Secret 1: Don’t Let Anyone Take Your Cookie
On the day I turned ten, I took over the family tinkering business AND the local crime syndicate. It was easier than selling a mirror to a blood elf. Pay close attention….
My birthday began the way every morning did: my pop almost killed me.
Not that he ever meant to. In fact, that was kind of the problem with him. Nothing he did ever went the way he wanted, which is no joke when you work with explosives. The only shop he could swing was so deep in the bad part of the Drudgetown slums that even Trade Prince Maldy’s tax collectors weren’t safe. The last one to visit got scammed out of his boots, jumped, insulted, tied to a gunpowder barrel, and rolled back to the old goblin with a polite refusal letter between his teeth.
My pop saw the lack of taxes as a fringe benefit. I saw the muddy street and the irradiated garbage. Even the rats were moving out. My pop thought he was gonna make it big someday with a world-shaking invention. I knew it was only a matter of time before he blew us up, and I had decided the night before to run away and become a pirate like my ma.
I’d spent all night packing and planning. The five macaroons stuffed in my torn boots felt like a fortune. My pop got up around dawn and started messing around in the shop, talking to himself. His research and development process had three stages—optimism, concern, and panic—and the third one could leave you short a few fingers and most of your skin. He was at 2.9 when I tied my pack closed and rammed it under my moldy mattress.
“Come on,” he muttered from the other side of two paper-thin walls. “Just a little bit tighter…tighter…whoops. Uh-oh. Oh, no. No! Stop! Kid! Wake up and grab some cover!”
I wearily raised my lead-lined pillow just as a teddy bear with orange fur and a mechanical face rocketed through the wall. It saw me, gave a shrill screech, and exploded, flinging shrapnel tornadoes in every direction.
Footsteps thundered up the dingy hall, and Pop burst through my doorway. He didn’t knock first, but not because he was in a rush. Napalm had melted the door last month.
“You okay, kiddo? Did you see it? A perfect test! Horizontal burn, target locked on, a gyroscopic spin, and detonation! The union said using microbombs for navigation and rocket fuel for thrust would melt the entire neighborhood, but we showed th—”
I tossed my shredded, clanking pillow to the floor.
“That was the only prototype, right?”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“And the blueprints were…?” I asked, trailing off to let him answer. I had a lot of experience talking to him.
“Stolen by a mechanical chicken.”
That was new, but he wasn’t gonna sidetrack me.
“So you can’t build it again, right?”
He opened his mouth for a snappy comeback. Then his eyes widened in horror. I nodded. The morning routine was complete. Time to get some breakfast and hit the road.
“Doesn’t matter, kiddo. I understand the principle now. Explosives hidden in lovable objects are a completely unexplored market. We’re gonna be rich!”
“Pop, the only way we’re gonna stop being poor is if you blow us up,” I snapped.
“That’s not fair, Jastor. It’s only a matter of time.”
“You know what? You’re right. You will kill us both someday, Pop. I believe in you.”
“Hey! There’s plenty of goblin kids out there who wish their parents were tinkers. When I was your age, I used to dream—”
“Really, Pop? This story again?”
“—my parents would quit shoveling sewers and blow a few things up. You worry me when you talk about being afraid of explosions. It’s not goblin.”
“No! You know what’s not goblin? Having a kid and telling him to ‘go play'. You know what the problem is? There’s no one to play with! Jelky has to spend all day braiding fuses. Druz wakes up at dawn to mix cement. Do you know how embarrassing it is that my own pop won’t force me to work for him?”
Pop threw his hands up in the air and headed back down the short hallway to the shop.
“Tell you what,” he called. “Why don’t you leave running the business to me, and I’ll leave the Sugarpack cookie over here to the first kid with a birthday who comes by.”
“I’m pretty sure you gotta sell things once in a while to have a business!” I shouted after him, but my heart wasn’t in it. Sugarpack! Chow for the road!
“You think you can do better?” he said from the shop. “You can try anytime you wa—uh, hello, gents.”
My pop had customers, sounded like. I took it as a good omen for my trip. If something as unlikely as business could occur in my pop’s shop, I’d have no problem finding a ship out of Kezan; hell, I could probably find a tame shark who’d take me to a magical island made of cupcakes and platinum. I stumped down the hall for the cookie.
