Garrett was just getting ready to turn in, when the sound of feathers flapping caught his attention. He waltzed over to the window of the clocktower, to find a small magpie waiting for him.
“Jenivere?” Garrett raised an eyebrow. What could Basso possibly want at this hour?
The bird craned her tiny head up at the thief, before dropping a small red matchbox into his outstretched hand. Garrett gingerly turned the container over, and examined the crude message:
I need to speak to you at once. It’s about the girl.
Come to the Crippled Burrick immediately.
PS: THAT MEANS TONIGHT!
Garrett ground his teeth, and tossed the matchbox into the far corner the tower. Jenivere cawed again, content with her completed task, before soaring off into the chilly night. The thief grunted, as he struggled to redress. The girl again. She WAS proving to be more trouble than she was worth, as he had first suspected.
“I should have known better,” Garrett muttered, as he tugged his dark cowl up over his head of messy brown hair. “No one in my line of work ever gets handed a heavy sack of coin without a huge catch...”
Basso, was by no means a timid man. He’d seen his fair share of danger, been tortured by the Hammerites. Looked his worst nightmares dead in the eyes. Yet, beneath the unfeeling coldness of that bitter night sky, the boxman was rendered frozen by the harrowing gaze of a mortal man.
“Alright Basso, this better be important,” Garrett sneered, as he leaned against the back wall of the tavern, arms crossed. His blasé response to the situation, thawed Basso’s uncertainty like a searing flame. Balling his fingers into a tight fist, the boxman got straight to the point.
“What the hell were you thinkin’, leaving Gwenevere alone in the middle of town like that?!” he demanded.
Garrett stared into his mate’s enraged expression, and blinked. Basso had always been one of the least threatening people he’d ever met. It was almost funny when he got this worked up, or otherwise attempted to threaten the reclusive god-slayer.
“Why do you care?” the thief snorted. “Afraid the little princess is gonna scuff a nail? You paid me to train her, not to put her on a leash and take her with me wherever I go!”
“That, is exactly what I paid you for, Garrett!” Basso snapped. Garrett’s smug disposition grew rigid.
“Basso, I really, really hope you’re joking right now...”
But as the boxman continued to glower up at Garrett with that infuriated, intense expression, the thief grew from unsure, to uneasy. The hooded man lowered his gaze for a few contemplative moments. When Garrett raised his head again, the wild embers of his perverse right eye began to bore deeply into Basso’s soul.
“No,” he growled, in a voice reminiscent of an icy whisper. Basso took a deep breath, exhaled rather loudly, then held out his hand.
“Right then. Give me back my money.”
“This was your mistake. It’s mine now,” Garrett straightened his posture. “Besides, I’ve held up my end of the bargain. I’m training her. Just because I won’t let her follow me home, doesn’t mean I’ve gone back on our deal.”
“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Basso managed a weak chorale, shaking his head. Thinking he had won, the thief started away, a simple smile donning his worn face. But then, the boxman spoke up again. “That’s why I took the liberty of making this easier on you. Gwenevere! You can come on out now, sweetheart!”
At the mention of that name, Garrett stopped stiff in his tracks and spun around. The doll-eyed girl stepped out from behind a stack of potato crates, her expression mild and unsure. The thief took one look at her, before glowering back at Basso, brows furrowed.
“You have her spying on me now?!” he hissed.
“Not spying...just, listening in,” Basso corrected. He nodded at Gwenevere, grinning as her emerald eyes locked upon the irate moonlighter. When Garrett stared back, she abruptly dropped her fascinated gaze, and began shuffling her feet.
“I’m not playing along this time, Basso. First, it was the McFarly kid. You told me he had what it took--came from a crime family in Black Alley and everything. He ended up facedown in the quay before the end of the month. Then there was Patricia--Heartless Perry’s precious little ilk. She’s serving six years for the stunt she pulled. And don’t get me started on Hugo Penadink...”
“Ya know, Perry still blames me for what happened. Said I shoulda known better than ta trust you with his kid.”
“So what’s he intend to do about it? It isn’t exactly my fault that she’s an idiot,” Garrett remarked apathetically, reaching for his pipe.
“True,” Basso nodded. “That don’t help me sleep better none though. The way Perry sees it, either we spring his baby, or he takes out the trash.”
