The Middle Men Ch.2


—–

In walked a customer, but not a new customer. In fact, it was the same old wizard from weeks earlier. And this time, he was not there to ask for directions, but rather to acquire.

The three men were aroused from a nearly sound sleep in the back.

“A customer! You boys get the appetizers while I put the high pressure on him! Listen for my signal” Mac ordered as he whacked the other two awake and scurried out front.

Nothing woke up Mac faster in the morning than some fast talking salesmanship, or any potential trade for that matter. The other two men were a tad slower at waking up, but while Mac fraternized with the customer up front, Luke and Chevy shook the cobwebs out and loaded a small cart with some samples of their new products. When Mac whistled, they wheeled out the cart, armed with their ‘business’ smiles.

“So, what’ll it be, buddy? We got Dorome pebbles, Mothman powder, Holstaur milk, Arachne web, Dryad leaves, Werecat hair, Harpy feathers-”

“We sell everything but the girl, heh-heh!” Chevy quipped.

“And I beg your pardon, pal. But I’m afraid you’ll have to ignore the advertisement for our Pixie drops. Somebody forgot to cork the jug and it floated out the window. Can’t imagine the ‘iron-head’ that would have done it” Mac shot a quick, mean frown at Chevy. “But we’ve got plenty of other goods”

As for the Wizard, he hadn’t quite made up his mind yet on what he was looking for. After his last visit, he never expected to have to enter their shop again. But hearing of their newfound trades, he couldn’t help but come back. The magical properties of mamono were still an untapped potential that all conjurers and sorcerers jumped at the chance to acquire.

If not for the men’s constant babbling, he’d have an easier time making up his mind. Until Luke caught his attention.

“Here’s a favorite of mine” Luke reached into a jar with a glowing yellow mucus. He scooped up a drop on a rod and flicked it hard on the ground. Hitting the ground made the drop burst with a small explosion, followed by plenty of smoke. All the men flinched, except Luke. “Like it? My own invention: some Fairy dust mixed with Ignis spit”

Mac stomped over. “Didn’t I tell you not to pop off any experiments indoors? Besides, he doesn’t want any of that stuff” Mac scolded Luke with a stern finger in his face.

The old wizard stroked his bear. “How much is a jar?” inquired the wizard.

Mac seized the jar and spun around without so much as a breath. “Five silver coins” he grinned at the new merchandise.

“Very well” he replied and reached into his robes to pay.

As the old wizard walked out the door, he passed Manwell coming in to find the men clamoring in joy at their first sale of the day.

“Does this levity mean that you three have something for me?” Manwell announced himself to the ecstatic men with his ever-present business front.

Their excitement dropped fast upon seeing Manwell.

“Yeah, I’ve got something for you. Hey, you got any more of those ‘pop drops’?” Mac sneered as he nudged Luke.

“Well, I’d like to join the fun but I’m a busy man. So, I’ll take my payment and make my company with you brief, if you don’t mind” Manwell sneered back.

“A moment with you is like a week with a pack of hungry Werewolves” Mac continued to prod at Manwell.

“Except with less hair” Chevy added to the mockery. Mac and Luke had to chuckle back.

Manwell laughed sarcastically. “Ha ha, very funny. Come now, you can spare it. After all it doesn’t look like the city dump in here anymore” he glanced around the shop.

In the last week, the three men had done significant improvements to their shop. Their first order of business was putting the accoutrements found in the merchant’s cart to good use. Gone was the drab, surviving bits of furniture salvaged from the junk pile. The windows now had curtains, the walls were lined with new shelving, and proper tables with counters had been set up. And, for the first time in months, the floor had been swept. The next step was to remove the scraps and junk that had been for sale from the front and pile it into Luke’s workshop in the back. Luke didn’t mind since the front had to make way for jars, bags, and bundles of mamono material that could be purchased by all manner of magic users, as well as fashion fanatics or collectors.

A little change of business and a little money had gone a long way. From one kind of scrap to another, business was doing better. The boys could afford meat from the butcher rather than going trout fishing every evening.

“Certainly. We’ve got enough dough now, so you’re not making us sleep on the street” Chevy basked in front of Manwell.

Even though Manwell was impressed at how they improved their emporium beyond his expectations, he was still a business-minded stickler. “Is that so? Now that the place is fixed up, I could charge you higher rent” Manwell threatened with a cold glare.

“Urrrehh- can’t you take a joke? We’ll just have to make ends meet like we always do, heheh” Chevy giggled with a nervous smile as he shriveled away.

“Be grateful that I have such a wonderful sense of humor” Manwell said in his usual dry tone. “My payment, please”

“Alright, alright. Don’t tear your hair out over it” the undeterred Mac continued to hammer him.

