17. Start with the toes

The rain had ended by the time Ellison left the guild and he went straight back to his room at the inn and fell deep asleep. He slept through breakfast, and through lunch as well so by the time he made it downstairs all that was left was cold cabbage that the cook was about to throw away.

He collected Matilda at the King’s Armpit, where she’d already heard the latest gossip.

“Rodge searched the thieves’ places this morning,” she told him.

“What, personally?”

“He had a few people with him, but he basically micromanaged everything. Ripped everything apart. Found a bunch of stolen loot, not just from this robbery, but lots of other ones, too.”

“So Rodge must be happy.”

“No, he was furious. He beheaded Two Teeth Tom.”

“So there’s still something missing?”

“Yup, probably something small,” Matilda said. “Rumor is, it’s the Jewel of Rhotarr.”

“Well, if Gervis has any common sense at all, he’s hidden it someplace safe and fled off-world. Rodge will get tired of playing soldier sooner or later, and then Gervis can come back and sell it.”

“Then we’ll probably never find him. I mean, he could be anybody in real life.”

“The problem isn’t finding him in real life,” said Ellison. “The problem is what to do if we do find him. Normally, I’d serve a subpoena, but there’s no grounds for one here.”

“I guess it all comes down to how much he loves his husband,” said Matilda. “Is he going to split and leave him here to be tortured?”

“Maybe we can trade the husband for the jewel,” said Ellison.

But when they suggested that idea to Rodge, the man slammed his fist on his desk and roared, “No! I will not negotiate with terrorists!” Then he took a breath and leaned back in his chair. “I don’t just want the jewel,” he said. “I want him, personally.”

“Because he betrayed you?” asked Matilda.

“Sure, sure.” Rodge opened a drawer of his desk and rifled through a pile of file folders.

Ellison leaned over. Was there a stationary supply store on Krim somewhere?

Rodge pulled out the file he wanted and slammed the drawer shut. “Here,” he said, slapping it on the table. He opened it and pulled out the top sheet. “Gervis Gefroi. Known as Ruslan Jimmy Joe Estemirov in real life.”

“You know the real-world identities of all your guild members?” Matilda asked.

“We run full background checks,” said Rodge. He pulled out a pad of paper — where was he getting his supplies? — and copied over Gervis’ real name and contact details. He passed it to Ellison.

“Do what you have to do to get him back here.”

Ellison glanced over at Matilda. “Sure, we’ll do that,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the thieves are being tortured downstairs,” Rodge said. “See if you can get anything useful out of them.”

Ellison didn’t particularly feel like watching people get tortured, so he happily let Matilda lead the way.

She practically skipped down the steps.

“I heard they’ve got a good guy here,” she said over her shoulder to Ellison. “Not as good as Glad the Impaler, but up there. Maybe I can pick up a few tips.”

Ellison felt a sour taste at the back of his throat and swallowed, but the queasiness didn’t go away. Instead, as they entered the guild’s dungeon, they could now hear the screams of the damned and smell the stench of spilled body fluids.

Matilda breathed in deep. “Ah, I love the smell of entrails in the morning,” she said.

“It’s the afternoon.”

“Afternoons are my mornings.”

The followed the screams to the torture chamber, where two of the thieves were chained to the walls and the third, Trozganoth the Anointed, was tied to a medieval torture rack.

“Oh, wow, this is great,” said Matilda. “I haven’t seen one of these before.”

The torturer put down his flaming hot poker and turned to them. His black leather mask making Ellison rock back on his feet.

Ellison grabbed on an Iron Maiden for support, but Matilda stepped forward. “I didn’t realize anyone on Krim had one.”

“Hey, Matty,” said the torturer and pulled up his mask.

“Oh, my god, Danny, I didn’t know you worked here!” Matilda clapped him on the shoulder. “Nice gig!”

“Thanks, but they call me Danmak the Bonekeeper here. What brings you to my fine abode?”

Ellison let go of the Iron Maiden and stepped forward. “We’re looking for any information on how to find Gervis.”

Danny spit on the dirt floor. “That traitor. What do you want to know?”

“Well, where he might be hiding, to start with,” said Matilda.


Danny turned back to Trozganoth, who was moaning softly, and slapped him a couple of times to get his attention.

It took the prisoner a few seconds before he could focus on them. His eyes were swollen, his nose broken, and he was missing teeth.

“I don’t know where he is,” Trozganoth finally whispered, barely loud enough for Ellison to hear. “But I know he’ll come back for me.” He coughed and spit up some blood. “He’ll find a way to save me.”

“Has he told you anything useful at all?” Matilda asked.

“Well, no, but I haven’t asked him anything,” said Danny. “I’ve just been torturing, you know, for the sake of the torture. I’ve got some new techniques I want to try out.”

“Oh, did you go to Glad’s seminar last week?” she asked. “I wanted to, but couldn’t make it.”

“I did, and it was great,” said Danny. “But it wasn’t just about the professional development. Yes, it’s good to keep up with the latest development in the field, but it’s the networking with my peers that I find most rewarding.”

“Glad is a genius with a butter knife.” Matilda caressed the dagger on her belt.

Danny glanced down at her hand. “Want to give it a go?” he asked. “I can tell you want to.”

“Can I?”

“Just don’t kill him. Rodge will kill both of … I mean, Rodge will make sure that both of us suffer eternal torment if this guy dies.”

She took out her dagger. “I’m going to start with the toes,” she said.

1 thought on “17. Start with the toes”

  1. Well-written and witty, as always. My critique: I don’t like torture scenes, I think they are macabre. But then again, the average American viewer of TV shows and reader of scifi has a high level of tolerance for horror, whereas I don’t. So I would imagine most readers won’t find the scenes off-putting.

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