Monday, October 28, 2013

A Gross Oversimplification of Monetary Theory Through Hypothetical Monetary Systems

Monetary theory: everyone’s favorite dinner topic? Probably not. Monetary theory can seem complicated to a non-economist, and even when it is understood by parties over dinner, it is likely to fall into the two most forbidden categories of conversation: religion and politics. I realize writing this that I am probably a terrible dinner party guest, an incorrigible lunch time acquaintance, and a downright nuisance at family functions, because religion and politics is the only thing I really prefer to talk about. Well, from my perspective it’s philosophy and truth, and I consider politics merely the game of sociopaths and the morally contemptible, but we have not the time for such digressions; it’s time to jump into some monetary theory.
The truth is most people would benefit greatly from a deeper understanding of what money is, how it works, who controls it, and what outcomes monetary policy has on their daily lives. They might be more willing to change the way they spend and invest, how they feel about political spending, or more willing to see politicians as the slimy, corrupt, evil psychopathic busybodies most of them are. I’m going to do my best to shy away from often-used and more often misunderstood concepts like “inflation,” “deflation,” and “gold standard.” and instead talk about the kind of things that happen, or may happen, under different sorts of money systems.

What is money?

Above is a very straightforward video explaining what money is, and also giving a few criticism of the current American model. I’ll use a much simpler definition to speed things along, but if you have the time, it’s worth the watch, as well as Shane’s Bogosity series.
Money, quite simply, is anything that is used as an intermediary of exchange instead of direct barter. It is the middleman between production of one good or service, and consumption of another. It allows finer and more graduated division of labor, which increases efficiency across an entire economy. Without money, you would have to trade your services directly for other services, limiting your ability to provide services only to those who had a service you desired, and vice versa. If you were a basket maker, you could only get your plumbing fixed by a plumber who wanted baskets, or you would have to invest time and energy learning the skill yourself. With a system of currency, you can sell your baskets to whoever wants them in exchange for money, then use that money on whatever you need, either that day or later on.
This allows a lot more division of labor, especially as markets become broader. You can specialize in something very niche, like writing gay erotica or making pants out of hemp, and not worry about whether or not the owner of the corner store wants to trade you milk and bread for your novels or pants.
Contrary to common belief, money is not the root of all evil. It’s just a medium of exchange. It could be anything, as long as it is commonly accepted in trade, though different things can make better or worse money. Currency can be a commodity with its own value alternative value (like gold), a series of hashes, like a bitcoin, or be printed on paper. It’s nothing magical, and it’s nothing desirable for itself. It’s not wealth; wealth is things, not money. Money is only useful in helping you turn your specialized production into the many diverse goods and services (wealth) that you need and use.

So now, let’s take some time and run through a few different types of monetary systems, and see what we can expect from an economy using them. In the examples that follow we will take a few things for granted:

Divisibility- How divisible the money is, meaning how finely we can chop up the individual units and still find the medium useful, is important when currency becomes very valuable. With certain modern commodities, such as gold, lack of divisibility can make the currency unusable by those who are conducting transactions below the divisibility threshold (the point at which the currency can no long be divided). We will assume either infinite or near infinite divisibility of the money.

Counterfeiting- We will assume that counterfeiting is not present in sufficient enough quantity to make an impact.

Banking systems- We will assume a free banking system, capable of making high-risk and low-risk loans, using either full or partial reserve according to market demands.

Condition 1: Static Money Supply

In a static money supply, the total quantity of money, whether divisible or not, is fixed. This means that no new money can enter the marketplace, and zero growth of the money supply occurs relative to all other factors. With this condition, we can expect the following things:

Money increases in value relative to goods and services- this is because the amount of “stuff” available grows over time, the amount of producers providing services grows over time (typically), and the demand for goods and services typically increases over time. There is less money per person, or per unit of demand, and so money is more valuable relative to everything else.

Prices generally fall- The inverse to the above, the prices of goods and services fall over time due to increased and additive production of goods (the quantity of cars or working TVs, for example), as well as because economies over time become more efficient at producing goods and services. Capital improvements such as mechanization cause the production per capita to increase and thus further drive down prices.

Interest rates vary- Interest rates are variable between a negative amount (for full reserve banking, which is viable in a static currency situation) and a high amount depending on risk. Since money increases in value over time, it may be worth it to a person to pay a bank to keep their money secure (a negative interest rate) in a full reserve bank, secure that its buying power will be stable even if they end with less money than they put in.  They may accept very low interest rates for partial reserve systems, or take risks for higher interest rates in capital investments and bank-proctored loans.

Banking- Banks generally serve consumer demands, since people can avoid the banking system entirely with no loss of value in their money.

Is this kind of money possible?- Yes. It could technically be possible in a fiat system, though highly unlikely given political machinations, and is the end state of bitcoin’s (a type of electronic crypto-currency) “soft cap.”

Condition 2: Precious Metal Money.

There are several advantages to the use of precious metals such as gold and silver as money. First, the money has value besides being currency, meaning its value is more secure than fiat currency. If the value of the money as currency falls below its industrial usefulness, the money will be melted down and used, thus stopping the devaluation. Second, the cost of extracting the metal from the earth will keep a check on the amount of money introduced into the economy. If it costs more to mine gold than what you can get out of it in the market, it won’t be mined. With this condition, we can expect the following things:

The value of money fluctuates, but is stable over the long term- Due to the supply checks listed above, the value of money relative to other things will rise and fall according to the supply, but in the long term, say over several years, the value of money will be consistent and stable, if not increasing slightly over time.

Prices fluctuate, but remain stable over the long term- The inverse of the above, prices will generally stay stable. Producers of currency (miners, in this case), are motivated to create more money when there is high demand for it from growing consumer bases, or the price of goods falls due to efficiency, giving the money new buying power.

Interest rates- Interest rates are generally low to high; generally higher than a static system. There may be some full reserve systems due to the easy theft of money metal, but because prices are stable, consumers may be just as inclined to put their money into high-reserve or low risk investments over the short term. Investments require even payout or slightly more to be worthwhile, causing interest rates to be slightly higher than in the static system, but still variable according to risk.

Banking- Banking is a more attractive option under a metal standard, partially because of security concerns, but mainly for the divisibility factor. Since physical gold cannot be divided enough to be used on small-cost goods such as food or drink (think about trying to buy a soda with 1/1000 of an ounce of gold), a mixed system would likely emerge, consisting of some physical gold with a majority of currency being issued as bank-backed notes. The banking system would, therefore, be more present than in a static system.

Is this kind of money possible? Yes. This was the preferred standard for economic trade for thousands of years. Unfortunately, once the government took over the money trade during the 20th century, making it illegal for banks to print gold notes, the system’s demise through mismanagement was inevitable.

Condition 3: Monetarist System.

In this proposed system advocated by the great economist Milton Friedman as an alternative to the actions of the Federal Reserve, the growth of money would be regulated centrally, and be at a predictable rate each year, say 3%. This system presupposes either a fiat currency, or total control over a commodity system. The point is to produce a high degree of market confidence in the predictability of the money supply, solving the fluctuation problems associated with a metal standard, and having the additional advantage of providing alternate utility to the economy the resources that would be invested in digging metal out of the earth. Under this condition we can expect the following things:

The value of money is highly stable relative to other things- ideally the rate of growth would be pegged in such a way to the money supply at an equilibrium with growing demand, thus making the value of money stable even over long periods. However, even if the rate is off, and the value of money increases or decreases, it will be by a fixed, predictable amount.

