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Authors: Hilari Bell

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BOOK: Rogue's Home
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“Mayhap his poverty is genuine, then,” Michael murmured. At least he was talking again. Trying to solve Max's problems pulled him out of his own more than anything else could have—a born knight errant. I stifled a sigh.

“We'll talk to the last of Jonas's suspects tonight,” I said. “We can catch Nate Jobber at the tavern where he works. After that…we'll see.”

We were almost out the door when Michael turned back to Max. “Just two more questions, Sir. Kline would give us no names beyond Tocker's unless we paid him extra. Who was the fence who gave up his client list, and who was the clerk who went with Kline to get it?”

Max snorted. “Typical of him. And he only did it to annoy you, for that's a matter of public record. The fence was a Master Pritchart, and the clerk was an old friend of yours.”

“My friend?” Michael looked baffled.

“A small irony.” Max smiled. “The clerk was Yorick Thrope.”


“Yorick Thrope!” Michael exclaimed for the fourth time. Or possibly the fifth.

The icy breeze tugged my cloak. The glowing moss lamps only made the shadows around them darker, and the twisting Oldtown streets were full of memories of danger and fear. I'd done a lot of “work” in the Oldtown—in fact, we'd already passed four shops I'd robbed. I'd hated being a burglar.

“It doesn't prove anything,” I said, also for the fourth or fifth time. “He couldn't have known he'd replace Max—there are always dozens of clerks in the running for judicar. It doesn't prove—”

“But Thrope knew we were in town before anyone else, which solves your timing problem. And as a law clerk he might well know how to find an arsonist for hire. As to his not knowing he'd be appointed, he was acquainted with a blackmailer! Mayhap Kline pressured someone on the appointment committee. He's in the perfect position to have framed both Max and me! It all fits!”

My steps slowed as I considered it. Right or wrong, giving our enemy a face and a name had done wonders for Michael. He might have been willing to run
from some faceless villain, if it would be better for Max and his family, but he wasn't about to run from Yorick Thrope. “You really think he'd kill Ginny Weaver and frame Max, just for an appointment he'd probably get anyway the next time a judicar retired?”

Michael's steps slowed to match mine. “Mayhap he needed the position now, for some reason we don't know about. But you may be right. It seems a paltry reason for murder.”

“Most murders,” I said grimly, “are committed for reasons that seem paltry to everyone but the killer. We'll keep Thrope in mind. The tavern's here.”

It wasn't actually there, but halfway down a narrow side street. There were no streetlamps, and only the light cast by the tavern's small windows marked it.

The place was about half full when Michael and I went in. It seemed to cater to craftsmen and laborers from across the river; some of the patrons still wore the leather or canvas aprons of their trade and smelled of wood, or wool, or printer's ink.

The two men behind the bar broke off an animated conversation when we entered. I wove between the tables and stepped up to them. “Good evening, Sirs. My name is Fisk, and this gentleman is a kni—”

“We know who you are,” said the shorter of the two tapsters. He was a plump fellow with dark hair, longer
than his rank entitled him to, and intense dark eyes. “And I've no mind to do any favors for the kind of scum that'd help a murdering bastard like
Maxwell. Now get out—I have work to do.”

Well, that told me which of them was Jobber. The other tapster, a narrow-faced ferret of a man, nodded firm agreement, and I guessed he was the tavern's owner.

“What makes you so sure we want to help him?” I bluffed.

Jobber blinked. “But I heard—”

“You always believe everything you hear? If you give me a bit of your time, I can tell you a thing or two about good old Max that I'll bet you haven't heard.”

Jobber's firm expression wavered, and he glanced at his employer. “I'm working—”

“I'll pay twice your night's wages for an hour of your time.” I had no qualms about making this offer—it would probably be less than we'd paid Kline that morning.

“No,” said the tavern owner. “The evening crowd's coming in. I can't—”

“I'll take Jobber's place while he talks to Fisk,” Michael offered. “I've worked in taverns before.”

I had long since ceased to be surprised by the skills Michael had picked up in his travels, but the tavern
owner gave him a startled glance. “I thought you were supposed to be some sort of crazy knight or something.”

