Matilda left, to put up more reward signs and to listen for gossip about the jewel.
Ellison stayed behind. With Rodge down in the basement, whipping the thieves, it could be a good opportunity to talk to the guild members.
And have some chamomile tea.
Danmak had a pot going in the break room and a fresh batch of pastries had just been delivered.
Ellison sank down into an overstuffed chair and listened to Danmak complain.
“The thing is, nobody understands that torture is an art form,” Danmak said, gesturing with a pastry. “Take the whip, for example. People thing that it’s just about upper body strength. And yes, that’s part of it. But it’s mostly about finesse.”
Ellison nodded, following the pastry with his eyes. Was that a croissant? On Krim?
“There are nuances,” Danmak said. “It’s in the flick of the wrist and the angle of incidence. It’s a whole science. I spent three years getting a degree in medieval torture, then did an internship, and then every year I go to continuing education seminars. It’s not just something you learn once and boom, you’re set for life. You’re always learning. Torture is a journey.”
He finished off the pastry.
“Rodge is down there, and he’s he’s got plenty of enthusiasm,” he continued. “I’m not going to lie. For an amateur, he’s not half bad. Not squeamish. Good form. Solid follow-through. But there’s a difference. It’s like… like…”
“Like someone who bakes some cookies at home, and someone who runs a bakery?” Ellison suggested.
“Exactly, but more so. Like… like someone who puts on a band aid at home, and someone who’s a surgeon.”
“Uh huh.” Ellison glanced at the table with the pastries.
“You know, when they advertised for this position, there must have been a couple of dozen applicants,” said Danmak. “From all different grids. It’s a very competitive field. In fact, most people with my degree never even work in the profession. They’re film consultants, or work in museums. If they’re lucky to work in the field at all.” He shook his head. “When I told my parents what I planned to study in college, do you know what they said?”
“I kind of have to get going,” said Ellison, lifting himself up a bit from the chair.
“How about a pastry?”
“Well, if you insist.”
It was, in fact, a croissant.
“Where do you get them? Is there a bakery around here?”
Danmak shrugged. “The guys at the front gate bring them in,” he said. “But as I was saying about my parents…”
Ellison ate the pastry. And drank some tea. Then had another pastry. By the time he was full, Danmak was almost finished with his story.
“So I told her, if you can’t stand to see me covered in blood and entrails then you don’t get me. So I got a parrot. And let me tell you about Jake…”
“Wait a second,” said Ellison. “I really want to know what happens next — but before you go into that, I’ve got a quick question.”
“What do you think Rodge is really looking for? Was there something else that was valuable that was stolen? From the list he gave us, it looked like the jewel was the most expensive piece.”
“Did the list have a notebook on it?”
“No, the list was just on a piece of paper.”
“I mean, was a notebook one of the missing items?”
“Ah, no. There was nothing like that.”
“It could be nothing,” said Danmak. “But I saw Rodge putting a notebook away in the safe once. He was careful with it, and acted like he didn’t want anyone to see it. But when we were robbed, the safe was completely empty. No notebook.”
“What did it look like?”
“Like a regular notebook from the stationary supply store.”
“There’s a stationary supply store on Krim?”
“Off of Upping, in the art district. But Rodge could have just moved the notebook somewhere else before the robbery. Or maybe he wrote his to-do list in it, then finished the to-do list. Or maybe he was writing a love letter in it, and sent the letter off and didn’t need the notebook anymore. Really, it could be anything.”
Danmak leaned forward.
“If you ask me, Rodge’s problem is psychological. He feels violated. He thinks violence will fix things, make that feeling go away.”
“So what you’re saying is that Rodge doesn’t need to get his jewel back, he needs to get therapy?”
Danmak nodded. “There’s a type of people who come to Krim because they have unresolved emotional issues, and they prefer to hide away instead of dealing with issues head one. I, myself, am here to pursue my craft. Not too many places in the metaverse where you can work as a medieval torturer. It’s one of those heritage arts that isn’t in high demand these days. But I’m sure you understand.”
“You’re a heritage detective of sorts, right? An old-school-style private eye. Out in the real world, it’s all about digital forensics. But here on Krim, you get to experience detective work the way it used to be, where you go around talking to people, and collecting clues. I mean, how many places can you do that?”
Danmak leaned back on the couch and swung his feet up. “This one time, back when I was still doing my first apprenticeship…”
Ellison tuned him out. Instead, he thought about notebooks. Somebody else had mentioned a notebook recently. It was one of the guards, maybe.
“I just realized something,” Ellison told Danmak. “I’ve got to go.”
“Oh, but I was just getting to the good part,” said Danmark. “Have another pastry.”
“I remembered a clue,” Ellison said.
“Oh, in that case, don’t let me keep you.”
Ellison walked out to the front gate, where Two Teeth Tom was twirling his sword in the air and catching it by the hilt, except occasionally when he dropped it.
“Just keeping reflexes sharp,” Tom said when he saw Ellison approach.
Ellison waited until Tom wiped the dirt off his sword and put it away.
“Listen,” he said. “Do you remember, right after the robbery, when you searched everyone?”
“Didn’t you say you found a notebook?”
“One of the maids had it, the blonde,” said Tom.
“You mean the waitress?”
“She had a white dress on.” Tom shook his head. “Who wears a white dress on Krim?”
“What kind of notebook was it?”
“Just the regular cheap kind from the stationary store,” said Tom. “There was nothing it in. It was blank, except for that one drawing of Rodge.” He snorted. “I should have asked her to do one of me. Why?”
“Nothing,” said Ellison. “For a second, I thought maybe I’d found a clue.”
But he left to find the waitress, just in case. She was showing up too often in this case to be a mere coincidence. Maybe there was a secret key sewn into the notebook’s binding, he thought.
He might as well check it out. If there was something valuable in it, and he got the notebook back for Rodge, he and Matilda might finally get paid and be done with this case.