Prices remain very stable over the short and long term- Since the money supply is growing, and not fluctuating, it will off-set the lowering of prices due to increased efficiency and supply, making items like candy bars cost the same years apart. Some argue this has “consumer confidence” benefits, allowing people to predict revenue streams better.

Interest rates are moderate to high- Because the money supply grows over time, and the price of goods remains stable, investors must receive a better than even return on their money. Usually, the lowest interest rates, for the safest investments, will be slightly more than the pegged rate of monetary growth.

Banking- Banking will seem very attractive to savers and investors under the monetarist system. Since the value of money stays the same or goes down over time, full reserve systems will be rare or non-existent. Partial reserve systems with a high reserve rate will seem most attractive for short-term savings. Savers are motivated to “put their money to work” with investments to maintain or grow its value over time.

Is this type of system possible? Yes, although it is unlikely given that it necessitates a central authority to plan monetary growth and central authorities generally have a terrible track record when it comes to being trusted not to print money. Depending on who you talk to, monetarism was tried under the Reagan administration, but this mostly false. Interest rates were raised and the inflation of the 70s stopped, but a full monetarist system has never been implemented, nor is it likely to be.

Condition 4: Fiat Money

Fiat money is money, usually printed upon paper or made of cheap metal coins, that is declared to have value by a central authority. The current US dollar, and most other world currencies, fit into this category. The usability of Fiat currency can only be maintained by force. The central authority makes it illegal to use competing currencies, and declares that anyone doing a business transaction must accept their fiat money in lieu of other things. If you look at a US dollar, it will say, “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” Fiat money is generally the least appealing to the average consumer, but is the world standard because it is the most attractive to those in power. There is no need to mine gold, or have legitimate rates of taxation when you can print up the money you need and force the population to give you goods and services for it. The government also has an advantage in not suffering the effects of inflation; since they are the first ones to spend the money, it has the value of the money before the new currency enters circulation. Even a totally devalued fiat currency is still attractive to use by the population, since people must accept cheap money instead of dear money. The US uses a special variation of fiat currency that we will get into next. Here is what you can expect from Fiat Money:

Decreasing value of money- Because more money exists every year (in the vast majority of fiat systems), the value of that money decreases relative to other things. This can be by a little or a lot, depending on how much money the government is printing to finance things.

Increasing prices- The inverse of the above, prices generally increase, even as the economy gets more efficient over time. This can upset or confuse consumers, who cannot reasonably plan for future expenses, or who think revenue streams will always increase when they actually may be losing money to inflation.

High interest rates- Because inflation is high, bonds, loans, and other investments must promise high rates of return to make up for value lost to inflation. High risk endeavors become more promising as a means of recovering lost value.

Banking- Full reserve banking will be non-existent, since all savers will require a rate of return on their money just to match inflation. Partial reserve systems will tend toward more risk and lower reserve rates in order to meet the demands of savers for their returns. Bank failures can happens swiftly and catastrophically as small reserves can be quickly depleted by a sudden need for liquidity.

Is this kind of money possible? Possible, yes. Sustainable, no. Eventually the money printing process will so deface the value of the currency that it must be revalued, or new currency introduced that is more valuable, and begin the cycle again. This is the current world standard due to the huge advantages it gives governments in the political process, but can only be maintained using violence.

Condition 5: Debt Money

This is the monetary system that is currently in use by the United States, and offers some significant value to the government over other types of fiat. Under most fiat systems, the government prints new money, then spends it on goods and services, increasing the money supply (I’ll leave dismantling the Keynesian argument of the benefits of this for another article). Under the debt system, all new money enters the economy as loans from the central bank (the Federal Reserve in the United States), which is owned by the government and has the power to print money. The government gets a great deal of its money, the money it would like to spend but taxpayers are unwilling to pay for directly, by issuing bonds. The vast majority of these are purchased by the central bank using newly created money. Money has been moved from one hand to the other, obscuring the inflation spending the government relies on to maintain its size. In this way, it is little different from a standard fiat system. The extra advantage (from the government’s perspective) comes from the fact that the central bank can also make artificially cheap loans to the banks and private parts of the economy. These entities also benefit from the lack of inflation that comes with being a first spender, and entices them to support the continuance of the debt system. Many of these loans actually have a negative real interest rate, meaning the value of money has gone down enough by the time they pay it back that they have made money just by taking out the loan. Eventually, the system can be expanded to include voters, who receive cheap home and auto debt, among other things. Here is what to expect, and some of the current conditions of the US economy:

Decreasing value of money- The value of money continues to go down as more debt is issued, but the value decreases fastest for the consumer, and the slowest for the government and banks, which are the first spenders of the new money.

Increasing prices- Prices generally increase, sometimes enough to entice consumers to purchase things with debt in anticipation of increased value. This was especially true of the housing boom of the 2000s. Prices increase slowest for the government and the banks, since they are first spenders.

Low interest rates- This is very beneficial for banks, who can acquire loans from the central bank for a very low price and invest the money accordingly. It is good for the government, since it has to spend little of tax revenue and new debt to service the interest on old debt. It may be good for people who acquire a home through debt, since debt will make a smaller amount of the cost of the home than it otherwise would if inflation were taken into account. It is, however, very bad for those who wish to save and invest. Since banks can acquire funds from the central bank very cheaply (often at far below inflationary rates), they have little incentive to offer savers the high interest rates that are necessary for them to maintain the value of their money. At the same time, more people are forced into banking to minimize their loss due to inflation, even willing to put up with rates far below inflation. Risky investments are very attractive as a means of maintaining the value of money.

Banking- Full reserve banking is non-existent. Partial reserve banking is the norm, with less and less held by the bank in reserve, since the money necessary to pay depositors can be acquired cheaply from the Federal Reserve. Almost all individuals must use banking systems or lose even more value on their money.

Is this kind of money possible? Yes, and the United States has been using it for decades. Lots of people get concerned about the national debt, but the number really just represents the amount of money that has been printed to finance the government. This amount of money will never be repaid. This, of course, amounts to a tax, since subjects lose the value of money they already have. The sustainability of the system is uncertain at best, but at some point the value of the currency will become so defaced that it will have to be re-valued to some degree.


There you have it! Over three thousand words of monetary theory, as clear as I can explain it. What system do I recommend? Free currency, of course! This allows the collective marketplace to make all relevant decisions at the point of sale. Metal, bitcoin, or other currencies all have their relative advantages, and the marketplace can decide how to use them. Bitcoin is cheap and transportable for online transactions, gold and gold certificate for in-person transactions. If one type of currency becomes unfavorable, there are many competitors to step in and be used instead, leading to true monetary stability, and above all, economic freedom.

Thank you so much for reading!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Getting Over a Bad Break-up

This article was written with a friend in mind. Hopefully anyone else may find it helpful.

