Excerpt from “Crumb’s Plan”

The man in black strode to the table.  A small handkerchief appeared from a fold within is shirt, and the man swabbed the inside of each of the mugs.  He took a small blade from his belt and sliced a wax seal from the cork of the bottle.  Then he carefully poured some liquid into each cup and set the bottle down on the table.

Eck sensed a command in the posture of the man, and made his way to the table.  The man nodded and smiled, and handed a cup to Eck.  He then turned and took the other back to the small candle against the far wall.

“I am called Pak.  This is not who I am, only how I am called here.”  He said in a clear voice.  He looked down at his cup and took a small sip.  With his face still down, he looked up at Eck from behind his eyebrows and nodded.  “We have our drink, now,” he said in command.  Even the hint of his smile had evaporated.

Eck bent his head and sniffed at the dark liquid in the mug.  He smelled the bite of alcohol, tempered with a slight tone of honey, and some herbs he couldn’t place.  Gingerly, he took a sip from the mug.  The drink burned as he swallowed, lighting his throat with a fire.  Eck sputtered and coughing, bringing derisive laughter from Jeb and Bill.  Eck’s tongue and teeth had a strange feeling to them, as if they were coated with a numbing substance.  The sides of his tongue tingled, and he could feel his sinuses open.  He blinked several times and gathered his breath.  Eck took another sip, as much to ease his tension in the silence as to appease Pak.

With on a slight turn of his head, Pak addressed the two thugs sitting at the table, “The time is now that the two should not be here.  I will to be speaking with this man alone now.”

“Oy,” began Jeb before Bill could stop him.  “You said we’s gonna get our turn at ‘im.”  Jeb rose to face the dark figure lurking near the back wall.  His shoulders swayed noticeably – he had obviously been drinking for some time.  Bill reached out and grabbed Jeb by the forearm.  With a twist, Jeb threw off Bill’s steadying hand and took a few steps towards Pak.

Pak tilted his head like an animal examining an unfamiliar plant.  His face showed no sign of anger, no sign of emotion at all.  With a slight furrowing of his brow, he made a small sign with the fingers of his left hand.

Jeb fell to his knees, the blow shaking the small table before Bill.  He arched his back and threw his head back in agony.  With his arms held out near either side of his thighs, Jeb screamed a silent scream.  Pak took another sip from his mug and walked over towards Bill and Jeb.

Bill tried to stand, but only succeeded in clumsily falling backwards from his chair towards Eck and the fireplace.  The bottle on the table fell, and the drink inside spilled onto the floor, covering Jeb’s knees.

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