Broadbent & Crow

I need to do a better job of maintaining this thing – I kind of planned to take a short lunch today and hammer out something, but it’s noon-thirty on a Friday and my fore brain is mulch. I am copypasting the blurb below then, more to fill out the numbers than anything else.

The idea was to take two basic stock characters – strong-silent-type and crafty-clever-type in this case – and just see where they go with things. I’d paste up more of this story fragment, but the rest is borderline illegible thanks to the typos and repeated words and sentence fragments, so this will have to do.

Image credit where due – Failbetter Games, in this case

February, 1886

A theosopher had come to see the Mandarins.

Samuel Broadbent put down his glass and frown across the table at Crow, who frowned back.

“A what has come to see the who?”

“Mandarins,” Crow said.

Broadbent studied his business partner for a long minute. Elsewhere in the tavern, sailors sang in a tongue which Broadbent did not know.

“Alright,” Broadbent said, finally. The Mandarins occasionally came into port at Brighton and did whatever it was that they did there, but insofar as Broadbent knew, that was the extent of their connection with the neighboring dominions of man. That someone should actually want to meet them was, as far as Broadbent knew, unprecedented.

Taking as given that somebody did, though, there was this business of theosophy for him to wrap his head around.

“You’re sure he said theosopher?” Broadbent said.

Crow inclined his head. “I am.”

Broadbent leaned back in his chair, which creaked and threatened to collapse beneath him.

“Mr. Crow,” Broadbent said, “Do you know what a theosopher is?”

“No. I do not think that I care, either,” Crow said, returning Broadbent’s gaze.

“Would you like me to tell you?”

“He would like to meet with us as soon as is possible,” Crow said.

“They’re an interesting bunch, you know.”

Crow leaned across the table.

“Samuel,” he said, “I don’t know what a theosopher is. I don’t care. One of them wants an escort out to the deep dark, and I am going to do it and be paid for it. Would you like to be paid?”

“Of course I want to be paid, but-”

“We’re leaving at three bells,” Crow said. “And he wants to meet with you before we go.”

Broadbent spread his hands in a conciliatory gesture.

“Fine, Mr. Crow, that’s fine. I’ll go along, and I’ll meet him. But,” he said, resting one elbow on the table and jabbing a finger across at the dour Indian, “I really think before we up and go that you should know what a theosopher is.”

Crow sat back against the bench and looked over Broadbent’s head, locking eyes briefly with Landaff and making some cryptic gesture at the old barkeep. Crow had lived for a time in one of Landaff’s rooms, up the stairs from where he and Broadbent then sat, and had paid his way by shaking down delinquent tabs and subduing rowdy sailors on Landaff’s behalf. The two men had developed a whole range of silent vocabulary during that period, and as it transpired the wave Crow had given translated either to whiskey or bring me something strong before I throttle this idiot.

When the whiskey arrived, Broadbent had finished the preliminaries and, having built up a head of steam, was laying out in broad strokes the history of western esotericism, with a particular emphasis on Phrygian cults and the practical application of prophecy. Crow took the whiskey, sipped it once, and fixed his gaze on the singing sailors, who had moved on to a newer and more lively tune.

“Being,” Broadbent said, “that you evidently cannot be bothered to give a damn about the finer points of this philosophy, Mr. Crow, I’ll cut right to it. Our client is a seer and mystic, or has pretensions to such. He believes that through investigation of ancient histories and by appeal to ah, spiritual entities, he can divine secrets of cosmic import.”

Across the tavern, the singing sailors had begun to garnish significant looks from their neighbors.

“A principle set of beliefs which the theosophers espouse is  that at some point in the distant past there existed vast, sophisticated societies of people, and it is from these people that we, collectively, are descended. Some of them believe that in the time separating the golden age of these ancient peoples from our own present age, the human race has regressed, or become contaminated by something. The theosophers believe that we are yet capable of regaining the lost splendor of the ancients, and Mr. Crow, I do not believe that you are listening to me.”

“I don’t care, Samuel. I already told you that.”

A fight had not yet broken out between the sailors, but one was brewing. A tall, gaunt man in oiled wool had risen from his seat and stood, swaying slightly, with his gaze fixed on the singers.

“What if I told you that we may well be able to make some money of all this, if we are mindful of the deeper-”

“Then I would not believe you,” Crow said.

“This theosophical movement has gained quite a following in certain circles, Mr. Crow, and has particular appeal to wealthy idiots. Now, I am seeing an opportunity here to-”

The gaunt sailor, moving faster than Crow would have thought possible, had one of the singers by the throat and was holding him nose-to-nose while he slurred threats into the singer’s face. The rest of the musical contingent were lurching to their feet, and fumbling for weapons.

Crow downed the last of his drink, slipped a hand through the strap of the rifle which he had propped inconspicuously in the angle between the wall and the bench he’d been seated on, and rose to his feet. When the sailors failed to notice him, he pursed his lips and whistled loud enough to shatter a champagne flute at twenty paces.

Broadbent winced at the sound, and for the first time took notice of the commotion going on behind him. The sailors were now stuck in an ungainly tableaux, all in poses of varying readiness for combat and all staring, goggle-eyed, at the enormous man holding them at gunpoint.

No one said anything for a long moment. Broadbent glanced back at Crow, but the big man may as well have been carved of stone, waiting as he was for someone else to move first.

Broadbent turned back to the sailors and grinned as disarmingly as he knew how.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen,” he said.

Some of the eyes flicked briefly to Broadbent, and then went back to the barrel of Crow’s gun.

“Terrifying, isn’t he?” Broadbent said. None of the sailors contradicted him, but a few had begun to slowly shift their weight into more comfortable positions, and were turning their bodies to more fully face the towering Indian. Crow moved not a whit.

Broadbent turned back to Crow with a question already forming on his lips, but he thought better of it and addressed the sailors instead.

“Alright, empty your pockets,” he said.

One among them caught Broadbent’s eye.

“Listen, now, he’s a very good shot,” Broadbent said. “And I’d say he can probably get at least three of you before you can shoot back.”

Broadbent stretched out his left leg, so as better to withdraw his pistol from its holster.

“I’m thinking I can get two more,” he said, in the same jovial tone of voice.

“And there are,” Broadbent’s brow furrowed and his lips moved while he counted off the singers, “seven of you. So your odds are not good. Empty your pockets and all of you get out.”


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