Raulin looked over the notes they had taken, impressed by Anla’s attention to detail. “Just because everyone was cleared by the police doesn’t mean I’ll clear them,” he said. “Someone is doing this and, thus far, they’ve been lucky to have snuck by the notice of everyone. We’ll go over everyone, then we’ll go over them again, and again, if necessary.
“Of course, if either of you have any guesses to make it easier, I’m very interested. I’ll even hear those theories of yours, Wizard.”
Anla spoke first. “This seems like an obsessive, passionate crime. Someone is going to great lengths to keep Amirelsa in his fist through intimidation. Why would you do that to someone you didn’t know? I think they do know her, and it’s someone the family trusts. Someone who is protective and suspicious himself. My bet is on the shipping clerk.”
“But he’s been cleared,” Al said.
“Yes, but as Raulin said, he hasn’t been cleared by Raulin. If he’s smart enough, he’ll have fake alibis for every single instance he left dead squirrels and beheaded dolls in her room. He’s cozy with the family, but beneath them. He knows he can’t have her, so he frightens her from leaving her home so he can see her more. Besides, his tone suggested he was hiding something.”
Raulin was both pleased and relieved to see the excited spark back in her speech. She was either distracted from the events of last night or past the awkwardness he had caused. “Interesting theory. I’ll take the shipping clerk into high consideration then. Wizard?”
Al pursed his lips. “I keep thinking of ‘Daddy Long-Legs’.”
“What? The spider?”
“It’s a game we played as children. I’ll show you. Put your hands out, palm up, and close your eyes.”
“I’m not sure what this has to do with your theories.”
“Just humor me, please.”
Al placed his fingers on Raulin’s palms. “Daddy long-legs, dancing, dancing. Daddy long-legs, walking, walking,” he whispered, moving his fingers across his palm, pressing some a little harder. “Daddy long-legs, eight feet, eight feet. Daddy long-legs, crawling, crawling.”
“What is this supposed to do?”
“Shh,” Al said and continued to chant. Finally, Raulin did what Al had expected, which was jerk his hand away and itch a knuckle.
“Was there some sort of lesson I missed?”
“You were so busy concentrating on my fingers that you forgot about my thumbs. I used those, too, so that you thought there was a real spider on your hand.”
“I thought my hand was itchy.”
“Well, like I said, it was a kids’ game. At that age you get more scared at things like that. Most of the girls would shriek.”
“A fun exercise into your past, but what does that have to do with our situation?”
“I think there’s someone who has access to the house that shouldn’t, but gets a pass for some reason. He wasn’t put on a list, which is why he was never challenged. I’m thinking some sort of fill-in, maybe someone who gardens occasionally, or fixes damaged appliances, or helps with shipping. Someone they call when they’re busy or someone’s sick.”
“That’s very plausible. What made you think of that?”
“You, actually. I was remembering that time that I had to deliver wine in Monsard to save you from the cellar. If someone investigated who took that bottle of wine, they would come up empty-handed in the guild you pretended to be from.”
“That is solid thinking. Tomorrow I’m going to look into the shipping clerk. Today, at least, we can look into the businesses associated with the Brautivards. Let’s start with the shipping company.”
* * *
Gerark and Sons was a thirty-year-old shipping company, modest in size, that dealt as the middle-man between the ships that came into New Wextif and the buyers. Their volume was steady and, judging by the repairs and state of the clothes of the workers, they were doing well.
The owner, a corpulent man with tied back, thinning ginger hair, frowned at the introduction of Al and Anla. “We’ve already been investigated several times by people. No one here’s guilty. Makes a man second-guess his work relationship with people, if you know what I mean.” He gave a weak smile. “I’m joking at that.”
“Very good, sir,” Al said. “All the same, we do need to take a peek at your workers. The sooner this is solved, the sooner you won’t be bothered by anyone else.”
“This is true. I was joking about the partnership thing, I hope you know that. I actually do feel very sorry for Lady Amirelsa. Please let her know that.”
“We’ll let her know,” Anla said. “Could we have a tour of your building?”
“Sure. We’re getting ready for the next week, so I’ll ask that you stay out the way of my guys.”
The warehouse had a few men who were moving and stacking crates. Some of the men were taking two large crates at once and Al belatedly realized that some of these men must be wizards. He made a note of that, pleased that he might be able to bring his knowledge to the table.
“Do you have a list of your employees?” Anla asked.
The man gave an exasperated sigh. “I already gave the list to the police, the Cumber, and several investigators. There are only six men who deliver to the Brautivard’s estate and I was pleased to find, again and again, that they were all upstanding men. Well, except Erauli, but it was a dumb thing he did when he was just a kid and he’s paid his dues.”
Al jotted that information down. “And who else works here?”
“Me, my two boys, Vint, the clerk, and the supervisor, Crellan.”
“Any of them here today?”
“Just my son, Watick. Why, you want to talk to him?”
“For a few minutes.”
Gerark lifted his fingers to his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. A boy looked up from across the room, set down the crate he was lifting, and walked over to where his father and the two quartet members were. Anla had already suspected him of being underage before his father introduced him as a “junior partner”.
He couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred and fifty pounds, despite his occupation. Pimples dotted his face, one framed by dark hair that must be from his mother. “Yes, Pa?” he asked.
“These people want to ask you a few questions.”
“This about the lady again?”
His father gave a serene nod. “Answer their questions.”
“Do you know Lady Amirelsa?” Al asked.
“Never met her.”
“So, you don’t deliver?”
“No, sir. I only started working here officially a few months ago.”
“And you’ve never assisted someone delivering?”
He looked at his father quickly. “Just my pa. Only a few times, and that was to get a sense of the business.”
