“You should have come and talked to me first,” the waitress said. She came up to the banister, keeping Ellison between her and Matilda, and looked over the bay as she tilted her head towards him. “I know all the goss. I’ll give you the straight story.”
“What did Captain May lie about?” Ellison asked.
Matilda pulled out her knife and began cleaning her nails with it. “I’m looking forward to some ship raiding.”
“The captain lied about the Round Krimmers being a minor annoyance,” she said. “The edge captains don’t think they’re a minor annoyance at all.” She raised her voice. “At all.”
“Because half their business comes from the Round Krimmers,” she said. “Maybe more. The captains actually give them money.”
“They’re only pretending to be enemies?” Ellison asked.
Matilda snorted. “Figures.”
“Well, I don’t know about the Round Krimmers,” the waitress admitted. “They might actually believe their conspiracy theories. Who knows. But for the edge captains, the Round Krimmers are the best advertising they can get. The Rounders hold vigils outside of city hall and at the post office. They plaster the city with flyers. They keep holding secret society meetings trying to convince people that Krim is round.”
“How does that help the Flat Krim captains, though?”
“Every time someone sees one of those flyers or gets handed a pamphlet or stumbles into a protest, they start wondering if may be there is a conspiracy after all. Well, there’s one quick way to check — just go out there and see if there’s an edge. It’s a huge amount of publicity. Imagine if you had to pay someone to stage all those rallies and put up all the signs.”
She waved her hand at the docks.
“Everyone here benefits,” she said. “In fact, last time the Rounders marched down here to demand that we all confess that we’re part of the hoax, my boss gave them cookies and biscuits. We want them to keep coming back. A lot of newcomers to Krim don’t even know that we’re a port city.”
“So you don’t think anyone here had Brother Fulke kidnapped?” Ellison asked.
“Well, I can’t be certain,” she said. “There might have been a personal beef that I don’t know about. But as far as I can tell, if there were any bad feelings at all, they’re all on the side of the Round Krim Society. I think they’re mad that nobody takes them seriously. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fulke got himself kidnapped, just for the publicity.”
“We can raid some ships anyway,” said Matilda. “Just to stay in practice.”
“Without any reason?” asked Ellison. “Wouldn’t that just make you a pirate?”
“Only if I had my own ship.”
“If you plan to return for raiding, I suggest picking up a copy of our catering menu,” said the waitress. “We cater raids, assaults, sieges, and battles. For larger parties, please order at least forty-eight hours in advance.”
“Yeah, I do want a copy of your catering menu,” said Matilda, following the waitress into the restaurant. “The last raid I was on, we just had hardtack and beans.”
“Next time, try our finger sandwiches and themed macaroons,” said the waitress. “They’re truly worth dying for.”
“Well, I’ll head back to the office,” said Ellison.
“The Barley Mow?” asked Matilda.
“No, the Crewe Investigations office, on Facepage. See if Fulke is off-world anywhere.”
Ellison also wanted to look up Fulke’s ID, so that he could recognize him on Krim if he popped back up in another avatar. If he’d staged his own kidnapping there was a good chance he’d be hanging around, watching to see if people were getting riled up.”
“I’ll go talk to Fulke’s neighbors at his rooming house,” said Matilda. “Maybe one of them had a grudge, or knows about someone who did.”
They stepped out of the restaurant and started down the stairs to the docks, Matilda holding a menu. “Did you know they have pizza? White sauce, obviously, but still.”
They were halfway to the bottom when the waitress ran out after them.
“Hold on, I remembered something else,” she yelled.
They turned and waited.
“The last time the Round Krimmers were here, a couple of weeks ago, they marched up and down the docks,” she said. “Mostly, people just laughed at them. But we had one group that was loading captives onto a ship.” She pointed north, towards the commercial gate and the warehouses. “The sex cults sometimes ship people out through here instead of taking them overland.”
“Nobody stops them?” Ellison asked.
“Their money is as good as anybody’s,” the waitress said. “And usually, they’re very polite and tip well. It’s not like they’re doing anything that violates the terms of service. But anyway, all the chanting and marching was getting in the way, and the sex cult guy — a big guy, beard down to his feet — came out and started yelling.”
“What did he look like?” asked Ellison.
“Other than the beard?” The waitress thought. “His hair was graying a little bit, and he was balding on top. Also, he wore a bright red bathrobe. That was weird, but the cultists like to dress funny.”
“That’s Skullash,” said Matilda. “He’s the head of the Qualdir cult. I’ve seen him around the community center.”
“He yelled at the Rounders. He said something like, ‘Fulke, you bastard, I’m going to kill you.’ Or something like that. When you mentioned Fulke’s name, it reminded me.”
“Why does a sex cult need a community center?” said Ellison.
“Well, they do need a place to meet and recruit,” said Matilda. “And their primary operations are in some secret location far outside the city. They spend most of their time out there. They only come back here to recruit. And to take captives.”
“If they were loading up a ship, does that mean that they’ve left?” asked Ellison.
“No, I still see them around. Maybe they just sent off a shipment of captives and supplies.”
“Yes, there are ships going out all the time,” said the waitress. “The cults are very popular. There’s also a lot of shipping for military campaigns you can tell the difference because the cultists always have people screaming in the holds. They have to get in and out quickly, though, before anybody notices that the people are missing and comes looking for them.”
“Are any cults loading ships now?” Matilda asked.
“No, but there’s a departure planned for the day after tomorrow. The Crow’s Nest is catering it. We’re making mini crab cakes and quiches.”
“I love crab cakes and quiches,” said Matilda. “We’re going to have to make a raid on that ship.”
“We’ll be happy to cater your raid, as well,” said the waitress.
“Can I have a few more menus?”