The Middle Men Ch.1


—–

Inside the town of Truseve was a shop; small, simple and had seen better days. While the stone walls had begun cracking from top to bottom, the two windows up front fared better in appearance, hinting that at least some work had been done with presentation in mind. An unpainted, improvised sales stand, which used to be a butcher’s cart, sat out front, ready to drum up anything resembling good business. Written just above the crossed-out words ‘Junk Dump’ was where the new hand-written name was. ‘The Scrap-Happy Tinker Boys’.

In through the door walked a grey bearded elder, dressed in the familiar blue robes of a wizard. It was uncommon for a magic wielder to visit such a lowly scrap shop, but it was not unwelcome. The bell above the door sounded, and out shuffled three men.

“Welcome, mister. I’m Mac” spoke the man in the middle. His short hair was unkempt and shaggy that sat atop a pointy face. Beady eyes and a stout nose that always appeared to be wrinkled contrasted a long grinning mouth that tried its best to look inviting. “This is Luke, and this is Chevy” he motioned to the men at his side.

“Yo!” they both replied.

Luke was a odd looking coot and had the smallest body frame of the group. Besides his tiny nose and tiny mouth, his oversized glasses amplified his inquisitive eyes more than he realized. The way his wiry hair had been brushed straight back kept his oval face clear, but also emphasized how large his peepers and glasses were. Meanwhile, Chevy was the heaviest of the three, and could never hide the ignorance plastering his round, bloated face wherever he went. His thinning hair from ear to ear and growing second-chin gave him an older appearance than he actually was.

“What’re you looking for, pal? We got pipes, gears, frames, chairs, shelves, chests, tables-”

“Say, quite the set of whiskers you got there.” Chevy lacked the manners to not run his hand through the elder’s stomach-length beard. “If you need a razor, we can sharpen up this cheese knife for you”

“Today we got a sale on our armor. Look at this- it’s brand new” Luke presented a knight’s armored gauntlet to the man. Compared to the shop’s usual stock, it might as well have been fresh out of the blacksmith’s shop when the men spotted it fall off a carriage. The soiled joints and scuff marks made no difference to them.

Obviously humoring their pitch, the old man peered off. Their discolored peasant garments were well past their prime, much like their shop. With many years under his belt, he knew how to spot imbeciles. As much as he pitied them, he had no interest to remain longer than necessary.

“Listen, gentlemen-” the old man interrupted them.

“Hey, no need to be insulting!” Chevy protested with a twisted frown to accompany his wagging finger.

“Quiet, you cockroach” Mac elbowed him. “Go on, stranger. What’ll it be?”

“All I wish to know is where I can get a carriage ride to the castle”

“…Two streets over” Mac grumbled and pointed. No sale today.

“Thank you, good sir” the old man said as he walked out the door.

“Glad to help. Heh- heh, you dirty old…” Mac muttered under his breath. His fake smile disintegrated into a dirty scowl at the lack of income. Lately, everything seemed to go out of the shop except their products.

Fifteen minutes later, another man walked through the door.

“Hi ya, pal! What can we- Oh it’s you” Mac frowned.

The man’s name was Manwell; a name that was familiar but never welcome to the boys. Tall, skinny, and sporting a shining bald head that had been in his family for generations. Always preferred focusing on business rather than levity, his presence mixed with the three men as well as a snowman takes to a Lava Golem. And right now, his mind zeroed in on the men’s weekly rent that was due for conducting business on his property.

“Yes, it’s me” Manwell answered, stuffy as always.

“We sell everything you-” Chevy raced in with his usual customer ‘service’ before even seeing who it was.

“Nevermind, grape-head” Mac stopped his partner and tightened his frown at the tall man. “We were just talking about junk, so I figured you’d show up”

“Very funny” Manwell held his nose up at him. “You know it’s pay day, so where is it?”

“Yeah, yeah. Hey Luke, bring me my green sock from under the bed!” Mac called out. “Standing there with your hand out, who do you think you are? A wife?” he sneered at Manwell.

Luke came out with an old green sock and handed it to Mac, who emptied its contents into Manwell’s hand; fifteen gold coins. Manwell was less than thrilled by the sock, but nevertheless, accepted his payment. Carefully, he counted each coin and slid them into the key-locked pouch on his belt.

“Imagine paying fifteen coins for a dump like this” Luke sneered.

“This establishment suits you three just fine” Manwell sneered back.

“‘Establishment’? I thought this was where you were born”

Manwell scoffed with a stern ‘hmmph’ and relocked his pouch. “Remember, I expect your rent the same time next week” he stated.

“Blah, blah, blah. You tell us that every time. We’ll have it, ‘cueball'”

“Be sure that you do. Or else you will be out on the street with the rest of the vagrants”

“But you can’t do that” Chevy objected.

