Merc Rule 23

Written by J. D. Wiley --- Art by J. D. Wiley

Merc Rule 23: A good con man remembers every detail, whether it happened or not.

master con man ain’t nothing more’n a master storyteller, weaving his tales on the unsuspecting. Earning their trust, whisper by whisper, until he’s got ’em on the edge of their seats. The most epic stories don’t require facts, just details. And the more specific and vivid they are, the deeper he sinks the hook. Until his audience wants to believe all on their own.

That’s when the real magic begins.

Bilk Beasley’s a simple man. Ain’t got any aspirations of grandeur, or high living. No, most days he just wants a drink like the rest of us. And when he sits down at the bar he’s always ready to whip up some variation on his exploits. Some mighty deed, harrowing task, or flat out lie to get even the biggest, baddest merc buying him drinks into the wee hours of the morning. And thanking him for the privilege.

Me and Spivey, we seen it happen. Had to be almost ten years back. A cadre of F.I.S.T. soldiers—last survivors of the Golden Lions, 7th Cavalry—came into Granny Lemieux’s, on leave after a hard piece of work up north. Routing them Ashen Tribes and the like. Pair o’ them young fellas, Tyberius Stone and Damien something or other, were drowning away their thousand-yard stares. Speaking on the horrors of the Battle of Deadbriar Gulch.

They were pinned down by thousands of Skullbaggers. Them ashen bastards tore into the main body of the F.I.S.T. from three sides. Raising men on pikes, taking ears as trophies, burning piles of the dead. It was a massacre. Tyberius spoke of the glory of battle, the righteousness of the cause, and in the end… of fallen friends. How he’d watched as they were forced back while one brave soul in a mech pressed forward. Last man on the hill took up the flag to save it from the savage hordes. Said they saw an explosion take the poor bastard’s head clean off.

All the while, Bilk was listening to this account from a dark corner. And once he’s got his own story worked out, there’s nary a man can prove him a liar.

He turned his double-sided jacket inside-out. Had a F.I.S.T. uniform sewn in the lining, all beat up from his youth. Pulled a Golden Lions patch from his bag—where he no doubt had many others—slapped it on, and traipsed over to those two young fellas. Wore a face like he’d seen a ghost. Said he reckoned everyone who’d been there that day was drinking with Old Man Death. Started talking about carrying a flag over a hill. The standard of the Golden Lions. A rippling beauty of green and gold.

That’s when Tyberius looked Bilk up and down, finally ready to call him on his bluff. ‘Cause see, the Golden Lions have a blue and gold standard.

But Bilk, that sly bastard, always did have a clever lie at the ready. “No sir, this flag was green as your shirt,” he said.

Tyberius just frowned at him. Said his shirt was “clearly blue.”

Bilk dug a fist in his eye and blinked, hamming up the theatrics. “Damn shrapnel,” he said. “Doc warned I might have trouble with colors.” Helped that Bilk had a face pocked and ugly enough that he could blame it on scars.

The idea that this poor son of a bitch had taken shrapnel to carry a flag—his flag—cut through Tyberius’ uncertainty. Damien’s too. Two drinks later Bilk was explaining how he’d crawled through the muddy battlefield for weeks. Hiding, as the Ashen Tribes picked over the dead. Waiting for his chance to escape.

Another two drinks and they were thick as thieves.

The devil’s in the details, as they say. And the best con men can improvise a story so thorough, so convincing, they end up believing it their own damn selves.

Coyote Joe, Memoirs of a Merc

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