Dead Man's Rain

Dead Man's Rain by Frank Tuttle

Book: Dead Man's Rain by Frank Tuttle Read Free Book Online
Authors: Frank Tuttle
Tags: Fantasy
Chapter One

    Noon found me standing at the edge of a fresh-dug grave. Sunlight mocked and set the blue jays to singing, but couldn’t quite reach the Sarge’s casket, no matter how hard the sun shone.
    I crumbled a damp clod of earth, let it fall.
    We’d lived through the War, the Sarge and I. Lived through the three-month siege at Ghant. Lived through the fall of Little Illa. Lived through two years in the swamps. I’d once seen the Sarge snatch an arrow out of the air and shove it in a charging Troll’s eye, and now he was dead after slipping and falling in a public bath.
    “Bye, Sarge,” I said. “You deserved better.”
    I met an Orthodox priest as I walked away. He dipped his red mask in greeting and slowed to a traipse, but I fixed my eyes on a big old pin oak and marched past. I’d said all my words, and had no use for his.
    I was halfway to the cemetery gates when Mama Hog stepped out of the shadow of a poor man’s headstone and planted herself squat and square in my path.
    And that’s when it started. I knew before she spoke what she was going to say. And I knew that I should have just keep walking, ignoring her like I did the priest, ignoring everything and everybody except a bar-keep named One-Eyed Eddie and his endless supply of tall, cold glasses. The Sarge was dead and I turned forty with the sunrise and the Hell with everything else.
    But I stopped. “What is it, Mama?” I said, gazing out over the neat, still ranks of sad-eyed angels and tall white grave-wards. “Come to pick out a spot?”
    Mama grinned up at me with all three of her best teeth.
    “Come to find you, boy,” she said. “Come to send you some business.”
    “The only kind of business I need now is the kind Eddie runs,” I said. “Anything else can wait.”
    Mama frowned. “This ain’t any old business,” she said, shaking a stubby finger at my navel. “This is Hill business.”
    Behind us, the first spade of dirt hit the Sarge’s coffin with a muted, faraway thump .
    “Hill business,” I said. “One of your rich ladies need a finder?”
    Mama’s card-and-potion shop does a brisk business when sleek black carriages that hurry to her curb disgorge Hill ladies wrapped in more cloaks and veils than the weather truly demands. I don’t know how Mama attracts such well-heeled clients, but she does, and more than twice a week.
    Mama Hog cackled. “Rich widow, boy. Rich widow.” She grinned and shook her head. “She needs more than a finder, I reckon, but you’re the best I can do.”
    The thump-thumps of earth on coffin came faster now. I squinted toward the gate, not wanting the Sarge’s widow to catch me in the graveyard. Outsiders aren’t welcome at Orthodox funerals, and the service would begin as soon as the coffin lid was fully covered with earth.
    I sighed. “Let’s walk, Mama,” I said. “You can tell me on the way.”
    Thump-thump . Another shovel rose and fell.
    “He was a good man, your Sergeant,” said Mama. She fell in step beside me. “No words taste more bitter than goodbye.”
    “Tell me about my new client, Mama,” I said. “What’s her name, how high up the Hill is her house, and what does she want me to do about her dear sweet Nephew Pewsey and that awful conniving gypsy girl?”
    Mama Hog chuckled. “Her name,” she said, “is Merlat.”
    Behind us, after a while, I heard the Sarge’s widow start to cry.
     
    The Widow Merlat sat across from me, breathed through her scented silk hanky, and did her best to make it plain she wasn’t one of those Hill snobs who think of us common folk as mere servant-fodder. No, I was all right in her book—not a human being like her, of course, but as long as I kept my eyes on the floor and knocked the horse flop off my boots, I’d be welcome at her servant’s entrance any day.
    “You come highly recommended, goodman Markhat,” she said, daring Rannit’s unfashionable south-side air long enough to lower her hanky while she spoke. “The most

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