Thing about being on the road is you never get to eat a decent meal—except breakfast. Don’t matter where you are, there’s always a place to feed you a scoff of greasy eggs and bacon; not your thin slice bacon, mind you, but the real hearty thick cut back bacon that the northern parts are famous for.
I’d just finished my second plate when a young woman walked onto the dining hall of the bed and breakfast I was staying in. You know how it is when someone sort of stands out in a crowd—there’s just something about them that draws your attention. Well, son, that’s how it was when I seen her; and we weren’t even in a crowd. She walked right up to me, so I tipped my hat to show her I knew my manners.
“You looking for a winch?” she said.
“Excuse me?” I said, “I’m a gentleman.”
“What’s that got to do with anything?” she took on a mean look. “I heard tell you got caught in the effervescent flux out in the Mellow Mush Marsh. I got a steamwinch. You want help or not.”
Right away I reddened on account of the misunderstanding her brogue caused me. “A winch, yes ma’am,” I says. “Me and my horse Clyde’d be most grateful; but I need a crate of oysters before I leave town.”
“A crate?” she said. “I can get you a deal on a crate, packed in ice last month.”
“Last month?” Manners be damned. I picked up my coffee mug just so as I could slam it down again. “I ain’t taking no smatchy old oysters. Do I look like some big-hair mainlander to you?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Meet me at Purdy’s Wharf at two. I’ll have you your crate of oysters—packed this morning. But they’ll cost you.”
“Boots is good for it,” I said. “I reckon he’s some high mucky-muck down there in Babbage.”
“Price just doubled,” she said.
“The hell it did,” I was getting irate.
“Added risk means added cost—there’s a trade embargo with New Babbage,” she explained. “Ever since some hotel owner down there tried to tax our fish awhile back.”
“Dammit,” I thought it over. I didn’t relish asking Boots for nothing more. “Look,” I said. “I got this new coat. I’ll throw it into the barter.”
“Deal, but don’t tell no one where they come from,” she said. “In case you don’t see me, ask for Fran.” Then she turned and walked out without even a handshake.
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