Lucinda Harwood

Thief-Taker

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“Pleeeeease! Pleeeeease! Just one more!” The man in the common brown jacket pleaded with the barmaid for just one more shot. He was already thoroughly drunk as it was, but his main problem arose more from the fact that he was begging for a free drink than his drunken state. He might have been handsome if his excessive drinking didn’t rob him of all composure and likeability. At that moment he was easily assessed as loud, dull-witted, and, immediately after knocking over the barmaid’s tray of empty glasses, clumsy as a damned ass.
Most importantly, he was wanted for murder and that was the only part of his identity that mattered at this point.

I walked over to his table in the middle of his desperate apologies to the now thoroughly displeased barmaid as she berated him for breaking some of her glasses in his swaying idiocy and discretely laid a sheet of paper on the counter in front of him. I caught the barmaid’s eye as she stormed off to the back of the inn, leaving the drunken mess of a man alone next to me.

“Whatchu want?” He slurred glumly, swaying like the act of talking to me was enough to knock him out of his seat.
“Oh nothing. Just wanted to know what that whole spectacle was about.” I said with as much concern as I could feign.
“I wanted another drink and she wouldn’t gimme another. I was going to pay her later this week! It’s not like she couldn’t stand to just let me have one!” He warbled and emoted with the grace of a newborn calf.
“She didn’t? That’s such a shame. That’s hardly fair at all. Would you like me to buy you one?” I cooed to him as if he were a boy who scraped his knee.
I took his eyes lighting up as an answer as I motioned to the barmaid to come back. She smiled back at me as she returned to the bar and poured him a shot.
“Drink up.” I said into his ear as she sat the shot down on the paper I had left in front of him. He slugged it back before finally taking notice of the paper. He picked it up and examined it at barely five inches from his face.
The first thing he noticed was that it had his face on it. The second, that it had his name, William Bishop, on it as well.
But the real moment of realization for him was the phrase “WANTED ALIVE BY THE CITY OF BOSTON FOR MURDER, HORSE THEFT, AND FLEEING JUSTICE”.

“Shit!” He swore as he tripped to his feet off of his barstool and took off running for the door, only to lose his feet as I grabbed him by the collar of his jacket.
“Had your fill, Mr. Bishop? I’m pretty sure that it’ll be your last before your trial and likely execution.” I growled into his ear as I manacled his hands together with my shackles.
His screams of protest resounded through the inn as I all but dragged his staggering form through the doorway. As I hauled him out, I caught the eye of the barmaid and mouthed “thank you” before finally crossing the threshold.
She deserved at least that much. She’s the one who tipped me off that he would be here tonight.

+++++

It was four days walk from that inn to Boston. My own horse was killed by a stray shot in an attempt to rob me three days ago. The horse he had stolen had been left for dead after it had broken its ankle he told me after I prompted him.
So we marched on foot back to Boston for four days, stopping only to rest and eat. And everyday was spent dealing with a different face of the irritating aspects of William “Bill” Bishop.

He spent his first day nursing his hangover, silent with only the occasional whine at my demands.

His second day was spent with him bargaining. He bargained everything he could at me, and I shot every one of them down.
He offered me money, and I pointed out that if he had the money it could feasibly take to actually buy me off then he wouldn’t have been begging barmaids for shots. He offered to let me in on some stolen goods he had picked up during his run around from the law, and I pointed out again that he would have probably used it for more drinks if he had them.
He tried to beg. I ignored him.
He then tried to threaten me. I broke his nose in reply.

His desperation grew to last ditch levels as he tried to befriend me on the third day.
To his credit, he seemed likeable and was even a decent conversation at first. Well, as decent of conversation as a man who murdered his neighbor for his horse goes. I never asked him why he did it.
“What’s your name anyway?” Bill asked huskily as I led him by his arm over a fallen tree on the path.
“Why do you want to know?” I asked with amusement coloring my voice.
“I dunno. I guess I don’t want to know you as ‘That Bitch Who’s Gonna Be the Reason I Hang’. That doesn’t have much of a ring to it, y’know?”
I laughed at that one. “That’s the problem. I’m not the reason why you hang. You hang ’cause you killed a man, stole his horse, and hid four days away from the place you did it. Better yet, you hang not because you are a murderous thief, but a stupid murderous thief.” I laughed again at his face after pointing out his stupidity. “And the name’s Lucinda. Lucinda Harwood, especially because I think you lack the self-awareness to change your name for me to ‘That Bitch I Think Will Be The Reason I Hang Because I Plan For Shit’.”
To my own surprise, he laughed back at me. “Alright. I guess I got careless, but honestly I threw off the scent. I was home free. You only found me because I annoyed a barmaid I slept with once.”
“Yeah. She told me that you should buy an avocado and practice.” I replied dryly.
“Practice what?”
“Exactly.”
He got quiet for a few minutes, probably wondering what I meant by what I had said. I guess he gave up wondering because he moved on with, “So Lucinda, huh? Can I call you Lucy?”
“Only if you want me to break your nose again.” I replied icily.
“Alright, Lucinda then, what’s a girl like you doin’ as a Thief-Taker anyway?” Bill asked in between breaths as we marched on through the forested path.
“My dad was one. The best damned one in New Hampshire from what I was told.” I replied, my breath less labored from being used to treks like this.
“Aaah. So you’re a daddy’s girl, huh? Is he happy that you’re doing this instead of shacking up with a banker and havin’ his kids?” He laughed playfully.
That attempt at a playful jab made me realize that I was letting my guard down.
“Stop talking.” I replied curtly.
“Touchy subject?”
“Stop talking.”

