Ellison Davo made one last circle of the ballroom before heading out.
He bumped into Wynefrede Aumberden near the over-sized doors that opened out onto the garden balcony. She was now wearing a pair of glasses.
“You’ve decided to stick it out on Krim?” he asked her.
“What, you thought I’d run away like Raphe did? I paid my money and want to get my match.”
“And how is that going so far?”
She shrugged. “I liked Raphe but he turned out to be a wuss.” She glanced across the dance floor. “But things are looking up.”
Ellison turned to see where she’s been looking. Margarett Pennebrygg danced past, a Singleton named Rowland Snell holding her around the waist. But that’s not where her eyes were focused. Beyond them, Welton Layton was chatting with Wolstan Babyngton, another bachelor.
Wynefrede adjusted the glasses on her nose. “I didn’t realize how bad my eyesight was here,” she said. “I thought it was just normal that couldn’t people see well in the fifteen hundreds.”
“You can pay extra for good eyesight,” said Ellison.
“I wanted to go with my natural genotype,” said Wynefrede. “Turns out, my parents had my eyes fixed when I was a baby. I also had a predisposition to arthritis and high blood pressure. But I probably won’t be on Krim long enough to that to kick in.”
“It’s amazing that any of our ancestors survived long enough to have kids,” said Ellison.
“Meanwhile, I’m keeping my guards extra close.” Wynefrede nodded towards a burly man standing near the ballroom’s main exit. “That’s one of them there. Another one is outside the garden entrance and another one is upstairs.” She gestured towards a man leaning over one of the small balconies on the second floor.
“That should help,” said Ellison. “We’ve run a second set of background checks on all the local hires. None of them have anything to do with the Armforge Guild. Or, as far as I can tell, with any of the Humanist groups. You should be good.”
“And I’m not worried about being kidnapped again,” said Wynefrede. “I know I can handle it. Plus, I’ve set things up with my legal team. I have to appear for a deposition in two weeks and if I don’t show up they’ll be able to file an appearance warrant.”
“And after that?”
“I don’t know. But I’ve got some very high-priced lawyers. They’ll figure something out.”
Ellison wished her luck with her marriage quest and waved goodbye to Matilda, who was still working her way through the dessert table, and was nearly back at the main entrance when Welton Layton caught up with him.
“There was something I forgot to tell you about that crate that we recovered yesterday,” he told Ellison.
“The gun crate from Sangeries Castle?”
“Yes. There was a note on it. Hold on.” Welton rummaged through his pockets. “I thought I brought it with me to give to you… oh, here it is.” He pulled a folded piece of paper from an inside breast pocket and passed it to Ellison.
It was folded into a triangle shape and had a small hole in it.
“It had been nailed to the crate,” Welton explained.
The note was addressed to Vladimir.
Ellison unfolded it.
It said, “Vladimir, there’s a lot more where these came from.” It was signed with the letter “R.”
“Rodge Bannister insists that he didn’t write it,” Welton said. “Claims he doesn’t even know any Vladimirs. Since he insisted this particular crate wasn’t his, we decided to take it.”
“Did he give you any clues at all about who his gun supplier is?”
“No,” said Welton. “Claims it was all done anonymously. I don’t believe him, but he’s a big customer and the board doesn’t want to put any pressure on him.” Welton glanced down at the note in Ellison’s hand. “Do you know any Vladimirs?”
“I do, but he quite definitely died six years ago,” said Ellison.
“Died for good? No life insurance?”
“He was a Humanist,” said Ellison. “Didn’t believe in it. Even had a do not resuscitate order in place.”
“Well, it’s not that uncommon a name,” said Welton.
“Could be that a follower has set himself up as the new Vladimir,” said Ellison. “Thanks for the heads up. I’ll look into it.”
He was almost at the exit when a guard ran up and stopped him. “Queen Elea Carlyle wishes to speak with you.”
Ellison turned around. Elea was sitting on her throne at the far end of the ballroom. He signed and walked around the edge of the dancefloor in her direction.
As he got close, the guard whispered, “Don’t forget to bow.”
Instead of bowing, Ellison waved hello at Elea when he got close. The guard jabbed him with something in the side.
“No need for that,” Elea waved the guard off. “We’ll discuss proper protocol later. Meanwhile, I just wanted to remind you not to be too annoying. The Armforge Guild in particular is a very good customer of Krim. Now that the kidnap victims have been recovered, maybe you should go back to working on your regular cases.” She sniffed. “You know, you process serving and all that. You’re providing such a valuable service, chasing down deadbeat dads and whatnot. Mustn’t let that slide. The guns aren’t important. They had guns in the 1500s, you know. If a few happen to have been made on Krim, it won’t be anywhere as disruptive as if lose some of our most valued customers over something this trivial.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Ellison.
“If you do, we might have some to throw your way,” said Elea. “I know your agency is just scraping by. I heard that your brother is running it out of a freebie office on Facepage these days.” She shook her head. “So sad. You should be doing better. Both of you are so talented.”
“That’s okay, we’re fine,” said Ellison. “We just picked up a few new clients.”
Elea frowned. “I don’t like the sound of that,” she said.
“Well, they wouldn’t like the sound of you trying to interfere in their investigations.” Ellison turned and walked away. She would probably have him killed as soon as he was out of the castle, but he enjoyed turning her down.
But she let him go.
Ellison walked away unhindered and nobody stabbed him when he was on the street outside.
It was just starting to get dark, so he caught a ride back to the center. He made it to the Krim Archives and Historical Society just minutes before closing time.
Valerie Kingston was upstairs in her office, packing up for the day.
Ellison knocked on the wall outside her open door and poked his head in. “I didn’t see you at the ball earlier,” he told her.
Valerie put down her leather satchel and turned around.
“You mean, the one presided over by that pretender to the throne?” She sniffed. “What’s her name? I’ve totally forgotten.”
“I didn’t tell them you’re the Nightingale,” said Ellison.
She sat down in her chair. “How did you know?”
“None of the gossip was about Elea,” said Ellison. “Now, why would someone write a gossip column and almost never mention the biggest possible target of gossip of them all?”
“Maybe Elea is the Nightingale,” said Valerie.
“No, she was one of the people who wanted us to find the leak,” said Ellison. “I’m just curious about two things. First, how did you ever get the column to the newspaper? We didn’t see you anywhere near it. Or any of your staff. And, second, what are you doing with the gossip you’re collecting about Elea?”
“If I tell you, will you keep this quiet?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “As long as you tell me what you find out. We might have common goals here.”
“Well, first of all, I sent the column in by mail,” said Valerie. “And about the gossip… well, how much time do you have?”
This concludes Bridge Over the River Krim. For more, keep an eye out for the next story in the series, For Krim the Bell Tolls.