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Yendi, Page 2

Steven Brust

  I climbed to my feet, dusted off my cloak, and went inside. The proprietor was looking at me curiously.

  “There’s a mess on the street outside,” I told him. “Clean it up.”

  * * * *

  “Laris, eh boss?” said Kragar a bit later. “One of our next-door neighbors. He controls about ten square blocks. He only has a couple of operations that face our territory, so far.”

  I put my feet up on my desk. “More than twice as much area as I have,” I mused.

  “It looked like he was expecting trouble, didn’t it?”

  I nodded. “So, is he just testing us, or is he really trying to move in on me?”

  Kragar shrugged. “Hard to say for sure, but I think he wants to move in.”

  “Okay,” I said, sounding a lot calmer than I felt. “Can we talk him out of it, or is it war?”

  “Are we up to a war?”

  “Of course not,” I snapped. “I’ve only had my own area for half a year. We should have been expecting something like this. Damn.”

  He nodded.

  I took a deep breath. “Okay, how many enforcers do we have on our payroll?”

  “Six, not counting the ones who are permanently assigned to someplace.”

  “How are our finances?”


  “Then that’s something, anyway. Suggestions?”

  He looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, Vlad. Would it do any good to talk to him?”

  “How should I know? We don’t know enough about him.”

  “So that,” he said, “ought to be our first step. Find out everything we can.”

  “If he gives us time,” I said.

  Kragar nodded.

  “We have another problem, boss.”

  “What’s that, Loiosh?”

  “I’ll bet you’re really horny, now.”

  “Oh, shut up.”

  Chapter Two

  “I’m going to want protection.”

  When I entered the organization, some three years before, I was working for a guy named Nielar as what we call a “muscle.” He controlled a small gambling operation on North Garshos Street

  . He paid his dues to Welok the Blade.

  Welok was a sort of mid-level boss. His area went from Potter’s Market Street

  in the north to Millennial in the south, and from Prance in the west to One-Claw in the east.

  All of these areas were pretty tentative and, when I went to work for Nielar, the northern edge, along Potter’s, was very tentative. The first time I “worked,” and the third, were to further the Blade’s desire to make this border more certain. His northern neighbor was a peaceable kind of guy named Rolaan, who was trying to negotiate with Welok because he wanted Potter’s but didn’t want a war. Rolaan became more peaceable after he fell from his third-floor office one day. His lieutenant, Feet Charno, was even more peaceable, so the problem was resolved nicely. I’ve always suspected Feet of arranging Rolaan’s death, because otherwise I can’t account for Welok’s leaving Charno alone, but I never found out for sure.

  That was three years ago. About then I stopped working for Nielar, and went to work for the Blade himself. The Blade’s boss was Toronnan, who ran things from the docks in the east to the “Little Deathsgate” area in the west, and from the river in the south to Issola Street

  in the north.

  About a year and a half after Rolaan took the trip to Deathsgate Falls, Welok had a dispute with someone in the Left Hand of the Jhereg. I think the someone was working in the same territory as Welok (our interests don’t usually overlap), but I don’t know exactly what the problem was. One day Welok just vanished, and his spot was filled by one of his lieutenants—a guy named Tagichatn, whose name I still can’t pronounce right.

  I’d been working as a troubleshooter for the Blade, but this new guy didn’t think much of Easterners. My first day, I walked into his office, a little place on Copper Lane

  between Garshos and Malak Circle

  . I explained what I’d been doing for Welok, and asked him if he wanted to be called “lord,” or “boss,” or if I should try to figure out how to say his name. He said, “Call me God-boss,” and we were off.

  Inside of a week I loathed him. Inside of a month, another ex-lieutenant of Welok’s broke away and started running his own territory right in the middle of Tagichatn’s. This was Laris.

  Two months of “God-boss” was all I could take. Many of us who worked for him noticed that he made no move against Laris. This was taken as a sign of weakness. Eventually, someone either inside or outside of Tagichatn’s organization would make use of this. I don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t decided to commit suicide—by stabbing himself in the left eye.

