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I stopped at the first smithy I came to and had him sharpen my big blade. He admired the thing and put a good edge on it. We talked and then walked to the tavern for a pint and a pasty. I was still spending British coins so I stood him a drink and asked directions, hoping to soon catch up with what was left of my scattered Maryland company.
Somebody must have overheard us because as soon as we left the inn, I found myself facing members of the local Committee of Safety who evidently thought I was a deserter or a British spy. I told their leader that my company never had much of a uniform and that we had been ambushed and dispersed a week before, but he didn’t believe me and had me locked in the local jail, a small stone building with no windows, just spaces between some of the high-up stones that let air into the two cells. The other cell was empty and the door had a heavy, iron lock on it so I just sat and waited to see what would happen next.
In the morning, tired and hungry, I stood before the whole local committee of patriots to tell my story and defend myself. They were doubting Thomases, every one of them, but they did not have any evidence so, I suppose, they decided I should entertain them.
“We got this local boy, a pretty good fighter,” the chairman said from behind his table not masking a sly smile. “Think you can beat him.”
“He’s of a size, is he?” I asked, standing up straight and bulging my chest out some, trying to ignore the gnawing hunger in my belly.
“Oh, ain’t as tall as you is, but he might have a stone or two on you. Nobody’s beat him yet,” the man said.
“Do I have a choice?” I asked.
He shook his head. “How `bout a little wager, say a pound, make it interesting?”
I turned out my pocket, and he tossed me the purse he had taken from me. I dumped out a handful of shillings. “Let’s say a crown,” I said. “When?”
“Right now, out in the square,” the man smiled and led me out as a crowd quickly gathered. My stomach sent me several messages about its empty condition, and I tried to ignore them and get my anger flaring. I managed to get mad about being hungry. Their local champion showed up in full military regalia including a fine hat, brown wig and white stockings, some sort of militia company I guess. He appeared to be a chunky man of thirty-five or so, bald when he doffed his dark wig, and almost toothless as I saw when he smiled at me. I was getting angry and impatient as the crowd grew. A fair amount of betting was going on, especially after I pulled my shirt over my head. I heard somebody say, “Damn, he looks like a bloody bear.”
The chairman, the one who had made the bet with me, handed me a pole about eight feet long, a staff, maybe thick as my wrist, and my opponent produced a similar weapon from somewhere that looked like it had seen some use. The crowd backed off to give us a circle about twenty-five feet across. We fenced a bit and then he swung at me, and I blocked his blow, feeling the shock of that down to my toes. He had powerful arms and a strong back and this, obviously, was his game. He stayed low and I never got even close to touching him for the first ten minutes while he bruised my shoulder, cracked my shins, hit me in the face once and damaged my ribs on both sides. Blood ran into my left eye. I tried rushing him without success and also failed when I jabbed at him with the end of my staff like it was a bayonet. He was surprisingly nimble for such a big man. He must have weighed nearly twenty stone, but he stayed on his toes, a frustrating man to fight with an unchanging, toothless smile on his face.
He finally made a mistake when he swung low, trying to hit me in the groin or knee, and I blocked his thrust and crushed his right hand in doing so, smashing him right across the knuckles. He yelped, lost his grip, and I stepped inside and whacked him high on the forehead. It made a good, solid sound. He fell to his knees, and I knocked him senseless with a swinging blow to the back of his head that made a cracking sound like I had struck a locust post with an iron maul. He fell on his face and did not even quiver.
I handed the chairman his quarter staff, collected my winnings, pulled on my shirt and headed back to the tavern to tend my wounds, feeling around the inside of my mouth with my tongue, breathing shallowly and limping a bit. I enjoyed a beer and some food then sat quietly while the barmaid sewed up my eyebrow and I enjoyed a fine view of her bulging breasts with their rosy nipples. My left eye was closing fast by the time she finished, and I had another beer and admired her impressive chest and long curls, her tidy waist and generous hips.
“You willing?” I asked her. She was about my age and a fair looking girl, clean and neat despite her job. I was feeling needy, fired up.
“Miss Jones’ll take care a’you,” she said with a smile. “First room at the top of the stairs.” She güvenilir bahis grinned widely. “Three shillings usually, depending.”
“Don’t care for whores,” I said, telling an awful lie.
“She’s a good one, they say.”