Garrett’s expression shifted little, only in response to the thin wafts of smoke--rather than his scruffy associate’s concerns--as it began to twine its way into the chilly midnight air.
“And you’re taking his threats seriously?” the thief chided through puffs, “Threats from Heartless Perry? The lout who spilled his guts because some inexpensive thugs held a knife to his throat? What the hell is he gonna do?”
“Eh, guess yer right,” Basso shrugged, feeling foolish.
“Besides, that whole incident was three years ago, Basso. If Perry hasn’t acted halfway through his little rugrat’s sentence, he’s not going to.”
“Yeah, I suppose. I just still feel plum rotten about the whole thing. I mean, the kid was only fifteen.”
“Then she should have known better than to try and break into the sheriff’s home without help,” Garrett retorted callously, before snuffing out his pipe. The entire day had been a burden unto his exhausted mind, and he didn’t feel much like smoking after all.
“Maybe so, maybe so,” the boxman sighed hard. He watched as the thief cleaned and tucked away his pipe, before speaking again. “So what’s the deal with you and this new fish?”
“What do mean?” Garrett inquired, his tone revealing just how agitated and bored he actually was.
“Well, what I mean is, you don’t seem to be giving her much of a fair chance to show what she can do.”
“That’s because I’ve already seen it, Basso,” Garrett replied with a sneer. “I’ve seen her nearly get herself caught twice in the span of one night. Even Perry’s kid wasn’t that careless...”
“What the hell do you expect?!” Basso countered. “She’s a noble, Garrett! I think the fact that she can fetch me that medal without being caught shows promise.”
“I think you and I have two completely different definitions of the word ‘caught’, my friend...” the thief jabbed, turning his gaze up to meet the celestial splendor of the pearly moon.
“Aww, come on Garrett, have a heart!” Basso urged. “The poor kid says you don’t seem to like her very much.”
“Well, she’s right,” Garrett scoffed coldly.
“But why?!” Gwenevere blurted. “Why don’t you like me Garrett?”
Both men turned away from their conversation and stared at her, the thief’s cloak making a whip-like crack as it slapped against his leather outfit. Garrett took an intimidating step between his old friend, and the girl. The spoiled little rich kid, who had absolutely no business dwelling in his domain.
“Why don’t I like you?” he inquired, his tone neither loud nor sardonic. It was level, and dead serious. He took another step, and Basso’s jaw dropped open as he gaped at the scene before him. This was NOT going to be pleasant.
“Garrett?” the boxman motioned for his old friend to stop, but the thief just walked right past him.
Garrett was now standing less than a foot in front of Gwenevere, his shadow tinting her pale flesh. The girl’s eyes were like two absinthe moons shimmering against the murky blackness of the criminal’s silhouette. The look he held within his curious bi-colored stare and rugged features, caused Gwenevere to gulp. It was wholly apparent, that this man despised her.
“Garrett!” Basso tried again. “Garrett, come on now! She’s just a kid!”
When he heard the protests from behind him, the thief leered over his shoulder. Garrett watched as Basso’s determined expression melted into that of the broken, terrified man he’d once rescued from the bowels of Cragscleft, so many years ago. The hooded predator sneered.
“You called me here, and you knew how I’d react to this. If you were expecting a change of heart from me, you should have known better,” he hissed.
Basso allowed his posture to sag. He put his hands up in resignation, and silently acquiesced for the thief to proceed. And Garrett, did just that.
“The reason that I dislike you, is because I have always hated those with false objectives. This life is hard enough to get through, without having to deal with pretenders. Like yourself,” the thief sneered.
Gwenevere sputtered in cold hurt at his bitter words. This was the first time, in which any of his callous insults had been accurate. For although she was indeed no noble, she was very much pretending. Dreaming, aspiring with all of her ligneous being, to break away from that which had already been predetermined long ago before the written word. A part of her was boiling within, shark’s teeth gnashing behind her soft lips where he could not see. But she remained still, staring into the thief’s wild eyes with all the tenacity of a starved wolverine.
Misidentifying her discomfort as fear, Basso once again attempted to speak.
“Even so, Garrett--don’t go scarin’ the poor girl!”
“I don’t like the thought of spending my time with a Simmons, Basso. I’m a very wanted man, you know. I don’t need this kind of trouble.”
