Thigpen left Frazzer’s bookshop after having a couple of drinks to celebrate what he considered to be a break in the case. The dark elf with the odd mop of hair had also offered to share lunch with the constable, but Thigpen declined so that he could get back to his precinct and fill his captain in on what he had learned.
The half-orc was in a very good mood, and hadn’t walked very far when he was able to flag down a public cab. The cabbie wasn’t as enthusiastic about taking him all the way to the 42nd Precinct, but at least he knew where it was and didn’t refuse altogether. He seemed to go by the fastest route possible in order to get back to a more comfortable part of the city. When he got out at his own precinct tower, Thigpen thanked him, and smiled, and while the cabbie returned a smile, it could not be described as genuine or heartfelt.
Thigpen found the captain in a sour mood, but he did grin ever so slightly when the constable came in. He motioned for Thigpen to close the door. Thigpen sat down without being asked.
“Did you find anything out?” asked Captain Ordrander as he settled back into his chair.
Thigpen knew he was smiling, but decided to just go with it. “You bet I did, sir. According to the spider authority, we are most likely dealing with a shape-shifting monster that feeds on the bodies of men it seduces.”
The captain’s jaw dropped ever so slightly. He just stared at Thigpen.
“I know that the humanoid form of this monster will appear as an enticing red-haired woman, but other than that I am not sure who we are looking for, or where to begin the search.” Continued Thigpen. “Frazzer, that’s the dark elf by the way, suggested that she may have dumped the body far from her lair. I don’t know if that is true or not, so I thought I would start searching here in this precinct for any red-haired women that the beat patrol can’t vouch for as having been solid members of the community.”
Ordrander just sat staring at Thigpen in disbelief.
“It is too soon to alert every precinct probably, but maybe we can dig up a little more and see if it adds up.” Thigpen said. That was all he had to say. He waited for the captain to speak.
Several moments passed, and then the captain said “Alright. So you think that there is a vixen out there seducing men, and then killing them, to feast on their corpses?”
Thigpen nodded his head.
The captain looked out the window, apparently lost in thought. He drummed his fingers on the desk. “Ok.” He finally said. “Proceed carefully. I’ll have all patrols on every shift keep an eye out. We’ll also send out a warning to the other precincts with our suspicions and ask if they have had any similar trouble.” He turned his attention back to Thigpen. “You be wary in your inquiries. Be discreet. And stay alert, if this monster has allies we might not get a chance to corner it.”
Thigpen stood up. “Understood. I am going to go have lunch, and then begin a thorough walk through of my beat. I’ll report back tomorrow if I find anything.”
The captain stood up, and returned Thigpen’s salute. Thigpen realized this was an unusual act as he left the office, and headed out to find something to eat. The captain had never seemed to care all that much what his constables were up to, or that they were in almost constant danger. It gave Thigpen something to mull over as he headed to The Thirsty Goblyn.
As he ate a fine meal of cold cuts and potatoes, washed down with soft cider, he also thought about what the captain had said about the Red Widow having allies. It reminded him of something Queller had sought to impress upon Thigpen the very first day they patrolled together. “Virtue stands alone, but evil travels in packs.” Thigpen had taken that insight to heart, and it had stuck with him. He had yet to encounter a single criminal that acted completely and utterly without the aid or encouragement of another person or group. The petty cutpurse worked for a small gang of thieves. The burglar fenced stolen goods to an organized criminal cartel. A murderer was likely hired by another evil doer, or perhaps to avenge somebody else’s death. Few and far between was the culprit merely a monster, acting solely for its own ends, with no ties to anyone else of ill repute. This simple fact was to a layman a daunting realization, for everything to be a part of some wicked machination or conspiracy. But to law enforcement, it was quite the opposite. Having everyone somehow linked to somebody else made finding, catching, and prosecuting criminals so much easier than if they weren’t so intimately interlocked. The constables just had to figure out who was the weakest link in the chain, and with the proper pressure they could gobble up their prey and in the process, nail down a few lesser villains as a bonus.
It was this bit of solace that Thigpen tucked away in his mind. He would proceed on the belief that this monster could have allies, that he didn’t have to find a redhead, he just had to find somebody who knew of such a woman. A woman that lived alone, didn’t mind the company of spiders, and was viewed as an object of desire to the men around her. There was one place on his beat that might be the most obvious place to find such a woman. The bordello in the undercity. She wouldn’t exactly be living alone, but then she could have a lair nearby to the bordello. And if she was found there, she could certainly be said to have allies. The house of ill repute was run by the Torkezahn family. They were the main players in shady shenanigans in this part of Slothenburg. Perhaps they knew of the Red Widow. Or maybe they employed her, not for her beauty, but for her lethality. Thigpen pondered this possibility as he finished his meal.
The moment he stepped out of the tavern, Thigpen realized just how many redheaded women there were in the 42nd Precinct. He could see two from here, and a third just down the street. He stood for a moment. He knew all three of these women, and none of them could be considered to be seductresses, at least not in the poetic sense. Thigpen started walking down the street, watching the people. He was going to start in the undercity, but might as well do some observing up here too. There was no indication in the dark elven poem that the Red Widow lived or killed exclusively in the dark. She could be just about anywhere.
On his way to the location where the Fenderlahn’s body was fished out of the swamp, Thigpen counted fourteen more women that in hair color matched what he was seeking. But he knew all of them, not by name but by having seen them on his beat. The constable stood where he had first spotted the body and looked around carefully.
The tavern here was open now. It was called The Blue Frog and seemed a popular drinking spot for the denizens of this undercity neighborhood. Music was spilling out through the open doors, along with inebriated patrons. The warehouses that flanked the tavern were open for business too, with workmen pushing handcarts stacked with crates and barrels down the walkway, in to and out of the storage buildings.
