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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #1956211
One of a series of stories about a Master Thief
                                          A profitable day and a debt repaid 

The streets were miserable.  An unusually heavy fog condensed on the roof tiles causing the eaves of the buildings to drip heavily.  The cobbles of the street were treacherous underfoot, slick from the moisture deposited by the fog.

A perfect night for footpads and muggers.  Most people, with any modicum of common sense, stayed off the streets on nights like this.  Even the well-patrolled parts of the city would be devoid of foot traffic.  Only people with a desperate need would venture into the decaying warehouses and tenements of the old waterfront.

My name is Feiht, I'm a thief.  Around The City I'm known as a well-to-do raconteur.  I am often invited to Balls and other gala occasions.  And am a frequent guest of the Nobility and leading members of society.

I have a private box at the opera and, am a member of several exclusive gentleman's clubs.  I am considered a prime catch for the single daughters. A role I avoid religiously.

I am considered an amiable and entertaining raconteur.  I play a number of musical instruments well; harp, lute, and harpsichord.  I have a nearly limitless repertoire of songs and stories.  I am often asked to entertain at many gatherings of the rich and neuvo-riche.

In my youth I traveled with a band of mountebanks who toured the Empire doing shows at nearly any wide spot in the road.  The group consisted of musicians, magicians, jugglers and actors. While with them I learned sleight of hand, the art of  make up and mimicry, and became skilled at these, and with musical instruments.

In my persona of Mr. Feiht, I am able to blend in the crowd and remain unknown,  except for the notoriety of my thefts, from the Thieve's Guild, the City Watch, and Sheriff's men.

My ability with make up and mimicry enables me to change from a withered old man, to a common laborer within a few minutes. All I need is a shadowed nook or dark alley and I become a different person.  My constant companion is a makeup kit and clothing that is reversible to change my appearance.

To aid myself in mingling with the less desirable denizens of The City, thieves, cut-purses, and the like, I have two alter egos that allow me to interact with these without revealing my true identity as Mr. Feiht to anyone.

Bastard Bart is one of these.  He is rather nondescript.  His hair is a muddy blond, he dresses as the average man of the street and in his manner is casual and unassuming.  He sometimes wears a snood, sometimes a ragged, hooded cloak.  A tan, or grayish belted jerkin, a small dagger at his hip, homespun hose and ill-fitted boots.  In the main, he is indistinguishable from the common citizen.

Dirk, on the other hand, is a bit of a dandy.  His boots, of the best craftsmanship and quality, are made of the finest leather.  He wears fitted leather hose, a leather vest with twelve throwing daggers sheathed on the front from breast to just above the waist.  Blades to the center with the handles angled out easily to hand.  Six on each side.  He prefers shirts of the finest linen, or cotton, with bloused or pleated sleeves.

On each forearm he wears leather braces with brass strips sewn in, a highly visible dagger with a well-worn hilt of shagreen at his hip.  Occasions when it has been necessary to demonstrate his skill with these weapons, which he can draw and throw unerringly with either hand, have given him a reputation that is known throughout The City. 

The City Watch and Sheriff's men, although he has never been convicted of any crime, other than occasional drunkenness, and the community of thieves and other lawbreakers, show him great respect.

His cloak, when he chooses to wear it, is of the best quality wool secured at the throat by paired jewel-encrusted medallions linked by a solid gold chain.  On occasion, he wears a broad-brimmed hat with a pair of pheasant tail feathers affixed to the left side.

He is well-groomed with a pencil-thin mustache, a small pointed beard with some streaks of gray running through it and, his dark brown hair is also streaked with gray.  He is considered a bit of a dandy, but also a man not to be trifled with.

These two are not an uncommon sight in the Crippled Burrick Pub, or other seedy  dives, or the Whale's Spout.  Mr. Feiht, of course, is never anywhere near these places.

Either of these alter egos allow me to keep informed about the latest gossip of the activities of the lawless of The City.  Mr. Feiht, with his access to the upper crust of society, is able to garner information about worthy targets for his nefarious activities and, to remain beyond the ken of the law and the lawless. 

I had gotten a message from Isaac, through Bart, that one of my informants, Jamie, had a potential score and wanted to meet me on the old docks at the Southern Harbor.

As was my normal procedure, I was in the guise of one of my alter egos, Bastard Bart in this case, and arrived at the docks an hour early, to investigate and make certain that this was not a trap set by the Sheriff, or the City Watch.

A few minutes before the appointed time, I found a place where I could see the wharf and be well-hidden while I waited. In a while,  I saw a lantern bobbing along the causeway.  It soon became apparent that it was my informant.  The light from the lantern revealed him clearly as he approached.