“But Garrett. I’m not a Simmons any--” the girl interrupted, before the boxman could offer his retort.
“--shut it,” the moonlighter snapped. Turning back to Basso, he waited for a proper response.
“Look, mate. You agreed to the terms. You assured me that there’d be no more bellyaching, if Gwenevere passed her little test--and she did!”
“Thought you’d know better than to trust a thief, Basso,” Garrett chided coolly.
“Now don’t you be pullin’ any of that tiff-taff on ME, Garrett! Ima thief too, ya know!” Basso puffed up his chest in a rather comical display.
“Uh-huh. When’s the last time you’ve actually been out in the field?” Garrett crossed his arms.
“Hey, I’m perfectly content to be an informant, thank ya very much. That’s not exactly a walk in the park, ya know?” Basso remarked defensively.
Garrett shook his head, and turned back to look at Gwenevere.
“Look, Gladis. You can stop playing at that. Deny your connections all you want, but I know your type. Every so often, an arrogant, little hand-fed brat gets it in their head, for one selfish reason or another, that their perfect life is just a little too perfect. Or more likely, not perfect enough. So they run away from it all. They try and see what it would be like to be a ‘normal’ and ‘hard-working’ person for once,” he spoke with visceral contempt, and his right eye continued to blaze.
“Is...is that what you think?” Gwenevere raised an eyebrow. Garrett ignored her quandary, and continued to lecture her.
“But what you don’t realize, is that where you came from, has marked you. It’s already part of you. It’s in you. It’s all you know. And sooner or later, because of this, you’ll return to it. You can no sooner stop being a spoiled brat, than I can stop being what I am. A master thief. A real, thief.”
“But...Basso said that you haven’t been taking it all too seriously lately. Being a thief, I mean,” Gwenevere corrected. Slowly, Garrett turned his pensive gaze onto his old associate.
“How much did you tell her?” he demanded, in a voice far too calm to be genuine. Basso tensed. Eyes wide, he took a rigid step backward.
“Uhhhhh...Well!” he chuckled in false contentment, slapping his hands together. “It looks like you two are gonna go ahead and get everything worked out between the both of you, so...” he shoved his hands into his coat pockets, as he began to creep away. “I’m gonna go and--”
Garrett was no gambler; he considered the act a waste of valuable gold. But his astute sleight of hand, would have given even veteran card sharps a run for their money. Unnoticed by both his mate and the girl, the thief narrowed his eyes, and sent an odd black disk whizzing silently past Basso. It came to rest two feet in front of him, and within those next unassuming steps, became quite noticeable for what it truly was. The boxman gasped in surprise, and attempted to leap back. But it was too late. Instead, he turned to face his hooded associate with a most perturbed expression.
“Pretty neat, aren’t they?” Garrett crowed. “I picked em’ up from a shop in Dayport just a week ago. Apparently, they’re a new invention.”
Basso grunted and muttered under his breath, as he attempted to dislodge his boots from the sticky black goo that now held them fast.
“What is this crap anyhow?” he cursed.
“It’s a tar mine, if you really must know,” Garrett snorted. “They send out a puddle of sticky crude, which incapacitates any idiot too inattentive to notice it.”
“Taffing self-satisfied ratbag...” the frustrated pauper grumbled.
Gwenevere covered her lips with her hands, stifling a giggle. She knew that it was quite impolite, but the man just looked so silly attempting to dislodge his feet from their goopy predicament. His insult hadn’t been half-bad, either. But Garrett must have heard her, because he shot her a threatening glare which outright massacred her delight. Then, he turned back to Basso.
“Don’t get your bollocks in a knot, Basso,” Garrett groused. “It’s only a temporary predicament for you.”
“Well ain’t that just hunky dory?” the bearded criminal coughed, presenting his chubby middle finger. Garrett just smirked.
“Thanks, but you’re really not my type,” the thief grinned. “Now, since you don’t seem to be in any hurry, why don’t you spill the beans? How much did you tell Gracie?”
“For the last bloody time, Garrett--her name’s Gwenevere!” Basso hollered, feeling as his left foot slipped free of its boot. “And why the taff do you care what I told her? It ain’t as though she wouldn’t have noticed anyhow...”
“What?” Garrett’s eyes narrowed.