  He died late one night. That same night I made contact with Kragar, who’d worked with me for Nielar, and off and on for Welok. Recently, Kragar had been working as a bouncer in a tavern on Pier Street

  . I said, “I just inherited a piece of property. How would you like to help me hold it?”

  He said, “Is it dangerous?”

  I said, “Damn right it’s dangerous.”

  He said, “No thanks, Vlad.”

  I said, “You start at fifty gold a week. If we’re still around after two weeks, you get seventy-five plus ten percent of what I make.”

  He said, “One hundred after two weeks, plus fifteen percent of the gross.”

  “Seventy-five. Fifteen percent of the net.”

  “Ninety. Fifteen percent of the net before you split with upstairs.”

  “Seventy-five. Ten percent before I split.”


  The next morning Tagichatn’s secretary came in and found Kragar and me set up in the offices. I said, “You can work for me if you want. Say yes, and you get a ten percent raise. Say no, and you walk out of here alive. Say yes and try to cross me, and I’ll feed you to the orcas.”

  He said no. I said, “See you.”

  Then I went to an enforcer named Melestav who also hated our ex-boss and who I’d worked with a couple of times. I’d heard he did “work,” and I knew he was careful. I said, “The boss wants you to be his personal secretary and bodyguard.”

  “The boss is nuts.”

  “I’m the boss.”

  “I’m in.”

  I got a map of the city and drew a box around where the dead man’s territory had been. Then I drew another box inside the first one. For some reason, in this area of Adrilankha bosses tended to mark the areas by half-streets. That is, instead of saying, “I have Dayland and you have Nebbit,” they’d say, “I have up to the west side of Dayland, you have from the east side of Dayland.” So the box I drew went from halfway down Pier Street, where Laris’s territory ended, to Dayland, Dayland to Glendon, Glendon to Undauntra; Undauntra to Solom; Solom to Lower Kieron Road; and Lower Kieron Road to Pier Street.

  I had Melestav get in touch with the other lieutenant and the two button-men who’d worked directly for Tagichatn, and had them meet me a block from Toronnan’s offices. When they did, I told them to follow me. I didn’t explain anything, I just took them to the office. When we got there, I had them wait just outside and I asked to see the boss.

  They let me in while the others waited outside. Toronnan had light hair, cut short and neat. He wore doublet and hose, which isn’t usual for a working Jhereg, and every stitch of his gray-and-black outfit was in perfect condition. Also, he was short for a Dragaeran, maybe 6’9”, and of a small build. All in all, he looked like a Lyorn recordsmith. He’d made his reputation with a battle-axe.

  I said, “My lord, I am Vladimir Taltos.” I took out the map and pointed to the first box. “With your permission, I am now in charge of this area.” I pointed to the smaller box within it. “I think I can handle this much. There are gentlemen waiting outside who, I’m sure, would be happy to divide up the rest any way you see fit. I haven’t discussed the matter with them.” I bowed.

  He looked at me, looked at the
map, looked at Loiosh (who had been sitting on my shoulder the entire time), and said, “If you can do it, Whiskers, it’s yours.”

  I thanked him and got out, leaving him to explain matters to the rest of them.

  I went back to the office, looked over the books, and discovered that we were almost broke. I had about five hundred personally, which can keep a family eating and living comfortably for maybe a year. What I now controlled were four brothels; two gambling halls; two moneylending operations; and one cleaner, or fence, or dealer-in-stolen-merchandise. There were no button-men. (A funny term, that: sometimes it means full-time enforcer on the payroll, and sometimes it means sublieutenant. I usually mean the latter.) I did, however, have six enforcers working full time. I also knew several enforcers who worked free-lance.

  I visited each of my businesses and made them the same offer: I put a purse with fifty gold in it on the table and said, “I’m your new boss. This is a bonus, or a good-bye gift. Take your pick. If you take it as a bonus and try to mess with me, make a list of your mourn-singers, because you’ll need them.”

