© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Two: The Grab and Snatch
Barney felt that weird sensation, again, and was almost certain someone was following him, that someone had been watching him all day. He felt it, but had not seen a single clue that any of this weirdness was true, just shades of Hank. Oh, he knew about weirdness, he was a believer, but as surreptitiously as he glanced over his shoulder, or watched the reflections in windows as he passed, he could not catch a single flicker of a person standing out that seemed to be watching him. Nobody suddenly turned their attention to the marketplace to begin studying a scarf, or a Smurf piggybank. For the most part, Barney Taggart was not a paranoid type of guy, they all left that stuff to Hank, because Hank was the guy that thought the Martians were watching them—that’s what he sometimes called the hidden They, the Martians, or sometimes the Men from Mars.
Yeah, Hank was the living Looney Tunes of the group, and for the most part, Barney was fine with that arrangement. So it was pretty bizarre that he kept looking over his shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of the unseen watcher. He knew someone was tailing him, which made him feel even a little more guilty than paranoid, because he was not supposed to be working his deals on the side, doing a little marketing of his own, but he had found this wicked cool dagger on the other side, it was a very different piece than most of the rough weaponry—it was special, and gleaming—and today Barney was meeting a someone that liked wicked cool weaponry. And he had the extra hot piece of merchandise tucked into his pants—hot not because it was stolen, but hot because it was not supposed to exist. And Hank believed that such things could get them all, well, busted.
Barney had found the piece on a dead guy. It was strange, but the guy didn’t seem to be rotting like the Vikings. This guy was a Viking, sure, but some strange wizard type Viking, with a long staff that had been broken across his chest. Barney had found several gold coins, which he tucked neatly away and then promptly...forgot about, and then he had found the long, skinny knife. It was really cool. And Barney had kept it to himself, even when he saw it glow in the dark. He had thought about prying the gem out of its silver twining, because the gem was almost cooler than the dagger itself. Awesome gem, but Barney figured it was worth more intact, like he found it.
Barney figured he could get as much as three thousand AmeriEuros for the dagger, and that made any paranoid fears of watchers, well—worth it; and well worth it. He might come down to two thousand, maybe 1.5K, but whatever, the sale would be suh-weet. Barney had a big muscle car, his baby, and Baby required extra funds, just every now and then, because most of the world had gone green, and Baby was bright candy-apple red, and nobody, absolutely nobody, appreciated Barney’s hot foot and extra loud glasspack mufflers. The Greenies didn’t much like or appreciate outliers like Bernard Taggart, they thought him a loud fool from another age, if not a whole other world. But Barney would show them all a whole other world, yes he would, they’d all see.
The thought of a whole other world made Barney grin. Because he...knew, and none of these sheep milling in the marketplace had the slightest clue.
Barney paused before a stack of the little green guys, the Smurfs, they were really big right now (get it, such little guys were big, as in popular?). And Barney hated to admit it, but he kind of liked the shiny toys. He should buy one of the toys and bring it back to Hank, and whisper: “You were right, one of them was following me, so I brought him back!” And he’d whip out the little green elf. It would be a great joke, get it? Little green men? Little green Smurfs?
But that would just get the guys going again about how really, you know, Smurfs were supposed to be blue, that all of them had distinct memories of blue Smurfs, not these green ones. And but, oooh, how Earth-shaking, the System had changed the color of cartoon characters, good one, yeah, yeah, proof, right. And nobody but their guys seemed to notice. What kind of proof was that?
The System. The Abyss. Them. The Men from Mars.
Idiots, he was surrounded by idiots, everywhere.
He could almost imagine Fred’s face, that scrawny, shrunken, yellowed face—everyone knew that Fred was sick, but the guy refused to discuss it with them—and yet he was the guy that was always trying to keep Barney on the straight and narrow, looking at him with those eyes, those deep, sensitive eyes. He’d put his arm about Barney and whisper, “Come on, Barn, you know what’s right. Do the right thing, Barn.”
Stupid Frederic, he was the worst of the Viking Simulation Society. Correction, the Red Door Society, or whatever the hell the idiots were calling it now, like they were hiding the Holy Grail from the Evil Them. He hated that, Rood Der, the way they cherished the place, and nurtured it, and cared for it—as if it were the thing that made them all somehow...special. As far as Barney was concerned, they should have told the whole world, on Day One. Now that would have made them all special. Damn straight.
Barney did not have much use for that place on the other side of the Red Door in Hank’s basement. It was just a means to an end—an end in this world. Frankly, that place gave him the creeps. It just didn’t feel right. And they didn’t either, nope, the guys didn’t feel right, not anymore. No, it was time for Barney to head out to new horizons, in the real world, and meet up with some new people.
This world, right here, was all fine and right with Barney. This was the place. What was on the other side of the Red Door, hell, that just opened up the very distant horizons over here, that’s all it was. The End. Period. Now burn the Post-it note.
