It's a curious thing about knots. Each of them is different. For some, the knot loosens. For others . . . it tightens.
Bray left the sergeant behind, striding away before Garth could offer a reply, and headed off to the station. It was too much of a coincidence that the Drowned Man was this close to a body of a man smelling of drink. He had had suspicions in the past when strangers in town had been robbed having at some point visited the inn. None had been killed before, however, and the oddest thing was the location of the body. Why would a well-dressed, possibly rich, visitor drink in the Drowned Man and then go for a night-time stroll in an area where there were only warehouses or closed businesses? If it was a meeting with a woman he doubted that he’d find any of interest up there; unless homely housewives was an interest. Quite clearly the shutters on the Drowned Man needed to be rattled and Garth was the man he required for that particular venture. As he walked he realised that he was no longer plagued by the headache of earlier; it was often said that keeping busy was a cure for most ailments, although some priests might disagree.
Crime was hardly rife in the Harbour and most of it was relatively petty, albeit ugly in nature; theft, fights, which were normally related to drink, and occasional outbreaks of smuggling. But, Bray had a feeling that there was something more to this particular crime. He felt like he’d just opened the door on a cupboard full of secrets. This might well be just what he needed.
With the body collected by wagon and stored away until such time as appropriate disposal could be determined and the half-dozen constables informed of the night’s events, Bray and Garth left the station house and walked with grim determination towards the docks and the Drowned Man.
Both men had their badges on display and clubs tied to their belts, although Garth’s club could more rightly be described as a trunk such was its girth. Bray retained his sword belt as befitted his position as Chief Constable and keeper of the Baron’s peace. Before leaving the station Bray had tasked Potts with a visit to both the town gates and the Harbour Master in an effort to find out when and how the victim had entered the Harbour and from where he hailed.
It was a little after lunchtime when the pair entered the drinking room of the Drowned Man. The large room was mostly empty except for the hardened early Freeday drinkers and Bray approached the counter swiftly while Garth moved more circumspectly, casting an impassive glare around the room, lingering for a second at each occupied table.
The bar keeper looked uncomfortable as Bray approached which was exactly what he had hoped for. The man summoned up enough courage to speak as Bray reached him.
“Chief Constable what……….”
“Tell Venn we need to speak, either here or out back, I’m not fussed,” Bray interrupted, by which time Garth had caught up with him. “And I do mean now not later.”
The bar keeper hesitated, knowing that the inn’s owner was unlikely to want this meeting but, having considered the expression on the constable’s faces, decided that he would comply.
Bray turned as the bar tender went through a door to the rear of the room and surveyed the room. He nodded at a couple of faces he recognised most of whom nodded back and then looked down, captivated by some mystical patterns on the wooden tables they had previously not noticed.
There was a disturbance from the back-room, raised voices and then heavy footfalls. The bar keeper returned and started retrieving cups from empty tables, giving the counter a wide berth as another man emerged from the rear door and swaggered nonchalantly over towards where Bray and Garth waited. Bray made a point of resting his right hand upon the club at his side.
Venn was a crook and it was as simple as that in Bray’s eyes. He ran this inn respectably enough and it catered to the needs of its customers well enough; the drinks were cheap but not over-watered, the food was palatable and came in decent portions and the girls were, as far as Bray had been told, clean and content with their lot. The inn gave Bray very few problems which rankled a little given his dislike of Venn. What happened outside of the inn Bray could not prove, but maybe this time there was something for him to hang his cloak on.
Venn was a native Harbour man, which gave him certain benefits over Bray despite the fact that Bray had been in the Harbour for over a decade. Venn knew he had better connections and some loyalty from the regulars, locals and those that made their living on the lake and spent their money in the Drowned Man. He was a short man, a foot less than Garth, but he had a wiry frame that revealed a definite strength. In Bray’s experience short men always had something to prove, which often made them obnoxious and, while he tried to retain an open mind, Venn was not the one to disabuse him of that notion. His appearance was plain but his clothes were of good quality and he was well groomed with short brown hair and a trimmed moustache. His most remarkable features were his eyes which were a shade of light green that sparkled when in soft lighting. This lent him a mischievous quality that Bray knew women found intriguing but, for him, those eyes were cunning and ruthless, always scheming and looking for an angle.
