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A Dangerous Con: A Drink at the Muirsheen Durkin

   Beryl Strifeclaw walked confidently along the cobbles of New Babbage, skirt swaying beneath her as she approached the Brunel with a relaxed appearance of confidence.  Erica and her friends had been full of eager advice and suggestions.  After their grooming, cosmetics, and tips Beryl looked, moved, and smelled nothing like the rag covered cat from days before.

   Despite their assistance, few of them believed that this was a good decision.  Knowingly attempting to enter the service of a man who beat his charges?  More than a few friends suggested a messy end for him on that alone.

  Regrettably, Beryl was not charged with this task for the sake of the women Mr. Nicholas wronged. That would have been a simpler assignment and one anyone could fulfil. The others did not understand the binding oath that now compelled the familiar.  There was a reason Beryl’s resistance crumbled to nothing when Myrtil said Fly needed their help.  They had no choice.  

  Fortunately, the cat’s desire to help was genuine.  Fly needed closure from the loss of his family and sister.  The boy deserved the truth, and if Mr. Nicholas did not poison Amnelys…if one of his girls or someone unknown possessed a true motive to strike?

  If anyone directly assaulted or ‘questioned’ Nicholas and he was innocent then the poisoner would know they were still searching.  With the passage of over a year the event was out of everyone’s mind and the culprit thought themselves safe.  That complacency made everyone else safer as well.

  Beryl descended the steps leading to the Muirsheen Durkin with one hand on the wall to remain steady.  The establishment was not empty, but it was a quiet crowd enjoying dinner rather than robust drinkers.  Beryl took a place near the bar and waited for some sign of their mark.  If he didn’t come tonight she would try another pub the next night as she had the previous evenings.

  Her patience was eventually rewarded as Nicholas Herding entered the establishment accompanied by two women. He matched the description Beryl had received perfectly down to his smile. The man had been described as a tall, lean, and yet athletic fellow in his prime with a charming smile hiding his true nature.  He had dark hair, brown eyes, and tanned skin from sunbathing offshore. He was dressed elegantly, and appeared at ease in the Brunel.  

  The women moved through the room eyeing the men gathered, but Beryl got the attention of Nicholas.  The man noted her interest in him and she winked coyly.  He smiled and approached the feline to her surprise.  He tipped his hat off, “Greetings Miss.”

  “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Sir,” she replied with a light inviting purr.  She reached out her paw, “I do not believe we’ve met?”

  “I don’t believe we have either, I would remember such a lovely creature.” He flashed a warm grin to go with his flattery as he took her paw into his hand and stared into her eyes.  “My name is Nicholas Herding.”  

  “Beryl.  Beryl Strifeclaw.”  The cat returned his gaze but also searched for any sign of recognition.  A small twitch of his eyelids, a souring of his smile, but instead the man broke into a chuckle.    

 “A jewel!  I think that suits you well, my dear.” Nicholas released her paw, though he did not seem in any hurry to depart.

 “You flatter me, Mr. Herding.  But flattery will get you everywhere.” Beryl moved in slightly as she deliberately eyed him.  He was taller than her and he had some muscle underneath that fine coat.

  She hoped that she was not coming on too strong, but Nicholas showed no hesitation, “No flattery Miss Beryl, I speak the truth.   May I be so bold as to dare offering you a drink?”

  “You certainly know just what someone wants to hear, Mr. Herding.”  Beryl purred as the fellow set about getting a booth for them to share. Beryl ordered red wine, Ravilian if it was in stock.  She looked at Nicholas, tilting her head and giving him a cheshire grin.  “One must keep their wits sharp and their tongue…ready.”  

  “Very sensible indeed,” Nicholas’s smile took on a more predatory appearance as he held his own glass which contained something much stronger.  Nicholas enjoyed his drink, while Beryl sipped at hers quietly.  The entire time the man studied her intently as they probed the feline.  “What, may I ask, would such a lovely lady do in a bar all on her own?”

  “I was waiting for good company to present itself.” She said as she reached out her foot to gently rub his pants leg under the cover of the table. She met his eyes while replying demurely, “You have been a fresh breath of air this evening.”

  Nicholas’s shifted quickly, scanning the room and the patrons, his girls, before replying.  “You seem like a lady of many qualities and skills.”  

  “I am talented in several….useful and nocturnal endeavors.”  Beryl replied.  The advice everyone, including Wright, had given them was to remain as close to the truth as possible.   

