Jim Webster writes entertaining and humorous books about the lives of Tallis Steelyard and Benor in Port Naain. This short story features Benor and is part of Jim’s blog tour to promote his two new novellas Swimming for Profit and Pleasure and The Plight of the Lady Gingerlily.
Thank you Jim for visiting Robbiesinspiration with this great tale:
Benor paid the bill for the coffee. As he and Mutt walked out of Ninno’s he glanced down at Mutt. “Now I need somebody who can pick pockets.”
“Not ‘ard to find.”
“But really good, because they’ll have to be able to put something back again.”
Mutt stopped. “What you playing at? Forged coin and now picking pockets?”
Benor was tempted to ruffle the boy’s hair but decided that this might not be in keeping with the fact that Mutt seemed to regard Benor as his equal. As Benor was inordinately proud of this level of acceptance, he didn’t want to do anything to jeopardise it.
“It’s like this Mutt. I need money to pay people to keep an eye on Minny, find the child she might be planning to kill, and generally ensure that nothing untoward happens.”
Mutt nodded. “Yeah, I see that. So you’re going to pay people with forged coin?”
“No Mutt, I’m going to borrow the money from Minny and replace it with the forged coin so hopefully she doesn’t notice.”
Much to Benor’s pleasure Mutt was staring at him with genuine admiration. “An’ the pickpocket?”
“She keeps her money in a locked box but we know she has the key in her purse. I don’t want to damage the box, so I want the key. So I want a pickpocket good enough to take the key, make a wax impression, and then put the key back. I can then get a key cut.”
“You don’t want wax,” Mutt said, “you want clay, then they can cast straight into it.”
“Fair enough, but do you know somebody who’ll do it?”
“Probably, but it’ll cost.” Seeing the expression on Benor’s face Mutt hastily added, “Not me, them. What you got to pay them with?”
“Not a lot to be honest.”
Mutt thought. “Tell you what. When you take the coins, take one extra for the pickpocket.”
Benor nearly spluttered, “It’s an awful lot of money.”
“Yeah but he’s doing it on credit, so it needs to be a lot to tempt him.”
Benor could see the logic in that. “Fair enough, but can you get somebody who’ll do it?”
“Yeah, think so.”
This explains why later that day Benor found himself walking with Mutt down the Old Esplanade. At the far end he turned down Porter’s Ginnel and this led them eventually to the fish market. As they walked, Mutt had explained, “I ‘ad one of my kids watch the ‘ouse. She’s come this way; I want you just to check it’s the right sister. Then I’ll let our man know.”
Cautiously, lest Minny see him and recognise him, Benor made his way though the fish market. A lanky boy, Nail, whom Benor had met before, appeared next to them. He gestured towards a woman browsing the stalls. Benor nodded and quietly said, “Yes, it’s her.”
Nail and Mutt both seemed to fade away and Benor allowed himself to become separated from Minny by the crush of people. From where he stood he could occasionally catch glimpses of her making her way through the stalls, occasionally stopping, once or twice for quite long periods. He heard no disturbance and eventually Mutt appeared next to him again. “Done. I’ll collect it for you early tomorrow when it’s cooled enough to clean.”
He disappeared again, so with that Benor had to be content.
This left Benor pondering his next problem. How was he going to get into the house and collect the money from the chest without being discovered? This was an unusual problem for him. He was used to gaining access to a lady’s bedroom by unusual means but the lady was always present and welcoming. Indeed that was the purpose of being a roof runner. On this occasion he had to gain entrance when the lady wasn’t there which really meant he couldn’t wait for dark and when she was in bed.
He realised that if he already had the money, the task would be comparatively easy. He could have Mutt and his friends watch the house, let him know when both sisters were not there, and he could slip in then. But if he had the money to fund that, he wouldn’t have to enter the house in the first place. On top of the money, he really wanted to take a look at the letter Wast Divot claimed to have seen. As he was thinking, he was heading for Slip Pike Lane. He wanted to check with Faldon the priest that the hapless Wast hadn’t told the priest something he hadn’t told Benor.
As he turned down Slip Pike Lane he could see Faldon ahead of him. As usual on fine days he had a chair out in the street and on this occasion he was trimming the hair of a young woman as her friends watched. As Benor drew closer he could hear the women flirting with Faldon and the priest was teasing them back. He leaned against the wall as if joining the queue and enjoyed the banter.
Faldon ostentatiously appeared to see him for the first time. “At last, I am saved. Benor, rescue me please from the wiles of these wild women!”
This brought a laugh from the one having her hair cut. “Oh girls, I like our priest, he’s got such lovely soft and gentle hands.”
Benor backed away from them in mock horror. “Alas thanks to the eloquence of the esteemed priest Faldon, I am sworn to a life of celibacy and asceticism.”