Exactly at the appointed hour, he arrived and hung the lantern, about head high, on a spike on one of the pilings; clearly illuminating himself and the surrounds.  As the current reward for my apprehension was about eight-hundred Gold Imperials, I waited for about twenty minutes before I went out to meet him.

I used the time to make another check of the area to ensure that neither the Sheriff's men, nor the City Watch, were waiting.  Once assured that Jamie was alone, I approached him staying just outside the circle of light cast by the lantern, and waited for Jamie to notice me.

“What do you have for me?”

“Lord Vyvyan has just purchased a Sapphire and Diamond necklace for his wife.  Rumor has it that he paid over fifteen hundred Gold Imperials for it.  I saw her wearing it the other night as she alighted from her carriage at the Opera.”

“Thanks”, I said. “If the information is accurate and, I manage to get it, Isaac will have a decent payment for you after I fence it.  Check with him in about two weeks.  It will take me some time to set it up and do the job.  Thanks for the information and keep me in mind whenever you come across similar information."

“I need to get more detailed information about Lord Vyvyan and his mansion before I try to get the necklace.”

I faded back into the darkness and away into the cover of the old warehouse.

Within the hour I was out of my sodden clothing and soaking in a hot bath. The external application of a towel, warmed in front of the fire, and the internal application of a warm brandy eased my chills as I crawled into bed.

Over the next few days, I made certain to be at the Opera and attended numerous balls.  As Jamie had said, Lady Vyvyan was  the envy of many of the ladies,  flaunting her necklace at every opportunity.  As Mr. Feiht, I had the opportunity to see it up close and it truly was a magnificent example of the jewelers craft.

A superb Sapphire, that I estimated to be at least eight karats, was mounted as a pendant.  Surrounded by emerald cut diamonds in a solid gold setting suspended by a woven gold chain adorned with diamonds, of no less than three karats each.  It was definitely a prize worthy of my attention and, to my not inexpert eye, real.

I donned one of my disguises as a working man and approached the cook at Lord Vyvyan's to ask for work as a kitchen helper.  While with the traveling players one of my jobs had been to assist the cook.  The cook for the troupe was a real chef.  He had been caught in a compromising position with the daughter of his employer and had been badly beaten and fired.  He too was a vagabond, until he met up with the troupe and offered his services as cook.  In addition to my other chores, while traveling with the troupe of mountebanks,  I was seconded as an extra hand for the kitchen.  I learned to bake, cook meals for the troupe. and do the shopping for the chef.

I offered to cook a meal for Vyvyan's chef to demonstrate my usefulness.  He was suitably impressed with my presentation and hired me as the second cook.  My duties were to do the baking, prepare suitable sauces and meats, and I was allowed a pallet in a closet under the service stairs from the kitchen to the servants quarters in the attic.

A steep, narrow stairway led from the kitchen to the servants quarters.  Beneath it was a closet that I used as a bed chamber.  Near the door of the closet the pitch of the stairway allowed plenty of head room.  There was just enough room for me to lay a straw-filled pallet, and use a small box near the head of the pallet as a nightstand.The loosely fitted door allowed plenty of air circulation so the closet, though confining, was not stuffy.  My arrangement with the cook was a six day week with any day off of my choosing, unless lord Vyvyan had a dinner party planned.

I made the acquaintance of one of the housemaids and shamelessly seduced her.  Over the course of our dalliance, sometimes in her quarters, sometimes mine, I managed, through seemingly casual pillow talk, to get a good idea of the layout of the interior of the mansion and the location of the master bed chambers.

According to the maid, Lady V. did have a well-stocked jewelry box on her dressing table, but the necklace was always locked away in Lord V.'s safe in his private office whenever not worn by his wife.

There was an exterior security force and a roving patrol of guards inside at night.  According to the maid, the inside guard quite often congregated in the kitchen at night to snack and exchange florid tales of their amorous ventures instead of maintaining a active watch inside the mansion.

As I slept in the kitchen, I took advantage of this and made friends with them.  I prepared snacks for them and, over time, was accepted as part and parcel of their group.  They even went so far as to allow me to accompany them on patrol.  As a result I soon knew every inch of the mansion, as well as their routines; where they looked, while on patrol, what areas they gave only cursory inspections, and where they exercised extra vigilance.

