“I really thought you were onto something there,” Two Teeth Tom told Ellison. “One of the maids saw Gorehair and the other two walking back from this direction. Plus, Gervis is the most antisocial of us all. He could easily be replaced by an impostor and we wouldn’t notice.”
“Hey,” said Gervis. “I’m standing right here.”
“Well, am I wrong?”
“No.” Gervis stroked a horse’s neck.
Two Teeth left, leaving Ellison alone with the stable master.
“It sounds like you’ve been in this guild longer than anyone else here,” said Ellison.
“That’s probably right,” said Gervis.
“You must know if there are any secret passages or tunnels anywhere, right?”
“They already asked me.” Gervis tilted his chin down and frowned. “I couldn’t think of anything.” He looked up. “I don’t spend much time in the main house, you know. I’m mostly just out here. And the guild just isn’t what it used to be.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, take Prince Searl, for example. He became the guild master fair and square. He killed everyone who disagreed with him, and kept killing them, until finally folks started to see sense. That’s how it should be. Single combat, to the death. Searl was all about keeping up the proper traditions. Randolfus was more about stabbing people in the back repeatedly, but still, the man didn’t mind getting his hands bloody. That’s what a leader is supposed to do. And Baron Roule was all about the torture. Sure, he ate Jupiter, but when it came to torture, he was an artist.”
Gervis patted a horse’s neck. “You agree, don’t you, Satie?” He looked up at Ellison. “Saturn here and Jupiter grew up together. Satie’s never been the same since he died.”
“They’re simulated horses though, right?”
“Technically, sure,” said Gervis. “Nobody is going to pay to bring a horse back to have it live here on Krim. It’s not exactly a paradise for animals, is it? But they might as well be alive, as far as I’m concerned.” The man’s voice trembled slightly. “Jupiter was one of a kind.”
Ellison forcibly restrained himself from letting his annoyance show on his face. Did everyone on Krim have mental issues? “Well, that’s been informative,” he said. “I’ve got to get…”
“But you know how Rodge got to power?” Gervis interrupted. “He bought his way in. Promised to outfit everyone for the winter campaign, paid for the guilt hall renovation. Hardly tortures anyone at all, really. And all the throwing money around for artifacts…”
He spat on the ground. “If you want an artifact, you should go out there and find it yourself. Put in the time. Take some risks. You don’t just show up at an auction and buy everything in sight. Sure, everyone says they’re happy now, what with all the food and drink, and musicians, and wenches, and fireworks.”
“People probably enjoy not having to worry about being stabbed in the back by their fellow guildmembers,” Ellison said.
“You shouldn’t be on Krim if you mind that kind of thing,” said Gervis. “It’s part of the authentic Krim experience. When someone gets what he wants in live by peaceful means — well, that just don’t sit right with me.”
“Because it’s a mercenary guild?”
“Any guild!” Gervis leaned forward. “My husband didn’t get to be the leader of the Threat Crafters Holiday Gala committee by peaceful means. He got the job the old-fashioned way, by stabbing Mildred Bowling with knitting needles and decapitating Agatha Birnbaum with her own fabric shears.”
“I thought it was bad form to kill creators,” said Ellison.
“Well, yeah, while they’re creating, maybe,” said Gervis. “But this was about committee assignments. That’s war.”
“And his guild was okay with that?”
“No, the crybabies kicked him out. But you know what? We’ll get back at them.”
There was a murderous gleam in Gervis’ eyes.
“Well, it’s getting late,” he said, and backed out of the stable.
He walked around the courtyard, where a couple of guild members were pocking at the earth around the base of the outside wall, probably looking for hidden tunnels.
Rodge was at the front entrance, being harangued by a woman Ellison recognized.
Dr. Rona Mills-Mills-Mills headed up the Lifeworks project on Krim, and was responsible for the returnees, the people that Lifeworks brought back from the dead.
She had a team of guards with her, but Ellison had a hard time imagining why she thought she could go up against a whole mercenary guild.
“If anybody has been hurt, in any way, we’re filing civil charges off-world,” she said in a low, even voice. “You don’t want the publicity, and Elea Carlyle isn’t going to want the publicity.”
“They’re witnesses,” Rodge sputtered. “We’re just getting their statements.”
“Well, you’re done,” she said. “If you need anything else, you can go through me.”
The front door swung open and the four returnees stumbled out, looking tired and wary. A mercenary gestured at them to keep walking, and Donna, the waitress who found the body, flinched away.
“They’ve been traumatized,” said Rona. “They’re going to need counseling.” She turned to Rodge. “Mr. Bannister, we’ll be sending you a bill.”
She watched as her guards escorted the returnees out through the main gate and into a large coach with the Lifeworks crest on it, then followed them out.
“Damn it,” said Rodge, and hit the side of the guard booth with his fist. He turned around and glared at his fighters. “I’m reactivating the cleaning roster,” he said.
The fighters groaned.
“Well, if our security had been better, we wouldn’t have been robbed, we wouldn’t have had to keep the cleaners for interrogation, and we’d still have a housekeeping service,” he told them. “Once I get my hands on those thieves…”
“You’ll make them clean?” asked one of the mercenaries.
Rodge stopped for a second and stared at the questioner, who shrunk away. “That’s…. that’s actually brilliant,” said Rodge. “That’s what we’ll do. We’ll find them, torture them a little bit, then make them clean.”
He spotted Ellison. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go out and find them.”