This short story by author Krista Cagg only appeared at the end of the collective of episodes for the premier plot of the Steampunk series, The William’s Hunt. It appears now, here, for the introduction of Nerdy Minds (Magazine).
Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady
She walked into the crowded bar alone, and made for the only two barstools left available, conveniently next to each other. The black linen dress with the thin straps looked a little worn around the edges, especially the dulled and scuffed dark blue sequins. She wore it as if it were the best thing out of her wardrobe. On another woman it might have been filled out a bit more in the places a man would notice. On her it looked like an after-thought.
She wasn’t exactly unattractive. The years had been kind, but it was obvious that she had to put a little extra work into appearing the way she liked. Shoulder length straight auburn hair was duller than others. Mascara and other enhancements were required to bring out a shine in her eyes. But the faint lines at the edges of her lips suggested a ready smile hiding in there somewhere. All together, this woman was someone a man in his right mind would want to talk to, get to know. A man like me.
Who am I? I’m Geri Reynolds. Grunt of the Naviwerks Security Corp. I’m on a night’s leave. Thought I’d take in the sights and drink at my favorite watering hole. Enjoy a fine cigar. Relax. Didn’t expect my preferred haunt to be filled to capacity, and definitely not with the clientele they were entertaining. Damn company made money off of renting out the docks to tours, rich folk who want to host a private party among the chrono-ships, what have you. I’d seen this place go from a hole in the wall with sawdust on the floor to bright light glaring off the copper and brass dispensers behind the bar. Can’t say I was impressed, but I came here all the same. What can I say? The bartenders know me.
I watched the girl sit on the stool on the right, and placed her bag on the chair to the left as if she might be expecting company. A keen observer would notice the small roll of her eyes at the men beside the left barstool since they were acting like a bunch of apes, shouting and jumping around about some sporting event being broadcast on the steam screen behind the bar. The man to her right had barely given her a second glance. It seemed to suit her just fine since she had done the same to him before she spoke quietly with the bartender. I approved more and more.
Two minutes later a bottle of good beer was placed in front of her with no accompanying frosted glass. That impressed me. She was discerning enough to want more than just any old brew, but not so much on her dignity to not drink straight from the bottle. She had grace, but was by no means delicate as was proven when she began to eat the soup the bartender brought a few minutes later. She tucked in like a person would instead of some doll that was afraid to get smudged. After a couple of bites of soup and a drink or two of beer she pulled out a travel library panel and began to read, tuning out the rest of the patrons in the bar.
The game on the screen ended, and the bartender turned off the steam projector in an effort to encourage the rowdy boys on their way. They took the hint and argued with each other loudly over which team played better as they left the bar. The woman had barely noticed for being lost in whatever story she was engrossed in on the panel in her hand.
Not long after the apes had left, another man joined the one on her right. Both were dandies, dressed casually but in the height of fashion with more styling products in their hair than the woman sitting quietly to their left. Their smiles were too big and too bright, and anyone in the know could tell that they had adjustments made to their eyes. The colors were just too vivid. Yin and yang, one was blonde, the other dark haired, and both had that air about them that proclaimed I am important to anyone looking at them. They screamed trouble, and I started paying closer attention.
The bartender didn’t seem that impressed either when he stopped to take their order. I smirked as I watched him add too much water to their bourbons by “accidentally” holding the water lever of the copper dispenser for too long. The drinks were set before the gentlemen, and the bartender was gone down the bar to other customers as if they stank or something.
The dark hair was standing wedged between the blonde and the woman. The arrogant prick actually leaned on her more than once. It finally pulled her attention out of her reader, and she gently tapped the dark haired dandy on the shoulder. A few words I couldn’t catch were exchanged. She smiled as she shook her head then began to maneuver herself to the barstool to the left. Dark hair flashed her a blinding smile as he held her chair, but he only got a confused and suspicious look from her for his efforts. With a bit of pink to her cheeks she settled onto the barstool then went back to her reading as the dark hair took a seat of his own in the stool she had vacated for him.
The crowd began to thicken on that side of the bar. Richer folk with their clockwork monkeys perched on their shoulders that clicked and squeaked as if alive and wanting attention. Jointed exo-gloves encasing their fingers that did nothing more than look pretty, caught on clothing or hair and clicked against the glasses in their hands. Hydraulic heels in patent leather shoes that raised or lowered a person as they needed. They all stopped and spoke with the dandies in flowery talk and laughter that was too enthusiastic to be genuine.
The woman became distracted from her reading, and kept casting covert glances at the men beside her with a guarded curiosity shining in eyes that peered over the specs she had perched on the edge of her nose. I could have told her who they were, but I didn’t want to lose my table or get involved unless I had to. Besides, someone must have dropped a name she recognized because her brows lifted, and her cheeks went pink again as she looked at the beer bottle in front of her.