After a week or so in the kitchen, I asked the cook for a day off.  It was quickly granted and I went home to assume the guise of Bastard Bart.  I checked with Isaac to see if Mr. Feiht had any messages.  As there were none, Bart went to the Crippled Burrick to catch up on the latest gossip and then to the Whale's Spout for a decent meal, Dovida's kitchen made the best fish stew in the Empire.

I took a table at the edge of the patio and gave my order to the serving wench.  When it arrived I gave her a couple of coppers to pay the tab, and ensure her a tip for her service, and settled down to eat.  Finished, I started down the waterfront toward East Gate.  As I approached the gate an emaciated, crippled boy, limping along with the aid of a rude crutch, approached with a plea for a few coppers.  My dealings with the Beggar's Guild over the years had proven to me that a few coppers to any beggar was a worthwhile investment.  As I reached in my scrip for a few coins, the boy seemed to stumble and fell toward me, the crutch falling to the cobbles with a clatter.

I caught the boy just before he hit the street.  As I did I felt him grab my hand and put something in it.  At the same time he said, under his breath, “The Crippled Burrick.”

To any watcher his action would be unremarkable, his whisper unheard. The fall, and my catching him, normal to the circumstances.  I held him up while I leaned over to retrieve the crutch.  I handed it to him and dropped a few coppers in his hand at the same time.  He knuckled his brow, thanked me and shuffled off.  I passed through the gate into the city.  When I was well away from the gate and under one of the torches that illuminated the street, I opened my fist and looked at what the boy had thrust upon me.

In the palm of my hand was a scrap of parchment wrapped around some objects.  Unwrapped, the contents were two pebbles.  That and the whispered “Crippled Burrick” was enough.  I had been through a similar routine before.  I headed for the Burrick determined to find a "wooden bowl".  It was dusk with night fast approaching when I reached the Burrick

I took up a position on the porch of the inn.  In a few minutes a blind beggar came down the street rattling a wooden bowl with one hand while his staff, in the other,  swung from side to side in front of him seeking obstacles. 

Truly blind, as the heavy, dull, white, callous' over his eyes proved.  He navigated the cobbled streets with a casualness that a sighted man would have difficulty equaling. 

His eyes?  Someone faking blindness by rolling his eyes back in the sockets would have a shininess to the whites from the moisture. Truly blind, the eyes would be missing and the sockets empty or, as in this case, covered by a heavy white skin.  Cataracts, I think they are called.

Some beggars hide the disfigurement with a rag, so as not to offend.  Others, as this one, did not, in hopes that the effect would instill pity in the observer.  As he passed, I vacated the porch and called out to him, “Just a moment!  I have a few coppers I can spare.”

He paused, and I dropped the pebbles into the bowl.  He passed the bowl to the hand holding the staff and reached in.  Taking the pebbles in his free hand, he rolled them around in his palm for a moment or two.  “Follow”, he said, and turned into Harlot's Lane. Once off the main street, he paused, handed me a scrap of foolscap and continued toward Beggar's Court leaving me and the parchment behind. 

I put the parchment in my scrip and headed for the tenement where Bart made his home.  In my room, I lighted a lantern and read the contents of the note.

In a bold hand, the note read:

We require you to retrieve a document, actually a ledger, that was stolen from us recently.  Although the ledger is in Cipher, in the wrong hands it is a danger to our Guild.

The 'Eyes and Ears' have picked up some hints that it may be in the possession of Ramirez. If true, and we have no proof of this, Ramirez may be able to break the Cipher.  If he does the Guild, and its affiliations, will be exposed to blackmail or extortion from Ramirez.

We require that you recover the ledger as soon as possible.  Because of the added hazard, in addition to the cancellation of your debt to us, we will be happy to pay you a nominal fee and free use of the 'Eyes and Ears' at a later date. To aid you herewith a description of the tome:  Black Serpent skin, approximately two hand spans long, one span plus wide, and three fingers thick. In the lower left corner of the cover is our Sigel embossed in silver.

The note was signed with the Sigel of the Beggar Master.  This was a bit of a quandary.  I would need a little time to plan my assault on Ramirez's mansion.  After the public humiliation caused by Garrett a while back.  Ramirez had increased his security, and installed some man traps on the grounds and in the mansion.  From the tenor of the note, the Beggar Master needed this done immediately if not two days prior to my receipt of it.

I went home to pick up a few items that might come in handy at Lord Vyvyan's and decided to steal the necklace tomorrow.  I had planned to take a few days more setting everything up for the theft, but was not concerned that the accelerated timetable would be a problem.