Faldon winked at his tormentors. “That is indeed unfortunate. I was going to ask you to go into the kitchen and get us both a glass of beer.”
Piously Benor replied, “Fear not, I shall willingly mortify the flesh and drink beer. Indeed I will make an attempt to drink more than my fair share to ensure you do not suffer any risk of intoxication.”
Faldon stepped back from the woman in the chair and held up a mirror so she could see her hair. “Madam, I am done.”
She studied the results briefly and smiled at him in the mirror. “And a nice job you’ve made of it. Worth every penny.”
“I’m sworn to poverty, I do not take money.”
She stood up, shook out her skirt and then turned to him, “Thus and so I shall pay in kind.” Before he could protest she kissed him firmly on the lips. Then she stepped back. “And I’m baking this evening. There’ll be an apple pie for you tomorrow morning.” Gathering up her friends she left.
Benor watched as Faldon shook out his cloths and cleaned his scissors. It had struck him that Faldon was the obvious person to keep the two sisters busy and entertained whilst he swapped the money in the chest.As the priest poured the beer, Benor said, “I’ve got a plan for dealing with Minny.” At this point Benor was intending to keep his cards close to his chest. He wasn’t sure if Faldon would be too impressed with forgery and the picking of pockets. “But I need to get into her bedroom to check on that letter that Wast mentioned. I think I need to see it all.”
Silently Faldon passed Benor a glass of beer. Encouraged by the fact that the priest hadn’t said anything that might be construed as hostile, Benor continued. “So I wondered if you could drop round to their shop, flirt with them or attempt to encourage them in their faith, or whatever it takes to stop them going into the back of the house.” He sipped his beer and smiled winningly at Faldon.
The priest shook his head. “No.” Seeing the expression on Benor’s face he added, “It would be unethical.”
But they’re probably planning to kill somebody.”
“If they are I am not responsible to Aea for their unethical behaviour, but I am responsible to her for mine. I will do what I can to stop them, but I’m not going to go as a priest and effectively lie to them.” He looked at Benor’s shocked face. “The problem with serving the gods, Benor, is you have to learn to cope with their holier than though attitude.” With that he topped up Benor’s glass. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.”
And now the hard sell
I’ve thought long and hard about blog tours. I often wonder how much somebody reading a book wants to know about the author. After all, I as a writer have gone to a lot of trouble to produce an interesting world for my characters to frolic in. Hopefully the characters and their story pull the reader into the world with them. So does the reader really want me tampering with the fourth wall to tell them how wonderful I am? Indeed given the number of film stars and writers who have fallen from grace over the years,
perhaps the less you know about me the better?
Still, ignoring me, you might want to know a bit about the world. Over the years I’ve written four novels and numerous novellas set in the Land of the Three Seas, and a lot of the action has happened in the city of Port Naain. They’re not a series, they’re written to be a collection, so you can read them in any order, a bit like the Sherlock Holmes stories in that regard.So I had a new novella I wanted to release. ‘Swimming for profit and
pleasure.’ It’s one of the ‘Port Naain Intelligencer’ collection and I decided I’d like to put together a blog tour to promote it. But what sort of tour? Then I had a brainwave. I’d get bloggers who know Port Naain to send me suitable pictures and I’d do a short story about that picture. It would be an incident in the life of Benor as he gets to know Port Naain.
Except that when the pictures came in it was obvious that they linked together to form a story in their own right, which is how I ended up writing one novella to promote another! In simple terms it’s a chapter with each picture. So you can read the novella by following the blogs in order. There is an afterword which does appear in the novella that isn’t on the blogs, but it’s more rounding things off and tying up the lose ends. Given that the largest number of pictures was provided by a lady of my acquaintance, I felt I had to credit her in some way. So the second novella I’m releasing is ‘The plight of the Lady Gingerlily.’ It too is part of the Port Naain Intelligencer collection.
So we have ‘Swimming for profit and pleasure’
Benor learns a new craft, joins the second hand book trade, attempts to rescue a friend and awakens a terror from the deep. Meddling in the affairs of mages is unwise, even if they have been assumed to be dead for centuries.
And we have ‘
The Plight of the Lady Gingerlily
No good deed goes unpunished. To help make ends meet, Benor takes on a few small jobs, to find a lost husband, to vet potential suitors for two young ladies, and to find a tenant for an empty house. He began to feel that things were getting out of hand when somebody attempted to drown him.
Review of Swimming for profit and pleasure
5 star review by Christopher Graham:
The tale starts with a description of squid autopsy procedures.
Then, we find out how Benor learns the skill of deep sea diving, and running a bookshop.
The story soon develops into a ‘Benor needs to find and rescue a friend’ theme.
Luckily, Kara Halon (who works for The Purveyors of Magic) is on hand and joins him for a swim with a difference.