Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Chapter 8: The Carters

     The common room at the Carter's Rest Inn was once again beginning to gather a crowd. At least half a dozen patrons sat at the bar, and another dozen were scattered about at tables. The band was on the dais, tuning their instruments and setting out hats for donations. Ena Welman was tending the bar while a young man brought out plates of food from the kitchen. Tania milled about the room serving guests, though her mind clearly wasn't on her work.
     Jaik and Ham entered through the kitchen doorway from behind the bar, talking together. Jaik had been dismayed at the state of the body: missing eyes were bad enough, but a missing brain was disturbing beyond his understanding.
     "Well, it took you two long enough," said Ena.
     "Sorry, dear. Ham had some more questions for me, and the priests were being uncooperative."
     "We're plenty busy, as you can see, so here's your apron." She tossed it to her husband before giving him a wink and a smile. "It's back to the kitchen for me. They're falling behind in there already!"
     Jaik gave his wife a quick kiss on the cheek as she passed him and headed through the doorway. He put on the apron and started taking orders for drinks immediately. "You can go on up and check on the couple in twenty-two, if you want, Ham."
     Frayg thanked the innkeeper and made for the stairs. On his way he made a quick scan of the room, looking for a short woman with dark hair. If she's the one who murdered the boy, it's unlikely she'll return, he thought. And if she didn't do it, she's probably Passed herself, or else she's been captured by those who committed the deed. No one in the room matched the description Tania had given him, so he continued up the stairs.
     He reached the third floor and walked down the hallway. He knocked on the door to room twenty-two. There was a shuffling sound from inside, followed by a thump and what sounded like footsteps. After a minute or so, Frayg knocked again. There were more hurried footsteps and then a man's voice responded: "Just a moment, please!"
     After a few more seconds the door opened to reveal a man of about fifty. "What do you want?" The voice was the same as Frayg had heard through the door.
     "I'm sorry to disturb you," he began. "I'm Captain Hambelton Frayg of the City Watch. I'd like to ask you a few questions, if you wouldn't mind. May I come in, please?"
     The man turned away from the door and yelled. "It's a man here who says he's from the watch. Have you been up to no good again, love?"
     Another voice came from inside the room – this time a woman's. "Oh yes, dear. Didn't I tell you about the horses I've been stealing in the evenings? The watch is bound to be interested in that."
     Laughing, the old man turned back to Frayg. "Well come in, if you're going to." He opened the door.
     The room was furnished the same as room nineteen had been, with the added benefit of a small bar and a dressing screen. The woman's voice came from behind the screen: "Well, let him in, dear-heart. I may as well turn myself in now and save the watchman the trouble of a chase."
     Frayg was nonplussed. He stepped into the room and eyed the old man. He was tall and muscular for his age, with short-cropped gray hair and long mustaches. His well-tailored, knee-length black coat was unbuttoned.
     "Sorry Captain ... Frayg, was it?"
     "Er, yes."
     "Sorry, Captain Frayg. My wife and I have a little running joke between us. You see, after a long life of working hard and always living by society's rules we like to joke with one another that we're going to become dangerous bandits ... or perhaps pirates or horse thieves." He cocked his head to one side and gave Frayg a curious look.
     "I don't suppose a man of the City Watch finds such jokes to be funny, though. Please forgive a couple of old people their eccentricities." He reached a hand out to Frayg.
     "Oh, it's quite all right. I just wasn't expecting it, is all."
     "The name's Ignacious Carter – like the Inn. That's another little joke that Valsinna and I share. We Carters come to the Carter's Rest to rest, you see." 
     Soft laughter came from behind the screen, followed by Valsinna Carter. Her hair was gray like her husband's, but with a bit more white in it. She wore a fine gown of blue silk and a white lace shawl. She, too, was tall, and looked very well for her age, which appeared to be about the same as her husband's. She curtsied before Frayg.
     "Do forgive us, good Captain. You caught us dressing after our teatime nap."
     "No, it's er ..." Frayg stammered. "It's quite all right, Madam."
     "So what sort of questions does a fine, upstanding officer of the King's Justice such as yourself have for the likes of us?" asked Mr. Carter. "Does the watch need some goods hauled, or do you need help in acquiring some supplies? I've always had a fondness for government contracts. They do tend to pay well, if not always on time."
     "No, Mr. Carter. I'm afraid I'm here investigating a different matter. You are aware one of the other guests at this inn Passed into The Dream last night?"
     The Carters looked at one another with concern on their faces. "Yes. The young man down the hall. Someone Sent him, or so the rumor was. And there was a guard there this morning when we left."
     "Yes. That's what happened. Tell me, did either of you see the victim last night? Or hear anything?"