            Most of us have gone through a painful separation from someone with which we once shared a loving relationship. Few of us have married and lived happily ever after with our first love, or first significant other, or even our first marriage, which means heartbreak is a very common experience. Relationships deteriorate and fail for reasons as multiplicitous as the relationships themselves. I’m focusing here on what to do after the end has come and how to successfully move past the pain of the separation and achieve emotional peace and growth in the wake of a relationship failure. I’m not a psychologist or therapist; I’m just a man that has, like many others, suffered the arrows of love and pain of loss.

1. Accept Responsibility for the Outcome.

            This is the most emotionally difficult thing to ask someone to do after a break-up, but is foundational to all the other steps that must take place in order to grow and find peace with the conclusion of things. Accepting responsibility means owning your actions- good or bad- and is important to all aspects of life, but seem especially difficult at the end of a relationship, especially if things ended as a result of betrayal or some other immutable flaw in the other partner. We don’t wish to accept that our actions helped bring about the conclusion of things, because that is to admit fault, to be the guilty party, and to be humbled when we are in a state of feeling destroyed. This, however, is the most important step for growth after the end of the relationship, and is an opportunity you should not pass up, since it is rare that we are permitted to grow in life for ourselves and not for the benefit of the other person in our central relationship.
            You must own the way you operated with the other person. Perhaps your expectations were too high for them, or you were unable or unwilling to live up to theirs. Maybe you were over-concerned with your own life and not your partner's. You could have failed to communicate your needs properly, or failed to understand fully the other person’s needs and wants. You could have let the relationship go on longer than was healthy, long after the cracks of deep incompatibility appeared, and that is part of your responsibility, too.
            Whatever the day-to-day operation of that relationship was, take some time to reflect on it, and understand what you did to help move things to their conclusion. If you are on speaking terms with your ex, ask them questions about what made them unhappy. If you’re not, do some soul searching. Even if you feel like you did everything right, were a perfectly decent human being, and treated the other person like a king or queen, you still may have failed on some level.
If your partner totally and completely rejected, betrayed, or abandoned you, despite all of your actions being moral, you should still take responsibility for your choice of partners. If you chose a sociopath, or someone with borderline personality disorder, that was your choice, not anyone else’s, and at the least you should take responsibility for a bad choice of personality.
            Lastly, taking responsibility is important to give yourself a sense of agency- the feeling that your actions matter- even if they have had poor outcomes, which will be an invaluable feeling for all aspects of your life.

2. Seek to Know Why.

            Socrates’s first command was to “know thyself,” and the next step is to do just that. Everything we do and every choice we make is made to serve some need we have, either conscious or unconscious. If you do not like the outcomes of your decisions, understanding the deep emotional reasons behind them will help you be more self-aware and lead to healthier decisions in the future.
Look to understand why you operated in the way you did within the relationship, why you made the choices you did during your time with the other person, or why you were attracted to someone who was incompatible with you. Often the answers to these questions are buried deep down, and take a great deal of time or effort to fully uncover, and if you choose to seek therapy, a great deal of your time may be spent uncovering the “why.” Sometimes people make bad choices in a relationship, such as cheating, manipulation, or dishonest behavior, but don’t seek to understand the “why” within them, or why they chose to be with someone who makes those kinds of poor decisions. Sometimes people are rejected, and they may need to ask why they allowed the relationship to get bad enough that the other person had to reject them. Often the failures we allow in our relationships serve some psychic need within ourselves.
If you spend a lot of time with yourself discovering the answers to why you act a certain way, you will have at least a good chance of avoiding making the poor choices you made in the past and therefore achieving different, if not better, outcomes in your future relationships.

2. Forgive Yourself.
            Once you have an understanding of why, along with ownership of your actions, you can forgive yourself. Just like going to confession, self-forgiveness requires the admission of guilt- the ownership of outcomes. Understanding why you act the way you do will help you to move past the guilt into a state of growth.
            Tell yourself that it’s okay that things turned out badly, that they couldn’t turn out any other way, because both you and the other person needed the relationship to end for growth. If you picked a bad partner, forgive yourself of that choice, knowing that you had to learn the lesson about having high standards in a relationship. If you were rejected, forgive yourself the things that might have lead up to that rejection. You can change your patterns in the future, and you can also make sure your next partner is more willing to accept your preferred modes of operation; accept you for you.
            Most often in life, we learn lessons the hard way, through trial and error, pain and separation. Forgive yourself for making mistakes in behavior and choice, and be happy for the lesson which allows you to grow.

3. Forgive the Other Person.

            After betrayal or rejection this step is most difficult, as we often have a psychic need to externalize conflict, to make the locus of responsibility rest in the other person. If you have owned your actions in the relationship, you will be able to correctly assign other responsibilities in the other member of your partnership. They may have made much worse decisions than you in the relationship, or failed in more ways, or more profound ways. As you reflect, you can also begin to understand the “why” in all the other person’s actions, good or bad.
            From there, you can begin to finally forgive the other person, for ending the relationship, breaking trust, treating you poorly, manipulating you, or choosing a person that was deeply incompatible with them. They too make decisions intended to serve some need, and they may not be aware of it. Moreover, you should forgive them for their faults because you know how bad continuing the relationship might have been for both of you, and that through their faults you have learned lessons about dealing with other imperfect people in imperfect relationships.

4. Allow Yourself to Grieve

            The end of a relationship is a lot like a death. You are losing a person, either someone you loved or still love, who has had a deeply intimate knowledge of you, and that is painful. I need not go through the seven stages of grief here, but will say that you should allow yourself to feel them. It’s alright to feel sad, angry, or desperate. You don’t need to put those emotions to the side or “just get over it.” If you don’t take the time to resolve your feelings now, they will return to haunt you.
            We grieve not just the loss of the other person, but all that the relationship represented to us: the promise of family, future plans and happiness, companionship, stability, and intimacy. A relationship takes a large emotional investment and its termination represents a total loss of that investment. It’s okay to feel like you’ve lost something, because you have. Ultimately nothing but time, work and growth will help you resolve your feelings of loss, so don’t expect to ever find a magic bullet to end your pain. Drugs, even those prescribed by a psychiatrist, will not help you resolve your pain, only time and effort will.

5. Let Your Rational Mind Take Over.

            Most of the fallout from the end of a relationship is emotional, but there might be plenty of practical considerations to take into account. Finances, living arrangements, and property division are all parts of many break-ups, particularly divorce. It’s important to be able to settle your emotions quickly, or learn to put them to the side temporarily. When you need to make practical decisions about your life’s directions, your reasoning skills are vital.
            Beyond that, is important to let your rational mind take over to avoid making the same emotional mistakes twice, or to become emotionally vulnerable too quickly after ending the relationship. Make a list of the changes you want to make in your life, preferably based on personal outcomes and real arrangements rather than intangible ideas such as “be happy.” Decide on your personal and career goals. Decide how you want to organize your time and personal life in the absence of the relationship. Now might be a good time to make the big change you always wanted to, but be careful not to make big changes because you are trying to escape the limitations of your current reality. Make changes that you know will serve your goals, not serve your current emotional state.
            Plan the steps between where you are and the life arrangements you have imagined, including work, housing, and other expenses. You can also begin thinking about your next relationship: how it will begin, how it will progress, what your goals are (family, adventure, etc.) and what qualities you will look for in the other person before you begin a relationship, as well as what warning signs to look for. This will put in your mind a different sort of plan, one which will present itself next time you are attracted to another or are thinking of beginning a relationship, allowing you to avoid the bad outcomes of your last relationship. If you know yourself and have thought about such particulars in advance, it will be easier to resist the pull of emotion in a relationship that is not healthy for you.

