How to Trick a Demon
Shane returned to his table and set the mugs down before plopping dejectedly into his chair. The laughter had died as quickly as it had come to life, but Shane still thought he saw sidelong, amused glances in his direction. He heaved a heavy sigh.
“Like I said,” Gram said, picking up his mug. “Don’t be so sensitive. So you said something silly. So what? Should have seen me when I first came here. Whoo-boy.”
“Why, what happened?”
“Weeeelll…” Gram drew the word out as he stretched his arms overhead. “Let’s just say that I had earned myself a bit of a reputation up and down the road out there. Had a beauty waiting for me in every inn and hostel between here and the coast. And in the mountains, I had a bevy of lasses just waiting for my return.”
He smiled at the memory and took a drink.
“Anyway, I walked through that very door, the same one you did, and had much the same reaction. I looked around and took notice of the inn, then the customers, and finally, I noticed our dear Lyra. I was even more thunderstruck than you were, but, of course, I was too worldly to show such a thing. So, I fell back on a behavior that had treated me well in my travels.”
“What did you do?” Shane had his mug in his hand, sipping steadily at it while listening to Gram speak. The older man had a pleasant voice with an easy story-telling style that had Shane hanging on his every word.
“I waited until Lyra had turned around to pour a mug of beer, marched behind that bar, and got myself a pinch of her spectacular rear-end.”
“You didn’t!” Shane breathed.
“I did, indeed.” Gram chuckled and took a good-sized swig from his mug.
As fascinated as he was, Shane wasn’t sure he wanted to hear the rest of Gram’s story. If he and Lyra really had… well, he just didn’t want to think about it.
He stuck his nose in his mug and leaned back for a big swallow. When he came up for air, almost against his will, he said. “What happened then?”
Gram turned and looked at the wall behind them. He ran his finger down the boards.
“What are you doing?” Shane asked.
“Looking for the dent my head made when she threw me here.”
Shane snorted beer through his nose, which set him coughing all over again, while Gram pounded him on the back. When he calmed down, Shane stared at Gram, who was grinning back at him.
“Is that true?” he asked.
“Every word of it,” Lyra called from the bar, affirming Shane’s suspicion that not much went on there without her knowledge.
He gazed at her in adoration again, but she had already turned back to the barrel of beer and the business at hand.
“What a dolt,” Shane said, then regretted his choice of words. “Sorry.”
“No need to be sorry,” Gram said. “I was a dolt. A total blunder-head and a cad, to boot. But I was a much younger man, then.”
“It was last year, Gram,” Lyra called out again.
This time every table burst into laughter and Shane joined in. Gram laughed the hardest and raised his mug in salute to their innkeeper. Everyone else raised theirs, a resounding, “To Lyra!” rang out, and the mugs were drained, Shane’s along with them.
“We’ll hold off on the next one for a few minutes,” Gram suggested.
Shane peered morosely into his empty mug. “Why?”
In answer, the sound of several chairs being pushed away from tables at once reached him. Moments later, the bar was three-deep in patrons all waiting for Lyra to refill them.
“Happens every time there’s a toast,” Gram said. “But while we’re waiting, we don’t you tell me what it is you’re doing here?”
Othor had warned him about revealing too much to anyone, telling him that there were those who would try to take advantage of his youth and situation, and they’d promise more than they could deliver.
“I’m just visiting,” Shane said.
“No, you’re not,” Gram replied. “You’re looking for something.”
“How do you know that?”
“You have that look. You didn’t come to see Lyra, because you didn’t know about her, which is the number one reason a man comes to the Gray Friar. You’re not a beer drinker, although I can see you’re enjoying it now, and that’s the number two reason a man comes to the Gray Friar. So you’re here for reason number three, which is to hire someone to do something.”
Shane didn’t have a ready answer.
“No matter,” Gram said lightly, getting to his feet. “The crowd has thinned out, so I’ll get our next two, on me, as promised. When I return, I’ll leave you to your thoughts.”
He showed Shane what a true saunter was supposed to look like, as well as how a certain type of man interacted with Lyra. He spoke easily to her, had the money in hand without Shane ever seeing him take it from a purse or pocket, and carried the mugs back with the familiarity of someone who’d carried many of them over his lifetime.
“Here you go, Shane. I wish you luck in your endeavors, whatever they are, and hope you find what you’re looking for.”
He nodded once and turned to go.
“I’m looking for someone,” Shane said quietly.
He still wasn’t sure he could trust Gram, but the man had made some shrewd observations. Plus, he hadn’t pushed when Shane had resisted talking about his purpose. Plus, he was in Lyra’s good graces and that spoke volumes to the type of man he was. Or at least, Shane hoped it did. He didn’t see how it could be anything else.
“Ah, well, that’s something to discuss.” Gram took his seat and looked expectedly at Shane.
“Who is it?” he asked, when Shane said nothing further. “A lost love, perhaps? Or someone who owes you money? Or, a miscreant who has done you a wrong you feel the need to right?”
“None of the above,” Shane replied, but he kept his voice low. “It’s a friend. From my village. She went missing, and I’m going to find her.”
Gram nodded and took a sip of his beer as Shane did the same. “That makes sense. But let me ask you this, friend Shane. How do you know this young lady didn’t simply leave the hamlet of her birth for a different life? Notice, I don’t say better. I have no idea how her life was there, whether her parents were kind or cruel, whether she was beautiful or ugly, or whether she had friends or was a pariah. It’s all immaterial. She may simple have wanted something else.”
“No,” Shane shook his head. “That’s not it. I know her.”
“So my first guess was correct. A lost love.” He sighed and drank. “Something I’m familiar with myself.”
“Not a love,” Shane insisted. “Just a friend. She was my best friend, growing up. Farmingham isn’t a big place, and there aren’t that many kids. She and I were the same age, so we did a lot of stuff together. That’s all.”
“I’m sure,” Gram agreed. “Your friend, then. But my question remains. How do you know she didn’t simply leave on her own and doesn’t wish to be found?”
“I just do,” Shane said. “She was taken. And I know by who.”
“Ah, well, now we’re getting somewhere. We simply find this mysterious ‘who’ of yours, and we return the young woman to the embrace of her loving family and the warm glow of your… friendship.”
Shane drained the rest of his mug. His head was feeling slightly foggy, but he had the feeling that Gram didn’t believe him when he said that he and Talia were only friends and that there was nothing else between them. Nor did the man believe that Shane knew who took her, or why it was such a problem.
That was going to change. Gram seemed competent enough, and may have made a good traveling companion. But even the strongest warrior would blanch at what faced Shane in his quest.
He looked around to make sure that no one was paying undue attention to them. In his corner, Crag lifted a bowl of frogmead to him and smiled. Shane waved back, tried to take a drink from his empty mug, and fixed his gaze steadily on Gram.
“It’s not that easy,” he repeated, “because the ones who took her are the Black Friars.”