“Why not?” said Manwell, who instantly regretted the question, as he should have expected another wisecrack.

“Because we promised our parents to never follow the same career as our uncle” Chevy joked.

Manwell huffed and left.

The three men all plopped down into chairs, all sharing the same dismal thoughts.

“There goes the last of our cash. We’ve just got to make a sale. You haven’t cooked up any crazy inventions your workshop for us to sell have you, ‘sparky’?” Mac turned to Luke.

“You kidding? I can’t build anything with all this junk. Junk just gets more junk” Luked threw his hands up.

“You can say that again”

“How about we give going door to door another shot?” Luked suggested.

Chevy shook his head. “You fellas do it. I’ll go comb through the streets for our eating money tomorrow”

“You know, ‘muscle-brain’ is right” Mac agreed, remembering the last time they tried it. “We need something else to make some dough”

“Well… why don’t we expand somewhere else?” said Luke.

“Like where?” Mac sneered, growing impatient.

“How about we drum up sales down South?” Chevy added.

“Down South?”

Chevy lit up. “Sure, down South. Nobody deals down there”

Mac lacked his enthusiasm. “Are you nuts? Listen, nobody deals in those parts because there’s no Order cops around there for miles. But there are lots and lots of hungry monsters around there who just love to eat up guys like us”

All three men shuttered.

“They’ll be wanting breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And I’m fatter than you fellows, which makes me the dinner” Chevy squirmed with a shrill gasp.

“Yeah. Besides, we’re businessmen. And I tell ya, women and business don’t mix. That why we formed the ‘Anti-Women Union’, remember?” Mac lifted his hand in a fist salute.

The other two followed in suit with their fists into his. “-To the union!”

Just then, a Valkyrie walked past the shop window.

“Hey fellas, it’s that ‘Valk’ dame!” Chevy announced.

All three men burst from their chairs and stumbled over one another to get to the window first. Pressing their faces against the glass, they gawked open-jawed at the stunning Valkyrie. Even with her toned, womanly physique mostly obscured in armor and loose garments, there was enough grace and beauty in her mere presence to enthrall any male subject. It didn’t last long enough for the men since she turned the corner, out of sight.

“Alright, you mugs. Back off. She’s gone now” Mac grumbled as he pushed the others off his back.

Luke began to think. “Maybe… Naw, she wouldn’t buy anything here. She’s like the rest of this town. They only buy stuff from the upmarket”

“They sure do. Now the question is how do we turn this place into an upmarket joint?” Mac pondered.

“Let’s move our shop up onto that hill over there” Chevy joked.

“Shut up!” Mac snapped. “I’m saying that we need to get our hands on stuff that has some real razzle-dazzle. Now everyone think…”

“Hey, you know I get headaches when I do that” Chevy objected. Mac elbowed him in the arm, so Chevy took to muster his brain into critical mode.

After a prolonged silence, Mac spoke. “I bet those monsters have some fancy nik-naks that’d be worth a pretty penny”

“Definitely!” Chevy rejoiced. “They come in all kinds of crazy flavors”

“But how do we make it back here in one piece?” Luke contorted his face at all of the possible ends to their lives. Chevy gulped down a yelp, as he at least had a vivid imagination in those matters. “Gee, if only we could do some fast business with them before they make a meal out of us” Luke continued.

“Wait a minute, you mugs. I’ve got an idea”

“You do!?” they both exclaimed.

“Come here” Mac said as they all huddled together and began to formulate a plan.

Typically, it would take guts, ingenuity, and brains to pull this off. Mac somehow tricked the other two, and himself, that they had all three.

—–

The next day…

The setting was in the Telwood Forest, a few miles South of Truseve. It’s near fifty square miles of thick underbrush kept all activities inside well hidden from the Order’s ever watchful eyes. Thus, not many humans were foolish enough to venture through it and risk encountering the variety of mamono lurking within, knowing that help was far from ear-shot.

However, on this day, three non-mamono figures could be found ducking and dodging through the green foliage with nothing approaching elegance.

“See anything yet?” Mac asked.

“Yeah, trees” Chevy answered, peaking his head out from behind a bush to scout ahead. Chevy headed up the front while the ever-jumpy Luke acted as a watch-out in the rear, which put Mac right in the middle. He figured that spot gave him ‘shields’ on both ends.

“Not that, you ‘bone-head’. Do you see anything alive?”

Chevy peaked again. “Just some guy running down the road”

“Darn, where are the- W-What!?” Mac gasped and threw himself on top of Chevy’s head for a good look. There was a man barreling down the trail nearby. He wore the light blue tunic of a merchant. “Go get em’, ‘bloodhound'” he ordered Chevy forward as the other two men followed.

