For about ten minutes Thigpen watched the people on the walkway. Standing there with a bottle of whiskey in his left hand and a truncheon in his right, he must have seemed a curious image of a constable to the people passing by. Just as he was about to resume his search for the mysterious woman named Josephyne, he heard somebody calling his name. He turned to see who it was, and spotted Queller waving at him.
“Thigpen!” called out the older human. “Hold on a minute. I need to speak to you.”
Thigpen waited for his former mentor to reach him, and then handed him the bottle of whiskey.
“What is this for?” asked Queller, visibly surprised by the gesture.
“A thank-you for taking Fenderlahn to an undertaker.” replied Thigpen with a grin. “I appreciate all you have done in this case. Now, what did you want to see me about?”
Queller looked at the bottle, his train of thought momentarily thrown off track. “Ah, Captain Ordrander passed out a memorandum on what we are looking for. A red-headed female, very attractive, and new to the area. Possibly a loner, but might be in the company of unknown allies.” Queller looked at Thigpen. “I’ve seen such a girl. I don’t know much about her, but I saw her fleetingly while on patrol earlier today. By the way, the captain has me walking your patrol while you are working on this case.” The older man smiled. “So we might have found our killer right here on your beat.”
Thigpen couldn’t hide his excitement. “Where did you see her?” he asked, and then before Queller could answer he hastily added another inquiry. “Was it near the bordello?”
Queller again looked shocked. “Actually it was. She was a block or so away at a cloth shop.” He looked quizzically at his former student. “How did you know that?”
Thigpen looked away, but didn’t answer. “Her name is Josephyne. I need to find out for sure if she might be there. We have to be very certain, Queller.” He turned his gaze back to Queller and something in his stare made the older constable feel unsettled. “We know virtually nothing about this creature. How she lives, where she sleeps, who she might associate with.” He paused, and then said quietly “We are going to need more help.”
Queller knew this was serious. “What are we to do then? We need to wait until tomorrow to get together a decent attack squad.”
Thigpen nodded. “I am going to go visit the house with the red lanterns, then. Just to see what I can see. We can’t afford to tip anyone off as to our plans.” He continued to stare at Queller. “Until we can get a group of constables together, we can’t afford our quarry catching wind of our ambitions.”
Queller nodded in silent agreement. “I’m going to report back, then.” He said. “I am off duty soon, and will ask around for any volunteers among our shift at the precinct should we decide to make a move.”
“Very good.” Said Thigpen. “I’ll come back to the precinct tower as soon as I have a look around.”
With that, Thigpen went one way down the walkway and Queller walked quickly the other direction. Both men could feel the adrenaline rush that arrived whenever they could feel their prey within reach. They had a name, they had a place to search, and they had to get a plan together.
Thigpen kept his eyes wide open as he walked briskly down the walkway, then turned on to a larger street towards the bordello. He did his best to not look as though he was ogling the women he encountered, but heaven only knew what the females that were out and about today must have been thinking. He got to the corner where the “red lantern” house was at, and took a few moments to gauge the situation.
The bordello had a sign over the front door that simply read Roufeener Hotel. It had a wide wooden staircase to the main floor, roughly half a flight up. The lower floor was constructed mostly of wood, but was settled on an extremely sturdy stone foundation. This part of the city must be on top of a rock and not just swamp, mused Thigpen. The hall was quite large, consisting of the main floor and a second floor. The roof, of course, was formed by the upper city’s wooden walkways. This structure actually did extend right into the upper city. On the top side it was a general marketplace with two stories of apartments above.
The building didn’t stand right up against any neighboring structures, but had an alley down one side and around the back. There was buttressing at the top to support the upper city, giving the hall a somewhat tree-like appearance from the ground, but the surrounding buildings were not connected to it with a common wall. Thigpen took a walk around the bordello and made a note of all doors from the building. There was the front door, there was a back door, and two side doors in the alley off of the main street in front.
The windows were all brightly lit with light streaming out from inside. Along the outward facing walls the windows were almost all open, and here the women that worked inside would lean out and attempt to lure in new customers. It was still early in the day for this place to be busy, so not much was going on, at least not that Thigpen could see or hear.
On the opposite corner was a tavern, a dark and miserable place infested with an assortment of unsavory characters. It was called The Broken Harlequin, and was owned and operated by an albino human with a lisp. His name was Gregory Skot, and he had always been on good terms with the constabulary. There were a few albinos that lived in the apartments over the tavern and this had become the de facto hang-out and unofficial headquarters of this pale band of pigmentally challenged folks. Unfortunately, many of them had been forced into lives not altogether within the confines of legality, due to their appearance. Some of the more primitive elements of society still viewed albinos as cursed, or worse. And so they sought shelter in the perpetual darkness of Slothenburg’s undercity, working whatever jobs they could get, legitimate or otherwise, to support themselves and their families.
