Rat & Will Chapter 8: Friend or Fro?

They reached Morgan’s Keg just in time to catch a skinny, rat-faced boy slipping out the door with a familiar looking saddle bag over one sharp shoulder. Recognizing one of her bags that hadn’t been damaged by dogs, Rat soon had him standing very still with a knife to the throat. “Just where do you think you’d be taking that?”

The boy swallowed, felt the knife dig deeper at the movement, and paled. “Please, uh, I’m sorry! Didn’t know it was yours!”

“Not even close to good enough.” Rat leaned up into his face with a look of intent that had tears falling down his dirty face. “And tears won’t help you.”

“Just answer her questions.” Will stood behind Rat with what he hoped was a blank face. He didn’t think Rat would actually harm the boy (much), but even as long as he’d known her, he wasn’t absolutely certain. The poor kid was skinny to the point of bones and probably hungry. But that alone wasn’t going to convince Rat to let him go. 

“I…I…Everyone knows you got coin. Been flashing it.” The boy sneered and even with the knife at his throat, managed to look disgusted at their supposed bad behavior. “I…found out you was staying here, so I figured…”

Rat sighed and the knife disappeared. “You were hungry, so figured to come get a bit of our flash.” She held out a hand for the bag. The boy handed it to her. 

“You got lots, so why not?” He still looked frightened, but made a show of sticking out his chin at Rat anyway. Will nearly smiled. If she didn’t smack him for the attitude, his wife would probably admire it. 

Of course, Rat was much better at hiding such things than he was. There was nothing but cold irritation on her face when she eyed the boy. “How’d you hear where we were staying?”

The boy trembled, but kept the pugnacious look on his face. “Not saying.” When the knife appeared in Rat’s hand again, his eyes widened, but he shook his head. “You kin cut me, but I ain’t saying.”

Rat stared hard at the boy a long moment, but other than losing even more color, he wasn’t talking. Finally, she nodded and the knife was gone again. “Maybe I believe you.” The boy took a deep breath and stepped away from the door. “Nope. Not done with you yet. Got four things to say to you.”

The boy stared at her, then nodded. Rat held up a hand. “First, what’s your name?”

His look turned to one of suspicion, but he wasn’t willing to upset her over a name. “They call me Fro.”

She grinned, but it was still mean looking. “I’m Rat and that one’s Will.” She stuck a thumb out behind her. “Fro, if there is anything else missing from our room, you had best tell me now because if I find out later, and I will, then you are going to find out just how good with a knife I am. It will not be pretty, and if you live, you’ll be missing parts you didn’t know you had.” She waited with an expectant expression. 

The boy hesitated, then dug into a hidden pocket in his pants. He pulled out a small bag of coin and handed it to her. When she kept staring at him, he shrugged, and put his hand into the neck of his thin shirt and pulled out a cord. Tied to it were three small knives. He handed them all to her. Finally, he dug into another pocket and pulled out a small, richly decorated, but dirty cloth. He’d have handed it to Rat, but she shook her head. “Not mine.”

Will looked at it closely and sent the boy an odd look. “Nor mine.”

The boy shrugged, then returned the fancy cloth to his pocket. Rat waited till she had his full attention, then asked him. “Fro, you want a job?”

The boy’s eyes widened. “What?”

She smiled. “I’ve need of a smart boy who knows his way around and don’t talk over much. That you?”

He considered. “You paying coin?” 

Rat pretended to think about it. “Five coppers now. Ten more when you come back with the information I need.”

He stared at her a long moment, probably trying to judge if she was serious. It was a lot of coin for anyone in this broken city. For a small hungry boy, that would be a near fortune. Finally, he nodded and held out his hand. Rat dropped five coppers back into it. “Fro, I need to know how many guard barracks there are in this city, and where they are. Then, I need to know who washes the guard’s uniforms and when. Finally, I need to know the best way in and out of the city that ain’t through the main gate.”

He considered. Then he spoke up. “Best way in and out of the city is the ‘duct. You got to swim or boat when it’s wet, but we ain’t had ‘nuf rain for that in ages. Gate is locked, but easy for breaking. Always someone watching it though, so you got to pay or maybe get snitched on.”

Rat nodded. “That’s good. Get the rest to me by tonight and I’ll throw in another two coppers.”

Fro nodded eagerly. He took a step and Rat’s hand on his thin shoulder stopped him. He turned, reluctantly to face her again. She leaned down, met his grey eyes. “Fourth thing is a piece of advice. Hunger is bad, but dead is worse. You hear about people with too much money, you got to ask yourself where it came from. What kind of things they did to get it. Because maybe that person is meaner, quicker, or more dangerous than you. You find knives like these,” Rat held up one of the knives she’d gotten back from him, “you know this person is more dangerous than you and you best get right out of there.”

She took her hand off his shoulder. He stared at her a moment, pale eyes intelligent and considering in the narrow face, then ran off down the street. Behind Rat, Will spoke. “That was nice of you, giving him a job. You think he’ll be back?”

“Yup. He wants that coin.” Rat stared after him. “Right now, he’s going to spend that five copper on food. Eat too much. Probably make himself sick. Then, he’s going to find all of the answers to my questions because they aren’t hard and he’ll be hungry tomorrow too.”

“Good.” Will lightly touched her shoulder. “Then we’ll see him later.” 

“Right.” Rat looked up at their window. “Now we go find out why no one noticed the boy was stealing us blind.”

“Certainly doesn’t look good for someone who wanted to hire us.” Will looked about. “Makes me wonder about our safety here.”

“Makes me think that the contract just got worse.” Rat’s dark eyes were cold.

Will shrugged. “She already told us that she didn’t have any money.” 

“Yeah. So she isn’t risking anything. She thinks.” Rat sneered. “She’ll find out different today.”

Will shook his head in mock sorrow. “You’d think people would just take it for granted that screwing with us is a bad idea. I mean, as many people as we’ve killed, you’d think we’d have developed, I don’t know, an aura of death or something. But no, they just keep testing your patience.”

“I haven’t got any patience.” Rat pulled the door open with a violent yank.

“Oh, I know.” Whistling, Will followed her into the dark tavern. 

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