Just before dawn, Thigpen awoke. He was briefly disoriented, and completely tangled in his blankets. After getting himself free, he sat up and with his eyes still closed contemplated his day. He had a lot to do and would be all over the city trying to get it done.
Thigpen put on a fresh uniform, made a quick sandwich out of some cheese, dried meat, and a bit of bread that hadn’t had a chance to go moldy, and then headed out to the precinct tower. He ate while he walked, holding the sandwich with his left hand and his truncheon in his right. There was a strong leather strap on the handle of the mace to allow it to be slung on a constable’s wrist. Thigpen always kept the strap secured around his wrist, because he knew as well as anyone how foolish it would be for a constable to be caught unarmed.
He got to the precinct tower, and went straight to the shift captain’s office. He found Ordrander just getting settled in for the day. The old hobgoblin motioned for Thigpen to sit down, and said “What have you found out so far?”
“The hag identified the body for us. She offered more, but the price is pretty steep. I think I can find the information we want without incurring the extra cost.” Thigpen told him. “Queller took the body to an undertaker, I will send a letter up to Middleswamp to inquire about next of kin.”
“How do we know he hailed from Middleswamp?” asked the captain, his eyebrow raised.
Thigpen cleared his throat. “Styxia told me. She offered the information free of charge.”
The captain sat back in his chair. “Hags never give up anything for free, constable. You be careful with this. I’ve seen traps less cunningly baited.”
Thigpen nodded his head. “I am going to see the dark elf book dealer now. After that, depending on what I learn, I’ll come back and begin a more serious examination of the undercity neighborhood.”
“Very good. Just let me know of any progress.” Ordrander leaned forward with his forearms on his desk. “Lieutenant Gartran and his sergeant didn’t turn up much from interviewing the folks around where the body was found, but his gut instinct is that the body hadn’t been moved far from where it was killed.” He laughed a little. “But then the folks in that neighborhood are shady to begin with, aren’t they?”
Thigpen smiled, and stood to leave. He saluted, and went out into the squad room to write a letter of notification to the authorities in Middleswamp that one of their native sons had turned up dead in the undercity of Slothenburg. He asked the constabulary there to inform Fenderlahn’s next of kin, and to send instructions back to Slothenburg’s 42nd Precinct on how to proceed with returning the body.
He gave the letter to the desk sergeant, and then headed out to find that dark elf. It was a long trip again this morning, but at least it was to a different part of Slothenburg. Instead of heading in towards the center of town where the hag lived, the bookshop was on the eastern side of town close to where the city joined with the solid ground of the cliffs that kept the great coreland swamp contained. A great road made its way in a switchback fashion up these cliffs to the heavily fortified capitol of Slothjemia, the city of Jordrakenschloss. There tended to be more refined commercial interests on that side of Slothenburg. Anything that appealed to more educated people, and people with money, was more readily available on the east side.
He wasn’t going to walk, however. Thigpen was going to use the power of his badge to get free transportation. He rarely had the chance to use this useful aspect of his job. Public carriages were required to offer free transit to the constabulary within their jurisdiction and while they are on duty. Thigpen would take full advantage of this since he wasn’t transporting a corpse. Cabbies were willing to haul law enforcement, but carrying dead bodies was asking for too much.
Thigpen didn’t have to wait long before he saw a public carriage. He held his truncheon out and gave a sharp, short blast on his whistle. The cabbie reined in the horse, and Thigpen patted the horse’s head as he approached. “Will you take me to the Taelborn district?”
The driver tipped his cap and cheerfully called back “Yes, sir! Happy to, sir!”
Thigpen climbed into the small two-wheeled cart and off they went towards the east side of town. This was by far a better way of getting around the city. And getting around Slothenburg could be a very time-consuming activity. There were more than half a million people of all types of race and ethnicity living in the two-layered metropolis. The city continued to slowly expand too, every few years it would push further and further towards the cliffs on the western side of the swamp. Someday no doubt it would reach it, and then it could only go north and south into the great swamp. Nothing seemed to keep the expansion from ceasing.
