Ellison walked into the Barley Mow Inn, greeted Quimby Plummer, the owner, who was doing some paperwork at the front desk. Then, before Quimby could remind him about his bill, he turned left and walked into the dining room. Clinio Lind was waiting for him at table by the window.
“I only just got here,” said the security chief. “I hear they’ve got the best food on Krim.”
Ellison nodded and sat down across from him. It was odd not to be sitting at his usual table, and even odder still to be facing away from the front entrance. He felt an itch between his shoulder blades and looked around. He didn’t see anyone trying to sneak up on him and stab in the back, but he was sure it was only a matter of time.
Ellison turned back towards Clinio. “The new cook is great,” he said.
“Do they really have coffee?” Clinio nodded at the chalkboard on the back wall of the dining room.
“It’s chicory,” said Ellison. “I haven’t tried it yet. It’s new.” He peered at the chalkboard. “So is brunch,” he added. The menu included a salmon and asparagus frittata, Arabian buttered eggs, wild mushroom bruschetta and whipped ricotta with honey and mixed berries. “The new cook is really work out well for them.”
But the inn was still having problems keeping wait staff, it seemed, because Quimby came over personally to take their order.
“I’ll have one of everything,” said Ellison. “It’s on him.” He pointed at Clinio. “What’s the coffee like?”
“We steep our chicory coffee in a French press,” Quimby began, then pulled out a piece of paper from his apron pocket. “It has notes of sweet-and-sour chestnuts and a nectar-like body.”
“Does it taste like coffee?” asked Ellison.
“Well, no,” said Quimby. “Not quite.”
“Does it at least have caffeine?”
“No, not at such.”
“In that case, I’ll just have beer,” said Ellison.
“With brunch?” Quimby wrinkled his nose. “I urge you to reconsider the chicory coffee. The chef recommends our house signature blend, with frothed butter milk, cardamom, and other spices. It’s been getting rave reviews from other customers.”
“I’ll have some,” said Clinio. “And the frittata.” He leaned back and sighed. “It’s nice to take a break. This morning’s been hectic.”
“Pleasance Pratt is back,” Clinio said. “She was killed by the pirates after they divided up the captives. Someone named Captain Kraken had taken her and a few of the Singletons.” He glanced up. “Wynefrede Aumberden. Margarett Pennebrygg. And Benedicta Bernewelt. Oh, also George Bedgbery. Apparently, the pirates wanted Wynefrede and didn’t know which one she was.”
“So it’s the same kidnappers as before?” Ellison asked.
“Very likely,” said Clinio. “The other news is that we’ve gotten ransom demands for the rest. We’re making arrangements to have the ransom paid.”
“How much was it?”
“A surprisingly small amount,” said Clinio. “Less than we’d pay for a single catered lunch. Frankly, we were a little surprised.”
“Maybe the pirates don’t know how deep the Royal Season pockets go,” said Ellison.
“Could be,” said Clinio. “But I’m paid to look at the worst-case scenario.”
“That the ransom demand is from someone else who only heard about the kidnapping, and even if we pay it, the captives won’t be released.”
Quimby showed up with Clinio’s coffee and Ellison’s beer.
Clinio smelled his, then took a sip. “Delicious.”
Quimby smiled. “I knew you’d like it. The food will be out shortly. Is there anything else?”
Clinio glanced at Ellison, who shook his head.
“Now, you said you made progress?” the security chief asked once the innkeeper had walked away.
“I found Gervis Gefroi,” said Ellison.
“Well, that was fast.”
“I have excellent connections with the Krim underworld,” said Ellison. “It seems that Gervis was promised his freedom in return for impersonating Captain Lestrange, as well as the freedom of his three associates. He’s a little bitter that Bannister didn’t hold up the rest of his side of the bargain, since the other prisoners have been hidden away and Bannister himself isn’t anywhere to be found.”
“These are the prisoners who were moved to Sangeries Castle?”
“Yes, but I’m not going to tell that to Gervis just yet,” said Ellison. “I’m hoping he can do a little bit of investigating for us, first.”
“You mean, about who hired him?”
“Exactly. Gervis says that the only thing he knows is that Bannister was doing a favor for someone named Vladimir,” said Ellison. “I don’t know if it’s the same Vladimir he was sending the guns to.”
