24. A spider in the corner

Quimby Plummer, owner of the Barley Mow Inn, refused to tell Ellison where Donna lived.

“I know you’re working for that Rodge guy,” Quimby said. “After you two dragged my customer right out of here, I’m seriously considering kicking you out. Next time, drag them out after they’ve paid for their meal.”

Ellison sighed, then paid for Gervis’ lunch.

“If you won’t tell me where she lives, can you tell me when she’s scheduled to work next?” he asked.

“She isn’t,” said Quimby. “I fired her.”

“She lives on Oxhead,” said a drunk patron sitting at the bar.

“How do you know that?” said Ellison.

“Well, I’ve been stalking her, haven’t I?” said the drunk. “Can’t get up the nerve to talk to her.”

“Where on Oxhead?”

“About half-way down, on the south side. There’s an empty shop, and she’s got a flat right above it. If you stand outside you can see her in the window sometimes, brushing her hair.” The patron sighed. “Say, if you see her, tell her that Will sends his best.”

Oxhead was a narrow street, that ran for two blocks between Lothbury and Ribble Rowans, halfway to the art district. It was barely wide enough for a single wagon. Stone buildings crowded in on both sides and the upper stories hung over, blocking the sky. Ellison felt a little claustrophobic by the time he found an empty shop in a two-story building.

A light was on upstairs. He walked up a dark stairwell, so narrow that his arms brushed the walls on both sides, and knocked on the door at the top.

Donna opened it without even asking who it was.

She was holding a candle, and held it up closer to Ellison’s face.

“Did something happen?” she asked. “Is the building on fire?”

“No,” Ellison began.

“Because that happened once next door,” she said. “It was very frightening.”

Newcomers to Krim regularly burned up their homes because they didn’t know how to light fires. Ellison himself struggled quite a bit with the fireplace in his room when he first arrived.

Donna pulled him inside. “But maybe while you’re here, you can help me with something,” she said. She led him into her kitchen and living area. “I’ve got the wood, and the kindling, but it just won’t light.” Then she pointed at the ceiling. “And there’s a spider in that corner, frightening me.”

“You want me to kill the spider?”

“No, no, it’s a living creature. Can you take it outside?”

“I’ll do the fire first.”

“I’m so glad you came,” said Donna. “It was getting so chilly.”

“What would you have done if I hadn’t come?” asked Ellison, getting down on his knees in front of the fireplace.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Somebody always comes and helps.”

“Listen, the reason I stopped by is to ask you if you happened to have picked up a notebook at the Armforge Guild when you were there.”

Donna blushed and put her hand over her mouth. “Oh, no,” she said, through her fingers.

“It’s nothing bad,” said Ellison. “It’s okay if you did.”

She turned around and reached onto a shelf on the other side of the small room. “It was just lying there. I thought it was trash. I was going to throw it away.”

She leafed through the pages. “It’s just an empty notebook. I was going to give it to someone, but forgot. It got really busy, then we had to wait, and I started doodling in it.”

She flipped back to the first page and showed it to Ellison. It was a particular unflattering caricature of guild leader Rodge Bannister. “I showed it to the guards. They just laughed and told me to hide it from Rodge.”

She put the notebook down on the kitchen table. “I didn’t think I did anything wrong.”

The fire lit, Ellison stood up and picked up the notebook. Except for the one drawing of Rodge, and a few other doodles in a similar style, the notebook was blank. He shook it. There was nothing between the pages. It was stitched together with a single heavy thread and the cover was just a slightly thicker grade of paper than the inside pages. There was no place to hide anything valuable in it.

“Please take the notebook and tell Mr. Bannister that I’m really sorry for taking it,” she said. “I hope he can forgive me. And thank you so much for helping me out with the fire.”

Then she looked pointedly at the spider.

Ellison sighed and used a thin piece of kindling to coax the spider down from the ceiling onto his notebook and gingerly carried it outside into the stairwell, where, as soon as Donna closed the door, he brushed it off and stepped on it.

It was a simulated spider.

He wiped the notebook on his pant leg in case there were any traces of the spider left on it and stashed it in a pocket.

Another dead end. He walked down the stairs. But if Donna picked up a notebook and left with it so easily, maybe someone else did, too.

Like one of the cleaning crew.

After leaving Donna’s building, instead of heading back to the inn, Ellison went the other way, towards the Lifeworks compound. That’s where the recently-returned-from-the-dead lived in relatively safety behind some of the biggest stone walls that Krim had to offer, defended by a private security force.

Lifeworks had its own general store, a whole neighborhood of small cottages, a management building with its own gate to the real world, even its own cemetery.

He told the guards at the front gate that he was looking for a cleaning crew, and heard they had a team working for Elea Carlyle and Rodge Bannister.

“Are any of them around? They did a pretty good job,” he said.

One of the guards turned and looked back at the stables. “There’s Chapman, but I don’t think he’s doing that anymore.”

“Let him in,” said the other guard. “I recognize him from last week. He’s with Matilda.”

Ellison walked to the stables, where someone else pointed him to a small horse-drawn wagon. There was someone under it, working on the axle.

Ellison bent down. “Chapman?”

“That’s me.” A head poked out from underneath. The returnee wiped a greasy sleeve across his forehead, then pulled himself out from under the wagon and stood up.

“Harmen Chapman. What can I do you for?” He brushed hay from his trousers and straightened. “Need a delivery service?”

“No,” said Ellison. “I heard you were part of the housekeeping crew at the Armforge Guild when they had a party the other night.”

“Those jerks? Sure. Glad I’m never going back there again.” Chapman looked at Ellison more closely. “I remember you. You work for Rodge, don’t you?”

“I’m here because I have a question about a notebook you may have picked up,” Ellison said.

“Listen,” said Chapman. “I’m not doing that again. I’m happy about the money.” He waved at the wagon. “I got that and a horse, and I’m going to be able to open my own business, and I’m grateful for that. But that’s as far as it goes. Tell Rodge that he’ll have to find someone else.”

“Find someone else for what?”

“For stealing stuff from Elea Carlyle,” said Chapman. “That woman is a witch. I’m not working for her again, and don’t bother asking the rest of the crew, because they all quit, too.”

“When did you steal the notebook?”

“Two weeks ago, right after she dumped him.”

That was new.

Chapman laughed. “Yup, found someone richer, she did. Personally, I think the two of them deserved each other. But anyway, I’m out of it.”

“So you don’t have the notebook now?”

“No, why would I?” Chapman scratched his chin. “Did someone steal it? Is that why Rodge was so upset about the robbery?” He slapped his leg. “Elea probably had someone steal it back. But it wasn’t me. And if Rodge thinks I did it, he’s got another think coming.” Chapman squared his shoulders. “I dare him to try to take me on.”

“He’s got an army.”

Chapman deflated. “Oh, right, he does. Okay, then, tell him I’m really sorry, but I had nothing to do with it, and I’m deeply sorry for his loss, and if I hear anything I’ll send word right away.”

“Do you know what was in the notebook?”

“That was the strangest thing,” said Chapman. “The notebook was empty. They all were.”

1 thought on “24. A spider in the corner”

  1. Wow, the suspense is building up! The notebook belonged to Elea Carlyle, how interesting. So why does Roger need to retrieve an empty notebook?

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