Alright so I for Workshop Wednesday #2 I'm sharing a piece I worked on not too long ago. For those who do not know, I am a pretty big fan of World of Warcraft. Specifically the Goblins in Warcraft lore. They've got the goofy tinkering quirks of Warcraft Gnomes, and some other flavors on fantasy game goblins, with an air of criminality. The whole organized crime, mob-esque feel is fun to think about. The picture below of "Jastor Gallywix" gives a pretty good feel.
So I wanted to write something in the vein as Blizzard's Goblin Gangsters. You can learn more about them here, and see some cool artwork.
Scene Description: So when I think of the mob, or organized crime and stories about them ... one of the top things that comes to mind is the constant paranoia which must be on the back of every criminals mind. You may have heard the saying: "There is no honor among thieves", it seems crime lords/kingpins are never short of people who want to kill them.
So that's what I set out to write about. I wanted a scene which had the feel of a seedy backroom deal, and the way greed could lead to a lowering of defenses. How perhaps the level of paranoia over someone trying to kill you is warranted in that line of work. I also ended the scene in a way which would try and propel the reader onto the next scene/chapter if it were a longer piece.
I think I accomplished these goals in the piece below and I'm happy to see your thoughts, critiques, and otherwise in the comments! Please keep in mind the Workshop Wednesday pieces undergo very little editing. They're extremely raw, so I have no doubt spelling or grammar errors will be lurking within the sentences.
“Welcome to the big time, pal.” The shadowed creature behind the oak wood desk extinguished his cigar in a battered ashtray nestled between a crown of white candles, melted to little more than shapely blobs among tattered papers and knickknacks which littered the work space.
The cigar let out a faint hiss, like a serpent warning its prey to back away while it still could. Coils of smoke framed the beady-eyed face which now contorted into a shark-like grin, causing the shadows cast by the soft flickering candlelight from below to slither deeper into sunken eye sockets. As if to spur a response, a scarred green hand reached forth into the pool of light that bathed the desk and nudged a bulging burlap coin purse a tad closer. They jingled and clinked like prisoner chains. Even from all the way down the narrow corridors of the club Howell could hear the muffled plucks of a double bass and warbles of trumpets as the band drew their song to a close—cheers and applause followed down from the lounge to this back office, slipping beneath the crack of the wooden door and chestnut colored carpet.
A sucker is born every minute. Howell licked his lips, playing out a visible show of apprehension glazed with minor-anticipation. The earthy taste of the cigar hung in the air. He returned the shark grin with a smirk of his own, nodding an acknowledgment to the pint-sized, two-bit, pointy-eared crime boss which stood atop a plushly upholstered chair behind the desk—almost eye level, now. How such a scrawny goblin had ever risen to the top of one of the most feared crime organizations in Gobblesprocket was beyond figuring out. That coin purse, assuming the coinage within was legitimate, held a lot of money.
“So this is it?” Howell reached slowly to adjust the collar of his trench coat, noting an almost imperceptible flinch of the fat ogre bodyguard which loomed over both himself and the goblin a few feet away. The ogre sunk back into the hollow between two bookshelves as Howell eased him back with a calming gaze. Far enough away to be forgettable, but close enough to snap a poor fools neck if the moment came Howell thought. "It wasn't easy to get hold of that damn book. Havelock Stormbound has been hunting for this to bring back to Talon City's academics."
“Lis’n pal, you should be thankin’ me.” The goblin tugged the bottom of his suit coat flat, smoothing out one a few of the hundred wrinkles which marred the front. “I could just have Lug ‘ere snap your neck and be done with it.” The ogre grunted something low and guttural—a shiver went down Howells spine.
“But you’re too smart for that Tact.” Howell reached for the coin purse.
“That’s Sprock Tact to you, guy.” piped a voice from near the ogre.
Sprock? No doubt short for sprocket. As in sprocket wrench. Howell wondered at the obsession these little green freaks had with tools.
“My apologies.” Howell paused and gave a respectful nod toward Tact, and his rebuker—a plump goblin sinking into a tufted chintz armchair. A shock of red hair was plastered down with grease on the goblin's head, it swallowed the fiery light radiating from the dozens of candles on an end table next to him that had melted together into large blocks of beige wax. The plump goblin turned his glare from Howell back to the shotgun he had been obsessively cleaning for the last hour.
Howell grabbed the sack of coins and stuffed it away inside his coat, the weight of the cash a foreign feeling.
But a great one.
“Take it, you’ll be wealthy, kid.” Sprock Tact let himself down from the chair, nestling into the plush red cushions of his seat as he sat back and studied Howell through devious eyes. “Give it here.” Tact snapped and jabbed a long-nailed finger toward the small leather satchel at Howell’s side.
