“Don’t look now, but there’s a table at the back with four guys at it,” Matilda told Ellison in a low voice.
“I know. My guy is there,” he said.
“The one who just walked in?”
“No, the one he kissed when he sat down.”
“That’s Trozganoth the Anointed,” she said. “He knits scarves and wooly mittens.”
“I’m pretty sure he’s one of the thieves. I saw him behind the Armstead Guild. Someone threw down something to him.”
Ellison coughed. “Well, actually, I though it was Elea or one of her men.” He shook his head. “But I guess it was that guy’s husband, Gervis. Still… maybe she hired them?”
“Why in the world do you think that Elea Carlyle, who’s ridiculously rich, has any interest in Rodge’s gamer junk?”
“Maybe that scepter he was bragging about has magic powers after all,” he said. “Maybe, I don’t know, she plans to use it to terraform Krim.”
Matilda laughed while drinking her beer and some of it came out of her nose. She wiped her face with the back of her sleeve, tossed back the rest, and banged the mug down on the bartop. The bartender scurried up. He looked a little fidgety.
How many bartenders had she killed for being too slow? Ellison decided not to ask.
“You don’t believe in magic,” he said instead.
“I believe that the Krim grid owners are cheap,” she said. “Also, the whole no-magic thing is their big selling point. They’re giving you the authentic medieval experience. If they decide to change that, they’d have to buy a whole new physics engine, and test it, and install it, and there will be months of community meetings and executive board reports.”
She waved her hand around. “And there’s be rioting here and everywhere else. You see a riot?”
Ellison shook his head.
“But I also believe that there are a lot of scam artists on Krim who are happy to sell you any magic item you’d want,” she added.
“Like dragon repellent.”
To be fair, Norbert Hawkins’ dragon repellent did work. None of his customers on Krim had ever been attacked by a dragon. The foul-smelling potion came in handy as bear repellent, which was the function it was mostly used for, and as a chastity device, though that effect was typically unintended. Glad the Impaler was known to use it as an air freshener, to soften up his victims before the actual torture began.
Ellison raised his empty mug at the bartender, using it as an opportunity to briefly glance at the four men at the back table.
“So who are the other two guys with them?”
“I think they’re the other two members of the Gang of Four,” said Matilda. “Vaganath the Vagabond weaves tapestries. And Tarantula Dave is a wood turner.”
“What’s a wood turner?”
“I don’t know, but he brings wooden bowls in sometimes, so I guess… he turns wood into bowls?”
“And Gervis takes care of horses.” Ellison pursed his lips. “Do they sound like four master criminals?”
“It’s the perfect cover,” she said. “And I think its how they can afford to do their crafts. I honestly can’t remember ever seeing anyone wearing Noth’s mittens.”
“I wouldn’t mind some mittens,” said Ellison. “It gets chilly.”
“Well, don’t get his. They’re…” She made air quotes, “… artistic. And Dave’s bowls are weird and ugly. I don’t think any of them are making money from their crafts.”
“That doesn’t make them criminals,” said Ellison. “There are probably many unsuccessful crafters on Krim, spending their savings. Or working day jobs in the real world.”
“That’s not why I think they’re the thieves,” she said, reaching into her vest to pull out a small bag on a drawstring. Shielding it from view with her body, she opened it slightly so Ellison could look inside. “That’s one of the so-called rings of power on Rodge’s list.”
“How did you get it?”
“I got a pickpocket to pick their pockets,” she said. “Shanwei O’Griffy Lamusa owed me a favor. She tucked the bag back under her vest. “I got suspicious when they giggled at each other whenever someone in the bar mentioned the theft. Like they were hiding a big secret.”
“That’s pretty lucky,” he said.
“Not really.” She reached down to her feet, lifted up a sack, and dumped the contents on the bar. Ellison grabbed one of the gold coins before it rolled away. “Is that all from people here?” he whispered.
Several bar patrons had looked over when the coins, small knives and others pocket-size valuables hit the wooden slab that was the bar surface. Then they looked at Matilda and went back to their beers.
“No, this is from the Happy Hog. There were a lot of suspicious characters in there who looked shifty whenever anyone mentioned the robbery.” She gathered the loot back into the sack and put it back down by her feet. She looked up at him. “Don’t worry, I’ll give it back,” she said. “I’m just holding it for Shanwei until the heat dies down. He doesn’t want the Happy Hoggers to catch him with the loot still on him.”
She scratched her chin. “I make a good accomplice. Maybe I should get into the thieving business once the mercenary thing gets played out.”
“We’re going to need to get a few people together to follow these guys and find out where they live,” said Ellison.
“No need,” said Matilda. “I’ve been past their shops. They’re farther down Upping, in the art district.”
“That’s a pricy neighborhood,” said Ellison.
“Exactly. They’re paying some serious rent and protection money to be there.” She glanced over at the back table. “They’re about to leave.”
“We need a plan,” said Ellison.
Matilda patted him on the shoulder. “Sure, go ahead, think of one.” Then she stood up and yelled loudly, “I’m heaving off to bash some skulls. It’ll be fun. Who’s with me?”
Two burly women a couple of seats over stood up. “I’m in the mood for a good bashing,” said one in a gravelly voice.
“Hey, Betty, didn’t see you there!” said Matilda. She drank the rest of her beer and tossed a few coins to the bartender. “Wait until our thieves leave then follow them discretely,” she whispered to Ellison as she bent down to pick up her loot sack, then dumped it in his lap. “And watch that for me.”