Ellison and Matilda met with the Round Krim Society late the following morning to deliver the bad news. The brothers were in the main meeting room downstairs, sitting around one of the long tables at the back, drinking herbal tea.
Linota stood up when she saw them walk in. “Did you find him?”
Ellison shook his head and broke the bad news. “No, and Fulke isn’t being held in a secret Krim facility by grid administrators.”
But the badge…” said Linota. “Brother Samardein, you were there. You saw it.”
“It did look pretty genuine to me,” said Sam.
“The badge is real enough,” said Matilda. She pulled out one of the folding chairs and sat down at the table. “You know Welton Layton? The assistant grid manager? He had his pocket picked while he was getting a hot dog.”
Ellison found took an empty seat across from her. “We found the thief,” he said. “Someone hired him.”
“Who?” asked Linota.
“At first, I thought it was you,” Ellison told her.
“Why would we…” she sputtered, then took a deep breath and looked around at the other brothers. “Brother Fulke is the beating heart of the Brotherhood of the Round Krim Society. This meeting? It was supposed to have been a planning meeting for the Eratosthenes well experiment, but with Fulke gone, none of us are sure what we’re going to do. We were going to march on city hall. Raise a stink… are you sure the grid admins didn’t do this?”
“Ninety-nine percent,” said Ellison. “Look, if he was really a problem, they could have just banned him from the grid. Frankly, I don’t think they care much about you guys.”
“Well, they should care!” Sam said, and banged his fist on the table. A little herbal tea sloshed on the paperwork in front of him, but he didn’t notice. “We’re about to expose them for the liars they really are! The truth will bring this grid down!”
“And you want that why?” Ellison asked, then waved his hand. “Never mind. Don’t want to know.” He squinted at Sam. “You seem passionate about this. Are you by any chance familiar with the King’s Armpit?”
“I’ve heard of it,” said Sam. “It’s where the worst criminals hang out. Wait a minute — are you accusing me of hiring the thief and framing the grid admins? I would never!”
“So who’s got the most to gain now that Fulke’s gone?”
Most of the brothers glanced briefly at a pudgy man in a brown monk’s robe. He was eating a donut, and swallowed it when he noticed that people were looking at him.
“Brother Porthos,” said Linota. “You have been trying to undermine Fulke’s authority.”
“Bringing donuts every day,” added Sam. “Who does that?”
“I like donuts,” said Porthos. Linota stared at him. “And, okay, I was hoping to get named to the holiday party planning committee. But that’s it, I swear.”
“Who takes over if Fulke is gone?” asked Ellison.
“I do, temporarily,” said Linota. “But only until we hold new elections. I don’t want to actually be the head of the society. There’s a lot of politics involved, and fundraising, and public speaking. I’d rather work behind the scenes.”
“It’s true,” said Sam. “She’s got a phobia about giving speeches. Fulke was great at it.”
“We’ve learned that he’s had some run-ins with some of the captains who do the edge tours,” said Ellison. “And with Skullash from the Qualdir sex cult.”
“And all his neighbors,” added Matilda.
“But none of them were here that night,” said Ellison. “Are we missing anyone?”
The brothers looked at each other, then shook their heads.
“So.” Ellison leaned back and clasped his fingers together. “Here’s my theory. Fulke and his girlfriend had a falling out. She knocked him on the head, stuffed him in a sack, and dropped him out the window where an accomplice carried him off to be tortured somewhere.”
“Hold on,” said Matilda, and reached over for one of Porthos’ donuts. “I talked to a few torturers I know last night. Danmak says the Armsforge Guild doesn’t have him, and he hasn’t heard of anyone else who does.”
“Darn it,” said Ellison. “That was our best lead.” He look at the brothers. “I remembered where I saw Remember before. It was at a fancy ball party that Elea Carlyle threw a few weeks back. The two of them are friends. And I saw Remember cozing up to Rodge Bannister, too. He’s the head of Armsforge.”
“What about the sex cult?” asked Matilda. “Did you find out anything last night?”
“Only that they didn’t get the schedule they wanted,” said Ellison.
“Why does that matter?” asked Linota.
“They were upset that Remember cancelled their reservation and gave the meeting times to you guys.”
Linota nodded. “That’s right. Fulke convinced her.”
“They were hoping that with Fulke gone, they might get their slots back. If they’ve taken Fulke at Remember’s request, she would have paid them back by redoing the schedule.”
“I can’t believe that someone would kidnap Fulke just to move from Tuesday to Friday nights,” said Sam.
“I believe it,” said Linota.
“I think that Remember got someone to help her and we just haven’t found them yet,” said Ellison.
“You only suspect her because she’s friends with Elea,” said Matilda. “And you think Elea is some criminal mastermind.”
“The philanthropist?” Linota looked back and forth at the two of them. “What does she have to do with anything?”
“Nothing at all,” said Matilda.
“It goes to her character,” said Elllison. “You are the people you associate with. And if Remember associates with Elea…”
“Anyway,” said Matilda. “Did you learn anything else at the sex club?”
“Cult. Evil human sacrifice cult. And no, I didn’t.”
The fact that Taenaran the Bard was there last night, and apparently high up in the cult hierarchy, didn’t mean anything. Did it? “Well, I did see Taenaran there. From the minstrel group. In a different avatar, but it was him.”
“Couldn’t have been,” said Sam. “Just the other day, I pumped into him, and he told me how much he hates the cult.”
“I also found how they find their kidnapping victims,” said Ellison. “They wait by the gate to see if anyone comes through who looks new, and scared, and like they don’t have any friends on Krim.”
“And then what do they do?” asked Linota.
Ellison shrugged. “Grab them, I guess, and take them to their secret lair?”
“Well, then, we’ve got our plan,” said Matilda. “Ellison, you’re going to have to get yourself kidnapped.”