And you should totally read that in the British way: ad-ver-tis-ment.
As Lok peruses the Rhydden Gazette, in his daily review for interesting tidbits, something in the advertisements catches his eye:
Businessman in need of discrete investigator.
Apply in person at the Red-Bearded Dwarf.
Lok takes some time the day after the advertisement runs to inquire in a number of his local haunts and with street contacts to learn what he can about the “Red Bearded Dwarf.” Lok ascertains these facts: It is located on Merchants Street, in a block of offices owned by the Scrivener’s Guild. The prior establishment in that building was the law office of one Barlowe Martyn, who fled the city when Merywyn fell. The office had remained unoccupied until 6 to 8 months ago, when the Red Bearded Dwarf opened. The proprietor is not, in fact, a red bearded dwarf, but an average looking, well-dressed Ryn named Mr. Davos. He has hired a local woman, Morna Morosini, as his assistant.
The rest, Lok can tell, is merely rumor and speculation: Mr. Davos is the agent of a red-bearded dwarf in Rhul, ensuring their trade routes stay open in the war. Mr. Davos is a Khadoran spy. Mr. Davos is a high-ranking agent of the Llaelese resistance. Mr. Davos is a wealthy playboy having an affair with Mrs. Morosini and his office is an elaborate cover. Mr. Davos runs a fencing operation to fund the Resistance. Mr. Davos is an agent for an armory in Cygnar selling weapons on the black market. Mr. Davos buys corpses for a slaughter house in Merywyn to fill the bellies of Khadoran militia. A thief named Sculler was found dead outside the Red Bearded Dwarf – his throat had been slit, or his head had been ripped off, or a wolf had disemboweled him, or nothing but his head had been found.
No one Lok speaks to, though, has actually had any business dealings with Mr. Davos, nor been inside his offices. In this time of war and intrigue, it seems the average cretin in Rhydden wants no part of a man who is rumored to be tied in with larger schemes.
Early the next morning, Lok heads out to Merchants Street near the Red Bearded Dwarf, and does his best to fit into the crowds: perusing the Gazette (Lok notices the advertisement has run again), shopping at nearby vendors, or just moving with flow of the crowd, generally working to remain inconspicuous.
The office of the Red Bearded Dwarf is on the first floor of a two-story building, with what Lok presumes to be 3 offices on each floor, based on the arrangements of the doors, windows, and signage. A fourth door on the bottom floor presumably leads to an interior staircase to the 2nd floor rooms. A covered wooden landing provides shelter to the lower doorways, and is reached by two steps up from the main street. The Dwarf occupies the bottom left office space. A wooden sign depicting a grinning dwarf with a full red beard hangs from chains above the office door. The middle office is announced by a purple quill and a tall inkwell. The office on the right has a sign made from wood that is obviously of higher quality of the other two, and has no images, merely the words “Gervaes and Wythsten.” All three office windows are barred by closed shutters. Three smaller boards are linked together in front of the stairway door: the topmost shows a stack of gold coins, the middle depicts an orange quill, and the bottom shows the words “Viscario and Sons.”
Lok has not been there long, when about 45 minutes after sunrise, a woman approaches the steps to the landing and proceeds to the door of the Dwarf. She is of average height, with short black hair and attractive features. Lok would place her in her mid-20s, which fits the description he received of Mrs. Morosini. She is dressed in the latest fashions for a middle class woman, which Lok knows is not easy or cheap these days. Large silver hoops adorn her ears, and she is carrying a small black leather pouch in her left hand. It is clearly new, as well. And yet it strikes Lok that the way she carries herself and the crop of her hair is what he would expect of a woman of the lower classes. Lok is certain that she has recently come into a decent amount of money, and given what he learned yesterday, he presumes the new-found wealth comes from her relationship – whatever it may be – with Mr. Davos.
The woman reaches into her pouch and retrieves a key, which she places in the lock. Lok then sees her push at a number of wooden blocks on the door handle, although he can’t quite make out the sequence from here, but her hand definitely pushed in four times. She enters and closes the door behind her. Moments later, the shutters open, and she pulls some sort of white gauzy drapery to cover the windows, permitting light to enter, but blocking a clear view of the interior from the street.
