A Vow Renewed
My head jerked up from my work to catch the dancing shadows outside the doorway, the sharp reflections on the barred glass presaging his entry even before the bell above the door shook with a dead rattle. My shoulders scrunched with an involuntary shiver as a long arm pushed open the door, and at the sound of the bell, Feigl slid off his stool to greet the only customer who had entered his small shop today.
A tall shadow ominously filled the open doorway, caught as it was between the fading sunlight and the drab interior, but I suppressed the urge to flee out the back when I spied the watch chain dangling from his waistcoat. Instead, I pulled my cap lower to hide my face. Besides, he was early, and my fourteenth birthday was still two days away, and he had no expectations at finding me apprenticed at the rundown Feigl’s Toy Works, no more so than I had in expecting him to walk through that door.
He did not give me a second glance as he strode to the counter after a quick look around assured him that he was alone in the shop. He was much better dressed than the last time I had seen him, but new clothes and a fresh haircut could not mask the aura of a cold-blooded killer. I also knew the steam pistol neatly holstered at his side was not his preferred weapon, but I kept my eyes off his boot tops that hid his sharp knives, and I tucked my chin against my chest, hoping to hide the ugly scar that ran along my lower jaw. Still ignoring me, he pulled the tarnished watch from his pocket and dropped it on the countertop with a thump.
“Juice it,” he demanded. “And be quick about it.”
“Sir, I can adjust and clean it, and have it in perfect working order if you care to return in an hour,” Feigl said respectfully.
I winced before Feigl had even finished.
“Juice it now!” the man yelled, stabbing his face across the counter, nearly bumping heads with Feigl. “You have five minutes!”
To his credit, Feigl did not even flinch. Years of persecution and abuse had taught him when to keep quiet and stoically bear a harmless injustice. This was a very simple demand, one that any tinker child could carry out without effort, and it would not cost him anything to quickly juice the watch and get this poser out of his shop.
“I will fetch my tools and begin straight away,” Feigl said, dropping any pretense of politeness.
He turned his back on the man and went to the small workbench behind the counter. His tools lay strewn about the table full of gears, springs and an assortment of metal parts, and despite the cluttered appearance, he knew the count, size and description of every item on the bench.
While Feigl selected his tools, I moved to the counter, keeping my head down, and stepped onto the wooden box kept there to allow me to reach across its wide top. The watch was grey, even black in spots, and it looked like nothing more than a lump of old silver. Without hesitating, I stretched out my hand and ran a finger across the tarnished surface, feeling for the fine engraving hidden under the layers of grime.
“WCE,” my mouth echoed silently with my fingers as they passed over the surface.
A loud smack lifted me off the box, and I landed awkwardly, sliding across the floor and upending the stool that fell on top of me. I had just caught my cap before it had flown off, and I jammed it back on my head, tucking my blond locks underneath it with haste. I blinked the stars away and held my breath, preparing to flee – I had expected him to snatch the watch away or grab my arm, not to have violently sent me sprawling across the floor.
“Keep your filthy hands off,” he hissed, his eyes darting to Feigl, his hand clenching into a tight fist to silence any protest.
When he did not jump to strike another blow or move to pull off my cap, I finally exhaled. Feigl returned to the counter, tools in hand, but he was smart enough not to utter a word in rebuke.
Running my tongue along the inside of my cheek, I probed my teeth, thankful that the savage blow had not busted any of them out. My mouth was already filling with blood, which I swallowed – I would not give him the satisfaction of seeing how badly he had hurt me by spitting. I watched Feigl begin to deftly repair and juice the watch, repeating to myself the vow I had made two years ago to kill this poser when he returned to claim me as his whore after I came of age.