He was approaching the sword guy, the one with all the crafty weapons and supplies, most of it looked handmade, and a lot was paper mâché for the cosplay crowd, and plastic stuff, heavy wooden stuff for the Medieval reenactment guys, and the D&D role-players. But there were also some really very cool weapons, as well, functional stuff perfect for whacking people. The owner of this stall wasn’t the guy, not Barney’s guy, but this guy knew a guy that knew Barney’s guy, and they were all of them attempting to keep it as clandestine as possible—Hank would approve of all the cloak-and-dagger measures, if not for Barney selling stuff he found from that other place, all on his lonesome. What Hank didn’t know, hell, you knew the rest of that one. Hank didn’t, of course, but that was the point. Heck, Barney was just trying to protect the guy, all of them, after all. Barney was doing the right thing, Barney was good, all the time. All the time, Barney was good.
Kudos for Barney, yay!
Buck, the weapons guy—his stall was called Weaponry of Another World (Barney loved the irony)—saw Barney, and nodded his head. Barney nodded back. Buck frowned, and did an exaggerated head-jerk to the right. Barney frowned—what was that about, a signal? So he did responded in kind, mimicking the head-jerk, as if it were all some kind of code.
Buck sighed theatrically, and looked at the ground, and then looked back up and gave Barney the finger, of all things. Finally, he savagely pointed to the right.
Barney looked where Buck was pointing. A young girl was standing in the mouth of an alley, just a few stalls away, and she must be the whom that Buck was pointing at, because the girl waved and then immediately turned about and vanished into the alley. Barney looked back at Buck, who had turned away, and Barney almost approached the weapons guy to ask him if he was meant to follow that girl up the alley, but then he reconsidered, as they were all trying to keep this transaction as down low as possible. Maybe he should just follow the girl, and if that was a dead-end, he’d come back and read Buck the riot act.
Buck was an okay kind of guy. He had even purchased a few of the wooden Viking shields, investing a pretty penny. Yeah, Buck was okay, not too bright, but really, A-okay. Still, Barney would get the guy for giving him the finger. He patted his pants pocket, nodding. Yessiree, Barney gots the powah.
Barney casually strolled away from the weapons booth and did his best to look interested in all the stuff in the various booths, head shop stuff, lingerie offerings, model race cars, black velvet paintings, until he was close enough to the alley to duck in, which he did, and caught a glimpse of the girl just then ducking into a door halfway down the alley. This was the seediest part of town, and this was a fairly nasty alley, but Barney knew that a man had to do what a man had to do, so he dog-trotted as quickly as possible, his gut quivering beneath his t-shirt. He had to be careful, because the dagger was poking him painfully in both his thigh and his belly, even though the deadly sharp weapon was sheathed in its battered leather scabbard.
Barney glanced both ways up and down the alley when he reached the battered door. It all looked good, coast being clear, and all that, so he tried the door. It was locked. He rapped his knuckles on the steel security door. He noticed that there was a shape scratched into the door, a circle with a big loop about it—like a child’s drawing of the Planet Saturn. Was it some sloppy gang sign?
He heard a window scrape loudly open on the second story above him, and glancing up he saw a pair of hands extended from the window, open and braced for catching.
“Throw it up!” a woman’s voice called down, keeping it quiet.
“I’m not throwing it up, what, do you think I’m crazy!” Barney yelled.
“Shhhhh!” the voice exclaimed in the universal shush for silence. It was quite commanding, even for a sibilant utterance.
“What!” Barney yelled up.
He heard the person up there sigh as the hands withdrew from the window. Barney thought he heard several different voices muttering up there, and then the window scraped loudly closed. Amateurs, everyone was amateurs, Barney huffed. Maybe he should just leave. Ronald was the guy that was good at these kinds of negotiations and silent sells, but Barney didn’t want to cut in anyone on the deal, it was his find, after all.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Hank demanded that everything should be pooled, and shared, divided equally among them, but what did Hank know? He wasn’t the boss. No one had elected him their fearless leader. This was free enterprise, and Capitalism would save them, Ayn said so, and Hank was being like the looters, demanding some imagined equality, when hey, to the daring goes the spoils, right? Barney felt that Ayn would approve.
Still, Ron, their engineer—and scuba diver, to boot—was going to make a dive, soon, on one of the sunken Viking boats out in the river. They had gotten a whole chest of gold off the beached one, and there was absolutely no telling what they would find in the sunken one, and Ron figured there might even be older sunken ships in the area. And the truth was, despite Ron taking most of the dangerous chances (there were scorpions along the river, some of them as big as pitbulls, and who knew what kind of carnivorous fish dwelt just below the surface?), Barney was perfectly fine with an equal split of the loot, because, that seemed only fair. And if Ron snuck off with some of the best treasure? There was absolutely no way Ayn would approve of that. That would be like the looters, right?
