The Devil's Pay (Dogs of War) - By Dave Gross


Dawson pelted down Lantern Street yelling, “Crawley! Harrow! Pamuk! Burns! Lieutenant Lister! Devil Dogs!”

He tripped over a legless beggar gripping a pair of wooden blocks to walk on his hands. The man fell to his stumps. Cursing, he shook a muddy block after Dawson. “Watch where you’re going, you good-for-nothing—”

“Sorry!” Dawson plucked a few small coins from his purse and tossed them over his shoulder. They splashed into a puddle beside the beggar.

“Couldn’t be bothered to put them in my pocket?” grumbled the man. He planted himself beside the puddle to fish out the coins.

Dawson ran on, shouting up at the second-floor balconies. “Devil Dogs! Lieutenant Lister! Corporal Pamuk!”

Dawson tried to dodge out of the path of a trollkin vendor, but his shoulder knocked free two of the roast chickens hanging from the staff across her shoulder. They splashed onto the muddy street. “Sorry!”

“Four silverweight.” The trollkin thrust out a hand the size of a shovel. She glared down over her bulging blue chin at Dawson, who stood two inches under six feet tall and looked smaller compared to her.

This time Dawson stopped as he withdrew the payment from his purse. He placed the coins in the trollkin’s pebbled hand before resuming his search.

“Waste of perfectly good food,” grumbled the trollkin. Before she could bend down to retrieve the fallen chickens, the beggar tucked one between his chin and chest, hastening away on his blocks.

“Crawley! Harrow! Pamuk! Burns! Lieutenant Lister! Devil Dogs! Anybody?”

“Sweetheart, you looking for Smooth Pamuk?” A courtesan leaned over the railing of her balcony. A pair of the street’s eponymous lanterns glowed at either end of the railing, advertising her availability.

“Do you know where I can find him?”

“That depends,” she said. “Can you pay his tab?”

Dawson weighed his purse in one hand. “How much?”

“Twenty-six royals.”


She shrugged and turned aside, waving at a man across the street.

“Wait! Wait! I’ll be right up.”

Dawson barged through the brothel’s salon, dodging a scantily clad woman riding on the back of a patron playing the part of a donkey. The man reared and brayed at Dawson as he pushed past.

“Sorry, sorry!”

The over-painted madam looked up from behind a counter on which she counted colored chits, each one painted with a different variation on a common theme of two – sometimes three, or more – entangled bodies. At the sight of Dawson, she laid a cloth over the chits and smiled. Her shoes clacked on the floor as she came around the counter.

“Such a hurry, young fellow? Why don’t you have a seat and tell me just what you had in mind—” She spotted the emblem painted on his pauldron. “Devil Dogs! I’ve been meaning to have a word with your sergeant about Smooth’s outstanding— Where do you think you’re going?”

“Sorry!” Dawson darted around the madam and ran up the stairs. The courtesan he had seen from the street awaited him in the hallway, her open palm extended.

Dawson counted out twenty-six gold coins into her hand. Her eyebrows rose in surprise, but she pointed down the corridor to the grand suite. Dawson doffed an invisible cap and said, “Thank you kindly.”

He ran down the hall and burst through the suite’s double doors. Inside, Corporal Pamuk sat in a steaming bathtub. The brown man’s body was a mass of muscles, almost too much for the tub to contain, yet a pretty young woman sat behind him in the water. She drew a silver straight razor across his scalp. At Dawson’s sudden arrival, she looked up. Pamuk hissed. A spot of blood appeared on the shining blade.

“Dammit, private!” said Pamuk, touching the wound. He tasted the blood and scowled. “You’d better have one hell of a good—”

“Emergency meeting, Sir,” said Dawson. “Captain said, ‘Fetch all the boys double-fast.’”

“But we haven’t—”

“She has a contract, Corporal. A paying job.”

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place? And don’t call me ‘Corporal.’ It’s Smooth.”

His barber stroked his shaved head and said, “It certainly is.”

Smooth rose, splashing the doxy with bathwater. He stood a good eight inches taller than Dawson. Apparently his head was the last part of him to be shaved.

“Don’t just stand there, Private–”

“Dawson, Sir! I signed on just last week”

“That’s fine, Dawson. Now hand me that towel.”

Dawson obliged. When he saw the woman glaring at him from the tub, he fetched another for her while Smooth donned his gear: thick leather pants, heavy boots, steel shoulder plates, elbow and knee guards. At last he snagged his leather jacket. On its back was painted a ferocious