Copyright © 2000
Robert G. Ferrell
'Tis a Living
The air was stale and crisp, like week-old pumpernickel. I pulled my
moth-eaten cloak up over my ears and huddled there in the darkness, the
heavy familiarity of the blue-steel broadsword slung low across my hip
reassuring me that I wasn't merely offering myself up as a late night shack
to whatever minion of hell was prowling these dismal ruins. For the
hundredth time I mentally kicked myself for getting involved in
someone else's dirty laundry.
She slunk into my life yesterday morning, her hair smelling of windblown
flowers and her shapely figure undulating provocatively beneath a close
fitting cotehardie like a snake in a stocking. Where dames are concerned
I've got all the restraint and common sense of a drunken Viking in a
convent, so by the time I had found my lower jaw and stuffed most of my
tongue back in my mouth she had talked me into going after this
thing, whatever it was, that stalked the grounds of her ancestral demesne.
My self-preservation instinct was buzzing like a wounded bee, but I told it
to get knotted and took the case anyway. I guess I'm kind of stupid that way.
Here I was, 36 hours later, shivering in the damp night air and wishing
I had taken my mother's advice and indentured myself to a draper.
Something moved beyond the gatehouse; it sounded like a huge bag of cabbage
being dragged across an iron grating by something with an unusual number of
limbs and a nasty disposition. I didn't like it--it reminded me of my
ex-wife's family. I briefly considered taking a powder, but a sudden
vision of my client's milky-white neckline rooted me to the spot, and the
chance was lost.
I couldn't stand there all night, so I slipped past what remained of the
portcullis and stepped into the murky, damp courtyard. Shrouded shapes
loomed all around me, and I realized with the same sickening sensation you
get when you walk barefoot across the floor and hear a soft, wriggling
crunch that any one of them could be the monster. I drew my sword and
threaded my way through the fallen gargoyles, expecting one of
them to take a shot at separating me from my head. Without warning the
world exploded like a Chinese new year and every piece of stone mason's
twisted imagination in the area seemed to fall directly on me. I went down
like a bad bread pudding.
When I came to it was broad daylight, the kind of daylight that made you
wish some rock scientist would hurry and invent sun shades. I sat up
slowly and tried not to notice the chorus of gnomes playing kettle drums
just inside my forehead. I felt like I had been marinaded in raw green
mead for a week, and my mouth had that taste you usually get from having
oxen trample through it. I perched for a while on one of the limestone
uglies and held on to my throbbing temples until my eyes decided to focus
The scene wasn't a pretty one. The inner courtyard of a keep that was
really more of a disorganized pile of rocks than a place where human beings
would live was littered with more bits and pieces than my great aunt
Margaret's jewelry chest. I couldn't tell the debris from the rubble
without a program. I poked around most of the day looking for some sign of
the jasper that clobbered me, but whatever it was left a trail like a
sandpiper at high tide. I called the case closed and blew.
I didn't see Miss Persuasive again. I figured she might have been the
one who beaned me, to make me sore enough to stick around and find
something she wanted found. Only I messed up her scheme by not finding it,
so she took off. I may be a sap sometimes, but I'm nobody's patsy for long.
I dreamed about her for a couple of nights, but the robin's egg at the base
of my skull kept reminding me that dames are trouble with a majuscule T.
I swore to myself that I would avoid them from now on, like a heretic
avoids the Vatican.
So I'm sitting at my desk watching the walls sweat when from out of
nowhere in steps this blonde number with more curves than the Dover road. I
tell her that I don't do business with dames and she starts bawling like an
orphaned goat. I can't remember exactly what happened after that, but all
I know is now I'm on the back of this swaybacked nag heading through God
knows what kind of wilderness dodging crossbow bolts and looking for some
saint's gall bladder or something.
Brother, it's a hell of a racket.