The Easy Mark
by Sarah B.
The two footpads sat in the filthy alley across from the tavern,
"Pickins sure is rotten tonight, Mudge." said one from
his perch atop an old barrel.
A pause, the sound of a dirty head being scratched, then a reply
from the ground below him. "Yew got that right, mate."
One of the sniffed. A shadow approached the tavern.
Mate slapped his partner's shoulder. "Whut about 'im, eh?"
Another pause, a shake of the head. "Nah. Too big. I don't
fancy gettin' caught, alls I want is a few coppers."
Mate grunted his disappointment, and the shadow disappeared inside
the wooden door.
More footsteps. Mate tapped Mudge's shoulder again eagerly, then
stopped when he saw that it was three Naval officers, in a group.
"Damn." He said, deflated.
His partner looked up at him. "Well, yew must have some brains
left. We wouldn't get ten paces robbin' the likes o' them."
"Yer." Mate sat back on the barrel and drummed his fingers
impatiently on the rim. "Sure is slow tonight, Mudge."
"Weren't like this always, remember them old days? All them
officers in port, and no war to take 'em off to sea. We lived
like kings then."
Mudge shook his shaggy head. "I like this better. Them officers
come back with prize money."
"Cor, and 'ow much o' that do we see, eh? They knows better
than to go anywhere alone." Mate scratched his head again.
"Yer, we was royalty then."
"We 'ad benefactors then." Mudge pointed out somewhat
Mate frowned. "Whut's a benny-fackter?"
"Someone 'o 'elps you out when ye're in a spot. Like, they
hires you when you need work."
"Owh! I gets ya now. Yeh, we had some o' those. Dunno whut
'appened to 'em."
Mudge shrugged. "Gone is all I know. 'ey!"
Another shadow, a well-dressed woman and her escort.
"'ere," Mate whispered, "Whut about them, then?
He looks soft, and she'd fall over all swooning, wouldn't even
be a fight."
"Hm. Maybe. I'm game for just about anything, just now."
"Yer." The drumming stopped. "Damn them beadles
anyway. We could be at the dock right now, finding us another
benny-fackter, 'stead of sittin' 'ere scratchin' for a few lousy
No reply. Mudge was watching the street.
"Yeh..." Mate continued dreamily. "Get us another
o' them Naval blokes 'oo needs some dirty work done, Christ those
were the days! A few waylayings, a couple of paybacks for slights
real or imagined, an' we'd live like the bloody king for a week.
Yeh, our benny-fackter. Whut were 'is name?"
"Yow, that's it. Wunder whutever 'appened to 'im."
Mudge tensed. "Shut up."
Mate turned toward the tavern. "Yew got one?"
"Maybe." Mudge went into a crouch, his eyes narrowing
into scrutinizing slits. "'e's an officer, and 'e's alone."
Mate craned his neck, saw a fair-haired young man walking slowly
toward the tavern. "I dunno, 'e looks a little too hale for
my taste. I likes the ones'll give us the bob an' run. I don't
likes the ones whut fights."
Mudge was still sizing the officer up, then said slowly, "Wait
a bit - cor blimey, mate, we knows this one!"
"Yer, take another look, when he turns around. 'e was younger
then, but tell me that ain't one o' them pups off our benefactor's
Mate waited until the officer's face hit the lamplight, then said,
"Jesus Christ, mudge, it is! I'd'a thought 'e'd be dead by
"He ain't, and that's our good fortune. It's whut we've been
waitin' for all night."
"Whut, 'im? Whatchoo mean?"
"An easy mark, you sod, an easy mark! Don't you recollect
'ow that boy would carry on in the old days? 'ow he'd cringe every
time our benefactor came 'round? Like 'e'd been beat and didn't
fight back no more. Oh, 'e's an easy one."
Mate sat back on the barrel. "But supposin' 'e's changed
since then? That's been years."
