In the week before the trip to the market, Will agrees to bring Jack along to meet Newton Brown and negotiate for a supply of his brew for the Crown & Antlers.
Will leads the way as the pair walk down a strangely generic Victorian terrace, twin lines of identical grey buildings on each side, their bay windows revealing only net curtains behind them and nothing of the personality of those living within. Newton has agreed to meet the pair at Martin Nicklesmith’s house as the venerable Wizened has himself expressed an interest in meeting Jack Squire properly.
Jack turns to Will as they stroll towards their destination. “I wonder why Nicklesmith has asked to see me. I do not recall meeting the man, well we may have been introduced once or twice but our exchanges have been brief. Any ideas William?”
“Most likely he wants to make sure of you. The Wizened are a cautious lot as a whole, and the Old Boys are the vanguard… or is that rearguard? If you’re a rising star they probably want to be sure you’re not going to get stuck up their asses. Metaphorically speaking.”
Will taps a claw rhythmically against the side of his leg as he lopes along, one eye always on their surroundings.
“A rising star you say.” Jack replies with a distant look in his eyes. “Thank you Will, you do me a great honour by saying so. I shall be on my best behaviour! They call me Gentleman Jack for a reason you know!” The pair arrive at the address and pause at the threshold.
The door has no bell, only a heavy brass knocker and the pair can hear the resulting echoes along the hall inside when they use it. The curtains by the bay window twitch slightly and it is a minute or two before the grimy wooden door cracks open and a set of stained fingers can be seen resting on a security chain before Martin Nicklesmith finally peers through the narrow gap. Grunting in satisfaction once he determines that he is only dealing with the two expected visitors, he closes the door briefly, removes the chain and swings the door wide enough to admit the visitors one at a time.
“Can’t be too careful around here,” he mutters by way of explanation. “Will, show Mr. Squire into the sitting room and then go and sort out the tea.”
“Of course Martin,” Will murmurs. “This way, Jack.” He gestures Jack into the cramped room and heads past into the kitchen to sort out some tea amid an eclectic jumble of crockery, most of which appears to be at least fifty years old.
“Thank you Will.” Jack extends a hand towards Nicklsmith. “Pleasure to meet you Mr. Nicklesmith, and thank you for inviting me to your house.”
“Welcome.” Nicklesmith mutters as he takes Jack’s hand, before turning back to the array of locks and bolts which apparently secure the door from the inside.
The sitting room is small and filled with a variety of mismatched seating, mostly sofas and the occasional armchair, with some folded wooden chairs tucked up against one wall. A large coffee table dominates the centre of the room, leaving relatively little room for a man of Jack’s statue to move around, although possibly presenting less of an obstacle for the typical diminutive wizened. Only two wall spaces are clear of seating, one home to a small fireplace converted to hold an electric heater and the other sporting some sort of bureau on which sits a tiny television.
Nicklesmith follows in behind Jack after a few moments and moves swiftly to occupy the largest armchair set inside the bay window. He waits for Jack to sit before speaking, “So you’re Greene’s new project, eh? And the one taking care of our Will?”
Jack squeezes through the room, sits opposite the Wizened and tries his hardest to look and sound modest as he replies. “I may be Greene’s new ‘project’, as you say, but Will is more than capable of looking after himself.”
“If you say so,” Nicklesmith doesn’t seem convinced, but equally doesn’t seem to feel that it’s worth pursuing. “Newton should be here soon. I gather you’re after some of his special brews for the pub?”
“I am indeed. A large number of the freehold drink in my humble establishment and after sampling some of his fine wares at The May, I am keen to secure a supply for my regulars.”
“Aye, I’d heard you ran a popular place. How many do you get in there most nights? Of us, I mean.”
“At least a dozen most nights and up to twenty or twenty five on a good night. It has been on the increase since we used the place as a safe haven after the coronation. Most of the regulars are from Spring or Summer; the Bridge Guard use it as a place to wind down when they are off duty, as the Crown and Antlers is a stones throw from the river.” Jack rarely passes up an opportunity to talk at length about his beloved establishment.
