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The scent of the sea wafting in through the tavern’s open window did little to drive out the stale odor of unwashed tables and floors, and even less to dispel the equally stale aroma of the unwashed men at the table by the door.
One of the sailors at the table ran a sleeve over his mouth, letting the grubby fabric absorb the ale that had dripped down his bristly chin. “There should be a law,” he sneered, eyes shifting from one to the other of his two smaller but presumably like-minded companions. “I say we send ‘em all back where they came from!”
The three men raised their mugs in enthusiastic mutual agreement, turning their collective glare toward the dark haired stranger sitting alone at the bar.
Aiden McCullough chose to ignore the loud commentary at the other end of the room, keeping his attention instead on the valiant efforts of a large brown spider constructing her web behind the bar, delicate threads stretching between the edge of a high shelf and a dusty brown bottle. Taking a stand each time another loudmouth in a tavern overheard his accent had grown increasingly tiresome. He’d walked in wanting nothing more than to rest for a time, quench his thirst and then set about tracking down the man who might help him find work. Confronting this trio of fools was the last thing on his mind, and observing the industrious arachnid’s efforts seemed far more worthwhile than reacting to the ignorant remarks emanating from the corner table.
“You got a point there, Lloyd,” a second voice at the table piped up. “Seems they just keep comin’, even though we keep reminding them they’re not welcome.”
Aiden finally tore his gaze away from the dusty shelf and stole a furtive glance at the men. They’d been settled there for quite some time already, judging by the number of mugs and pitchers that littered the table. All three looked tired and worn, faces chapped red and grimy from recent time at sea or on the docks. Experience had taught Aiden that the wearier men like these were, the more volatile they tended to become, especially when they’d been celebrating heartily. And this particular group certainly seemed to fit that category.
“Too damn many of ‘em, that’s for sure.” Lloyd raised his voice once again, emphasizing the point by slamming his mug down. Ale splashed over the side and pooled on the gouged wooden table. “Last thing we need is more of ‘em taking all our work. Next you know it’ll be like that Five Points, and we’ll be crawling with ‘em.”
Aiden tensed his jaw and tightened his grip on the half-empty mug in his hands, willing his temper into submission once more and resolutely keeping his gaze away from the men.
Lloyd gestured to the innkeeper behind the bar. “You oughta hang up signs like they do out in Portland. Keep out the undesirables!”
The innkeeper glanced quickly in Aiden’s direction.
“Money is money, boys,” he said. “Makes no difference to me whose pocket it comes from.” He reached up to the shelf and grabbed the bottle that formed the east wall of the spider’s web. The fragile creation drifted down, threads unraveling to settle into the dust on the shelf as the spider scrambled up and disappeared into a crack in the wall.