"Oh, no," Mudge rubbed his hands together with a wicked
smile, "Look at 'im, goin' in alone with just a book for
company, just like 'e used to do. An' him an officer now, and
all that coin just for us."
"Yeh, and a big fancy sword!"
"He'll never use it. One cuff on his head, just like the
old days, and he'll give us anything we want. I know this one,
mate, and 'e's all ours. All we have to do is wait."
So they waited. Two hours they waited, then three. No other prospects
showed any promise, so by the time the local clock struck half
past eleven, it was decided: the fair-haired officer for certain.
Mudge had marked where the officer had come from, so it was a
simple matter to find an alley along that route and lay in wait.
The street was dark and deserted, and Mudge was almost gloating
with anticipation. It was going to be a glorious robbery.
Finally, after much watching, Mate, who had been sitting with
his back to the wall in abject boredom, heard his partner's whispered
voice saying, "Get up!"
Which Mate did, reluctantly. "'e's comin'?"
"Not yet," Mudge replied, and Mate noticed he was looking
the opposite way from the tavern, "but here comes another
one, an' he's alone too. I say we get 'im for practice."
Mate peeked at the distant figure, lit fitfully by the streetlamps,
"Cor, look at 'im. We'll have to be careful not to break
'im in two."
Mudge chuckled, a very ugly sound by the way, and said, "All
right, careful now."
And they both retreated into the alleyway.
The footsteps that marked the officer's approach became louder
and louder. Mudge, who was very good at what he did, bobbed his
head in rhythm, his hands coming up higher, higher, higher -
Mudge lunged out of the alley, throwing his burly arms tight around
the officer's upper body and dragging him into the darkness before
he could cry out. As soon as he'd done so his partner gave the
man one clean punch right across his jaw.
The officer struggled, although Mate was satisfied to see the
blow had made him dizzy. In a voice that was thick with blood
he cried out, "By God, you'll - "
Mate struck again, and Mudge threw their mark to the ground, inside
the alley where there was no chance for escape. Drawing his pistol
he said, "Shut up! Your purse."
The officer began to struggle to his feet, one hand on his sword.
He could not see behind him, however, and Mate grabbed his collar
and clobbered him on the back of the head. Stunned, the officer
fell to his knees.
"You Naval men, always making things 'arder than they has
to be," Mudge shook his head as Mate took the officer's sword
and purse. Noticing that the young man's eyes were open and glaring
he sneered, "Bet you think you're pretty high and mighty,
eh? Well, not 'ere."
"Cor!" Mate exclaimed in dismay as he opened the purse.
"This blighter's as broke as we are."
Mudge winced, but took the sword and unsheathed it, pointing it
squarely at the officer's chest. "See whut else we can take
as recompense, mate."
Mate obliged, while the officer sat glaring in the dirt, dabbing
now and again at his bleeding lip. "You filth." he muttered.
"Well, I'm frightened at that," Mudge answered sarcastically
as Mate handed him a small handful of trinkets. Mudge fingered
them through, frowning at the engraved watch he held. "What
the hell kind of name is 'Hornblower'?"
"A better name than yours," The officer replied hotly.
"Hah!" Mudge handed Mate the sword and as his partner
kept its blade at Horatio's chest used both hands to pick through
the stolen goods, dropping what he didn't want into the dirt.
He picked up one item, a lady's portrait on a broken chain, and
sniffed. "This don't even look like silver."
Mudge dropped it, then noticed that the officer's eyes never left
it, even when it landed in the dirt. Cocking his head at this
he asked, "Why keep it then?"
The officer's eyes snapped up to glare at him even more intensely.
"Go to the devil."
Mudge glanced at his partner, then with a smirk picked the chain
back up and put it in his pocket. "I think I'll keep it,
just to vex ya."
The officer's expression changed, much to his robbers' satisfaction.
"Well," Mudge sighed as he shoved the rest of the items
into his pocket and gave Mate a nudge so he lowered the sword.
A little. "Ye're a disappointment, but I'll keep the sword
and I won't kill ya. On yer way now."
