Sitting in the far back corner, by himself, was a rather well-dressed man in a dark grey velvet frock coat and ruffled shirt, dust powdered over the bottoms of his pants and boots. Underby smiled. Nouveau riche from Falun, come to spend newfound money in the big city. “I hope those loud gentleman have not been disturbing you with their singing, sir.” Underby smiled.
The man turned bleary eyes to him, and smiled widely. “Not at all my good man, I rather enjoy the camaraderie… and at least they have forsaken singing “Sam Hall” now… I quite feel my eyes have been damned enough for one evening.”
Underby smiled, licked his lips quickly, and said, “Be pleased that we have a surprising deficit of sailors this evening… once they start in their chanteys, it’s time to batten down the hatches.”
The man laughed drunkenly, and Underby smiled.
“Are you new to town, sir?” Underby asked, politely.
The man chuckled again, his head bobbing down to his chest momentarily. “Ah, no sir, I am sadly passing through… though I do love Babbage. People from my town make jest about the ugliness and dirt of the city, but I find it -hic- quite fascinating… so many people, one can easily become lost and anonymous here.”
“It happens more often than one might expect,” Underby said.
The man sighed. “No… no. Sadly. Sadly, I am merely passing through to Ravila.”
Underby’s brow furrowed slightly. “Ravila, sir. A dangerous destination. What would bring you all they way there?”
The man kicked lightly the leather bag near his feet. “This damn satchel.” he said. “Gold to be turned over. It weighs more than I do.”
Underby sat down quickly at the table. “Peace, sir. Do not speak about such things so openly in the Gut, we have many unscrupulous types who would love nothing more than to eliminate someone passing through town… if I might be so bold to ask sir, what made you fool enough to stop here while carrying such a cargo?”
The man smiled again, and answered in a quieter tone, “I must admit, my stop was not scheduled. As I said, I love this city, and knowing I would be traveling through, well I could not help stop here… to see the sights… but first a drink.”
“The sights.” Underby smiled and nodded. He meant, no doubt, the Blue Sparrow.
“I will be on the first train south tomorrow morning.” the man said, looking down into his nearly empty glass.
Underby stood, patting the man on the shoulder, and said, “I am fond of travelers, sir, allow me to buy your next drink.”
The man smiled up at him. “You see? People in my town say the people of New Babbage are prickly and hard to get to know… you seem rather the opposite.”
Underby smiled again, showing teeth. “I am. Rather.” he said, and turned, the smile melting from his face the moment his back was turned. Underby strode to the bar, and poured a glass of Hound’s Tooth for the man, despite his not asking for it. As he passed Bib he quickly wiped one finger across the tip of his nose, then tapped the bar twice, then three times, as he walked by. Bib nodded. Table six.
Hours later, as the bar had thinned out considerably, Underby was telling Rufus the drunk to make haste as they had a private party coming in for the wee hours of the morning. Rufus tried to convince him that he could act as entertainment and received a boot in his behind for the effort. As he climbed on his hands and knees up the front stairs, Underby turned and strode back in to the bar. He looked at the back table where the Falun bagman sat still, his face on the table, passed out cold.
“That man looks like he could use some assistance, Bib. Perhaps the canal might wake him up some.” Underby smiled. “I have some business to attend to.” He nodded and walked out into the cool night air, leaving Bib with the messenger.
The huge man first took the satchel, and walked it behind the bar, barely noticing the weight. He then returned to the table, picked the man up and swung him over his considerable shoulder, and carried him into the back room, closing the wall behind him. He rummaged through his suit, while the man mumbled something about “Bald Mountain”. He collected anything worth keeping, then picked him up again, climbed up the ladder and squeezed out the trap door behind the Strife House. The stench of the canal was pungent.
Bib took a moment to steel himself.
Marching down to the canal, Bib tossed the bagman into the middle of the canal, watched the dark shape bob toward Underbridge, and out into Iron Bay.
Bib went back to work.