Howell obeyed, slipping the long strap of the bag over his head before dropping it onto a relatively clutter-free edge of the desk and letting the flap fall open. “There you go.”
“If this ain’t the book you said it was, you won’t be needing those coins.” Tact snatched the leather-bound book from the satchel, swift action stimulated by unmasked greed and anticipation. The book bulged from what seemed like pages barely contained by the golden locks and straps which kept it shut. Tact tugged at the straps, they didn’t budge.
“I didn’t know how to open it.” Howell shrugged innocently, tucking his hands back into his pockets.
Tact glowered, then sighed. “I almost didn’t believe ‘em when they said what you were bringing. A great way to end my week, and expand my collection. The only other discovered book like this was lost shortly after archaeological efforts uncovered them ... no one knows where or how." Sprock Tact gave a knowing look, his tone conveying that he indeed knew where. "Snotch, open this baby up.” Tact tossed the journal toward the shotgun-polishing lackey.
“May I be on my way?” Howell jerked his head toward the door, the band had started up a new tune which rolled in the familiar three-four time.
“Yea get outta here.” Tact flicked his hand, shooing away a dog he no-longer had any interest in. “If this ain’t legit, finding you won’t be hard. If it’s legit, then you did good kid. I’ll have some more work for you I’m sure.”
“Noted.” Howell fiddled with a small device sewn into the liner of his coat pocket, running a finger along the bevel of the button which pushed against the coat’s fabric. It was hard not to laugh, or at least chuckle, at the obliviousness of the crime lord. A gangster so known for his caution and paranoia, had thrown that same caution to the wind as soon as Howell had found a tempting enough item in which the prospective reward obliterated the risk of letting in some unknown kid.
Howell nodded toward Snotch and the ogre, as motionless as a statue, before turning around and heading out. He ignored Snotch ... that one gave him the creeps.
The door clicked shut behind him, and with it ended the feeling of unfriendly eyes boring into his back. Howell turned and squinted against the frosted glass, watching as two pointy-eared silhouettes melded into a fat, ogre-shaped, shadow eclipsing the flickering candlelight behind them. Excited voices from within told Howell they’d essentially forgotten about him by now, their attention rapt by the book. Having such big ears, he wondered if they’d hear the click of the striker before they died. Probably not, Howell guessed, if they did, it would be too late for them anyway.
He put his back to the door and pressed a device in his coat that rested against his leg, driving his index finger down on a small button.
“Full moon.” Leon Hunt sat back on his hands atop the jostling wagon, staring up at a sky laden heavy with thick clouds, swollen fat with rain. Ranger, and Lee, their two ram hounds rested with their heads buried in his lap.
“Blood moon. Always an interesting sign.” Caitlin added, comforted by the familiar weight of her twin Colt Navy 1851 revolvers which dangled at her side. As she spoke the words a phantom of gun smoke, distant in memory haunted her, the bitter taste on her tongue. Her grip tightened on the wagon reins, damp to the touch recalling the comforting kick of the weapons—a recoil she knew, and loved. The last time she’d seen a blood moon had definitely been an interesting course of events. She’d have sworn the tips of her revolvers almost matched the glow of the moon before her ammo had been spent, and the body of the wendingo convulsed a final time.
She stared up at the crimson body that watched down upon them tinting the frame of clouds red and lighting the trail where it forked a few yards ahead. She regarded the paths which cut through tall grasses, swaying to the periodic breeze. The left-most path continued on over the only hill they’d come across in the past hour, to presumably more flat expanse of Texan wilderness. The other pathway veered right, shadowed by twisted canopies of birch trees which grew from the hillside stretching off toward the northern horizon. Through slits of moonlight Caitlin caught the glittering surface of a river which flowed black through the wood, labored groans of the wagon which groaned beneath its full load nearly overpowered the low, heavy rumble of water. Where’s the source? Caitlin squinted through the trees to no avail. However odd the river’s presence was, its origin didn’t really matter right now. Water was water, its origin was probably deep in the wood known but to the sprites and other fay who possibly called the region home.
“Which way?” Leon’s words pulled her from her thoughts.
“Water’s right. So we go right.”
“I’m sure we’re only a mile or two from the next town.” He sounded almost pleading, hastening to unfolded a table map he’d picked up in one of the last towns before she could guide the wagon down the path Caitlin would claim to be too narrow to turn around easily.
