Jonah Roebuck laid his cards on the table.
The man across from him—Jack Panzer—chewed on his cigar and swore under his breath. Slowly, Panzer put his cards on the table, too. The others laughed.
“Well, ya can’t win em all,” Roebuck said. He raked in his winnings, but before he could get any of the coins into his pockets, Panzer had pulled out a switchblade knife and was waving it in the air. “Nice toy,” Roebuck said. “Very shiny.”
“For such a little man,” said Panzer, “you have a very big mouth.”
“Yeah? I get that a lot.”
Panzer stuck the knife into the tabletop. If Roebuck had pulled his hands back just a second later, his fingers would still be on that table. He scratched the back of his head and snickered. He’d made a lot of people mad during card games before, but Jack Panzer had just risen to the top of that list.
“Easy now,” said one of the other men at the table. “Just relax, Jack. It was a fair game. No need to get all angry.”
Panzer glared at the guy. “If you don’t get up from this table right now, I’m going to have Lenny shoot you in the head.”
Behind Panzer, the giant bodyguard patted the butt of his rifle.
Everyone except for Roebuck and Panzer left the table. Roebuck kept his eyes on Lenny, but it didn’t look like Panzer’s bodyguard was going to shoot him anytime soon. Cautiously, Roebuck eased out of his chair. Now, he could barely see over the table.
“I reckon ya want your money back,” Roebuck said.
“Sorry, buddy, but I won it—”
Panzer coughed into his hand. Lenny fired a warning shot that barely missed taking off Roebuck’s scalp.
“Ya know,” Roebuck said. “I didn’t peg ya as the sore-loser type.”
“If you don’t leave right now,” Panzer said, and his jaw was clenched tight, “I’m going to get Lenny to dangle you over the edge of this skyport, until the novelty wears off, and he drops you into the fog.”
Roebuck reached for the coins on the table.
“Leave the damn money!” Panzer snapped.
Roebuck started to retract his hand, but instead, he grabbed the knife that was still embedded in the table. Before Lenny could even fire a shot, Roebuck had ducked beneath the table. Lucky for him, he was incredibly short. He barely even had to crouch.
Panzer leapt up from his chair, and Lenny slunk down low enough to put the steam-rifle in Roebuck’s face.
“I like that gun,” Roebuck said, and then he rammed the switchblade into Lenny’s hand. Before the bodyguard even started howling, Roebuck was running for the exit. He turned around to smile at Panzer. “Thanks for the knife, buddy,” he said. “I’ll always remember ya for it!”
When he was safely outside the tavern, he followed the crowd toward the loading docks. That was another perk of being so tiny—he easily disappeared in a sea of people. Now, though, he just needed a place to hide while Panzer and Lenny searched for him.
Roebuck was nearly toward the end of the docks, when he spotted a small Hosing vessel with a NOW RECRUITING sign. There was a scraggly, bearded man near the airship. At first, he didn’t seem to notice Roebuck, but after Roebuck tugged on the man’s shirt a few times, he looked down.
“Yeah?” he asked.
“Want a job,” Roebuck said. He stashed the switchblade into his pocket. “That sign says you’re recruitin. Whaddya say?”
“You’re a little short for the Gangly Dirigible,” the man said. “Try a smaller vessel.”
“C’mon,” said Roebuck. He looked at the captain’s insignia on the man’s overcoat and read the name printed there. “Schlocky? What kind of name is that?”
“It’s my name, and if you don’t get lost, I’m going to bash your head in until you’re a few inches shorter.”
“All right, all right. I’ll get lost.” Roebuck started to turn around, but he nonchalantly added, “I could be a lot of help to the crew, though…”
Schlocky scoffed, “How?”
Roebuck thought about it for a moment. He hadn’t really expected the captain to sound so intrigued. Now that his little ploy had worked, though, he wasn’t sure what to say next. He stroked his chin and hoped Panzer and Lenny weren’t close to finding him. He was good at hiding, but out in the open like this, they’d spot him in a heartbeat.
Then, Roebuck grinned. “I bet ya need someone to fit between the aqua vats on that ship, right?”
Schlocky raised his eyebrows.
“Well,” Roebuck said, “I can fit between em.”
Schlocky snorted and stepped to the side. “Welcome aboard.”