I returned to Vyvyan's and began my preparations.  After dinner that evening, I contacted my lady friend and arranged a tryst with her in her attic chambers on the morrow.  When the sentries dropped by the kitchen for refreshments, I made sure they knew that I would be romantically involved on the following night and not to be too anxious to find me.  I said I would lay out a spread for them and admonished them about rifling the kitchen and making a mess.

The servants staircase had a narrow landing at each floor of the mansion above the kitchen, which was of course, in the basement.  Doors from the landings allowed the servants to scurry from floor to floor without racing down the corridors of the house and annoying Lord Vyvyan and family.

Lord V's office was on the second floor adjacent to his sleeping chamber.  The sleeping chamber occupied the width of the wing and was the termination of the hall in that area.  The office had access only from Lord V's bedchamber.  I knew the routine of the security patrols and believed I had time to get into the bedchamber and then pick the lock to the office.

I would leave the office by means of the attached balcony.  A narrow ledge ran around the building at the second floor level.  It came close enough to be reached from the balcony and would allow me to leave the office without being seen by the outside patrols, and give me easy access back into the mansion at a different location.

The next evening, I set out a snack for the guards, mixed some dough for croissants for the morning and put it aside.  I then retired to my pallet under the staircase.  Once the guards left the kitchen to patrol the interior, I scurried up the stairs to the waiting maid.  I took with me a bottle of wine and some delicacies for us to enjoy.  I also took a few of the items I had brought from home, one of which was a soporific that I would use on the maid.  It would put her to sleep for a few hours.  She would awaken with no after effects, other than a little logginess, and me beside her in bed.  She would have no memory, except hopefully, that of a pleasant night in bed.

I tapped gently on her door and she let me in.  Beneath a flannel sleeping gown she was naked.  She embraced me, kissed me and led me to the bed.  After a rather active period of intimacy I arose and set out the wine, some goblets and the food.  A pate of goose liver, some delicate crackers, and a knife to spread the pate on the crackers.  As I uncorked and poured the wine, I slipped the drug into one of the goblets which I carried to where she lay in the bed.

While she sipped the wine, I prepared a tray with the food.  I carried the tray to the bed, propped her up with some pillows and put the tray on her lap.  She began to nibble on a cracker while I took a sip from her goblet, the contents would be effective only if the goblet was emptied, and gave it back to her.  I picked up mine while she buttered a few crackers with the pate.

The salt of the crackers and the pate would ensure that she would finish the wine.  When the goblet was empty I went to the table to refill it, added a little more of the drug, and returned to the bed, offering her the goblet.  I ate a few of the crackers.  I kept a close eye on her and when she started to nod from the effect of the drug, took the goblet from her hand and removed the tray.

She yawned, smiled sweetly and said, “Sorry darling! I seem to be more tired than I thought.”

I fluffed up the pillows and helped her lay back in the bed.  By the time I had eased her down, she was unconscious.  I tucked her in, removed the tray to the dresser, took my picklocks and other gear and slipped out and down the stair to the door of the living quarters on the second floor.

I waited for the guard to pass on his rounds.  As I had accompanied him numerous times during my stay, I had a good sense of his routine and the time I had to enter the master suite before his return.  When he had passed I slipped into the hall and ran quickly down the to the master suite at the end.

I tried my picklocks with no success.  Lord V had left the key in the lock blocking my attempts to pick the lock.  I ran down the hall to the nearest guest room.  It was not locked.  I entered and went to the window. The window was behind heavy velvet drapes and about six foot tall and four foot wide with two leaves like a double door. 

I unlatched it and looked out.  As I had expected a foot wide ledge was about arms length below the window.  I opened both valves of the window and stepped out onto the ledge closing the window behind me.  I did not need a breeze to be moving the drapes should the guard look in the room.

People seldom look up when they are walking around.  This is also one weakness of most security forces.  They never expect danger from above.  This simple human attribute had saved me many times.

I was sure that the night, and the failure of the guards on the grounds below to look at anything above their heads, would keep them from discovering me on the ledge.  I made my way to the balcony at the office.

Glazed double doors opened from the balcony into the office.  I crossed over the balustrade and up to the doors.  A simple swing latch secured them on the inside.  The latch did not delay me more than a second.  I opened the doors, passed through the heavy drapes and checked the two windows at either side of the door to ensure that those drapes were also tightly closed.

Sure that light would not escape to be seen by the guards, I lit  a candle and examined the room and its fixtures.  It took me a few minutes to find the safe.  Lord  Vyvyan was really security conscious.  The safe required triple combinations and a key.  It would take me forever to  crack the combination on the three dials.