6. Enjoy the Present.

            Your life may not be put together the way you want it following a break-up or divorce, but is important to enjoy the particulars of the present. Absent the relationship you are now able to do things that might not have been possible before, such as enjoy activities in which your partner was uninterested, or eat things your partner disliked. Maybe you can finally have a weekend to sit around and play videogames, or go drinking with your friends. Whatever it is, take the time to enjoy it. Revel in it.
            The focus on the present, or on a series of steps that take you from the present to the future, will help you to keep your mind form focusing on the pain brought on by the past, and help you to realize the resolution of your painful feelings. Be sure to take time for self-examination, but don’t spend all your time in contemplation. Part of getting on with your life is getting out of bed every day and walking out the front door.

7. Conclusion

            All of this is just advice, given by a man who has had a little bit of experience, but is by no means an expert. Avoid doing things during the grieving process that you will regret later. One-night stands and drug habits will not help you get over the break-up. Time and patience will. You should also feel good about yourself if you choose to seek out therapy from a professional (which I am not). They may help guide you to self-understanding, show you the path to healing, and equip you with tools for making your choices have the outcomes you desire.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Microscope, part 4

This is the fourth part of a short fiction work, planned to be about 25k words long, set in my unique world. Updates should be coming on Wednesdays, but this one is a day late due to other unavoidable commitments this week.

If you are new to this story, check out the previous installments here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


Felix was dreaming.  He was running down a long stone corridor. Cold sweat was drying from the wind of his spring pushing over his bare skin. There was a thudding sound behind him. Something was coming for him, and he couldn’t spare a single stride to turn his head and see his pursuer. The thudding turned to loud crashes.
“Wake up, lazy bones!”
The knocking sound returned.
“You dead in there, mate?”
Felix opened his eyes. In his ear he heard soft breathing. Marta, that’s right. The canvas shade above them was bright yellow with the light of day.
“What is it?” He rasped. Marta moaned in her sleep beside him. He felt her body adjust against him.
“Vic sent me over to tell you we’re breaking camp mid-day,” Jeffrey said.
“Mid-day?” Felix said, pulling his head off the pillow.
“Who’s yelling?” Marta said softly from beside him.
“Jeffrey,” Felix said. “Sorry.” He slipped himself out of the small bed of the caravan wagon, letting Marta’s arm flop down on the straw mattress. He realized he was still fully clothed, and found his shoes nearby on the floor.
“You figured out a plan for the meeting thing?” Jeffrey said.
“I’m working on it,” Felix said. He looked over to see Marta, leaning on her arm, her black hair falling in dense curls around a sleepy face. She stared at him with soft eyes. “I’ve got to go attend to some business I’m afraid.”
“You don’t think you have business right here?” She said, then yawned.
He looked back at her, frozen with one foot in the air, a shoe pushed half-way onto it. “Um…Now?”
Marta gave him a confused look.
“Let’s go skinny!” Jeffrey called. Felix shrugged at Marta. She sighed.
“Just see me before you go off and do anything, will you?  This conversation is long overdue.”
“Sure thing,” He said, and stepped out the cabin door.
Marta watched him go, then chuckled to herself after he left. “Men are such simple machines.”
“Hey Vic, why are we breaking camp so early?” Felix said, favoring his left leg, as he strode up to Victor, now dressed in a leather jacket and pantaloons and looking hung-over.
“Because the city guard told us too. Big, fat, angry man calling himself captain came up with some sort of official document this morning.” Victor spit into the nearby dirt as he watched a few hands struggle with toppling the large center pole of the big tent.
“You’ve never let them push you around before,” Felix said.
“We’ve never had to camp inside the city walls before.”
“Where else would we park?” Felix said. “Other than this bare patch of park here, there’s not a flat acre of land for twenty miles.”
“It’s their city. If they want to run out the entertainment that’s their prerogative.”
“What am I going to do?”
“About what?” Victor smirked as Shera, looking under the weather herself, approached with a few half-finished bottles of wine.
“Found these in the stands,” She said. “Got to be pretty rich to forget to finish your wine.” She handed him a bottle and they both took a drink.
Victor looked at Felix again. “I’m guessing you still haven’t cleared up that little mess, then.”
“How was I supposed to do that when I know nothing of the other thief?”
“That’s your problem,” Victor said. He took a sip of wine and looked at Shera. “That ought to put the knocking to sleep for a bit.”
“Listen, Vic,” Felix said. “I’ve got a meeting with the girl at noon-”
“How’d you get a meeting with her?”
“She dropped a note into Jeffrey’s pocket.”
Victor’s eyes widened. “She was here and you didn’t kill her?”
“I didn’t see her,” Felix said. “Neither did Jeffrey.”
Victor shook his head, and looked down at the dirt. “I can slow the march out of town a bit so you can catch up, but I can’t have us just wait around.”
“Thanks, Vic,” Felix said, a sarcastic tone creeping into his voice. “You got any advice?”
“Kill the bitch.”
“If I can’t?”
“It’s all I can do for you.”
Felix opened up his old leather backpack, set it beside his heavy locking trunk, and started packing. He threw in his extra set of black clothes, since his black hooded shirt from the previous night now hung in shreds below his left elbow. He set aside a few casual pieces for walking the town during the day, and packed a few tools of the trade he couldn’t easily walk around with: two fuse-lit grenades, a powder horn, another paper-wrapped gas bomb, some .50 caliber balls, and a set of lock picking tools.  He opened up the false bottom of his chest and withdrew some coins: A handful of copper cyprals of various origin and a stack of Datalian Argents (notable for the fact that the face side depicted the emperor rather than the church mandated profile the god Denarius, which made them both dear money or cheap, depending on the faith of the recipient). These he put into a small cinch-top purse and then stuffed into his backpack. He stuck five gold Aurals into his pocket. Just in case.
Lastly he set aside his set of throwing knives, rusted and dull from lack of recent use, but sharp and deadly nonetheless, and his old, well-worn pistol. He began pulling off his shirt, noticing as he did so dozens of tiny sore points in his muscles that hadn’t presented themselves in the events of the night.  He groaned as he struggled to get his shirt over his head and shoulders.
“Need some help?” Marta said. The door swung shut silently behind her.
I should do a better job listening, Felix thought. The shirt was wrapped around Felix’s arms and shoulders, looking like a great cloth cone extending from his shoulder blades. “Sure,” he said and pointed his arms at her.  He yanked hard on the tight garment and it slipped over his shoulders and head.  She threw it to the side.
“Never seen these scars,” She said, and ran her hands along his back. Several old cuts crossed over his spine, like the lashes of a whip. He wriggled under the light touch.
“Prefer not to show them around.”
“I thought men took pride in their scars.”
“Battle scars, maybe,” Felix chuckled. “I was just about to come see you.” He felt flushed, partly out of excitement and partly out of embarrassment, as he thought about Marta’s sudden pursuit.
“Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands,” She said.  She sat down casually on the end of the bed and smiled at him. He smiled back and rubbed his hands, nodding. “Are you going to finish getting dressed?”
Felix paused in confusion. “What?”
“Aren’t these your street clothes?” She asked as she held up Felix’s peasant shirt. “I thought you were getting ready to go into town.”
“I w-was,” Felix stammered. “But I thought we were going to…um…” he rubbed the back of his neck as his excitement turned into embarrassment.
“Your pants are making your intentions obvious,” Marta said, leaning back on her palms and nodding toward Felix’s crotch.  Felix quickly turned away to hide the bulge. “You can have it, but I’m not just going to let you bed me; you’re going to have to work for it.” She laughed.
“Well, what did you want to talk to me about?” Felix said, turning back and pulling his shirt over his head.
“Us. This.” She looked around.
“The circus?”
“How attached are you to it?”
“It’s just a means of work to me.”
“Is that all?” She crossed her legs, letting her knee-length skirt fall back a bit and reveal the flesh of her legs. Felix made no attempt to hide his gaze
“I guess I’ve made a few friends.”
“Like me?”
“Not like you.” He chuckled. “Well, you of course, but also people who aren’t like you. Like Jeffrey.  What are you getting at?”
“Just wondering if you would leave, given the right offer.”
“With you?”
“Possibly. Now might be the time, if you can’t get this job squared away. It’s just an idea, not an offer yet.”
Felix nodded. “More circus work, and not the other thing?”
“Circus work. I figure you know how to do the other thing well enough you wouldn’t need a ring leader in on the whole thing taking a cut.”
“Alright, I’ll think about it.”
“Good.  And don’t tell Victor.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it. Now, turn around.”
“Turn around? Not going to let me see the goods?” Marta said with a smile.
“As long as I’m working for it, you’re waiting,” Felix said. Marta turned her head away to the canvas shade on the window, much like her own. As soon as Felix dropped his pants she cast a quick glance to see his buttocks, and smiled.
“Listen, I’m going to stay behind for a bit to take care of this ‘K’ business-”
“Oh, that’s how the girl signed her note.”  
“I see.” Marta stood up as Felix began to buckle his belt. “Well, if it doesn’t turn out, or if it does, try to catch up with me first, and we can talk more.”
“Whose circus is it?”
Marta walked to the door and smile softly at him. “See you soon.” She closed the door.
“Damn you’re confusing,” he said to the door with a frown. “Beautiful, but confusing.”
“I heard that,” She called back from beyond the door.
“It’s true!” he shouted back.
Felix looked up at the sky.  The sun was still in the east. Few hours to spare yet, he thought. He sat on the back of his caravan wagon, huddled in the shade, and opened the diary. Who are you, K? Quickly he found a passage mentioning wine, and he thought of the fat sleeping man from the night before:

