"Page 50" Part 2 (short story) by M&V Severtson
"Page 50" Part 2 (finale)
In a lightening move, Perez rose from his chair and grabbed Devereaux as he attempted to stand, and shoved him toward the far corner. Drawing his sword and dagger, he turned toward the attack.
William's immediate reaction was to jump over the load that was thrust at him. The mess caught him just below the knees and pitched him forward.
Castille had unsheathed his sword and answered Balfour's blow with a powerful parry and swift lunge to the heart.
Perez was upon Jean before he could even react. He drove his sword deep into Jean's left thigh and left it there, as he whirled around to check on Devereaux. Regaining his feet, Devereaux drew his weapon and quickly advanced on William.
Anne was somewhat stunned and looked to the stranger. He returned her glance, and gestured for her to keep her place.
William had not quite recovered from his fall. Devereaux stood above him, weapon drawn, to stop any effort of his to salvage the situation. Perez watched Jean, who had been incapacitated, and gave an occasional glance at Anne and the stranger, as he briefly surveyed the room.
Balfour lay dying, a single wound to his heart. His passing did not take long. Castille's dislike for Balfour had grown over the years, but it had never matched the unbridled hatred Balfour had toward Castille. The last thing Balfour saw was Castille standing over him shaking his head.
The crash of the platter and Jean's scream had silenced the room. Those who had been seated slowly stood, and though no one dared approach, all searched for the origin of the commotion. Once the initial shock sank in, the serving girl fainted away. Castille leaned over and snatched Balfour's kerchief to wipe off his blade. He looked up at Anne who had seated herself again.
Devereaux stood above William who was laying face-down, the point of his cutlass kept him in place.
Perez quickly scanned the room for more assailants. Realizing no apparent threat, he pulled his sword from the writhing Jean, who gave another cry of pain. He looked at Devereaux and gestured that he would allow William to attend his injured sibling. Jean was not bleeding profusely, but the sooner they would allow William to bind the wound, the better.
Lorenzo slowly approached open-handed. He gestured toward the girl and Perez responded with a wave of his hand. Lorenzo knelt to wake the girl and remove her. Once again, the Inn became noisy, but the sound was certainly different. Before, the mood was light-hearted - nearly musical - now, the background sounded dark, tense, and foreboding.
Perez, having assessed the situation, informed Castille of his intention to speak with the lady who sat with Balfour. Castille's only response was a concerned look that let Perez know he still needed to be careful.
Castille asked Lorenzo to remove Balfour's body and he seemed very happy to comply. Having a body lying on the diningroom floor made for poor appetites. And besides, he would go through Balfour's pockets in order to pay for the damages.
Perez slowly navigated the room toward Anne's table as he cleaned his blade with a rag, then sheathed it. As he approached, he felt as though the eyes of the stranger were burning holes in him. He did not return the stare.
"Anne, is it?" he gestured as if he wished to sit with her. She nodded her response. He sat down across the table from her to afford himself clear sight of the room - especially the stranger.
Anne maintained her composure, as he asked, "Will you tell me what you may know of your party's attack upon us?"
Her back straightened, "Balfour seemed to have had his own agenda. I hired him to be my bodyguard. He hired the other two. It seemed as though he had issues with you... or your newly arrived friend." Her eyes held his attention. He saw sincerity there, and yet, something more.
Perez measured Anne's honesty as she responded. He thought that there must be something that she was not telling him. He glanced back to his own table as he constructed his next question. Castille patiently waited for Alphonse who was headed toward him.
Perez probed again, "Are there others in the room, that you know we need to concern ourselves with?"
She answered too quickly, "I am now alone." Aware of her obvious haste, she added, "I need to retain another escort to take me to my destination."
He took his time in answering. He allowed her to search his face as he stared past her at the stranger. He suspected that she might react in some way that would indicate a possible connection between the two. The stranger had seemed very interested when Perez had approached her table. Even though Anne never flinched during his pause, Perez sensed her tension.
Perez finally broke the silence, "Yes, you will need to replace Balfour. I, of course, will try to help you secure a new escort. It may take some time. Balfour’s death, while he was in your employ, is not much of a recommendation... even if it was his own fault." He smiled in an effort to reassure her of his kind intentions and excused himself as he returned to his table.
Alfonse arrived at their table wringing his hands, "Mr. Castille?"
He bristled, "Just Castille."
"Sir, it is the custom to recoup any losses from a situation like this from the deceased..." He rested his assertion hoping for some sign of recognition on Castille's face.
Castille's stare made him even more nervous.
He continued, "Sir, we were unable to find any money on the body and, after all, appetites have been spoiled by the bloodshed."
Castille finally eased him, "Say no more. I understand completely."
Alfonse’s smile slowly vanished as Castille continued.
"If a few of your regulars have no stomach for spilled blood, then you should not allow the likes of Balfour to enter your establishment. You'll get nothing from me but the cost of our food and drink. And do not let me see you disturb the lady, either!" He gestured toward Anne, and though he never raised his voice, the command was earnest.
