Ellison put his hands in his pants pockets. He could feel the notebook in one of the inside side pockets of his jacket, just under his left elbow.
“What’s in the notebook?” he asked.
“Nothing that anybody else would care about,” said Rodge. “Just a record of transactions between me and Elea.”
“Sounds very romantic.”
“I had my own copy, but got a little overly emotional and threw it out. It was a mistake, I see that now.”
“So, this is the financial equivalent of love letters?”
“Unless you’re a titan of industry, you wouldn’t understand.”
There was a knock on Rodge’s office door.
“Yes?” Rodge yelled out.
A guard opened the door and Donna pocked her head in.
“I got the bank draft,” she said, waving a slip of paper. “Matilda’s going to take me down to the central bank now. I’m going to open a crystal shop! This is the best day of my life. You’re the nicest, kindest man I’ve ever met, Mr. Bannister. And you too,” she nodded at Ellison. “Once I get set up, please come by for a free aura cleansing.”
Rodge waved her away.
Donna smiled, waved back, curtsied, and turned back to the hallway. “Matilda, everyone on Krim is just the nicest. It’s just about the friendliest world I’ve ever been in.”
Ellison didn’t hear what Matilda said in response because the guard closed the door again. It was probably something sarcastic.
He thought about the notebook in his jacket pocket. It would be easy enough to turn it over. Donna can fend for herself. Or he could warn her to leave the grid, then turn over the notebook.
But if she didn’t leave? She might wind up down in the basement with the thieves.
It would be nice to have a real job again. But did he even want work for a giant lunar mining company? Everyone knew that all the action was moving to the asteroid belt.
The moon was so last century. Was he really missing out on anything?
“I’ll try my best,” Ellison told Rodge. “But it looks like any other blank notebook, right?”
“The thieves might have thrown it in the mud, where it got soaked in the rain, trampled, then thrown away with all the other debris from that night. Did you tell your staff to look for it?”
Rodge leaned back. “No. I didn’t want anyone to know I had it.” He shook his head. “You’re probably right. It’s gone.”
He tapped his fingers on his desk. “Elea’s going to be furious. First, when she finds out that I threw out my copy. Then that I stole and lost hers.” He looked up at Ellison. “Well, none of that is your problem.”
Ellison turned to leave, then looked back. As long as he was here, out of curiosity. “If I do come across a blank notebook, how do I know its the notebook you want and not some other, random, empty notebook?”
“It’s numbered,” said Rodge. “There should be 223 written on the first page.”
Ellison nodded and left.
All this worry was for nothing. The notebook in his pocket didn’t have a number. It actually was just a blank notebook that Donna had picked up. The missing one was, as he suggested, probably just thrown out with the trash.
He collected his fee from Albert, stopped by the central bank to deposit most of the money to his account, and went back to Barley Mow Inn to settle his tab. He also paid for the next month in advance before he blew all the money on wine, women and song. Or, to be more exact, ale, wenches, and minstrels.
Then he went upstairs to his room. It was a tiny space, barely big enough for a closet on any other world. The narrow bed had a lumpy straw mattress and an itchy wool blanket. He got his jar of flea powder and sprinkled the entire bed. The poison was probably giving him cancer.
He sat on the stone windowsill and looked out. He could see the alley below, a clotheslines with wet undergarments, already dusty with Krim’s soot.
He pulled the notebook from his pocket. All this trouble for nothing.
He leafed through it. All the pages were still blank.
He went back to the first page, where Donna had drawn a picture of Rodge with a comically large mustache holding a sword bigger than he was. It actually wasn’t too bad a likeness.
There were little flowers and curlicues in the corners of the page. One of those flowers could be something more, though.
He lit a candle and held it close to the page.
Was there a number 223 hidden inside the flower?
He held the candle closer and peered at drawing.
He could almost make out something. He lit a second candle to get a better look.
It could be a 223. Or he could be imagining it. He angled the page one way, then the other. Maybe he needed glasses.
It almost looked like writing. In fact, it looked exactly like writing. As the candle flames heated up the page, more words appeared.
He didn’t know how long the invisible ink would continue to show, so he hunted around for some paper to write on. He finally used the backs of his pornographic etchings.
He copied the words, what he could make out of them behind Donna’s doodles. It was a list of names, dates, times, places, and what looked like money amounts, account numbers, and passwords.
Well, just one name, Rodge’s.
The list was probably useful for Elea and Rodge. But without knowing where those accounts were, and what they were for, it was pretty useless otherwise. The minute the notebook was lost all the accounts were probably changed, anyway.
He flipped to the next page in the notebook and waited for it to heat up. Again, he saw text appearing. But this time, it wasn’t Rodge’s name in the first column. He recognized these names. If this was a record of Elea’s financial interactions with people on Krim, then she’s been doing business with some very, very bad people.
He put the notebook away in the pornography chest. This was the first solid evidence he had that Elea’s presence on Krim wasn’t as innocent as she was making it out to be.
He didn’t know what he was going to do with this information yet. But he was going to do something.
1 thought on “26. Ale, wenches and minstrels”
Excellent – I suspected that invisible ink was used in the notebook. Like Agatha Christie, Maria Korolov sometimes gives the reader enough information to solve a puzzle or mystery just before the answer is revealed. Also, I liked how the number 223 was hidden in Donna’s doodles. That is also something that a perspicacious reader might anticipate and then feel clever about!
I have one critique: maybe I am splitting hairs here, but perhaps the author should explain why Ellison does not wait to ask Donna whether she saw the number 223 in the otherwise blank notebook. Perhaps Ms.Korolov should explain that Ellison doesn’t want to wait until the next day to ask Donna, as he is curious. Also, as Donna had described the notebook as blank in a previous chapter, he might ponder the fact that she possibly overlooked the number (or considered it to be blank despite the number, as she thought the number was insignificant).
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