“So it all hinges on Ismena’s testimony.” Ellison leaned over the hand-written statement from Gus’s girlfriend and sole alibi. “Do you think she’ll be credible?”
Matilda shrugged, then raised her self on her elbows so she could look over at the paper, her head almost touching Ellison’s. “Look here,” she pointed. “She writes her letter o’s like little hearts. Personally, I don’t trust her just for that.”
“What does she do?”
“She’s a fortune teller.”
“So she lies for a living.”
“I guess,” said Matilda.
“She lies when she’s off duty, too.” Ellison and Matilda both looked up at the newcomer. It wasn’t anyone Ellison had ever met before, in any shape or form. The stranger slapped a packet of letters down on the table. “You’re investigating the assassination, right?”
Ellison and Matilda both nodded.
“I’m about to head off on campaign, but I wanted to let you guys know the kind of person you’re dealing with.” He turned and spotted an empty chair, then pulled it over and joined them at the table. “I’m Mike. I’ve been seeing Ismena for more than a year. She’s been promising to leave this Gus guy for months, but I guess she’s been stringing us both along. These are some of the letters she wrote me.” He rifled through them. “This is the one you want.” He held it out. It was a piece of paper folded into a triangle, addressed to just “Mike.”
Matilda snatched the letter and unfolded it. “I knew there was something hinky about her.” She scanned the contents and looked up. “She’s telling Mike to meet her at the King’s Armpit at nine.” She pulled up Isabella’s statement and compared the two. “She told me that she was home all night.”
“You sure it’s from her?”
“The handwriting’s the same.” Matilda pushed the letter over to Ellison. “Look, her o’s are little hearts.” She tapped the top of the page. “And it’s dated.”
“So you saw her last night?” Ellison asked Mike.
“No, I was in training, and didn’t get the letter until later. I went over to the Armpit, but she was already gone. I asked the bartender, though, and he said she had just been there. There was a waiter who confirmed it, too. You can check with them.” He snorted. “The guy’s a creep and treats her like dirt, but she keeps sticking up for him.” He pointed at the letter. “I can’t let her keep doing that.” He banged the table. “And I’m definitely not going to stand by while she defends a guy who stabbed his own boss in the back.”
Mike glanced out the window. “Look, I have to get going. It’s getting dark, and I’m leaving on another campaign early tomorrow. I have to go get ready. You don’t need me for anything, right? Go to the Armpit, talk to whoever was on duty last night. They’ll remember her.”
“Can we keep this letter?” Matilda tapped at the note he gave them.
“Sure.” He picked up the rest of the letters and walked away.
Matilda stared after him. “I don’t like him,” she said. “He doesn’t move right, either. The armor’s fine, it looks like it got a lot of use. But he could have bought it second-hand, or taken it off a dead guy.” She turned back to Ellison. “He feels a little hinky to me, too.”
“Well, I guess they’re a good match, then,” said Ellison.
“I guess.” She put away both documents. “Let’s go hit the bars then. Might as well make the King’s Armpit the first stop.”
At the King’s Armpit, not only did the waiter confirm Mike’s story, but two waiters remembered seeing Ismena there. She’d sat at a table at the back, and complained about being stood up.
“She left just before the rain started,” said one of the waiters. “And then the guys shows up about an hour later, asking about her.”
“And do you remember what time she got here?” Ellison didn’t expect to get an exact answer, but the bartender surprised him.
“She got here at nine,” he said. “Almost exactly. That’s when the kitchen closes, and she was complaining that she hadn’t had any dinner.”
Matilda and Ellison looked at each other. Ismena had definitely said that she’d cooked dinner for Gus.
“I was just finishing up my shift,” added the waiter. “And she kept trying to guilt-trip me into opening the kitchen for her. She said that she’d cooked a romantic dinner for her ungrateful boyfriend and he ate all of it and didn’t leave anything for her.”
“We got her some bar snacks,” said the bartender. “Pickled eggs.” He pointed to a half-full jar of eggs sitting on the bar next to a bowl of sunflower seeds.
“I love those,” said Matilda, and reached in, grabbed a handful, and started popping them into her mouth like giant albino grapes.
“Those are for customers,” said the bartender.
Matilda ordered them a couple of beers.
“So the alibi might be back on,” said Ellison. “We just need to check with the fishmonger about the fish.”
“Already did,” said Matilda. “She was there, she got the fish.”
“That’s still not a complete alibi,” said Ellison. “She could have cooked the fish, waited for Gus, then left before he got home.”
“Or maybe Mike committed the murder and framed Gus for it.”
Ellison put down his beer. “I didn’t even think of that.” He shook his head. “We should have gotten more information from Mike before he left.”
“Right. Like where he lives, and what his exact specialty is. Maybe he’s a military scout and is really good at sneaking in and out of places.”
“He was probably late for his date with Ismena because he was creeping across the rooftops.”
“Did you check the roof while you were at the guild? Maybe he left some footprints or ripped his clothes on a nail.”
“No, but I did suggest that someone might have come in on a hang glider….”
Matilda snorted, then got a thoughtful look on her face. “Not a hang glider, but a zip line,” she said.
There weren’t any tall buildings in the area. Ellison started to tell her that, but she cut him off.
“There’s a military barracks close by. Armies have collapsible siege towers. They put one up, shoot a line over, and there’s your murderer. Easy, peasy.”
“We still have to go around to a few bars, see if anyone’s bragging about committing the murder. But we should definitely bring up the zipline idea at the hearing tomorrow.”
“I’m coming? Oh good, I’ll get to see the elephant.”