“No thanks,” I said, downing my beer. “Thanks for the sewing.” I stacked five shillings on the counter and pushed the small pile toward her.
She pushed it back. “On me,” she said. “Anybody’d flatten Crowley deserves something.”
“How about later, after you close?”
“Ain’t you got nothing better to do?”
“There ain’t nothing better,” I said and got another smile for my sally.
“I’m, well, sort’a bespoke,” she said, nodding toward the fat inn- keeper sitting at a noisy table across the room.
“Really, married?” I said.
“More or less,” she replied, lifting an eyebrow. “He’s got my indenture papers and I’m in his bed, serving him when he wants it.”
“Which is it, more or less?” I asked, reaching between her plump, freckled breasts to play with her drooping stay strings.
“Where you stayin’?”
“Jail,” I said.
“We got another room upstairs, but he’s usually in it when we closes.”
“Damn,” I said, clinking my stack of coins. “What are they doing over there?” I nodded toward the table where her ‘more or less’ husband sat, her lord and master under the law. She had to serve him, well and faithfully as the contract said. Those papers did not mention bed.
“Playing cards, high stakes,” she said, trotting off to serve a table. I enjoying watching her walk, and went to join the card game.
They dealt me in and it did not take long to figure out that the ‘husband’ was a cheat and the others fools. I remembered the last time I caught a man cheating the same way and felt at my knife hilt. I won a few and lost a few, and then I brought out my big blade bayonet, laid it on the table, looked the man in the eye, leaned close to him and said very quietly so only he could hear, “If you deal one more from anyplace except the top or drop another card in your lap, I’m going to cut off your fingers so you can’t do it no more and maybe your prick as well.”
He looked at me and at the knife. I put it back in its scabbard and in the next hour I cleaned them out and had a large pile of shillings and other coins for my efforts, perhaps two or three pounds or more. When the others left, grumbling, I held the inn- keeper’s wrist. “Few things worse’n a cheat,” I said.
He nodded and made a face. “What’a you want?” he asked.
“You sleep down here tonight, maybe in the kitchen,” I said.
“Why? Oh, that fat bitch, I know. She put you up to this, didn’ she. She tole you I bottom dealt.”
“Nope,” I said, honing my blade on my boot. ” I got eyes. She jus’ said you were sort’a hitched, more or less, she said.”
“I own her; lock, stock and pussy,” he said, finding it hard not to look at the big knife I was testing on my thumb.
I held the tip of the huge blade against the leather waistcoat covering his fat belly. “How about it. You rather I told all your customers you’re a common cheat?”
“You can have her, for tonight,” he said. “Sally Jones’s a better lay nohow.”
“Don’t think she’s yours to give away,” I said.
“Well, she is, damnit. I’ll prove it, cut ye for her,” he offered. “The girl for that pile. Two years left on her contract.”
I nodded, shuffled the wornout cards and slammed the deck down. He licked his lips and cut a seven; I smiled and found the king that was in my palm. No problem, feller that showed me how to do that won a lot off me before I caught him at it.
“Damn,” said the fat man. “But I ain’t givin’ up m’room. You can roger her somewheres else. Get her fat ass ought’a here. She’s your problem now.”
“Where her indenture, her paper?” I asked.
He went to fetch it and I glanced at it and stuck it in my pocket. The girl had signed with an “X.” Then I scooped up my money, told the girl she was no longer more or less married and walked back to the stable where I had left my horse with the smith. He was sitting by his banked fire, smoking a big pipe, one of those crooked-neck things.
“Need a place to sleep,” I told him.
“Tavern full?” he asked.
“Sort’a,” I said.
“Y’can use my loft, fresh hay up there, might be a few mice, but my cat’s a terror.”
I climbed his sturdy ladder and looked. “How much?” I asked when I came down.
“Nothing,” he laughed. “You paid for it with that ugly eye and the fun I had watching you nail old Crowley upside the head. Y’better watch out for him.”
“He take it personal?”
“Always,” the smith said, puffing away.
I went back to the tavern and fetched the girl. “Come on,” I said to her with a smile, “I won ye fair and square.”
“Can’t leave till we close,” she said, not trying to pull loose from my hold on her wrist.
“Yes you can,” I said. “Jimbo,” I yelled at the fat owner. türkçe bahis He turned and jumped as if I had stuck him. “We’re leaving.”