The Sugarpack Bakery ain’t around anymore. A few years before the orcs arrived in Azeroth, the corner shop was slightly bombed during Trade War II, thoroughly bombed in Trade War IV, and melted during the Peace War. The whole neighborhood smelled like burnt sugar and body parts for a month. But here’s the thing: if you’ve never had cookies from the Sugarpack Bakery, you’ve never had real cookies. Period.
They were big enough to hold in two hands and a little browned around the outer edge. Chocolate chunks the size of an ogre’s fist. Touch of cinnamon and crystal sugar. And I only got one a year.
I froze near the end of the hallway and hid in the half shadows. I should have known better. No customers. Skezzo and his goons were trying to shake down my pop again.
In Drudgetown, even the criminals were nearly broke, and the Copper Street Gang was no exception. I can still see that idiot Skezzo with his fake gold earrings and smelly patchwork suit. The only worthwhile thing he ever did was tangle with me.
He shoved my pop against his three-and-a-half-legged workbench. Near the other end, my cookie wobbled on our only plate. I hissed, but I wasn’t too proud to eat the thing off the floor if I had to. You would have too, believe me.
“What are we gonna do with you, Luzik?” Skezzo said. “You never pay us on time. You never pay us at all. I would hate to have Lumpo come back here tomorrow and blow up…” Skezzo trailed off as he failed to find anything of value in sight except a roll of dynamite, which, as you might’ve heard, is supposed to explode.
“Look, I’m sorry,” my pop said. “Money’s been tight. I barely have enough money for supplies!”
“And sweets, looks like,” Skezzo said, reaching past him to snatch…
“Pay me everything you owe by tonight,” he said, stuffing it in his mouth. Priceless crumbs rained down on his greasy lapel. “Or I’ll burn your shop down and charge you for the torches.”
He spotted me in the doorway, winked, and swaggered out, spitting out the rest of the cookie along the way.
And that was it. If not for that cookie, I would have run away to be a lowly pirate king in the South Seas, and the world would be a very different place.
I staggered into the shop. Pop was talking to me. I couldn’t hear him over the blood thumping around in my ears.
I could have left Kezan if I’d wanted, but that wasn’t what was wrong here. My pop had let cheap thugs take things from him. I’d let them take the cookie from me. That was the problem. That was why we were poor. Sure, Skezzo had a gang. Sure, he had weapons and numbers. But I had something ballooning up inside my head like a fleet of zeppelins attacking a gnoll hut: a code, all sharp edges and oiled parts. This business was my pop’s. This business was mine. That cookie was mine. I didn’t blame Skezzo for trying, but no one was gonna take what was mine, no matter the cost.
Ten minutes later, I was across town with one of Skezzo’s loan sharks, surrounded by cigar smoke and smirking bruisers.
“Let me get this straight,” the shark said, chuckling. “You owe the boss money. And you wanna borrow from him to pay him?”
“Yes,” I said.
“With interest?” the shark said, his lips trembling from the effort of not braying laughter in my face.
“Whatever you think is fair,” I said, straight-faced.
“Okay, runt,” he said, counting out the cash. “But I think I know why your dad is in trouble. Business sense must not run in your family at all.”
The only thing that gets around goblin society faster than a new Gunpowder Girls calendar is the possibility of public humiliation. Skezzo came back that night with his entire gang, loan sharks included. All along Copper Street, doors opened as our loyal neighbors leaned out to watch the tinker and his idiot son lose the last of their money and get driven out of town. Only Pop was gone. He’d gone to get another cookie, which was just like him: well-meaning but totally missing the point. This wasn’t about cookies anymore.
Skezzo and his mob stopped in front of me like an ugly arrowhead.
“You got my money, kid?” he said. His goons leaned over his shoulders to see if I was gonna be dumb enough to go through with this.
“With interest,” I said.
Skezzo snatched the bag from my hand, patted me on the head, and ambled back down the street with his gang. That’s right. He didn’t even count the money. How this guy ran anything more complicated than a sausage stand is still beyond me.
