“It’s a little firm called Pocoto,” said Norbert.
Ellison restrained himself from giving Matilda a high five. That’s what they were looking for.
Instead, he walked closer to Jerald and Norbert and pulled at Jerald’s sleeve. “We turn left up ahead,” he told him.
Jerald glanced at Norbert, who sped up his sales pitch.
“Several explorers have come back with mysterious gold coins, animals that only lived in the Americas, and multiple species of plants that only existed in the New World. There’s a continent out there that hasn’t been explored yet. And, since Krim is modeled on Earth in the year 1500, that continent has to be north and south America. We’re raising money for an expedition.”
“That doesn’t sound profitable at all,” said Jerald. “I hardly see how some gold coins…”
“It’s not about the gold,” interrupted Norbert, still talking quickly. “It’s about the plants. Plants like coffee, potatoes, and tobacco. Whoever brings them back with have a monopoly. And, especially as Krim grows, that could be worth millions.”
“If those plants were there, someone would have discovered them by now,” said Ellison. “Krim’s been around for ten years. We’re meeting with the Chamber of Commerce tomorrow. Those guys we met with tonight, those were nothing. They were just appetizers. Tomorrow, we’re meeting the real movers and shakers on Krim.”
They were getting close to the turn off to Leadenhall Street.
“The previous expeditions were all run by explorers,” said Norbert. “Our expedition has biologists and agronomists on the team. They other explorers weren’t looking for coffee or tobacco or potatoes — and wouldn’t have recognized them if they found them. No, they landed on a beach, picked some flowers, raided the nearest temple, and came straight home.”
“Actually, that sounds promising,” said Jerald. “Would I be able to meet the scientific team, check their resumes?”
Jerald looked back at Ellison. “We have a little time, don’t we? What’s the harm in hearing them out?”
“It’s probably a scam,” said Matilda. “He’ll take us to some dark alley where we’ll get jumped and you’ll be held for ransom.”
“Oh, gosh. Does that happen?”
Norbert stopped and turned around to face Matilda.
“Oh, come on, Matty. How long have you known me?”
“A few months?”
“And have I ever led anyone into danger? Or sold them anything that wasn’t exactly what I described it to be?”
“What about the anti-plague liniment?”
“Well, did anyone I sold it to get the plague?”
“And the dragon repellent?”
Norbert spread his arms. “Do you see any dragons?”
“See, like I said, there’s no harm in going,” said Jerald.
Matilda looked up at the sky, then down towards Leadenhall.
“We’re nearly back to the inn,” she said. “And it’s going to rain soon.”
“It’s not much further,” Norbert said. “Just a couple of blocks.”
Matilda pursed her lips.
“Sir Pompas has an office in the Gold Travel Agency building,” Norbert said.
“Well, he’s definitely not going to be there now,” said Matilda. “Tell him to stop by the Barley Mow. He can catch us at breakfast tomorrow.”
“No, no, he is there tonight. I just saw him, and I know that he’s working late,” said Norbert. “But he’s heading out of town tomorrow, to see about supplies. He won’t be back for a month.”
“I’m sure there’s somebody else in the company we can talk to, if you’re still interested tomorrow,” said Ellison. “It’s getting late.”
“No.” Jerald squared his chin. “You’ve been dragging me all around the city tonight, to all your low-life friends, and now that I’m hearing about something actually interesting, you don’t want me to go.” He turned back to Norbert. “Lead the way, sir.”
Ellison and Matilda watched Jerald and Norbert walk ahead of them.
“You’re brother is really good,” said Matilda, in a low voice, as she and Ellison started walking again.
“He’s done this before,” said Ellison. “And he’s motivated. The client is a good friend of his. Still, I’m kind of surprised he agreed to come to Krim at all.”
They crossed Leadenhall Street and he glanced off to the left, in the direction of the inn. A cold supper and a clammy bed was waiting for them there, which was slightly less cold and clammy than the cold and clammy air outside.
“How long until it rains?” he asked.
Matilda glanced back at the clock over the post office, lit by oil lamps. “About an hour. We’ve got time.”
They walked on, Matilda keeping a careful eye out for anyone who might jump out and attempt to rob Jerald.
“So, do you know anything about this travel agency?” Ellison finally asked her.