“Chief Constable Braydon Flynt,” Venn pre-empted Bray. “What brings you to my humble establishment this fine Freeday? May I get you a meal, a flagon of wine or perhaps some company?” Venn nodded slightly to Garth by way of recognition. Bray wondered briefly whether Venn had stressed his offer of wine over the other options but quickly dismissed the possibility; how could this man know anything about Bray’s personal matters?
“Thank you for your offer. I do need your help, Venn, but on other matters. Might we chat elsewhere to save disturbing your customers?” Bray replied.
Venn peered around the two constables theatrically, frowning and scanning the locals as they studied anything but the scene unfolding at the bar.
“Why, my regulars seem less than ruffled by us Chief Constable, let us speak here instead. Unless, of course, you have secrets to divulge that are not for the ears of the humble folk of the Harbour, you being a man of the city and above us all in worldly experience.” Venn had a friendly grin on his face that failed to reach his eyes. Ten years in the Harbour, Bray thought, but he decided not to rise to the bait. He wasn’t surprised that Venn wanted to talk out in the open. Anything that was said would have to be above board and any rough stuff would be witnessed by the regulars, all of which, in Bray’s opinion, merely confirmed the corrupt nature of the man as Bray had no intention of using force to get a result; the clubs at his and Garth’s belt might speak to different intentions, however. Bray smiled and made an expression which accepted Venn’s arguments.
“I am trying to find a man who may be staying in town or, in this very inn,” Bray began amiably. “He is a fairly large man, colourfully attired and not a local. Would you know him?”
“This is a very large and, in case you hadn’t noticed Chief Constable, a very busy inn. We have many large men come here from a variety of far flung places some of them clad in the most garish of fashions.” Venn’s face was a mask of amused smugness and Bray briefly considered hefting his club.
“The man I’m looking for is very noticeable, Venn,” Bray continued. “Not to worry, though. I have another plan that should prove effective at locating the man. My men know that they’ll be unlikely to see much of their loved ones while this man goes undetected so it’s in their interests to locate him quickly. I would suspect that they’ll be spending a lot of time walking up and down the docks outside this establishment in the hope they will catch sight of the fellow boarding a vessel of some kind. Who knows what else they might bear witness to on dockside, Venn. Still, I’m sure you’ll be comforted by the knowledge that my constables are a mere shout away from here in the event of trouble.”
Venn’s face took on a harder edge and he flicked his eyes from Bray to Garth. He leaned across the counter and spoke in a hushed tone.
“It’s possible that a man not dissimilar to the one you are looking for may have hired a room from me yesterday morning. Do you think this will serve me well to have it known publicly that I will simply reveal that a man has been here? I have a business to consider, Constable.”
“All the more reason to get this matter over with quickly then, Venn,” Bray said under his breath in reply, “so that your reputation remains intact amongst your customers. And, remember this, Venn; it’s Chief Constable. Where is the man now?” Bray asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Venn replied with a nonchalant shrug. “He hasn’t appeared as yet today. He was having a good time last night, though. We should discuss this in the back room.”
“That was an option then. It isn’t now. Was he alone?” Bray pressed. Garth moved slightly at Bray’s shoulder and Venn looked at him with a resentful expression on his face. Bray could not determine what had taken place but it was likely that Garth had adopted a more threatening stance in order to bring the seriousness of the situation home to Venn. The inn owner turned his face back to Bray; his eyes had taken on a dangerous glare, like a cat preparing to strike, only there was no-one for him to strike. He was cornered and this made him dangerous. Bray had known that, sooner or later, this confrontation with the inn owner was inevitable and the dead man seemed to be the cause that tipped the balance in favour of this being the time and place.
“He had drinks with a man for a while.” Venn’s face betrayed an uncertainty about something and Bray decided to press harder.
“Did you recognise the man?”
“No,” Venn replied. “They talked for a while and the man left. He wasn’t a local, maybe a sailor. A little while later the big man left as well. He must have come back later but I wasn’t here. Tundy may have seen him come back, ask him.” Venn indicated the bar tender with a sideways nod of the head. All of the bluster seemed to have left Venn and he now seemed resolved to answering Bray’s questions as simply as possible.
