They shoved Hodmedod into a tiny room and left two burly men by the door. There was no light and barely enough space to call it a closet. Still Hodmedod was able to scoot himself against the wall and hop into a standing position.
The goons had tied both his hands and legs extra tight. These were men who knew how to tie knots. But they hadn’t counted on Hodmedod’s thin supple limbs.
He twisted his twig like fingers and wriggled them free of the ropes. After his fingers were free he wormed his arms loose, then the rest of his body. In moments his binding lay at a pile on the floor and he was free. He stretched as best he could in the cramped room and shook out his limbs. His head still smarted from the brick. He hoped whoever hit him was still in the building.
He checked the door.
Through a small crack in the center of it he could see the rough, red neck of one of his captors.
Hodmedod picked at the floor’s wooden planks with his bare finger nails. He pulled up one long splinter and then another and another until he had collected twenty slender slivers of wood. He then reached into a secret pocket inside his jacket and pulled out a cloth pouch.
I always keep horrible close at hand.
Inside was a tiny amount of blue powder. Hodmedod licked the end of each splinter and rolled it around in the powder, just a few grains stuck to the tip.
He leaned close to the crack in the door. The red fleshy neck of the thug was nearly pressed up against the opening. Hodmedod put a splinter just between his teeth and blew. The piece of wood with its poison tip flew through the opening straight and fast.
There was a gasp then a thud on the other side. Hodmedod kept his eye on the crack in the door, another splinter lay in his mouth between his teeth. The second thug’s face passed by the opening. He blew again. There was another thud.
The goons were down. Now for the door.
It was a simple lock. Hodmedod reached into his coat and produced a spool of sturdy thin wire. He fed one end through the crack and directed it towards the lock until he heard it scratch against the metal.
This wouldn’t take much time at all. He counted twelve thugs in all when they dragged him inside the closet. Two were down and he still had eighteen poisoned splinters left.
This wouldn’t be hard at all.
Wormsworth sat and ate his second dinner, roasted beef, boiled potato, and a big red apple for dessert. Wormsworth normally ate just one dinner, but his encounter with the thin man had so enraged him that he had tossed all his food across the warehouse. No matter, he simply ordered a second dinner from a nearby establishment.
Wormsworth sawed through a rib of beef tougher than old leather. There was no kitchen in the warehouse. Wormsworth had all his meals delivered from neighborhood taverns. The owners would shake in their shoes as they offered him plates of the over boiled and over salted mush they called food.
He longed for a meal befitting his status as master of the city. He had the wealth to eat at the finest of the city’s restaurant, but he never went out in public. That was how the last boss of the city, Boss Muddlemorn, met his end. After a huge party at the Imperial itself, Muddlemorn staggered to his carriage and fell over dead. No one ever took credit for the poisoning. The Constables, as usual, came up with nothing. Wormsworth spent nearly a year to discover the truth. In the end all he could come up with was the crazy notion that the chef of the Imperial had poisoned Muddlemorn. It was a ridiculous idea that Wormsworth never shared with any of his fellow hoods. They’d laugh at him. And once hoods laugh at you, you can never win back their fear or respect. So Wormsworth kept silent and maintained his position.
When Wormsworth took control, he made sure not to repeat any of his predecessors’ mistakes. No ostentatious displays, no parading around where any dung dweller could take a shot at him or poison him. He stayed out of the public eye; he stayed out of any eye for that matter. He rarely left the warehouse and never without his thugs to act as protection. But such caution had its drawbacks, among them the food.
Wormsworth then thought about the boy from Dreamer’s Garden. Once he had him, and without a doubt he would have him, he’d put him to work in the warehouse. He’d have a stove and a larder put in the corner and he’d chain the boy to the floor. Wormsworth already had all the butchers and fishmongers and grocers under his protection. He’d have them deliver their very best every day for this boy to turn into fantastic meals. He dreamed what it would be like; eggs for breakfast, beef rib for lunch, lobster for supper, puddings galore for dessert. If this boy was half as good as they said, he’d have the best “restaurant” in the city all to himself. Word would spread. The well heeled gents and ladies would jealously line up in Rustington, their finery getting smudged in the alleys, all begging to be let in. Even the Prince himself would add a track of his railway right to Wormsworth’s warehouse.
There you go being ostentatious again, he chided himself silently.
He heard some scuffling in the back of the warehouse.
“What’s the ruckus back there?”
No one answered.
It was just that kind of day. The day that made him think that it was all coming apart. Days like this worried Wormsworth now. He’d look in the mirror and see his face grow fatter, his hair get thinner and greyer. All signs that the end would come at some point. Even if he ignored the signs, the others wouldn’t. Someday it would all fall apart. He knew it. But it didn’t have to be today.
“What’s happening? Who’s back there? Someone had better say something.”
“Enjoying your meal?”
The voice that answered was hissing, strange, but vaguely familiar.
Wormsworth whirled around and saw the tall thin man strutted towards him.
“Who let you out?” Wormsworth demanded.
“I let myself out.”
Wormsworth rose out of his chair. He puffed up his chest ready to let loose a bellow to summon his lazy minions. They’d deal with this fool soon enough.
But then he had a thought and the air left his chest with a shudder.
What if they aren’t lazy?
“They’re gone,” Hodmedod told him. “There’s no one to call to. No one to order. If you want any of those horrible, horrible things to happen to me, you’re going to have to do them yourself. You up to that?”
Wormsworth wanted to turn and run as fast as he could but he stayed rooted to the floor. Partly because he knew he’d never outrun the thin man. But he also stayed because the man baited him, dared him to fight. Wormsworth had never backed down from a fight. He’d avoided a few, as any sensible business man would, but he’d never refused when challenged. No one had dared challenge him since long before he became boss. He’d always had his minions and brickbats to protect him.
So now, after all this time, a challenge.
And so now an answer.
Wormsworth reached for the first weapon he could find, his fork.
Hodmedod clamped a hand on his wrist.
It was harder than an iron shackle and held Wormsworth’s arm immobilized.
Wormsworth cried out not because he was in pain, though he was. He cried out because it was over. This was the day it ended.
“You have gotten nice and fat here haven’t you. Just like a big, suckling pig waiting to be roasted,” Hodmedod said.
He snatched the apple from Wormsworth’s plate.
“Open wide little piggy.”