Alfonse bowed slightly, before retreating to his counter.
As the stranger had watched the events unfold, he had stood only for an instant when the three had fallen to the floor - one duped, one wounded, one dying. More importantly, he had stood to see more clearly and was fully prepared to rush to his sister's aid if need be. Confident that the skirmish was over, he had gestured for Anne to remain at the table. Once they had regained their seats, they did not have to wait long before Perez approached Anne. Her brother, Robert, could not afford to be distracted - he watched every move. When Perez looked at him, he averted his eyes and pretended to be disinterested.
As Perez left Anne's table, Robert glanced at his drunken hire, Frederick, and knew he would hear no more from him. But, now, it seemed that Frederick's father, Alfonse, had taken an interest in Robert and from time to time would actually stare at him.
The incident provided Castille and Perez something they might not otherwise have been able to acquire - a moment to discuss their situation. When Castille noticed that Perez had finished his interrogation of Anne, he met him as he returned. They walked toward the door for privacy.
Castille queried, "How did you find him?”
Perez gave a quick glance behind him, "He found me, really. I overheard his name mentioned in the marketplace of Bien Bleu. Here and there, I discreetly asked for peculiar information about the Spanish Coast near the French border. Since he had spent many years in and around that area, I followed our plan to entice him. Bits and pieces of history surfaced. I deliberately paid for some of the information that I knew would be very unique to Devereaux. Because of his interest in the legend of a buried fortune, it was not long before he showed himself and began to interrogate me for what information I may have. I forcefully put him in his place, but suggested that he and I might be able to form a temporary alliance. While he collected his belongings, I dispatched three couriers to our message stations. That was three weeks ago. We only arrived here yesterday morning.”
"So, this is our man,” Castille said. “We have done well, my friend. If this continues, our
reward will be great. What did you find out from the girl?"
"She and the man in the far corner are connected. I am sure of that. I suspect that she might be interested in Devereaux and may have hired Balfour to mask her intentions."
Castille's brow furrowed slightly. "Why do you suspect her interest?"
"I found it very odd that when their party arrived they hadn't even been seated before Balfour introduced me to Anne. At the time, I thought Balfour's strange behavior might indicate her interest in the old man."
"How did you respond to the introduction?" Castille asked.
"I never introduced the old man, but bowed politely to the woman,” Perez answered.
Devereaux kept watch on the brothers as the one tended the other.
Anne sent a serving girl to find out from William how much Balfour had promised for their hire. She intended to pay them their full amount as they did, in fact, lay their lives on the line.
Devereaux was certain that he had proven himself more useful than simply supplying information. He had, after all, stood with weapon at the ready. And Perez had given clear indication that he had a strong need for the information he held when he had taken the time to push him away from the fight. He felt his position with the pair was certainly a situation that he could live with.
Perez and Castille conversed for a few more moments before they both burst out in laughter. As they broke off their talk, Castille headed back to the table, and Perez made his way to the stranger.
Robert watched as he approached. He wondered what Anne might have told Perez that would have led him in his direction. He was certain he would find out directly. When Perez arrived at his table, Frederick took note of it. Even though he was drunk, he was aware enough to know that his opportunity for service was gone.
Perez bowed slightly. "Good evening, sir. May I introduce myself?"
Robert rose. "Certainly, sir. My name is Robert." He bowed in turn, and gestured for Perez to join him at his table. He moved to the chair on his left, and offered Perez the chair with full view of the room - the chair that did not expose his back.
Perez smiled at the chivalry. "Sir, my name is Perez. As you must be aware, my friends and I have had a scuffle of sorts." Perez hesitated for an instant - long enough that Robert asked Perez to continue.
"The reason I came to you is that girl..." he nodded in her direction as he searched Robert's face for reaction. Robert looked at Anne, and returned his gaze to Perez. His expression never changed.
"Unfortunately my party has deprived the young woman of her escorts. We have prior plans that cannot be set aside. However, I noticed that you are alone... and that you stopped Frederick with ease." Perez motioned toward Alfonse's youngest son. "For you to do so, showed an exceptional amount of poise and talent. I assured her that I would secure new escorts. If you are not otherwise engaged, may I suggest that I introduce you to the young lady?"
Robert's face showed little reaction, but Perez could tell that the young man was carefully calculating his answer.
After a moment, Robert said, "I, myself, have prior commitments that might be set aside, but I will have to give it some thought before making the young lady's acquaintance."
Perez smiled. "Come to our table at your convenience and I will be happy to introduce you. If you will excuse me, I will take my leave and return to my friends. It was good to have met you, sir."
They both stood as Perez spoke, and Robert responded by indicating his intentions to join them shortly.
Perez paused at Anne's table. He leaned over and quietly said, "I may have found your escort. I'm sure I'll be able to introduce you soon."
Anne had carefully watched the activity at her brother's table, and had wondered at the transpirings. Now that she knew, she still wasn't sure how to reply to his comment. Perez gestured that she need not respond, and turned to go back to his table.