Michael smiled grimly. “Errantry involves mastering many skills these days. If my work dissatisfies you, say so, and we'll leave.”

And so it came about that Nate Jobber and I sat at a table in back of the room, and Michael, wearing Jobber's apron, took his place by the kegs. He did seem to know what he was doing. I watched him draw three mugs of ale for a group of thirsty candle-makers, judging by the splashes of colored wax on their sleeves. Calling Night was only two nights away. I was surprised they weren't working the clock around. Perhaps most folk had already bought their candles.

“What do you mean, you're not trying to help Maxwell?” Jobber demanded. “Your sister's married to him!”

I'd never said that I wasn't helping Max, but that had been to appease Michael, who was now safely out of earshot. “Yes, but do you know how he came to marry my sister?”

The version I gave him of Max and Anna's courtship would have horrified both of them. In fact, if it came to Annie's ears, she'd probably never speak to me
again, for Max emerged as a veritable villain, preying on a poverty-stricken girl.

Watching Jobber's eyes, I could see I'd hit the right note. Those eyes were red rimmed, and on a hunch I held up my hand to summon Michael to our table. Jobber ordered neat gin, and I took the same. I wished that Michael was sufficiently crafty to serve Jobber a double and water mine, but I knew the thought would never even cross his mind.

“And then,” I finished my tale, “Max ordered me out of town. He couldn't afford to have someone like me as a brother by marriage, he said. You ever hit a strange town without a copper fract in your pocket? Believe me, I have no reason to want to help Max.” I was a little alarmed at how easily the bitterness seeped into my voice.

“But why leave town just because he said to? You'd never been caught. He couldn't just throw you out.”

“Well, he didn't hire thugs to beat me up. But the idea of staying, with every deputy in town devoting close attention to my affairs, didn't hold much appeal. A judicar has a lot of power.” Again, I'd said the right thing.

“That's straight.” Jobber took a stiff drink, and I sipped mine. “Old sanctimonious Max has the law on his side and that's that. No one cares about anything
else. No one cares about…” He stopped and drank again.

“Ho, server! I've spilled my beer!” The shout was loud enough to draw eyes from all over the room. A broad-shouldered man in a brown wool doublet had indeed spilled his beer, and as Michael snatched up a dry cloth and made for the table, other calls for service erupted.

“Hey, I've spilled mine too. Server!”

“Well, hang me, so've I. Server, over here!”

This sudden outbreak of clumisness was obviously staged, and the calls for service turned, predictably, to complaints about how slow the new help was. It seemed Jobber and the tavern keeper weren't the only ones who'd heard about Michael and me—though this crowd clearly hadn't heard the arson rumor, or their harassment would have been a lot worse. I wondered how Worthington had learned of it, since it didn't seem to be too widespread.

“So, Master Jobber, I understand old Max treated you even worse than he did me.”

“It wasn't me,” said Jobber confusingly. “He committed a crime against all mankind. If the Gods looked out for man, Horatius Maxwell would never know peace again.” He lifted his glass, and I sipped while he drank, my attention sharpening. Had Jobber decided
to make up for the Gods' negligence?

“Tell me about it.”

As Michael found dry cloths and mopped up the tables, Jobber told me his story. He'd been approached by a group of con men to forge documents and deeds. He'd worked with them before and saw no harm in it. “It was only supposed to be money—not a blood debt. I'd no way to know that fool would kill himself.”

“You couldn't know. I'll bet Max never even considered that.”

“Actually he did,” said Jobber, surprising me. “That was one of the reasons he opted for a lesser penalty. Lesser!” His choked laugh was almost a sob, and I took advantage of the fuss made by someone tripping Michael to pour some gin from my near-full glass into Jobber's.

Michael had fallen to his knees but succeeded in keeping the glasses on his tray upright. I have to admit that as Jobber went on, my attention was divided—a full tray was an invitation to tripping feet, and the strings of his apron didn't stay tied, no matter how tight he knotted them. I thought the tavern keeper's scowl would keep the horseplay to a decent level, though he was probably more concerned for his furniture than his staff, and his customers were enjoying
the game. I hoped I'd have time to finish with Jobber before he got rid of Michael to put a stop to it.

