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Old 28th May 2003, 13:44   #1
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Default 100 - a short story, part 1 - by amner

100 (part i)

Another alleyway. More rubbish and detritus, blowing in from other people’s lives, catches itself around his feet. Baceolus looks up at the dark windowless walls that rise above him, tightly squeezing the life out of the little side street. He hurries through. Such places, the runs between the busy parallel streets, are not known for their welcoming nature come curfew time, and Baceolus does not want to be mistaken for another tourist.

Even so, the street ahead (a splash of light and clamour hugged between the dark confines of the alley walls) holds no attraction for him. Even from a hundred yards back he recognises it as the Quayside, can smell its distinctive smell and hear its signature party noise. He is less than an hour from curfew and his nightly search has come to another disappointing end.

He has lost his concentration, which is why he’s ended up here in the first place, but more specifically he has forgotten his common sense, and out of the shadows the scuff of boot on granite from a darkened doorway makes his heart sink. He does not have the energy for a confrontation but he realises he may have to rely on the blade in his boot. The figure begins to define itself, grey against the black, but Baceolus notices the tell-tale lack of balance immediately and relaxes.

The drunk lurches a little, forward and to the side.

‘A penny, sir. A penny will do,’ he says, slurring and mumbling.

‘Piss off,’ hisses Baceolus, ‘I don’t give to beggars.’ He turns on his heel, a little shaken, and heads off to the end of the ginnel.

‘Please yourself, fool,’ shouts the drunk at his back, ‘your mistake! I said “your mistake!”.’

Baceolus emerges into the garish light of the Quayside street. The place heaves with a mass of mankind. There are people of all nationalities here and all they want to do is party. ‘There’s more to life than that,’ he thinks and turns left, battling the tide of people all looking for somewhere to down their last couple of drinks. Shops and bars and whorehouses are the only premises on this stretch, one of the City’s nasty little corners, where people come to eat, drink and get laid before taking their business to the other outposts along the trade route. There are no friends to be found here, just mean-spirited beer-enhanced strangers eager for a bit of trouble.

Well, maybe one friend. Baceolus heads to Barracuda and wonders, not for the first time tonight, why he’s doing this thing he does.


Feeling the chill base of the shot glass against his palm, Baceolus closed his eyes, raised the rum to his lips and swallowed. He sat there for a moment, swayed a little, but remained on his chair. He lowered the glass and very very slowly turned it upside down. The ten dozen punters crammed into the smoky pub held their collective breath. Baceolus opened his eyes, looked at the man opposite and slammed the glass into the table between them. The crowd erupted. Gradually, the shouted acclaim subsided to a murmur and then to quiet. Baceolus looked up from the thirty or so glasses, upended in front of him, past the pile of notes and coins and beyond to his opponent. The sailor was near to his breaking point, it was obvious. His numerous attempts at bravado had degenerated to a hazy dew-eyed slump. He held a glass in his hand and considered it absently. Seconds passed. A minute dragged by. The crowd drew restless.

Baceolus looked up. The man’s initial swagger and poise had evaporated. After a few more moments someone reached across and took the rum from his hand. The sailor continued to hold the pose. The crowd cheered and as the man’s chair went tipping backwards he remained in the same position still, eyes open, fixed grin, hand a few inches from his face. Baceolus smiled and stood to take the applause. A tray was put in his hand and he busied himself sweeping his winnings into it as the happy revellers and gamblers shouted and clapped him on the back. Baceolus accepted the acclaim and weaved his way to the bar.

‘Barman, thanks,’ he said, ‘here’s your tray and a little something for your trouble.’

The barman smiled at him. ‘It was no trouble, and now I have a full pub. Fancy a whiskey?’

‘Yeah, great.’ The barman poured a shot and handed it over. Baceolus looked at it thoughtfully.

‘Very clever, mate,’ he said, ‘now you can tell me how you knew I could even stomach another drink.’

The barman reached up to an overhead shelf, grabbed a tumbler and allowed himself a few fingers of the malt. They raised their glasses, ‘Advance’ they toasted, and drank.

‘You’ve just answered your own question,’ the barman said, reaching for the bottle again. ‘Which regiment were you in? Oh, Copa by the way, good to meet you.’

‘Baceolus, likewise. I was in the Lowlanders. Infantry, then Cavalry. How did you know?’

‘It was they way you drank. I mean, you can really drink. Not the capacity particularly, that’s natural, no-one can teach that, but the way you toyed with him. That’s an old army trick to get the natives sussed. You had him, and the crowd, beat before you sat down. Very clever. I think the traditional follow-up is to take him and his mates out into the street and beat the crap out of them. Mind you, even if you hadn’t done any of that I’d’ve guessed. They don’t instil a military bearing for nothing. Advance.’

‘Advance. Yeah, true, but that was ages ago. He doesn’t need to have anyone beat him up, his head’s mashed enough already. I try not to get involved in this sort of shit anymore but he was annoying me. Still, he’s a sailor, so you have to be careful, eh? You know what they’re like. In fact, it’s all tars, traders and tarts around here-’ a common phrase used to describe the Quayside area ‘-so I’m surprised to see a proper soldier. What’s your story? Advance.’

‘Advance. Well, after the war it was think or beg and I thought. I thought, the morons round here want to get wasted every night so why not help them? It’s a pretty simple equation.’

‘Right. So, tell me, other more important matters. The war for one. Did you serve in the archipelago? I only saw the last of it, but you’ve been around a little longer I think.’

The barman looked beyond his new companion, and nodded. ‘Yes, I was there, five years rotting in that place. I went in against the Fadiq when he invaded the outer islands. Then months of clearing out rebels from the foothills. Little bastards.’

They were silent for a moment. Baceolus looked Copa up and down and could easily imagine the man trekking back from the frontline, tired of the Archipelago wars that had rumbled on for a generation, climbing the Great Ridge and seeing the City for the first time in half a decade. The combat fatigues must’ve weighed much lighter when he finally saw the turrets and high rooftop villas of home. The evening grew loud around them at last and they realised at the same moment that they had drifted back to the desert for a while.

‘It never goes, does it?’ Copa stopped leaning on the bar and stood upright. ‘Right, who’s next?’

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