  Now doing this left me with damn little cash. They all stayed, and I held my breath. When Endweek showed up, no one except Nielar, who was now in my territory, came by. I think they were waiting to see what I did. At this point, I didn’t have enough money to pay for independent muscle, and I was afraid to use an enforcer (what if he wouldn’t do it?), so I walked down to the operation nearest my office, a brothel, and found the manager. Before he could say anything, I pinned the right side of his cloak to the wall with a throwing knife, about knee level. I did the same with his left side. I put a shuriken into the wall next to each ear, close enough to cut. Then Loiosh went after him and raked his claws down the guy’s face. I went up and hit him just below his sternum, then kneed him in the face when he doubled over. He began to understand that I wasn’t happy.

  I said, “You’ve got one minute, by the Imperial Clock, to put my money in my hand. When you’ve done that, Kragar is going over your books; then he’s going to talk to every tag here and find out how much action you’ve had. If I am one copper short, you are a dead man.”

  He left his cloak in the wall and got the money. While he did this, I reached Kragar psionically and had him come down. When I had the purse, we waited for Kragar.

  The guy said, “Look, boss, I was on my way over—”

  “Shut your face or I’ll tear out your windpipe and make you eat it.”

  He shut. When Kragar arrived I went back to my office. Kragar returned about two hours later, and we found out that the books balanced. He had ten tags working, four men and six women, usually taking five clients a day, at three Imperials per. The tags earned four gold a day. Meals came to about nine silver orbs, or call it half a gold a day. He had an enforcer there full time who was paid eight Imperials a day. Miscellaneous expenses were allotted another Imperial.

  Each tag took one day a week off, so the place should be taking in 135 gold a day, on the average. The expenses were 51 a day, so the daily profit should average in the mid-80s. Five days to the week (in the East a week is seven days; I’m not sure why) should give about 425 gold a week, of which the manager keeps 25 percent—a little over a hundred. That meant that I should see 320-some gold every week. I had 328, some silver, and some copper. I was satisfied.

  I was even more satisfied when, over the next hour, the rest of them showed up with their various takes for the week. They all said something like, “Sorry, boss, I got delayed.”

  I responded with something like, “Don’t get delayed any more.”

  By the end of the day, I had collected more than 2,500 Imperials. Of course, I had to pay Kragar, my secretary, and the enforcers with that; but it still left me with more than 2,000, half of which I sent on to Toronnan, half of which I could keep.

  I was not at all displeased by this. For an Easterner kid who used to work his ass off running a restaurant that earned eight gold in a good week, a thousand plus wasn’t bad. I wondered why I hadn’t gotten into this end sooner.

  The only other major thing I did for the next few months was buy a small narcotics and psychedelics business to give me a cover for my life-style. I hired a bookkeeper to make everything look good. I also hired a few more enforcers because I wanted to be ready for any possible trouble from my managers or from punks trying to muscle in.

  Mostly what I had them do was what I call “hang-around duty.” This involves just what it says—hanging around the neighborhood. The reason for doing this was that this neighborhood was very popular with young toughs, mostly of the House of the Orca, who’d wander through and harass people. Most of these kids were broke most of the time, when they weren’t mugging the Teckla who made up the majority of the citizenry. They came here because it was close to the docks and because Teckla lived here. “Hang-around” duty meant finding these jerks and booting them the Phoenix out of there.

  When I was growing up, and collecting lumps from guys who’d go out “whisker-cutting,” most of them were Orcas. Because of this, I gave my enforcers very explicit instructions about what to do to anyone they caught a second time. And, because these instructions were carried out, in less than three weeks my area was one of the safest in Adrilankha after dark. We started spreading rumors, too—you know, the virgin with the bag of gold at midnight—and it got so I almost believed them myself.

  By my figuring, the increase in business paid for the extra enforcers in four months.

