Ellison met up with Matilda again back at the Barley Mow Inn.
And she immediately started in about the elephant.
“It’s a smallish elephant, but no, I don’t know how they got it in there,” he said. “I didn’t ask, and I don’t care. For all I know they chopped it up into pieces and assembled him inside.”
“Is a real elephant? Or, like a statue of an elephant?”
“Forget about the elephant.”
“It’s kind of hard to forget about an elephant in a room with no doors large enough to fit an elephant. I’ve been past their guild hall. I didn’t see any giant doors.”
“Tell me about the girlfriend.”
“Ah, right.” Matilda took a sip of her beer, then reached into her jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “Lady Ismena — Izzy — wrote down her statement for me. She says she loves Gus very much and will definitely testify that he came home shortly after seven and was home all night. She’s sure of the time because the local fishmongers closes at seven and she got there just before closing. She was just putting the fish in the pan when Gus came home.”
She pushed the paper forward for Ellison to look at.
“That seems very specific and believable,” he said.
Matilda shook her head. “I don’t know. It feels to me like there’s something hinky about her.”
“What about the neighbors?”
She stabbed the sheet of notes in front of her. “I talked to everyone who was in. All his immediate neighbors knew who he was, what with him being a top assassin and all. But none could remember seeing him that night.”
“It worried Izzy, too. I mean, she is the girlfriend. Are they really going to take her word for it that Gus was home at the time of the murder. She asked about reasonable doubt and presumption of innocence.”
Ellison rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know if the Paladins are going to care about being innocent before proven guilty. As far as they’re concerned, Gus is the most likely suspect. But I didn’t get the sense that they were going to railroad him, either. Everyone treated him politely, so I think they thought there was a reasonable chance he’d be cleared, and were okay with it.”
“So now that you saw the crime scene, what do you think?”
Ellison leaned back. “To be honest, I really don’t know. He seems sincere. He seems to care more about the guild than his own ego. He seemed like a down-to-earth kind of guy who was really into telling me all about the guild’s membership benefits.”
“Couldn’t you do your voodoo on him?”
Ellison had a superpower. Or, more accurately, a relatively useless bar trick. He could see people’s auras. Lots of people could. He’d always thought it was a minor and harmless case of synesthesia, but five years of prison had given him lots of opportunity to look at those auras in direct supposition with the ID codes that were visible on all prisoners at all times. He figured out that he could tell people’s real identities just by looking at their auras, as long as he had an ID print to compare to. It was kind of like being able to look at finger prints, except instead of finger prints, the prints were of people’s minds. For a while, he thought he could also tell whether people were lying to him or not, but then realized that he was probably projecting.
But he didn’t realize that Matilda had noticed.
“Oh, come on,” she said. “How many times have I seen you look at legal paperwork, then look up at someone and say, ‘Yup, that’s them.’ How do you do it? Do have a source in grid administration? Did you hack Krim’s computers?”
“I’m just good at profiling people,” he said.
It was rarely a good idea to get into a discussion of mental health. The prison neurologist had said that there were other people who had the same condition, though it presented itself in different ways. Most of the time, it was completely useless. Out in the real world, on Facepage and LinkedUp and all the other platforms where people spent their time, real identities were always available. With one subvocalized command, or a hand wave, you could pull up anyone’s profile.
It was only on private worlds like Krim, where users could hide behind anonymous avatars, that Ellison’s skill came in handy.
But Ellison couldn’t see any way to use it now.
“We know who Gus is,” he said. “There’s nobody else pretending to be him, he’s not pretending to be anyone else. I mean, he’s pretending to be Darkflow Ghost, an elite assassin, who knows who he is in real life, but how is that relevant here?”
“What about those thieves who disguised themselves as those mercenary guild members?”
“As far as I know, nobody disguised themselves as Gus. In fact, nobody saw anyone else at all. That’s the problem. Gus admits that he was there, but nobody saw him leave. And there’s no sign of anyone else being there that night.”
“There’s got to be a way to find out what actually happened. You sure you can’t get to an admin, and have them check the tapes?”
“The whole reason people come to Krim is to have fun killing other people,” said Ellison. “How would you feel if recordings of all your murders got out?”
“I wouldn’t care.” Matilda leaned back, pulled out a knife and started cleaning her nails. “So I stabbed a few people since I got to Krim, so what?”
“You stabbed a few people last night at Trivia Night.”
“Actually, I would like to see those recordings.” She pointed her knife at him. “If you talk to your hacker again, tell him I want the tapes. I want to make a highlight reel of my best kills.”
“I don’t have a hacker.”
“But I do have one possible lead,” he said.
She looked up from her nails. “Oh?”
“Gus mentioned that the Avatars of Doom could be behind it. They’re a startup…”
“I know them. Wanna be assassins.”
“He thinks that a kill like this will put them on the map.”
“Doesn’t sound like a great strategy. Do they really want to start a war with the Paladins? Word’s going to get out.”
Ellison nodded. “Nobody carries out an assassination like this without bragging about it. If we hit the bars tonight, we might be able to hear something.”
“Or we can go to the Avatars and pretend to be interested in joining, get the scoop directly.”
“I’m already dressed the part.” Ellison gestured down at his assassin outfit.
Matilda laughed. “You? An assassin? You move like a corporate drone.”
“And you’d be better? You move like a tank. How are you going to climb over rooftops in all that armor? Or sneak up behind someone and stab them in the back.”
“Fair enough. I’m more of a stab them from the front kind of person. But, for your information, I’ve got an alt that would be perfect. I’ll just hop out through the gate and come back with my other shape and even you wouldn’t recognize me. My alt’s a little guy, five foot four, skinny, can get in anywhere, sneak up on people and kill them before they know what happened.”
“Fine. Go get your other body and infiltrate the Avatars. Just make sure they don’t figure out what you’re up to. The Paladins don’t want word to get out that there’s a chance that a rival guild was able to kill their top guy.”
“That’s bad news for Gus, then. Branding-wise, it would probably be better if it was an internal assassination. Even if they have to find a fall guy to take the blame.” She smiled. “I love guild politics. It always end up messy and bloody.”