“Aw, taff...now how the hell am I supposed to,” Basso ignored the thief, instead trying to stretch his freed foot across to a clean portion of the alleyway. He nearly lost his balance in the process, and Gwenevere’s face grew red with compressed laughter. But again, it didn’t last.
Her expression contorted with a jolt, as Garrett rushed towards Basso, and grabbed up the middle-aged man by the collar. She felt her protective instincts boil and bubble within the darkest recesses of her soul, yet by some fantastic stroke of fortitude, the strange young woman managed to hold back her instinctual rage. She watched the situation through the cold dead stare of a porcelain doll, as the thief tightened his grip.
“I’m only gonna ask you one more time: How much did you tell the girl?” Garrett growled.
Basso gulped, his eyes darting back and forth madly as he scanned the alley for any possible plan of retreat. But it quickly became apparent, that an escape wasn’t about to happen. With a dull groan, Basso begrudgingly opened his mouth to comply.
“I told her everything, mate. I told her about who you are--or rather, who you were--before the events of last year...”
“And what about last year?” Garrett’s daunting gaze intensified. “Did you tell her about that too?”
Again, Basso hesitated. Smacking his lips together a few times, the boxman sighed.
“I think that goes without saying,” he admitted in a sullen tone.
The thief ground his teeth, releasing Basso before turning away violently. The boxman straightened his collar, feeling as the sludgy brew gluing him in place began to dissolve. Garrett remained silent, brooding in the far corner of the alleyway as Basso put his boot back on. Dusting himself off a bit, the shady man watched his friend for a few moments with a sympathetic face. Then, he made the mistake of approaching--and worse still--touching, the recluse’s shoulder.
Garrett snapped to attentiveness, recoiling from Basso, as though the boxman had just touched him with a white-hot brand. The seething eyes of a persecuted predator leered vehemently into those of a concerned friend. Then, like any cornered beast, he lashed out.
“Don’t taffing touch me!”
“Garrett. I know it hurts...I know this loss has changed you, changed how you see the world, and how you operate in it. But believe me, mate--I know how you feel.”
The thief’s eyes grew maniacal with visceral scorn. He sunk further into the blackness, his posture hunched like that of a deranged Pagan. His expression at that moment was very Pagan as well: Wild eyes, twisted features. Hidden agony concealed deep behind a layer of bitter retraction, and forsaken conviction.
“You...have no idea what I’ve been through,” he snarled, “and don’t you DARE say otherwise!”
“Garrett, the girl’s gonna be working in close proximity with us from now on!” the boxman explained, spreading his arms wide. “Don’t you think she has the right to know why her teacher’s been acting like such an arse to her?!”
“NO!!” Garrett bellowed like a rabid hound. “We agreed that I’d train her for you. That doesn’t mean I trust her. And that sure as hell doesn’t give YOU the right to blather on about MY past!”
“Stop it!” Gwenevere’s shrill call pierced the night like a shooting star. “Why are you being so mean to Basso? He’s your friend, Garrett! Can’t you see that he’s just trying to help you?!”
The moment those protective words left her mouth, the girl immediately regretted them. Not because she did not wish to aid Basso, but rather, the full brunt of the thief’s wrath had been re-directed to her. Garrett slowly turned, and locked his eyes into hers. Gwenevere gulped, backing away from him until she could feel the cold brick wall against her back. As he shuffled towards her with slow, agonizing steps, Gwenevere felt beads of sweat begin to form upon her brow. Yet for all of his imposing mannerisms and fearsome stance, only two words left the thief’s thin lips when he finally reached her.
“W-what?” Gwenevere stammered, pressing her hands against the wall behind her. Garrett leaned over her, and sneered.
“Go home. You’re way out of your element down here in the slums. If you want to live, start running.”
“Are you...threatening me?” Gwenevere narrowed her eyes.
“No. I’m giving you a warning. I don’t know how long you’ve been living down here, but I can tell you this: So far, you’ve been fortunate. But the City is a dangerous place for a young girl...”
There was a chilling hint of intimacy interwoven around his last sentence with phantom-like threads. Something very real and painful. Gwenevere stared harder into his eyes, trying so desperately to find the hidden meaning behind them. But she was unsuccessful.
“I don’t really have a choice. I’ve told you that,” she muttered.
“Of course you do,” the thief scoffed. “You’re just being stubborn and prissy about it. So just go home already. You don’t belong here.”
