Game of Thieves
Ezekiel Chanot sat down at the table, a smile across his face as he eyed the young man sitting across from him. He placed down a stack of Ciam coins, catching the eyes of those playing around him. The young man looked up, their eyes meeting just under the brim of his hat. The young man returned his smile.
“Can I... help you?”
“I think you can, friend,” smiled Chanot, twirling his fingers through his jet-black mustache.
The table’s eyes turned to the young man, who shrugged at the glance.
“Do I know you, stranger?”
“You don’t know me, but I have a feeling you know someone I must make as an acquaintance.”
The young man seemed to fight the urge to scowl, keeping his friendly demeanor a little longer as he shuffled some cards in front of him.
“This ain’t the town hen house, sir,” said the young man, “This is a card table.”
“I wasn’t confused,” said Chanot, gesturing to his stack, “I feel I can more than afford to play.”
A chuckle spread around the table. The company of cut throats and thieves looked to each other. A taller man with a turban poked the table, hard.
“Deal him in, boy,” he scoffed, “The toll’s raised, ladies. An entire ciam to play, minimum raise is ten simos.”
“Damn your purse, Scar,” spat a woman with an eyepatch across the table, she tugged at the brim of her bowler hat and glared at the turbaned man, “You thirst for a payout and milk us dry. You’ll have nobody left to play with!”
“If you can’t afford the pot then piss of ya Goblin cow,” replied the man, “Deal us in or fight it out.”
The young man shook his head at this man before turning to the woman, “I think you’re beautiful, if it at all matters.”
“You GIPS filled Dtruva,” spat the woman, “Deal so I can take your money.”
“Always a pleasure with you, Marge,” said the young man, who began to deal out the cards.
“What’s your interest in pretty boy?” asked the Turbaned man.
“I’m looking for a man,” Chanot started, looking over his cards.
“So is twinkle-fingers over h-here,” joked a scrawny man with glasses sitting next to Chanot.
The place was momentarily alight with laughter, even Chanot sharing in it.
“I’m sure a well dressed, dark, handsome individual can find such a man back East without staring at me all day,” said the young man, “I’m taken.”
“By a ship, one would assume,” said Chanot, “A very special ship.”
“Special is a word for it,” said the woman.
“I may have a ship,” said Arnett, “But not one you’d expect.”
“Shame,” said Chanot, casting a ciam into the pot as the buy in wrapped to him, “Because the ship I’m looking for has a special knack of drilling into places it doesn’t belong.”
The young man’s eyes locked with Chanot’s from across the table. He did not share in with the chuckles around the table.
“Hey, boy,” said the Turbaned man, “I think this gentleman wants a man to drill where he doesn’t belong.”
“Not quite,” said Chanot, “If you were to know of such a ship; a job for it might present itself paying handsomely for some… digging expertise.”
Cards began to move across the table. As people drew cards, discarded, and bet, the room was almost silent. The table went through several rounds quickly and effectively, every player knowing the game.
“What job needs a landship like that?” broke the silence from the young man.
Chanot leaned into the table, “If I were to tell you of it, would you see it makes it to the right parties?”
“Who says I know anything,” said the young man.
Chanot nodded, before playing another ciam in the pot, calling a bid, “I work for a rail line. The company is owned by Marcus Tidgeway and myself. I am Ezekiel Chanot.”
“Never heard of you,” spat the skinny man next to him.
“I’m not even sure I can name a rail line,” said the Turbaned man.
“Pick up a newspaper, you luddite,” said the woman under her breath.
“A move is being made currently to change international shipping forever,” said Chanot.
“Airships already happened, get with the times,” said the Turbaned man.
“I’m talking a different shift,” said Chanot, “As we speak, the House of Engineers is preparing to give a contract out for the official Antiford rail line. To the first rail line that can connect the small town of Mistfell, Antiford, with the small town of Green Leaf on the other side of the mountain range. This could bypass some political and financial hurdles in Hjem and reduce the cost of wood and wood products substantially.”
“Wood products?” asked the young man.
“Paper, mostly,” said Chanot, “Although, in all honesty, I doubt heavily consumers will see prices change. I forsee big discounts to the government and big profits for the mills of Mistfell.”
“So you want to get a train line over the mountains?” smiled the young man.
“I don’t see how that would be cheaper,” spat the turbaned man.
“It can be,” said Chanot, “You see, many of the largest rail line companies are up for the bid, currently designing trains that can climb mountains and making ridiculously massive bridges and pulley systems.”
“Sounds l-like an airship w-w-would be cheaper,” said the scrawny man with glasses.
“Could very well be,” said Chanot, “Unless there was a simple way to get tons and tons of product quickly. Going up and down a mountain is no way to go about it, but if there was a way to, say, go through a mountain. Now that would be worth its weight.”
“You’re trying to dig through the mountain?” said the young man, placing his cards down and looking serious, “Are you mad? There’s no way you have a budget for the amount of mining equipment you need. That’s crazy.”
“You know what the difference between tunneling and mining is? The end result,” said Chanot, “We can tunnel and build tracks for the fraction of a cost of excavating and mining the same space. We simply need to make our way through the mountain. We also need less equipment. A simple ship and some minor equipment could be more than enough.”
The young man started chuckling. He looked around the table.
“What would the pay for something like this be?”
“Not your usual fee, I assure you, but I’m sure the regular, guaranteed pay would be its weight in gems,” Chanot smiled, “No gunfights. No danger. No cargo. True, honest work for good money.”
The young man shook his head again. The turbaned man started chuckling.
Another man stumbled over from the bar. He nudged the young man and frowned at his cards.
“Aw, sweet. Great hand. Final bets in?”
With a groan, cards flew down around the table. The young man’s smile disappeared as he rolled his eyes.
“Damn you, Abbott.”
“So, what do you say, Joel Arnett?” asked Chanot, tossing down his own cards, “Want to continue to gamble for your payday? Or will you take a chance on a solid job?”
The young man leaned back, “Who said anything about being Joel Arnett?”
The new man named Abbott looked down at the young man, “Wait, are you not?”
Arnett’s eyes closed. Chanot began to chuckle, holding his hands out in front of him.