The ride was over in less than a fifth of the time it would have taken to walk the distance. The cab driver let Thigpen off right in front of the 66th Precinct tower. Thigpen smiled and waved, yelling a cheerful “Thank-you!” for good measure. The cabbie simply tipped his cap and grinned back, and then was off to find a paying customer.
This was a more imposing fortification than what housed the 42nd Precinct. This one was set into solid rock down below the boardwalk, and was probably three times bigger. This part of Slothenburg had more money to spend, though, and more influence in insuring a safe and quiet neighborhood. Thigpen got his bearings, and headed out for the short walk to the book shop.
It wasn’t a long walk at all, and there was no mistaking that he found the right one. It had been awhile since he had been here, but the place looked the same. The lower floor of the building was dedicated to the shop, while three floors above it were apartments, and maybe offices. The building was a lavender color, with deep purple trim. It looked freshly painted, but then it always had. Some sort of purple flowers were growing in the window boxes all up the front of the building, and the ironworking in the corners was done to resemble spider webs. A very nice effect, Thigpen thought. He had high hopes for finding out what kind of spider he was looking for back at the 42nd.
Thigpen walked into the shop, a small silver bell above the door announcing his arrival. There were no customers visible, but a dark elf with a mop of unruly greyish tan hair sat on a high stool behind the rather awkwardly high counter. Flanked on all sides were bookcases, mostly empty but neatly arranged. On the end of the counter were a pile of papers and some binding material. The proprietor didn’t just sell books, he also made them. Thigpen tucked that bit of trivia away in his brain.
The constable approached the dark elf with a non-threatening smile. “Can I help you, constable?” asked the dark elf. He was wearing spectacles, but they were resting on his forehead. The light in here was adequate for reading, but was magical in nature, probably some sort of dark elf magick.
Thigpen cleared his throat, and said “Yes, I hope so. I am looking for some information on large, arachnid-type monsters.” He knew the wording would have to be carefully chosen. Dark elves loved spiders, and those that lived in the vast underdark domain below the earth’s surface even worshipped a spider goddess.
The dark elf set down his pen, and stared quizzically at Thigpen. “Arachnid-type monsters?” he asked. “Do you mean giant spiders, sir?”
“No, no, not exactly. At least I don’t think so.” Thigpen stood trying to plot his next words, adjusting his kepi nervously. “You see, I am not at all certain that what I am looking for is even a spider at all.” He looked at the dark elf. “I’m sorry, what is your name, good sir?”
“Frazzer.” Answered the dark elf. “Frazzer Bel’Tharn.” He lowered his glasses to better see the half-orc constable. “I’m not sure I follow your inquiry, constable.”
Thigpen smiled awkwardly. “My name is Thigpen, Mr. Bel’Tharn. I work out of the 42nd Precinct over near the south-center of town. You see, we’ve had a body turn up. And preliminary tests indicate it might be some sort of huge arachnid. But there is a troubling detail that suggests maybe it isn’t just a spider.” He looked at the dark elf, and did his best to emote a slightly fearful countenance. “I need to speak to an expert on such creatures, somebody who knows more about things with eight legs than I do. I was told you were such a man.”
For a few awkward moments Bel’Tharn just sat and stared at Thigpen. His mouth opened a few times but no sound came out. To the constable it seemed the dark elf was also trying to choose his words carefully. Finally he did speak, but his voice was low and subdued. “Are you here because of my brother?” he asked, a hint of hostility in his tone.
“No, sir. Not at all. At least, not directly.” Thigpen let his truncheon hang on the strap around his wrist. He had no desire to appear even remotely threatening. “I don’t believe a drider is behind this misadventure. No, this is something altogether new to me. That is why I need your help. If I could persuade you to indulge me, I will tell you why I am vexed.”
This was too much for the dark elf to resist. He needed to know what Thigpen had to say every bit as much as the constable needed answers. Not only had this odd half-orc piqued Frazzer’s interest, but he had done so with such skill that the dark elf was prepared to indulge Thigpen and entertain any request he made.