“Wouldn’t want people to start thinking that you’re greedy” Luke murmured and reached into a pouch on his belt to count their rent money.

“Thank you. I’ll be by same time next week. Come find me if anything changes”

“Yeah, which rock do you live under, again?” Mac fired off one last dis for the road.

Manwell grunted and stomped out the door.

“Hey Luke, what’s that stuff you put in that concoction?” Mac asked.

“I think it was from something called an ‘Ignis'”

“Hold on. Where’d that stuff come from? We never came across anything called an Ignis” Chevy asked, his memory finally clicking in.

“I don’t know. There was a secret compartment in the carriage with a few bottles of this stuff in it. All I can say is that it must have been pretty toasty from wherever that merchant came from” shrugged Luke. His affinity for experiments left him unable to resist tampering with it.

“Oh…”. In a rare moment, Chevy started to think. “Say, why can’t we go beyond Telwood Forest like that fellow did?”

“You mean further South?” said Mac.

“Sure, why not? Then East, then West, then back up North. We’d be carrying so many goodies back with us that we’d be picking it out of our teeth”

“Wait a second. That’s a couple of days away. What happens if we need something back here? And if we go roaming around there for too long, there’s going to be plenty of monsters picking us out of their teeth” Luke interrupted Chevy’s mild brainstorm.

In an even more rare moment, Chevy thought for a second time. “Uhhh… I know! How about we take it all with us?”

“Oh, is that all? We just take all the tools and gear with us, huh? For crying out loud, we might as well take the whole shop with us at that point” Luke rolled his eyes at Chevy’s bone-headed idea.

Meanwhile, the quiet Mac was doing some thinking of his own. He could always recognize any time an sporadic epiphany popped out of Chevy’s daft head.

In all their years, the three men had not ventured much out of the expansive kingdom that they had been born in. With all manner of dangerous mamono lurking about in parts unknown, the prospects were less than inviting for men who never managed to develop many survival techniques beyond running away. However, for better or worse, money has a way of changing men’s priorities. And if people paid good money for mamono products from Telwood Forest, then they would no doubt pay even greater money for exotic mamono products beyond that. But going out alone to tussle with a menagerie of wild mamono, armed only with their wits and no Order knights to speak of? It sounded looney and foolhardy, but nothing ever comes easy in life, especially wagons stuffed with money. And they were just the schmucks to do it the job that nobody else wanted.

The only question now was how to get there and get back in one piece.

“Just a minute” Mac interjected. “What this idea needs is a little brain-power to polish it up, and I’m the brains of this posse. So come here” Mac huddled them together to hear his plan.

After a few minutes of deliberation, Chevy spoke. “Oh, you mean like the circus?”

“If that helps, then yes” Mac groaned.

“Gee, I love the circus”

“Right. If those merchants can do this kind of stuff, so can we”

“What a brain…” Luke sighed sarcastically.

“Listen, you want to goof around with other monster nik-naks, don’t you? Well, when we get back, you’ll have a whole buffet to choose from. Think of the possibilities…” Mac played on Luke’s curiosity to his advantage.

Luke thought to himself for a moment. He was afraid of mamono, but what an opportunity that would be.

“Well, when you put it like that…” he relented.

“Now you’re getting it. This is sure fire”

“‘Sure fire’? We already got that in the bottle” Chevy said, confused.

“Quiet, ‘pea-brain’. First thing’s first. How much cash we got left?”

“Uh, let’s see-” Luked gave a quick count of their finances. “Around fifty bits”

The gears in Mac’s head were rolling away. That should be enough cash for next week’s rent and enough eating money for all of them. If not, then Chevy would just have to go on a diet.

“Good. Old man Tim still has those two broken wagons, right?”

“Sure” replied Luke.

“Well, get over there and start pitching. Say it’s for charity or something, I don’t care. Just get them both”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going over to Buddy’s and convince him to hand over those four horses that he got saddled with by accident” Mac said as he snatched the pouch of money from Luke. He also slipped a club into his belt in case Buddy needed more ‘persuading’.

“Hang on, isn’t there some kind of book at Nancy’s store all about people’s encounters with monsters? If we’re really going to do this, we may need that” Luke suggested.

“Now that’s a swell idea. I’ll pick that up, too”

“Hey, what about me?” Chevy protested.

Both Luke and Mac turned to him. “Oh you. Uhm…” Mac began thinking.

“Why doesn’t he check out what stuff was left in the abandoned windmill?” Luke suggested. The windmill was a small, run down eyesore that was left outside of town to rot after the bigger windmill was built. Nobody could be bothered to tear it down as it would be stupid and pointless to do so.

“Good thinking. He’ll love it. In fact, he can just bring the whole thing here” Mac agreed.

