Ellison Davo huddled in a dark, damp alleyway half a block away from the newspaper building. Seymour Gellhorn, the editor, left for the day three hours earlier. Since then, nobody had gone in or out or slipped any suspicious envelopes full of salacious gossip under the door.
He shivered. His default assassin outfit was no match for Krim’s penetrating clamminess.
Ellison jumped and whirled around, holding his hand out in a karate chop.
Matilda slapped his hand out of the way and laughed. “Reflexes like a cat,” she said. “Great situational awareness, too.”
“I was expecting you to come down the street,” he said. He didn’t add that he’d been hoping to jump out and surprise her. “How did you find me?”
She leaned out into the street and pointed at the newspaper building. “You’ve got a perfect vantage point,” she said. “You really should consider swapping our your black cloak. It’s not the best choice when it comes to camouflage.”
“You want me to wear camo? On Krim? And you don’t think that will stand out?”
“No, just something dust-colored and mottled,” she said. “It would blend in more. Plus, you won’t have to worry about getting dirt and mud on it.”
She reached into a bag on her hip and pulled out a lightweight brown cape covered with bloodstains.
“Is that what you’re wearing?” he asked.
“No.” She tucked it back in and pulled out a key ring. “One of the apartments across the street is empty and I know the landlord. I’m going to sit inside where it’s warm, like a normal person.”
“I hope you’ll have better luck than I did. It’s been dead all night.”
“I stopped by the mercenary guild, talked to some of the guards working the Royal Season,” she said.
“They haven’t seen anyone suspicious, but have heard a couple of new rumors,” she said. “The guard who had a shift with Rowland Snell says he heard a rumor that Elea is an alien.”
Ellison snorted. “Probably a reptilian. Would explain why the aliens haven’t shown themselves yes. Who wants to admit being related to her?”
“Sybil Staunton’s guard says that he heard that Rowland Snell is actually some singer from the 1950s. And there was another rumor that Wynefrede Aumberden had an affair with Farazzma Parazzmatazzma and is hiding out on Krim because it ended badly.”
“Who’s Farazzma Parazzmatazzma?”
“Just last year’s most famous pop star,” said Matilda.
“I must have missed it.”
“Anyway, the guards will be expecting you if you want to chat. Just tell them I sent you.”
“So if any of those rumors show up in the paper tomorrow, we can narrow down who the source is,” said Ellison. “But if the rumors are already out there, and spreading…”
“Yeah, it doesn’t give us much to go on,” said Matilda. “Oh, I stopped by Seymour’s house on the way. I didn’t see anyone dropping anything off at his place. They could have come and gone while I wasn’t there, though.”
“I’ll ask if the Royal Season wants to spring for more people,” said Ellison. “We can put someone on the newspaper building, on Seymour’s house, and on Seymour himself.”
“We might be waiting for days before we catch them,” said Matilda. “Or they could have filed all their columns ahead of time. Have you talked to Seymour?”
“The grid admins have,” said Ellison. “He refused to divulge his sources and they didn’t have any legal reasons to violate his privacy.”
She stepped away from him and checked the street for passers-by.
“Hold on,” said Ellison. “What about the previous rumors? Did you hear anyone talking about them before they ran in the paper?”
“I don’t remember,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”
“I should go to the office and run background checks,” said Ellison. “If the rumors are true, then maybe the Nightingale didn’t hear them on Krim, but found out about them some other way.”
“You think they’re connected to someone who works for Royal Season?”
“Exactly. Or for Elea Carlyle.”
“You always think Elea is behind everything,” said Matilda.
“That’s because she is. We just haven’t caught her yet.”
“Right. Good luck at the office.” She waved, checked for traffic again, then headed off down the street in the direction of the newspaper building.
Ellison went in the opposite direction, west down Leadenhall Street. He walked past the Barley Mow, where his room waited for him along with his dinner, passed the central post office, and turned right on Banking Street. The central square was just one block to the north, along with the King’s Arms — not to be confused with the King’s Armpit — and City Hall, and the teleportation gate that led out to the real world.
The midnight rains had just started by the time he got to the square and it was mostly empty of people. Just a few last merchants putting away their merchandise before everything got soaked through and a few tourists unaware of Krim’s schedule.
Walking through the gate was like waking from a bad dream, or having a heavy weight lifted off your shoulders. His feet no longer hurt. His neck didn’t itch. He was wearing his normal clothes again and his hair was clean. He took a deep breath and he didn’t cough. Ahh, civilization. He teleported out of Krim’s welcome area to Facepage’s main street.
Ellison’s brother, Jerald Crewe, owned an investigation agency where Ellison technically worked as a freelance investigator. The agency handled background checks and delivered subpoenas. It was the only job Ellison could get when he got out of prison.
The way Facepage worked is that your landing spot was always populated by your favorite bars, stores, and restaurants.
He flicked his hand to turn off his notifications. He turned them off each time he left Krim and they somehow kept turning back on again. But the last thing he wanted to do was see all the urgent messages from his family, lawyers, shrinks, and old work buddies. After five years — plus the months he’d recently spent on Krim — the messages had piled up.
His peripheral vision free of annoying popups and warnings, Ellison turned around slowly to get his bearings. He had landed right in front of the Potato Palace. How did Facepage know he was craving potatoes? The smell of French fries, the tang of waffle fries, the homey aroma of mashed potatoes and gravy drifted out from the restaurants semi-open facade.
He steeled himself. He had no time for potatoes.
Crewe Investigations was directly across he street, but Jerald’s sexy receptionist was gone, replaced by a short fire-breathing dragon. The dragon huffed a puff of smoke at him and Ellison stepped back. That was close. The dragon almost got his waffle fries.