“I don’t think you’re going to need me for this,” Matilda said before Chambrs starting telling the story of how Elea Carlyle got her hands on the list of Royal Season participants. “It sounds boring, and I’ve got a lead on some gun runners I want to follow up on. Besides, I already got everything I needed.” Chambrs jerked her damaged hands off the table and hid them on her lap.
Matilda started to push her chair away from the table when she saw Quimby approaching with a full tray. “On the other hand, you never know, I might learn something.”
“Salmon and asparagus frittata,” said Quimby. “It’s made with turnips, but you’d swear on your grandmother’s life that’s it’s potato.” He placed one plate in front of Clinio and one in front of Ellison, which Matilda immediately pulled over to her side of the table. Quimby lowered another plate down from the tray. “Arabian buttered eggs.” Matilda grabbed the plate before it reached the table and dumped the eggs on top of the frittata.
Ellison frowned but didn’t say anything as Quimby took the empty plate back.
“I’ll be right back with the rest of the food,” the innkeeper said.
“Put in a second order for everything,” said Ellison.
“And a third,” said Matilda, her mouth full.
“Would you like something to eat?” Clinio asked Chambrs.
The clerk shook her head. “No. I want to get this over with and get off this grid as fast as I can.” She paused. “Well, after I give my notice to the Carlyle Foundation. I don’t want to leave on bad terms.”
“You don’t need to give notice,” said Ellison. “It’s not like you have a career to protect.”
“We’ll take you back to the main gate,” said Clinio. “I’ll get you set up with our attorneys.”
“I’ll want my lawyer present as well,” said Chambrs.
Clinio nodded. “Now, tell us about Elea Carlyle.”
“I first applied for a job at the Carlyle Foundation when it was first launched, right after the Civinos disaster,” said Chambrs. “She was all over the news and her story was so compelling. I really wanted to work for her.”
Ellison closed his eyes to avoid accidentally rolling them. How did Elea, who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people — permanent deaths — come out looking like a saint? While he, who was not in any way at fault, wind up spending five years in prison? If there was to be any justice in the universe, Elea had to face the consequences of her actions.
“Then, a couple of years ago, someone from the Carlyle Foundation approached me, said they’d seen my application, and were impressed. They asked me all about the work I did, and how we researched the worlds we would bring the Royal Season to. I managed a lot of this research.”
“Hold on, two years ago?” asked Ellison. “That was long before Elea came to Krim.”
He leaned back to allow Quimby to put two more plates in front of him, but, again, Matilda grabbed the food before he could touch it.
“I think the Carlyle Foundation was already interested in because it was one of the places being considered to settle returnees while they adjusted to being brought back to life.” Chambrs turned to Clinio. “When people have been dead for a while, then get resurrected, it’s hard to them to adjust to life in the real world. So the revival companies are always looking for grids that don’t have any magic, or modern technology, or modern interfaces, or moderated pain sensations or augmented sense of any kind.”
“I know all this,” said Clinio. “You don’t have to explain it.”
“A lot of people don’t,” said Chambrs. “They think that someone brought back from a hundred years ago is going to love modern life. But they don’t. The connection fails because nothing feels real to them and they die again and it’s even harder to bring them back next time. You see…”
“Never mind all that,” said Clinio. “What does that have to do with why they approached you?”
“It was all humanitarian. They really wanted to know about my research. I even got to meet Elea Carlyle. Can you believe it? She personally talked to me, thanked me for my help. She really cares about helping returnees. It’s her life mission, you know.”
This time, Ellison couldn’t help himself and rolled his eyes, but Chambrs didn’t seem to notice.
“She’s a saint,” Chambrs said. “If anyone overstepped any ethical boundaries, it wasn’t her, but someone from lower down in the organization.”
“Tell us about that overstepping,” said Clinio. “When did it start?”
“It was nothing, at first. They just wanted to know what I thought. It was for such a good cause. I still think it must all have been a misunderstanding.”
“Whey did they ask you for the customer list?”
“The Singleton dossiers? They didn’t ask. I offered.”
“You offered? Just out of the blue?”
“Well, Elea did say their fundraising people needed a little bit of help. And you know, the Singletons are all crazy rich. I thought it would be good if the foundation has some inside knowledge.” Chambrs leaned forward. “You wouldn’t believe the kind of things people tell you when they’re looking for a match.”
“I believe it,” Clinio said drily. “That’s why we have all the security protocols in place.”
“At first, I was just giving them little hints about who to ask for money, what levers to push, that sort of thing.”
“And what did you get in return?”
“Nothing! It was all about helping returnees!”
