Ellison had never been inside the Paladins of Death guild hall before. The entry hall was two stories high and was a museum of artifacts and successful assassinations.
The focal point was a giant elephant. It’s glass eyes followed Ellison across the room. Was the elephant itself the target of an assassination, or its means? There was probably a story there. Ellison tried not to look at the elephant in the room, so as not to give Darkflow “Gus” Ghost a reason to tell it.
The chancellor hurried through, but Gus hung back.
“All of these assassinations were committed by our members,” he whispered. “And if you look up there…” Gus pointed up, to a row of bookshelves surrounding the room above their heads, reachable by a metal stairway and a narrow walk way that ran fully around the room. “We’ve got written histories of each assassination. Our members are immortalized in our archives. Just one of the many perks of membership.”
“Are you trying to get me to join up?”
“Ah, no, sorry, force of habit,” said Gus.
“I thought maybe it was the outfit.” Ellison gestured down at the default assassin garb he was wearing. It was the most comfortable set of clothing available to Krim newcomers, once you got rid of all the small knifes and poisons in its many pockets and other hiding places.
Gus curled his lip and looked away. “Let’s go see the scene of the crime.”
Chancellor Cassius impatiently waited for them at the far end of the entry hall.
“There’s our break room and member lounge,” he said, pointing to the left. The door was ajar, showing a glimpse of over-stuffed leather couches.
“We have refreshments and pastries brought in daily,” said Gus. “That’s also where we hold our get-togethers, support group meetings, and chats with visiting assassins from other grids. We maintain reciprocal relationships…”
Chancellor Cassius cleared his throat.
“Right, never mind.” Gus hurried after the chancellor.
“I wish you wouldn’t dawdle. I’ve got a quarterly budget review coming up, and I want to get back to the books.” The chancellor led them down a wide hallway which ended in an ornate staircase leading to the upper floors.
“The main administrative offices are on the second floor,” Gus said, following the chancellor up the stairs. “There are also some private offices and studies on the third, and then we have residential suites available for our most senior members on the upper floors. We also have rooms for visiting dignitaries to stay in. We pride ourselves on this being a safe space to live and work.”
“Right,” said Ellison.
“Well, before last night’s unfortunate event, of course,” Gus added.
At the top of the stairs the chancellor stopped and looked back at them. “We really need to get this cleared up fast. If there’s been a security breach, we need to know, so we can allocate the appropriate funds in next quarter’s budget.”
He led them to the first office on that floor, where a guard was standing outside a set of double carved wood doors. He nodded at the guard, who took out a key, unlocked the doors, and swung them open.
“Are the doors normally unlocked?” Ellison asked.
Gus and Cassius looked at each other.
“Yes, I think… yes,” said the chancellor, and Gus nodded. “At least, when Warren — Warrenus — was in his office. He often kept the doors open, in fact. He was very approachable like that. Not necessarily wide open, but ajar, so that people knew they could come in and talk to him.”
“Unless he was in a private meeting with someone,” Gus added.
“Yes, he would close them then. But he wouldn’t lock them. Maybe he locked them when he left for the day?”
“No, I don’t think he did,” said Gus. “I’d occasionally have to get something from his office, and the doors were usually unlocked, even if he wasn’t there.”
“We trust each other,” said the chancellor. “We had a rash of murders when the guild was first founded, but nobody liked having to look over their shoulders all the time.”
“When they were off-duty.”
“So we implemented a new policy. Automatic expulsion. After that, we didn’t have any murders for years.”
“It’s one of the advantages of membership,” said Gus. “When you’re an assassin, you want to have a place where you can go and unwind. Put your feet up. This is that place. Or, it was, at least.”
“It sounds like you’re taking this murder personally,” said Ellison, stepping inside Warren’s office and looking around. Warren’s body was on the floor, in front of a bookshelf. He must have been standing near it, looking away from the door, when he’d been attacked.
“I guess I am,” said Gus, behind him.
“Then you shouldn’t have murdered him,” muttered Chancellor Cassius, then followed Ellison into the room.
Gus made a step towards them, but the guard blocked his way. “Right, I’m a suspect. Don’t want me tampering with the crime scene.”
“It’s exactly as we found it,” said Cassius.
“No murder weapon?”
“No, the murderer must have taken it with him. We’re trying to find a forensic specialist now who can tell us what size knife was used, but haven’t had any luck so far.”
“I might know someone…”
Ellison walked around to Warren’s desk, which was near the window and facing the door. If Warren had been sitting at it, he would have seen whoever walked in. The table had a stack of books on it, histories of Krim, and hand-written documents.
“He was reviewing funding requests from different departments,” said Cassius. “Everybody got a proposal in.” He pulled out a knife and used it to push the papers apart. “The museum wants more money. So does the morgue.” He looked back at Gus. “Only the membership proposal is missing. Which is suspicious.”
“I didn’t have a funding proposal because we’re not looking for more funding this quarter.” said Gus, from out in the hallway. “The membership committee is doing fine. In fact, we have a small surplus right now that we’re hoping to use for an advertising campaign.”
“Hmmph,” said Cassius.
“We have to advertise if we want to grow,” said Gus. “If we don’t grow, we’ll stagnate, and then eventually the guild will die a slow death.”
“There you go,” said the chancellor. “Darkflow Ghost wants our guild to engage in gross commercial endeavors.” He sniffed. “Promotional T-shirts and the like. Warrenus, understandably, was completely opposed. They must have fought last night.”
“It was a polite disagreement!” Gus poked his head in around the guard. “I would have won him over eventually.”
“Our thinking is that Warrenus was working at his desk.” Cassius tapped it with his knife. “Someone he knew came in. They had a heated discussion. Nobody heard them because the hall was deserted at the time. Then Warrenus got up to get something off the shelf, and Gus stabbed him in the back.”
“Or Warrenus was at the shelf, the door was open, he didn’t notice that someone came in,” said Ellison.
Cassius stepped back to the doors and pushed one of them with his elbow. It creaked softly. Enough to draw attention, certainly.
“It’s not looking good for you,” Ellison told Gus.