“Don’t be a baby.” Caitlin guided Bitty to the right, the large blue roan horse responded quickly. She glanced at the map in Leon’s lap, the markings he’d made of their presumed course all but invisible as the trees began to block out the moonlight’s full glow. From where they sat perched on a seat the formed the first two feet of a stowage notch cut into the wagon’s roof, the threat of an errant branch was almost enough to make her want to walk alongside Bitty, but the threat of being further exposed to the unknown dangers down below convinced her to take her chances with the branches. She slumped slightly lower. It’s warmer here with the hounds too. “Is my canteen over there?” They plunged fully into the shadowed path, the rumble of the black river grew.
“If I could see, I would tell you.” She heard Leon’s searching hands thumping around the smattering of supplies secured against the hand railing and anchor bolts that lined the roof.
“It is pretty dark.” Caitlin managed to slump even lower. She was already shorter than Leon, a mere five six to his six two or so, at this angle she was level with the top of his elbow, nearly laying flat. Her back pushed into Lee who snuffled a protest and shifted away, taking his precious warmth.
“Can’t find it.”
“Well shoot.” Caitlin scowled. The path snaked gently through the woods a few turns before straightening, the river running alongside a few yards off, moonlight revealing a dense thicket of skeletal tree limbs and brush separating them. “Well, once we find a nice spot to stop and fill up I’ll check in the wagon. I think I see the end of the wood up ahead anywho. Rather quicker than I expected.” Much too quick. She’d not noticed any breaks in the swathe of trees from where they’d been. A pang of unease grew within her, she cast wary eyes to the edges of the dirt path. The air felt normal, any thickness or static that could possibly give away the presence of sorcery or a concealing enchantment conspicuously absent. Reckon you just weren’t in the right position. Yea, that’s it.
“At least we’ll have some light again.”
The pathway leveled and widened as they neared the end of their forested tunnel, Caitlin sat upright, awash in returned moonlight. The small forest of birches was actually a ring around a small valley, the flat horizon they’d been treated to on their journey so far had vanished, replaced by by the bristling uneven peaks of trees and domed clusters of birch leaves. The shadowed arboreal crowds looking more like a crowd of onlooking giants staring down into the grassy vale.
And the tumbledown ruins that inhabited its center.
“We can find water in there.” Caitlin felt the snares of curiosity seize her, excitement welling up within. The caution stoked by the peculiar wood all but vanished. “Yes, I think that’s where we shall look.”
“The river is—” Leon began.
“River be damned, I want to look in that overgrown sprawl Leon. Who knows what secrets it keeps.” The space below was a grand mess of courtyard walls, turrets, and colonnades. A manor house inhabiting the central courtyard, its windows black and porches empty. It was more a fortress than the typical plantation house or countryside dwelling. A conservatory stretched along one side of the manor, vanishing around a corner. Through the moonlight Caitlin could see the silhouettes of vegetation within, pressed against the glass. The glint of moonlight accented a few panes which were shattered along the roof, thick vines reaching through the breaches as if some leviathan plant was trying to hoist itself free.
“That’s what I’m afraid of Cait’.” He sighed, then grabbed her by the wrist and pointed.
Caitlin startled at his sudden movement, but kept quiet following the direction he indicated to where a short red brick wall jut up from the dirt angled slightly backward as it toyed with the idea of collapse. “Lost Grove Halfway Home.” She looked at Leon who stared with apprehension at the sprawl below. "Which area should we poke around first?"
Caitlin hopped down from her wagon, unlocking the drawers and storage compartments along its side where she stowed extra ammunition, holy water, silver, and all manner of items meant to rebuff the vilest of the vile monstrosities the fay world could throw at her.
“Is no area an option?”
“’Fraid not.” Caitlin frowned and shrugged, checking the satchel on her right side, it was full holding four small vials of cattlemantic brews. “Pick one.”
“Can I stay with the wagon?”
“And leave me to go poking around all by myself?” Caitlin scowled, Lee hopped down from Leon’s side and pattered around her feet. “What happened to chivalry? Protecting your lady folk ‘n what not?”
“It ended when my lady folk—” Caitlin smirked at the awkwardness of the words, “wanted to go poking around a clearly abandoned halfway home. Which, might I be adding, is not marked on the map here. Or, any other map I can recall seeing of the area. For what is probably good reason.”
“Probably.” Caitlin conceded, then turned to head down the path toward the courtyard.
“Is that all you’re going to say?” Leon asked.
Caitlin waved him on. “I want to know why it's not marked.”
I post on this blog rather sporadically as some of you may have noticed! As I balance out writing with "the day job" I will do my best to post more consistently.
Thank you for your support and feedback!
Matthew Taylor was born February 13, 1991 in Simi Valley, California. He earned a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from California State University Channel Islands, where he served as treasurer and briefly President of one of the campus's two political clubs. While earning his degree he continued to write and hone his craft, eventually releasing an initial few short stories on Kindle.