It all made sense to Barney. It always made sense to Barney.
The door swung open just a fraction. Barney could see the glimmer of an angry eye peering out at him, studying him. Nobody spoke. Barney stood in silence. He began tapping his foot. Finally, he sighed, loudly.
“The thing,” Barney said, speaking too fast, babbling, “I’ve got the thing, I talked to the guy, out there, that guy at the stall, he said he knew a guy, and that’s who I’m here, about this thing, to see, you know, but see, but see I need to see the guy.”
“You Barney Fife?” a gruff voice demanded.
“Huh? No, I’m Barney Taggart. I’m supposed to meet a guy—about a thing.”
“Your thing is going to get you in a lot of trouble, Bernard,” the gruff voice said, and it seemed almost, well, kind of...threatening. Barney had followed a girl into this alley, and to this door, and this eyeball was not that of a girl, nor was the gruff voice. There had been a woman’s voice above, so there was a real collection of people on the other side of this door.
“Hey look, it’s my thing,” Barney said. “I found it. I own it. I can sell it if I want to, it’s mine.”
“Show it to me,” the gruff voice demanded.
Barney glanced uneasily up and down the alley. They were still alone, there were people passing across either side of the alley, but Barney was the only person standing in the alley, and the eye looking at him seemed to be the only other person in the vicinity. But there was that girl, and it had sounded like many voices up above, so Barney had to keep his wits about him. He knew he was starting to think like Hank, but it seemed that he was surrounded, by...Them.
He almost ran, right then, Barney did, because this was all starting to feel like one of those shows where the pedophile shows up expecting some insanely illegal nookie, and instead gets faced down by a grim-faced newsguy, and then a few moments later tackled by a bunch of cops. What would Hank think about that? Still, the dagger was his.
He made his decision. He reached into his pants, and almost swaggeringly drew out the eighteen-inch weapon (yes, he had measured it, a full eighteen inches from the jewel at the end of the handle, or whatever you called it, to the very pointy tip). The handle was six inches long, and the blade a wicked twelve inches, perfect for sticking a pig just prior to the potluck meal! Can I get an amen? It was sharp, and both the blade and the jewel at the far end glowed in the dark. The sheath was a little nasty, splattered with what looked like old, dried blood, black and filthy. But the dagger itself looked like it had just rolled out of a massive gumball machine, really purty, mm-hmmm, as purty as a mother-of-pearl tiara on the gorgeous head of a princess, that’s what I’m talking about!
“Very nice,” the gruff voice said.
That was it? Very nice? Barney glared at the eye.
“This thing is magical, that’s what it is,” Barney said. “It glows in the dark.”
“You do realize that in the real world gems do not glow in the dark—they reflect light, reflections only, and steel does not glow,” the gruff voice snapped.
“Yeah, maybe, in the...real world,” Barney shot back. Maybe he would just take his magic dagger and head back home, that would show them! Maybe Barney did not wish to play anymore.
“So does it have batteries in the handle?” the gruff voice enquired, sounding a little more...interested.
“No, I’m telling you, this thing is real, like authentic!” Barney said, pulling the dagger halfway from its sheath.
“If that were actually a real magical dirk,” the gruff voice said, taking on new, dangerous overtones. “You might find yourself dead, in the middle of some alley. Your dead body would be found by some child perhaps, minus the magic dirk, of course.”
Barney went cold, but his face flushed bright red. His hands began to shake, and he pointed the dagger at the gruff eyeball.
“Hey, I am a businessman, but I’m not stupid. I am armed,” Barney bellowed, taking several steps backward, putting himself out in the middle of the alley. He was sweating now, like crazy.
The gruff voice sighed. The eyeball closed, for just a moment, vanishing, and then reappeared in a twinkle.
“I can see that you are armed,” the gruff voice said. “You are, after all, waving your magic dirk like a toy lightsaber!”
“I don’t mean the dagger,” Barney blustered, slapping at his loose slacks pocket. “I have a gun, I always carry a gun...to these...things.”
Actually, Barney had just obtained the little gun, just last week, at a gun show, for one hundred dollars, American dollars, so it wasn’t the biggest investment. But he still hadn’t gotten bullets for the thing, and didn’t even know what kind of bullets it took. If he took the thing into a gun store, they might ask questions, or expect to see some paperwork, so Barney hadn’t figured out the whole thing yet, but still, it made him feel good to be packing this heavy piece of heat, oh yeah, Mama. You doan be messin’ wid da Barn, no way, no how, nuh-huh!
“If you have a concealed weapon, perhaps it is best not to mention the concealed weapon,” the gruff voice said, and Barney had a sneaking suspicion that whoever was standing on the other side of this door, might be laughing at him.