     "Well, we're not sure who the, er … victim was, so we may have seen him. As for hearing anything, I think everyone on the floor probably heard them."
     "Heard them, you say?"
     "Yes, well … there was quite a bit of noise coming from that room. We assumed either a young couple was having a fight, or they were getting very frisky, so to speak. You know … young people these days: you never know what they're getting up to."
     "I see. Then you didn't see anyone enter or leave the room?"
     "No. We retired early. The noise down the hall actually woke us from our sleep. I was going to go ask them to quiet down, but by the time I put my dressing gown on, the ruckus had subsided, so I just went back to bed."
     "Did you have dinner in the common room? Earlier in the evening, I mean?"
     "Yes, we did. We're getting on in years, but we still enjoy music and the occasional dance. When we're too tired to dance ourselves, we enjoy watching the younger people."
     "What he means to say," broke in Valsinna, "is that he still enjoys watching the young ladies dance." She laughed again. "He just doesn't think I notice."
     "Well, of course I know you notice. I'm just trying to make you jealous, dear." Mr. Carter winked at his wife and took her hand. They both sat on the bed. Mr. Carter motioned to the chair: "Please have a seat, Captain."
     Frayg turned the chair around and sat. He asked, "Do you mind if I have a bit of a smoke?"
     "Not at all, sir. In fact, I'll join you." He fished a briarwood pipe out of his pocket. "In fact I have some Borland Gold Leaf here, if you'd like a pinch?"
     "Thank you, Mr. Carter. I'd love some." After taking a pinch of the tobacco Frayg rose and lit a piece of tinder at the lamp which sat on he bed stand. After they'd both lit their pipes – Frayg had picked up another cheap clay pipe somewhere during the day – he seated himself again.
     "While you were in the common room, did you notice anything unusual? Did anyone stand out to you?"
     "After we ate, I was mostly enjoying the music and the drink. I didn't watch the crowd too closely."
     Mrs. Carter jabbed her husband playfully with her elbow. "You certainly paid enough mind to the serving girls."
     "Now, dear, you know it always pays to be polite to the help."
     "And what about that little thing with the tight green corset? How, exactly, did she help you?"
     "Now hush. I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. Why, if I had half the roving eye you think I do, I'd have left you years ago."
     "As if anyone else would have you!"
     Frayg interrupted their playful argument. "A green corset, you say? A Very short woman with dark hair?"
     "Why, yes," replied Valsinna. "A very pretty girl, and well-dressed, too."
     "Was she with a young man?"
     "She was. She was dancing with him for most of the night. At least until we came to bed. After that, I don't know."
     "Can you describe the man?"
     "Well, he was rather tall and kind of lanky. I remember when he first came in – he had the air of an angry young man about him. I assumed he was upset about something and came in to drown his sorrows, or pick a fight. You know how men can be."
     Mr. Carter chided, "You certainly seemed to take notice of that young man. Now who's got a wandering eye, hmm?"
     "Did you notice anything else about him, Mrs. Carter?"
     "He had straw-colored hair and was dressed reasonably well – not as well as the girl he was dancing with, mind. They both seemed to drink a lot, too."
     "What were they drinking?"
     "Well, the young man drank from mugs, so I assume he was drinking ale. The girl was drinking wine. At one point they each had two drinks at once, so I guess they both had their something to forget."
     "Two at once?"
     "Yes. I think it was from a misunderstanding. He brought two mugs over to her, but she must have asked for wine, because he sat them down on the bench next to her and then brought back two wine glasses."
     "Did you hear what they were talking about?"
     "Oh, no. It was far to noisy for that. They sat in the back corner under the gallery, so I couldn't see them that well, either. I only noticed the boy because he seemed so angry before." She grabbed her husbands pipe from his hand and took a couple of puffs. "I was glad for him that he'd found a young lady to take his mind off his troubles. Otherwise, he'd have been in a fight as sure as I'm sitting here smoking."
     Mr. Carter said, "You seem pretty interested in that couple. Are they the ones from down the hall? Was the girl Sent into The Dream, too?"
     "No – at least, not as far as we know. Only the young man's remains were in the room."
     "So it was him then?" Mrs. Carter asked.
     "Yes, it sounds like it was him. He and the girl you describe went into the room together last night. But there's no sign of her now. Either she left late in the night, or some harm has come to her, as well, or ..." Frayg trailed off.
     "Do you think she was the one who did it, then?" She was surprisingly less scandalized at the prospect than Mrs. Welman had been.
     "I don't know. But I do want to find her. If either of you see her, please contact Mr. Welman immediately - or find a Watchman. Don't approach her yourself."
     "Do you think she's dangerous, then?"
     "I have my doubts. But if she is responsible for this, it wouldn't do to let her know we suspect her. We might never find her then."
