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The other option

They were three.

The heavy door groaned, announcing their unwelcome entrance; as abrasive and bothersome as cloud of cleg flies to the few sorry topers who still occupied the quiet tavern. They approached the bar and each sat, one after another, with portentous choreography. The First, the spokesman apparent, demanded an audience with the proprietor, not caring a moment for the encumbered man’s well-earned slumber.

“Fetch him,” said The First, grinning at the old steward who was tending the bar.

After a time the barkeep arrived from his quarters, squinting through his weariness and wearing sullen protest about his greasy brow. The Third of them produced a skinning knife and began picking and cleaning his rotting teeth with its barbs. The First spoke again.

“Here’s our man! Take a seat, why don’t you?”

“There’s not a man in this village who can tell me my own business in my own tavern,” retorted the barkeep, pulling a bottle and three tumblers from the shelves. “Now, here are three measures of my cheapest liquor. Drink up and get out.”

Again, The First spoke: “We thank you for the liquor, boss. But we have more business here. This inn, here, is now our property. You can either hand over the keys to us or you can take what we’ll call … the other option.”

The Second then man lifted a heavy, oaken box from his lap and rested it on the bar. The Third scraped and tugged at his teeth with his blade.

“I’ve always thought of myself as a betting man,” The barkeep was not for budging and stood comfortable within his own bulk, staring at the three strangers with hot eyes.

The First let out a sharp belt of laughter. He nodded at The Second to open the box. The lid clunked up and backwards, resting against The Second’s chest.

“This some kind of sideshow act?” The barkeep asked with a derisory snicker as he peered over the bar and inside.

“Naw”. The Second spoke this time, staring down into the open, empty box. “This here,” he paused and sniffed.  “This is the head of the last man who told us ‘No'”

The Third stopped picking his teeth.

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