“Your wife is trapped inside the rug?”
Ellison stepped away from Bob to get a better look at the man. He didn’t look crazy, but, on Krim, you never knew.
“Why not? It’s a virtual world, isn’t it? Anything is possible.”
“Krim doesn’t have magic,” said Ellison, slowly and carefully, to avoid setting Bob off in case he was losing it. “They run a standard physics simulation engine.”
“That’s what they say,” Bob said. “But they’ve got the rain falling every night exactly at midnight. That’s not natural. And then there’s the disposal chutes. The real world doesn’t have bottomless garbage bins all over the place.”
“And if you get in a boat and go far enough, you’ll fall off one of the sides of the world.”
“Yeah, there are scheduled charters on the docks. You’ve never been? Anyway, my point is, there’s plenty of stuff that’s unnatural on Krim. Why not have magic tapestries that swallow people up?”
Bob pointed at the figure near the center of the tapestry.
Ellison squinted. If he leaned close, and crossed his eyes a little bit, it could be a woman.
“It’s the spitting image of my wife,” said Bob. “And look at the expression on her face. She’s suffering.”
“There’s a face? Never mind.” Ellison stepped back. “If you know where she is, what do you want me to do? Sounds like a job for tech support.”
“First thing I did was go to the grid admins. They told me it was impossible. Dismissed it out of hand. I think one of them must be in on it.”
“Again, what do you expect me to do?”
“Find out who sold her the tapestry. If we know who’s behind it, we might figure out what they did.”
“I’ve got a better idea.” Ellison waved at the tapestry. “Take it down, roll it up, and throw it away down the nearest garbage chute. If you’re wife is trapped in it, then the spell, or whatever it is, will be broken once it hits the disposal system and she’ll be back at the welcome area picking out a new avatar before you know it.”
“No!” Bob threw himself in front of the tapestry. “I can’t risk it! What if she gets trapped there forever?”
Ellison sighed. “I don’t know what the story is with your wall rug there, but your wife is probably off somewhere doing something totally normal like shopping, had to go deal with a work emergency, or is off having an affair.”
Bob drew himself up. “She most assuredly is not. I checked with her work first thing. She was supposed to be in this morning. She never misses a day without letting her people know. And I wouldn’t care if she was having an affair. Plus, if she wanted to leave me, our pre-nup expires in a month.”
“So you’re saying she would wait and leave you then?”
“No, she’d leave me now,” he said. “When we got married, she had all the money. Her family insisted on the pre-nup. I was an entrepreneur. I tried starting a few different companies, but it never went anywhere. So I decided to work on my novel, instead. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m almost done.”
“So if you got divorced today…”
“She’d keep all the money and I’d have nothing. But if she waits and divorces me in a month, I’d get half her money.”
“Maybe there was an emergency back home and she had to leave Krim.”
“She wouldn’t do that. And not without telling me. That’s part of our pre-nup.”
“Your pre-nup prevents you from leaving Krim?”
“It was her idea. She loves Krim. And well, before we got married, I kind of got in with a bad crowd.”
“They kept bringing me business opportunities. I kept investing. A dog delivery service. A sentient massage chair. A potato restaurant. I really thought the thousand monkey typing service would go somewhere. Wound up losing all my money. If I leave Krim without telling her, it’s a violation of the pre-nup. And she can’t leave without telling me, either.”
“I’ll take the case,” Ellison said. “But I have to warn you — if didn’t leave of her own accord, it’s probably not because she’s stuck in a wall hanging. It’s probably something worse.”
Bob shook his head. “I’m telling you, I would have heard something.”
“Fine. Can I get a list of all her friends, coworkers, acquaintances? I’ll want her work address, too, and her real-world info, just in case she’s off-world after all.”
“And do you have a recent picture?”
Bob walked into the next room over.
This case was shaping up to be a logistical nightmare. There was bound to be a lot of walking. Artists liked to live in cheap, out-of-the-way places and move frequently. Some turned to wenches, drink, and gambling to help spur their creativity, and wound up in debt and on the run from collectors.
Plus, even if Bob didn’t want the admit if, if Bella had been kidnapped she was probably in a sex dungeon somewhere. And there were a lot of sex dungeons on Krim. Ellison had personally been in several, and he knew of at least half a dozen.
Most didn’t advertise.
He’d start with the ones that did. Maybe one of the mercenary guilds had a directory? Matilda was a mercenary, she’d know. And she’d want to help out, too, if there was money in it. Plus, she had access to transportation. It would eat up into his profits, but the time savings would be worth it.
Plus, her expertise in Krim’s seedy underbelly was invaluable.
Bob came back with an oil painting at least three feet high.
“Don’t you have any other pictures of her?” Ellison asked.
“Of course.” Bob stepped back and motioned Ellison into the other room.
The walls were full of Bella’s portraits. The one that Bob had given him was the smallest of the lot.
“I told you she owns a gallery. Artists keep trying to butter her up by painting her portrait.”
“Does it work? Does she get buttered up?”
Maybe the kidnapper was a disgruntled artist.
“She loves it,” Bob said.
Ellison stepped further into the room and looked more carefully at the portraits. Many, if not most, showed Bella in various stages of undress.
There might be some unhappy old lovers among the lot that painted them.
Bob was still holding out a portrait.
Ellison took it from him. Carrying it around was going to be a chore.