“Good to see you, Croesus.”
Croesus hopped onto a stool and slapped the bar. “Just pour.”
Good old Tavernier obliged straight away. Fixed him a glass full to the brim, no rocks. Never any rocks when he was in this mood. Rocks displaced too much volume meant for drink.
The place was mostly deserted, save for one snoring sailor carpeting a patch of sawdusted floorboards under a corner table. Croesus slurped his drink noisily and didn’t care. He slid his empty glass forward, presenting it for a refill. Tavernier was there with the bottle, no hesitation.
Good old Tavernier. Croesus didn’t mind the ‘good to see you’ from him. At least their relations hadn’t changed since Croesus’ career move to law enforcement.
“Rough day on the job, eh?” said the barkeep. It was barely noon. “Who’s got you running this ragged?”
“Seedgrape. Chancellor. Tries to corner the market on snootiness. Would monopolise it if he could, but you know, he works in the palace so snoot is hardly in short supply.”
“Ah. Well, you know snoot is just like snot. Only spelt longer cos they let you see further up the chimney.” Tavernier tipped his head back to allow Croesus an illustrative view all the way up his nose.
Croesus laughed. Then killed the laugh with a swig of his rum.
“Thing is,” he said, “it’s not really Seedgrape driving me crazy. He’s just the one waiting to ruin me when this case runs smack into a dead end. If it hasn’t already. It’s two others who are causing the real headache. And there’s something – something Seedgrape isn’t telling me.” Croesus dug at a knot in the bar with a fingernail.
Tavernier topped up his glass. “Unlike you to be so defeatist, Croesus, old mate. If you’re struggling for clarity, tackle your problems one glass at a time. Who’re the others who are giving you so much grief?”
“New operator in town. Shady character. Potentially a better thief than me. And all I’ve got is a name. Carlo.”
Tavernier sniffed. “Never heard of him.” Croesus drained his glass. Tavernier refilled. “Who else?”
“Montgomery Prye. Brother to the King, apparently. Died in mysterious circumstances. Well, riding accident, according to Seedgrape. But that’s one of the areas where I’m sure there’s something he’s not telling me. Or he’s telling me that something to cover for the other something – the true something – that he’s not telling me. You know what I mean.”
“I do. Amazingly.” Tavernier’s ability to interpret even the most incoherent of drunken mumbles was legendary. “What’s more, I know a thing or two about Montgomery Prye.”
Croesus sat up. Slapped both hands on the bar. “You do? Spill.”
Tavernier smiled. “I never spill.” He refreshed Croesus’ glass as though to prove the point. “Are you sipping comfortably?” Croesus sipped. And nodded. “Then I’ll begin…”
Tavernier propped himself on the bar, bottle close at hand in case of emergency top-ups. He coughed by way of a throaty prologue.
“Old Monty was something of a regular around the pubs in this area. Course he used to travel in disguise, but we all knew who he was. He had those stares so hard you could climb up em into his head, folks used to say. But you’d never quite know what was going on up there. Deep one, he was. But he loved to entertain. That’s why his brother, His Majesty, never much liked him. Considered the entertainment business unbecoming of royalty. Thought it reflected badly on the Crown and the family name, a brother who toured local hostelries and drinkeries, delighting and amazing us mere plebeians and commoners with his tricks.”
“Tricks? What sort of tricks.” Croesus heard a slur in his voice, so indicated for Tavernier to pour him another. That ought to smooth out the rougher edges of his speech. And sharpen his thinking.
“Mesmerism. Montgomemory, he used to call himself. Well, the Great Montgomemory, to use his full stage name. He’d get folks looking into his eyes and hypnotifying them to do all sorts of tomfoolery. Amusing or amazing feats they never thought they was capable of. Why, he had one fellow here – Clumsy Pete – juggle twenty tankards while balancing on an upturned table leg. He was that good was Old Monty, he could convince folks they was cats then train em to do tricks.”
“Aye, it was. Had to be seen to be believed. And he also had the most amazing memory. He’d get the whole crowd to show him a trinket or something from their pocket, then have them all shuffle round while he wasn’t looking. And he’d turn round and name each and every article and who it belonged to. Didn’t matter if there was hundreds in the crowd. He’d remember them all.”
Hmm. Must’ve used a visualisation trick like Croesus did with all the treasures that had occupied the vault.
Croesus threw the rum at the back of his throat. It hit like a train on fire. His senses sharpened in an instant. He tested his powers of speech. “What happened to him?” No slur. An edge of suspicion.
“Lost a staring contest with a Gorgon, they say. Tried to hypnotify her and – ”
“Turned to stone,” Croesus concluded on Tavernier’s behalf.
He fell off his stool and ran for the door.
[To Be Continued…]