“Sure. They do tours to the end of the world. You get on a ship, sail to the edge, and fall off. It’s pretty popular. Everyone does it at least once.”
“So what do you think they have to do with our scam artist?”
She shrugged, her armor moving like tectonic plates under her heavy wool cloak. “Probably nothing. Maybe he just rents an office there. I think he moves his base of operations regularly, so people have a harder time finding him. Someone I know invested in one of his previous expeditions a few years back.”
As they came closer to their destination, Matilda lowered her voice. “I’m going to head around to the back. I think this place has a couple of exits to back alleys. I’ll make sure he doesn’t go anywhere.”
Then, more loudly, she said, “You guys go inside without me. I’ll keep watch out here.”
As they walked up the steps and into the travel agency building, she pulled out her bottle of whiskey.
“Are you sure about her?” Jerald asked, glancing back. “I think she’s planning to get drunk. What kind of bodyguard is she?”
“Don’t worry about it.” Ellison clapped him on the shoulder. “She fights best drunk.”
Behind them, Matilda pretended to take a drink. Or, at least, Ellison hoped she was pretending to take a drink. If she was going to be chasing their target around dark alleys, he preferred that she remained sober. Relatively sober, at least, considering that they’d spent the previous few hours at one bar after another.
“Right through here.” Norbert led them down a hallway to a small office near the back of the buiding. The place was deserted, with only a single oil lamp to light the way. They bumped into a couple of chairs along the way.
“Who’s out there?” a voice called out from the other end of the building.
“It’s me, Norbert! I’ve brought someone I think you should meet.”
Norbert leaned in towards Jerald. “That’s Sir Pompas. His office is right down there. I think you two will get along famously. The man is a visionary.”
Sir Pompas himself came out of the room, carrying an oil lamp of his own. The light illuminated more of the hallway and a shape that at first looked like a piece of furniture slowly resolved into a very bored guard sprawled across a narrow bench. The guard sat up and eyed them warily.
“Jerald Crewe is a business owner who’s looking for Krim-based investment opportunities,” said Norbert.
Sir Pompas stepped forward, hand stretched out, when he spotted Ellison bringing up the rear of the group. His forehead creased. “Do I know you?”
“That’s Jerald’s brother, Ellison,” Norbert said. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just showing Jerald around the grid.”
Sir Pompas looked from Ellison to Norbert and back again, then made up his mind. “I’m going to get some materials together. Hildebrandus, could you please show the gentlemen into my office? I’ll be right back.”
The guard stood up and ushered Jerald into the office while Pompas slipped out the back door.
“Could I get a glass of water?” Jerald asked just as Norbert said, “I’m sure Sir Pompas will be right back.”
Without Sir Pompas and his oil lamp, the hallway was dark again, lit only by the little light that spilled from his office.
“Oops!” Jerald knocked over the lamp and it rolled under a table. Ellison took the opportunity to slip past the guard and dashed to the back.
The door opened to a utility room, lit only by a weak ray of moonlight coming through another door at the other end.
Ellison ran outside into an alley and saw Sir Pompas’ oil lamp moving at a brisk pace around the back of the building.
Ellison ran after him and saw the man stop and turn. He must have spotted Matilda. Pompas started back, then saw Ellison.
“Grab him!” Matilda yelled from the other end of the alley.
But as Ellison closed in, Pompas darted off to the side, lifted up a lid, and climbed into a trash chute. With a piercing scream, he and his oil light disappeared into the depths.
Matilda ran up and looked down after him. The chute was infinitely deep, in theory at least. In practice, it went down a hundred feet or so then anything in it vanished for ever.
It was the world administrator’s way of making up for the fact that there were no trash disposal services on the grid.
Matilda swore. “We almost had him.”
“And now he knows that we’re looking for him. He’ll be even harder to find. But at least we’ve got his office. Maybe we’ll find some clues there about who he’s working with.”
Ellison led her to the back door, where Pompa’s guard was waiting for them.
“Matilda,” said the guard.
“Hildebrandus,” said Matilda.
“I’m going to fight you now,” said the guard. “And I will probably stab you several times.”
“I’ll consider myself stabbed,” said Matilda, and tossed him the bottle of whiskey.
“Ouch, you killed me,” said the guard. “See you at the Armpit.”
Matilda patted him on the shoulder as she and Ellison went in.