I knew that most people hid the safe combination someplace nearby, in case they forgot the numbers.  I rifled the desk.  I removed the drawers and looked at the bottom of each to see if it was written or taped there.

I was very careful to remove the contents of the drawers and replace them as closely to how they had been that I could.

I was about to give up the search when I noticed that the desktop had a padded leather-covered panel inset in the top.  I used a letter opener and popped the panel out.  A small piece of foolscap was laying under the panel.  Three lines of numbers were written on it.

I went to the safe.  I tried the numbers on the dials.  I did them in the order that the lines were written.  Line one on the top dial and so on.  I could feel the tumblers fall and click solidly into place.  A twist of my picklocks, turn of the handle and a pull opened the safe.

The safe contained some ledgers, a folder or two of loose papers, a small leather bag of coins (mixed coppers, silver and an Imperial or two), and a couple of small boxes.  Before I touched anything, I took a scrap of foolscap from the waste basket near the desk.  Using a scrap of charcoal from the ashes in the fireplace, I made a sketch of exactly how the items were stacked in the safe.

Exercising care not to smudge my sketch, I placed it to one side and took the items from the safe, laying them to one side in the order in which removed.

Making sure not to drip candle-wax in the safe or on the carpet, I made a visual inspection of the interior.  The boxes I had removed had not the capacity to hold the necklace I was looking for.  If, as I had been told, the necklace was always kept in the safe when not worn by Lady Vyvyan, there must be more to the safe than was readily visible.  I took another look.  Scant inches from the front edge, in the center of the bottom panel, was a slightly worn spot in the paint.

I closed my eyes and ran my fingertips across the bottom of the safe.  When I passed over the spot I could feel a nearly unnoticeable dimple.  Letting my right forefinger rest on the worn spot I pressed down.  As I did so, there was a click from inside the safe and the back panel hinged open from right to left.  Behind the panel was a large velvet box which I removed.

Inside the box was the necklace.  Even in the weak candlelight it blazed brilliantly.  I removed the necklace, tucked it inside my tunic and picked up my sketch.  I put the piece of foolscap in my scrip.

I replaced the box in the hidden compartment and carefully replaced  the items back in the safe.  I referred to my sketch often, to ensure that everything was exactly as it was before I removed it.

I knew that Lady Vyvyan had no engagements for a few weeks that might require her to need, or want for the necklace.  With luck, Lord V.  would not notice its absence for quite some time.

I extinguished the candle and made sure that the rest of the office was as I had seen it.  I replaced the scrap with the combinations back under the padded panel on the desk and exited to the balcony.  To re-lock the double doors was the work of a few seconds. 

Onto the ledge and back to the guest room.  I took a quick peek into the hall.  I did  not see the guard.  I ran to the servants stair, back up to the room of my lady, disrobed and slipped into bed.  She was still dozing quietly. 

The Sun was just rising when I arose, woke the lady with a kiss and started to get out of bed. 

“Mmmm! Where are you going?”

“It's morning, M'dear.  I must get back down to my cupboard before we both get in trouble.”

Still a bit groggy from the drug, she shook her head.  “I must have dozed off”, she said. “Sorry!  Will I see you tonight?”

“Of course, my darling.  How could I resist.  But I must get back to the kitchen before the staff and the cook.  If they see me coming out of the servants stairs, we will both be in trouble.”  I gave her a quick peck on the cheek and fled.

The kitchen was empty when I got there. The staff had not yet arrived and the guards were out for the shift change.  I grabbed a bowl and started to mix some  bread dough for the morning baking.

I put the dough to one side to rise, and started feeding the fire for the ovens.  In a few minutes the cook arrived, followed by the rest of the staff and began preparations for breakfast.  I rolled out the croissants and put them on a tray.

While the ovens were heating, I assisted the cook in preparing the bed-trays for Lord and Lady Vyvyan.  The morning tea was brewing, the linens, plates and cutlery on the trays.  I popped the croissants in the oven and by the time they were done, the cook had breakfast on the bed-trays ready to serve.  The maids took the trays and started up to the master suite.

I punched down the dough I had made and rolled out some loaves of bread for the oven.  I put the necklace in one of the loaves and marked the top with a double X.  All the other loaves had a single X cut in the top as usual.

When the loaves came out of the oven, I slipped the one with the necklace in it off to one side and put two loaves out on the kitchen table for the staff to have for breakfast.

In the hustle and bustle of the morning preparations it was easy to hide the loaf containing the necklace in my cubbyhole.

Later that day I asked the cook if I could have the day off, and if I might take one of the loaves of bread with me.  He gave me a permissive nod and I went to my cupboard, changed clothes and left.

