Returning to Krim never got any easier. Even knowing that the fleas were all in his head, the minute he stepped through the gate, his entire body began itching again. His body felt heavier. His shoes were too tight around the toes, and too loose at the heel.
The air, full of soot and aerosolized manure, made him sneeze.
But he had work, a possible lead on his arch-nemesis Elea Carlyle, and a rapidly growing reputation here on Krim for being able to find things.
That reputation wouldn’t last long, though, if he never found Brother Fulke. He avoided the temptation to find Norbert Hawking and demand a refund on all the flea powder that he’d been buying, and headed straight down Barking Street to the Aldwich Row Community Center.
He found Matilda at the corner of Aldwich and Barking, where she was buying a sandwich from a street cart.
“Here is your bread, spread with mustard.” The street vendor pulled a newspaper page off a stack and put the bread on it. “And here is your totally unrelated sliced ham and cheese.” Those went next to the bread, in a separate stack. “And you said you wanted lettuce and onion?”
She nodded, and the vendor added them into a third pile.
“There you go. Three completely separate food items.”
Matilda picked up the top bread slices, slid her hand under the newspaper, and flipped the lettuce and onion onto the meat and cheese, and then all those ingredients on top of the bottom slice of bread.
“I didn’t see you do that,” said the vendor.
“Oops, how did all those things get piled on top of each other?” said Matilda, and slapped down the other piece of bread.
“Have the grid admins been cracking down on sandwiches again?” asked Ellison.
The vendor pointed down at the sign hanging on the side of his cart. It said “Ham and cheese sandwiches” in big, bold, professionally painted letters. And, above it, in a barely legible scribble, it said, “We do not sell.”
“This is what they worry about,” he said. “Not the sex cults, not the air pollution, not the dead bodies lying everywhere. But sandwiches. How long do they think this grid would exist if all the merchants decided they had enough and went home?”
The vendor continued to complain about the anachronism fines as Ellison and Matilda walked away.
“Any luck with the rooming house?” Ellison asked her.
“No. How about you?” Matilda talked through a mouth full of her not-a-ham-and-cheese-sandwich.
“He’s not off-world,” Ellison said. “Jerald will keep an eye out, though, in case he pops up. But what did Fulke’s neighbors say?”
Matilda wiped mustard off her face with her sleeve.
“They all hated him. He kept harassing people on the stairs, trying to tell them about the flat Krim conspiracy.”
“You mean, the round Krim conspiracy?”
“No, Fulke’s point was that the idea that Krim was flat is a conspiracy. And that the Krim being round is the reality. And he kept trying to convince his neighbors. He used to hit them up for donations, slip pamphlets under their doors. He trapped one poor guy in a hallway for an hour while he explained gravity.”
“I’m surprised nobody stabbed him.”
“The rooming house has a policy against that. You stab anyone on premises and they kick you out of the building. It’s not that easy to find a place to live on Krim. But I talked to the landlord, and he was thinking of making an exception for Fulke when the guy disappeared.”
“Maybe one of the neighbors got tired, went up to his office, and kidnapped him.”
“I didn’t get the sense that any of them cared that much,” Matilda said. “Maybe enough to stab him out in the street, or sell him for torture practice, sure. But to hire a pickpocket, frame a grid admin, and then kidnap him right out from under the noses of the minstrels?” She shook her head. “I don’t see it.” She went back to eating her sandwich.
“What about to get his room? Just killing him wouldn’t be enough, since he’d just come back again. They’d need to keep him somewhere long enough so the landlord would give the room away.”
Matilda shrugged and continued chewing.
“Well, we haven’t talk to the girlfriend yet. Isn’t the significant other usually the first suspect?”
Remember Keturah Bohannon’s office was across the hall from Brother Fulke’s, but twice as large and with a bigger window that opened up on to the street.
A window large enough to lower a body out of.
As the woman complained about Fulke ghosting her, Ellison unlatched the window. It swung open easily and quietly.
“Do you have a key to Brother Fulke’s office?” Ellison asked her, interrupting her tirade.
“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?” She narrowed her eyes at him.
Remember was a large woman, heavily muscled. If he’d met her on the street, Ellison would have guessed that she was a mercenary who’d left her weapons home that day, or maybe a butcher on the way to work.
“He thinks you threw Fulke out the window,” Matilda told her. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did. I’ve met him.”
“Well, I’d throw him out the window now if he shows his face back here,” she said. “He better have a good excuse. We had a date night planned. Dinner at the Barley Mow, then the opera. We were going to see Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.”
“There’s an opera house on Krim?”
“Well, they don’t advertise it,” said Remember. “You have to know someone and be personally invited. Technically speaking, opera hasn’t been invented yet. But the performances are marvelous. Very raw and authentic.”
She started tearing up. “Something awful must have happened to him. He wouldn’t miss Wagner for the world. And he had his experiments coming up. He was so excited about that.”
“Did you believe him about Krim being round?” Ellison asked.
She nodded. “He has all the math to prove it. I can’t believe I’ve been tricked all this time. I even went on one of those edge-of-the-world cruises. Now that I know it was all an elaborate fake and I feel like such a fool.” She pulled out a handkerchief, wiped her tears with it, and blew her nose. “Find him, please. He’s a such a gentle person.”
“We’ll do our best,” Ellison said.
As they left, they could see Remember folded over, her face in her hands, body shaking with sobs.
Matilda closed the door to give the woman some privacy.
“I have a new theory of the crime,” said Ellison. “Fulke didn’t just kidnap himself to get publicity for the Round Krim Society and make the Krim administrators look bad. He also wanted to get out of going to the opera.”