“I’m not that interested about when he came back, Venn,” Bray said. “I would like a look in the room though. How many days had he paid for?”
“Five nights,” Venn answered. Bray was expecting a fight over access to the man’s room but there was none. Had Bray crushed the man’s resistance? Or had he hardened it beneath a veneer of cooperation?
Bray decided to hold back on telling Venn that the man would not be coming back and he seemed genuinely unaware of the man’s demise.
“He gave you a name?”
Venn‘s face broke into a smile that bordered on a sneer.
“Paid a silver a night more for no name given,” he answered. “Roza! Come here, girl,” Venn shouted across the taproom. Bray turned and saw a small, red-haired girl with pale skin and a dimpled face crossing the room towards them. She looked directly at Bray and smiled sweetly, her glance at Garth lessened the friendliness somewhat. Bray was surprised that the girl was not a little more circumspect given the badges that he and Garth bore so visibly, but he surmised that maybe she was fairly new and considered them to be allies of her master.
Venn leaned across and whispered something in the girl’s ear and she disappeared to the inn’s back room.
“She’s young,” Bray said.
“Pretty too,” Venn countered. “She’ll take you upstairs to the fat man’s room. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t spread the word that I’d allow a guests’ privacy to be broken.”
“Oh, we’ll be sure to be discreet, Venn,” Bray responded as the girl returned. She moved to the staircase leading to the inn’s upper floors, giving Bray another smile as she passed; she really was a pretty girl he thought sadly. Bray gave a nod to Venn and was answered with a sickly, forced smile of appreciation. Bray and Garth then followed the girl; as they crossed the taproom several of the locals looked at the constables and grinned lasciviously while the majority kept their eyes fixed on drinks, the table in front of them or the goings on outside the windows.
Roza led the two constables to the top floor of the inn where Venn had his most expensive and luxurious rooms. There were four fairly sturdy doors that opened off the third floor corridor and Roza inserted a large key into the lock of the one furthest from the stairs and pushed it open. Bray rested his hand on his club, wary of who might be in the room; it briefly crossed his mind as to why the girl hadn’t knocked first and warned the occupier that they were there. Did this mean she was sure there was nobody in the room? Or, was she just following the instructions given to her by Venn?
“How old are you, girl?” Bray asked. The girl looked puzzled by the question.
“Fourteen or fifteen,” she answered hesitantly. Bray shook his head and was about to enter the room before posing the girl another question.
“Did you see the man who rented this room last night?”
Roza looked at Garth briefly and then back to Bray.
“Yes. He was a fat man and he was getting very drunk. He was drinking with another man for a while but he left. I went upstairs and the fat man was still downstairs.” Roza paused, as if recalling something odd.
“What is it, Roza? We really need to know about the man,” Bray put on his best sympathetic voice and wondered he’d have been better off bringing Potts rather than Garth who just glowered at the girl menacingly. “Well, the man was very drunk it seemed but I don’t recall bringing him a lot of drinks,” Roza replied.
“What was he drinking?”
“Ale, I think.”
Bray pondered this and wondered if it was at all relevant.
“Roza,” Bray continued. “If we have any more questions about last night, or if you remember something, would you tell us?”
“Venn might punish me if I talk to you.” Roza looked slightly afraid but Bray was a decent judge of character and this girl came across as having some spirit; she may well be prepared to go against Venn if it seemed right. It would be extremely useful to have an insider at the Drowned Man, something that Bray had failed to achieve in his years as Chief Constable.
People tended to be afraid of Venn and this gave him a measure of protection from any investigations.
“You can come to the Watchstation, Roza. Venn need know nothing.” Bray wondered whether she would be noticed by someone, a customer of Venn’s maybe, if she did come to the station. “But, for now, go back to your job and if we need you I’ll get a message to you somehow. Okay?”
Roza nodded and returned down the corridor leaving the big key in the lock.
The room was fairly large for an inn; it had a decent bed with mattress, a large chest, desk, armchair and a small glazed window with a view over the lake. The bed was made, albeit clumsily and there was little sign of occupation and, more importantly for Bray, no personal belongings were visible. Garth opened the chest at Bray’s signal, but this too was empty.