Thigpen had never shied away from Gregory and his patrons. As a half-orc he knew all too well what it was like to be viewed with suspicion and fear. Even here in Slothjemia there was a kind of stigma attached to being a half-breed goblinoid. He knew from stories that in other lands he would have been killed as an infant. Thigpen took nothing for granted, and gave Gregory and the other albinos all the respect that they deserved as fellow Slothjemians. He in turn had never asked for anything in return, except a smile or friendly wave. Today he was going to ask a good deal more.
The door to the tavern was a corner door, very stylish for the setting. Walking inside, Thigpen was immediately hit with a low-hanging cloud of smoke from all of the pipes being employed by the people inside. The windows were open, but there was no circulation to drive the smoke out. Instead it just sat in the room, obscuring the ceiling and making everyone develop a lingering cough. Thigpen removed his kepi to signal to everyone that he wasn’t on duty. It wasn’t immediately obvious that anyone noticed, or cared. Gregory was behind the bar, and catching Thigpen’s eye, he waved and smiled.
Thigpen walked up to the bar, and set his kepi on the counter. Sitting on one of the barstools, he said “Hello, Mr. Skot. How have you been doing today?”
“Oh, not too bad. Haven’t been open long. Same crowd as always.” He smiled at Thigpen, his yellow teeth a stark contrast to his ivory-white skin.
Thigpen nodded his head. “May I have a glass of whiskey, please?” he asked. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a few copper coins, and set them on the bar.
“Yes, you may!” said Gregory, turning around to get the bottle off one of the shelves behind him. “No charge, though. You’re a good fellow to have around.”
Thigpen shook his head. “Keep the coins as a tip, then.” He watched the albino fill the small glass with whiskey. “I did want to know, though, if you have noticed a particular newcomer in the neighborhood.”
Gregory set the bottle down, and gazed at Thigpen with a slight tilted-head gesture. “Who did you have in mind?” he asked quietly.
Thigpen took the glass of whiskey, and drank it down in one gulp. Setting the glass down on the bar he said “I believe her name is Josephyne. Red hair, and from what I am told, stunningly pretty.” He motioned with a quick tilt of his head towards the bordello. “She might have found work across the street.”
The albino’s face lit up. “Ah, yes! I didn’t know her name. She came in here about a week ago. Maybe longer.” His smile turned into a grin. “She is quite a looker, alright. Had a jor with her, strapping fellow, maybe around his mid-twenties.” He pointed over to a table near the door. “That’s as far in as they got. Had a couple of drinks and then left together.”
Thigpen could feel the hairs on his neck stand up. “Do you know the jor’s name?” he asked, keeping his voice calm, and somewhat hushed.
“No, no I don’t. Had never seen him before, that I know of. He didn’t seem to be from around here.” Gregory poured another whiskey for Thigpen and took the coins off the bar. “You know, kind of a country bumpkin look to him. Big guy, but not real smart. Probably his first time in the big city.” He corked the bottle and set it down on the bar. “It was obvious that the girl was the one that knew her way around life. She has an edge, constable. A sharpness about her.” He looked out the open window towards the bordello. “Cold. That’s how she comes across.”
“So she does work over at the hotel?” Thigpen asked.
“Aye, she does. Late in the day she arrives. Doesn’t hang around long. Afterwards she leaves. Being new, I reckon she doesn’t have claim to living there.”
Thigpen drank the second whiskey, and set the glass down, scooting it away from him. “Mind if I just hang out over there by the window? I’d like to see her for myself.”
“Help yourself, constable. Want anything to eat while you wait?” Gregory asked as he put the whiskey bottle back on the shelf.
“Sure, that sounds like a fine idea.” Replied Thigpen as he got up from the stool and made his way over to a table with an open window where he could see the whole front of the bordello. He settled in, placing his kepi on the table along with his truncheon so it was within easy reach. He unbuttoned the top three buttons of his tunic, and settled in for a good long wait. He wanted to see this woman arrive, and then he wanted to follow her to wherever her lair was. No matter how normal she appeared, this was not a person. This was a monster. The quicker Thigpen figured out where she lived, the better.
One of the albino barmaids brought him a plate of slaw and some roasted pork, along with some soft cider. Thigpen gave her some copper coins, and she thanked him in a barely audible whisper. As he ate, Thigpen kept his eyes on the hotel across the street. Over the front door was a big beam from which hung a large white lantern with red lenses. It indicated to anyone not familiar with this neighborhood that this was an establishment wherein the company of a woman could be had, for a price. This business wasn’t illegal in Slothjemia, but it was not without social stigma. Both the women inside and the men they entertained were viewed with a certain disdain by those who did not fancy such activities. Thigpen had himself never actually been inside. Not that he wasn’t curious, but it didn’t really interest him. He preferred to save his money for things he truly needed. And a constable should always be aware of his weaknesses, lest they be used against him to corrupt his sense of duty.