     The Carters both nodded their agreement.
     "I take it you're staying through the festival?"
     "Yes, we are," said Mr. Carter.
     "And where are you coming from?"
     "Oh, we live out in a little village near Wollenstone. You've probably never heard of it. It's called Flaxford."
     "I can't say I have. That's a bit of a trip, though, isn't it? What makes you travel all this way for the Festival? Borland's a big city, and it would be much closer."
     "Oh, yes, well we've been to Borland many times. But, you see, Val is originally from around here. We first met thirty years ago during the Changeling Festival here in Ayrst. We're here for our anniversary as much as the festival."
     "Oh, I see." Frayg stood up. He shook both their hands and thanked Mr. Carter for the smoke. "Well, enjoy your celebration. I hope you don't mind if I return with more questions. I doubt that I will, but just in case?"
     "Oh, please do, Captain Frayg. We really do hope you find out who's responsible."

     After the Carter's door was closed behind him, Frayg went down the hall to room twenty. It was unlocked, so he went inside. This room, too, matched the  others for the most part. He went to the large windows, opened them, and stepped out onto the balcony. The balconies on this side of the inn overlooked the back alley and a smokehouse, as well as small terraces behind dwelling places. The nearby Cathedral Square was mostly blocked by the inn itself, but the third floor was high enough to see where the High Street looped around from the northeast corner of the Square. The River Ayrst could also be seen with the masts of the taller ships sticking up to show where the docks were on the other side of the High Street Bridge. 
     Frayg looked to his right. Yes, it would be easy for someone to climb from here to the balcony outside nineteen. He stepped over the railing and did just that. The windows to room nineteen still stood open. He examined the railings before he suddenly had another thought. He climbed back to room twenty's balcony and examined the railings. Then he climbed to room twenty-one's balcony and found what he was looking for. The wood on one of the railings was damaged here. Someone probably threw a climbing hook up here from the alleyway, and then climbed across. That means they wanted room nineteen specifically. Did they know who was there? Were they after a specific target, or would just any occupied room have done? Or did the girl use a hook and rope to make her escape? If she'd acted alone, then she would have had to have stashed the gear here ahead of time.
     Frayg went through room twenty-one and back into the inn. He headed downstairs and through the back kitchen door. The alleyway was dry – there hadn't been any rain for days. There were footprints, hoof prints, and wagon tracks everywhere. There's no way I'll be able to sort anything out of that mess, thought Frayg. Looking up at the balconies he could see that a strong enough man could probably throw a small hook high enough to reach them. He couldn't rule out either possibility, then. He sighed in frustration.
     He was about to go back inside, when he spotted something. There ... by the drainpipe. What is that? There, on one of the nails in one of the brackets holding the drainpipe in place were a few green fibers. He grabbed one of the crates and pushed it against the wall. Standing on that, he could just reach: there! He pulled the fibers down and examined them. Silk fibers, by the look of them. He went back inside.
     "Whatever are you doing back there?" Ena stood before him, hands on her hips. "Jaik said you ran past him and through here without a word, and when I didn't see you ..."
     "Where's Tania?" He cut her off.
     "She's out serving tables."
     "Good. I think I found something."
     He went into the common room, Ena in his wake. He spotted Tania serving mugs of ale to what looked to be a table of teamsters. As soon as she was finished, Ena motioned for her to come to the bar.
     "Hello again, Tania."
     "Captain Ham, sir."
     "The girl that went upstairs with the boy we were discussing earlier. You said she was wearing a very nice green corset?"
     "Yes. It was very pretty."
     "Do you think you'd remember the color, if you saw it again?"
     "I think so, yes."
     Frayg held the torn fibers before her. "Was it this color?"
     "Yes. That, or very close to it."
     "Thank you, Tania."
     Jaik and Ena looked at the fibers in Frayg's hands and then at each other.
     Ena swallowed, a sick look growing over her face. "Did you find the ... the girl?"
     "No," replied Frayg. "But, I think this proves she left through the window. I just don't know for sure whether she went on her own, or whether someone carried her down. It looks like someone used a hook and rope on the balcony outside room twenty-one, and then climbed over to nineteen. Either that, or she simply used that method of egress."
     "Well, if someone used a hook to climb out, wouldn't it still be there?"
     "If it were an ordinary hook, yes. But some ingenious burglars have created devices, using springs and such, that will unhook themselves." 
     Jaik and Ena looked at him in surprise.
     "I've seen a few of them down at the Watch House. They're not as strong as regular hooks, but they'll do the job ... and the woman in question was described as being small. I expect that means she climbed out on her own. Which means it's looking like she may have committed the crime herself. The only question is why? A simple robbery I could understand, but what would this young woman want with ... the other things?"