“I have a pistol in my pocket,” Barney said, lowering his voice, glaring at the eye. Who did this guy think he was? He was actually messing with Barney?
“And here I thought you were just very happy to meet me,” the gruff voice said, and now Barney was certain the guy was laughing at him!
“Look, do you want to buy it, or what?” Barney said, beginning to push the dagger back into his pants.
“How much do you think such an artefact is worth?” the gruff voice enquired.
“Five thousand AmeriEuros,” Barney snapped, hardly realizing that he had almost doubled his asking price. He was a good negotiator, he reflected, basking in the warmth of his razor-sharp haggling instincts. Yes, ask for 5K and then come down to 3K, that was the way you did it. He think he might have learned that from the Pawn Shop Killers reality show, or somewhere, maybe it had read about it, in a magazine, or something.
“I have a paper bag, it is sitting on the other side of this door, on the floor. It is a rather large paper bag, intended for groceries. Granted, a plastic bag might facilitate the transaction better, but the paper is opaque, and will not raise questions.”
There was a long beat of silence. The eye stared at Barney. Barney stared at the eye.
“Yeah, so? You have a paper bag, congratulations,” Barney snipped, growing angry again.
“Would you like to know what is in the paper bag?” the gruff voice asked, pleasantly.
Yes, Barney would indeed like to know what was in the paper bag. He felt a thrill run up and down his spine, his belly gurgling with pleasure.
“Yeah, so, like, you know, um, what’s in the bag?” he said, keeping the big smile off his face. He had these suckers, he really did, it was unbelievable, how easy this all was! And he might be having a heart attack—the money was almost in his sweaty hands! He didn’t need Ronald or Rodney, no way, he could do this better all by himself.
“The paper bag contains twelve thousand five hundred dollars, American dollars, and twelve thousand five hundred AmeriEuros. I will push the bag through the door to you, with my foot. Then I will close the door, allowing you up to five minutes to count the amount. After the five minutes, I will again open the door and you will either push the bag back through the doorway, contents intact, or you will hand me the artefact, pommel first. Ensure that the artefact is fully closed, in its scabbard, with absolutely no metal showing. Do you understand these directions?”
Barney gulped. He understood.
“Yes,” he wheezed, hardly able to speak. His whole throat seemed locked up, and swollen.
“If you make your decision prior to the expiration of the five minutes, knock on the door, three short raps, and we shall conclude the transaction as previously detailed. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Barney wheezed, placing his hands upon his knees, gasping for air.
The eye disappeared and the door swung inward a few inches. Then a big paper bag, as advertised, came scooting out, pushed by a foot. Barney saw only the flash of very dark blue pants, and a black-and-brown old-school wingtip shoe, and then the door closed again. The bag was sitting there. It looked to be bulging with goodies.
Barney swallowed, hard, and took little mincing steps toward the bag, still bent over, his hands upon his knees. It looked, oh, such a lovely bag, the kind of thing that Little Red Riding Hood would carry to Grandmother’s house, it looked so plump and full of goodies. He reached, with a tentative hand—one hand only because he had to keep the other on his knee, elsewise he would fall forward, face first into the metal door—and he gingerly unfolded the top of the bag, and pulled an edge of the paper toward him.
Oh yes, it was all true, it was wonderful, the bag was packed full of the rainbow bills in neat stacks, bound by bright red rubber bands, and it was all so beautiful that Barney almost broke into tears. He stared at the money. Was anything ever so lovely? Dare he reach out, and...touch?
Oh yes, but yes, he certainly would. Breathing hard, raggedly, he snatched up a packet of the rainbow bills, and riffled it with his thumb. No sign of newspaper—he had seen that trick many times in many movies, and Barney was so much smarter. Oh, but it felt good in his hand, so right. All this money, all this power. He squeezed it. It felt...good. Yes, this was him, a Master of Industry, a Captain of his Own Destiny.
He reached down through the contents, luxuriating in the feel of all that stiffness, and at the bottom he snatched a stack of paper that felt decidedly different, and peeking—careful, careful, he did not wish to rip the lovely paper that contained this lovely treasure—he confirmed that it was a very fat stack of greenbacks, not quite as lovely as its rainbow cousin, but still, he nearly swooned.
Life was good. This world was good. And Barney was good.
The door whooshed inward and several pairs of hands seized Barney all about the neck and arms and jerked him forward, into the darkness. The door slammed behind with a bang, the sudden vacuum of empty space causing the paper bag to flutter in the breeze.
The paper bag sat plump and full, near the door. After a few moments, the door parted again, and a hand snaked out, seized the paper sack, and whisked it inside, making it disappear almost as neatly as Barney had vanished only a second or two before.
From somewhere down the alley, a little girl giggled.
© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der.
Rood Der — Episode Two: The Grab and Snatch
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© Copyright 2017 Douglas Christian Larsen. Rood Der. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).
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