“I could, if you’d just give me a chance!” she argued passionately, clasping her fists to her heart. Garrett pulled away from her, and scowled.
“Chance?! To do what? Prove to me what I already know? You’re just like every other noble, Genna...”
Gwenevere rolled her eyes. She’d given up on correcting him by this point.
“Oh yeah? And what does that mean?” she snipped.
“You can’t do anything without help,” Garrett remarked with a satisfied grin. “If it weren’t for Basso, I wouldn’t even be here talking to you. Without Basso and I, you wouldn’t even know where to begin as a thief.”
“Excuse me, but where do get off on telling me--”
“--do you honestly think you could ever be even half as skilled as I am? Keep dreaming. You’re nothing but a mediocre, self-absorbed little--”
“--I HAVE STOLEN BEFORE!” the young woman roared, startling both men. She fumed, her body rising and falling with every overheated breath she took. Even her long red hair appeared to be splayed out like the fur of an angry cat.
“What?” Basso beamed, his face suddenly jovial again. One might even say, proud. “Well, why didn’t ya mention this to me sooner, kiddo?”
Gwenevere turned away, holding her hands behind her back as she shyly began to shuffle her feet. Before she could explain, Garrett took over.
“Because she’s full of shit, that’s why,” he spat. “Don’t listen to her for a second, Basso. She’s making the entire thing up. The girl’s about as light on her feet as a charging rhinoceros.”
“That’s not true!” the girl shrieked in outrage, her mane going poofy again “If you would just shut your mouth and open your taffin’ ears for one second, then maybe you’d understand that there’s more to me than where I came from!” Gwenevere cursed, full of fire.
Basso gawked at her furious display, eyes wide. Garrett rolled his with a scoff, his arms crossed. When she was sure that both men were listening to her, Gwenevere continued.
“I stole from my parents, alright? It’s the only thing I ever did to rebel against them.”
“Well, besides running way,” Garrett chided. Gwenevere glared up at him, biting her bottom lip.
“Why did you steal from them?” Basso spoke up. Gwenevere released a deep sigh.
“I can’t tell you that. You’d both laugh in my face,” she looked up, meeting Garrett’s gaze with an extremely nasty glare. “Especially YOU...”
The thief was unsure how to respond to Gwenevere’s sudden sharp change in attitude, so he continued to ignore her. As far as he was concerned, she was just an entitled young pup blowing off steam.
“Aww, come on now, kid,” the boxman coaxed. “I’d never do such a thing!”
“I believe you, Basso,” the girl answered in a demure tone. “But, all the same, it would probably be safer for everyone if I didn’t tell you...”
“Sounds bad. Is that why you say you can’t go back?” Basso asked.
“Yes...I got caught.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Garrett smirked.
“Garrett! Honestly!” Basso chastised. He was starting to take a shining to the girl.
As Garrett had not-so-subtly put it, she was indeed out of her element down here, and most certainly green. But she was also scrappier than most, and her exuberance and determination were equally strong. Despite the way Garrett kept prattling on about it, so far, this girl was nothing like the upper crust. She was very much her own woman, and Basso appreciated that.
Then, Garrett asked the fateful question.
“What did you steal?”
Gwenevere’s body softened as she worked to calm herself. Garrett watched as her feathered hair fell back smooth against her head and shoulders, the girl’s entire demeanor growing gentle again.
“One very rare jewel. Monetary wise, it was about enough to feed a hundred people for a year,” she chuckled, although the memory of her failure--and what it had ended up costing--was incredibly painful.
“Well, that was stupid of you,” the thief insulted bluntly. “A jewel like that would be locked up pretty tight. No wonder you got caught. That would have been a challenge for most actual thieves...”
Gwenevere barely heard his callous words, the horrific recollections of that miserable evening stinging at her heart. Basso cleared his throat, startling her.
“Listen sweetheart. Garrett and I need to discuss something in private, okay?”
“We do?” the thief looked over his shoulder.
“Come on, it’ll only take a minute!” Basso whispered through his teeth, before proceeding to usher Garrett back inside.
For whatever reason, the thief allowed this. Perhaps he was just tired, or perhaps he didn’t care anymore. But most likely, he just wanted to get the taff away from that incessant girl.
