The Folly of the World
some old fucker and a couple of boaters to take out Sander Himbrecht, that was—
    “You,” the militiaman called, pointing directly at Sander. “You there!”
    This was it, then. Sander should have known better than to let Jan talk him into returning to Dordrecht. He’d been back twice already since Jan had proposed the plan, and begging fate for a third uneventful trip to the city had been greedy, he’d known that. He wondered if this old bastard on the dock was someone he’d personally pissed off in his youth—must be, to recognize him before the boatmen had even announced their bounty.
    “Right, you fucking assholes,” Sander muttered, straightening the rest of the way up as the boat bobbed to the dock. “Let’s do this.”
    “Outta the way,” one of the boatmen said, stumbling around Sander with a hefty crate in his arms.
    “You there,” the militiaman repeated, still pointing at Sander. “Give Kees a hand, you churl! Twice as big, and standing ’round ’stead of helping. Ought to be ashamed!”
    “I got it, I got it,” said the boatman carrying the crate—Kees, presumably. He leaned forward over the bow, and as they came abreast of the miltiaman he clumsily deposited the load on the dock. “As promised, friend.”
    “Come by after you’re settled and help me with a bottle of it,” said the militiaman as the boat glided past the dock. “But ditch that lazy lummox first!”
    Oh. Excise tax dodgers. Sander was in such a good mood at being proved wrong about the boatmen’s reason for using the back channel to the harbor that he waved at the old militiaman instead of leaping onto the dock and working him over for taking such a surly tone. The geriatric gave him the fig, then knelt to retrieve his illicit crate.
    They slid easily up the narrow channel, the backs of houses lining their approach like the sorriest fence you ever saw, to where the canal widened into the old harbor proper. There were fewer boats than usual at the slips, but leave it to the fool-headed Rotters to ease on over to the far end of the longest, greenest pier in the place, the quay running abreast of the harbor wall. Sander hopped out of the boat, whereupon he slipped on the slick wharf and almost went back over into the water.
    The girl laughed, an ugly, braying noise, and jumped up after him—and slipped as well. She would have bashed her face into the harbor wall if Sander hadn’t snatched her arm as she fell, and after comically kicking her legs against the slimy pier for a moment she found some purchase and settled down into a crouch. She looked like a land-reared dog thrust onto a boat.
    “Enough playing around,” said Jan, stepping carefully up after them and walking down to meet the excisemen at the foot of the quay. “I’ll get your entry, Sander.”
    “Gone up,” Sander said, spitting an oyster of phlegm in their direction. “Shameless.”
    “You pay to go into the city?” said the girl, slowly straightening up.
    “More and more every fucking day,” said Sander. “ ’Fore the flood was bad enough, but now they really got you by the short and woolies—already paid to get out here, waste of coin to go back. Fucking sheepheads.”
    “What?” said the girl, making Sander squint at her—was she really that thick? “What’s a sheephead?”
    “Me and my da, we did sheep out in the country,” said Sander as they walked down the pier, the algae-speckled harbor wall on one side and rundown rowboats bobbing on the other. She took her time to avoid slipping, he took his to stall long enough for the taxmen to piss off back into their taxhouse overlooking the quays—never knew if one of them would recognize him, even if the boaters and militiaman hadn’t. “Sometimes had to get a sheep inside the walls, right, if we was planning on selling an old one off. Yeah?”
    “Mmm,” said the girl watching her feet as she walked. She moved funny, like as not still wobbly-legged as a sea-shaken sheep herself

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