During a moment between sycophants she gently placed her hand on the shoulder of the dark haired dandy. I could barely catch what she said.
“I’m sorry if I was in the way. Can I buy you both a drink to make up for it?” She had a strong voice, confident but not arrogant. Her smile was shy but honest.
Frick and Frack exchanged a cold, knowing smirk before the dark hair gave her a patronizing smile and patted her hand. “No.” He beckoned the bartender over. “But we can buy you one.” He waggled a finger at the beer before the woman then openly dismissed her by turning his back on her.
She looked stunned. The bartender gave her a kind smile then set a new beer in front of her which she eyed as if it had worms wriggling around in it. She turned a disgusted look to the dark hair’s back, shook her head with another roll of her eyes then picked up the beer for a long drink.
Not long after, the bartender returned to the gentlemen, and placed a couple of chits in front of each of them. The dandies looked at the chits then to the bartender who jerked his head towards the other end of the bar. “Compliments of the ladies down the way.”
The blonde looked down the bar where a flock of giggles stood with empty smiles and shorter frocks that looked fresh from the seamstress. “Now that’s more like it, mate,” he said to his partner with a grin.
As they laughed, the woman gave them a glare then signaled the bartender who came to stand before her with a tight smile on his face. She gave him a similar smile. “I believe I’ll settle up, thank you. I’ve had all of the atmosphere I can take.” She handed the bartender enough money to cover her tab then gathered her bag.
The dandies heard her. Would have been hard to miss since I caught it from where I sat, but instead of being insulted they looked smug. The bastards.
They didn’t say a word as she walked past them. She wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination. That much was obvious by the set of her jaw. The laughter that filled the air from the fops before she was out of earshot, and the twittering noises from the frocks at the corner of the bar did nothing more than stiffen her shoulders, but I could tell her dinner had been ruined.
I watched it all from where I sat in the corner with my boots on the table, and an unlit cigar in the corner of my mouth. I saw the look on her face as she left. Offended, disappointed with an edge of sadness. Ain’t a reason in the world a woman should wear an expression like that, and I turned my attention back solidly on the culprits that put it there.
I had recognized them long before she had. Hard not to when you couldn’t walk down the docks without having to dodge the riggings and ticker tape cameras set up all over for whatever those two were filming now. Wasn’t the first time the movie shoot had irritated me. Now I was downright fed up. I waited.
Hours later the bartender was finally shooing the dandies from the bar. The frocks had already left when it became obvious that the gentlemen weren’t going to do more than accept the chits they sent, and drink themselves stupid on their nickel. I had settled up with the waitress long ago, and she’d already gone home with a smile for the generous tips she’d gotten from me. I had also sent a little something to the bar to keep the bartenders from so much as looking at me. As I got up to follow the meandering dandies out the door I tipped an invisible hat to one of them who smirked back at me in appreciation. It always helped to be a recognized regular.
Being as late as it was, the streets were empty and quiet except for the two chuckleheads who failed to realize that they no longer had to talk over a crowd to be heard. The cobblestones were slick from the humidity in the air. Occasionally, a blonde or dark head would bob from dress shoes slipping out from under the weight of an inflated ego. It was a straight shot down the street to the warm and comfortable wagons the “noble” celebrities were staying in while they were on location, but they still turned down a side street. I knew where that one ended, and turned down a small lane to cut them off.
They came laughing around a corner, hanging on to each other and dickering about which way the wagons were. It didn’t take much effort to step out from a stack of crates behind them, and knock their heads together. They were so far gone that their skulls connecting put their lights out, and dropped them there in the lane. Puddles of stagnant water that contained all manner of substances best not thought about seeped into those fine, tailor made clothes. It was a temptation to turn their faces so they woke up with a mouth full of the foul stuff.
The yellow light of a struck match lit up my frowning face. White-blue smoke puffed out into the sticky night as I lit the stub of the cigar I’d kept hold of. I had to get back to the ship. The Captain would be waiting on me before we pushed on to our next swag grab, probably some necklace an old matron lost seven years gone, and couldn’t live without. But I couldn’t resist teaching these two bounders a lesson.
Blowing out a plume of smoke, I looked down at the unconscious gentlemen, and pulled out a fat marker I used to write on stock crates. I crouched down next to them, and worked the permanent ink onto their skin. I smirked when I stood up, admiring my handiwork.
“Ain’t no way to treat a lady, boys,” I grumbled, then turned to walk out the way the two drunkards had come in.
Dollymop was spelled out in clear, bold letters on the cheek of the dark hair, while Molly was written on the forehead of his fellow. I wore a satisfied grin for a day straight. A personal record.
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