Orthadai Bloom was fond of graveyards. They were neat, quiet, and they took things seriously. Most people, he knew, thought of graveyards as places of death; of endings. Of things lost. But to Orthadai Bloom, they were quite the opposite. A graveyard contained the lives of countless people, countless stories; stories with happy endings and sad ones. The only unfortunate part was that most of the stories lived—or rather, did not live—only in the memories of the dead.
Orthadai Bloom was not the name he had been given, though that might seem the only fathomable way to have acquired such a name. He did not remember the name he had been given. Only the one he had chosen for himself. He had found this name written on a tombstone; an old, moss-covered thing from a forgotten century. That had been back when he still remembered his given name, and had been searching for a way to get rid of it. He’d left his old name buried in that graveyard so long ago, and taken the name Orthadai Bloom out with him. A fair trade, he’d thought. A name for a name. A story for a story. A life, for the history of the one he’d had to abandon.
Orthadai Bloom’s life had been granted to him by a graveyard. Now, he thought, how ironic was it that Orthadai Bloom was about to die in one. The moonlight reflected off the long, thin knife in the other man’s hand. Orthadai looked down and realized that his fist was clenched in a similar fashion. The only problem was that his hand was clenched on empty air. He decided it looked silly, and stuck his fists in the pockets of his long duster.
“You’re a very clever man, Mr. Bloom,” the voice rasped. It sounded like nails scraping on a chalkboard made of sandpaper, and the words formed a cloud in the freezing night air.
Think, you fool, Orthadai told himself. Think very fast.
He affected an expression of pleased surprise. “Why thank you, Mr. Parthy. I’m glad to hear you say that. One is always grateful for the opinion of a true professional.”
“Do you know how long it took me to track you down, Mr. Bloom?”
Given that I’m still alive, I’d guess a fairly long time. “How long, Mr. Parthy?”
The man with the knife grinned, the scar across his eye stretching tight.
“Two weeks, Mr. Bloom. Do you know how long it normally takes me, Mr. Bloom?”
Two minutes, I just need two minutes to think, just two minutes . . . “I could never guess.”
“Two days. You’re skilled, Mr. Bloom, I’ll give you that.”
There. That’ll do. “Your opinion is very much appreciated, Mr. Parthy.”
Just keep him talking. Keep him walking forward. Just a little bit farther. Parthy was good at his job, Orthadai knew, but his skill set was specialized, and thus rather limited. He was also extremely lacking in imagination. In Parthy’s experience, this kind of scene always went the same way:
One: exchange of banter and threats.Two: bribe attempts made by Victim. Three:bribe accepted, because he was only being paid so much and a little extra couldn’t hurt and who would know the difference anyway? Four:victim is eternally grateful.Five: victim is distracted by eternal gratefulness. Six:victim is impaled upon knife blade. And seven: he, Parthy, goes and sees if the local pub is any good.
Orthadai’s imagination, however, was a bit more colorful. Besides, he knew every inch of this particular graveyard as well as he knew his own face, which was remarkable given the fact that he avoided mirrors and had an odd tendency to never show up in photographs.
“Please, Mr. Parthy. We’re both reasonable business men, are we not? There are a number of ways this could end. Maybe we have a fight, I somehow manage to escape, and then after I’m gone, you happen to find a purse that I happened to drop. Does that sound like a plausible outcome?”
Parthy grinned. “Plausible indeed, Mr. Bloom. If that were to happen, where do you think I might find said purse?”
Slowly, warily, Orthadai shuffled over to a tree on Parthy’s left, and reached behind it.
“I put my satchel here before you dropped by for a visit, Mr. Parthy. I should be able to find something for you.”
“Wonderful, Mr. Bloom. I’m sure both parties will be very pleased by our arrangement.”
“Yes, I’m sure they will,” Orthadai said as he felt around the tree in the dark. Then his hand found what it was looking for. “Ah. Here we are.” He looked up at the assassin and smiled pleasantly. “This should just about do it, Mr. Parthy.”
Then Orthadai stood and walloped the man across the side of the head with his sizeable fragment of tombstone. There was a satisfying crunch, and Mr. Parthy dropped like he was a stone himself. Orthadai gave a whisper of a chuckle and dropped the slab of broken tombstone, which hit the ground with a dull thud. Then he bent to squint through the darkness at the inscription.
“Ther if No Greatre Sfcoorge opon Thif Earthe Than Pickled Frogf.” “You have my thanks, Mr. Delaney,” Orthadai said solemnly.
He looked down at Parthy. Orthadai very much doubted that the man was dead. Parthy was one of those thick-skulled types; hit them on the head with a tombstone and he’d be down for a while, but then you’d just have to do it again next week. Orthadai sighed. He couldn’t have the man following him. That would be downright irritating, not to mention the fact that Parthy probably wouldn’t be considerate enough to catch him in a graveyard next time. He looked around, hoping that inspiration might present itself from somewhere. Not necessarily gift-wrapped, but he wouldn’t object to that. Then his eyes fell on the bit about pickled frogs on Minstrig Delaney’s tombstone . . .
And he smiled.