Thigpen decided to start with the tavern. He stepped inside, and made sure he was smiling as he looked around. Not a superficial glance like he normally would have, but a thorough scan of everyone visible. A few people nodded and smiled at him, while others conspicuously avoided making eye contact. Nobody here with red hair. In fact nobody here was even human or demihuman. Plenty of goblinoids, lizardfolk, and one troll with a horrific singing voice.
The constable moved through the room, his hands clasped behind his back to appear as nonthreatening as he could. He still kept a tight grip on his truncheon, however. He moved over to the bar, and waited patiently for the bartender. He continued to watch the people in the room, and while there may have been illegal activity taking place, none of it pertained to the case at hand.
The bartender was a large lizardman, cheerful and obese. His tail dragged behind him as he waddled over to see what the constable wanted. “Allo, copper!” he said happily. “Would you like a drink, or a bit of food?”
Thigpen touched the visor of his kepi with the tip of his truncheon with a slight bow at the waist, the most common display of courtesy from a constable to the people he was sworn to protect and serve. Thigpen rarely employed it, and when he did it was to elicit a specific response. “Yes, bartender. I would like to purchase a bottle of whiskey, and if you have a moment, ask you a question or two.”
The lizardman’s response was exactly what Thigpen had wanted. “Any particular whiskey, sir? And what would you like to know?” He smiled broadly at Thigpen, quite impressed with the constable’s demeanor.
“Any whiskey will do, but not necessarily anything too extravagant.” He looked at the lizardman closely. “Have you noticed any strange, redheaded women recently?”
The lizardman threw his head back and laughed with a great, rowdy roar. “Oh my dear constable, every redheaded woman I have ever known has been strange!” He continued laughing, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Thigpen laughed too, not out of politeness but out of genuine amusement. “Oh, yes, well I suppose that could be true.” He chuckled some more. “But I meant a woman you haven’t seen around here before, perhaps in the last two weeks?”
The bartender set a bottle on the counter, a decent spirit not too expensive but not of overly high quality, either. “That’ll be two silver pieces, sir.”
Thigpen reached into his pocket and fished out some coins. He counted out two silver coins and set them on the bar. The bartender took the coins, and said “Thank you, sir. And to your other question, yes. There was a redheaded human here a couple of nights ago. Very fetching, too. I’d say she was in her mid-twenties. Never seen her before, sir. Sat right over there for a good hour or so, by herself.” The bartender took out a wet towel from under the bar and began to rub down the area in front of him. “Several fellows approached her, but she rebuffed all of them. Until that big kid, Lukas, the one that works next door at the Inklin Brothers warehouse, went over. They left together a few minutes afterwards. Haven’t seen her since.”
Thigpen nodded his head, struggling to keep a smile on his face. “Thank you, good sir, for the whiskey and the information. Have a very good day.” He bowed again, ever so slightly, and made his way out of the tavern.
Luckily his next stop was right next door at Inklin Brothers. He knew Lukas by sight, but had never spoken to him. Big, husky orc, not quite twenty years old. Clever kid, too, not just a brute. He was a laborer in this warehouse. He always waved to Thigpen whenever he went by late in his shift when the warehouse was opening. Thigpen stood in the open doorway, careful not to stand in the way of the workers. He watched them working for a few minutes and then, much to his relief, he spotted Lukas working inside. He was stacking boxes and chatting with a co-worker. Thigpen smiled to himself. Alright, if he had been with the Red Widow a couple of nights ago, he at least hadn’t fallen prey to her as a week-long meal.
The constable saw the foreman of the warehouse crew, and when the foreman looked over at him Thigpen waved to signal him over. The foreman sighed, and headed over to see what the constable wanted. “Can I help you, sir?” he asked gruffly.
“I just want to speak to Lukas, please. It won’t take long, I promise.” Said Thigpen. He smiled thinly to let the foreman know that while he didn’t wish to disrupt business, that outcome was not outside the realm of possibility.
The foreman read the smile exactly as intended. “Right. I’ll thank you to keep it quick.” He turned and walked quickly to where Lukas was working. He pointed over at Thigpen, and the young orc jogged over to the constable.
“Yes sir!” called out Lukas as he got close. “Do you need me?”
Thigpen motioned for him to come away from the doorway, out on the other side of the walkway across from the warehouse. Once they were safely out of earshot, Thigpen said to the young orc “Tell me about the redheaded woman you met in the tavern a couple nights ago.”
Lukas seemed a little uneasy, perhaps embarrassed. “Her name is Josephyne. She is new here. She has only been here a couple weeks, I think.” The orc looked down as he talked, as if he was ashamed of something.
“What happened?” asked Thigpen.
“Nothin. I went over to talk to her on a dare from some of the fellas. They said she had turned everyone else away and that I wouldn’t be able to get her home.” He looked at Thigpen sheepishly. “I just went over and said hi. She was real nice. But I didn’t know what to do.”
Thigpen began to catch on to what the young orc was saying. “What did she do?” he asked quietly, almost in a whisper.
“She just left.” Lukas replied. “We were over there, around the corner in one of the alleys.” He pointed down the walkway. “So I went home. That’s it.”
Thigpen nodded his head. “I see. Thank you, Lukas.” He clasped a hand on the orc’s shoulder. “You’re a fine fellow. Thank you for the information.”
Lukas jogged back to work, and Thigpen stood and watched the people around him. The young man had narrowly dodged being killed by a monster. Once all of this was over Thigpen intended to tell Lukas how his inexperience had saved his life. There was a measurable defense in virtue, after all.