“Go on,” he said. “Go t’hell.” He turned back to his customers.
The girl found her shawl and took my arm. “What’d you do to him?” she asked.
“Secret,” I said, patting her firm bottom.
“You won over there?”
“Where we going?”
“T’bed,” I said, lengthening my stride as my eagerness to get between her long legs grew.
“Not exactly, almost. You know the blacksmith? What’s your name, girl?”
“Laura, Laurie, one a’those. I know him, Burt, good man.”
“Laura,” I said and stopped to hold her and kiss her. She kissed me back, right out in the middle of the street, and I held her and enjoyed the feel of her strong body.
“Turn around, lover,” said a high-pitched voice behind me. “I got somethin’ for ya.”
I pushed the girl away, ducked and whirled, yanking out my big blade. Crowley stood in the shadows with another, much smaller man, and both of them had knives almost as big as mine, bush knives some call them.
“We’s gonna carve you up and then we’ll horse that gal for ya, do her right, we will `cause you wont have nothing left to do her with.” Crowley snarled.
“You’re a fat coward,” I said clearly and, I hoped, loudly enough for the smith to hear me. The shifty-eyed man with Crowley moved to my right, and I decided to take him on first if I could.
I got my back to a wall and waited, edging toward the second man. I was just about to make a move when the smith appeared beside him with a heavy pair of tongs in his hand and smashed him in the side of the head. He dropped like a sawed-off tree limb.
Crowley winced, and he and I circled each other for a minute or two. Then the man sheathed his knife, spat in the dirt and turned his back on me. I stepped behind him, pulled out his dirk and threw it into the dark. He spun around, glaring.
“If I see you again,” I said quietly, my blade in his gut, “I am going to beat you bloody. Disappear.”
“Awright, awright, didn’ mean nothing,” he said in his odd voice. “Jes’ funnin’.”
“Laura fetched me,” said the smith while we revived the man he had clubbed down. “You taking her to the loft?”
I nodded, slapping the man’s face as he started whining.
“You know this one?” I asked the man.
“Teamster, drunk most’a the time,” he said. “Go on, Eddie, you ain’t kilt.”
I put the man’s knife under my boot and broke it. “Don’t let me see you again,” I told him as he scrambled away, holding his ear.
“Wish’t I had a bed f’ya,” he said. “Enjoy the night. I’m going home. My farm’s `bout a mile out the road.”
“You ever slept in a loft?” I asked Laura as we stood near the warm forge. I bent and kissed her sliding my hand inside her shirt and cupping her full breast.
“Don’t remember,” she said, pulling her mouth away from mine. “But I’ve done other things in lofts.” She laughed, scrambled up the ladder and vanished in the dark.
I pulled off my boots and britches and followed her up, carrying my blanket roll and wearing just my old shirt. It was a mild, spring night, and I was eager.
Enough light from the smith’s ebbing fire reflected from the ceiling that I could see she was down to her shift as I spread out my blanket. Abundant was the only word I could think of when I looked at her. We kissed kneeling together before we collapsed and joined our bodies eagerly and firmly, heaving together, rolling on the straw and the blanket until we locked and arched into each other, moaning and gasping with our efforts.
The shot came like an explosion and the ball ripped through the front edge of the boards and just missed our tangled feet and legs. Straw and splinters rained down. A second shot followed that holed the roof above my head as we rolled toward the outside wall and deep into the straw. I withdrew from the girl, mad as hell. Two men, at least one with a shotgun, I decided, as I found the loft’s portal and eased it open. A rope and pulley hung right in my face. I handed Laura the loop and she stuck her hand in it and got her feet over the edge. I kissed her quickly and lowered her to the ground. The smith had built on the edge of a gully so his shop was higher in the back than it was in the front. I grabbed both ropes and let myself down hand over hand as two more shots blew wood chips into our sleeping space and shredded my blanket.
I was naked as a jay bird, but Laura still had her shift on as we huddled in the dark. Another shot crashed out above us, briefly lighting the dark. Even though the smithy’s place was on the edge of town, people must have heard the noise, but no windows lit up as far as we could see. Then someone yelled, “They ain’t up here. Look out back.”
I pushed the girl behind a tree since her white shift made her easy to see and climbed back up the güvenilir bahis siteleri hill to the base of the building. A voice on my right said, “Too damn dark. Cain’t see nothing.”
