Written for Marty’s “Shakedown or Drop” fic prompt at WTT:RP. It’s been awhile since I got to write about Annie Mae, and this was a hoot to work on. It was written by hand while on various airplanes and in various airports this week. I hope you guys enjoy it!
An old, weather-beaten hat sat on one of the barrels.
Adrian Gruber paid it no heed as he watched the Dwarven woman stack the rest of the shipment of assorted spirits. Dark dwarven beers, tasty wheat ales and spicy winter lager, a cask of hard cider straight out of the Hinterlands, and even a cask of Loch Modan’s finest single malt. Two small barrels of an experimental spirit – something called Molasses Firewater – rounded out the order. A project from the Dwarves living in the Wetlands, it was distilled from cane sugar molasses, and it kicked. Hard.
Gruber made a show of checking each cask off his list.
“An’ that’s th’ lot fer yeh!” A warm voice rang out from inside the shipping warehouse. “Now, yeh said ye have the receipt, Reese? No’ that I dinna trust ye, ‘course, jus’ need t’ be sure I dinna ferget anythin’.”
“I… uh. Right here, ma’am. Signed by the Missus Bittertongue her very self.”
“Och, aye? How’s th’ littlest Bittertongue then?”
“Hmm? Oh he’s just swell, ma’am. Didn’t get the bout of wasting sickness or nothin’!”
Nairi Stonemark peered at the man rummaging in his bag for a liquor order receipt. Up close, he really didn’t look all that much like Reese. In fact, he didn’t talk all that much like Reese either. And the wagon was free of any insignia or signage, not to mention that it was completely empty.
“Yeh no’ done yer normal rounds yet, Reese?” Distrust dripped from her voice as she stood, rather protectively, between the wagon and the stack of barrels.
“I.. uh… no ma’am. I woke up late, ya see, and… uh … with this fog, and then… you’re the most important stop on the rounds.”
Her hands settled on her hips.
“Righ’. Let me see that receipt up close then… Reese.”
Gruber handed it over and waited in the chilly, foggy damp. The forgery was, he thought, pretty darn good. The stamps were well crafted, and the signature was spot on. It was pretty much an exact copy of a shipping order he’d lifted from last year’s records at the wharf, with only the amounts and liquor types adjusted. She ticked off each measure accordingly, double checking it against the stacks of barrels behind her.
And then, as she reached the very bottom, her eyebrows suddenly migrated towards her hairline.
“Everything’s in order then, right ma’am?”
Nairi opened her mouth and then shut it again, as though unsure what to say. Silence hung over the foggy morning; the barrel wearing a hat made a very faint, barely perceptible clicking noise.
Then, in the process of a handful of seconds, the entire morning shifted gears. Reese Langston drove up out of the fog – the large, woodburned P&W sign clear on the side of his wagon. Nairi lunged at Gruber at the same time as he pulled a knife, flailing wildly as he tried to avoid her grasp. She hissed as his knife sliced through her forearm.
A single gunshot rang out – a thin whisp of smoke rising from behind the barrel. Gruber fell, clutching his shoulder, his hat rolling away into the grass.
Reese climbed down out of the wagon in time to grab Nairi and pull her behind it, eyes wide as he sought the source of the bullet.
The hat moved.
Annie Mae crammed it down on her had as she climbed over the barrel and came to stand over Gruber.
“Think yer real bright, aint’cha? Not above forgin’ receipts an’ liftin’ booze already paid fer? An’ then attackin’ th’ woman responsible fer assurin’ it’s safety?”
He stared up past the barrel of her rifle and into unblinking green eyes and didn’t bother to respond.
“‘Bout what I figgered. Ya’ll ain’t worth much when a body catches on.” Annie stepped firmly on the knife that he’d dropped. “You got a good reason I ain’t gonna fire a sister shot right inta yer skull?”
“Right. You don’t get th’ hell outta here pretty damn quick, the fact that yer still here’s gonna be reason enough.” She gave him a swift kick in the ribs, hard enough to get him moving. “Now GIT.”
He got, leaving his knife and hat behind.
Slipping the safety back on her rifle, Annie strapped it between her shoulder blades. She grinned at Nairi. “Sorry ta make ya wait, ma’am. Needed to be sure he’s the squeak. Yer arm’s alright, then?”
Nairi managed a return grin. “Och, aye. Nae much a scratch t’ worrit oan. Guessin’ yer th’ lass th’ Fox mentioned I ought t’ watch out fer, ‘case th’ shipment tried t’ get pinched?”
“Yep, that’s me. Annie Mae, and nothin’ but a pleasure ta meetcha.” She tipped her hat.
“Nairi Stonemark, at yer service!”
Reese finally got past the insanity that had so rudely invaded his morning to speak up from somewhere behind his wagon. “What the HELL just happened?”
“Sevens.” Annie spat. “Tryin’ ta make off with yer hard earned booze.”
“Done a fair forgery of shippin’ receipts too – ‘cept I’m a mechanostrider’s aunt if Tarquin’s still stampin’ yer shippin’ receipts his own self. Lately’s just been th’ Al’Cair lass.” Nairi handed Reese the forged document. He took it, blinking at it as though it might bite him. She wrapped a bit of cloth around her arm and moved to start loading up the barrels into the Pig and Whistle’s wagon.
Annie nodded and gave a sharp two-note whistle. From behind the warehouse came a short, well muscled Paint horse. “Good ta see ya ain’t too spooked, huh Meggsie?” After picking up the discarded hat and knife, she gave the horse a quick nose rub before clambering up into the saddle. “Meggsie” snickered softly.
“That’s sorted then. If ya ain’t needin’ nothin’ more, I’ll be off. An’ Ill tell that ol’ Fox we got his hen house all nice and safe again.”
She tipped her hat and rode off into the fog, hoof beats echoing long after she was out of sight.
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