Obviously if I talk about mingling with the criminal classes, you, gentle reader, will merely assume I have added sinecurists, usurers and jurists to my list of patrons. But in this case I mean I have been mingling with genuine criminals.
To be fair, to be a criminal in Port Naain is not perhaps as degraded as you might think. Bandits and pirates, should their activities be restricted to Partann, may mingle in the highest social circles. Indeed the Zare clan have been mixing piracy and practicing law for some generations, and many of us have noted the synergistic effect of the two professions.
Indeed even within Port Naain, should your criminal enterprise be soundly based, profitable, and you can restrict your part in it to the managerial, respectability is within your grasp. Admittedly if you were to pull a pocket handkerchief from your pocket and out tumbled a bludgeon or cosh, the hostess may well quail. But the better bred would merely commiserate and agree with you that a gentleman is no longer safe out at night and must look to his welfare as best he can.
But I am talking about Flous. Flous lacked the social graces that might enable him to enter polite society. He also lacked the wealth which polite society will accept in lieu of social graces. He was never going to rise high in the city. Unfortunately for him he lacked the intelligence, brawn, dedication to his craft, or anything else that might make him a successful criminal.
For the aspiring criminal, if you have talent, then there are any number of criminal enterprises who are always on the lookout for the up and coming. They will accept with open arms those who prove themselves loyal, gifted and with a flexible attitude to the laws of property. Frankly those that recruited for such enterprises took one look at Flous and discarded him. He lacked loyalty to anybody but himself, his gifts, such as they were, lacked utility. His ability to irritate people with gratuitous insults, lacking in wit or even coarse humour, is not one that a person seeks in their subordinates. His self-confidence, verging on bombast, was based on no evidence whatsoever. Finally there was some discussion as to whether he was idle because he was stupid, or whether he was stupid because he was too idle to think.
Thus if Flous was to seek a criminal career he was forced to enter at the bottom and work entirely on his own. Now Florus might be feckless and workshy, but even the workshy want to eat and if Flous did somehow acquire money he tended to spend much of it on lichens.
Now I’ve mentioned lichens in the past. Some of them have useful medicinal properties. Some of them produce euphoria or cause the smoker to dream interesting dreams. All should be treated with respect and smoked in small quantities. What you should never do is smoke the floor sweepings that get sold cheap by vendors of dubious character. Flous did. Repeatedly.
The combination of eighteen different lichens, dust, mouse droppings and other detritus is not what I would recommend to a friend. Especially as mouse droppings could well have been a majority ingredient. (Although to be fair the mice would at least have dined on lichens which may mean their droppings had some faint claim to efficacy.)
But as I mentioned, I mingled with the criminal classes. In this case of Florus I mingled at arm’s length. Indeed you might say that he mingled with us. As you know I am involved with the society of minor poets and we do have a soup kitchen. Or more correctly a porridge kitchen. Anybody can come and be fed. Occasionally people make donations, and even more occasionally we don’t get round to spending the money they gave us the same day. Rumours of this obviously reached Flous because he decided to pay us a visit.
This he did in the dead of night. To get in, ignoring the imperfectly locked doors which would have opened had he merely struck them, (We ask visitors not to knock, it is embarrassing when they then inadvertently put their knuckles through the door) he smashed our only window with glass in it. Climbing through this brought him into the small cubbyhole we use as an office. In the one drawer of the desk that still worked, he found a small bag of coins, (low denomination dregs we had been given in street collections. The vague hope was that a coin collector would sort through them and pronounce some of them worth more than their value in debased metal) promissory notes to the value of twenty vintenars, and a list of our clients who were housebound and to who we delivered meals.
Florus then tried to leave, only to discover the door to the office was locked. So he could get onto the desk and climb out of the window. His foot went through the desk. Admittedly it was a desk of some antiquity, but in all candour none of us had ever dared to stand on it. Indeed when writing, you placed only one sheet of paper on the desk and pressed gently with the pen.
So he then tried to pick the lock of the door, but obviously failed so he then attempted to kick it open. Eventually he succeeded and fled for the main door. Here he again tried to kick the door open and failed utterly, in that his foot went clean through the wood. Eventually he managed to extract his foot from the door and charged it with his shoulder. The door and jamb ended up in the street and Florus disappeared into the darkness.
Now at that point it would have been difficult to work out who had burgled us. Obviously we knew it had to be somebody with limited intelligence, severely restricted ambition, and feet of a certain size (as evidenced by the desk and the doors). Unfortunately these exists within a certain level of Port Naain society a significant number of people who fit this description.
But then Florus took inanity to an entirely new level. Taking our list of housebound clients he started to approach them, claiming to be from us, and demanding money or he would kick their doors down. Setting aside the basic unpleasantness of him making these threats to people who were often old, ill, or both, what may not have occurred to Florus was that they were also extremely poor. Otherwise they would not have been so desperate as to ask us to send porridge round to their homes.
Our clients did the obvious thing. They approached either the watch, or they approached various professional criminal elements they knew and explained their problem. Various bullies and thugs, shocked that their aged mother had been so threatened, started making their own investigations.
Then Florus was his own worst enemy. He in point of fact started to boast about his criminal exploits. He boasted to his own circle of wretched incompetents. He boasted to the suppliers of remarkably adulterated and debased lichens, he even boasted to people he happened to stand next to in cheap ale houses. Within a day of the burglary we had been informed by several people that it was Florus who had broken in. These people might have been criminals but they, unlike Florus, had standards. We ran a porridge kitchen feeding the poor, and I’ve known competent professional burglars who, in the course of ‘a job’, have purloined an extra ham shank which they left at our door on their way home.
By now, Florus was a hunted youth. (The term ‘man’ hints at a degree of prowess Florus couldn’t even aspire to) He could have fled the city, but his nerve failed, and when he was finally arrested by the watch (due to information received) the general feeling was that he ought to be given a custodial sentence for his own safety. As it was, he irritated a magistrate who was already disposed to be stern and was sentenced to pay off a ten alar indenture by labouring in the Houses of Licentiousness where he stands up to his waist in cold water, separating the male and female offspring of clams. Such is his work ethic that after six months, his indenture stood at twelve alars. It is confidently predicted that he will, at some point in the next decade or so, grow up, or alternatively die in debt.
It strikes me you may wish to know more of lichens and the criminal elements both within and without Port Naain
As a reviewer commented, “What’s a poet to do when one of his lady patrons is being blackmailed and his own life may be at risk due to his actions in defending another from attack some time in the past.
How are both these events connected?
Well – read this tale and find out – trust me, it’ll be time well spent.”