Authors: L. Stewart Hearl
Copyright ©2009 by L. Stewart Hearl
First published in Spring, Texas, 2009
Hamilton Swoop, Wizard of Green Ridge
By L. Stewart Hearl
Published by L&L Dreamspell
Visit us on the web at www.lldreamspell.com
Copyright 2009 by L. Stewart Hearl
All Rights Reserved
Cover and Interior Design by L & L Dreamspell
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior written permission of the copyright holder, except for brief quotations used in a review.
This is a work of fiction, and is produced from the author's imagination. Any resemblance to real people is a coincidence. Places and things mentioned in this novel are used in a fictional manner.
Hamilton Swoop jerked awake at the sound of breaking glass. With one hand, he reached for his spectacles; with the other, for the club he kept by the bed. In the predawn light entering through a dirty window, he donned his tattered robe and headed down the stairs to his shop below. A moving shadow on the stairs caused him to freeze mere steps from the bottom.
he asked in his mind.
Who else? What's going on,
came a response from the darkness only Hamilton could hear.
Someone's tryin’ to break in. Out of my way!
The shadow disappeared. Hamilton crept down the remaining stairs. In the dim light, he saw an arm reaching through the shattered pane of glass in the front door to his shop. The arm twisted about attempting to find a way to unlock the door from the inside.
Hamilton raised his club and advanced toward the door. His plan to bash the offending arm came to an abrupt end when his shin contacted something hard in the darkness. He released the club, his arms flailing for support as he toppled forward. The club skittered across the floor and slammed into the base of the door with a bang. He managed to avert a fall when his hand grabbed the edge of a counter.
The arm withdrew from the hole. A blast of wintry air blew in from outside. Hamilton shivered, massaged his shin and then limped back up the stairs to his apartment.
Very graceful, Old Man
, said the calico cat, Whiskers. She jumped onto the bed and lay down next to Hamilton.
He rubbed his shin again. “We can't all see in the dark."
Sorry, I forgot. You okay?
Hamilton glanced up at the clock on his wall, squinting to see it in the near darkness. It read 11:32. “Wonderful. Power's still out.” He frowned and then picked up the little fish oil lamp from his bed side. Two spins on the spark wheel set the wick alight. He rose from the bed and went into the bathroom. In the flickering lamp-light a sixty-year-old face looked back at him from the mirror. For what seemed like the millionth time, he contemplated shaving off his beard. Instead, he trimmed an inch off the bottom, which still left six inches of somewhat ragged grey beard behind. A little cold water and his brush put his long, salt and pepper hair into a temporary semblance of order. Ten minutes later he finished dressing in black cotton pants and a grey tunic. Satisfied, he extinguished the lamp. More light now entered through his window.
He looked out across the town of Green Ridge. The day's previous snow fall had already turned to gray, but even gray snow was an improvement. The name Green Ridge was a joke of sorts. Even in the summer there wasn't much green, save for the scum that grew in the puddles in the streets.
For a few moments, he pondered his efforts of the previous day. Normally business was slow, but a rash of fires several blocks away had upped demand for his old chairs, tables, lamps, and such—the bread and butter of Swoop's Antiques and Curios. This required restocking his shop so he had attended an estate sale. In Green Ridge, estate sales consisted of emptying out the contents of run-down homes where the owners had either been murdered or had just disappeared. Few people ever died of old age in the neighborhood, although Hamilton at sixty was on his way to setting a record of sorts.
The sale he had attended was for the possessions belonging to Archibald McDuggins, the only locksmith in Green Ridge. He had disappeared four weeks earlier. Small talk at the local pub suggested he'd missed a few loan payments to the local shark, Mickey Strike. The police expressed no interest in pursuing the case.
Hamilton had arrived at the sale just after it began. Barnaby Floss, the auctioneer, didn't have the singsong of professional auctioneers, but even if he had, it would only have confused the bidders who attended. They were neither looking for investments nor art. There were only a half dozen bidders in attendance, drawn to bid on Archie's lock picks. Once the picks were gone, so were the bidders.
Hamilton bid on nothing until Barnaby finished. “I'll give ya a hun'ert and fifty for the rest."
"Make it two,” Barnaby grunted.
"How ‘bout a hun'ert an’ a quarter?"
Barnaby frowned. “Sold. The remainder of the Archibald lot for one hundred and fifty royals."
"Cripes, Ham. I gotta make something out of this."
"Hun'ert an’ a quarter."
Barnaby shook his head and winced. “A hundred and fifty—including delivery."
Hamilton peeled off the bills, all small ones, from a stack of rumpled currency. “Bring it round t'marra."
"OK.” Barnaby accepted the notes. Hamilton continued standing in front of the auctioneer. “I said we'll deliver the stuff tomorrow. What?"
Hamilton held out his hand, palm up. “Receipt."
Whiskers rubbed against Hamilton's leg and mewed. He reached down and scratched the old cat's head. Whiskers closed her eyes and purred.
How about some food?
"Patience, m’ cat. ‘S cold in here. I've gotta get me some heat on or I'll freeze me buckers off."
I'm not a customer, Old Man. You can top talking to me like you got your education from a retarded gorebat.
Whiskers padded out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen.