The dark elf slid down off of his stool and quickly moved by Thigpen to bolt the door shut. On his way back, he lightly touched the constable’s arm and said “We can chat more comfortably in the back office, Thigpen. Follow me.”
Thigpen did exactly that, and Frazzer led him into a very ornately fitted sitting room. It was more delightfully baroque than Dr. Igrandir’s home. Thigpen did his best to stay focused on the matter at hand and not be distracted by the artwork and furnishings in this visually appealing place.
Frazzer sat down in one of two matching overstuffed chairs on either side of the fireplace. He motioned for Thigpen to sit, and the constable sat in the other chair. Both men scooched their chairs so that they could face each other.
“I have a selection of fine liquors, did you want something to drink?” Asked Frazzer.
Thigpen shook his head. “Perhaps later, if you don’t mind.” He could see that the dark elf was intrigued and didn’t want to lose his interest.
Frazzer smiled. “Then tell me about this spider mystery.”
Thigpen proceeded to tell the dark elf everything he dared to about the dead body. He never said the jor’s name, or gave away any details about where exactly the body had been found, but instead directed his inquiries at what this mysterious spider could possibly have been. The book seller sat listening, utterly absorbed by the details of the corpse’s condition. He nodded in agreement at the doctor’s conclusion, and was especially drawn to the marks on the back of the body indicating an embrace by the attacker. When he learned that there had been hairs embedded in the victims’ back, he leaned forward excitedly.
“What color were the spider hairs?” he asked, trying to keep calm but having little success.
Thigpen paused, trying to remember. “Red, I believe. Or auburn. Something along those lines.” He looked at Frazzer. “Is that important?” Of course Thigpen knew it was a vital clue simply by the dark elf’s reaction.
“I should say so!” exclaimed Frazzer. “There aren’t many perpetrators to this that would leave that kind of a mark, and the hair color seals it.” The excitement in the dark elf’s eye not only told Thigpen that he had come to the right place for information, but that this book seller was more interested in arachnids than anyone Thigpen had ever known. That was itself unsettling.
Frazzer continued, doing his best to not overwhelm the constable with the frenzied passion that Frazzer so obviously had for this subject matter. “You have a very rare killer, Thigpen. Very rare. There has never been a Red Widow in Slothjemia before. Not that was ever discovered, at any rate.”
“Red Widow?” asked Thigpen. He was confused, but glad to know that Frazzer seemed to know what he was talking about.
“Yes!” declared Frazzer. He leapt from his chair and went to a bookcase on the opposite wall. “This is the only written reference to such a creature. I’m afraid it is in the form of drow elven poetry, however. Hardly a definitive source.” He sat back in his chair. “But it may be that this is what you are up against.”
The dark elf adjusted his glasses and thumbed through the book quickly, almost frantically. “Here. This poem is called ‘The Red Damsel of Doom’ and goes into vivid detail about a creature that can assume the form of a beautiful red-haired woman. But in reality it is a huge spider, crimson red all over except for a black hourglass shape on its’ abdomen. This would account for the red spider hairs. It uses its’ feminine humanoid form to seduce men into a lover’s embrace, which accounts for the markings on the victim’s back. Once it has a hold on its prey, the creature transforms into spider form and bites the victim, killing it. It will string up the body and drink the liquefied organs and blood for the next week, at which point it will discard of the hollow husk as far away from where the Red Widow operates as possible to not arouse suspicion.” Frazzer closed the book, and tapped it with his fingers. “It’s all right here, constable. It may seem far-fetched, but I believe you have stumbled upon a Red Widow.”
Thigpen sat back in his chair. It was a lot to take in. “So am I looking for a red-headed woman, or a giant red spider?”
“Both, but probably more likely the woman.” Answered Frazzer. “I don’t know which form is considered normal for her. The poem doesn’t say.”
“Does the poem say how to catch or destroy her?” asked Thigpen.
“No. It is a poem, not really anything useful.” Frazzer smiled. “But then again, this may have been the most useful poem you’ve ever run across, eh?”
They both laughed. Frazzer was right. This might turn Thigpen into a fan of literature.