“Nice doin’ business with you, kid,” he called back over his shoulder. “Lumpo, carry the bag. It’s too damn heavy.”
“That’d be the dynamite,” I said helpfully.
Cameras wouldn’t be invented until some years later, but I’d still kill for a snapshot of Skezzo and his goons gaping at me the second before the bomb stuffed under the cash went off.
When the smoke cleared, the entire gang was gone. In eerie unison, my gawking neighbors stared at the smoking crater, then back at me.
I smiled and pointed at the sky. Hundreds of eyes obeyed, looking up.
Skezzo, his gang, and his flaming money were raining from the sky.
I strolled across the street to Bezok the brickmaker, the whooping of my neighbors putting a little skip in my step. Sure, the trick had cost the rest of Pop’s money to cover the interest and the dynamite, but those four hundred macaroons were gonna be chump change by the end of the week.
“Wow. Wow!” said Bezok as goblins spilled from every crooked doorway and greasy alley for the world’s most disgusting treasure hunt, looking for undamaged macaroons. “Way to show them, kid! We’re free!”
“It won’t last,” I said, casually dodging a burning sock. “There’s a void. Other gangs will move in once they hear Skezzo is gone. We gotta incorporate for protection. Establish and guard trade routes.”
“Yeah!” Bezok said, going all starry-eyed. “Great idea! Maybe someday we can?”
“No,” I said. “Come over tomorrow morning, and I’ll have a contract ready. You can stay in charge of production, alright? I’ll take the boring business stuff off your hands.”
“Huh?” Bezok said, blinking. He’d been eyeing a feathery cloud of lit macaroons drifting toward the roof of his shack. “Wait, you think you can run my business? Listen here, kid—”
“Boom,” I said.
“‘Boom’?” Bezok said, flinching.
“Why are you saying ‘boom’?”
“I just like saying ‘boom’,” I said with that creepy serenity that only kids can pull off. “Look, come over tomorrow morning. You won’t even notice I’m in charge until you realize how much money you’re making.”
Bezok wasn’t a coward. He was struggling to pay the bills. And people like that are always looking for a quick and unexpected way to make macaroons.
“You know what, kid? Why not? I can get out of it later if I want, right?”
“Sure, I’ll adjust the contract for that,” I said. He’d just have to leave his business behind, pay me a yearly management fee, and climb into a bear suit three times a week to advertise for Pop’s upcoming line of exploding lovables.
I left Bezok as he was dragging out a ladder to reach the macaroon bonfire on his roof, and swaggered home. When my pop came back, I was busy writing my first contract in letters so small a gnat with glasses couldn’t read them. Contracts are easy to write if you focus on cheating the poor fools who’re gonna sign them, and if you remember that most everyone believes the small print is there to be scanned before you sign, rather than shown to ten lawyers, tested in a court, then dismantled word by word and detonated in a controlled environment.
My pop shuffled his feet, clearing his throat.
“I can do better,” I said before he spoke. I didn’t have to look at his face to know that he’d heard about the bomb.
“W-what?” he stammered. A paper bag crinkled in his hand.
“You asked me if I thought I could run your business better. I can. By tomorrow morning, we’re gonna have access to Bezok’s cash, and more from there. But I need you to sign over everything to me.”
He was quiet for a long time. I used the silence to get a few more lines down.
“You definitely take after your ma,” he said finally. “Okay, you got a week. If we don’t see enough of a profit to buy more dynamite, you’re gonna have to work it off, alright?”
Yeah, he thought he was setting me up to fail and learn a valuable lesson. But he left me alone with my new cookie and my work. The cookie went stale by the third draft, and I decided to keep it as a reminder. Still have it, in fact.
By the time Pop’s deadline rolled around, half of the businesses on the block had joined my Copper Street Conglomerate. I’d moved out by then, but I sent him three crates of dynamite, a blast suit, and a bonus.
Yeah, you’re right. That was a little soft. But remember, I was ten, genius. I made my first million macaroons right around the time that you caught the sklaz from swimming through the toxic oil slick around Garzak Oatburner’s Healthy Foods factory.
Besides, he was my pop. And I take care of things that are mine.