"You think I'm just going to walk away from you?" The
officer stood, a little shakily but obviously still defiant. "Have
you never dealt with a member of His Majesty's navy?"
Mudge and Mate looked at each other and laughed. "Cor, lots
of times, mate! Even 'ad business dealin's with a few of 'em.
They weren't no better than us, and in some ways they was a lot
worse. You ain't so much just cause ye're one 'o' them."
Lord, those eyes! "Oh?"
"If you only knew, 'ornblower!" Mudge chortled as he
shook his head. "Oh, if you only knew!"
And he pulled the broken necklace out of his pocket, and laughed.
Of course, he knew that would goad the officer into trying to
fight him, and it did. But he'd already been hit three times,
and was dizzy and disoriented; it was easy work to push him back
a little, and then land another punch to lay him in the dirt.
"Christ, these officers!" Mudge held the necklace in
his fist and watched as Hornblower lay groaning in the dirt. "Mate,
finish him off, will you? I don't want no trouble here come tomorrow
Mate didn't move, so Mudge turned to repeat his request when he
noticed a very peculiar look on his partner's face.
Then he noticed the sword point set firmly against his partner's
back, and the angry-looking fair haired officer who was holding
the sword in one hand, and Mate's collar in the other. Mudge very
The officer smiled coldly. "Now that I have your attention,
*gentlemen*, first - drop the sword, if you please."
Mate didn't move.
The fair-haired officer gave his collar an angry rattle. "NOW."
The sword clattered into the dirt.
"Now you," The officer said in the same deadly voice,
turning those blazing eyes to Mudge, "The pistol. Unless
you want to see your comrade's entrails all over the street."
Mate's eyes bulged, and he looked at Mudge in frantic anger. "THIS
was the easy mark?!"
Mudge hesitated, then gave the fair-haired officer a colder smile.
"How about if I shoot your friend instead?"
Mate cried out, but it was too late. Mudge turned to see Hornblower
lunging for him, and together they rolled into the street.
It should have been an easy win; after all, this officer was two
inches away from being unconscious, and was bleeding on top of
it. And for a few moments, Mudge felt himself winning as Hornblower's
grip lessened, and the blows he dealt Mudge became weaker and
more scattered. Yes, this was going to be -
Then all of a sudden two strong hands grabbed him from behind
and spun him into the dirt, then slammed him across the jaw, all
in the space of a second. Startled, Mudge looked up to see the
fair-haired officer standing over him, face ruddy with fury and
one hand holding a gleaming sword whose point was pressed firmly
into Mudge's chest.
"Now then, sir," the officer panted, "Do I have
For a very brief moment Mudge considered it; then he thought of
who he was fighting, and how this child's blood was up but at
heart he was the sniveling little coward he'd always been, and
decided he'd be damned if he'd give up so easy. "Surrender?
To Simpson's little whipping boy?"
Yes, if brute force didn't intimidate, having something on your
victim always did. Mudge expected to see those memories come back,
and the frightened coward with them. And then it would be easy.
But instead the officer just tucked his chin down a little and
leaned over. "Surrender to a lieutenant in His Majesty's
It hadn't worked! Worried now, Mudge glanced over to Mate for
assistance, but saw that his partner had been knocked out and
was lying in the alley, his hands tied with a dark blue kerchief.
His attention was drawn back by a sharp little jab from the sword.
The officer was still glaring at him. "You removed some things
from Mr. Hornblower's person. Relieve yourself of them at once."
"Uh - " Mudge dug into his pocket and withdrew the trinkets,
including the broken necklace. As he placed them on the ground
next to him he looked up at the angry god looming over him and
said, "I'm right, though, ain't I? You used to be on Simpson's
ship. I know you. I *know* you!"
Now that should have done it, if nothing else did. Mudge did know
about this boy, knew things that would have sent most men running
for the shadows, and the way he said his words, there was no chance
that his meaning could have been lost.