Garrett stroked Jenivere’s glistening feathers, whilst the magpie pecked at the bit of stale bread in his hand. Basso was pacing again, as he often did when he had a lot to say, but was unsure how to go about it. He finally stopped, and began massaging his aching temples.
“Do you want to know why I was so miffed earlier; about you leaving Gwenevere alone?”
“Would be nice,” the thief groused.
“The guards Garrett, the guards! I don’t care what she says about not being able to go back home. Personally, I think the dame’s a bit on the naïve side. Pops has put out wanted posters, and if the guards see her--”
“--why are you doing this for her anyway?” Garrett intervened.
“Gabriella. Why are you helping her? The kid’s a walking sack of dosh, and you’re more concerned with getting her on her feet down here, than getting your hands on the reward money. Sometimes, I honestly have no idea what’s the matter with you, Basso.”
Basso stared wide-eyed at his mate for what felt like hours, feeling a chill as the cold, vacant glare of the master thief dove into him. He shook his head, and plopped down at his desk.
“You should hear yerself, ya know? Sure, I’ll admit it--all that fine gold’s mighty tempting. But, even if I was some sort of emotionally-challenged grump--”
“--watch it,” Garrett warned. Basso put his feet up on the desk, scattering a few loose papers.
“My point is, doesn’t it all just sound...er, I dunno, a bit fishy to you?”
“Does what sound fishy?”
“Well, judging from the wanted poster she showed me--”
“--she SHOWED you her own wanted poster?” Garrett gawked. “Geez, this girl’s even dumber than I initially thought...”
“Shut yer yap and listen!” Basso griped. “Now, judgin’ from that poster, it seems ta me that Simmons was being taffing purposefully vague.”
“What do you mean?” Garrett raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I mean think about it, Garrett,” Basso leaned further back in his chair, placing his arms behind his head. “Nothing at all was even specified! Usually with these sorts of advertisements, the parents are very strict. They want to get their babies back in one piece, after all. But Lord Simmons didn’t even bother to instruct potential rescuers to be gentle with the girl, or even that he wanted her brought back alive!”
“I guess that does seem a bit odd, yeah,” Garrett looked up at the ceiling.
“And about that reward yer coveting mate, the poster said it would be considered. Which means the gal’s lofty pops could choose to swipe her back, and send her retriever away empty-handed if he wanted to.”
Garrett exhaled a hot breath from his nostrils. As much as he disliked the notion, Basso had made some pretty good points.
“So what do you think’s going on, since you’re the expert all of a sudden?” he groused.
Basso peeked out from beneath his top hat, and leaned forward.
“What do I think?” he stood from the chair with a groan. “Well, call me suspicious, but I think that poor kid might be more of an object than a person to her old man. I got a pretty sinister vibe from her, when she was tellin’ me about where she came from. I can’t be sure what it is, but I can tell ya with no uncertainty, Garrett--something’s amiss at the Simmons’ family manor.”
“Gee Basso. I never saw you as the fatherly type,” Garrett joked.
“It isn’t about that Garrett!” Basso snapped. “Call me a sap, but I just can’t let that kid come to harm. She ain’t safe out on her own, she’s petrified at the prospect of goin’ home. The only place she’s ever gonna be comfortable, is with us. I’m sorry, but yer just gonna have to deal with that.”
“Because she passed that test you gave her, albeit by the skin of her pearly teeth?” Garrett sneered.
“And what about you? What are you getting out of all this? You want to sex her up or something?”
The crude inquiry was so unexpected, that it caused the boxman to burst out laughing.
“Well, well...never pegged you as the type for naughty gossip, Garrett. But sure, I’ll bite. If given half the chance? Certainly. What about you?”
“Are you joking?!”
“What?! What’s the matter with her?” Basso shrugged.
“She’s a little young for me, first of all...”
“Ah, but they’re taut and feisty when they’re young!” the boxman winked. Garrett shot him a positively disgusted look.
“Forget it. I don’t know why I even attempted to entertain your sick mind,” the thief groused.
“Neither do I. Still, you should have seen the look on yer face!” Basso chuckled. Garrett shook his head, muttering something as he threw up his hands in the air, and proceeded to walk to the other end of the hovel.
“So, if not another notch in your belt, what is she to you?” the thief eventually murmured.