I crept that way as a voice I recognized as Crowley’s high- pitched whine came from the other side. “You’re right. Damn.”
“We can wait a bit,” said the voice now almost beside me. The inn-keeper, I decided, coming for revenge. I took the last step over some bushes, leapt at him, twisted the gun from his hands and hit him in the head with its butt. He made a strangling sound and tumbled down the hill, yelling twice in pain as he did.
“What happened?” Crowley asked from the other side of the shop. I waited in the dark, quieting my breathing and checking with my thumb that the gun in my hands was primed. Patience paid off as the voice came from behind me. “Fred? You there?” Crowley said approaching in the seamless dark.
I rotated from the wall and pulled the trigger, holding the weapon level at my waist. I squinted my eyes as the gun went off and then opened them to find a cloud of powder smoke. I stepped over Crowley’s body and found his weapon as someone scrambled up the hill behind me. I knelt so he would be outlined against the cloudy sky and hoped it would make me harder to see.
“Did you get him?” the inn-keeper asked, pulling himself upright.
“No,” I said, pulling the trigger and blowing the man off the hilltop. They had both been using scatterguns.
I climbed, tumbled and slid down the hill and found Laura where I left her. We held onto each other for a while.
“You’re bare,” she said. “Aren’t you cold?”
“Not now,” I said, bending to kiss her and pulling her body to mine.
“Did you kill both a’them?”
“Likely,” I said, helping her climb the hill. I found my britches and boots and fetched my shirt and her dress and shoes from the loft. We dressed and walked back to the tavern. The latch was still out so we went in, had a strong drink, and went to the inn-keeper’s bed.
In the morning, after we had satisfied each other in the early light, I got dressed and went out to the smith’s place to see what I had done. He was there, stoking up his fire and pumping the bellows with his foot.
“Have a good night?” he asked when I walked in.
“Busy,” I said. “Let me show you.” I led him to the side of his building and through some bushes to the place where Crowley lay spread-eagled with most of his chest and his lower jaw missing. Ants were busy.
“Lordy,” said the smith. I went to the edge of the ditch behind his place, and we looked down at what was left of the tavern owner. He lay on his back in some skinny bushes, one leg twisted under him and his groin and stomach a mass of dried blood and torn flesh. He looked surprised, mouth agape. Crows were at him.
“So you had some company,” the big man said.
“Caught us up in the loft, happy as could be.”
“Looks like they made a mistake or two. I saw your musket with your saddle and other gear. What’d you shoot `em with?”
“They both had guns,” I said. “Didn’t you notice your loft’s got holes in it?”
We went back and looked. In five places large, irregular spaces had appeared in the boards and hay was sifting down from one.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Easy to fix,” he said. “Reckon you’re kind’a lucky.”
I nodded and went back to the tavern. I signed both parts of Laura’s contract, freeing her from the two years still left and gave her the owner’s half.
“Take these to the courthouse when you can. Now, who owns this place?” I asked, looking around the busy room despite the early hour.
“Don’ know, but I found this under the bed.” She plopped a bag of coins on the counter.
“Have you counted it?” I asked.
She shook her head.
“He have any family?”
She shook her head again. “Not that anybody knows about,” she said. “I been asking this morning.”
“Well,” I said, “I guess you’re the owner then. You are now a rich widow.”
She smiled and went back to work.
By nightfall we had hired the cook’s daughter and husband to tend the bar and wait the tables, and Laura and I sat and ate together like civilized folk. We drew some odd looks as the stories of the two deaths circulated around, but nobody wanted to bother us with questions. We closed the place, cleaned up a bit, and went to the large bed.
“What are you going to do about Miss Jones?” I asked after we had had a vigorous romp that left us panting.
“Dunno,” Laura said, still half wrapped around me. “You seen her.”
“Briefly,” I said. “She’s pretty busy.”
“Onliest whore in town, far as I know,”
“She rent the room?”
“Yep,” Laura said, “keeps it clean, too. A pound a month, I think.”
We satisfied each other again, slept, woke to enjoy a fine morning swiving, and then had breakfast.
“Spose you got to be going on?” Laura said after we mopped up the last of the hoecakes.
“Spoze,” I said. “You been awful good to me.”
“You’ll have to find somebody to cut them stitches out in a while.” She touched my still-swollen face.
“It’ll be a reminder,” I said.
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