10. Horse sense

“They’re the Gang of Four,” said Matilda. “They’re famous. They case their targets, figure out who has access but doesn’t interact with other people much, and steal their identities while the commit the crime. They usually knock their victims out and tie them up somewhere, but getting Hellcut, Gorehair, and Rainbow Squirtle passed-out drunk was genius. Or would have been, if we didn’t figure it out.”

“Great,” said Ellison. “Where do we find them?”

“Don’t know.”

“What do they look like?”

“They can look like anyone.”

“Do you know anything about them at all then?”

“I know there’s four of them,” said Matilda.

They were standing outside the Butt and Oyster. It had been a long day, with a lot of walking in it, and Ellison could still smell a slight whiff of vomit in the air.

“I’m done,” he said. “I’m heading home.”

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll go to the thieves’ guild on my own. I’d probably do better without you along, anyway.”

He started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll be going past Armforge on the way home, so I’ll stop by there and see if they’ve found anything in their searching. I mean, even if we know who did it, we still don’t know how.”

“Look for a secret tunnel,” she said, waved goodbye and walked south on Knots Hollow while he turned north. The Armforge Guild was less than two blocks up. He’d just look in a minute and see how things were going.

Things were going badly.

Two Teeth Tom was at the gate and he looked as tired as Ellison did.

“We’ve turned the whole place upside down twice,” he told Ellison. “Nothing. Did you have any luck?”

“Maybe,” said Ellison. “We might know who did it. Is Rodge around?”

Tom yelled back at the a group of guards standing further inside the compound, by the entrance, then opened the gate for Ellison.

After one of the guards guard came over to relieve him, Tom led Ellison to Rodge.

“We have a lead,” Ellison told the guild leader. “There’s a chance that your three men, Hellcut, Gorehair, and Rainbow Squirtle, weren’t actually here last night, but were impersonated by members of the Gang of Four.”

“They did seem unusually stand-offish,” said Tom. “I should have suspected that something was off.”

“I knew I should have insisted on passwords,” said Rodge. “Wait, did you say Gang of Four?”

“Yes.”

“So who’s the fourth man?”

Ellison shook his head. “No way to know. Could have been a getaway driver, or a look out.”

“Or maybe they’re still inside,” said Rodge. He spun around. “Teeth! Get everyone in here.”

As Two Teeth Tom hurried away, Rodge turned back to Ellison. “How do I know you’re not one of the thieves, sneaking back in to get the loot you hid somewhere?”

Ellison wanted to say that it was because the treasures Rodge was so excited about were stupid in-world junk. But, to be honest, it was valuable junk, and he could use the money.

“Do you want to talk about that time you had your men kidnap and torture me?” he asked instead.

“Fine, fine, I believe you,” said Rodge.

“Anyway, Matilda says they usually impersonate loners, people who don’t interact much with others. That way, they’re not as likely to be spotted because their voices or mannerisms are all off.”

“Do we have any loners here?” Rodge yelled out at his mercenaries, who were running in.

They stopped and looked at each other.

“I’m not a loner,” said one.

“I’m pretty sociable, too,” said another.

“I want to know if one of my men has been replaced by a member of the Gang of Four,” Rodge said, then looked over at Ellison. “Explain why.”

“They’re masters of impersonation,” said Ellison.

“Sure, we’ve heard of them,” said one of the mercenaries. “Who hasn’t?”

“They’re famous,” said another.

“So cool that they hit us.”

“We should get shirts made. We were robbed by the Gang of Four, and I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

“Quiet!” Rodge roared. “I said, is anybody here a loner?” He looked around. “Has anyone been skulking around, not associating with anyone else?”

The mercenaries looked at each other warily. Finally, one of them took a step forward. “What about Gervis?” he asked. “The stablemaster?”

“Is he still here?” Rodge said, then turned and started walking to the back of the building before anyone could answer.

Ellison and the other mercenaries hurried after him, through the hallway where the four servants were still waiting. Now, though, they were sitting on the floor, playing cards.

“Out of the way,” Rodge yelled at them as they scooted off to the side.

Ellison followed Rodge and his fighters out the back, across the back courtyard, to a small barn.

Rodge flung open the back door, starting Gervis, who’d been brushing a horse. The horse neighed and pulled away from him.

Gervin turned around. “Out, out,” he told them. “You’ve searched the place twice already, and you’re scaring the horses.” He shook his head. “As if the fireworks last night weren’t bad enough.”

“That’s not why we’re here,” said Rodge. “Can you prove you are who you say you are? There may be an impostor in the compound.”

Tom leaned over to Ellison. “We searched this barn top to bottom.” Ellison glanced at a pile of manure in the back corner.

“Even that,” said Tom. “I poked through it myself, too. Nothing in there.”

Meanwhile, Gervis had been regaling Rodge with the history of the guild.

“I first started under Prince Searl,” he said. “Now there was a fine figure on a horse. Treated everyone equally. Wonderful leader. If you disagreed with you, he’d cut your head off. You always knew where you stood with Searl. Then there was Randulfus. He took over when Searl’s wife finally tracked him down and dragged him home. Then there was Baron Roule. Forced to eat his own horse, you know. That was during a campaign up north. He ate poor Jupiter. Never got over that.”

“He also had to eat his own leg,” added one of the mercenaries.

“Yes, but it was eating poor Jupie that led to the breakdown,” said Gervin.

“Fine, fine,” said Rodge. “Damn it.” He hit the barn door with the side of his fist, shaking it and startling the horse again.

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