Fried skirrets. Fried cabbage. Fried skirrets with cabbage. Cabbage soup. Ellison Davo stared at the chalkboard with the day’s menu. His stomach growled. Last night’s dinner was also cabbage. Breakfast had been leftover cabbage from the night before.
“Sorry,” said Quimby Plummer, the proprietor of the Barley Mow Inn. “We’re still having problems with our deliveries. We’re working on it. Want an apple?”
All that cabbage had been giving Ellison stomach problems. The last thing you want when living in a virtual world with medieval plumbing is stomach problems.
“How about some bread?”
“Bread we can do.”
“Can you put some cheese on the bread?”
Quimby frowned. “You know we get fined when we do that?”
Sandwiches hadn’t been invented yet in England in 1500, so they weren’t allowed on Krim.
“Fine. Give me two slices of bread. And, completely separately, a couple of thick slices of cheese.”
“Separately, you say?”
“And you wouldn’t, by any chance, try to put that cheese on top of one of the slices of bread, and cover it with the other one?”
“Well, all right then.”
“I’ll be at my usual table.”
Ellison turned towards the mostly-empty dining room. The lack of anything but cabbage and skirrets on the menu had driven customers away and Ellison had most of the place to himself.
The Inn’s front door swung open and someone else came in and caught Quimby as he was about to go to the kitchen.
“Is there an Ellison here?” the newcomer asked. “The detective?”
Ellison turned around. The man who’d come in looked like a long-time Krim residents. The clothes were comfortable and practical, without any excess armor or frilly collars. Even his face looked lived-in. Ellison estimated that he’d been on Krim for at least five years, suffering the ravages of time, helped along by Krim’s lax sanitary standards, heavy pollution, and bad nutrition. The lack of sunscreen was less of a concern, since Krim City rarely had sunny weather.
The man didn’t look like anyone who’d ever tried to kill Ellison before. He squinted at the man’s aura. It was cheating, since nobody else on Krim, as far as he knew, could see them. It was as good as a fingerprint. Better, really, because people could easily change their fingers by just leaving the world and coming back with a new avatar.
“I’m Ellison.” He kept his hands in his pockets, rocked back on his heels, and waited for the newcomer to say more.
“I’m Wildhelm Stoutbrow,” the man said. “Most people just call me Bob. I want to hire you to find my wife.”
“Are you sure she wants to be found?”
“Yes. I think she’s been kidnapped.”
“It’s two gold a day, and I charge extra if I get murdered.” Ellison reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a price list. “If I’m thrown into a dungeon and tortured, it’s five golds per day.”
Bob took the page and looked it over. “That’s fine. Can you come right away?”
“Maybe you can explain it all to me while I eat my lunch?”
“No, it’s urgent. Also, I think this is something you have to see for yourself.”
Ellison grabbed an apple from the bowl sitting on the inn’s front desk just as Quimby returned from the kitchen with the bread and cheese.
“I’ll take that to go,” Ellison said.
As he followed Bob out of the inn, he put the cheese between the two slices of bread and heard Quimby curse behind him.
“My wife Bella have been living here on Krim for seven years, and have been married for five,” said Bob, leading Ellison down Leadenhall Street in the direction of the post office. “Legally married, not just Krim married. We love it here. She runs an art gallery and I’m working on a novel.”
“Any enemies?” Ellison asked, the took a bite of the bread with cheese that was not a sandwich.
“Not that I know of,” Bob said. “But there might be some crazy artists who hold a grudge for her rejecting her work or something stupid like that. But I wouldn’t know for sure. I’m not really involved in her business.”
“So why do you think she was kidnapped? Did you get a ransom note?”
“No. But there’s something else. You really have to see it.”
At the corner of Banking Street, Bob turned left, away from the city center. “It’s not much further.”
Bob and Bella lived in a small mansion on a quiet side street off of Banking, surrounded by other expensive houses, all with tall iron fences topped with sharpened spikes.
Bob pulled out a ring of keys. There were two padlocks on the front gate. “We always lock up,” he said. “We have a lot of valuables in the house.” He ushered Ellison through the gate then locked it again behind him.
There were more locks on the front door of the house. The windows on the front side of the house all had heavy iron bars across them. It didn’t look like any of them had been damaged.
Bob led Ellison through the foyer into a great room that featured padded leather furniture and, along thee of the walls, tall bookshelves that held scrolls, books, and small statues. The fourth wall was covered by a tapestry that depicted a jungle scene.
There was no sign of struggle.
“This is where my wife was kidnapped,” Bob said. “I was already asleep, but she was up late, reading.” He pointed. “She sat in that chair right there. When I woke up this morning, she was gone.”
“Are you sure? I’m having a hard imagining this. You think someone broke in, kidnapped your wife, and left your house with her, locking up behind himself, without waking you up?”
“I know it sounds crazy. But they didn’t take her out of the house.”
“No.” Bob stepped closer to the wall hanging and pointed at something near its center. “They trapped her. Right inside the tapestry.”