“Apparently, to have a completely realistic physics engine, you need a computer as big as Krim itself,” said Ellison, walking up to Matilda’s table at the King’s Armpit.
She normally sat at the bar. The choice of the table, in the far corner, was so that she could have a private conversation with some guy. A short, skinny guy with a pinched face. The kind of guy who never attracts a second glance because he’s not interesting enough to look at twice. There was something a little weasel-like about him.
Ellison mentally snapped his fingers.
“Shanwei O’Griffy Lamusa,” Ellison said. “It’s been a few days. How’s the pickpocketing going?”
“Shh,” said Shanwei. “Keep your voice down.” The thief glanced around the bar, but it was mid-afternoon and it was mostly empty.
The few patrons who were there were busy drinking themselves to oblivion, or were gathered at a table at the opposite end of the room and ignoring them. Knowing the kind of clientele that the Krim’s Armpit attracted, Ellison thought they were probably planning the kind of activity that would send some business his way soon enough. Just for future reference, he made a mental note of who they were. He never forgot a face. Well, that’s not true. He forgot faces all the time. But Ellison never forgot an aura.
He turned back to Matilda and Shanwei and pulled over a chair.
“Shanwei here was just telling all about how he stole the badge,” said Matilda.
“I was not,” said the thief. “I specifically said that I can neither confirm nor deny anything of the kind.”
“But you smirked when you said it,” said Matilda.
“Did not.” Shanwei pursed his lips.
“You also said that Weldon was eating a hotdog.”
“Weldon also told me that he went out to get a hotdog a couple of days ago,” said Ellison.
“I guess that’s confirmation enough,” said Matilda. “So how much did Linota pay you?”
“Brother Linota? From the Round Krim crazies?”
“I don’t know him,” said Shanwei.
Brother Linota was a woman. Not that gender was much of an issue on Krim, but if Shanwei had ever met Linota he would have immediately known that the title of brother was entirely honorary.
Matilda swore. “I was sure it was her. That’s why I made her pay us in advance. She was second in command, so was in line to take over if Fulke was gone. And she had the spare key to the office.”
“So who hired you?” Ellison asked.
“Client confidentiality,” said Shanwei.
“I could torture it out of you,” said Matilda. “Save us sometime if you just told us.”
“You could do that,” said Shanwei. “But I’m thinking you might need a pickpocket again some day and torturing me would put a crimp in our relationship.”
“Fine, go,” said Matilda. “You already told us the most important thing, anyway.”
Shanwei scurried away.
“So we now know for sure that the grid admin was framed,” said Ellison. “And didn’t actually kidnap Fluke and teleport him to a secret dungeon.”
Matilda let out a short, dismissive snort. “We always knew that. Grid admins don’t go around kidnapping users. The most they’d do is press a button and kick them off the grid.”
“And we’ve eliminated one potential suspect — Linota. Who’s left?”
Matilda started ticking off her fingers. “First, Fulke’s girlfiend. Romantic partners are always the prime suspects. He probably threw his socks on the floor and she sold him to the torturers’ guild so they could practice.”
“There’s a torturer’s guild?”
“Second, any other Round Krimmer. Fulke was not exactly a beloved leader. Third, any of his neighbors. Fulke could have annoyed them with his pamphlets and they beat him up and left him half dead somewhere.” She paused. “Who am I missing? Oh, all the other tenants at the community center. Fulke lorded it over people. If the minstrels needed extra rehearsal time for some event or other, he’d grab the slots first, on purpose. He was a jerk. Or maybe Fulke just ran away on his own to join a sex cult.”
“And, of course, there’s the Flat Krim Reality Society,” said Ellison.
“Is there such a thing?”
“Yup. I saw the pamphlets when I was on that boat last week, staking out that Pompas guy. Most of the captains are members.”
“I think it has to be someone close to Fulke,” said Matilda. “Someone who knew how to get him out of his office, and who knew to plant a badge.”
“Or Fulke himself.”
“Right. Or Fulke himself.”
Ellison stood up. “Let’s go see the captains. Maybe one of them will spontaneously confess and we’ll be done.”
He and Matilda walked down to Upping Street, the followed Upping west past the central square, and continued west until they hit the docks. They finally found one ship captain, Maximilian May, having herbal tea at the Crow’s Nest Cafe. He was at a table at an outdoor balcony that overlooked the docks. Ellison was not particularly fond of Krim, but even he had to admit that the view from the tables at this particular cafe was amazing.
The captain was happy to talk to them about the Flat Krim Reality Society.
“There are some pamphlets at the bar,” he said, pointing inside. “I’m one of the founding members, actually.”
“What do you guys do, exactly?”
“We try to counter the spread of false information and conspiracy theories, and offer people an opportunity to discover the truth for themselves,” said May.
“So you guys and the Round Krim people are enemies?”
“They’re a minor irritant, at most,” said the captain. “You can only spout nonsense for so long before reality bites you in the arse.”
“But you care enough to have pamphlets printed up,” said Ellison. “Maybe you had Fulke kidnapped, as well?” Ellison looked down at the boats. “Maybe you’ve got him tied up in a brig somewhere?”
“He was kidnapped?” May asked. “But they’ve got a big fundraiser they’re working on. They’re going to redo the Eratosthenes well experiment.”
“You’re certainly been keeping up with what they’re doing,” said Ellison. “I thought you said they’re just a minor irritant, at most.”
“They are!” said the captain. “I just happened to see a flyer. My clients keep bringing them to me, and I keep having to explain the facts of Krim to them.”
“I can get some of the boys and girls together and we can search all the ships,” said Matilda. “There’s… what? Half a dozen ships here?”
“That’s just the ones picking up or dropping off goods and passengers,” said May. “There are a few dozen ships further to the north and to the south. Plus all the warehouses. You’d be searching for weeks. And you’re hitting in the nice tourist area. If you go north to where the shipping gate is, you’ll discover that the dockworkers union will have some strong words for your boys and girls.”
He stood up and glared at them. “If you want to stage an invasion of the docks over some hunch, you’re welcome to it. But I guarantee you — you’ll have a war on your hands.” He turned and walked away, his boots stomping across the wood floor of the balcony, through the restaurant, and around to the steps that led down to the docks. The rickety wooden staircase shook as he walked down.
“The captains do have a legitimate beef with the Round Krimmers,” said Ellison. “That captain seemed suspiciously upset.”
“So you think he was lying when he said the Round Krimmers were just a minor annoyance?”
Behind them, a waitress had arrived to clear off the captain’s table.
As she picked up the cup and saucer and started wiping the table down with a towel, she looked up at them. “Oh, he was definitely lying.”