After the running man tripped over a root in the road, Chevy, Mac, and Luke caught up with him.

“Take it easy! We got you” Mac helped him up.

“What’s the matter, mister?” asked Luke.

“You got separated from the marathon?” Chevy added.

“Run for your life! Mamono!” the panting man wheezed. “Three of them jumped my carriage down the trail and tried to eat me! I slipped away when they fought over who got to take the first bite!”

He started off again when Luke called out to him. “Hey bud, what kind of monsters were they?”

“A Werecat, a Kakuen, and a Harpy, I think” he called back. Then he was gone.

Mac grew even more gleeful. “Oh boy. A carriage and three monsters. It’s our lucky day! Get the tools ready” he ordered Luke.

“Way ahead of you” Luked answered, digging into his bag. But in his mind, he questioned whether it actually was their ‘lucky day’.

Sliding from tree to tree, the men came upon the covered carriage pulled over on the side of the trail. Both horses and saddles still intact with the abandoned cargo stuffed in the back. There was a commotion not far beyond the carriage.

They snuck up on the sounds and spotted the three manic mamono. Their tussling had left them too sweaty and fatigued to continue for the moment, so they resorted to shouting for a change. Like with the merchant, their fury left them oblivious to the men scheming against them.

“I saw him first!” the Werecat roared.

“No, I saw him first!” the Harpy fired back.

“You’re both crazy! He’s going to be my husband!” the Kakuen squawked.

No different than the mamono, the three men were too preoccupied to pay attention to their argument.

No more words were needed for the girls to dive into another fray.

The squabble was brought to a halt when all three girls were simultaneously clobbered on the back of the heads; courtesy of Mac, Luke, and Chevy and their mallets.

With the girls out cold, Mac shouted “Alright, get to work boys! We don’t have much time”

Luke reached into his bag for the tools…

—–

Two hours later…

“Ow, what happened?” the Werecat stirred.

“I don’t know” the Kakuen answered.

“Ouch, ouch” the Harpy winced.

All three girls sat up to feel the lumps on their heads before their faces collectively reddened to beets and then screamed. The fur on the Werecat’s and Kauken’s limbs we damn near buzzed off while the Harpy found that most of her feathers had been plucked out on her wings and legs. In addition, all three girls were sporting very short haircuts now. In a strange way, they all felt naked.

Meanwhile…

“We’re in the money now, boys!” Mac cheered as he held up three bags filled with each the girls’ trimmings. This despite him driving their new carriage back toward Truseve.

While Chevy was hooting and laughing in the back of their carriage, Luke rummaged through the good merchant’s abandoned goods. “Cross your fingers that they don’t track us down and do the same thing to our hides” Luke cautioned, taking a quick peek out the back of the carriage in case they hadn’t put enough distance between them and the mamono.

“What’s to be worried about? We’re as safe as a bug in a rug. Just imagine what this stuff will go for” Mac assured his companion.

“I’m just imagining their faces when they wake up” giggled Chevy.

“…Okay, that’s funny. And that merchant was packing a lot of good stuff, too. It sure beats anything we scrounged up from the junkyard. Enough ‘razzle-dazzle’ to pay for next week’s rent” Luke recanted, his excitement getting the better of him. Besides putting food on the table, Luke entertained what inventions could be made from their new loot.

“How about the next three months…?” Mac’s voice lowered. Realizing that Mac’s eye had caught something, Luke headed up front.

Through the trees was a Dryad who had left her tree to get a drink from the pond.

“Is that a-?” Luke started.

“Yeah. Another payday. Get the hedge trimmers, ‘egg-head’!” Mac handed the reins to Luke and jumped down from the carriage.

“If only I brought the salad dressing with m-” Chevy tripped and fell off the carriage.

“What’s the matter? You want her to hear you? Flat steps, now. Flat steps” Mac pulled him up by the ear.

“Okay, ow. Oopsie daisy” said Chevy with a dopey smirk.

“Pipe down. Luke, you stay with the carriage and be ready to scram in case he screws this up”

“Right-o” affirmed Luke.

With that, Mac and Chevy stalked the lone Dryad tree.

—–

Three weeks later…

In place of the previous sign that read ‘The Scrap Happy Tinker Boys’ was a new, still hand-written, sign that read ‘The Super Salesmen’s Monster Shop’. Right below it was the shop’s slogan: ‘-They got em’, and we get em’. And we get em’, cause you want em’.

In walked the first customer of the day…

—–

Author’s Note: I have several chapters of this story done. While it’s not complete, and will be nowhere near as big as Wormhole, I will be posting at least four more chapters each Friday. Stay tuned.

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