The fine mist had settled into an icy fog which clung to the ground and swirled as the figure passed its folds. Even in the poor lighting, it was clear that the individual was a markedly tall man, with broad shoulders and a thick build. A gray woolen cloak covered him from the top of his head to his feet and was buttoned closed in the front. The sound of his boot heels unabashedly striking the ground was the only sound, save for the trickle of water running down the sides of the street. Then a second set of heels sounded on the road ahead of him. Moments later, a man of normal stature skulked into the street and came to a stop at its center, where he turned toward the oncoming person and folded his arms.
The first man came to a stop not more than ten paces away from the one blocking his path. Then he spoke. “You certainly chose an obscure place for this transaction, Mr…”
The second man answered. “My name is of no consequence here, but yours is Dirk Grithinshield. I suppose you would have preferred to do business in your sizable store in the merchant district, but I find this setting more to my liking.”
“Your odds are better as well,” Dirk commented dryly. “You can tell your men surrounding me to come out. We are alone, and I already know where they are hiding.”
“You are mistaken,” the man said halfheartedly. “The agreement was that we each come alone.”
“Indeed, that was the arrangement,” Dirk confirmed. “You can tell that I have not been followed. However, I can see the breath of your men hiding there, there, there and there.” Dirk pointed at places in a circle around him. “It makes me wonder if you have kept your word on the rest of our bargain.”
The man waved, then four armed men stepped out of the shadows and moved closer to Dirk. “You’re observant, Grithinshield. I’ll give you that.”
Dirk sighed in a tone that suggested that the situation did not surprise him in the least. “I could inquire further about your expected deception, but I want this transaction to be over with as soon as possible. Do you have the key I seek?”
The man was angered that his actions were anticipated and that they had not intimidated Dirk as he had hoped. “I have the key, but I didn’t hear any coins jingle as you were walking. That makes me wonder if you have the money on which we agreed.”
“I am quite prepared for you, good sir,” Dirk answered. “The money is close by. Now, since you appear to have me at a disadvantage, and I am the one who has kept his word so far, you will show me what I am purchasing first.”
The man scowled and produced a golden key from his pocket. Begrudgingly, he tossed it to the waiting right hand of Grithinshield. Dirk ran his fingers down its length and looked at its handle in detail. Then, he tossed it back to the man who caught it in midair in an effort to defend his face.
“That is a poor attempt at a forgery,” Dirk said sternly. “Not only is the key warped, but you can see a glimpse of the iron underneath, where it was held as it was dipped in a coating. The key I seek is solid gold. Your credibility is dwindling by the moment and I am mildly annoyed. Show me the real key, if you have it, or you will not see a single gold pharring.”
The man became angrier, but not being a fool, he had to give Dirk his due. Reaching into another pocket, he produced a different key and threw it to Dirk as his men closed their range. Dirk again caught it with his right hand and looked it over as before. He spent more time examining it than the first key. “Exquisite,” he noted. “The craftsmanship is as fine as any forgery I have ever seen. Whoever made this for you should be commended.”
The man became furious. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Dirk tossed the key back and answered. “You just heard every word I said and at no time did I call you a liar. I merely stated that this is a forgery. The good news is that it is an exact casting of the original key. That means you or whoever made that have or had the real one at some point. My guess is that you have at least one more buyer in line and that you seek to maximize your profits. It is a bold plan, but one which will not work on me. Now I will ask you one last time. Toss me the real key or I leave and you get nothing.”
The man began to curse to himself, as Dirk had clearly seen through the ruse. After he found himself exasperated, he removed a gold chain from around his neck. A key hung from its links. With disgust, he threw the chain to Dirk.
After only moments of examination, Dirk proclaimed, “This is what I came to purchase. You have finally held up your end of the bargain. So I shall hold up mine. Among the refuse on the right side of the street, is a sack with your money under an old crate. I scouted this area earlier and placed it there.”
A quick search by the nearest man found a hefty sack filled with gold. The man nodded the substantiation of the sum to his leader. “It seems you have lived up to your end of our accord. I can see how you earned the nickname of ‘The Honest Trader.’”
“Such titles are hard to achieve and even harder to maintain,” Grithinshield noted. “All the fine words in the world will not make up for you having a reputation for impropriety. We made an arrangement and you eventually fulfilled your part, so I fulfilled mine. Our business is concluded. I bid you good night.”
The leader drew his sword. “If only it were that simple Grithinshield. You’re a smart one, there’s no denying that. For example, you were right that there is another buyer interested in that key. Since I have your money now, I will be requesting you return the chain and key to me. My admiration for your abilities compels me to let you live if you do so. But in the end, why should I be satisfied with one fortune when I can sell the same item twice and have two hoards? You were foolish to come here alone.