Once Devereaux was convinced that there was no more fight left in the brothers, he put away his weapon and took a chair nearby to watch the binding of the wound. Occasionally, he would glance around the room to take stock of the situation. He was satisfied with himself and certain that he was now well-established within his new endeavor.
On the other hand, he also had a new opinion of these partners of his. In the future, if it proved out that they might have to be dealt with violently, it was now obvious that it would have to be done with cunning rather than the blade.
Because their exchange with the attackers was of such short duration, Devereaux now had a very thorough portrayal of their skill and efficiency. The speed of the dispatch was proof that these two were, indeed, experienced and proficient. He thought about the possibility of developing a long-standing partnership, but if this adventure turned out how he expected... he might rather retire from adventures altogether.
Castille had ordered another platter to replace the supper he had used as his weapon. It had been delivered just prior to his discussion with Perez. When Perez had gone to Robert's table, Castille had pushed their table nearer the wall - and further from the mending of Jean - and was nearly finished with his chicken when Perez returned.
Perez drew his chair to the table. "It is set in motion. This should prove very interesting."
Castille smiled before taking another bite. He pushed the morsel to one side of his mouth and responded, "We should have the old one join us, again."
Perez turned toward the old first mate, "Devereaux! Join us." Pointing first at the two brothers and then gesturing around the room, "We are no longer threatened, and have business to discuss."
Devereaux rose and took another glance around the room, before he joined them. He was sure the act would portray a devotion to duty in their eyes.
Alfonse had become increasingly agitated by Castille's rejection of his efforts to recoup the damages incurred by the skirmish. There had been virtually no loss of appetite from the other patrons, contrary to what he had told Castille. And, in fact, there had been more than enough money in Balfour's keep to pay for the losses, including the platter that went to the floor. But it was, after all, accepted protocol for the winner of such conflicts to give, at least a token of relief, to those afflicted.
In any case, he knew their visit at the Inn was not yet concluded and there may yet be time for a greater profit. No matter. He knew another opportunity might just present its self and he would have to be very careful how to take advantage of it - if at all. He also knew, in order to continue his business at the Inn, he could not afford to create a reputation of preying upon those who chose his establishment.
His thoughts caused him to cast a disgusted glance at his son, Frederick, who was now so drunk he could barely stand. The spoiled baby of the family had nearly gained them that reputation. If Alphonse had not put an end to his son's extortions of the locals - and limited him to bullying travelers for their money pouches - the valley residents may not have merely avoided the Inn, but might have actually burned it to the ground.
Anne felt somewhat awkward sitting at the empty table. She waited for Castille to finish his meal, then, went to his table.
"Gentlemen, may I join your company? At least, until I have my escort replaced?" she asked.
The three rose to greet her, and Perez responded, "I am sorry, miss... I should have offered you a place at our table. But, with the loss of your escort, I could not be certain - Yes! Please join us! Allow me to make introductions to my... " he hesitated and glanced at Devereaux.
He continued as she seated herself, "to my friends."
He gestured, "This is our recent acquaintance, Devereaux, and this is my longtime associate, Castille. Gentlemen, this is Anne... I apologize, again, miss, but Balfour never mentioned your full name."
"Balfour, evidently, was an inept clod,” she said. “He took things upon himself that grossly exceeded his hire. As for social graces, I cannot slight him there. He never mentioned my full name for I never gave it. And hopefully, it will not offend you, gentlemen, if I insist on being known simply as Anne."
Her countenance was firm and no one thought for a moment to press her for more.
The brothers were finally picking themselves off the floor a few paces away and glanced over sheepishly. Jean leaned on William barely able to stand, "May I take him upstairs?"
"Certainly,” Castille replied. "You needn't check with us again, young man. Our business is finished." William looked relieved, and turned to leave.
"Wait! Your pay!" Anne said.
Steadying himself against Jean's arm, William shook his head.
Anne was firm. "Nonsense! You cannot be blamed for following Balfour's lead." She placed a small worn leather pouch in William's hand.
Jerry slapped the cover shut on the tattered blue hardback, and looked again at the wrinkled masking tape with 25¢ scribbled on it. His gaze traveled over the long table of knickknacks to the boxes of other books that he would look through. He had hopes of finding at least nine more that would be suitable and offer the lady a couple of bucks for them.
Before picking up another, he peered over the rim of his glasses and skimmed the rest of the yard sale. His gaze fell on the tools situated next to a stack of four used tires with a slip of paper duct-taped to them indicating she wanted fifteen dollars.
He looked up, assessing the bright cool morning, and smiled as he put Castille and Perez into his empty, plastic shopping bag.
“Well, you sure picked a great day for a yard sale!” he called out to the lady sitting in the swivel recliner smoking a cigarette.
She laughed and yelled back in her gravely voice, “Yeah... so far! But you better hurry up! It’s supposed to rain before sundown!”
Jerry’s only response was a courtesy laugh and a nod of his bald head as he picked up a western. And - as he did with all potentials - he opened up and began reading on page fifty.
If this one could hold his interest for at least five pages, he would buy it, too.