Lok is so caught up in watching Mrs. Morosini enter the building, that the fruit vendor grabs the peach from Lok’s hand and puts it back in his cart. “Are you here to buy my fruit or gawk at her’s?” he says with a grunt. Lok chastises himself for being so conspicuous and grins at the man. “What can I say, I like fresh peaches,” and tosses the man coins for two peaches, which Lok takes from the cart. The man laughs a little and gives Lok a wink, and goes back to pitching his wares. Lok thinks he’ll have to avoid this patch of street for the rest of the day.
The other offices open shortly thereafter, and a few men and women and a couple of boys come and go from them, but no one that piques Lok’s interest. However, no one else comes or goes from the Red Bearded Dwarf. Foot traffic increases heavily as people begin their daily business, and the occasional cart rumbles through the narrow streets, forcing people up into the markets and porches of nearby establishments. Lok catches a glimpse of a balding man who appears to pause and glance at the door of the Red Bearded Dwarf, but he moves on and continues wandering down through the markets.
About mid-day, a man in his mid-40s approaches the door of the Red Bearded Dwarf and knocks firmly on the door. He is dressed worn tailored plate and a long black cloak and dull black boots, and carries a large satchel on his back and a copy of the Rhydden Gazette gripped in his left hand. A sword hangs from his right hip, a golden pistol from his left hip, and matching pistol is tucked under his right arm. A nasty looking trench knife is strapped to his right leg. But his dyed-blue hair gives it away first… Lok has crossed paths with Birk Kurgan before, but he didn’t know the obnoxious old bounty hunter and self-styled “detective” was in Rhydden. Lok has no respect for Kurgan’s investigative skills; he relies on brute force and bribes to find his prey. Kurgan knocks once more, then opens the door. He disappears inside for about 5 minutes, then re-emerges onto the porch. He says something to someone inside which Lok can’t make out over the hustle and bustle of the street, then he closes the door and puts his hands on his hips, gazing out over the street. Lok would say Kurgan looks disgruntled, but then, Kurgan always looks that way. He blows out a large sigh, tucks the Gazette into his satchel, and heads off west down Merchants Street.
As mid-day turns into late afternoon, Lok is beginning to wonder if anyone comes to the Red Bearded Dwarf. Aside from Kurgan, no one has come or gone from the office since Mrs. Morosini arrived. Lok makes a quick circuit of the alleys around the building, but see no other exits. At the rear of the building, a thick wooden door provides access to the crawl space in the foundation, but Lok is certain from the ground and the condition of the lock that the door is used infrequently and has not been used anytime since the last rain, which was over a week ago. There are windows on the back of the building, but the ones on the rear of the Red Bearded Dwarf are still shuttered, and, as the rear of the building is actually one story higher than from the front due to the steep ground here, Lok does not see how anyone could climb to the windows unaided, and he sees no sign of any ladders or grappling marks. Lok begins to think he will need to investigate the 2nd floor offices to see if there is some interior means of access.
As Lok returns to the front of the building from the rear alley, he sees a boy of about 13 years holding a scroll and standing at the foot of the porch. Lok is certain he saw the boy at the magistrate’s office yesterday – he is not the boy the clerk waved over, but Lok remembers him from the filing drawers. The boy has stopped mid-step and is gazing at the door to the Red Bearded Dwarf. He frowns, and then turns around and heads back down the street in the direction that would take him towards the magistrate’s office. Following his gaze, Lok sees something he hadn’t noticed before. A small statue of a dwarf, about a foot tall, is standing near the door to the office. It appears to be a stone sculpture, painted in blues and greens, with bronze skin, and a bright red beard. But Lok can only see the beard from this vantage point because the dwarf is facing the wall – with its back to the street.