  Nicholas’s smile broadened taking on a seductive and dangerous edge as his stare became sharper.  He had been evaluating her already, but now she had his full attention.  Still he retained a gentlemanly demeanor in tone if not body language, “I would not want to cause any discomfort but I have a question for you.  If I am correct, you will be happy to answer it.  Is one of those many talents the kind of talent that keeps a man so entertained that he would pay to get more?”

   Beryl let out a short giggle, which was exaggerated but not entirely forced. She could hardly believe how quickly he was moving in.  Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised.  He had once tried to offer Bookworm, in her militia uniform no less, the same job.  With that realization they continued confidently with their misrepresentation,  

  “I have left men wanting in the past.  You may say they call me from time to time.”  They remained an on-call nurse at the hospital, and those men definitely wanted more painkillers.

  Nicholas heard the double speak the way he had been meant to interpret it.  He was looking more pleased by the moment, “I must confess I have never met a lady like you before. You intrigue me.”

  “Oh?”  Beryl stopped playing with them under the table for the moment.  “A man as worldly as yourself?  I shall take that as quite a compliment, Mr. Herding.”

  “Indeed in all my travels, I have not,” Nicholas spoke with such conviction and a genuine manner that Beryl might almost believe him if she did not know better.  He was dedicated to his profession and flirting with new girls if nothing else. “You are one in a kind and I mean it as a compliment. I believe that we could be mutually beneficial to one another if you would see fit to work for me. I daresay you would be the “jewel” of my company of entertainers if you were to agree.”

  “You have many entertainers then?”  Beryl let herself blink as if surprised and glanced at the two girls who were now cozying closer to a group of sailors.  

  Nicholas grinned proudly. “I have a few, but they are the best.”

  The Blue Sparrow likely disagreed, but Beryl did not want to antagonize the man with such barbs.  They were about to say they would love to enter his service when the words caught in their mouth.  Too late they realized the glaring mistake in their plans.  

  They were a familiar.  Their oaths, their deals, their agreements, even their bets were sometimes binding contracts.  If she agreed to work for him, she would have to truly work for him.  She had been forced to work for the urchins and Emerson in the past due to their haste.  

  They couldn’t outright turn him down for the same reason.  Nicholas was watching her growing reluctance, his smile slipping at her silence.  He had already seen her indecision so she had to go forward with that, but how could she explain it without making him wary?

   She glanced at the girls across the room.  They had been discussing them when this began…  “It is a generous offer, Mr. Nicholas and I am interested in it.  However, I would very much like to meet these girls before I agreed to continue with this arrangement.”  That would give her time to truly consider what she would do going forward.  “Some entertainers do feel threatened by….let’s say changes to the act?”

  She turned back to Nicholas whose face had darkened considerably.  Instead of his charming grin she could see seething resentment and anger he hid carefully behind his smiling facade.  She could understand how Amnelys had found him so intimidating, he had not gotten to his position by being meek.  The glare was replaced with a charming smile within a few seconds once Beryl returned to them.  

  “Of course, this is all but natural. I will have you meet Trixie. She is my best performer at the moment.”  He had resumed his charming behavior once more as if to dismiss the sight as a trick of the light.  With a short pause he flashed that grin of his once again at Beryl. “I am sure this will change very soon though.”

  “That would be a lovely arrangement, Mr. Herding.  I would be pleased to meet with Trixie as soon as you can arrange it.”  Beryl presented themselves in an obliviously encouraging manner, as if she did not notice the darkening of his features before.  

  “Fantastic!”  Nicholas’s smile became more genuine after she agreed.  And he raised his glass to her before taking a long sip.  “I shall have a word with her and see when she could speak with you. She is quite busy but I will set time aside for you both. Where could I send a note for you to schedule this?”

  Beryl resumed rubbing his leg with her foot softly while she tried to think of the best location.  The usual locations would not suffice for this kind of lifestyle.  “Leave it at the Essex Hotel in Wheatstone simply addressed to me.”  She took another sip of the wine, drinking it like a human was uncomfortable, but she had taught herself how to do it with some grace.  She kept her eyes on Nicholas the entire time.  He seemed pleased with how she moved.

  “Very good Miss Beryl, you shall get a perfumed letter in my best writing style telling you when and where you will meet Trixie.”  Nicholas finished his glass of wine and put it back on the counter. He said his farewells and she hers, both saying they awaited word from the other with great anticipation.  

  Nicholas reached for Beryl’s paw surprising them with their touch, but they determined not to break now.  The man took her paw in hand and kissed it.  She smiled back at him as she felt an unclean feeling pass through her fur.  She resisted showing how it made her spine tingle until long after he departed.  

  When he had left, the feline strode confidently towards Brunel’s wash rooms and scrubbed her paws for an hour.

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