Ellison Davo sat at a small bistro-style table at an outdoor balcony overlooking the docks. The Crow’s Nest Cafe was his favorite dining establishment in this part of town.
He took a sip of his herbal tea and looked down at the sailing ships docked below, then at the dark teal color of the water extending all the way to the horizon. His feet were propped up on the low stone wall that supported the cast iron railing surrounding the balcony. It had been a few days since Ellison was last killed, so his shoes had a chance to mold to his feet and no longer caused blisters. Still, they were tired from the walk over from the Barley Mow Inn. He had to walk down Leadenhall Street, then north on Banking to the city center, then all the west on Upping until he hit the docks. Then he’d walked up and down the docks for an hour, asking sailors and merchants and miscellaneous low lives about whether any of them had heard of a place called Lamacoln.
Or possibly Lamacord. Or Lamacone.
Nobody had heard of it. Or, at least, nobody had admitted to hearing about it. A couple of sailors had looked a little shifty-eyed when he’d asked, and he made a mental note to look them up when he was back at the Crewe Investigations office.
Back when Ellison had first started his career in corporate recruiting, his company had sent him to an intensive series of seminars about how to read people. He’d turned out to be a natural at identifying micro expressions and other tell-tale signs of evasion. It served him very well in his career until face filters became ubiquitous in all virtual meetings. At that point, he started interviewing candidates physically whenever possible. Then everybody started using bio control interfaces. At first, the somatic settings were mainly for adjusting metabolic rates, but then people started using them to reduce blushing and eliminate resting bitch face and then to control everything about their expressions.
At first, the weird robotic looks creeped everyone out but then people got used to it. Coming to Krim was an assault on the senses by comparison. Ellison enjoyed seeing the smorgasbord of emotions playing over people’s faces. He felt young again.
He was waiting for Captain Maximilian May. The man had been on Krim almost from the very founding, and was the founder of the Flat Krim Reality Society.
Captain May was a fan of the Crow’s Nest Cafe and its herbal teas.
While he waited, Ellison watched the final preparations of a ship getting ready to go the edge of the world. The Santa Marina had three masts and rode high above the water.
“She’s a beaut, ain’t she?”
Ellison put his feet down and turned. “Captain May,” he said. “Good to see you.”
“They said you were looking for me?”
Ellison motioned for the captain to join him.
“I was hoping you could tell me about a place called Lamacoln,” said Ellison.
Captain May took off his hat and put it on the table as he sat down. The hat was a wide-brimmed cavalier hat that would have looked more appropriate on one of the three musketeers, complete with an ostrich feather.
“Lamacoln? Can’t say I ever heard of it. Got anything to go on?”
“Nothing except the name,” said Ellison. “We don’t even know what continent its on, or how far away it is. For all we know, it could even be a single building.”
“That’s going to make it tough to find. May I ask why you’re looking?”
“We have a lead that some folks have been kidnapped and taken there as prisoner,” said Ellison.
“Anyone I know?”
“Barnaby Faremanne,” said Ellison. “He was a Royal Season Singleton here on a day trip about three years ago. And Andriu Pompas.”
“Well, I don’t recall this Barnaby fellow. But Pompas, you say?”
“Well, can’t say I’m surprised. A lot of people have it in for that old cozener.”
“He was raising money for another expedition when he vanished,” said Ellison.
“Oh, have you hear the good news?” asked May. “Lestrange and Anders may have found the New World.”
“I heard a rumor,” said Ellison. “But nothing definite. What’s the story?”
“They reached a group of islands. Lestrange’s ship sank in a storm just beyond them. She says she saw a continent in the distance. Anders is still out there somewhere.”
“So we might get coffee?”
“Knock on wood,” said May, doing just that. “But we won’t know for sure for months yet. Anyway, Lestrange is raising money for a return trip. The Royal Season commission helps.” He nodded down towards the Santa Marina.
Ellison could see the Royal Season security chief, Clinio Lind, supervising down below but he couldn’t see Clare Lestrange anywhere. “I should probably talk to Clare,” he said. “But I haven’t seen her all morning.”
“I saw her earlier this morning,” said May. “She was all over the place, getting the ship ready. Fancying up the staterooms, and all that.” The captain looked down at the ship. “And here come the passengers.”
Ellison watched as several coaches pulled up towards the docks and disgorged men and women in the Royal Season’s idea of casual, ocean voyage-appropriate clothing. That is, there was slightly less lace and the skirts weren’t as wide as the ladies usually wore.
“There’s been a security detail here all week,” said Captain May. “All the sailors got background checks. Clare was grilled for two days straight.”
“I’m surprised the Royal Season decided to go ahead with the trip,” said Ellison.
“Well, you can’t come to Krim and not go over the edge of the world,” said May. “I mean, that’s what we’re known for. But they’ve taken precautions.” He pointed to a ship in the middle of the bay. “See the caravel there? That’s the Niner. Based on the Nina. They’ve got it full of soldiers and she’ll be accompanying the Santa Marina to the edge, along with the Pinter.” He pointed to a second caravel docked near the Santa Marina. “Just in case they meet any pirates along the way.”
“Does that happen often?”
“Hardly ever,” said May. “When we go to the edge, all we’re carrying is the passengers and enough provisions for a few days. Pirates usually go after the cargo ships headed home from the southern reaches, carrying gold, spices, ostrich feathers.” He patted his hat. “Anything the merchants can’t get import-export permits for.”
The captain rubbed his beard. “I suspect that if they do find coffee and are able to bring it back, we’ll have to add more shipping routes. I doubt they’ll let us take coffee out through the gates and mass produce it. If they wanted coffee on the grid, they would have made it easier to get it a long time ago.”
He nodded to the north, where the coast curved around north of the Krim River. That was the location of the commercial gate, a portal big enough to hold an entire ship. One side of the gate faced the bay, and allowed ships to go in and out. The other side was flush with the dock, and allowed cargo wagons to pass through.
“And there’s Lestrange,” said Captain May.
Ellison looked down to where May was pointing. The woman hurrying down the docks looked liked Clare Lestrange, but her posture seemed a little off.
“Are you sure that’s her?” asked Ellison. “She’s walking a little funny.”
“No, that’s her,” said May. “That lilac jacket is her signature look, as is that split skirt she has on.”
Clare glanced up at them as she neared the ship and waved hello.
“Yup, that’s her alright,” said May.
She was too far away for Ellison to tell for sure, but there was something in the way the woman moved that didn’t seem right to her.
“You better hurry if you want to talk to her,” said May. “They’ve loaded all the passengers up and are about to set sail.”
Clare Lastrange nodded at Clinio Lind as she got near. The security man tipped his hat to her and stepped back to let her pass.
Ellison stood up and put down a coin for his tea.
By the time he made it through the cafe, down the steps, and to the Santa Marina’s berth, captain Lastrange was already on board.
“Stop right there,” said Clinio Lind. “You’re not cleared to board.”
Ellison caught his breath and looked up at the ship. He was only able to catch a glimpse of the captain before she went into her cabin, but it was enough.
“That’s not Clare Lestrange,” he said.