Ellison got to the Simond Fine Art Gallery first, even though he made a detour to the Central Plaza so that he could pop back out through the main gate and change into his regular avatar.
For a few minutes, he was worried that Pompas had somehow managed to escape again.
Then he saw them come down a side street and turn onto Upping. Pompas was dragging his feet, yelling at them to let him go. As they got closer to the art gallery, his struggles got more frantic. Meanwhile, Krim residents were out at force getting the last of their business done before the sun set. Matilda let the way, with the other mercenaries in a diamond formation behind her, Pompas frog-marched at the center. The size of their group meant that they had to move other pedestrians out of the way, or push them out of the way.
Not everyone was willing to move aside. Half a block away, Matilda’s group ran into a handful of warriors who refused to move out of the way. Matilda was visibly frustrated at not being able to follow her instincts and throw herself into battle. Instead, negotiations ensued, hampered by Pompas promising the warriors outrageous sums of money if they would free him.
From where he was standing, he couldn’t hear what Matilda promised, but judging by her tipping gesture, it was alcohol-related. Finally, the other warriors stood aside and let them pass.
One of Count Simond’s assistants met them at the door and ushered them all in, while another ran to get the count.
“Pompas, you old cheat, I want my money back!” Simond roared the minute he caught sight of them.
Pompas shrank away from him and tried to get loose, but Matilda’s team were used to his antics and just raised him up by his armpits in what must have been a painful way, because Pompas squealed then stopped strugging.
Then Simond turned to Ellison. “Can you take Pompas to the drawing room and keep an eye on him for a little bit? There are some people who need to be here.”
Ellison, Matilda, Pompas, and four of her mercenaries entered the drawing room, which turned out to be a large room with plenty of seating and sketches on the walls.
They tied Pompas to a chair and spent the next couple of hours playing cards.
Ellison lost all his money.
Finally, Simond returned, followed by a group of local Krim residents dressed like merchants, among them Quimby Plummer, the proprietor of the Barley Mow Inn, where Ellison was staying, and Osgar Cerdic Sigeweard, the director of the Krim City chamber of commerce.
When he saw them, Pompas started struggling even harder, until Matilda reached over and slapped him.
“So what’s all this about?” said Osgar. “Your young man wasn’t very clear. Have you caught an art thief?” He peered at Pompas.
With a jerk, Matilda pulled off Pompas’ beard. It had been glued on and Pompas gritted his teeth in pain while tears filled his eyes. Matilda tossed the beard to Simond who, in turn, tossed it to an assistant.
“Sir Andriu Pompas!” said Osgar. He turned to Simond. “What is the meaning of this?”
“I wanted to have you here as a witness,” said Simond. He placed a document on an ornate wooden table in the middle of the room and gestured for Osgar to sit down.
Osgar did so, and pulled out a pair of only slightly anachronistic reading glasses.
“As you can see, several weeks ago, I bought twenty percent of New World Endeavors,” Simond said. “My investment was to pay for some necessary supplies for the trip. Per the agreement, Pompas would retain fifty percent of the venture, and would cover all the costs associated with the ship itself. Money from other investors would cover crew and scientist salaries, maps, and other miscellaneous costs.”
“That seems reasonable,” said Osgar.
“I bought in for twenty-five percent,” said Quimby, with a shrug. “He had some new sea charts. I figured, with his experienced, if anyone could succeed, it would be him.”
“That’s why I thought, too,” said another merchant, and pulled out his own contract. “I bought in for thirty-five percent.”
“I bought in for fifteen,” added a third.
“That add up to…” began Osgar.
“Ninety-five percent,” said Simond. “Not counting Pompas’ fifty. And that’s just the start of it.”
The other merchants stepped forward and slapped down their contracts.
“I don’t know how many other investors Pompas was able to get,” Simond said. “But just between the six of us, he’s sold more than twice as many shares as he has.”
“It was just an accounting mistake,” said Pompas, who was looking a little queasy. “I obviously trusted the wrong person with the numbers. I’m not a crook. I’m just very bad at arithmetic.”
“We want our money back,” said Simond. “We all do.”
The other merchants all nodded.
“You couldn’t afford for this expedition to be successful,” he said. “You knew it had to fail. This was a setup from the start.”
“No, no, I swear. I would have made good.”
“Well, in-world investments are known to be extremely risky,” said Osgar. “As you know, the chamber recommends that people not invest more money than they can afford to lose, because there are no actual legal repercussions possible. In-world contracts are not binding.”
“No, they’re not,” said Simond. “Which is why I insisted on having the contract properly notarized off-world.”
“So did I,” said one of the other merchants.
“I didn’t,” said Quimby.
“But I went back to my legal counsel this week to get some clarification. It seems that if the expedition fails, the contract, the very real, legally binding contract, is null and void. At the time, that seemed reasonable. The expedition was a big risk. A dozen previous attempts had failed. But now I realize that he had intended to sink the ship from the start. And I doubt that he is risking any of his own money at all.”
Osgar looked at Pompas, who shrank back into his chair.
“So here, in front of witnesses, I’m demanding the return of my investment,” said Simond. The other investors nodded.
“And we will now take Pompas out through the gate and make it a formal demand. We’re inside the window. We want our money back.”
“I don’t have it,” said Pompas in a soft voice. He was looking down at his lap, not meeting anyone’s eyes. “I used it to pay debts. It’s all gone.”
“Can we have him prosecuted for fraud?” asked Quimby.
“Yes, if he sold more than one hundred percent of the shares through legal, off-world contracts.”
“I didn’t,” said Pompas. “It was only eighty-five percent.”
“So you can do basic arithmetic after all,” said Sigmund.
“It looks like you’ll have to liquidate the company,” said Osgar. “Sell the ship, confiscate any remaining in-world assets — Pompas was paying salaries somehow — and pay off the off-world investors first, then split whatever is left between everyone who invested in-world.”
“The ship’s not mine,” said Pompas.
“What?” Simond spun around and stared daggers at the conman.
“I rented it,” said Pompas.
“You planned to sink a rented ship?”
“Of course not.” Pompas raised his chin. “Our expedition would have been a success. This time, I’m sure of it. I learned a lot from my previous voyages. If there’s anyone who can reach the New World, it’s me.”
“So this has all been a waste,” said Simond. He sighed and pushed away from the table. “I vote we all file suit and place liens against any of his future earnings. And, meanwhile, that we throw him in a deep dungeon. Does anyone know of one?” He looked at Matilda and mercenaries.
She felt eyes on her and looked up from cleaning her fingernails with a knife. ” I think Glad the Impaler is still accepting clients,” she said.
“Good, then it’s settled,” said Quimby.
“No, hold on,” said Simond, flipping through the contract. “There’s a clause in here that if the ship sinks, or fails to set sail within a month of the departure date through circumstances beyond Pompas’ control, then New World Endeavors is automatically dissolved and all debts and obligations thereof deemed null and void.” He looked up. “We might not be able to sue to get our money back.” He slapped the document down. “You know what? I don’t care. Let’s send him to the torturers. Who’s in favor?”
“Wait.” This last voice was from an investor at the back. Everyone looked at him. “No, no, don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favor of the torture,” the investor quickly said. “Torture away, that’s what I say. But what if… and I’m just spitballing here… what if the rest of us continued with the expedition?”