Toby and the rapacious monkey (Part 1)

Toby’s lungs were on fire, breathing hard from the exertion of running so hard. One after another, his feet pounded the cobblestones, carrying him as fast as he could move them. He didn’t even dare to glance behind him, not wanting to risk slowing down, or worse, tripping. In his mind, he imagined the outstretched arms of the constables behind him, hands reaching to grab him by the collar and yank him off the ground, and it fueled him to run even faster. No matter what, he would not, could not, be caught.

His hand clutched the small leather pouch against his chest, so tightly that his fingers whitened. The contents would surely feed his family for a month if he found the right buyer, or even two weeks if he took a lower offer. Toby had stolen it, plain and simple, and had no intention of losing or returning it. What had the man said it was worth again, that it was priceless? No, that wasn’t right. He’d said it was a cost that Toby would never agree to pay. Now, he wouldn’t have to.

Toby ducked behind one of the many people crowding the street, and then turned sharply into a darkened alleyway. Not slowing, he jumped over a broken crate, then leapt to the side to avoid a large pile of junk. He just needed to run a bit further, and find something to hide behind. Then his pursuers would never find him amidst all of the refuse. They would assume he’d kept running, and continue the chase. But then, something caught his foot, sending him lurching forward, tumbling to the ground. His elbow hit the cobblestones hard, sending a shock through his arm, and his hand involuntarily released the bag he’d been holding. Stunned, and gasping for breath, he didn’t even try to get up.

He’d almost made it, almost gotten away with his prize, if only he hadn’t tripped. He cursed himself for his clumsiness, and was about to look for what had caused him to fall, when he realized that he was no longer holding the pouch that had been the reason for his flight in the first place. Panic gripped him, and he frantically searched the ground in front of him, squinting to see in the dim light. Then he froze, as two eyes glinted back at him from the darkness.

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