Bridge Over the River Krim: Chapter 21

Read all previous installments here.

Weldon Layton told his driver to head back into the center but as his coach approached the central square, he changed his mind and leaned his head out the window.

“Turn right on Banking,” he told the driver. “Go down to the old Gold Travel Agency building.”

Gold Travel had a large building just south of center, and a smaller satellite office by the docks. The agency set up tourists on trips to the southern deserts, northern mountains, eastern steppes, on ocean voyages to the west and, most commonly, on suicide runs to the edge of the world. With more space than it normally needed for its own purposes, it often rented out offices to other organizations.

Last fall, noted scam artist Andriu Pompas had space here before he, too, had disappeared. Weldon took a list out of his pocket. There were dozens of names, taking up both side of the page, with descriptions and the dates they were last seen. The list went back four years, but many of the names were crossed out since the supposed kidnapping victims had shown back up.

Most of the time, it turned out that they had simply left the grid without telling anyone. As Weldon’s boss repeatedly told him, the mysterious part wasn’t that people left Krim without warning. It was that they ever decided to come back.

Take Pompas, for example. The folks who had come in expecting Weldon to find him were disgruntled investors. The fact that Pompas vanished was not a big shock. Of course, he usually vanished after he’d taken all the investment money, not before. In this particular case, he’d only started doing his rounds of balls and galas, hitting up Krim’s movers and shakers for the cold hard gold needed to fund yet another expedition. Each year, despite unending failures, he was able to find investors. Weldon even had flyers made up warning people about the scam, not that it ever made any difference.

The coach pulled up across the street from the Gold Travel Agency and Pompas got out. “Don’t wait for me,” he told the driver. “I’ll walk back.”

The buiding had once central entrance between two large sets of windows. The ones on the right had a large, professionally-painted Gold Travel Agency sign hanging outside and were plastered with posters — woodcuts illustrating Krim’s most picturesque destinations. The central one was of a ship going off the edge of Krim. Weldon had always meant to go on one of those trips.

On the left were the temporary offices of the Royal Season. There was no big sign hanging outside, just a hand-lettered poster stuck to the inside of the window, accompanied by another flyer listing job opportunities. It seemed that the Royal Season was still hiring shift guards, valets, ladies’ maids, cooks, and drivers.

Weldon walked inside, were a small handful of Krim residents were filling in job application forms under the stern supervision of Pleasance Pratt, the Royal Season coordinator on Krim.

“Finally!” she said when she saw him come in. “I’ve been sending messengers to your office since yesterday. I even stopped by.” She glared at him. “Where were you?”

“It was my day off,” said Weldon. “But I got the messages. In fact, I’ve already met with Elea Carlyle.”

“Elea? What does she have to do with it?” Pleasance shook her head, pointed a finger at the door that led back into the main vestibule, then turned back to the job applicants. “I’ll be back in ten minutes to talk to all of you.” She led Weldon out of the main waiting area down to the hall to her office. It was small and cramped, filled with piles of papers. She pulled one of those piles off a guest chair and dropped it on the floor so that Weldon could sit down.

Then she closed the door and sat down at her desk facing Weldon. “Have you found them yet?”

“As was clearly explained when you first approached us about doing a full season here on Krim, we take no responsibility for the safety or well-being…”

“Oh, cut the crap,” she said. “That’s just the lawyers covering their asses. Just look in your database, tell me where they are. I won’t say anything to anyone.”

“I literally can’t do that,” said Weldon. “We have a privacy shield set up. We have to, in order to be certified as a private grid. If we break the privacy shield for any reason other than a court order, we lose our protected status. We’d be immediately open to all kinds of lawsuits and we’d lose all our residents. We’d be out of business tomorrow.”

“That sounds a little dramatic,” she said. “Besides, who would even know?”

“I’m not being dramatic,” said Weldon. “There are automatic alerts in place we can’t bypass. In fact, turning off the alerts would by itself set off alerts. People come here because they know we can’t spy on them. Otherwise, they might as well just go to Facepage.”

“Yes, but surely…”

“No. No exceptions. I don’t have the means to do it, and if I did, I’d be fired immediately and go to jail, the grid would be sued and fined out of existence, and if it somehow survived the fines and lawsuits it would still go out of business because it would lose all its customers.”

“I take it I’ll have to take it up to the board.”

“Free free. Please explain to them why tracking down two single people who decided to go off for some fun alone time is worth sacrificing the grid over.”

“They were kidnapping.”

“Being kidnapped is a very popular date night activity on Krim.”

She let out a loud huff and turned away from him to face the wall. She stared at a painting of three sailing ships heading off into the sunset.

It was probably left over from when Andrie Pompas had the office, Weldon thought. Which was odd. Pompas wasn’t the kind to leave anything of value behind. Weldon stood up and peered at the painting. He recognized the signature. Remburte de Vincenti. If the painting was real and not a fake it was worth hundreds of gold coins.

“Maybe you can hire an investigator,” he said, turning back to Pleasance. “I know someone…”

“I already did,” she said. “He’s down the hall interviewing my staff.” She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Maybe he’ll be more useful.”

Weldon reached into his pocket and felt for the list of disappearances. It was still there.

“Maybe I’ll go have a talk with him,” he said. “Compare notes.”

She stood up and opened the door. “Feel free.” She pointed down the hall. “Second door on the left.” She shook her head. “I warned them against coming here after Sturluson vanished.”

“Who’s Sturluson?”

“One of our Royal Singletons. His name was Barnaby Faremanne when he was here three years ago. It was a Royal Season daytrip. I can’t believe the boss decided to come back here after that.” She stepped into the hallway and slammed the door shut behind her. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got a lot more guards to hire so we can beef up security. And servants keep quitting right and left.” She huffed again. “This has been the worst Royal Season yet. Do not expect us back again.”

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