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Bare Handed

Jason Arson walked through the streets, sliding leather gloves onto his fingers as he went. They were mostly to distance himself from any actions he made while wearing them. It was a single degree of separation, but for him it was enough.

Jason tried to run a tight schedule, but he was twenty minutes behind, and it left him agitated. This was an initiation test. They had found an object for Jason to lift and bring back to the gang. It was short notice. One of the leaders wanted an object that was currently kept in a brown paper bag inside of a shop Jason wasn’t too familiar with. It would likely be moved the next day, so he had to act fast. He considered breaking into a run or jog, but that would make him stand out. Right now what he needed most was to blend in, and for him, blending in was tough.

Growing out his beard and hair was the best he could do with the time he had. Jason was an undercover guard, hoping to infiltrate the gang and work inside. So far his disguise worked. Though, he expected that being out of uniform was the largest contributor. No one recognized him so far, not even the guard. This was important, since most of them weren’t supposed to know about his mission either.

The building he was looking for was just around the corner. His idea was to sneak in through the front door while the owner was locking the back door and hide. Then, after the owner locked up the front and left, he would find the bag and leave. His escape route would be left unlocked since he didn’t have a key, but hopefully that would be left unnoticed, or dismissed as a mistake on the owner’s behalf.

Just as he turned the corner, someone in the crowd caught his eye. Was this a guard he knew in their off-duty clothing? But everyone he knew should be working right now. He looked at the person’s face. It was a woman. He knew her for a different reason. This was one of the construction workers sent to repair the castle. He couldn’t risk being recognized. She would ask him what had happened, whether or not he was still a guard, or why he looked so ragged. Jason’s mind raced. She would probably tell everyone that he was still in town, and that he had just grown a beard, and that they should keep an eye out for him. He tensed up. She could ruin everything, he thought, I can’t risk walking past her. Jason spun around and took a detour around the block. He was even further behind schedule now. This is why he liked to keep to his plans.

He arrived at the shop late according to his standards, but his standards were unusually high, so objectively he was still a little early. He wasn’t too sure of his timing anymore, so he peered into the shop to see if he had missed the deadline. He couldn’t see anyone inside, but the door was still open for business. The shopkeeper must be locking the back door! Jason strode into action, stepping into his plan. He rushed inside and looked around for the target. The shop was filled with various bottles of alcohol and spirits inside cabinets and on shelves. Jason was a little confused at the wares, but the feeling was forgotten when he spotted the brown paper bag on a side counter. He walked over and grabbed for it, and then realized his mistake.

He had confused the order of his plan, and grabbed the bag before hiding and giving the owner a chance to leave. He would be back to close up the front any moment.

Just as predicted, a man rounded the corner. Jason overcame his instinct and did not freeze. He knew that stopping his action would be far more suspicious. Instead, he continued, grabbing the bag and picking it up. There was something solid inside. He looked at the man as if he belonged in the shop; as if this was normal behaviour. Thanks to ingrained social conduct, the shopkeeper unconsciously followed along.

“That’s a new drink. I haven’t made a place for it on the shelf yet. There’s more in the back though, so if you want that one you can buy it.”

On the shelf? For the first time, Jason looked inside the bag. It was a bottle of spirits. His first thought was that he had taken the wrong bag. This couldn’t be what he had been sent to take. He looked around, but there was nothing else. He thought, this is what they sent me out to steal? Alcohol, of all things?

“It isn’t very expensive, but it is my newest product. Would you like to purchase it?”

Jason considered putting the bag down, saying he wasn’t interested, and then exiting the shop and coming back to steal it later. But that wouldn’t work. He would immediately be suspected, and he’d have yet another person he had to avoid. Worse, it seemed likely his new leaders would send him here again on some frivolous mission. If not as a thief, then as an errand boy. Jason pondered his situation for a moment, and then knew what to do.

He put the bag down on the table.

“How much?”

The owner said, “twelve.”

Jason nodded. He took his gloves off and reached into his pocket. With his bare hands, he paid the man and took the bag with the bottle and walked out of the shop. He headed back where he started, across town to the east. As he walked, he considered having a jovial conversation with the leader about how he ended up getting the bag, and what they had wanted him to steal. But he shook his head. They would more likely consider the test a failure, since he hadn’t stolen anything, and it was unlikely they wanted to joke about the triviality of the item. Jason put his gloves back on and readied himself to present his success.

This is actually a rewrite of a story I posted here a couple of years ago. And, it’s far more of a prose/style rewrite than a plot or content rewrite. It’s really not that great, but here it is.

Here’s the original.
And here’s another scene with the same character.

Daniel Triumph.

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