The kitchen was small, but adequate. Whiskers stood in the middle of the dining table basking in the weak shaft of light entering through the window.
Hamilton shook his head and opened a cabinet. “So what will it be today? Mouse, rat, pigeon?"
I think the mouse
He removed a can of Mouse Feast in Gravy from the shelf and opened it with a manual can opener. “You know, they'd better get the power back on soon. I can't run this shop in the dark much longer."
It's not so dark.
"It is if you're not a cat.” Hamilton dumped the can into Whiskers’ ceramic bowl on the floor by the refrigerator. The feline jumped down from the table and started eating. “How's the mouse?"
A little gamey.
She took another bite.
But it'll do.
After finishing a quarter of the food, the cat left the bowl and lay down on the mat in the corner.
Hamilton glared at the remaining food. “I thought you were hungry."
Whiskers closed her eyes and went back to sleep.
After attempting to heat some water over his little lamp, Hamilton made a cup of instant coffee. The water was tepid, but at least the coffee was warmer than the air. He glanced at the useless electric pot on the counter and frowned. Power had been a problem in Green Ridge ever since the big snow storm a week ago. The heavy snowfall snapped the main transmission lines from Central City. Since then, they had received an assurance from the electric board that the problem would be corrected within a day. That was three days ago.
He looked down at Whiskers and felt a twinge of envy for the cat's fur coat. Whiskers’ original owner, Thorn Brightman, had been the only wizard still living in Green Ridge. When Brightman died, well, maybe died was the wrong term. When he shifted planes, Whiskers had needed a care-giver. He listed Hamilton in the will as such, though he didn't know why. He'd never been a fan of the wizard or of keeping animals in general. The cat came with a stipend to minister its needs, and Hamilton didn't refuse. Even in Green Ridge, talking cats, or for that matter, any kind of talking animal was a rarity. But then he was the only one who could “hear” the cat. Why he was the only one that could talk to and hear the cat was something he chalked up to Brightman's magic. It helped that the wizard had also increased the cat's intelligence.
As he returned to the ground floor to judge the damage, the power came on and the three overhead lights lit. Hamilton nailed a board over the broken window left by the burglar and then surveyed his shop. There was quite a bit of empty floor space. He made the space larger by re-arranging some of the remaining furniture in preparation for the delivery he expected. At nine o'clock, he unlocked the front door and flipped the CLOSED sign to OPEN.
The bell over the door tinkled. A stranger, dressed in a dark hooded cloak, entered the shop. A waft of ice-cold air accompanied him.
"Kin ah help ya?” asked Hamilton.
Whiskers, who had been sitting on the counter top, looked at the man, leaped down and then raced up the stairs.
The hooded man glanced around the shop. “I'm looking for a trunk, something solid that will withstand a sea voyage.” The stranger's voice was a thin reed, with a slight hiss to it.
"Got jest what ya needs.” Hamilton directed the man to the rear of the shop. “These be the only two trunks I got. One's kinda rickety, but t'other's purty solid. Look fer yersef."
The man glanced at the trunks. Hamilton caught a glimpse of the stranger's face. It was a pasty yellow. Even the eyes had a jaundiced cast to them. A pencil-thin mustache did nothing to enhance the almost lipless mouth with the rest of the head hidden by the hood. The man's appearance sent a shiver up Hamilton's spine.
Without examining the trunks, the stranger shook his head and muttered, “No. No. Neither will do. Are you sure that these are the only trunks you have?"
"They be da only ones I got.” The man grunted and, without another word, turned his back on Hamilton and left. The little bell tinkled his departure.
"Good-bye ... and good riddance,” Hamilton growled at the closed door. He seldom let a customer leave his shop without buying something, but in this case he was glad the man was gone.
Floss's delivery wagon arrived around ten-thirty. Hamilton held the door open for Strongback, a monstrous man whom Hamilton knew from the pub, and Pigeon, Strongback's more diminutive partner. The two delivery men unloaded their cart in the center of the shop's floor. The process took half an hour. Then Strongback said, “That'll be ten royals."
"Fer what?” Hamilton asked. “Floss was s'posed to pay the delivery."
"He paid the delivery fee. This is the union surcharge fee, the receiver's fee. It's new."
"An’ what if ah won't pay?"
"Pack it up, Pigeon."
Pigeon began putting items back on the hand truck when Hamilton put his had on Pigeon's arm. “Wait. Ah din't say ah wouldn't pay, all ah said was ‘What if ah won't pay.’ M'be we could do a trade? Fer the fee?"
Strongback scratched his head and glanced about the shop. “Well, we're supposed to collect cash, ‘cause half of it goes to the union, but the missus has been on me to get a table. Not too big. Got any?"
Hamilton replied, “Only got two left after da rush last week. Over here.” He led the two delivery men to the side of the shop. Two tables sat by the wall. One was plain, but the other displayed pearl inlays in an irregular pattern.
"That one.” Strongback pointed to the inlaid table.
"Ah c'not do that fer ten. Look at the workmanship. Look at the inlays. It's got two drawers! Normal like, ah can no sell it fer less ‘n fifty, and even that'd be a bargain."
Strongback examined the table as Hamilton lit his lamp and moved it over the table. “Tis no cheap table here, Strongback. Owned by a rich man, y’ can tell."