadron of Druth soldiers holding against an entire Poasian company. Under normal circumstances, Asti would probably enjoy reading it. But this was a job. They had had to get to Pitter. Pitter would get them the Pomoraine, the Pomoraine would get them Colevar and Associates.
Colevar and Associates would get them the client who had paid to burn down Holver Alley so they could force out the residents and buy up the land.
Pitter came in, right on time, his book tucked under his arm. He sat down at the same table he always sat at— right in Asti’s line of sight, and right where Helene could move in on him. He gave a signal to the proprietor, who knew him well enough to simply nod back in reply. In a moment, Pitter’s cider was delivered, and he was deep into his own copy of The Shores of New Fencal.
Almer Cort came in a few steps behind Pitter, taking a place at a far table. His job was simple, at least this part. He had to follow Pitter from his apartment to The Gentle Shepherd, and give signal if anything was wrong. Cort ordered wine and bread, which meant everything was going fine.
That gave Helene her cue. She reached from her seat over to Pitter’s table.
“I’m sorry,” she said, talking through her nose. It was slightly painful to Asti’s ears— Pilsen hadn’t given her much instruction on accents or voices, and she insisted on using one for this job. It was not in her skillset. “I couldn’t help but notice.” She held up her book to him.
“Oh, yes,” Pitter said. “How far are you?”
“Chapter five,” she said. “You?”
“Nine,” he said. He was a bit standoffish, like he wanted to get back to his reading. Helene wasn’t going to quite let that happen. She moved herself, book and cider, to his table and sat down.
“I’m just loving it so far,” she said, putting one hand on his arm. “I mean, it’s the first one of this author that I’ve read, but it’s thrilling!”
Pitter put his book down and locked eyes with Helene. Which, of course he would. Even in the dowdy disguise, she was a good-looking woman, and she had already shown a mutual interest. Now she just had to keep him.
“I’ve been following this writer for a bit now,” Pitter said. “He started out doing serials in— do you read theSword Pulps?”
“No,” Helene said. “But I want to know about them.”
She scratched her ear, to cue the next step. Mila was in place for that, watching through the window of The Gentle Shepherd from the street.
Mila Kendish wasn’t in disguise, other than wearing a similar laundry girl outfit. She came into the Shepherd and went straight for Helene and Pitter.
“Cassie,” she said to Helene. That was the name they chose when they worked out this bit. “What are you doing? You were supposed to come home an hour ago!”
“I’m having a perfectly lovely conversation with a fellow imaginative soul,” Helene said.
“This steve?” Mila said, prodding at Pitter.
“Who are you?” Pitter asked.
“She’s my baby sister,” Helene said. “And she’s annoying.”
“You shouldn’t—” Mila started, her hands giving a signal to Asti and Helene. She had Pitter’s keys.
“Go home yourself, Sera,” Helene said. “I’ll get there when I get there.”
“Not your problem.”
“Fine,” Mila rolled her eyes and stomped off. Perfect performance. “But I ain’t gonna lie for you!” She went out.
“Ignore her,” Helene said. “Tell me more about this writer’s other work.”
Pitter launched into a description while his meal arrived. That, and Helene, should keep him suitably distracted while Mila ran the keys to Verci and Win Greenfield, sequestered in a back alley flop a block away. Win could make an imprint of the keys in a matter of minutes.
That was all the easy part.
Helene kept up her end of the conversation while Pitter went on, eating and drinking the whole while. She was engaging, and he was engaged.
Asti had to admit, he was pretty impressed with her here. He had always known her to be a crack shot with the crossbow. Three months ago, that’s all anyone thought of her, and no one wanted to bring her in on a job. Her attitude had given her and her cousin a bad reputation, and several folks on the street couldn’t stand working with her. But Asti had known her since he had been out of swaddling, and knew she could be better, do more. She just needed a reason.
Getting the folks who burned down the alley, killed her grandmother, that had given her a damn good reason.
Mila was in the window, nodding. Now she just had to get the keys back in his pocket. Time for the big move.
Asti gave a nod to Almer, who loudly ordered a cider from the barman. That let Helene know what was coming. She signaled to the barman for another round of cider herself.
Mila came running in, faking she was out of breath. “I told you—” she heaved. “I told you he wouldn’t—”
“Shove off,” Helene said, getting up.
“Gerry asked where you were, and I said I wouldn’t lie for you!”
“You told him?”
“I told you—”
“Cassie!” A giant brute of a man came into The Gentle Shepherd. “Gerry,” or rather Helene’s cousin Julien, also disguised by Pilsen.
“Why can’t you let me be!” Helene cried as Julien stormed over.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Julien slammed a massive fist on the table, rattling the plates and knocking over the ciders.
“Who is he?” Pitter asked.
“Her husband,” Mila said, cowering near Pitter. “Blazes of a temper.”
“And who are you?” Julien snarled at Pitter.
Pitter held up his hands, open wide. “Hey, she just came over to talk about the book. I didn’t . . . I just talked about books.”
Helene got on her feet, moving in close to Pitter. “He likes books. He’s interested in those things. Unlike somepeople.”
Mila had clutched on to Pitter. “The last time she did this—”
“Last time?” Pitter asked. “You make a habit of this, you slan?”
Helene gasped, and then slapped him.
That was off script. A bit worrisome, but Mila had already gotten his keys back into his pocket. That girl had incredible hands; she could steal a feather from a bird mid-flight.
“Well then,” Pitter said. He turned to Julien. “Sir, I’m sorry for any inappropriate appearance. I had no untoward intention to your wife, and wish no quarrel with you.”
“Cassie,” Julien grunted. “Get home.”
Helene stormed out of The Gentle Shepherd, inventing new invectives and curses as she left. Mila followed after her.
“Enjoy your dinner,” Julien said, and stalked off.
Pitter huffed in discontent and sat back down. Taking a moment to situate himself back to his meal, he again started eating and reading, drinking the cider he had presumed the barman brought when the old one had spilled.
He hadn’t noticed Almer was the one who had delivered the new mug.
“It won’t taste any different,” Almer had said. “The stuff I’m slipping him pretty much tastes like cider anyway. The only difference is, an hour after he drinks it, he won’t be able to get out of the water closet.”
Asti had been on the receiving end of a few of Almer’s apothecarial nightmares, and he didn’t doubt that Pitter would be in for a horrible night.
With Pitter out of commission, and copies of his keys, they were all set to get into the offices of Colevar and Associates. After a month of planning, tonight was the night.
LADY HENTERMAN’S WARDROBE
Forthcoming March 2018
Mixing high fantasy and urban fantasy, the second novel of the Streets of Maradaine series follows the Rynax brothers’ crew of outlaws as they attempt their biggest heist yet and restore justice to the common people.
The neighborhood of North Seleth has suffered–and not just the Holver Alley Fire. Poverty and marginalization are forcing people out of the neighborhood, and violence on the streets is getting worse. Only the Rynax brothers–Asti and Verci–and their Holver Alley Crew are fighting for the common people. They’ve taken care of the people who actually burned down Holver Alley, but they’re still looking for the moneyed interests behind the fire.
The trail of breadcrumbs leads the crew to Lord Henterman, and they plan to infiltrate the noble’s house on the other side of the city. While the crew tries to penetrate the heart of the house, the worst elements of North Seleth seem to be uniting under a mysterious new leader. With the crew’s attention divided, Asti discovers that the secrets behind the fire, including ones from his past, might be found in Lady Henterman’s wardrobe.