“Colin!” Uncle Felix yelled up.
Colin tossed his pen on to the layers of bills spread across his desk and pushed his head into his hands.
“Colin! Come down here. It’s our best customer.”
Colin opened up his top left desk drawer – his father, Patrick Swift, had made the desk; it was blue, with birds and leaves and twigs carved into it, and also, it had a fantastic amount of drawers. Out of that top left drawer, the seventeen-year-old pulled out his lock-picking tools. He stood up, stepped over several toys his siblings had left lying around, ducked through the doorway of his room, and sprung down the creaky, spiral staircase, into the hardware and locksmith shop.
Uncle Felix nodded towards the front of the store.
Colin looked passed the shelves of inventory to where Mr. Smith stood. Despite his forgetfulness, Mr. Smith always had a tidy appearance. Today, he wore a white suit, a blue hat, and polished, brown leather shoes.
“Is this a bad time?” Mr. Smith asked.
Colin smiled. “Not at all.”
“It’ll cover the cost for tonight,” Uncle Felix mumbled.
“What about money for taxes?” Colin asked.
“What’s more important, taxes or friends?”
“Friends,” Colin answered.
Uncle Felix gave Colin a pat on the back. “That’s my boy: so remember to pick up a barrel of beer on your way back.”
Colin hoped over the counter and joined Mr. Smith in the front of the store. They headed out, on to the narrow street. The air smelled heavy with rain, and a thin layer of mud already glistened over the cobblestones from an earlier drizzle.
Mr. Smith couldn’t move very fast, and Colin had to force himself to a slower pace.
“We’d better have you inside before the storm hits,” Colin said.
“That would be nice.” Mr. Smith adjusted his hat. “Thank you.”
“Why don’t you hide yourself a spare key?” Colin asked, glancing over his shoulder. His famous friend, Hugo Fitzpatrick, was following them. “It would save you both trouble and money.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble,” Mr. Smith said.
Hugo caught up to them, and Mr. Smith came to a full stop and turned around. “Hi there,” Mr. Smith said to Hugo. “What’s the best stick-fighter in all of Correnstrait doing in our neighborhood?”
“Don’t mind him.” Colin encouraged Mr. Smith on forward.
“Did you lock yourself out, too?” Mr. Smith continued.
“Of sorts,” Hugo said with a smirk.
A sudden downpour interrupted them, and Hugo and Colin did their best rush Mr. Smith home. Finally, they were able to duck under the ledge of the old man’s house, though rain still dripped from the gutter on to Mr. Smith’s shoulder; Colin gently tugged him in, then went to Mr. Smith’s front door. Hugo and Mr. Smith watched while Colin unwrapped his tools, a dozen or so slender metal sticks with different heads and wooden handles. He selected two, slid them into the lock and, within a few short moments, had opened Mr. Smith’s door.
“He’s pretty good at this, isn’t he?” Hugo said.
“He’s the best. Even better than his dad was.”
Colin turned to Mr. Smith. “You’d better go in before you’re all wet.”
“Thank you.” The old man shoved coins into Colin’s hand, walked up two steps to his front door and dismissed the young men with a wave of his hat.
Colin walked away, but Hugo stayed under the ledge.
“So,” he called out. “Can you help me?”
“Sure,” Colin answered. “As long as you pay me, and it has nothing to do with the Sparrows.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Colin noticed Mr. Smith at his window, eve’s dropping on their conversation. Colin eased away; by this time, he looked like a mess: water saturated his hair, dripped down his face, and soaked his clothes.
“Is it for the Sparrows?”
Hugo stepped into the rain and stood face to face with Colin. “You know I wouldn’t ask you unless it was important.”
Colin turned to start back on his way, but Hugo put a hand on his shoulder and held him back. “This will help your family.”
Colin pushed Hugo’s hand off his shoulder.
Hugo leaned up against Mr. Smith’s house. “The pay will be excellent: one hundred gold coins.”
Colin’s jaw tightened and he kicked a little rock over the cobblestones.
“Meet me by the Straight Street Bridge tonight, at one.”
Colin didn’t answer.
“What’s it gonna be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Never mind the Straight Street Bridge,” Hugo continued. “Fred and I will be at your place a little past midnight.”
Colin walked away. Once he made it to the liquor shop, he purchased a barrel of beer for his uncle, heaved it over his shoulder and walked home.