Thigpen sat there for about half an hour before he first saw a constable walking the patrol here. It was one of the two scheduled for the shift after Thigpen, a large orc named Dorndle. He was a gruff fellow, a man of few words who had a reputation for being rough around the edges. He lingered on the street corner in front of the tavern for a few minutes before Thigpen was able to get his attention. Dorndle walked over to see what this half-orc wanted. He did not go inside the tavern, though. He could talk to this guy just fine through the window.
Dorndle realized it was a fellow constable only after he had walked right up to the window. Only then could he see Thigpen’s badge. “Say, yer Thigpen, ain’t ya? What are ya doin down here on yer free time?” he growled. This was as cheerful as anyone had ever heard him.
“I’m staking out this corner, watching for a suspect in that murder.” Thigpen said in a hoarse whisper. “You know, the body we fished out from over by the warehouses.”
“Oh!” said Dorndle, his eyebrows moving up and a look of surprise on his face. “The red-headed woman? Say, there has been one around here from time to time!” He dropped his voice down to a whisper. “Do you need help, then?”
“Possibly.” Replied Thigpen. “When you swing by the precinct tower, let Queller know I am here, alright? Tell him I am watching for Josephyne.” He then quickly added “I am going to try and follow her to wherever she’s living. That might be the best place for us to try and trap her.”
Dorndle tapped the brim of his kepi with his truncheon. “You got it, Thigpen. I’ll head there now.” He smiled thinly and said “Good hunting!” With that the orc walked quickly off down the street towards the precinct tower.
Thigpen turned his attention back to watching for the red-headed woman. The red lantern over the front door of the hotel wasn’t good at casting light, but there were magical lights on the corner that illuminated the area pretty well. There were a quite a few people out this afternoon, but not many humans or demihumans. Virtually all of them were nonhumans, and they didn’t tend to have red hair. He watched, but nobody fitting the description of Josephyne happened by. About an hour or so after seeing Dorndle, Queller slipped into the tavern almost unseen, and slid into a chair opposite of Thigpen at the table. He too had been off duty for a few hours, so his tunic was unbuttoned and he tossed his kepi on the table.
Thigpen was somewhat surprised at how stealthily Queller had come in, but was glad to see him. “Dorndle give you my message?” he asked.
“Yes.” Replied Queller, who was now actively peering through the window as well. “I have an idea. I got a bunch of the first shift to volunteer for a posse, we’ll arm up and be ready for full combat. But to make sure we get the right monster, I figured out a way to keep ourselves safe.”
Thigpen didn’t take his eyes off of the view outside. “Safe from the Red Widow?” he asked.
“Yeah. You know how she transforms into a spider? We need some bait. I thought we’d use somebody more expendable than one of our own.” Queller said. His voice seemed heavy and conspiratorial. “I’ll go get a prisoner from the holding cells, somebody who doesn’t pose a risk of just bolting. Make him a deal, let him be the bait.”
Thigpen thought about this idea. Not bad. He liked not risking a constable’s life, and a petty criminal would more than likely not risk fleeing and making his own lot worse. “Did you have somebody in mind?” he asked Queller.
“Yep. The perfect specimen. Half-shadow elf, good looking fellow.” Queller said, his voice betraying a smile. “I arrested him a couple of weeks ago on suspicion of robbery.”
“Doesn’t he have a trial coming up, then?” Thigpen asked.
“If he does this for us, we’ll drop the charge. If he dies in the process, then that’s that.” Queller answered matter-of-factly.
“How quickly can you get him here?” asked Thigpen.
“He is at the Bogmire jail. I can go and bring him back here in less than three hours.” Queller said. “Do you want to do this tonight?”
Thigpen pondered this for a minute or so. “Yes.” He finally said. “She failed to get a meal a couple of nights ago, so she has to be getting hungry.” He glanced at Queller, then back at the street. “We have to get her before she gets somebody innocent.”
Queller took his kepi off the table. “Ok, I’m off to get him then, and I will tell the squad to stand by. It is short notice, but I think we’ll pull this off.” The older human slipped out of the tavern as quickly as he had come in, and Thigpen kept watch over the people passing by. He saw Dorndle again, and a little later he spotted the second constable for this beat, a goblin by the name of Gredge. The goblin nodded at Thigpen immediately, so Dorndle must have told him he was there watching.
This suited Thigpen just fine. He appreciated the fact that the precinct was working as a well-oiled machine. He focused his attention on finding the red-haired woman among the people on the street.
And less than two hours later, there she was.