Lok casually makes his way over to the general store across the street, and stands in the window, ostensibly perusing some of the latest glass vials and bottles. Suddenly, the scene comes alive. Lok sees a sergeant he knows to be with the resistance ride by in a wagon. The sergeant slows to glance at the dwarf by the door, and then lashes the horses onwards. Then a prostitute who Lok believes to be a courier for the Niclaeys crime family feigns interest in a man departing the Purple Quill, but to Lok’s trained eye she is clearly checking on the dwarf statue, and she continues trolling after men down the street after she sees it is turned backwards. Lok purchases a bottle, then moves about over the next two hours, and his suspicions are confirmed. A Trollkin carrying a sack stained with dried blood pushes through the crowd, grunts as he spies the dwarf, and pushes off down the street. Two men from the town watch stop on the porch and eye the statue, then have a brief argument before continuing their patrol. A young girl pushes a hoop down the street with a stick with great skill, but “accidentally” loses control of it and has to stop near the porch to retrieve her hoop, stealing a glance at the statue, before continuing her game.
As the bells ring from the church announcing evening prayer, Mrs. Morosini pulls the curtains back to close and lock the shutters. No one aside from Kurgan has actually entered the office, but Lok wonders how many visitors he missed before he saw the dwarf. Moments later, she closes the front door and locks it with her key. She looks exactly as she did when she arrived, and carries her leather pouch close to her body in the departing crowds. She heads east towards the river districts, instead of towards the middle class quarters.
The peach man chuckles at Lok, and the detective grimaces as he realizes the vendor has rolled his cart up behind him, and Lok is blocking the peach man’s path out into the cart traffic in the street. “You must have real hankering for peaches,” he grins a creepy grin and gives Lok a knowing wink. “Too bad I’m all sold out!” Lok quickly moves down the street, as his laughter chases the detective through the crowd.
The Red Bearded Dwarf
Lok approaches the Red Bearded Dwarf the next morning, about 3 hours after sunrise. No one seems to recognize him, and the fruit seller is happily selling his peaches in a stall further down the street today. It appears a bread vendor got to yesterday’s spot first.
The windows are open and draped as yesterday, and the dwarf statue still faces away from the street. As Lok gets closer, he can clearly see that it rotates on a heavy stone base, and that there are several indentations which Lok presumes must be pushed in properly to allow the statue to turn. He approaches the door and notes that the lock assembly appears to be relatively new due to the lack of scratches and wear, and was likely installed when Mr. Davos became the new tenant. Eight wooden pegs stick out of an iron plate on the door. There are no numbers or symbols on them, but Lok can see that the four middle pegs have received more use than the outer four. However, he cannot decipher the sequence in which they have been pushed.
Lok knocks on the door, and Mrs. Morosini beckons from within. “Come in!” Lok enters and closes the door behind him.
The office is sparsely decorated, although what furnishings there are in the office are of fine quality. Mrs. Morosini sits behind a desk of light wood, which blocks access to a large double office door behind her. A small scrivener’s cubby recesses into the wall to her left, and seems neatly kept. The area between her desk and the front door is filled with four exceedingly large chairs, each apparently stuffed with extra padding and covered in a fine silk. They look most comfortable, and are arranged around a handwoven floor rug of deep purple. A map of the Iron Kindgoms hangs from the wall to Lok’s left. It is textured to show the geography in bumps and ridges, and is one of the most fascinating representations of Immoren Lok has ever seen. What really strikes Lok is that the colors marking the borders of the kingdoms appear to be very up-to-date. Lok notes a small service cart sits to Mrs. Morosini’s right, containing crystal goblets and a number of fine vintage wines and liquors. All but 2 bottles have some amount of liquid missing from them. Lok does not see any other entrances or exits, but he does note that the double office door behind Mrs. Morosini has two key locks and sixteen bronze pegs protruding from a plate on its face. Lok can deduce from the dimensions of the building and the area in which he stands that the back office takes up at most one-quarter of the available space.
Lok steps forward and introduces himself as John Locke, a consulting detective, responding to the ad in the Gazette.
Mrs. Morosini has just set down a cross stitch she has been working on, which Lok sees will be of a woman doing a cross stitch. She is chewing on a branch of a phytora tree, which Lok knows is a mild stimulant. She continues to chew on it as she says “Oh, excellent. You’re only the second inquiry we’ve had. I told Mr. Davos we should just ask my brother, Jonni, but he said that we had t’ run the advertisement.” Her voice is pleasant, aside from the smacking on the tree branch, and she smiles at Lok with much charm. But he can tell from her accent and the state of her teeth that she is definitely from the river districts, and not the middle class quarters her clothing and jewelry might aspire to.