“Goodie. I get to- Wait a minute, wait a minute! You want me to bring that whole thing here? All by myself?” Chevy retorted to which they both nodded. “How!?”

“In pieces, you ‘knucklehead’. In pieces” Mac sneered, getting annoyed.

“Oh, that’s different then” Chevy was suckered. He was a natural when it came to wrecking things, so no one was more qualified.

“While you’re at it, bring back all of that lumber piled up behind it” Luke added, as another idea ran through his head. With what they had planned, they would need plenty of lumber.

“Yeah. Now get to work boys! Tomorrow, we begin operation ‘Monster Raid'” Mac announced and put his hand out. The other two placed their hand on top of his in mutual group spirit.

Then they all raced out the door toward their chores.

—–

Two days later…

Rolling its way through Telwood Forest was what might be called a homemade “wagon-train”. Comprising this train was two shabbily patched up wagons with a makeshift cabin-on-wheels rounding up the rear, much like a caboose. Leading up front was the merchant’s covered carriage, which acted as a pilot as it commanded the team of six horses; four that Mac had conned a drunken Buddy into handing over and two that they acquired when they took the merchant’s wagon.

The first wagon housed a stockpile of tools and equipment. Whether it be digging tools, armor scraps, or an un-washed frying pan, nothing was left behind if it could fit. In truth, when it came to ransacking unsuspecting mamono out of their ‘assets’, the men had only thought about the profits to be had at the end, not so much the process. So why not bring everything and the kitchen sink?

‘Make it up as we go along’ Mac had told them.

The second wagon was a laboratory. Nowhere near as expansive or clean a laboratory as a true wizard would be accustomed to, in as much as for this group, being in a pigsty would feel at home. A large board was suspended from ropes in the middle of the wagon with countless beakers and various tinker toys surrounding it on shelves. For now, all of it would have to wait until the ever-eager Luke had proper materials to experiment with.

The last wagon, the makeshift cabin, was filled with all manner of storage items. Bottles, jars, boxes, cabinets, and drawers had been prepared to store anything that the three men could lay their hands on, hook or crook. In addition, the back wall of the cabin opened like a door with a display setup ready to go; complete with a sign reading “Super Salesmen Monster Express”. Just in case they had the opportunity to make a sale while on the road.

However, so much thought was put into storage that they had failed to consider space to fit three cots to sleep on. Therefore, they had would have to get used to some impromptu ‘beds’ formed out of their cargo. The stove, a cabinet, an empty box, whatever.

Chevy sat up front, behind Mac who drove.

“I told you this baby would take to the road like a duck takes to water” Mac gloated about their wagon-train riding good down the road. Though the wagon-train sounded much more akin to ‘creaking’ down the road. Not that Mac could be bothered.

“Water? Say, are we going to sail across the ocean in this?” Chevy asked in between his incessant chuckling.

“Oh behave, you ‘peg-brain'” frowned Mac.

“Should’ve brought my swimsuit” Chevy muttered in excitement.

Meanwhile, Luke climbed up to the pilot carriage, having just done a quick inspection of their wagon-train and its rushed ‘field test’.

“So far so good” Luke shrugged but was confident enough in their invention. “Anyway, where are we off to first?”

“Beyond Telwood Forest. After that, it’s whatever comes up first” Mac nodded.

“Just think of all the monster materials we’ll find out there. We’re going to have all kinds of ingredients to make gizmos out of” Luke rubbed his hands in anticipation. The prospect of experimenting with mamono materials in his shop for hours on end was something Luke had always wanted to do. And he had plenty of imagination to work with already.

“You think about that, and I’ll think about all of the money that this stuff’s going to fetch for us in the end. We can finally hire us a cook” Mac daydreamed out loud. Mac also considered a maid or cleaning lady. Mac always dreamed about living the high life, but it was impossibly out of his reach. So in his mind, this was the next best thing. It was true that the men formed their own ‘Anti-Women Union’, but if it meant having to work less, then it was good enough for Mac.

“And if that doesn’t work, we could always start up our own circus” Chevy cackled. The idea of being an entertainer always appealed to Chevy’s child-like tastes. Even the countless boos from the audience he got in his teenage years on the stage was not enough to deter him.

“Yeah, and you’ll be the gorilla. Now go get me the telescope” Mac ordered.

“Aye-aye, captain!” Chevy signed with a sailor’s salute to his head and shimmied off.

Nevertheless, if the mamono were hidden out there somewhere, then they’d just have to find them. If they found mamono, then they would plunder them for some samples. If the sample wouldn’t fit in a jar, then they’d just get a bigger jar. It made sense to the three of them. They had the mamono encounters book with them, and if things took a turn for the worse, all they had to do was use their wits. Or just turn and amscray.

What could go wrong?

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