“Is Vladimir a common name on Krim?”
“No,” said Ellison. “So it’s probably the same person.”
A door slammed behind him and Clinio looked up. Ellison turned around, to see Matilda dragging in a struggling, screaming woman. Matilda shook her. “Shut up, or I’ll disembowel you and have you die a slow and painful death.”
“Hey, hey there!” Quimby ran out from the kitchen. “No disemboweling! Please!”
“I wouldn’t disembowel her right here. I’d take her out back. I’m not a savage.”
“Well, that’s fine, then,” said Quimby.
Matilda dragged her captive through the dining room, then dropped her into a chair next to Clinio and sat down as well.
“Let me introduce you to Chambrs Rawln,” Matilda said.
“Doesn’t look like Chambrs,” said Clinio.
“I’m not, I swear,” said the woman. “My name is Persimmon Lotuspool.”
“Why is she missing her fingernails?” Clinio asked.
Ellison looked down at the woman’s hands. Her fingers were covered with dried blood.
“Well, I had to confirm identity, didn’t I?” said Matilda.
“They tortured me,” said the woman. “I would have told them anything they wanted to hear.”
“I’m not an idiot,” said Matilda. “We didn’t ask her if she was Chambrs or not. We asked what her real name was.”
“Which is a total privacy violations,” said the woman. “Isn’t there a law against that?”
“No,” said Matilda. “If you were off-world, out in real life, it would be a violation of the anti-spoiler laws to talk about your Krim identity. But here, on Krim, there’s no law against asking your real name.” Matilda paused. “It’s just frowned upon.”
“You didn’t need to resort to torture,” said Ellison. “I could have confirmed identity.” He glanced at the woman. “It’s definitely Chambrs.”
“Apparently, Elea Carlyle offered Chambrs a great deal of money to share the list of Royal Season participants and their background info, and also promised a job with a better salary and more responsibility.”
“Being a junior clerk wasn’t enough for you?” asked Clinio. “I thought you were happy with the position. You were certainly paid more than the going rate.”
“I’ve been the junior clerk for ten years,” said the woman. “I got tired of people being promoted over me.”
Clinio sighed and glanced at the woman’s hands. “I apologize for the fingernails. That wasn’t necessary, and I didn’t authorize anything of the sort.”
“Sorry.” She tried, unsuccessfully, to hide the grin on her face, then grabbed Ellison’s beer and finished it off.
“Our lawyers will be contacting you shortly,” Clinio continued. “I wouldn’t plan on having any disposable income for the foreseeable future.”
“You don’t have anything on me,” said Chambrs. “Nothing I said is admissible in court. Plus, anything on Krim is covered by the anti-spoiler laws.” Chambrs leaned back, arms crossed, then winced as the damaged fingertips touched fabric.
“Once we start investigating, we’ll trace the your actions in minute detail, as well as all access you had to the Singleton lists,” said Clinio. “You would have had to violate privacy protocols at some point, and we’ll find out where soon enough. Meanwhile, we’ll make sure that word gets out about the investigation. You’ll never work in the same field again.” He leaned back. “So. Tell us. Why did Elea want the list? And did you — or anyone else — share it further?”
“Pfft,” Chambrs said. “I don’t have to tell you anything. I already have a new job, don’t I?”
Ellison tapped his finger nails on the table. Chambrs looked down and winced.
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this,” Ellison said, “But Elea Carlyle is extremely image conscious. Once word gets out, she’ll drop you like a hot potato.”
“She doesn’t care about what I may or may not have done,” said Chambrs.
“No, but she cares that you got caught,” said Ellison. “And she cares if it means that she’ll be publicly embarrassed.”
Chambrs looked away for a few seconds, then turned back towards them. “Fine. What do you want to know again? And what do I get if I tell you?”
“We’ll settle out of court,” said Clinio. “The lawyers will work out the details, but I suspect that you’ll no longer be able to work as a clerk. Which is fair, because you’re untrustworthy and clearly not fit for the job.”
Chambrs reddened but didn’t say anything.
“But there won’t be any publicity, and we’ll agree to keep the details of the arrangement completely confidential as long as you keep up your end of the agreement.”
Chambrs sighed. “So. Back to the beginning. How did you first find out that Elea Carlyle wanted the list?”