I went to the apartment of Bastard Bart, broke open the loaf and retrieved the necklace.  I took it to my fence.  We argued a bit about how to handle it.  The decision we reached was to have it broken down and the stones handled by a mutual acquaintance in another city.  As it was, it was too well known to be disposed of in The City.  The price we agreed on was substantially less than its worth, but satisfactory.

I returned to the house of Mr. Feiht and began to plan my attack on Ramirez to retrieve the ledger for the Beggar Master.

Ramirez was one of the leading Crime-lords in The City; ruthless in his dealings with his underlings and those he considered beneath him.  He ran a gang of cutthroat moneylenders, extortionists and bully-boys; had his finger in many illegal pies; smuggling, prostitution, assassination etc. He had corrupted many members of The City's legal system, and was one of the most hated slumlords in The City.  His tenements were hotbeds of crime and filth.

Sewage ran freely in the gutters. The roofs leaked and sagged.  The walls were cracked and leaning off true. Rats and roaches thought they lived in a palace.  And, more than once, buildings he owned had fallen into piles of rubble, killing many of the occupants, because of neglected maintenance.

He was also a practitioner of acts so perverted, that he made death by Zombie seem a blessing.  He kept a pair of Burricks in his basement in a special steel enclosure, and had been known to throw people who offended him into the pen watching in glee as they tried to escape from the beasts.

I took refuge on the veranda of a building facing Ramirez's estate and watched the mansion. I sat in the shadows for some time examining my options for entry. The main gate led straight to the front door, then branched right and left just a few yards from the street. The path to the door and the side branches were well lighted, and paved with loose gravel, manicured daily to keep it loose. Walking on it was noisy as hell making it an efficient warning device. Ramirez was rich, self-protective and not careless about his personal safety.

I could get inside the walls two or three ways. The main gate was one. I could also climb to the roof of a building just off the street,  Behind it was a building that stood near the wall.  A blind alley behind that building had a ladder to the roof of the next. From there it was an easy jump to the wall surrounding the estate.

A single guard patrolled the cross passageway of the main entry, and a roving patrol of three made a circuit of the grounds at intervals.  Guards on the ramparts, to either side of the main gate, kept constant vigil over the grounds. From their heights on the wall they had a clear view of the front face of the building, all the way to the corners.

I carefully timed the intervals of the passing of the single guard and the roving patrol.  If I was quick -and quiet enough- I had time to duck into the gate and choose the right or left cross passage to the yard. I would need to be careful to find a good shadow at either end of the tunnel and stay close to the wall to avoid discovery by the four guards on the ramparts. But, with luck, it was doable.

When I was satisfied with my plan, I left the veranda.

I choose to go in the front gate and then to the left. I had a rough idea of the layout from a drunken, disaffected guard who had been fired by Ramirez for some minor error.  It's amazing what a few horns of ale and a sympathetic ear can gain you.

The roving patrol passed, going to the right, followed in a minute or two by the gate watch. I had about a minute and a half to make it onto the grounds.  Ignoring the torches lighting the passageway, I sped through and found some deep shadow close to the mansion.

I waited.

When the foot patrol returned and passed where I crouched in the shadow, I crossed to the foot of  the tower directly across from me.  The door to the grounds, at its base, was locked.  A few seconds with my picks and I was in. On the second level, a door gave access to a walkway on the wall and a guard on watch.  I listened at the door.  When I heard the guard move away to the other end, away from the door, I peeked out. He was well away from the door, and me, and seemed to be counting stars, instead of eyeing the grounds as he should.  An opening to my right, without a door, faced the mansion roof which was level with the opening in the tower,

Directly across from me was a balcony, at what seemed to be the upper floor of the mansion.  I gauged the distance to the roof and balcony. A little far, but with a good run I should be able to make it.  I kept back far enough from the opening that I could keep an eye on the grounds and not be seen from below. When the patrol came back and entered the tunnel to cross through to the other side of the gate, I made a running jump to the roof of the mansion. I made it, with bare inches to spare.

When I caught my breath, I moved to the balcony, picked the door lock, and found myself in the master bedroom. I hid in a darkened corner for a few minutes until I was certain that I had not disturbed anyone who might come to investigate.A quick, but thorough, search of the room rewarded me with some items worth adding to my purse. An ear to the door to the interior of the mansion picked up no sounds to alert me to danger and I slipped into the hall. The discharged former guard had told me that Ramirez kept an inside security force patrolling the halls on four hour shifts twenty-four hours a day, and that a few of them were assassin skilled.

