“And finally we’ve come to the worst of Krim’s fine drinking establishments, the King’s Armpit.” Matilda Scarletstrike swung open the door so that Ellison Davo and his brother, Jerald Rex Crew, could walk in.
Jerald hesitated in the doorway.
The Krim’s Armpit could be a little overwhelming to newcomers. It was a bit of an acquired taste. Ellison himself had not acquired it, despite being on Krim for several weeks now.
Krim in general, or at least, Krim City, smelled like soot, sweat, and manure. But the King’s Armpit was even worse. In addition to Krim’s general medieval air pollution, the bar also reeked of vomit and urine and stale beer and something else… Ellison sniffed. Ah, yes, decomposing bodies.
Some virtual worlds had magical creators or non-player characters to go around and clean up corpses. Others simply made dead bodies vanish. Krim left corpse disposal up to its residents, some of whom were too lazy or too drunk or too dead to clean up after bar fights.
“Everybody, this is my brother, Jerald,” Ellison announced to the dregs of Krim society. “This is only his second time on Krim, so please be nice.”
The dregs looked up, annoyed at being disturbed while drinking, then smirked when they saw Jerald’s outfit.
Ellison had insisted that Jerald buy the most expensive of the default avatars available to new visitors. Covered in gold, silver, diamonds, and fur, Jerald glittered like a disco ball in the light cast by the bar’s oil lamps. It was a business expense, and their client was paying for it, so they went all out.
Matilda glared at the other bar patrons.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she warned them. “Anyone gets close, I kill you and all your friends.”
Matilda routinely picked up work as a bodyguard and everyone knew that she wasn’t joking. She had a reputation on Krim for stabbing first, and asking questions later. Questions like, “Aren’t you dead yet?” and “How many intestines do you have in there, anyway?”
She looked around, then spotted the man they’d come to see.
“Larry!” she yelled out.
Larry, who was waiting for them at the bar, flinched and turned around. He was short and skinny, clearly going for the non-threatening look. He was probably trying to avoid unwanted attention from Krim’s role-playing medieval warriors.
“I see you’re not dead yet.”
Ellison was surprised, too. The Krim’s Armpit was known for its high death rate.
“I told them I was waiting for you,” said Larry.
He bounded up from the bar stool and extended his hand to Jerald. “Larry, pleased to meet you. I hear you’re in the market for some real estate.”
Jerald ignored the outstretched hand and nodded at him, then followed Ellison to a centrally-located table while Matilda had a long loud talk with the bartender about the most expensive drinks on the menu.
The King’s Armpit didn’t normally go in for expensive drinks, but a few weeks ago someone had been decapitated and a bottle of truly fine whiskey had been discovered in his coat. The bar owner claimed for his own and placed in a prime spot on the wall behind the bar.
Ellison had heard the story several times already when he’d been in, and each time the death had been grislier than before. Maybe Matilda could find something else to order.
He leaned back in his chair and waited for Jerald to get settled in. Expensive outfits weren’t always the most practical as far as sitting down was concerned. Or walking, or doing anything at all, for that matter.
But at least Jerald wasn’t wearing a chain-mail bikini.
“So,” Larry began, stopped, then tried again. “So you’re interested in real estate?”
“I hear that Krim is about to have a big growth spurt,” said Jerald. “I want to get in on some of that. But I’m looking for high-growth opportunities. I’m told you’re the man to talk to.”
Larry wasn’t the man to talk to. He specialized in cheap rental homes favorited by the lower-paid, less successful mercenaries, thieves and would-be professional assassins. But everyone in the Armpit knew who he was, and that was the important thing.
“Sure,” he said, and leaned in. “There’s a cult building a new compound just north of the city. The real estate around it is going to go up in value…”
“Go up in value, you say?” Jerald interrupted loudly. “Why would people want to live near a cult?”
“Well, umm…” Larry glanced around. “You see, cults like to send out for food. And, umm, they go through a lot of robes and such like. So you get business districts springing up around them. And this particular cult is into kidnapping people as sex slaves, so they go through a lot of whips and chains.”
“I’ve heard enough,” Jerald stood up. “I’m not investing in a sex slave cult.”
“You wouldn’t be investing in the cult per se…”
But Jerald ignored him and walked away.
Ellison made a “let’s get out of here” motion at Matilda and followed him to the exit.
“We’ve got our meeting with the Chamber of Commerce tomorrow,” he told Jerald as they were leaving. “Maybe something promising will come out of that.”
They stepped out the bar and Ellison turned to Matilda. “Is that it for the night?”
“Yeah, might as well turn in,” she said.
But as they started to walk away, a tall, gangly man in a top hat approached them.
“Excuse me,” he said. “My name is Norbert Hawkins…”
“Hi, Norbert,” said Matilda. “What are you selling this time? Dragon repellent?”
“Well, I do happen to have some on me, but no,” said Norbert. “I was just wondering if your friend here…” Norbert raised his hat at Jerald… “Would be interested in investing in an expedition to the new continent, an expedition that would finally bring coffee, tobacco, and potatoes to Krim.”
Jerald stopped and turned to look at him. “The new continent, you say? Tell me more.”
“Well, if you follow me…”
Norbert and Jerald walked away and Matilda and Ellison grinned at each other before they set off after them.
“If we finish off the case tonight, we can celebrate with this.” She pulled a bottle of dead guy whiskey out from under her heavy wool cloak. Krim was chilly and damp in the evening. And, well, at all other times as well.
“Hey, the client’s paying for it. Might as well, right?” She hid the bottle away again. “Now the question is, are you going to do the torturing, or will I? Oh, who are we kidding!” She laughed. “I can’t wait to get my knives out.”