Jack and Otis reached Crosa four days after their less than stellar jailbreak. It was two days of hectic riding before they managed to lose the posse sent to chase them down. Jack continued to set a bone-aching pace, pushing the horses to their limits and Otis beyond his, or so he complained the entire way.
Crosa was a middling-sized town that seemed larger than it was due to the ramshackle construction and constant traffic clogging the streets regardless of the hour. It was located in the heart of a large tract of land near the borders of Lusan and Auradan. While technically belonging to Lusan, Crosa was considered a neutral city as far as the war went, mostly because no one could be bothered with conquering or defending it.
It was a city of criminals and vagabonds, an untamed town in the middle of an untamed province for untamed people. The few times anyone tried to domesticate it, the appointed city leaders and their soldiers met with a variety of career, and often life, ending events. It was a place where people like Jack felt most at home.
The sounds of merriment and an assortment of musical instruments, as well as the cloying scent of tobacco smoke, assaulted their senses the instant they stepped into the tavern. Jack peered through the thick haze and found the person he sought. Mirna sat at a table by herself, a pipe clamped between her teeth and smoking like a blacksmith’s forge.
Mirna smiled from behind dark-tinted glasses when jack and Otis sat down. “Jack, it’s been a long time.”
Jack nodded and returned her smile. “It sure has, Mirna.”
Otis noted the way the woman stared over their shoulders and waved a hand in front of her face. “Dear God, Mirna, you’re blind!”
Mirna scowled at Otis. “Yeah, and you’re fat. Did you come all this way just for us to exchange the obvious?
“If you’re blind, then how do you know I’m fat?”
“I heard your chair cry out when you sat down.”
Jack chuckled. “Still the charmer, I see.”
“You better know it. What brings you out this way? Did you get smart and decide to rekindle the old flame?”
“Sorry, Mirna, I wish I could. I’m afraid it’s business.”
Mirna’s thin eyebrows rose and she blew a thick ring of smoke. “I thought we were out of business for good after our forced retirement?”
“Me too, and I tried, but sometimes even the strongest contracts can break.”
Jack shook his head. “Me I guess. They took my boy, now they want my grandson.”
Mirna pursed her lips as if she had just bitten into a lemon. “We all got a waiver when we agreed to quit, although fatso appears to have traded his in for a sandwich and got himself locked up.”
Hey!” Otis protested.
Mirna ignored him. “It was supposed to keep our families safe too.”
“Arman no longer feels the need to honor it. We all knew that might happen when he became king, and now it has.”
“He always was a two-faced bastard. I don’t know how a good king like his father begot such a weasel. What do you need me to do?”
Jack reached across the table and took Mirna’s wrinkled, skeletal hand. “Otis is going to make me some special packages. I was hoping you could make sure they get where they need to go without any interference. Can you still do that with…you know,” Jack asked, his eyes settling on Mirna’s dark glasses.
“Are you kidding? I can forge the king’s seal with my eyes closed.”
“Kind of a moot point now isn’t it?” Otis said.
Mirna glared at him. “Shouldn’t you be eating? I’m sure it’s been at least an hour since your last meal.”
Otis looked around the tavern. “I could eat. Do they serve food here?”
Mirna wagged her head. “I can make you some seals that will get whatever you want to whoever you need without delay or anyone peeking inside. What do you need?”
“Otis is going to make me some bombs. I need you to make sure they get to three Lusan generals and two in Auradan. I gave Otis the information I have on them. Obviously, we want to time their delivery to coincide with the change in rulership I plan to enact. To kill a hydra, you have to sever all the heads at once.”
Mirna’s thin, creased lips turned up into a smile. “One last hurrah is it?”
“Mirna!” Otis exclaimed. “Jack’s coming back. He always does.”
The old woman just smiled and slowly shook her head. “We’ll do what you need, Jack. You just make sure you don’t let your pride make your brain forget how old you are now.”
Jack chuckled. “I have too many aches and pains for that to ever happen.”
Mirna squeezed his hand. “It was good seeing you again, Jack.”
“You too, Mirna.”
Otis chortled. “Seeing you…”
“Shut your gob, fatso!” Mirna snapped.