Owin #52 — Another player in the game?

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Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo
Photo ©Depositphotos.com / Oleksandr Minyaylo

Owin had watched Gwen wait near the statue in Patrick Square for several turns of the glass, but her contact had not come. Eventually, she followed Owin’s instructions and went to a series of public houses to sit and wait the rest of the day away in relative safety. It ate at him, but Owin had been unable to sit with her and keep her safe. Just too many other things to do, he told himself.

Owin forced a laugh. His attention had wondered again when another pair of people entered Iesa’s Public House and he missed the fact that the man to his left had played a knight and a squire in the last round. “My luck is just not what it normally is,” he said as he put his cards face down on the table. At this rate, I really don’t have to pretend to lose.

“Your luck seems perfectly good to me,” said the oily-haired man sitting across from him.

Owin smiled and shrugged. He knew little about the three men he was gambling with. They had simply been a convenient group to offer him cover. “You’ll have to take it easy on me or you’ll run me out of money.”

“I think that’s the idea,” the man on his left said quietly.

Owin did not bother to reply. He had won one hand earlier and since then had only lost a third of a silver crown of his own money. The other nice thing about this group it that they were keeping the bets pretty low.

Owin glanced over the oily man’s shoulder again and used the man’s turn to deal as an excuse to watch a pair of men enter the building. He saw a subtle brushing of shoulders that would have caused two strangers to at least look at each other. These men did not acknowledge the contact and simply went in separate directions. One strolled to the bar with an easy gate. The second man, shorter than the first, moved to a table where he could watch the first man and the door.

Owin glanced at his mug. He had left it mostly empty for the last three hands. Now he picked it up and finished off the last of the ale. Lifting the mug, he signaled for a waitress near the bar to refill the beverage. In the process, he took note of the taller, dark-haired man and the small weapons he carried. Owin saw at least two knives on his belt as well as a short, single-handed sword. A slight bulge under his shirt made Owin think the man likely had at least one more dagger concealed on his person.

“That’s a dancer to you,” the man on Owin’s right said, drawing his attention back to the game. Owin had not recognized either man who had come into the public house, but both looked like hired muscle and both turned to watched as Gwen entered the public house.

Owin lifted his cards with his right hand, glancing at their contents while he turned to the waitress, who was walking toward their table with his ale. The man at the bar pretended to continue watching the door as Gwen passed him on her way to the far end of the bar where the Steward’s contact had been waiting long enough to finish a mug of ale. However, after she passed his position, the tall man turned his head to get a solid look at her back before he turned his focus away from her.

“Thank you,” Owin said to the young woman with his ale as he slipped her a couple of coins. Quickly taking a card from his hand, he put in down over the dancer and turned to the man on his left as the man on his right groaned in disgust; Owin intended to win this hand and put some money back into his pouch.  If I can’t take it out on the Steward, these men will do.

After a couple more chances to bet and to the play the cards remaining in his hand, Owin finished with a smile he forced to his face. Through a bit of deception and careful choices on the order of the cards, he won back enough to break even from the afternoon’s activities with that one hand.

“Your luck is changing,” the oily man said.

Owin shrugged.  Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Gwen looked as though she would soon be wrapping up her conversation.  Having already palmed a third of the coins he won, Owin glanced at what was left on the table. “Well, I need to get home to my wife. She’ll be pissed that I lost as much as I have,” he lied, “but if I use the rest to buy her some sweetmeats, she might not notice.”

Owin stood before the men could protest, snatched the remaining coins from the table, and quickly headed toward the door.  On the way out, he turned his head toward an attractive woman, leaving no doubt for anyone in the room where his attention had fallen. Once out the open door, he turned sharply to the right and continued past any open windows until no one inside the public house would be able to see him.

Clear of observation, he quickly crossed the street, ducked down a side alley, squatted down behind a rain barrel, and waited. Come on Gwen, don’t take too long. He bit his lower lip and shifted his feet slightly to keep the pressure off his ankles. His leaving early would be a signal to her that she had a watcher. Now, is it the Steward, some of Denton’s men, Duke Henry’s men, or someone else? Owin had no way to know for certain. At least not yet.

A group of three well-dressed men passed the alley on the near side of the street. Their lively conversation indicated a bit of drink had already been consumed.  Once they were gone, it was several long moments before he saw Gwen walk past the front of the alley on the far side of the street. Owin waited a little longer and as he expected one of the men followed a short distance behind her.  He waited some more and then after the count of ten, the taller man followed as well.

Counting to ten again, Owin rose to his feet went back to the street. He hoped Gwen would not panic. He did not doubt her bravery, but the idea of being alone with unknown threats would make even an experienced man nervous.

On the street, he saw several people moving in both directions. Gwen had moved quickly and was already even with the group of men Owin had noticed earlier. The two men who were following her were keeping pace, but held back and retained their separation.

Without looking behind herself, Gwen crossed the street just ahead of the three young men. Owin worked to match her pace, hoping the other people on the street would conceal his presence from the men tailing Gwen.

After two more blocks, Gwen stopped and walked up the steps of a boarding house that Owin had identified previously. Owin had reconfirmed the door had been unlocked during the afternoon and importantly, the building held a long hall where Gwen could hide.  Even more importantly, a small open-front public house sat only three buildings down. As Gwen entered the door of the boarding house, Owin sat at an open table. The two men who had been following her were trapped between them with no obvious place to stop. However, the first one did stop and waited the second man join him.  The two of them chatted for several moments while they watched the door of the boarding house.

Owin ordered ale and kept his attention turned directly across the street. With his peripheral vision, he would notice if they moved, but neither of the men should notice his attention.

Quicker than he expected, the two men continued walking down the street. They now moved with purpose and Owin had to rise from the table before his ale arrived. He left a few coins on the table in the hope the waitress would not call out in complaint.

Taking even more care to avoid being noticed, Owin continued to follow the men. So engrossed in their quiet conversation, neither man appeared to notice Owin as they made their way across the town and into a rundown shop with boards over the windows. From the light leaking through the gaps in the boards, Owin guessed there was already someone inside the three-story building with a lamp.

Finding a nook next to a flower planter down the street, Owin sat down and pulled his knees to his chest to minimize his silhouette, and unlike these men, Owin remained vigilant for some time, waiting until night had fully settled in and the lamp inside the building was turned down. No one else came or went while he watched.

So who are you and what is your game?

Continue to next episode.