  During that period, I “worked” a few times to increase my cash supply and to show the world that I could still do it. But, as I said, nothing much happened that concerns us now.

  And then my good neighbor, Laris, showed me why I hadn’t gotten into this end sooner.

  * * * *

  The day after I’d tried to break up the game and ended by throwing up on the street, I sent Kragar to find people who worked with or knew Laris. I killed time around the office, throwing knives and swapping jokes with my secretary. (“How many Easterners does it take to sharpen a sword? Four: one to hold the sword and three to move the grindstone.”)

  Kragar came back just before noon.

  “What did you find out?”

  He opened a little notebook and scanned through it.

  “Laris,” he said, “started out as a collector for a moneylender in Dragaera City. He spent thirty or forty years at it, then made some connections and began his own business. While he was collecting he also ‘worked’ once or twice, as part of the job.

  “He stayed a moneylender and made a good living at it for about sixty years, until Adron’s Disaster and the Interregnum. He dropped out of sight then, like everyone else, and showed up in Adrilankha about a hundred and fifty years ago selling Jhereg titles to Easterners.”

  I interrupted, “Could he have been the one—”

  “I don’t know, Vlad. It occurred to me, too—about your father—but I couldn’t find out.”

  “It doesn’t matter. Go on.”

  “Okay. About fifty years ago he went to work for Welok as an enforcer. It looks like he ‘worked’ a few more times, then started running a small area directly under Welok, twenty years ago, when Welok took over from K’tang the Hook. When the Blade took the trip—”

  “From there I know it.”

  “Okay. So now what?”

  I thought this over. “He hasn’t had any real setbacks, has he?”


  “He’s also never been in charge of a war.”

  “That isn’t quite true, Vlad. I was told that he pretty much ran the fight against the Hook by himself, which was why Welok turned the area over to him.”

  “But if he was only an enforcer then—”

  “I don’t know,” said Kragar. “I get the feeling that there was more to it than that, but I’m not sure just what it is.”

  “Hmmmm. Could he have been running another area during that time? Behind the scenes, or something?”

  “Maybe. Or he might have had some kind
of club over Welok’s head.”

  “That,” I said, “I find hard to believe. The Blade was one tough son-of-a-bitch.”

  Kragar shrugged. “One story I heard is that Laris offered him the Hook’s area, if he could run it. I tried to verify that, but no one else had heard of it.”

  “Where did you hear it?”

  “A free-lance enforcer who worked for Laris during the war. A guy named Ishtvan.”

  “Ishtvan? An Easterner?”

  “No, just a guy with an Eastern name. Like Mario.”

  “If he’s like Mario, I want him!”

  “You know what I mean.”

  “Yeah. Okay, send a messenger to Laris. Tell him I’d like to get together with him.”

  “He’s going to want to know where.”

  “Right. Find out if there’s a good restaurant that he owns, and make it there. Say, noon tomorrow.”


  “And send a couple of enforcers in here. I’m going to want protection.”


  “Get going.”

  He got.

  “Hey, boss. What’s this about ‘protection’?”

  “What about it?”

  “You got me, don’tcha? What’d ya need those other clowns for?”

  “Peace of mind. Go to sleep.”

  * * * *

  One of the enforcers who’d been with me from the time when I took over the area was called N’aal the Healer. He got the name first, the story goes, when he was sent to collect on a late payment from a Chreotha noble. He and his partner went to the guy’s flat and clapped at the door. They asked for the money, and the guy snorted and said, “For what?”

  N’aal came up with a hammer. “I’m a healer,” he said. “I see you got a whole head. I can heal that for you.” The Chreotha got the message, and N’aal got the gold. His partner spread the story around and the name stuck.

  Anyway, N’aal the Healer walked in about two hours after I’d told Kragar to send the messenger. I inquired as to his business.

  “Kragar had me deliver a message,” he said.

  “Oh. Did you get an answer?”