Basso sauntered over to the enigmatic moonlighter whom he’d known for over twenty years, and propped his elbows against the window ledge. Jenivere flew from Garrett’s finger, and landed atop her owner’s slouched shoulders.
“Ya wanna know why I’ve been helpin’ all these kids, do ya? It’s because if not me, who’s gonna give em’ a chance?” he heaved a long, remorseful sigh, and began rubbing his beard as he looked over his shoulder at Garrett. “You ever hear of Fine-Fingered Curtis?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of him,” Garrett shrugged. “He was one of the best safecrackers to ever work this city.”
“Right,” Basso nodded. “Well, he’s the guy who gave me my start. Sophie too. He noticed her flair for subtle infiltration, and how mean she was with a blade. He’s the bloke who pointed her in the direction of Machinno Luazinni. That’s how she became one of his Prowlers, way back when.”
The thief forced himself to conceal his amazement. It was almost ridiculous to think that Basso the Boxman had been tutored by none other than Fine-Fingered Curtis, back in the days of his youth. Yet, even still, Basso had always been one hell of an ace with his lockpicks. So, Garrett resigned himself to believe it.
“Well, good for you and your sister and everything, but what’s this got to do with the girl?” he asked in a callous tone.
Basso sighed, straightened his posture, and turned to face his old friend. He rubbed his weary head, eyes tired and tragic. His face revealed far more pain and loss than most men his age.
“Look, Garrett. Neither of us are the young men we used to be anymore. What we do, it ain’t like most other jobs. Yer lovers hate it, yer family don’t support ya--unless they happen to be in the business too, that is. The guards wanna skewer you at any given opportunity--”
“--just get to the point,” Garrett snapped.
“My point is, that we taffers gotta stick together. If thieves like us are gonna survive in this town, then we’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
“Speak for yourself,” Garrett snorted. “I don’t need any help Basso. I never have.”
“Would yer younger self agree with you? Could ya say that to Artemus, if ya saw him again?”
Garrett turned away, his blood growing frigid as it always did at any mention of the Keepers. Especially his late mentor, Artemus. Only Basso and his younger sister had ever been made privy to the secret order, and only because back in the rancorous and bitter days of his youth, Garrett hadn’t given two cents about those ponderous sentinels and their secret society. Back then, it was almost like a game; a way of irking them from the shadows by revealing their identities. Making them common to those who had no idea of the wondrous power and knowledge these hooded men and women actually held.
“Artemus is dead. And kids make stupid mistakes,” the thief muttered coldly, but with a dubious enough pitch to convince the boxman that his words weren’t entirely genuine. Basso grinned.
“Look, I’m not askin’ you to marry her. I just want you to keep an eye on the gal, that’s all.”
“You mean, babysit that squealing little sow out there?” the thief hissed. Basso’s brows furrowed.
“She’s a sweet kid, Garrett. Or is your heart just too cold to see that?”
“Didn’t anyone ever tell you that too many sweets are bad for you, Basso?” Garrett grumbled. “Personally, I prefer apples. Crunchy, juicy apples...”
As those last three words exited his mouth, Garrett, actually smiled. Basso smiled back, and proceeded to shake his head with a light chuckle.
“Ah, Garrett...it’s always apples with you, isn’t it?” he teased.
There was a moment of silence between the two men, and an air of genuine comradery. Garrett looked away from Basso’s stupid grin, and straightened his hood. It was always cold in the basement during the later months, even with a roaring fire going.
“Listen, Basso. Have you considered getting her to draw you up a map of her old place?” the thief asked in a casual tone. The boxman’s eyes glimmered like two coins amidst the dreary candlelight. His mouth agape, Basso snapped his fingers.
“Well now! I can see why that might be useful. Gosh, I’d never even considered that!” he marveled.
“Of course you haven’t...”
“But, why me? Yer the one who’ll be training her and all,” Basso raised an eyebrow.
“Something tells me, asking won’t get me anywhere,” Garrett remarked sarcastically. “Glenda and I don’t exactly get along.”
“Might help if you could remember her name...” Basso stressed.
“Look, since you two are already so chummy, I think you should just do it.”
“Well okay,” the boxman shrugged again. “But yer the one who’ll be spendin’ the most time with the girl. Might help to be on good terms with her before she moves into the clocktower with you...”
