The sun shone brightly through cracks between tall buildings as a town car made its way through the city. It wasn’t a particularly noticeable vehicle. It was hardly the only gentleman’s wagon on the street, but it was clean and respectable with no scratches or blemishes. The body was waxed and polished until the green paint, dark enough to be almost black, shone with a respectable lustre. The man sitting in the back fit the car perfectly. The consummate gentleman, he wore a respectable suit with a plain, clean tie of modest design bearing the family colors; green for the eyes and red for the hair. He kept his dark, rusty brown hair long enough to toy with if the occasion called for it, but short enough to be manageable. Today it hung loose except for two braids over his forehead to match the braids of his moustache. A cane of dark rosewood lay on the seat next to him, and his gloved hands lay clasped in his lap. Today was a special day.
Months of planning and negotiations were coming to a head today. Jacob, the man in the car was nervous about the meeting. It was an uncomfortable feeling and one with which he wasn’t familiar. He’d been to many business meetings before, and each was the same as the next. But today was different. It felt like his first time. Butterflies churned in his stomach, his breath was short and small beads of perspiration broke on his forehead. For all that, he kept his features smooth. It wouldn’t do to show weakness today.
The town car stopped in front of a café on 7th Street. The street of the Gods, they called it, though nobody understood why. Stories abounded verifying some reason or other why the street deserved the name. In Jacob’s mind the street bore the name because of the attention the city’s industry captains lavished upon it. There were no businesses, in the pure sense of the word, on 7th. It was made up entirely of entertainments: restaurants, cafés, parks, sport halls and other establishments providing physical recreation. There was a minor temple in the middle of the street which all the captains blessed when they passed it, but that was just good business. It wouldn’t do to be seen not respecting the traditions, even if the gods themselves were no longer bound to humanity. Even so, Jacob whispered a quiet prayer as he entered the café.
Immediately upon entering Jacob was greeted by Lawrence Courney, the café’s owner. After exchanging pleasantries, Lawrence led Jacob to the back of the establishment. This was highly irregular. It was customary for captains to meet in the sunlight near the broad windows which decorated the front of every business along the street of the Gods. After all, there was an image to be maintained. Jacob would have been incredibly insulted had he not seen his associate already seated. Evidently, she had asked for privacy. That or Lawrence was retiring from the life business, but either way it was Alicia’s responsibility to deal with any perceived slight. Jacob eyed her as they walked to the table. Alicia was a pretty woman, not beautiful, but pleasantly attractive for a woman in her late forties with long honey colored hair and striking eyes. Her eyes were the first thing people noticed about her not because of their color, a dull green, but because of their intensity. One look at Alicia’s eyes and anybody worth their salt knew they were not dealing with an average woman, even for the nobility. She was clever and ruthless, and she reportedly took great pleasure in manipulating those who were supposed to be her betters. Jacob had avoided business with her for just such reasons, but in her line of work she was absolutely the best and he needed the best.
Arriving at the table, Jacob thanked Lawrence for his service and gave him a generous tip before seating himself and propping his cane on his leg. He and Alicia refrained from speaking until their cakes and coffee arrived. The server wouldn’t come back unless they called. This was why they had chosen the Café de Lune; the staff understood propriety. Once they had tested the coffee, perfect as always, and each taken a bite or two of cake the meeting officially began.
“So,” Alicia’s voice came out smooth and confident, “I understand you have a proposal for me.”
“Indeed Madame. I believe you understand the basic terms of the deal. Am I correct?”
“Yes, but I am told you want something special. Special orders always contain inconsistencies with the paperwork. I’d like to hear straight from your mouth exactly what you want.”
“Green eyes. I need green eyes to match the family, and she needs to be well bred.”
“Green eyes I have aplenty, but define for me ‘well bred.’”
“Oh, you know. Finest stock. First class. Proper training. All that.”
Alicia shook her head slightly and fixed Jacob with her intense gaze. “Maestro Goosebaum, I am a very busy woman, so I will only say this once. When I say I want to hear exactly what you want, I mean exactly. No games. No suppositions. I don’t know what your twisted little mind considers proper training. Do you want a musician? Bodyguard? Dancer? Lover? Daughter? All of the above? These things matter in selection. So I will ask you one more time, what exactly what do you want?”
Jacob felt the sweat bead on his forehead and his voice shook as he answered. “I want a female. Solidly muscled, but still able to properly wear a suit. She should have green eyes, as I stated, and a full head of hair. She should dislike onions. I want her to dance adequately, not well. She should have a menacing glare, but no combat training. She is to be an ornament, not a thug. She must be plain looking for a noble, but not so ugly as a peasant. I wish to pass her off as family, but not close family. She should not embarrass me, but neither need she impress. If you can fulfill these conditions I am willing to offer you one hundred and fifty thousand pounds.”
“Pounds of what?”
“I would not like to say out loud. I understood you read the proposal?”
“Oh I am aware of your documents, but as you well know writing is fluid. I want assurance. I need to hear it from your mouth with your word attached to it.”
Jacob gulped nervously. He had hoped he wouldn’t have to give such assurances. Not that he was a liar, even on paper, but still once a word was given it couldn’t be rescinded for anything. He had never given his in public. Too much chance of someone overhearing. Still, if she could provide, he would pay the price, but not without assurances of his own. “Very well Madame Bartlett. I will give my word, but before I do, I wish to hear from your mouth that you can provide what I need.”
“Ha. You wish a word from me in return? Do you take me for a fool? I will not be so easily manipulated, my dear, sweet man. I am sorry, but you must try harder than that.”
“I believe, Madame,” Jacob said stiffly, “that your cleverness is leading you to gold. Shiny and smart, but ultimately worthless.” Alicia recoiled at the insult. Good, that should teach her. “If you had listened carefully, you would have noted that I did not ask for your word. I simply wished an assurance from your own mouth.”
“Very, very clever Maestro Goosebaum. I see now why your family elected you Captain. Very well, you have my assurance. I tell you with my own mouth: I will provide for you exactly as you desire, and I will be held to the Laws of Confirmation in this matter.”
“Very good. Now then, I propose to offer you payment of one hundred thousand pounds of green plants and fifty thousand pounds of eatable meats, from animals of my own making. As assurance and sealant of this bargain I offer you my word: Barnyard. Is it acceptable?”
“A powerful word. You will have what you need Jacob.”
With that Jacob drained his coffee and left the Café de Lune, nodding to Lawrence as he passed. He stepped into his town car, and hoped he had made a wise choice. At the table, Alicia smiled.