A few minutes later, Lofty looked over at the exit. “Look, I really haven’t got time for your bloody stupidity right now, Berk.” Shaking his head with disappointment, he leant over and poked him in the chest. “You owe me, and we will sort this out.”
As the big Livernorian stood up from the table, Berk quietly muttered under his breath. “Err...are…are you going to finish that sap by any chance?” There was an unexpected stinging sensation as Lofty’s hand connected with the back of his ear.
“I’ll be seeing you later!” Lofty shouted as he walked out the tavern door.
Lofty was big, really big; like a genetically modified Māori. He was an ex-bouncer and been fired from many taverns in Liver-Nor nor, mainly because he was so good at his job. He’d pick on Grunts that hadn’t even done anything just so he had an excuse to beat them within an inch of their life.
When The Blurry Now and rival tavern Disorderly Arms got together for the annual Liver-Nor nor Amateur Arm Wrestling Championship, Lofty beat ten Grunts, not in a row, but by the swinging of his arm at once. So you could say really that Berk always felt very safe when big brother was around.
Lofty was running a second-hand junk shop beneath the city near the markets called Junk `n’ Stuff. He had a partner and did pretty much what hours he wanted to. Most of the time his colleague, Leonard Greedy, held the fort. There’s not much you could say to Lofty about absence. Well, not unless you wanted your head stuffed up your own backside. Berk had never met Leonard before, but he’d heard plenty of rumours that he was not to be trusted. Besides, why would Berk need to go to the business district underneath the city, anyway? Not unless for the first time in his life, he was actually considering employment.
Over many centuries, Livernorians had mined, tunnelled, and hollowed out the hill deep beneath the city. They’d dug many caves and made it into a labyrinth of shops, markets and warehouses for stock. The White Light Dawn would be an opportunity for many retailers and workers to stock up on supplies. They’d only leave the city walls for this reason. The White Light Dawn for some, an exciting time, and for others, just preparation for another nine years of depressing dark.
Anyway, Lofty’s job was trouble-free and at least he wasn’t receiving anymore death-notes attached to bricks. If he was at work, he’d send brainless Berk to the track when he got tipped off.
Berk, on the other hand, was your everyday typical unemployable Grunt. His usual source of income would be habitually sponged off Lofty. If it wasn’t from Lofty’s pocket, it would be at the racetrack, gambling on wilderheep.
Todge shouted across the tavern. “Berk, you left your boyds here again yesterday! When will you learn, mate? My tavern isn’t a public closet!”
Berk took the last slurp out of his tankard then walked to the bar like a sedated orang-utan. He slipped his boyds on and smiled at the irritated landlord. “You know, I wondered where they were.”
Todge rolled his eyes at Berk’s customary stupidity. “Oi,” he whispered over the bar. “I hope you haven’t leaked out any info on my cellar antics?”
Berk shook his head vigorously. “Never,” he replied. “I would never tell a soul that you’ve been using me as chief tester. I’m deeply honoured.”
Todge nodded, convinced, and carried on with what he was doing.
Swiftly looking over at the door, Berk decided to make a loud announcement. “OK, I’m going now! But before I do, give me the hairiest packet of scratchings you’ve got please, Todge!”
Todge went to get a packet and the second his back was turned, Berk was tiptoeing towards the tavern door. Abruptly, the landlord gave out a loud cough like he was clearing his throat. “Aren’t you forgetting something, Berkie, my old son?” he yelled over the noise of conversation. Berk froze in his tracks as the busy landlord tossed his towel over his shoulder. “Like paying for those drinks you’ve just had?” He announced this in front of the whole bar, so all eyes were on Berk.
Berk stammered for a second and then casually turned around. “Look, just write it down with the rest. I’m just nipping to the track to pick up my winnings.”
Todge began to laugh uncontrollably. “Since when have you ever won anything, Berk?” he chuckled. “What’s the name of the wilderheep, then?”
Scratching his head, Berk searched for a comeback, but it was highly unlikely that anything witty would come out at all. Suddenly, he pointed his finger at the landlord. “It’s a secret,” he replied, deviously. “If I tell you, you’ll all be down there cramping my style.”
Whilst Berk’s attention was solely on talking his way out of paying, someone had come in and left the door open behind him. So, as you can imagine him falling into the tavern earlier on, well, he fell out the same way he fell in.
A few minutes later, he dusted himself down then slowly got back to his feet. “Well, look on the bright side. At least it’s stopped raining for five minutes.”
With that comment, off he went up the dark street in the direction of his brother’s home.