There was no way that a man as fond of such clothing as the dead man wore would travel without personal possessions and a change of clothes or two, of that Bray was certain. So where were his possessions? Bray crossed to the window and opened it, noting first that it was not secured from the inside and was already slightly open. It was a small window, split in two so it opened outwards and, when the two sections were thrown wide Bray considered that a man might gain entry this way. Was the man’s room robbed as well? Looking down onto the sloping roof outside the window Bray concluded that any climb would be perilous but not impossible. Something caught his eye as he was about to close the windows; a small object glinted in the sunlight a yard or so below the window on the tiles of the roof.
“Garth, hold my legs, there’s something I need to reach.” The big man came across as Bray half climbed out of the window stretching to reach the object. Garth held Bray’s legs in an iron grip as hung outside the window. Bray realised that if Garth let go it was likely that he would fall out of the window, roll across the sloping roof and land on the dockside outside the inn. He briefly looked for any protuberances that he could grasp at should this happen and then dismissed the thought as his legs were held in an even tighter grip.
The object was a silver ring that was wedged in the gap where two tiles met and one had cracked slightly. He pulled the ring free and then asked Garth to pull him back which the Sergeant did rather more vigorously then Bray had hoped for. He banged his head on the top of the window as he re-entered the room and could not hold back an expletive.
“Sorry, Chief,” Garth growled.
When he had recovered from the rather unceremonious return to the room, Bray held the ring up in front of his face and Garth loomed in close to have a look. It was definitely silver, well crafted and had a small oval on its top bearing a symbol. It was also rather large and slipped off Bray’s fingers when he tried to put it on. It was, without doubt, sized for a rather large man. If it belonged to the dead man why was he not wearing it? And how did it end up wedged on a rooftop?
“Have you seen that symbol before, Garth?” Bray asked. The symbol was delicately worked and depicted six coins overlaying a city or castle gatehouse. It seemed familiar to him but he couldn’t put his finger on exactly where he’d seen it before. He handed the ring to Garth who studied the design intently and turned the ring over a few times as if looking for further, hidden inscriptions. The Sergeant, shaking his head, handed the ring back to Bray.
“Don’t recognise it, Chief,” he drawled.
“Okay, let’s ask Venn a few more questions and then get back to the station and see if this fits our man,” Bray indicated the ring before pocketing it. The constables left the room, closing but not locking the door, and headed to the stairs. Venn awaited them at the top of the stairs.
“Finished, Constables?” he asked. During their absence it seemed that Venn had recovered his former composure. Bray ignored the tone and brushed past the inn owner without a word. He got a dozen steps down before stopping and turning to look back up at Venn.
“Presumably our friend had some personal belongings, Venn.”
The inn owner responded with a cautious nod, seemingly unsure as the where the question was leading.
“Who cleaned the room out, then?”
Venn looked briefly taken aback. So, thought Bray, you’re really not happy that someone is out and about committing crime that you don’t know about are you, my friend.
“Maybe the man took his stuff with him last night,” Venn speculated with pretend insouciance.
“That’ll be it,” Bray replied with a chuckle and continued to descend the stairs. “We might need to talk again,” Bray added as he reached the floor below.
“I’ll be here,” Venn shouted down the stairs.
Bray and Garth crossed the taproom floor and headed for the door to dockside. All the remaining customers, a few seemed to have departed and Bray allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction at this, kept their heads down and Bray spared a subtle nod for Roza who was restocking a wicker basket full of wood near the main fireplace. The two constables then walked out on to the docks. Bray stopped outside the doors and looked across the small harbour. There were two vessels berthed near the inn and Bray wondered whether it would be worth investigating the ships to see which one the mystery man had arrived on yesterday. Assuming, of course, that Venn had been right or truthful about where the man had come from; also assuming that the man had told Venn the truth. What was he doing in the warehouses? And, drunk? That didn’t make any sense. He decided that the first thing was to reveal the origins of the symbol on the ring and whether it fitted the body. That might give them something. Bray’s attention was held by the tangle of ropes and the intricate knots securing them aboard the ship. Too much like life, he thought, turning to Garth.