Denara 24th 435

Thank Althius for his gifts, he makes men even stupider than usual. Tested my belief today- that even a light alcohol like beer or wine can hide the flavor of sleeping powder- a few bar patrons. Quick results:

1 spoon, 1 beer- man complained about the 
bitter taste. Drank anyway. Passed out.
½ spoon, 1 beer- man did not seem to notice. Became drowsy and slept in a booth a few minutes later.
½ spoon, 1 glass of wine- likewise 
undetectable; woman drankand fell asleep 

To poison a whole bottle of wine it should 
take about 2 spoons, maybe a bit more.

Hmn. Doesn’t seem to know what chemical she’s actually using. Felix flipped through a few more pages. This is like a little list of bad experiments, only their all concerned with drugging or hurting people. Felix flipped through a dozen more entries to another page:

Terrana 28th 436

Master would not show me the technique I wanted. He said I was too inexperienced. Prying it from his second was quite easy. If I get a moment alone I will practice it:

Head strike for debilitation.
-Striking instrument should be no more than an inch and a half in diameter, and no less than an inch, or the impact will either be too spread out or too concentrated, and result in death.
-Ideal is a pole or stick, smooth, with a flat-sawed end, about 2 feet long.
-Place one end in right palm, place other end between thumb and finger of left hand.
-Place palm on back of the victim’s skull, placing the thumb on the soft spot of the neck below the skull- this will find the correct strike location
-Quickly tense left hand into a fist and push stick through with immediate force
-If done correctly, the brain strike will knock the victim unconscious, but not kill them.

