21. Pretzels, fur coats and trash chutes

The city hall was, in theory, a great place for secret meetings.

Krim administrators didn’t allow any hanky panky inside the building. They had no problems with their residents being subject to grotesque acts of violence, but didn’t want to become victims themselves.

Any user who violated the rules could be permanently banned from the world.

Meanwhile, the city hall looked over the south side of the central plaza, just on the other side of Tupping Street. The main gate was on the far end of the plaza. City hall was a convenient place for new arrivals to stop by and be told that no, they couldn’t buy currency there and had to go to the central bank. And that no, they couldn’t get their mail there, they had to go to the post office. And no, they couldn’t complain about getting robbed or knifed in the back because those things were perfectly legal on Krim. But it was also the place where merchants got import and export permits, so it wasn’t utterly useless. Just mostly so.

Nonetheless, there was a constant stream of visitors, many of them newcomers to the grid, going in and out of city hall. Most left disappointed. It was easy for someone wearing a noob outfit to walk in and out of the place withdrawing any suspicion whatsoever.

Gervis should feel completely safe to walk in there, meet up with Duke Humfridus Hubelet Hamund, reach a quick agreement, and leave again. Gervis would recognize the Duke when he saw him, and could easily check whether he was alone or not.

Ellison didn’t know how Matilda convinced Ham to go along with their plan.

“Do you think he’ll bring the jewel with him?” Matilda asked Ellison.

They were both standing behind a pretzel cart on the south side of the plaza. Ellison’s job was to spot Gervis as he walked into city hall. Matilda’s job was to grab him as he came back out again. To help her out, Rodge had lent a few of his mercenaries. They were scattered around the area, all wearing new avatars so that Gervis wouldn’t recognize them.

Ellison had his assassin hood up over his head as a disguise.

Matilda was wearing a borrowed and over-sized fur coat that covered her head to toe and hid her armor.

She stroked the pelt, which was only slightly matted from being exposed to the Krim elements.

“This is warm,” she said. “I should get something like this.”

The fur smelled strongly of wet dog.

Ellison glanced up at the giant clock over the city hall entrance.

“Gervis should have been here half an hour ago,” he said.

“Maybe he’s being cautious, seeing if he can spot a trap,” said Matilda and bit into a pretzel.

“Or maybe he’s waiting for Ham to show and go inside,” said Ellison.

“He was already uncomfortable enough about helping us set a trap and lending his name to it,” said Matilda. “Best he could do for us was put his seal on the message and lend me this coat. He didn’t also want to be here when it went down.”

“I’m going to do another circle of the plaza,” said Ellison. “If Gervis is anywhere out here, I’ll spot him.”

Half an hour later, he returned to the same spot.

“He isn’t anywhere around here,” he told her. “I checked everywhere with line of sight of the city hall entrance, and then some. I don’t think he was ever here.”

Just then an armed fighter walked up to the top of the city hall steps, turned around, and, at the top of his lungs, yelled Matilda’s name.

“That’s not Gervis,” Ellison said.

“No, that’s one of Ham’s guys,” said Matilda.

“Matilda Scarletstrike!” the fighter yelled again. “Is there a Matilda Scarletstrike out here?”

Matilda walked around the pretzel cart and waved at the fighter until he spotted her and came down the steps.

Ellison staggered after her, buried under the coat.

“I’ve got a message from Duke Humfridus Hubelet Hamund,” the fighter said. “Gervis contacted him. Wants to meet at the Barley Mow, instead.”

“He must have thought that this place was too exposed,” said Matilda.

“The Barley Mow isn’t going to be any better for him,” said Ellison.

“He probably thinks he’s being clever, changing the meeting location at the last minute,” said Matilda. “Doesn’t matter. We’ll just catch him there.” She turned to the fighter. “We’ll handle it from here. I’ll get Ham’s coat back to him later on.”

The fighter looked at the coat appreciatively.

“I’ve always wanted to try it on,” said the fighter, and reached out to pat the fur. “It’s feels like it would be pretty warm. I should get one of these.”

“I know, right?” Matilda said. “I want to know where he gets them.”

“Maybe from up north? I heard…”

“We don’t have time for this,” Ellison interrupted. “Gervis might be gone by now.”

He and Matilda walked east on Upping, towards the King’s Arms, then turned south on Banking Street.

A few of Rodge’s disguised mercenaries saw them walking away and trailed behind them.

When they got to Leadenhall Street, Ellison pulled his hood back up and forward so that it cast his face in shadow.

Then, just before turning the corner, they waited for Rodge’s men to catch up. The Barley Mow was two blocks down Leadenhall, just past the post office.

“Wait here while I go up ahead and see if Gervis is there,” Ellison told them.

As Ellison walked away, one of the mercenaries asked Matilda, “How’s he going to recognize him?”

“He says by body language,” Matilda told them. “But I think he’s got a grid admin on the take.”

Ellison didn’t bother to correct her.

Instead, staying on the opposite side of the street and keeping people between him and the Barley Mow, he got close enough to see through the front window. There was Gervis, sitting right in full view of the street. Instead of the bulky form he had before, Gervis was now a slight man, with long wispy hair tied back in a pony tail and a sparse goatee. He wore a loose tan home-spun shirt. The avatar he wore looked vaguely familiar.

Ellison couldn’t see if he had anything with him.

He returned back to Matilda and the mercenaries and described Gervis to them.

“Sounds like the default minstrel outfit,” said Matilda.

That’s where Ellison saw it, far down the list of default options in Krim’s welcome area.

Matilda sent a couple of men ahead to stand guard on the other side of the inn, in case Gervis ran in that direction.

“Walk past the inn,” she told them. “Don’t look at it. Repeat, do not look at the inn. Stay across the street from it, keep people and vehicles between you and him, just in case he recognizes you by how you walk. Just go a couple of buildings past it and wait. We’ll go in, and then if you see him come running out with us chasing after them, then step in and grab him.”

“The Barley Mow has a back door,” Ellison reminded them.

“Right.” Matilda sent another man to go down the alley and wait at the inn’s back entrance. “If he comes running out, tackle him. And make sure he doesn’t go into the chute.”

Ellison winced. He’d recently lost someone he’d been trying to catch when the guy dove into a trash chute and died instantly. Well, the avatar died. The guy himself just landed right back in Krim’s welcome area and waltzed right back in through the central gate.

“I’ll wedge the chute lid closed,” said the mercenary. “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

That left two others, whom Matilda positioned across the street from the inn, near the post office.

When everyone was in place, Matilda led the way.

1 thought on “21. Pretzels, fur coats and trash chutes”

  1. The story is getting extremely suspenseful again. I like how this chapter ends on a cliffhanger.

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