“So it’s secure, then, with all those Summer boys around? If Newton does agree to supply you I might have to come along one evening to see it for myself.”
“You would be more than welcome, and the first drink will be on the house.” Jack briefly considers the scolding he will get from Jenni for offering yet another free drink.
Nicklesmith grunts something approximating thanks before a knock sounds at the door. He leans over in his armchair and peeks between the opaque, age-yellowed net curtains before standing and making his way around the coffee table towards the door. “Speak of the devil,” he mutters as much for his own benefit as for anyone else. “Will, don’t forget the tea for Newton, no sugar.”
Within a few minutes, Newton Brown has maneuvered his bulk around the coffee table and taken up a reasonable portion of a sofa opposite Jack. “Mr. Squire,” he acknowledges with a nod.
Jack rises fractionally from his seat and extends a hand to the newcomer. “Mr. Brown, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Please call me Jack.”
“Then you must call me Newton. I gather from young Will that you’re interested in having me supply your pub with some of my special brew, is that right?”
“That is indeed correct Newton.” Replies Jack with a nod. “I am doing a disservice to my regulars by serving mundane beverages. It is about time I expanded the drinks menu. It was Greene’s idea to be honest and when I sampled your beer at The May . . . Well that sealed the deal.”
“Hmph,” Newton says at the flattery, but he smiles just the same. “When you say ‘regulars’ are you talking about our kind or the mortals as well? Can’t have mortals drinking my brew.”
“Heaven forbid! When I say ‘regulars’ I refer to members of the freehold.”
“Ah, good stuff. But how will your staff tell them apart, if you don’t mind me asking? Or were you planning to serve the stuff yourself?”
Jack looks thoughtful for a second. “That is a good point, indeed it is. I have an ensorcelled Valet who would assist me, but my staff are aware of the “special regulars” in the Crown and Antlers and know them all by now. It will also depend on supply. If there is only a limited amount then I will only bring out the good stuff on one of our semi-regular lock-ins.” Jack gives Newton a nod and a wink.
“Seems sound enough, sound enough,” Newton agrees. “I wont be able to supply you with much of the stuff, at least not to begin with, so “special events” might be the best way to go. Now, what are you offering as payment?”
Jack flashes a smile at Newton. “In exchange for a regular supply, the quantity of which we can discuss, I will offer this; A regular monthly private meal, of the very best quality, for the Old Boys in The Crown and Antlers. The menu will be original for each meal and you will include some of the best dishes that my man can prepare. I can assure you he is an absolute wizard in the kitchen.”
“What do you think, Martin?” Newton turns to his fellow Old Boy.
“The boy’s place has a good reputation, but I don’t like making any decisions without a biscuit and a descent cuppa inside me. Where is young Will with that tea?”
“You can’t hurry good tea Martin,” Will replies from the doorway, maneuvering a large, irregularly shaped tray onto the table and seating himself.
“Hmph,” Newton considers. “Tell you what, Jack, I’ll sort you out a barrel of me brew in exchange for dinner for Martin and me tomorrow night. If I like what we see, and more importantly what we taste, then we can talk about a deal. How does that sound?”
“The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.” Jack chuckles at his own pun. “You have a deal, and you will not be disappointed, but let us make it tonight shall we? I do like a challenge.” Jack extends a hand to Newton who reaches over the table to shake it.
* * *
The following evening, after Jack, Will, Newton and Martin have finished eating, Newton leans back in his chair and lets out a sigh of contentment.
“That was most definitely a fine meal, Jack. Don’t get me wrong I’ve tasted finer, but for a mortal chef I am impressed. Now, let’s assume that the Boys are interested in your offer, and that I can meet your order at a reasonable cost, then I think we could come to the arrangement we discussed earlier.”
Jack nods and raises his glass at the compliment. “Splendid news. I am pleased that you enjoyed it. It has been a fine meal in good company, an absolute pleasure. What say we crack open that barrel you brought with you and drink a toast to the future, gentlemen?”