When I was sure that the hallway was safe, I made my way along it checking every room and picked up a trinket or two as I went.  I made sure to close and re-lock every door I needed to unlock and, once or twice had to duck back into a room as a guard walked the hall.  Once, I had to hide in a fireplace when some suspicion made one of them look into the room I had just ransacked.

The second floor was a bit of a challenge.  The hallway made a circle from the front foyer to the back.  An assassin type patrolled the hall, but wasn't really too bright. His rounds were so regular I could have set a clock by them. He was easy to avoid. The end nearest the entrance foyer gave a clear view of the main doors, the guard standing there, just inside, and the alarm he had at hand to alert the household of an intruder.

Eventually, I made my way down to the servant and barracks level.  Near the kitchen, on the first floor.  I overheard a couple talking in the common servants bunk room, and barely managed to avoid discovery when one of them came out the door at which I was eavesdropping.

A servant came out of the kitchen bearing a tray and started down the stairs to the lowest level of the mansion, I followed him and caressed his skull gently with my ever useful blackjack.  A search of the body turned up a key that proved useful.

At the bottom of the staircase, I found a locked steel door. As the servant had been headed this way with the tray of food (which I ate.  By the way,  Ramirez lives well.  The wine was superb), I tried the key.  It worked.

A cross passage led to the right and left. Along its route shallow niches in the walls on either side offered concealment. Not being certain of what lay in either direction, I choose the right. I could hear footsteps now and then, so I knew that I need keep a close watch for shadows to duck into. The niches were deep enough to hide me, but I needed to be especially alert.

A few minutes of careful (sneaky skulking, actually), brought me into a largish open area. A low wall on the right of the passage, overlooked a pit. I heard some shuffling noises and wheezes coming from under the floor on which I stood. Some investigation revealed that Ramirez's pet Burricks had a den under there. The pit was obviously his “zoo”. The walls were lined with heavy iron plates to prevent the Burricks from tunneling into the adjoining property or to dig their way to freedom.

With a careful eye, and ears alert to every sound, I returned to the door that I had unlocked. I made my way to the left, dodging into a niche as a roving guard passed.

At the end of the hall the passageway turned and led to a series of storerooms. And, eventually, to Ramirez's treasure room, or money safe, take your choice.  The room was unoccupied.  Except for the roving guard, I and the Burricks seemed the only occupants of the cellars.

It took only a few minutes to rifle the shelves and strong boxes.  In a wall safe hidden under one of the work benches I found the ledger I had been seeking.  I also found a couple of sheets of foolscap where Ramirez had been trying to break the cipher.  I took these also.  Ramirez may have had enough to break the cipher.  He did not have the ledger, but might have had enough to make things difficult for the Beggars Guild, or even blackmail the Beggar Master.

I made my way back through the house, up to the bedroom.  I laced a doubled rope around one of the balustrades, and dropped to the grounds from the balcony.  I retrieved my rope, and dodged into a shadow and waited. When the roving trio of guards  passed around the corner and out of sight or earshot, I slipped out the gate, and took the shortest route back to my house.

I had a good dinner and went to bed.

I rose early the next morning, made my way across the commons and, dressed as a common laborer, entered the tenement that Bart lived in.  I changed my physiognomy, clothing and attitude and went into the streets to find Isaac.

At the corner of Harlot's Lane and Beggar's Court, I found Isaac's pile of rags.

“Isaac!  It's Bart!  I have a message for the Beggar Master!”

Isaac popped his head out of his nest.  “Argh! What be the message?  Could ye not give it any beggar?”

“Nay, Isaac.  Tell the messenger that the item be ready to pick up!”  I flipped him a silver and left. 

Later that evening I was lounging at one of the outside tables at the Whale's Spout.  An urchin passed my table and dropped to one knee in front of the table.  He proceeded to lace up his boot.  “Bring the item to the corner of Cable Run and Fishers Lane at midnight tomorrow.” he said Soto-voice.

I belched an acknowledgment and dropped a few coppers by his boot.  I finished my repast, paid the bill and left.  At home again, I wrapped the ledger and pieces of foolscap I had retrieved from Ramirez in an oilskin.  I tied it and sealed the knots with wax. 

The following afternoon, as Mr. Feiht I left the house and went into The City.  I visited a few of my clubs and dropped into the bank.  I had the clerk bring me my safe deposit box.  I deposited the payment from my fence in the box, except for a few coins to fatten my purse.