Clinio closed his eyes shook his head. “Right. So when did you graduate to stealing files?”
“It was when we — I mean, the Royal Season — started to look at Krim more seriously. I was very excited about Krim because Elea Carlyle was already considering moving here. Anyway…” Chambrs finally started looking embarrassed. “I didn’t want it to be traced back to me. There was a courier service we used to bring files to our Krim office. I would have the files sent to people’s desks on the company account, along with other paperwork, and then collect the files from their offices before they saw them. Since they didn’t request them in the first place, nobody knew they were missing.”
“Well, Sam Sedgebury was in the office once and saw me, and got suspicious. He was one of the butlers. He blackmailed me into letting him look at the files. I didn’t give them to him. He just looked at a few of them.”
“He gave the info to the Nightingale,” said Ellison.
“I thought as much immediately after I heard about the gossip column,” said Chambrs. “But I couldn’t say anything without giving myself away.”
“Did Elea tell you why she wanted the files?” Ellison asked.
“That’s what I keep telling you,” said Chambrs. “This was all my idea. Elea Carlyle didn’t ask for anything, she didn’t know anything about it. It’s just that her employees really love her. They want to help her in any way they can. And if sometimes it means stepping over the line, well, it’s all for the higher good.”
“What was the higher good of having our Singletons kidnapped?” asked Clinio.
“She had nothing to do with that, I swear,” said Chambrs.
“You do know that none of the money she’s raising actually goes to returnees?” asked Ellison.
“No, that’s not true,” said Chambrs. “The Carlyle Foundation is funding hundreds of projects. Just in the few days I worked there, I saw probably a dozen executives come to her office for meetings. Elea Carlyle is a visionary.”
“So tell me who you gave the files to,” said Clinio.
“I don’t want to get them into trouble,” said Chambrs. “I’m sure they thought they were doing the right thing.”
Clinio stared at the clerk.
“Fine, it was Nelly Cricketbreath,” said Chambrs. “I don’t know who she is in real life. We only met on Krim.”
“So you have no recordings of the meetings,” said Clinio.
“No, of course not.”
Ellison looked at Matilda, who’d already finished all of his food and was picking her teeth with a giant knife while eyeing the door to the kitchen in anticipation of seconds. “Did you get that?” he asked.
“Nelly Cricketbreath,” she said. “I got it. I’ll put out the word that we’re looking for her. Where does she work?”
“She was my liaison in-world,” said Chambrs. “She has a desk at the foundation, but I usually met her in an empty apartment on Lothbury Street.”
“That didn’t strike you as suspicious?” asked Clinio.
“A little bit. But mostly it was exciting.”
“What did she look like?” Matilda asked, putting away her knife.
“Shorter than me,” said Chambrs. “Frail-looking. Like a fairy or an elf. Or Peter Pan. Yes, like a cross between Peter Pan and Robin Hood.”
“She wears green tights?” asked Matilda.
“No, more brown. Maybe olive? Or like the color of moss. Wavy brown hair, about this long.” Chambrs held a hand to her chin then winced as she caught a glimpse of her nailbeds.
“When and where did you see her last?” Matilda asked.
“This morning, at her desk.”
“I’ll find her,” said Matilda.
“No, please don’t,” said Chambrs. “She was just trying to help.”
“We need to get to her before she disappears and the trail dries up,” said Clinio. “And it would be nice if we could find out her real identity without tipping her off that we’re looking.”
“I think this is something that I’m going to need to do on my own,” said Ellison.
“He’s got a way of figuring out who people are,” Matilda told Chambrs.
“No torture?” Chambrs asked.
“No torture,” said Ellison.
“That’s a relief,” said Chambrs. “I’m sure if the kidnappers did get their hands on the files, she had nothing to do with it. Maybe she was tricked. Or maybe they got them from the butler. Can we go now? I want to get off this grid.”
“I’ll take you to the gate,” said Clinio. “Ellison, can you come with us before you head off to look for this Nelly person?”
“I’ll wait here for the rest of the food,” said Matilda. “Then I’ll go look for the guns.”
“The guns could be another way for us to find who’s behind the kidnappings,” Ellison said, “since this Vladimir guy seems to be connected to both.”
“Vladimir?” Chambrs asked. “I heard that name somewhere. It was…” Then she suddenly stopped talking.
“Where?” asked Ellison.
Chambrs shook her head. “No,” she said. “I don’t remember.”
Ellison didn’t believe her.
“Do you want me to torture her some more?” asked Matilda.
“No, no torture,” said Clinio. “We’ll let the lawyers handle it.”
“Well, if it’s lawyers,” said Matilda. “Then fine. It’s almost as good, anyway.”