Flash fiction / Short Fiction / Writing

An eye for stolen things

A runaway thief, a gang of gunslingers, and a drunken lech. Just another night for Mary as she serves ale at the tavern… or is it?

A sign outside a bar with an old wooden front saying 'Whitehorse tavern'
Image: Wally Gobetz

The slap resounded through the tavern.

The stranger whipped around, her blonde hair catching Mary’s eye, and the culprit slurred,

“Go’n then, give us a kiss, love.”

The stranger straightened, but as the drunk lunged towards her Mary grabbed the back of his jacket and steered his momentum into a stool. He pushed himself around angrily, but his expression melted when his eyes met Mary’s.

“Mary, I-”

“Save it, Jeffrey. Go sleep it off.” He opened his mouth again. “Now.”

He shut his mouth and slouched out.

“Stupid wench,” he muttered as he passed the blonde stranger.

“Sorry about that,” said Mary. “Can I get you another drink?”

The stranger smiled, a spark in her dark eyes. Mary thought her hair seemed too perfectly curled for a woman who must have been riding all day. Their tavern was a rest stop between towns, no one ended up here by accident. She noticed something in the stranger’s hand.

“Is that-” The hand slipped into a deep overcoat pocket.

“Touching me has a cost,” the stranger replied. “I’ll take that drink.” She withdrew her hand without Jeffrey’s watch.

“So, you’re a thief then?” Mary asked, as she poured her another mug of ale.

“I guess you could say that. But I don’t take anything from its true owner.”

“What d’you mean?” Mary slid the mug over.

“I have an eye for stolen things,” the stranger replied, and as she took her first sip, the door flew open and a gang pushed their way in.

The tavern hushed as Boiler Joe’s loud drawl filled the room.

“I’m looking for a young man, who came from Carthyre this morn.”

No one responded. Most of the drinkers were travellers, only here for the night and had probably never seen or heard of Joe before, but the dark tone of his voice and the hand resting on the air above his holster was recognisable enough in these parts.

“Do you have a description?” Mary asked, her voice cutting clearly through the tension.

“I do,” said Joe, and he smiled at her. “Young man, short, stocky, short dark hair.”

“Beard?” Asked the stranger. Joe turned to her.

“Yes,” he drawled, and stepped towards her. Mary took an involuntary step forward, but the stranger was calm. “You seen him?”

“I just got here today, but I thought I saw such a man when I put my horse in the stable. Maybe he’s stayin’ here tonight.”

Joe stared at her for a moment, then spun around.

“Every man in here,” he said slowly, “is going to stand up. So we can take a look at ya.”

Nobody moved. One of Joe’s henchmen pulled a man sitting by the door up by his jacket, and then another, and the rest of the henchmen followed suit.

“What are you-”

“Hands off, you-“

“Hey, hey, that’s my son!”

The angry babble began to rise, and Mary walked swiftly behind the bar to grab her pistol. She met the stranger’s gaze.

A shot rang out, and the room was hushed again. Joe had shot his pistol, leaving a splintered hole in the ceiling. Mary had only just fixed the last one.

“What’s this man done? Who is he?” Asked a woman, standing with her arm protectively over her young son.

“Robbed a corpse, the sick sod,” spat a henchman.

“You heard about the good Lady Randolph?” drawled Joe, as he sidled down the line of men. “Left the poor captain a widower just last week, and some scoundrel stole the Randolph locket off the damn corpse at the funeral today.”

“But Lady Randolph lived in Portsmouth,” said the lady’s son. “He’d never have made it here.”

“Stole away with the captain’s horse too, fastest mare this side of the river,” said Joe. He had stopped in front of the son, his eyes roaming over his squat figure.

“Enough of this,” called Mary, striding out from the bar. “Out of here, Joe, your man isn’t here.”

Joe rounded on her, and the mother forced her son’s head to duck as Joe’s arm went back to deck Mary, but as he stepped forward, with a flash of her foot, the stranger tripped him and he went sprawling onto the floor.

There was a roar from the henchmen, but the standing crowd of travellers were equal to it, and suddenly the air was thick with the sound of fists meeting flesh, men shouting, and glasses smashing.

Mary saw Joe’s hand reach for his holster again, and brought her heel down hard upon it, and the stranger swept down and pulled it from his hand, training it on his head. Mary drew her own pistol into sight, and Joe’s eyes lifted to see into two barrels. He lifted his hands.

“Out of my bar, Joe. Take them with you, your man ain’t here.”

He cursed, and made for the door. He called out as he left, and his men followed him.

“If I find you’ve been harbouring him-” Mary swung the door shut in his face, and wiped her brow. She turned to face her companion, who shrugged and pocketed Joe’s pistol.

“Think it’s time I got you a drink,” she said, and winked.

*

Mary woke up the next morning in the same bed as the stranger, having spent the night’s  remaining adrenaline on less dangerous pursuits.

In the mess of clothes which trailed from the door to the floor was – just another surprise in a surprising night – a discarded blonde wig.

Who was she? Mary eased herself carefully out of the tangled bedclothes and slipped her hand into one of the deep pockets of the stranger’s overcoat. She drew out a long chain, with a heavy gold locket carved with a bejewelled family crest.

“It didn’t belong to the captain,” said the stranger’s voice from the bed. Her short, dark hair was messy from the night’s adventures.

“So, you’re on the run?” Mary asked. The stranger shrugged.

“I’ve never stopped. Why don’t you join me?”

“I-”

“Joe will come back, you know.”

Mary started to speak, and stopped. She knew the truth in it.

“I don’t have a horse.”

The stranger grinned. “I’m sure someone here has a horse which isn’t his.”

*

The sun was just beginning to cast long dark shadows on the golden plain when Jeffrey stumbled out of the tavern towards the two women on horseback.

“Where are you – where are you going with my wife?” He called.

Mary looked at the stranger and hesitated with shame.

“Don’t worry,” the stranger grinned. “I told you I had an eye for stolen things.”


An eye for stolen things is a piece of flash fiction written with the prompts: Action/adventure (genre), tavern (setting), and wench (word). Really enjoyed this one! You can read more of my flash fiction, in a range of genres, here.

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