Below there were some poorly sketched pictures that attempted to diagram the maneuver. Not a bad sap in a pinch, Felix thought. I should copy some of this down. I wonder who “master” is. He’s probably not an actual spymaster, or this diary would be encrypted. Felix stood up and went back inside his own caravan wagon, intent on gleaning at least a few more secrets before the meeting and placing them safely inside his own diary.
Felix watched from the shade of the patio as people emptied from the great doors to the church. The bells above rang out a sounding chord. He knew that each god had a particular set of chimes that called to the faithful a service in their honor. Despite the remote location of his upbringing, his profession (which often dealt with the exchange of inventions quite outside the legality of church’s deities), and his general distaste for the religion of the cities, Felix had become rather good at recognizing the music for each god, chaotic though it might seem. This particular parish was dedicated to the teachings of Ferral, god of iron and fire, and it’s exterior was crowded with scenes of the stories surrounding him; stained glass crowding the buttresses and sharp stone statues depicted the gifts of his many crafts. However, the chord of the ringing bells was the light and ethereal seventh chord of Metearala, the goddess of wind and weather, who gave no gifts to man but the sails of his ships and the compass to guide them.
Odd to have a sea-centered sermon in a mountain town, Felix thought as he sipped his tea. Might be a holiday. He occasionally looked through the window to his left and watched the young serving woman, with covered shoulders in the fashion of the country, as she went from table to table, smiling. The sun was high above him in the sky.  His eyes scanned the church courtyard in front of him, but he expected to meet the mysterious K as she approached from behind.  He reached under his jacket and positioned the muzzle of his pistol, hanging in a hidden thong around his shoulder, so it would fire directly behind him. He pulled back the hammer.  The old spring moved easily. I hope it can still push though a few inches of cloth and make a spark. Minutes ticked away as he sipped the tea.
“You’re easier to sneak up on than that great oaf at your little circus,” a familiar cockneyed voice said softly from behind him.
“Just waiting in good faith. Or do you intend to assassinate me?” Felix didn’t turn his head. He glanced down at the shadow cast from behind him, taking in the gentle curves of a young woman. Her body position revealed to him the presence of a weapon- a knife most likely- held away from prying eyes.
“You speak of good faith, but I don’t see a microscope.”
“I’m not stupid enough to walk around in front of the church with something like that.”
The woman moved past and sat in the chair across from him. She was wearing a deep forest green dress, long sleeved in the custom of Minalay. It had decorative cream-colored lace across the midsection below a ruffled neckline which revealed youthful round breasts, pushed up on display. The face above the soft white chest made Felix pause mid-sip, sending drops of hot tea into his short beard. She was a woman of the Northmarch, pale and white with platinum blonde hair that was straight as an arrow. Blue eyes splashed with green stared at him calmly, their whites still slightly red from Felix’s gas bomb. Beautiful lips smirked arrogantly between blushed cheeks.
Felix realized it was the first time he had seen her in person. “What’s your name?” he asked her calmly as he wiped the tea from his lips.
“Why does a name matter?” She said. Without a word, the serving girl placed a cup of tea in front of her. She acknowledged the young woman with a glance, then turned her stare back to Felix as she picked up the tea cup.
“Just something to call someone by. I’m-”
“Felix,” She said. “I know. You may call me…” She paused for a moment, as if considering the which name she would give. “Kay will do for now.”
“Smart name, Kay.”
“I assume when you say that I can infer you also use a false name.” She grinned at him.
“Assume. Infer. You won’t confirm.”
“It’s fine. I rather like Felix. Sounds exotic.”
“Thanks. My mother would be proud.”
“Now that’s a lie,” She said. “So, where is the device?”
“It’s safe.  The journal?”
“Also safe. I won’t make the same mistake again.”
“Indeed.  Would you like your diary back?” Felix tossed the book out on the table.
Kay snatched it up. “Did you read it?”
“Liar.” She gave him an insincere smile.
“What answer would you prefer?”
“The truthful one, of course.” She flipped through the pages quickly then threw the little book into her leather satchel.
“You’re in the wrong business if you’re looking for truth.”
“The truth is always hidden. How will you find it outside the business of the hiding?”
Felix shrugged. “What do you propose we do?”
“You give me the device.”
“And then what?”
“And that’s it. You live.”
Felix chuckled. “That doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I’m not the sort to pass out death threats, so why don’t I give you some more amenable alternatives?”
“Amenable to you, you mean.”
“And you.” Felix sipped his tea again, his hand steady. “How will the condition of your life be if you fail to deliver on this job?”
“What is that supposed to mean?” She frowned.
“Will your employer kill you if the job doesn’t pan out?”
“Should I say yes and invoke your sympathies? You just said this wasn’t an honest business.”
“What I’m proposing is that we split the payment from one of our sides. Which side depends on how vengeful each employer is, and how high the pay, of course.”
“You’re asking for a whole lot of truth right there,” She said and raised her eyebrows.
“It’s always hidden, isn’t it?” He put down his tea and folded his hands. “I’m willing to pay you for the journal. Right now: an honest fifty percent of what I anticipate.” He set two gold coins out on the table.
“If that’s honest you’re awfully low paid,” She said. Felix added two more to the stack, and put out a small stack of silver coins. “I might be inclined to believe that.” Felix put out the fifth gold aural. Her eyes widened at the sum of money stacked on the table in the open.
“What do you say?” Felix said. “I can wait here for you to bring it to me.”
“Or I could just rob you.”
“If you think you can,” Felix forced a chuckle. “Are you getting paid more than double this? It’s pretty simple, Kay. Whoever pays most gets all.”
The young woman stood staring at the large sum of money, sitting on the table out in the open. “I have to deliver the goods,” She said. “I don’t have a choice.”
“Then pay up.”
“I don’t carry around cash like that.”
“Then you’d better start,” Felix said. “I’ll see you at sunset. North corner table of the Bailing Inn, just east of the castle gate. Bring the journal, or bring your money.” Felix swept the coins into his pocket and stood up.
“The castle? Are you crazy?” Kay said with a frown.
“No, I just don’t want to worry about being murdered,” he said with a smile, and walked off, slinging his bag back onto his shoulder.

Thanks for reading! More coming next week.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Microscope, part 3

This is the third part of a short fiction work set in my unique world.  Updates should be coming every Wednesday.