But it was lost. It had to be. Because the youth didn't cower,
and he didn't run; instead, he leaned forward again, his blue
eyes glittering hard in the lamplight, and growled, "You
know *nothing* of me. Get up."
For a moment Mudge didn't move; he was still considering his options.
His partner was down, and this officer was furious at him, or
something, and that was always bad. But on the other hand, in
a few moments that anger might fade and then he could make a run
for it. Yes, just let the boy relax just a little...
Then Hornblower groaned, and Mudge's chance was lost. The other
officer heard that groan, and it triggered some reflex in him
that made him reach forward, grab Mudge by the neck of his grubby
shirt and scream, "Get UP damn you!" With that exclamation
Mudge found himself hauled to his feet, just in time to see the
beadle running toward them.
Oh, damn, he thought, and knew his career was - at least temporarily
- over. Damn damn damn.
"Horatio?"As soon as the beadle showed up, Archie shoved
the wretched specimen away from him and ran to Horatio's aid,
getting down on one knee to help his friend to a sitting position.
"Are you all right?"
"Damn!" Horatio cursed as he sat up and dabbed at his
mouth. "Those bastards! Damn!"
Relieved, Archie gave his friend a sympathetic thump on the back
and said, "Don't worry, they've been paid back with interest,
I think. Can you stand?"
"To find my way out of here? Certainly!" With Archie's
help, Horatio made his way to a standing position, and saw the
beadle. Glancing to his right, then his left, Horatio took in
the scene and asked, "Both of them, Archie? The captain will
be most impressed."
"He had better be," Archie answered lightly, and bending
down scooped Horatio's belongings up into his hand. "Here,
Mr. Hornblower, I believe these are yours."
"Thank you," Horatio replied as he sifted the dirt out
of what Archie had given him. He picked the necklace out of the
pile and examined it closely, muttering again, "Thank you,
"Well!" The beadle said gruffly as he secured Mudge's
hands behind him, and turned jaded eyes to the alleyway. "Seems
you young gents have had the rum go of it tonight. These two jumped
"Yes, sir," Horatio nodded as he wiped off his pants.
"I will make whatever statement you may desire, to hold these
two gen - these two men accountable for their actions."
The beadle shook his head. "You fancy Naval types. Just come
round in the mornin', I'll lock these two up till then."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Horatio nodded, and watched
as the beadle yanked the other robber to his feet, where he swayed
groggily. In a moment the beadle was marching both of them down
Archie walked over to where Horatio's sword still lay, and picked
it up. "Well, that's over. Perhaps now you can tell me what
the devil you were doing alone down here in the middle of the
"Coming to find you, actually," Horatio replied with
a nod of thanks as he reclaimed his sword, "The company was
very dull on ship, and I thought to surprise you."
"Instead you were the one surprised!" Archie answered
with a smile and a shake of his head. "Well, enough of this.
To the sick berth, Mr. Hornblower, to stuff your errant brains
back into your errant head."
"Ugh!" Horatio exclaimed as the two young men turned
around on the cobblestone street, and began to find their way
home in the dark. "I can only imagine what Dr. Sebastian
will say when he sees this. Surely it can wait till morning -
"Oh, you'd rather get a lecture *after* that knob on your
head is the size of a grapefruit? Of course, he'll go much easier
on you then!"
Their steps sounded in the silence for a few moments.
"You know, Archie, I was almost unconscious but I could have
sworn I heard that one fellow say something about Simpson. Was
I completely mad?"
Step. Step. Step. "I wouldn't be surprised if he knew the
likes of those two."
"But - no consequence?"
More silence. Then:
"Well - of course in the morning you will have your story
to tell," Horatio commented, "And then I shall have
to hear for endless weeks how Archie Kennedy rescued his shipmate
Archie laughed companionably and promised, "Until you can't
stand it another minute, I assure you!"
"Mr. Kennedy, you are a hateful human being."
"Mr. Hornblower, I cannot help myself. You are far too much
of an easy mark."