“You’ll be helping restore the world to its proper order, just like the old days.”
“All right, but I’m not doing any infiltration. I’m just not cut out for it anymore.”
“I’ll do all the infiltrating. You just make the bombs.” Jack walked over to the cell door and gave it a tug. “I don’t suppose you have anything to blast open this door do you? I used all my acid on the bars, and there’s no way you’re going to fit through the window.”
Otis nodded. “Yeah, I could blow it open, no problem, but I figure we’ll draw a lot less attention if we use the key. Hang on a minute while I collect a few things.”
Otis fashioned a satchel out of his pillowcase and length of rope and began carefully placing wooden mugs used as planters with a variety of flowers and small shrubs growing out of them into the bag.
“We should really be going. You can plant more flowers once we reach Crosa,” Jack said as he watched Otis putter around his cell.
Otis arched his eyebrows. “Oh, these aren’t real. They’re special.”
Jack cocked his head to one side. “Special-special?”
The portly man’s face split into a broad, gap-toothed grin, and he bobbed his head so his double chin waggled. With his special flower pots stashed away, he lit a fat cigar, fished a key from his pocket, and opened the door. Jack pushed past him and took the lead, his twin swords gripped in his weathered hands. A lone guard slept in a chair near the only door leading out.
Otis held Jack back with a hand on his shoulder. “That’s Bill. He’s a decent sort, and his wife makes the best blueberry pie. Let’s not kill him if we can avoid it.”
“I’m fine without killing anyone on the way out, but you know that’s not likely.”
Otis’ face grew somber. “Yeah, I know the game. Still, let’s keep the bloodshed to a minimum. They’re just doing their job.”
Jack sighed, feeling that his friend had gotten soft with old age. Since he was agreeing, maybe he was too. The assassin tapped the sleeping man on the shoulder with one of his swords and let the blade rest there with the point pressed against his throat.
The soldier woke with a start, his eyes growing wide at the sight of the two men and the touch of cold steel against his flesh. “Otis, what are you doing out of your cell?”
“Sorry, Bill. It’s time for me to go.”
“Are you sure? You know the fellas aren’t going to just let you walk out. They’d be executed if they did.”
“I know the game, but I still gotta go. Give my thanks to Claire for the pies over the years.”
Bill nodded as Jack used the man’s sword belt to tie his hands behind his back and bind his feet. “I will. Thanks for not killing me.”
“Thanks for not making me. If you could hold your tongue for just a bit, I won’t bother to gag you.”
“I can do that, although I suppose I’ll have to wallop myself to make it look like I put up a fight.”
“Would you like me to do it, or do you want to manage it yourself?”
“Probably best if you do it. It’d look more convincing I think.”
Otis made a heavy fist using the hand with the most fingers and punched Bill in the eye, sure to leave the man with a nice shiner for when his superiors inevitably questioned him.
Bill’s head lolled and his vision swam. “Thanks, Otis.”
“No problem, friend.”
Jack cinched the strap around the guard’s feet. “Are you two done here, or would you like to play a game of cards before we go?”
“Don’t get crotchety with me, you old git. Maybe if you’d have let me in on your little jailbreak and regicide plan ahead of time I could have better prepared.”
“Fine, but we aren’t going to have time for you to shake everyone’s hand before we go. Someone is eventually going to remember that you’re a goddam prisoner who’s supposed to be spending the rest of his life in jail for multiple counts of murder.”
“Murder is such an ugly word.”
“You got a prettier one for what we do?”
“What am I, a damn poet? Let’s just go. All that liniment you’ve slathered onto your old bones is making my eyes water.”
Jack scowled as he led the way down the spiraling stairs winding around the inside of the corner tower. “Some of us haven’t spent the last twenty years sitting in the lap of luxury. I had to work for a living. Spent the last decade being a farmer.”
“You, a farmer?” Otis sputtered. “Like plowing fields and milking cows?”
“Had to look after my grandson. It was part of the job.”
“I forgot you had a boy with that woman from Uxby! How are they?”
Jack’s face grew somber. “They’re all dead.”
“Ah, is that what this is all about?”
“Most of it. When they came for the kid, I couldn’t keep ignoring my calling. It’s what we were made to do.”
“Maybe back then. Now we’re made for sweaters and rocking chairs.”
“You’re probably right, but I think I got one or two jobs left in me. Do you?”
Otis hefted his satchel. “Oh yeah, I still got some surprises left in me.”
Jack stopped as a guard climbed the stairs below him, his eyes cast down toward his feet as he plodded upward. The guard looked up when Jack’s legs came into view. He stood and stared for a moment as his brain sorted out what he was seeing. His eyes went wide as realization dawned. He turned and tried to run, but a kick from Jack to the back of his head sent him flying, then tumbling, back down the steps. The guard’s metal helmet and breastplate made an awful racket as he bounced down an entire flight of stairs.
“So much for stealth,” Jack said.
“I never much cared for it anyway.”
Shouts from below echoed up the stairway. Jack looked down and saw several men with weapons drawn come charging through the door of the first floor landing.
Jack glanced over his shoulder at Otis. “Would you like to handle this?”
Otis touched the glowing ember of his cigar to one of the potted “flower’s” stems. “Already on it.”
The stem spit sparks as the fuse burned toward the mug. Otis waited until it almost vanished before tossing it over the side of the stairs. Just before it struck the ground, the mug exploded in a flash of fire and smoke. Those mounting the steps fell down, while the ones pushing through the door fled, their retreat hastened by the concussive blast. Otis lit another grenado while trying to keep up with Jack as he rushed down the stairs. Musket barrels poked through the doorway, but they vanished the instant Otis tossed another grenado through the opening.
A second explosion drowned out the guards’ curses. Jack ran through the thick cloud of smoke, his swords flashing, cutting down anyone in his path. The old man burst through the acrid miasma and found himself staring down the barrels of a pair of muskets a short ways down the hall. He spun his swords around, pointing the hilts forward, and pressed a small button located near the cross guards of each one.
The grips, that were also functional pistols, fired almost simultaneously with the muskets. Jack felt one ball tug at his cloak while the other sent stone chips from the wall into his face. His aim was better. One shot took a guard in the chest, the other in the shoulder. The strikes knocked both men to the floor. Jack planted a boot against the wounded man’s head for good measure as he stepped over them.
Just across a large entry area, Jack saw the main door leading outside, but he could hear the sounds of guards approaching from the hallways off to each side of it as well as soldiers waiting just outside. Casting his eyes about the area, he spotted the entrance to the kitchen and knew there was likely a way out through there. With Otis breathing heavy behind him, Jack barged into the scullery, chased by musket shots as they ran.
Jack pulled open the door leading outside while Otis held off the guards with his grenados. As luck would have it, the way was clear and there was a postern door set in the outer wall not far away. The two elderly assassins ran to the portal as swiftly as their old legs would carry them. Jack tugged on the iron ring set in the door but it would not budge.
The big man nudged Jack out of the way. “I got it.”
Otis hung three of his flower pots from the iron ring by running a length of cord through their handles. He lit the fuses and pulled his friend away. The explosion nearly blasted the entire door from its hinges. The old men raced through the breach before the smoke cleared and vanished into the night. Jack led Otis to where he had tethered the two horses he had acquired.
Otis bent over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. “Horses?”
Jack scowled. “What were you expecting, a fancy carriage?”
“I would have appreciated it.”
“I’m sure the horse that has to carry you on its back would too, but we all have our burdens to bear. Some burdens are greater than others.”
Otis cocked an ear toward the sound of baying dogs in the distance. “Right, on our way then.”