Michael was coping well—his expression was open, and merely annoyed.

“…so the rest of them took their shares and ran, and left me to take the blame. The punishment.” Jobber shivered.

“How did the judicars find out about your part in it?”

“Oh, that was Sheriff Potter. I'd put my mark into the company's seal, and he noticed it. He has a good eye, Potter, and he'd seen my paintings.”

a document you were forging for a
?” It wasn't tactful, but the insanity of it startled me into truthfulness. A very rare occurrence, I might add.

“Of course,” said Jobber. “It was my work, and well done, too, even if it wasn't…art.” His voice dropped almost to a whisper, as if it was the first time he'd said the word.

“I bet Max didn't even—”

A full mug of ale was launched into the air from a table behind us and just missed Michael as he leapt aside. His expression had passed from annoyance to anger, and red mantled his cheekbones as he went for a mop. I was glad to note that some of the patrons laughed good-naturedly at his escape. If part of the
crowd was on Michael's side, or at least neutral, it should keep the tricks from getting too nasty before I finished here.

Jobber turned to watch, and I took the opportunity to pour the last of my gin into his glass. Unfortunately, Jobber had a head for drink. His tongue hadn't even begun to trip, and though his eyes were reddened, that could have been from emotion as much as alcohol.

“What were you saying?” he asked.

“What? Oh, ah, I hope they paid for your expertise. Not many can forge a document well.”

“They paid enough, but I didn't care about the money. It wasn't for me.”

I blinked in astonishment, but he went on without prompting. “The money was for my art. But Maxwell didn't understand. Didn't care. So he took my talent from the world.” He held out his hands and flexed his fingers—they worked, but you could see the stiffness. “It'd have been kinder if he'd killed me. I was sorry that man died, but it wasn't worth taking away my talent for. And not just from me, either. Someday the world will discover my paintings and my early work will be remembered—prized! Art is immortal, but all my future paintings have been slain, like—”

“Ho! I've spilled my beer!”

This time a mug had found its target. Michael's apron dripped. He stared down at it, his face alarmingly expressionless.

“You know, this place has really gone downhill,” the red-faced loudmouth who'd thrown the beer went on cheerily. “The help can't even keep themselves clean.”

Michael's gaze rose slowly. His eyes weren't expressionless now. I had waited too long. I leapt to my feet and started toward him, though I knew I couldn't make it in time. The tavern keeper was about to lose some furniture after all, which didn't trouble me, except that Michael and I would no doubt have to pay for it.

But for any injury Michael sustained there would be no redress, so I was never more grateful to hear the piercing clang of the fire bell.

Everyone in the room jumped. I grabbed Michael's arm and pulled him away from the loudmouth, though even he had been distracted.

The tavern keeper left Jobber to guard his liquor and hurried with the rest of us into the street to look for the fire. It was only six or seven blocks away, and flame-lit smoke guided the crowd that rushed toward it.

The fury had faded from Michael's eyes, though his lips were still pressed tight. I tried to distract him by
wondering aloud if we'd get a chance to see the new pumps in action. In fact we did. As we drew near the fire, I saw a stream of water leaping into the air like a huge fountain, waving back and forth to splatter gallons of water against the buildings nearest the one that blazed so merrily.

The fire-team leader was shouting volunteers into order, for bucket lines would still be needed—though that pump was a near miracle. Only eight men worked the long brass bars on either side of it, one side up, the other down, while four more aimed the turret-mounted tube from whence the fountain of water came.

“'Tis like a giant pissing.” There was laughter in Michael's voice, but I could see he was as impressed as I. “I wonder if Seven Oaks could afford…” His voice trailed off, but for a moment I glimpsed the young noble who'd been trained as an estate steward.

“My office! My paintings! My otter cloak! Save them!” The earsplitting shriek parted the crowd. Yorick Thrope hurtled over to the men who rotated the tube and tried to force the stream toward the burning building.

BOOK: Rogue's Home
9.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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