I visited a few acquaintances, had lunch at my club and went back home.  When it was dark I dressed as Bart, took the parcel and went to the Whale's Spout.  As my meeting was to be on the waterfront, it seemed a convenient place to while away the time.

I went in and joined a dice game in progress and idled away my time with small bets until nearly midnight.  The dice rolled and I lost, of course.  I finished my flagon of ale, waved a goodbye to the other players and went out into the evening fog. 

I headed East down the docks.  When I came to Fishers Lane I turned right and made my way through the narrow winding path of the lane -more of an alley actually.  Fishers Lane passed through a square where Chandlers Street, Cable Run, and  another narrow alley called Fish Head Lane came together. 

Crossing the square I made my way along Fishers Lane to the intersection of Cable Run.  Cable Run was mostly rope and hawser making shops.  All had long rope runs that paralleled the street.  I found a pile of coir near the corner that gave me a place to wait.  Out of sight from the intersection.

It lacked a few minutes to midnight so I crouched in the corner and waited.  For a time all I heard was the slosh of the waves against the pilings supporting the docks.  The moisture from the heavy evening fog was starting to soak through my clothing when I heard a tapping sound coming toward the intersection.

The sound soon became louder accompanied by footsteps.  The sound stopped at the corner.  All was silent for a few minutes, when a soft wheezy voice started calling for alms for a blind man.  I heard the rattle of coin in a wooden box or bowl.  I stood up and sidled toward the corner.  From the protection of the porch of one of the shops, I looked out at the intersection.

I wasn't as quiet as I thought.  In the center of the intersection stood a tall beggar.  He was dressed in a robe of burlap with a dirty rag over his eyes.  He was holding a six foot staff with a brass ferrule on the bottom and a heavy brass knob at the top. He was facing me.  The staff was held, knob forward, pointing right at me.  “Who's there?” He asked, and backed across the intersection to put his back against a wall.

“Bart!” I replied.

“Have you the package we asked for?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“Take three paces toward me and place it in the street!”

I did so.  He moved away from the wall and used the staff to feel his way across the planks of the dock toward the parcel.  When the tip of his staff touched it, he bent down and picked it up.  “We will be in touch with you.  If it is as it should be, you will be contacted to collect your payment.  If it is not,..”  He turned and walked back the way he had come tapping with his staff as he departed.

I went home.

For a few days I reestablished the presence of Mr. Feiht in my usual haunts.  I checked with my banker, Mr. Gerard, about the purchase of the decaying waterfront warehouses we had discussed some weeks ago.  He informed me that he had negotiated a few purchases, including the building housing Golden Bollocks and “the old one.” 

Just as I was about to depart Mr. Gerard, reached into his desk drawer and removed an envelope.  “This was given me a few days ago to hold for you.  A messenger came in and asked to speak with me.  I took him into my office and he put a leather bag on my desk.  He asked me to deposit the contents to your account.  I did so.  He also asked me for a receipt for the money, some fifty gold Imperials, I wrote one, signed it and gave it him.  He put it in this envelope, with another sheet of paper, and asked the use of my sealing wax sealed the envelope and asked me to hold it for your next visit.  As you see the seals are unbroken, and now you have it.  I had no idea what was occurring.  I assumed that you had sent him.”

“Thank you, Mr. Gerard.  I appreciate your service in this matter.  With your permission I shall impose on your patience whilst I open this and read the contents.”

“No imposition at all,” he replied. “Please do, and if you have need of a reply you may use my desk.  With your permission I shall leave you for a few minutes and take care of some bank business outside.  That will also give you some privacy.”

I nodded acquiescence and he departed, closing the door behind him.  I used his letter opener to break the seals and removed the receipt he had written and a single sheet of paper; a note from the Beggar Master which read: “Thank you for the prompt recovery of our ledger.  We also appreciate the inclusion of the attempts  of Ramirez to decode the cypher.  He was embarrassingly close to breaking the code.  We have deposited fifty Imperials to your account and, as agreed, the use of the 'Eyes and Ears' at some future date, will be available to you at no charge.”

Again I had to chuckle as I appreciated the irony.  All my efforts to remove Mr. Feiht from being identified as a thief; all my disguises and alter egos (Bastard Bart, and Dirk) had availed me little.  It was obvious that the Beggar Master, at least, knew who and what I was, where I did business, and probably where I lived.

I was sure that my secret was safe with him, but had to be amused at the ineffectiveness of my efforts.

I replaced the contents in the envelope, tucked it into my scrip and laughing heartily, left the office.  I thanked Mr. Gerard for his assistance and services as he bowed me out.

I laughed all the way home.

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