“The fuck is wrong with you, Felix?” Victor leaned back in the folding canvas chair, picking at the tips of his white gloves as he carefully pulled them from his large hands.  His broad brow was wrinkled more than usual, a bitter frown forming a “v” between his eyes. Below that, broad pursed lips were pulled in, buried in his thick, curly black beard. Shera, a young yet well-worn woman, that Victor called his wife stood to his side collecting his costume pieces and placing them carefully into a trunk.  The baggy men’s clothes she always wore made her look leaner and more flat-chested than what was true.
“Presently? A knife wound, and possibly a broken ankle.” Felix held the dingy cloth, soaked in whiskey, up to the scratch near his elbow.  The bleeding had slowed and scabbing had begun, but he had willed himself to scrape them away and clean out the wound.  The whiskey burned horribly, and Felix tapped into an old reservoir of pain tolerance gained from harsher tortures to keep his face relaxed in front of Victor.
“You’re lucky you ain’t dead.  You should have just killed the bitch and be done with it. ‘Stead,” he spat, “we got a broken piece of merchandise, which is only half of what we’re being paid to get in the first place.”
“This was a no-kill contract, Vic.”
“No-kill for Bartolini or other civies. Competition is always free game. You know that.”  Victor stood up and Shera helped him take off his jacket.  Even in his costume Victor still kept a loaded pistol tucked into his belt in the small of his back.
“I didn’t know she was competition till I saw the knife,” Felix lied.  Victor gave him a harsh stare as he slipped off the suspenders that held up his baggy silk pants.  “Besides, what was I supposed to kill her with?”
“A pistol, or a knife, or your fucking fists?  Whatever you got.”
“I don’t usually bring killing implements to a no-kill cat burglary.”
“Well you better fucking start.  Thanks, love,” Victor said as he finished undressing and Shera placed the last of his costume into the trunk with his colorful plumed hat on top.  Victor began putting on his simpler clothes.
“Things could definitely be worse,” Felix said, almost to himself.
“Yeah?  How?” Victor sat back down and uncorked a wine bottle, then took a sip.
“I could have brought back nothing at all.”  Felix stood, still holding the scratch on his arm.  He put weight on his ankle and felt only a dull ache. Not a break after all, he thought. Lord of Luck. “We also do have one unexpected advantage, which is that Bartolini will know her as the thief and not me.”
“Yeah the sheriffs won’t be looking to any of us for a change,” Shera said.
“She was probably planning on being disappeared from the city by now, do you think she’ll stick around?” Victor handed the wine to Shera, who took a sip as well.
“If she was getting paid anything close to what we are she’ll certainly have a strong incentive,” Felix said, “but obviously she won’t be able to walk around very openly.”
“Good, we’ll have a chance at getting that journal and fixing the item,” Victor said.  “Fixing this whole bloody mess.”  He took another drink.  “Be honest with me, Felix.”
“I always am.” Felix pulled the whiskey soaked rag away and wrapped the scratch in a clean cloth that was laid over the back of his canvas chair.
“That’s a joke, right?” If it was a joke, Victor didn’t seem to find it funny. “Tell me, do you think she knows your cover?”
“I recognized her from the crowd.  She was here. So yes.”
“Shit.”  Victor drank again.
“Also, she said something about it, I think.” Felix tried to remember.
“You don’t remember?”
“I was hanging falling out of a window.”  Felix began to tie the cloth into a make-shift bandage.
“You think she’ll come round looking for you?” Shera said. “You should go talk to Jeffrey.”
“This is my bloody business,” Victor said, glaring at his wife over his shoulder. “Need to keep your place.”
“Sorry,” Shera said insincerely. 
Victor turned back toward Felix.  “Go talk to Jeffrey, yeah? See what he has in mind for keeping us tight up in here, or maybe setting a bit of a trap. We need that Journal.”
“Will do,” Felix said. He started walking for the exit of the large tent.
“And Felix,” Victor called as Felix reached the exit. “Keep a damn pistol handy, yeah?”
“You put your foot in it, that’s for sure.”  Jeffrey, the troupe strongman, moved to the rear end of the boxy caravan wagon he called home and opened a trunk.  Inside was an assortment chemicals in glass bottles, powder horns, and small wooden boxes. He bent over to rummage in it, his massive shoulders filling up all the space between his bed and the table opposite it. He pulled out a small jar filled with a clear liquid and handed it to Felix.  “That’ll nock her out if you can manage to get the drop.”
“Ether?” Felix said.  He absent-mindedly picked at the make-shift bandage on his arm. “She’s a lively one, and a professional, I’d wager. I don’t think I could keep her sniffing long enough.”
“This is new stuff.  Chloroform.  Works in just a few seconds.  Don’t try to get yourself high with it either, it’ll give you hard knock like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Where’d you get it?”
“I made it.”  Jeffrey laughed, his bulk heaving. “You plucked a formula for it awhile back, and I managed to get ahold of the papers before Vic sent ‘em off.”
“Nice to have, but I still doubt I’ll get the drop on her.”
“Keep it just in case.  We gonna have to spend all night on the watch, or what?”
“You think I’m gonna let you have all the fun?”  Jeffrey slapped Felix hard on the back. “Let’s see what other kinds of goodies we can dig up just in case, eh?”
They both turned as the door to the little wagon opened up and Marta stepped in. Her hair was down, falling to her shoulders in heaps of curly black locks.  Her makeup as also washed away, revealing a round and youthful face, perverted by a current tension.  “There you are,” she said. “I was worried when you didn’t make the final bow.”  She pulled him into a tight hug.
“I’m fine, just still working out some details,” Felix said.  He patted her back awkwardly.
“What happened to your arm?” Marta said as she pulled away from the hug and saw his sleeve cut away and a white cloth wrapped around his elbow, dotted with blood.
“Ran into some competition.”
“Did you get him?”
“Her, actually. And no, but we’re working on it.”
A momentary frown flashed across her smooth face. “Good. I’m glad you’re alright. Stop by my trailer before bed, would you?” She turned toward the door, gave Felix a fleeting smile, then stepped back out.
“You’re a lucky man, my friend,” Jeffrey said, and slapped Felix hard on the back again. “What I wouldn’t give to plow a woman like that every night.”
“Our relationship is strictly professional.”
“Aw, come on.”  A wide smile spread across Jeffrey’s stubbled face. “You really mean to tell me you’ve never taken the act to the old mattress?”
“Well it seems like that’ll change tonight.”  He laughed deeply again.  “You’re a lucky bastard.”
“Doubt I’ll be able to tonight,” Felix said. “I’ve gotta keep watch for our competition, like you said.”
“Hell, Felix,” Jeffrey said as he placed a few more odds and ends from the trunk onto the little table. “I’ll stay up by myself if you promise to take that girl to bed.”
“Why on earth would you do that?”
“Because I’m an excellent friend, and friends don’t complain when other friends get laid.  Now, where did I put that salt peter…”
Felix pushed inward the door to the little wagon, a near duplicate of Jeffrey’s, except that instead of having a small table opposite the bed it had a mirrored vanity.  It was here that Marta sat, dressed in a simple robe of pale blue.  An oil lamp sat near the mirror, reflecting its dull flickering light down onto a book that was splayed open.  As Felix entered, Marta’s head pulled up from it and she smiled.
“Glad you came, come here,” She said, and stood up.  She directed Felix toward  the stool in front of the mirror.
“What did you want to see me about?”
“Hold still.” Marta untied Felix’s simple bandage and pulled the cloth away as gently as she could. Felix made no effort to hide a flinch as the cloth stuck to the cut and pulled open fresh bloody areas.
“It’s just a scratch,” Felix said.
“It’s a lot more than that,” Marta said leaning in close to inspect the wound. “Let me get my needle.”
“I should’t need stitches,” Felix said.
“You’ll need a few,” Marta said.  She pulled open a nearby drawer and produced a sewing kit. “This is going to hurt, I can get some ether from Jeffrey if you like.”
“I have this. It’s supposed to be more potent.” Felix produced the bottle of chloroform and set it on the top of the dressing table.
“Let’s try it out then.”  Marta picked up the bottle and uncorked it.  She made a sour face at the odor as she held it up to her nose.  She poured some of the colorless liquid on a rag.
“You know what? It’s fine, really. I’m not going to need the-” When Marta held the cloth up to his face he immediately swooned, even before the reflex of breath took over, and the world became a blur of color: The faded blue of Marta’s robe under a streak of black that was her hair, the blood-red of her sheets as he collapsed into her bed.
Marta, using the strength of her compact body, was able to guide Felix into her bed while holding the rag to his face. After he sleepily let himself go limp, she pushed his legs in.  His arm she set on the stool to stabilize it, and after hanging the lamp above her bed, she kneeled down to the floor beside him to work.
“This is good stuff,” she said as she held the needle up to the flame of the lamp. She pierced his skin, and he grunted softly in his stupor.  When she finished, she reached under the bed and produced a bottle of liquor, and doused the wound with it, then dabbed it clean.  “That ought to do it.  You’ll thank me later,” She said and patted Felix’s forehead. 
“Marta,” Felix said with his eyes closed, seemingly in sleep.
She kissed his forehead and smiled, then ruffled his dark hair.  A sly look came over her face as she bent over and felt around his chest and pockets. “What do we have here?”  She rolled the anesthetized man over and found tucked in his belt, pressed against his back, a small leather-bound book.  She removed it and cracked it open.  “This is a diary,” she said, and sat on the stool under the lamp, letting it’s light shine on the unevenly cut pages. “Felix, my darling, why do you have the diary of another girl hidden on your person?  This just won’t do.”
Felix groaned beside her and rolled onto his back. “Marta,” He croaked again.
“I’m right here,” She said, but she was focused on the text of the book.  “I should burn this.  But I won’t.”  She smiled and read on.
Felix awoke with a headache to darkness.  He blinked hard.  Even the canvas covered windows of the wagon were black as pitch.  Everyone must be in bed. He thought about that for a second.HeHe th  I’m in bed.  He looked over and the darkness could perceive the edge of a soft round face.  He felt a small hand on his chest and curly hair on his neck, and realized that Marta lay against him, as if his shoulder was a pillow, and she was sleeping.  He reached out with his right hand into emptiness at the edge of the bed.  His left was underneath the sleeping woman.  Carefully, he hugged her with his right arm and removed his left.  He placed a pillow softly under her head and slipped out of the sheets.
He couldn’t see her well enough in the dim light to tell if she had in fact been awakened by his movement, but she didn’t seem to move.  He felt himself: his pants and shirt were both on, but not his shoes. I probably didn’t have sex with her. He shrugged. He felt the stitches in his arm.  They ached slightly. He frowned.  He was missing the journal from his belt.  He felt around blindly for it, then hit his head on the lamp hanging near the bed and toppled a stool than banged around loudly before coming to rest.
“Felix?” Marta said to the darkness.
“Why are you leaving?”
“I wasn’t supposed to fall asleep at all.  Jeffrey’s been up all night by himself.  Actually, what time is it?”
“I don’t know.  Listen, I wanted to talk to you.”
“If you wanted to talk to me you probably wouldn’t have drugged me, now I’ve got to go.”
“I had to sew up  your arm, stupid.” She bit her lip.  “I mean, sweetie.”
Felix shook his head again, wondering about the seemingly sudden shift in his relationship with his dark-haired performance partner.  “Hey, I had a little book- a journal, do you know where it is?”
“Why? do you need it?”
“I got it off the girl who tried to kill me last night. I think it’s her diary.”
“Oh, that,” she said with a flat tone.  “It’s in the top-left drawer of my dressing table.”
“Thanks.” Felix felt his way to the vanity and opened the drawer.  He felt the leather cover of the journal and tucked it back into his belt, up under his shirt. 
“Come back and talk to me before you do anything, alright?”
“Okay,” Felix said, not fully understanding her meaning. He found his moccasins and slipped them on, then stepped gingerly out the door, the pain in his ankle returning to match the pain in his head.  She’s acting awful strange, he thought as he crept across the central yard of the circus’s camping circle.  Soft moonlight in the western sky lit his way. 
Maybe it is like Jeffrey said.  Maybe she does really want me. He started thinking of the curves of the woman’s hips and buttocks, and the way she felt in his hands during performances, firm and supple.  He thought of her breast hanging out of her costume earlier, like so many other nights, but in his mind it became suddenly an erotic thing, and he flushed in thinking what more the costume might hide.  Damn.  I should have stayed.
“Hey there, mister lucky,” a voice whispered.  Felix looked up to see Jeffrey’s large frame atop an enclosed trailer that he knew housed the lion.
“What are you doing up there?”
“Trying to stay awake and watch for your mysterious agent-girl.”
“How did you manage to get up there?”
“You ain’t the only climber in the bunch, mate.” Jeffrey laughed quietly. 
Felix grabbed a hold of the bars in the small window slots of the trailer and pulled himself up till he had a hand-hold on the roof. He felt the wound in his arm.  Actually glad I got those stitches now, he thought as he pulled himself the rest of the way up onto the trailer.
Jeffrey picked up a nearby tea cup and took a sip. “So, was she all you hoped?”
“Come on, you can tell you’re old pall Jeff.”
“Oh Marta.  We didn’t, uh… do the deed so to speak.”
“Well, why not?” Jeffrey said.
“At least I don’t think we did.”
“What do you mean you don’t think?  Did she turn off the lights and put your dowsing rod in some other well?”
Felix laughed. “That’s a good one.  Let’s just say that I got a first-hand lesson in the potency of that chloroform.”
“You used it on yourself?”
“No, she used it on me.  She stitched up my cut, see?”  Felix held his arm out to Jeffrey.  “Packs quite a wallop.”  He knocked against the temple of his head.
“Headache?  I got something for that.” Jeffrey twisted away and began poking through a leather bag to his side.
“Of course you do.”
“I understand the ‘don’t think’ part now.  But you don’t need to worry about it.  You didn’t miss any fun; stuff makes your willy as wiggly as an earthworm.”
“Good to know, I guess.” Felix craned his neck over to see Jeffrey emptying something into a cup and filling it with tea from a nearby iron kettle. “I’m starting to think she actually cares about me. As in not in the professional sense. Though I don’t know where the affection came from.”
“Here,” Jeffrey said and handed him a tea cup. “Not gonna taste that great, but it’ll get rid of the hard-knock in a few minutes. As for Marta-”
“God this tastes awful, what is it?” Felix said as he tried to chug down the bitter tea.
“It’s called aspirin.  Now like I was saying-”
“Foul is what I’d call it.”
“Shut up, would ya?  I’m trying to give you some encouraging advice, friend to friend, okay?  Now s let me talk, you overbearing bastard.”
“Okay, go on,” Felix said and downed the rest of the tea.
“You don’t know the meaning of the word ‘shut up,’ do you?”
“It’s two words actually.”
“Shut up!”  There was a pause as both men chuckled. “Listen, Marta’s probably had a thing for you for a while, and after she heard from Vic that you ran into trouble, she got worried about those feelings. That’s why it’s so sudden.  Well sudden to you, I’ve seen it for months.”
“Months huh?”
“You’re a fool, you know that?”
Felix shrugged. “Near death experiences can do that do you, but usually it’s in the one dying. Wonder why she never said anything before.”
“You want your feelings to be reciprocated, simple as that.”  Jeffrey put his palms behind himself and leaned back. “You get faced with death, the prospect of never saying your peace seems a little worse than not having those feeling returned.”
“What should I do?”
“I told you what to do.  Now, I’m going to bed.  You’ve had enough sleep for the night, so you can watch the sunrise. Mind that front gap there,” Jeffrey pointed to a separation in the wagon circle. “I put a mine there.”
“A mine? Are you crazy?”
“It’s not like that, just a pop to scare ‘em, that’s all. Still, I’d pull it up before the others are out and about. Also, take this,” He picked up a musket that was laying nearby and handed it to Felix.
“I’ll keep it primed.”
“See that you do,” Jeffrey said.  He stood up and put his hands in his pockets absent-mindedly as he looked west at the moon. “Hello, what’s this?”  He withdrew a piece of paper from his pocket.
“What is it?”
“It’s a message. I’ll be damned.”  He handed the paper to Felix.
“I knew I should have skipped Marta’s,” he said as he unfolded the paper and strained to read it in the moon light.  “You have a candle, or a match?”
“Both. And you won’t ever say that to Marta if you know what’s good for ya.”  Soon light emerged in the form of a small candle.  Felix read the message, written in blue ink in long, fine lines:

Let’s discuss terms, one professional to another. Noon. Fountain square north of the church. Shop in the east end of the square. Under the west window. Bring the item. Come alone.


            Below the message was written in hasty charcoal:

P.S. After seeing you at the house, I was hoping for a challenge. Slipping this note into the pocket of this fat mouth-breather sure wasn’t one.

“Hey, I’m not fat,” Jeffrey said.  “This is all muscle.”
“All muscle?”
“Mostly muscle.”  Jeffrey smiled.  “Listen, dieting saps your strength, and this circus is my sole source of income.”
“Soul source?”
Jeffrey laughed. 
“We might as well both hit the sack now, yeah?” Felix said and pushed himself up.
“Which one you hitting, mate?”
“I’m taking your advice, for once.”
“That’s a good boy.”  He cackled again as he collected his tea cups and carefully set them into his leather bag. Side by side, they lowered themselves off the top of the lion’s wagon-cage, the beast inside seeming not to care that his home was rocking back in forth under the weight of the two men.  They each went their separate ways.
Felix was surprised to find his heart beating as he approached Marta’s wagon.  Maybe I like her a little more than I thought.  He pushed on the door. Inside was a field of darkness. He stepped in, trying to let his eyes adjust, but he saw little more than black shadows against the very pale canvas cover of a window backlit by the setting moon. He softly stepped toward the bed and slipped himself back in. Marta’s hair tickled his neck. She adjusted slightly and put her arm back around him, but her breathing remained the deep, slow, steady rhythm of sleep.
Felix stared up, content to let sleep take him, trying to ignore the ache in his head, arm, and ankle as he tried to relax.
I wonder what K stands for.