Loot Mule – 1.7 – Whose Ales Whose 3/3

“Okay,” Jay-Dee piped up, once again sitting at the table with Ifri and Anna. “Maybe I was wrong about him. But we still need to work out remuneration.”

“He’s inexperienced and hungry for an opportunity,” replied Ifri, “I say we give him a decent rate, but nothing extravagant.”

“What’s the usual commission for a Looter?” Asked Anna.

“Twenty-percent of gross profit,” Ifri said, taking a small sip of her recently filled drink – courteously paid for by Anna, “But we can deliberately offer a lower estimate and he’d probably take it.”

Anna frowned and slumped back into her chair.

“Don’t start getting all morally righteous on us now, Anna,” Jay-Dee scolded.

“I apologise for not being a puckered asshole, like you,” Anna snapped back.

“Look,” Jay-Dee said, “We’ll offer him something ridiculously low, something that he would never accept, and then go up from there – until, we land on something that he is willing, and happy, to agree to. That way, we get a better deal and you get to sleep better at nights.”

“Whatever,” Anna replied, taking a long, hard drink from her tankard.

“Speaking of,” Ifri said, nodding her head towards the bar.

Walking towards them was Cooper, and for any who would know of him – or at least, seen of him in the tavern, would find themselves bemused at his sudden change of attitude. He was no longer sulking across the tavern floor in his usual manner, but instead, he stood upright and his face beamed with glee. It was an unfamiliar feeling for Cooper, and he felt a little self-conscious, but he enjoyed it regardless.

He glanced to each member of the group, and began to speak, awkwardly fumbling his words. He knew what he wanted to say but was unsure of where or who to speak it to.

“So, have you decided then?” Jay-Dee chimed in, releasing Cooper from his blight.

“Yes.” Cooper replied, “I’m in.”

A smile crept up on Jay-Dee’s face. “Good,” he said. “Now let’s talk money,” and out from his pouch, he pulled a parchment – which he unravelled across the table, laying it flat while placing an empty tankard on each corner to keep it from curling. Cooper quickly scanned the parchment and noticed that it was almost entirely scrawled with hastily written text, but before he had a chance to read it, Jay-Dee spoke.

“We’re willing to offer you five-percent of all total earnings,” he said, twirling a quill in his hand.

Without missing a beat, Cooper immediately replied with; “I believe twenty-percent is the going rate, is it not?”

There was a soft chuckle from Anna as Jay-Dee’s eyes narrowed on Cooper and his quill fell still in his hand.

“And where did you hear that from?” He asked.

“This is the only tavern on this side of the Apartheid District,” Cooper replied with a cornered smile, “and what Adventurer doesn’t love a good yarn in their local tavern? It’s as they say; a pint spills all to those with open ears.”

Jay-Dee drummed his fingers along the table while holding Cooper’s gaze and pondered. Cooper could feel his heart race, worried that he might’ve overplayed his hand. He looked to Anna and Ifri to gauge their reactions, but they kept to themselves – revealing nothing.

Jay-Dee finally broke the silence.

“Ten-percent. That’s the best we can do,” he said.

Then, from under the table, Cooper could hear a swift kick impacting Jay-Dee – its force shaking the table slightly.

“But,” he corrected himself, speaking through clenched teeth while glaring at Anna, who looked away in a nonchalant manner, “We can pay for your equipment and Guild license as well.”

“Deal,” Cooper blurted out with a hearty smile.

Cooper could feel the excitement coursing through his body and pooling in his head with a spin. He offered his hand to Jay-Dee, who he assumed to be offering the same, but instead, Jay-Dee slapped the quill into Cooper’s palm.

“Sign here, and here, and here – but not here, and only there if you’re allergic to honey balm,” Jay-Dee said, pointing to various points on the parchment.

“Honey balm?” Cooper asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I really like the smell,” Ifri replied in a soft, trance-like hum as she fell deep into reminiscent memories. “I also coat my arrows in it…” She continued, her smile growing into a menacing grin while her eyes widened with excitement, “It burns—really, really well.”

“Right…” Cooper said. He set the quill down, straightened his back and placed his hands on his hips with a heavy sigh. “Well, that’s that then. You know, I’m surprised you’d have a contract at hand,” he continued, waving at the parchment. “With such little notice, that is.”

“Actually,” Ifri said, “Anna managed to draft one up while you were gone.”

“Impressive.”

“Thank you,” Anna replied, and Cooper noticed her soft smile from under the shawl. He found himself fascinated with the depth of emotion she was able to convey through lips alone and he could not help but study her face, or what little he could make out, and he was unable to shake the feeling that maybe he had seen her once before. Not as she is now, shadowed and veiled, but fully formed – and he assumed her to be beautiful.

“If you’re done ogling,” interrupted Jay-Dee, “Anna, if you may?”

Anna pulled out a second rolled-up parchment from her cloak and set it on the table. Cooper immediately noticed its torn edges and water-stained surface. It had yellowed with age, crumbled with time. He could only hazard a guess at how old it was.

“This is our big game,” Anna said, tapping the parchment.

“Then keep it to yourself,” Cooper snapped back in hushed tones, “Look around you.”

It was then that Anna noticed the wandering eyes, and although there was a drunken glaze over merry members of the tavern – there remained a perceptiveness in the corner of their gaze. Always aware, their focus was never fully on the conversation at hand. They may be Adventurers, but they were hungry Adventurers, and they knew that any easy coin would be spilt by the full and voluble – all that they would need, was an open ear.

“What’s our plan?” Cooper asked as he watched Anna slowly sheath the parchment under her cloak again.

“We’ll meet tomorrow,” replied Jay-Dee. “First dawn. Rested or not, be ready.”

Cooper looked to the bar and saw Grendel trudging with multiple kegs on each shoulder – and felt assured that he was no longer needed, so he sat with the group, and they drank. They talked whimsy and nonsense to pass the time and to grow accustomed to their new member, before parting ways. And although the night for them was long and slow, with little to distract and nothing to occupy, their focus never meandered to the table behind them. For if it did, they may have noticed that sitting patiently, out of sight and out of mind, was Jagged Teeth – with an open ear.