Upon receipt of that sentence, Garrett’s left pupil contracted. His right eye veered outward, glowering into Basso before the thief had managed to fully turn his head.
“Better think again...” he warned. “There is no way in hell that she’s gonna--”
Basso silenced him forthwith, holding up his hand and clearing his throat with purposeful volume.
“Look, if we want to get that map, then we need to be serious about keepin’ Gwennie outta trouble. We need to keep her away from her folks and the bluecoats at all times, Garrett. And I think, it stands to reason that the best way to do that, is to keep the gal in close proximity.”
“Basso, that tower is my sanctum! I don’t share my sanctum--with anyone! You’ve never even been up there!”
“Garrett, if they nab her, you ain’t gettin’ that map,” the boxman cleverly countered. “And I wonder what would happen then, seeing as the girl’s seen your face, hmmm? Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d imagine that could be a problem for ya...”
The thief’s eyes narrowed in response to Basso’s smug grin.
“Why can’t she just stay here with you?”
“Because for one thing, the upstairs barkeep would have my arse on a plate. For another, the tavern’s a pretty crowded location. And lots of bluecoats come around here ta boot! Fact is, the kid just wouldn’t be safe here.”
“And what makes you think she’ll be safe with me?” Garrett sneered, trying to sound sinister. But Basso knew him better than that.
“Ah, come off it! I know how you get around the ladies--especially the cute ones. You’ll keep as far away from her as humanly possible,” the boxman laughed. “Taff, you’ll probably make her sleep in the corner like a dog!”
“I could also just conk her on the head, and deliver her back to Simmons for the reward myself,” Garrett threatened. “What’s to stop me from doing that?”
Basso sighed, and rubbed his nose.
“Now, I know you’re not stupid, Garrett,” he coughed. “If Simmons or the bluecoats see you, you’ll be arrested on sight. And you can forget about that reward--if there even IS one...”
The thief ground his teeth, eyes darting back down to the dirt floor as he brooded. His bluff had failed, and he was quickly running out of ideas. Basso watched his friend for several seconds more, before trotting over and slapping Garrett across the back.
“Look mate. It’s just until one of us gets the map. Then, I promise we’ll find a place for her to stay. I know you need yer privacy, and I wouldn’t ask this much of you normally.”
Garrett glanced up at him, the sparsest hints of a nostalgic smirk finding his thin lips.
“You always have been a real softie, you know that Basso?” he mused.
“And yet, protest and moan as you might, ya always end up helpin’ me out with my little personal conquests,” the boxman smiled. “Don’t think for a second that I don’t appreciate it, mate.”
Garrett abruptly looked away, as the memories of years past began to parade across his mind in a torturous procession. Shades and screams, laughter shared amongst those now long dead. Many of whom he’d watched die. The reserved moonlighter shuddered, and squeezed his eyes shut. When he’d regained enough composure to re-open them, all nostalgia and warmth had vanished. What remained, was the visage of bitterness, and cold calculation.
“I haven’t exactly said yes yet,” he replied in a cynical tone. Basso’s smile crumbled, and he released another frustrated sigh from his nostrils.
Could he BE any more stubborn and aloof? the overweight criminal thought.
“Alright, alright. Then do it as a favor,” Basso pleaded, his voice having gone strangely solemn. It was enough to cause Garrett to take notice. “The girl really needs our help. Furthermore, I see promise in her. My gut tells me that she’s gonna do great things one day. For both of us.”
Garrett held his breath, and then groaned. For whatever inexplicable reason, he’d never been able to say no to his oldest friend--even when he’d really needed to.
“Alright Basso. I’ll keep her out of trouble.”
Garrett nearly gagged, as the boxman charged into him. Thick arms found and squeezed his gaunt frame, as Basso embraced his mate. Garrett wheezed, his eyes wide as Basso proceeded to lift him a few inches off the ground.
“Thanks mate! I won’t forget this!” he bellowed.
Once he felt his boots touch the ground again, the thief broke away from the boxman’s overzealous hug, straightening his hood with a foul frown.
“You better not. After all, you owe me now...”
With that, the master thief turned on his heel, and proceeded out the door. No doubt that Giselle, was waiting for him. Basso chuckled as he watched the flustered rogue leave the establishment, a mischievous grin contorting itself across his scruffy face.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, my friend.”