Marylebone Place was a street of ill repute.
Not because of its various houses of prostitution but because it was a street that saw a great deal of vehicle traffic but was located far enough from city center that Krim administration kept forgetting to do repairs. The cobblestones surface was torn up, making it a hazard to wheels and pedestrians alike.
With the descriptions provided by Hellcut, Gorehair, and Rainbow Squirtle, Matilda was able to track the wenches to the House of the Writhing Fun, one of the fine establishments on Marylebone, conveniently located a couple of blocks south and two blocks over from the Armforge Guild. The area was also home to the thieves’ guild and the assassins’ guild and several other mercenary houses.
Ellison looked up at the sign hanging over the door.
“It actually is the House of the Writhing fun,” he said.
“That’s what I said,” said Matilda.
“I thought you might have been slurring the words. Writhing Fun. It sounds like a lisp.”
She ignored him, and walked right in like she owned the place. She marched straight through the entryway and headed for the central lounge, where wenches were hanging out as they waited for the night’s business to start walking in .A couple were gossiping over a game of backgammon. Another was filing her toenails.
Lucylicious and Lovely Lora were not around, but Derek the Wench was artfully draped on a settee, wearing silk pajamas, reading a fashion magazine.
They all looked up when Matilda came in.
One of the backgammon players scooted over and patted the bench next to her. “Matty, join us!”
The wench filing her toenails sat up, tucker her feet under her, and thrust out her chest.
Derek jumped up and met Matilda with air kisses to both cheeks.
“Darling,” he said. “You look fabulous!” He looked over at Ellison. “And who’s this… your accountant? Real estate lawyer? Undertaker?”
“I’m a private investigator,” said Ellison.
“Oooh,” said the wench with the nail file. “Are you here to investigate our privates?”
“Can we talk in private?” Ellison asked.
“Sure, honey,” said Derek and winked at him. Then Derek leaned in towards Matilda and added, “No charge for you darling, but I’ll have to charge double for him.”
He led them further into the house, but instead of letting him take them upstairs, Matilda veered off into the house’s small kitchen. “We’re actually here to talk business,” said Matilda.
“Oh, pooh,” said Derek. But he followed her into the kitchen and started making tea.
Ellison sat down at a bench at a rough-hewed wooden table.
“It’s herbal,” said Derek. “Chamomile.” He sat down with a sigh. “I own stock in the Great Krim Tea Company,” he said. “Five expeditions so far, and still no tea.” He took a sip then put the tea down and cupped his chin. “So. What brings you here?”
“It’s about a party at the Armstrong Guild,” said Ellison.
“Rodge Bannister’s place, sure,” said Derek. “Good tipper. His boys and girls can get a little rowdy sometimes, but nothing we can’t handle.”
“What about last night?” asked Matilda.
“What about it?”
“Did you see anything unusual or suspicious?”
“You mean, did we see thieves come around bragging about how they ripped him off?” Derek laughed. “The rumors have been flying all over the place. But no, nobody’s been by. So far, at least. I’m sure once they fence the goods someone will be by to celebrate.” He made a zipping motion across his lips. “But you know what we say, what happens at the Writhing Fun, stays at the Writhing Fun.”
“What about at the party itself?” Ellison asked.
“What about it?”
“When you were at the party, did you see anything?”
“First, I wasn’t at the party. Second, what happens…”
Matilda interrupted him. “Hold on. So who was there then?”
“Not anyone from the Writhing Fun,” said Derek.
“Are you sure?” asked Matilda. “What about Lucylicious and Lovely Lora?”
“They both retired. Opened a little wine shop on Lothbury, in the art district.” He shrugged. “You can go talk to them, if you want, but they were very definite about giving monogamy a go. We threw them a party and everything. They donated all their crotchless underwear and frontless gowns to our museum.”
Ellison was surprised to hear about a museum of crotchless panties and it must have shown on his face.
“Our customers love it,” said Derek. “If you pay extra, we let you try everything on.”
“That sounds disgusting,” he said.
“That’s the fun of it,” said Derek. “Anyway, the last time any of us were at the Armforge… Actually, now that I think about it, it was all three of us, about two weeks ago. Someone was having a retirement party. A lot of that going around these days.” He shook his head. “Krim is really going down hill. Everyone is leaving.”
“Did you see Hellcut, Gorehair, and Rainbow Squirtle there?”
“Those old alkies? Sure. They threw up on my assless chaps. I had to throw them out. You know how hard it is to find a good pair of assless chaps on Krim?”
“And where were you last night?” Ellison asked.
Derek leaned back. “Promise not to tell anyone?”
“Sure,” said Matilda.
“I had an off-world meeting. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a logistics consultant for an asteroid mining concern. The last three days, we’ve had to negotiate several contracts.” He shook his head. “But I really don’t want people to know.”
“That you’re a wench on Krim in your spare time?” asked Ellison.
“No! That I’m a logistics consultant! I come to Krim to get away from all that. But the minute people find out, they start asking me about distribution routes, and if the rumors of new tariffs are true, and want to hear investment tips. I just want some peace and some fun sexy times, that’s all.”
“Are the rumors of new tariffs true?” asked Matilda. “I’ve got some money invested in nitrogen futures.”
“See? I can’t get away from it! Forget I said anything.”
- 1. Perchance a missive“World of Battle doth have much to be admired.” The speaker raised his flagon of ale, spilling some on the bar patrons around him. “To the World of Battle!” Someone tossed a fried skirret at his head.
- 2. Mayhaps a petty chareEllison walked away, not glancing back. If Usman was going to stab him in the back, Ellison wanted it to be a surprise. He didn’t want to see it coming. It was the anticipation that was the worst.
- 3. Back from the deadOne benefit of dying, Ellison thought, was that he got a fresh new avatar. A washed avatar. An avatar wearing new, clean clothes.
- 4. The oldest artifact“The man had me kidnapped and tortured.” Ellison tried to dig his heels in but Matilda easily dragged him out of the Barley Mow Inn and onto Leadenhall Street.
- 5. All fun and games till someone gets their throat slitRodge Bannister led them to the other side of the room, where heavy curtains hung across the entire back wall, a guard at each corner. Rodge nodded at the guards to open the curtains.
- 6. The list of suspects“Well, I’ll leave you to do whatever it is you need to do. Let me know when we can move the body.” Rodge frowned at the corpse. The flies had found it, and were beginning to buzz around it. “Hold on, what do you expect us to do?” Ellison asked. “Well, you know,” Rodge waved …
- 7. Time to see the wenchesBefore leaving, Ellison and Matilda had a chat with some of Rodge’s security team. They weren’t happy that Rodge had brought in outsiders to deal with the problem. “It’s almost like he doesn’t trust us to do our jobs,” said Two Teeth Tom, newly back from the dead. “Just because someone got the drop on …