Late that night, he tried to escape.
His attempt at loosening his bindings wasn’t what woke me. It wasn’t even him trying to sneak off with my shotgun and bandoleer. It was the fact that he had gotten fifteen feet away, tripped, and set the shotgun off from the impact.
I catapulted from my own tree stump I was sleeping with my back to, pistol drawn and cutlass latched to my hip.
I heard him panting as he took off running in his panic.
“Get back here and I won’t shoot you dead!” I screamed at him as I chased him down. He was shackled and fumbling with a big heavy gun so it wasn’t hard to outpace him.
Still he ran, so I fired a shot at him. Not a shot to kill or seriously wound him, but enough to know that I wasn’t kidding.
I heard the shot impact something and watched him drop to his knees in a whimpering huddle.
“You’re no good to me dead. You also have my shotgun and my only set of shackles. You aren’t getting away from me that easily. Now, where are you hit?”
“What?”
“Where are you hit?” I shouted at him.
“I’m not!” He cried. Obviously a hardened criminal. Really.
He turned over onto his back and I saw what I had hit. My shotgun was seriously mangled at the loading chamber.
I swore before giving him a hard kick to his ribs.

I refused to speak to him for the last day of our walk to Boston. Whenever he tried to start conversation, I would tell him to shut up. Whenever he complained about the shackles cutting into his wrists, I’d beat him in the stomach with the stock of my shotgun. It took him four hits to the stomach before he finally took the hint. He didn’t even try to plead for me to set him loose as we hit Boston, or even try to make a run for it as we arrived at the courthouse.

+++++

“No, seriously ma’am. You’re a Thief-Taker?” The Sheriff said, his eyebrows raised and his lips creased in amusement.
“Yes sir, for the last time I am.” I said, jaw clenched as he tested the boundaries of my professionalism and respect.
“Well alright then. I trust that Mr. Bishop didn’t rough you up too badly. He didn’t try to have his way with you did he?”
“No sir, he did not. I had the situation under my total control. He’s going to trial soon?”
“Oh don’t worry about that. We’ll take care of Mr. Bishop just fine.”
“He seems harmless. He’s no hardened criminal at least, so no reason to kill him. Definitely give him a long, long stay in a cell.” I suggested, trying to keep him off the subject of how much he didn’t think I should do what I do.
He smirked it off. “Alright. I guess the handler deserves to have her two cents in sentencing. I’ll pass it on.” He said in a tone that I knew he would probably forget to do so.
“Alright then sir. I believe that’s all we need words on. Now I would like compensation for this.”
“Excellent! Excellent indeed! It’s always good to see that there are curiosities such as yourself to do such good work as you.” He expounded condescendingly, almost as though he was refusing to hear me.
“Indeed.” I replied icily. “Now, I would like my money. He busted my shotgun and I’d like the parts to get that fixed.”
“Indeed!” He quickly blurted. “The clerk up front will get you set up just fine! Maybe you can instead invest the money from all of your little toys and find yourself a husband to settle down with!” He said, still smiling that condescending smile.
“Thank you, sir. Have yourself a fine day.” I said with the best smile I could manage instead of telling him to go have sex with that horse Bill had stolen, and left his office with a burning dislike for him. Was it really so much of a stretch for his imagination to see that a woman could do this job as well as any man?

The clerk gave me less of that treatment than her boss did, but she was still looking at me disapprovingly. She even asked if I had a man I would consider settling down with, and was even more shocked for me to reply by confiding in her that that was exactly the life I left behind for me to do this work.
I didn’t understand her aghast confusion. Chase down criminals for good money and see the world or marry a farm boy, have his kids, and spend life sewing and keeping house for him? I figured a life well lived wasn’t one lived behind the door to a farmhouse.

I stepped out into the afternoon of Boston with my reward in hand. The reward was good, but none of it would be for personal use: it was enough to fix my shotgun, feed me, bathe me, and put me up in an inn for the next few nights. And I had to start trawling for my next job before that time was up.
I didn’t lose out on this job but I broke even, and that’s not much better.
Worse, a rapscallion like him wasn’t a real challenge. I even picked his writ out for the fact that he was a murderer and therefore may have put up a fight.
I hoped to the setting sun that my next job would be something a little more interesting as I set myself down the street to find the nearest gunsmith…

Lucinda Harwood

Arcanum 1780: A New World GreaterSeraph