Then she just chews on her tree branch and seems to wait for Lok to say something. Smack. Smack.
“So… may I inquire with Mr. Davos?” Lok asks, not quite sure what she is waiting on.
She looks surprised and then says “Oh, I’m sorry,” she says waving her hand in the air. “See, I keep forgettin’,” smack smack, “I’ll tell you what I told Jonni and that other fella. You be here on the second of the month, and Mr. Davos will be receiving the inquiries.” Smack. Lok does the math in his head and notes that the 2nd of the month is just 3 days away. “And one hour after sunrise. Mr. Davos is a very busy man, and he don’t like to be kept waiting.” Smack smack. “You ain’t here, I’m sure he’ll give the work to Jonni.” Lok wonders why she just doesn’t tell him the wrong day or time so that her brother gets the work, but his conversation with Mrs. Morosini so far makes him think that might be a level of critical thinking that’s beyond her.
“Why do you think your brother Jonni would be good for the job?” Lok asks.
“Well aside from the fact that Jonni is my li’l brother and needs the work to feed his babies,” smack , “although I guess I shouldn’t call them babies no more, seein’ as how Tyryo is nearly 6,” she winks at Lok and grins. “But aside from that, he’s quite good at puzzles.” Smack. “I always said that Jonni is the best puzzle-doer I know, and he once found our missing cat in just two days.” Smack smack. “You lose a cat in our end of town, it don’t often come back, you know what I mean?” She points her tree branch at Lok and pauses for him to agree.
Then she proceeds, “Honestly, between you and me…” she stops chewing, lowers her voice, and leans forward as if to share something privately with Lok, although she and Lok are the only two people in room, “I think Mr. Davos just don’t want to put my baby brother at risk.” She glances around and says in a hushed voice, “I’m sure this job is dangerous.” Then she sits back up and returns to chewing her branch. Smack. She looks Lok up and down. “You don’t look as tough as that other fella with the blue hair.” She shrugs. “But then, what do I know? That’s for Mr. Davos to decide.” Smack, smack.
“I happen to know the blue haired lout you mentioned. Only one person with blue hair in this town that would respond to an ad soliciting an investigator, Birk Kurgan. But believe you me, he is no more an investigator than Dog, the Trollkin Bounty Hunter. I see you like the Phytora branch. I dabble a little in that as well. How would you like to try one of my special homebrewed pick me ups.” Lok offers her a vial of simple stimulant.
She takes your offered vial and pops off the lid, giving it a sniff. She smiles at Lok and quaffs it down. “Now that’s good stuff,” she says with a giggle, and shivers in the chair.
Lok continues, “Now then, don’t you think Mr. Davos would be mighty impressed with your initiative and wit, if you were to weed out the chaff like Birk Kurgan and go ahead and introduce me to him. As you said your brother is too valuable to risk on such a dangerous mission and certainly you don’t want to see him come to harm. Birk is sure to botch things up. So really it is only logical that you should introduce me to him at the earliest convenience. When it comes to solving puzzles and investigations, the longer one waits the colder the trail grows. Best if we expedite things don’t you think?”
“Oh, no. I could never go against Mr. Davos’ instructions,” she says with a look of horror crossing her face. The she recomposes herself, and waves a hand at Lok. “Besides which, sweetie, I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to. I have no idea where he is. He calls that ’need to know,” and I don’t need to know that." She smiles at Lok and winks. “I just know that he’ll be here on the 2nd, and you can come an hour after sunrise or not.” She has, at least, mercifully stopped chewing in the tree branch. She appears to have a good buzz going from your stimulant.
She digs into her pouch for something. “I think you’re right, though. I’ll go ahead and tell Jonni not to come. Now that I seen the likes who’ve shown up, I can tell this is a job he ain’t got no business doin’.” She pulls out a silk tissue and wipes her eyes. “Now that was some good stuff. Got any more of those?” She looks at Lok hopefully. “I can pay?”
Lok hands her another vial and says, “On the house.” Then he turns to leave.
“Thank you so much,” she offers as Lok walks out. “If I see Mr. Davos earlier, I’ll tell him you stopped by and were very impressive!”