The hulking twins were quicker than they looked. The one on the left feinted toward Simonez, distracting him so the one on the right could dart behind him and yank the merchant’s arms behind his back. His brother followed up with a thunderous punch to the gut that sent the breath tearing out of Simonez and dropped the man to his knees. His captor threw him roughly to the floor, then each of the twins stepped on one of his hands to hold him down there.
“Who’s the buyer?” Rufello repeated, a hint of annoyance in his tone.
“Eat shit,” Simonez gasped, sucking wind as he tried to recover from the shot to his diaphragm. He wasn’t about to let this slimy asshole get the best of him. If he could just free one of his hands…
Rufello trundled over to the shelves on the near wall and examined the cans of nails once again. His fingers still covered in a handkerchief, he reached into one and withdrew a long, sharp spike. With his other hand in his sleeve, he picked up a nearby hammer and hefted it, making a show of testing its weight so his captive would realize how heavy it was.
“Who’s the buyer?”
“Emperor Pileaus,” Simonez spat. “It’s for the seat in the royal outhouse.”
Rufello chuckled and shook his head as he came to loom above Simonez. “Clever. Mayhaps you’d like to try telling me you’re an errand boy for the shuen and that they need my tile to make their taishu fly?”
He knelt down beside Simonez and pressed the business end of the spike into Simonez’s kneecap, drawing blood that leeched up through his thin pants. “Last chance,” he cooed, raising the hammer ominously.
“I doubt the merchant’s council will see this little stunt as an acceptable negotiating tactic.”
“Fine, we’ll do this the hard way.”
Simonez shut his eyes tight as Rufello raised the hammer. A new voice cut through the tension, a man’s voice, deep and confident.
“You don’t want to do that.”
The spike left his knee and Simonez opened his eyes. Rufello’s third man had stepped forward.
“You’re right,” Rufello said, standing up and presenting the hammer and the spike to his thug. “I’ll get blood all over my nice jacket. Enjoy yourself, Boruin.”
The man took the hammer and spike in his hands and examined them, looking from one to the other as if considering their use. Though the cloak hid his build, Simonez had no doubt that Boruin would be able to drive the spike clean through his leg with a single blow. The woman watched on from the far corner, nonplussed with the proceedings.
In a motion almost too quick to be real, Boruin flicked his forearm and sent the spike sailing across the room and clean into the left twin’s eye. Simonez felt the man’s weight leave his hand as he stumbled backward and screamed. In the same motion Boruin swung the hammer up and back, clipping Rufello across the jaw and sending him sprawling to the floor. The other twin stepped forward, taking the first few steps of a hard charge toward Boruin that seemed destined to end in a vicious tackle. But then the woman’s hands flicked out of her cloak to fire a pair of throwing knives into his throat. He landed at Boruin’s feet, blood bubbling up through his lips as he took his final breaths. Boruin was already on the other twin, slicing his jugular with a quick thrust of his sword. The body collapsed atop Simonez and the old merchant kicked it away in disgust.
Boruin offered Simonez a hand up, which he gladly accepted. “I’m too old for this shit,” Simonez groaned.
“Aren’t we all,” Boruin replied with a smile. “But you’ve still got one of the best minds in Terre Haute. I tell ya, Sim, when you hired Wraethe and I to take jobs with Rufello, I thought you’d gone senile.”
Simonez smiled back. “Lucky for me your reputation for being a man of your word turned out to be true. I owe you and Wraethe my life, Boruin. I won’t soon forget it.”
He turned to Wraethe. She’d knelt beside the man she’d killed, her head bowed over him as she mumbled a series of strange words he couldn’t understand. It sounded vaguely like a prayer. “What’s she doing?”
Boruin pursed his lips, as if considering how much to say. “Paying her respects to the dead.”
A heavy knock on the front door of the shop, three rooms away, interrupted Simonez’s next thought. “Hail in there!” came a familiar voice. “You at home, Mr. Simonez? I thought I heard a crash.”
Simonez swore under his breath. “Constable Brais. His patrol brought him through the neighborhood early tonight.”
Boruin nodded. “We’ll head out through the back. Can you handle him?”
“He’s young and naïve and civic-minded enough to be a pain in the ass, but yeah, he won’t be a problem.”
Wraethe was already on her feet and heading out through the back. Boruin turned to follow, but Simonez grabbed his forearm. “I mean it, Boruin. If you ever need anything, you know where to come.”
The old mercenary smiled. “I’ll take you up on that day, Sim. Though I worry that the kind of trouble that follows me might make you regret it.”
The men shook hands and then Boruin disappeared out the backdoor and into the night. Deep in his gut, Simonez knew he’d see the man again. And when he did, he’d break his own back to repay a debt he knew could never be repaid.