“Do you have any thoughts, Sergeant?”
“It’s a mystery for sure, Chief.”
Bray sighed at the Sergeant’s response and thought that next time he would take Potts when investigation was the order of the day and save Garth for necessary violence. Bray headed off, Garth at his heels, for the station. They turned the corner by the inn and Bray collided with a small man who was moving quickly around the corner from the other direction. Bray staggered slightly backwards but the unfortunate other man, a young boy Bray now realised, had been knocked to the floor and lay on his back. The contents of a large basket were scattered about the street.
“Boy, you need to look where you’re going!” Garth bellowed at the prone lad and advanced towards him.
“Whoah!” Bray said, placing an arm in front of Garth. “No harm is done, Sergeant.” He looked at Garth and was surprised at how angry the man’s face was.
“At least not to me,” Bray added, looking at the prostrate lad. The boy was around twelve or thirteen Bray reckoned, with straggly brown hair and clean but inexpensive clothes. Bray extended a hand to the boy who was staring at Garth with fear in his eyes. The lad accepted Bray’s hand and climbed to his feet. Bray dusted him down and helped him to put the scattered vegetables he had been carrying back into the basket.
“Give them a wash and your mother won’t notice,” Bray said to the boy with a wink.
“They’re for my master, sir,” the boy replied.
“Oh, sorry lad, your master then,” Bray replied, embarrassed by his assumption. “Who is your master?
“Turne the smith,” the boy answered. Bray could see that he was beginning to recover his confidence although he kept glancing across at the formidable Garth, still worried that a beating may be on the cards. Bray had noticed today that Garth received an inordinate amount of wary glances and he wondered whether that was entirely due to the man’s size or something else entirely.
“I hear your master is a decent man,” Bray returned to the lad. “Get those vegetables back to him and if he notices something wrong with them tell him that Chief Constable Braydon knocked you over and he can seek restitution at the watchstation. And, slow down a little in future, okay?” The boy nodded slowly.
Bray patted the boy’s shoulder and saw him wander off up the hill towards the warehouses and the craft’s quarter beyond. Bray shook his head in wonder and put it down to the fall, but that had not been the direction the boy had been travelling in before the bump. He considered telling the boy but thought better of it, bringing him back towards Garth would probably not be wise. Bray turned then to his Sergeant.
“Was it totally necessary to scare the daylights out of the lad, Sergeant?” He asked.
Garth glared back fiercely but then his expression became a little softer. “Sorry, Chief. The day’s events you know?” The Sergeant seemed genuinely sorry for his outburst and Bray patted him on the arm as a gesture of solidarity before continuing on towards the station
“The day isn’t over yet,” Bray said, over his shoulder. Garth followed, with a brief pause to watch the boy climbing Warehouse Street.
Ryel walked slowly up the hill, the very street he had been walking last night. He had planned to go back along the docks and up one of the stepped alleys, a longer and harder climb but the man last night had been clear about the alley and Ryel did not know if he could resist the urge to look if he passed it by. But the clash with the constables had totally thrown him. It wasn’t too late, though. He could still go back down the hill and along the docks. But he didn’t want to risk running into that big constable again, although the other one seemed friendly enough. It wasn’t just the size of the other man or even that he had shouted at him. It was the fact that he recognised the voice. But he couldn’t quite place it. He stopped and looked back down the hill where the two constables had just begun to continue on their journey. The big one looked up the hill towards where Ryel stared back at them. The big man paused for a moment, staring at Ryel, and then continued out of sight. Who was he? Where had he heard the voice before?
Ryel continued up the hill and he passed the alley where he had hidden last night. The other alley on the right lurked ominously in his vision and so he set his head straight ahead and down, staring at the cobbles as they passed underfoot. He was now level with the alley. The pressure to look was immense but he resisted and quickened his pace, past the alley and the dark memories it held. He stopped dead a half hundred paces or so beyond the alley as realisation about the familiarity of the voice hit him. Roza. It had something to do with Roza.
"You’ll need more than that to get to know her, feller.”
That was what the man had said when he asked about Roza’s name; the tall man coming out of the inn last night.