13. A cold walk to a dank place

Two Toe Toe continued his circumnavigation of the Armstrong Guild compound, but Ellison had had enough. He was tired, and his bones hurt from having fallen on the stones and then being crushed under Tom.

He retraced his steps through the alley back to Knots Hollow. As he approached the street, he saw Gervis the stablemaster heading north towards Krim center.

Ellison caught up to him. “Gervis!”

Gervis jumped and looked around nervously.

Ellison looked around nervously as well. This was Krim. There was a lot to be nervous about.

“I didn’t see you there,” Gervis said.

“I’m just heading home,” said Ellison, and walked alongside Gervis.

Home, which was a little freebie virtual apartment that came with an annoying virtual assistant who kept trying to sell him virtual real estate. But on the other hand, it was warm, and dry, and had an endless supply of potato-based dishes and coffee. Mashed potatoes with butter and chives…

“Me too,” said Gervis.

“What?”

“I meant, I’m heading home, too,” said Gervis.

Gervis sounded anxious. He probably had to walk through a nasty neighborhood. “Where do you live?” Ellison asked.

Gervis coughed and looked away. “Well, actually, I’m not going straight home,” he said. “I’m headed to the King’s Armpit, first. It’s a bar. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It’s just off Upping Street.”

“Sure, I know it,” said Ellison.

“Well, right, you’re a detective,” Gervis said with an unconvincing chuckle. “You probably have the map of the city memorized.”

The stablemaster pulled at his collar. It probably itched, like everything else on Krim.

Back in his apartment, Ellison had silk pajamas and silk sheets. Freebie silk pajamas and silk sheets, with corporate logos on them, but compared to Krim, they were the epitome of luxury. He could slip under those sheets, in his silk pajamas, pull up the latest celebrity gossip show, and dig into his bowl of mashed potatoes…

“I’m meeting my husband there,” Gervis said.

“I think my associate, Matilda Scarletstrike, is there now,” said Ellison.

Gervis flinched.

Many people flinched when they heard Matilda’s name. She had a habit of stabbing people who annoyed her and she was easily annoyed.

They were walking past Butters Place now. It was the most direct route to Leadenhall Street and the Barley Mow Inn, but it was also dark and narrow. It didn’t look very appealing at all. Plus, the Barley Mow’s sheets were scratchy and the mattresses were lumpy and uncomfortable.

He kept walking next to Gervis along Knotts Way. He felt a little safer next to someone he knew.

“So,” said Gervis. “Do you have any suspects? For the theft?”

“Yup,” said Ellison. “We know who did it. Oh, speaking of who did it, did you see anyone suspicious tonight? You know, maybe hanging around the stables just before you left?”

“What? Me? No,” said Gervis, scratching at his collar again. Maybe he had fleas. Working in a stable, it was probably a regular hazard of the job. And it was too bad that Gervis was more interested in his horses than in the other guild members.

The Armstrong Guild was filled with people. Any of them could have snuck out while Two Teeth Tom was away from his post, climbed up to the watch post, and thrown the bag of loot down to an accomplice.

Or it could have been a visitor.

“Any outsiders come by tonight?” Ellison asked.

“There was a strange lady coming in when I was leaving,” said Gervis.

“Strange how?”

“She was dressed like Jesus,” said Gervis. “White robe. Sandals. She must have been freezing.”

Ellison only knew one person who dressed like that. Elea Carlyle. Self-styled philanthropist extraordinaire and the most evil person Ellison had ever met.

“I knew it,” he said. “I knew she had something to do with this.”

“What? Her?”

Nobody ever believed Ellison when he warned them about the woman.

“You bought her act?” he said. “It’s all just for show. She couldn’t care less about helping poor returnees. She’s in it for herself. I just don’t get why she’d want to steal Rodge’s stuff.”

“You think she did it?” Gervis asked. He sounded surprised. “I thought you suspected me.”

“You? Why?”

“Well, you’re following me right now,” said Gervis. “And you’ve got Matilda staking out my husband. Well, we had nothing to do with it. Stop harassing us. I can’t believe Bannister brought in an outsider on something that should have been guild business. That’s not how things are done.”

He sped up, walking ahead.

Ellison caught up to him. “How should things be done then?”

“Without outsiders. Without returnees. Without detectives. Everybody knows it was the returnees who did it. You should be looking at them, not me.”

Gervis sped up again and this time Ellison let him pull ahead.

The central square and the gate out of Krim were just up ahead. Gervis turned right onto Upping, in the direction of the King’s Armpit.

It wouldn’t take that much longer to swing by there before heading back to the gate. It would be good to fill Matilda in on what Ellison saw behind the guild compound. And maybe she’d found something.

Ellison took his time walking there. He didn’t want to accidentally catch up to Gervis and have the man turn on him and carve him up.

The King’s Armpit was on Lawless Alley.

When Ellison came in, he immediately spotted Matilda at the bar. She was hard to miss.

He looked around. Gervis was there, too, at a table in the back with three other men, all tradesmen. Ellison hadn’t seen their faces before, but he recognized one of their auras. One of the three strangers was wearing a different body, but was definitely the same man as in one in the alley behind the guild.

He squeezed in next to Matilda. “Don’t look now,” he said quietly in her ear. “But I just found one of the thieves.”

“Hey, Ellison! Bartender, get this man a beer!” She raised her own mug and leaned in towards Ellison. “I found two of them.”

1 thought on “13. A cold walk to a dank place”

  1. I like how Ms. Korolov gives the reader little clues, such as Gervis scratching at his collar. It’s not clear if Gervis is an accomplice of the thieves, or was one of the thieves, but the author drops a hint when she depicts Gervis as being nervous. Perhaps the hint is just meant to make the reader think it was Gervis… and then be surprised that it was not Gervis. Either way, these clues for the reader are a good idea.

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