Al was about to ask another question when Anla touched his arm briefly. He met her eyes and she shook her head slightly. “Okay, thank you, Watick.”
“Satisfied?” his father asked after the boy had left to return to his job.
“Where are the other three workers?”
“My other son is in Amandorlam. He showed talent as a wizard, so I’m sending him there to learn the hard side and return to run the business.” Al frowned at this but said nothing. “Crellan works Monday through Friday and days we have major shipments coming in. Vint works those same days. They both have the day off.”
“Would either of them work if you had someone sick or injured?”
“Crellan, maybe. His back bothers him, so I gave him the supervisor position. He’s great at getting the guys moving and ordering the place. He’ll help out if he’s having a good day. Vint, no. Definitely not. He’s too sick himself.”
“So, Crellan might have gone to the Brautivards if you were short on men.”
“Hmm,” said Al, looking pleased.
“But, I put him on the list, too, just in case. He was cleared.”
Anla picked up on Al’s disappointment, but had an idea to remedy that. “Why wouldn’t Vint help out? Surely there’s been days when your list of men was too low and you needed to pull everyone in.”
Gerark at least considered this for a few moments. “Yes, of course. And maybe two years ago we used Vint, but not since the doctors told him he has sweet-blood. He’s too weak. His fingers and toes are starting to get numb, which makes him a liability. He keeps the books right, so I ignore the occasional days when he comes in late.”
“Sweet-blood?” Al asked. Judging by the look on his face, Anla had just lost the bet.
“Yeah. I know he’s doing everything he can to stay healthy, but a business owner can’t pay a shipping clerk a fortune.”
“No, that’s understandable,” he said. “Do you mind if I check your records for something?”
Al sighed. “It’s important. Again, if we can solve this, you’ll never be bothered by someone like us again.”
They followed Gerark into his office and Al pulled out one of the pages supplied by the Brautivards, a list of the days in which malicious letters and gifts were left. After scanning the owner’s books and the list, Al asked, “Is Crossel here today?”
“He is. He was cleared, too. In fact, he was vouched for by Tevens, the Brautivard’s own clerk.”
“I’m not concerned about Crossel. I just need to ask him a few questions.”
When Gerark left them alone, Anla whispered, “What do you have, Al?”
“Crossel was there every day the letters and gifts were left. He was cleared, I know, but what if Vint went with him and nobody but Crossel knew that?”
“A stowaway.” She saw that Gerark and another man were headed across the floor. “Press him, Al. Come on hard. Don’t let him say he doesn’t know anything. Throw everything you have at him. This is just like the muddy shoes at the trial.”
The door opened and the two men entered. “This is Crossel. He’s one of our wizards. Ask your questions.”
“Do I have to answer them?” he asked his boss. “I’ve got work to get back to.”
“Just do it. I want them out of my sight. If you can make that happen, I’ll let you go home early today.”
Al pretended to look at his lists. Crossel grew impatient. “What do you want?”
He was about to speak up again, when Al looked him straight in the eye. “What does Vint have on you?”
“What? Nothing. There’s nothing he knows.” While his jaw was jutting, his eyes darted around a little too much.
“No. This is too suspicious. You know of the Brautivards, yes?” When Crossel nodded, Al continued. “Some sick man is leaving the poor daughter terrifying letters and dead animals on her bed. He’s gaining access to their house, violating their trust, and frightening an innocent woman.”
“It wasn’t me! I always stay with Tevens, I unload, and I get back here. I’ve never even been inside their house. Ask him. Ask Tevens.”
“But what about Vint?” Al asked and Crossel’s neck straightened. “He’s going with you. It’s awfully coincidental that every time one of these crimes has been committed, you’ve been there. And since you have a strong alibi, it’s got to be someone else, someone who’s not on any list. Someone who wants to go. Maybe someone who filled in two years ago, caught the sight of a beautiful young woman, and was immediately smitten. Someone who has dirt on you, Crossel, and has been blackmailing you. He doesn’t tell whomever it is that’s involved and you don’t tell anyone, the police, the Cumber, the private investigators, that he came with you.”
Crossel clenched his jaw and said nothing. “Tell him,” his boss said, “or you’re fired.”
When he said nothing still, Al said, “Here’s what I think, Gerark. I think Crossel’s been stealing from you. Not that much; one or two expensive items from a box of a hundred. Crossel either has a spoiled mistress or he’s making a little extra cash on the side. Vint caught him when the numbers didn’t add up, and he promised to say nothing so long as Crossel paid him a little, which was later changed to silence for silence. And he kept his word when everyone came knocking.”
Gerark looked from Al to Crossel and back again, settling on his employee. “Answer him. Last chance.”
“I only did it a few times. I haven’t done it for a year. And it was gambling debts I needed to pay off.”
“So, you admit that Vint went with you?”
“Yes,” he said, looking at the floor.
“And he went inside the Brautivards?”
“I don’t know. I did my job and ignored what he was doing.”
“And you lied to the police?”
“It was my job…”
“I should fire you,” Gerark said, his face flush with anger. “I should pummel your face into the concrete. Instead, I’m going to take it out of your hide. How much was it? How much did you steal?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know. A hundred gold, maybe.”
“Then you owe me two hundred gold. I can dock it from your pay or you can work extra days. If you walk, I turn you into the police. Got it?”
Crossel said nothing, but returned to the floor. “I should have fired him,” the boss said.
“We’re glad you didn’t. We need you to say nothing to Vint. Assign Crossel to the Brautivards the first chance you can and notify us.”
“Tuesday,” he said, after he sat behind his desk and looked at his schedule. “I’ll move people around and make sure Vint hears about it.” He sighed. “And I’ll start looking for a new clerk.”