The squad that showed up in the emergency response team cut their way through the spider silk carpet that was draped over everything in the townhouse. There was a thick blanket of the stuff, on chairs, the tables, hanging from the lighting fixtures, and in every room. It looked like an explosion in a silk factory.
Up in the bedroom Thigpen and the other constables found Queller’s body, lying in bed, and of course covered in silk. A superficial inspection revealed that in addition to the wound on his hand from the battle last night, he had another puncture wound in his shoulder that was newer. It resembled the mark that had been left on Fenderlahn, but in this instance the Red Widow was not intending to feed on her prey. She just murdered Queller and left him here. Thigpen instructed the constables to take Queller to Dr. Igrandir, while he went about looking for any evidence he could find to explain this new crime scene.
One of the constables was dispatched to the precinct tower to summon the on-duty investigators, and to raise the alarm that a constable had been murdered. The off-duty slaying of a detective sergeant was going to shake things up enormously, and it raised the stakes as to what law enforcement would be willing to do to catch the killer. This had gone from a shoestring budget affair to a full-blown no-expense-spared-budget-be-damned investigation. The killer had to have known that before Queller was killed, this would be the end result. There must have been a reason then, a terribly compelling reason, to have upped the ante so quickly.
Cleaning out the cobwebs was time consuming and messy. It was also enlightening. In the bedroom alone, Thigpen found disturbing evidence. The bedframe was an elaborate, hand carved oak piece that must have cost a fortune. The chairs and the armoire, as well, were of exquisite design and masterfully executed. Thigpen had cleared most of the room when this dawned on him. These were new pieces of furniture, not even five years old. A detective sergeant could not afford this on his salary alone.
Other rooms revealed more of the same, and Thigpen was left with an unpleasant conclusion. Queller was on the take. There was not much in the way of decorative artwork, and what there was had little monetary value. But the furniture was of the highest quality. Thigpen felt sick to his stomach.
He left the townhouse and went downstairs to get some air. There was a constable here on guard, and Thigpen told him to keep watch up on the landing. Thigpen stood on the side of the street alone, paying no attention to the people passing by. The possibility that his mentor had been corrupt hit Thigpen hard. He didn’t want to find more evidence to support this conclusion.
When the on-duty investigators arrived, they did so with Captain Ordrander. Thigpen just watched them head up the stairs. He had no intention of going up there again.
Thigpen just leaned against the wall of the building until Ordrander finally came down and leaned on the wall right next to him. The old hobgoblin sighed. “It doesn’t look good for his reputation.” He said quietly.
“Better that he is dead, if what we think is true turns out to be fact.” Thigpen muttered. Corruption was a very serious offense, one that the government never turned a blind eye to. Some people thought of Slothjemia as a militant society, and to a large degree it was. But at its core it was a police state, rigid in law enforcement, and the punishment of guilty parties. A constable that took bribes or began to work with criminal elements was considered the worst threat to the safety of the populace.
“Gartran and Petler will finish up here. This kicks the whole matter to a higher level, Thigpen.” The captain’s voice stayed low, but it was filled with a sense of anger and urgency. “The Interior Investigators are going to be taking over. If you have any leads that need pursuing, you better get going.”
Thigpen looked over at his captain, and saw that he was staring down at the ground. “I have one stop to make. Maybe the Torkezahn family can shed some light into all of this. Right now nothing else seems to add up.”
Ordrander didn’t look up. “Keep at it. And keep it quiet. You can bet that the black badges are going to go over everything with a fine tooth comb. I don’t want them to find that we missed something.”
Thigpen took a deep breath, and started walking down the street. He was of course confused, but more than that he was angry. Goblinoids tended to take their feelings of bewilderment and turn them into violent outbursts, the origin of the phrase “attack that which you don’t understand.” But Thigpen was only half orcish. The other half was human, and that half drove him to find answers, even if the goblinoid part of him pushed that curiosity with rage. For now he contented himself to clutch his truncheon and grit his teeth. Heaven help anyone that came at him sideways now.
The Torkezahn family was a confederation of jorish assassins that had their claws in a number of legal and illicit enterprises. They staked a claim long ago to this part of Slothenburg, doing what they could to claim a piece of every caper that took place in their turf. They owned the Roufeener Hotel of course, and also the precincts finest actual hotel in the upper city, the Golden Sabre. This second establishment was sited on a small rock island, allowing it to be constructed of stone. The portion that was in the upper city was an exquisite example of hotel architecture, elegant in every aspect. In the undercity though, it was a hulking fortress two stories tall, and a small sign over the front gate read simply Torkezahn Club. It looked forbidding, and it was. Although the activities of the cartel were watched carefully in Slothjemia, outside of the country it had a more free hand. Killers for hire operated out of this building. Thigpen would normally have been reluctant to barge in and start asking questions. Nothing about the last week had been normal, though.
Accessing the hotel was easy, but the club down below was another matter. Thigpen walked in the upper city until he saw the hotel, then he went down a cargo ramp for carts and wagons to the undercity. The ramp continued as a major boulevard down below, and right off of that street was the club. There were no guards posted outside, but Thigpen knew that inside there was plenty of protection. The main door to the club was inset, and there was a visible track in the doorway for a portcullis to be employed in keeping trespassers out. The door itself was a thick, ironclad portal with a small viewport so that those inside could visually identify whoever was out front.
Thigpen walked up to the door, and took a couple of deep breaths. He looked around him, and noticed small holes around the frame of the door that probably housed a variety of devious traps. He steeled himself, and with his truncheon he rapped on the door.
The viewport slid open, but Thigpen couldn’t see anyone through the slit. He said loudly, and with as much authority as he could muster, “Constabulary. I need to see the boss.”
The viewport slammed shut. Thigpen could hear locks being disengaged, and mused at what tight security thieves employed. The door swung open, and a huge ogre grunted “Come on in, constable.”
Thigpen stepped into the dimly lit room. It looked like a regular tavern, for the most part. In the back of the room was a section that was a few steps up from the rest of the room, with two guards, one a bugbear the other an orc, standing imposingly to prevent anyone from going up there to bother whoever might be sitting there. At other tables around the room were more ruffians, perhaps twenty or so in total. There were only a few women present, and they seemed to serve more as décor than company. A young jor stood up from a large table in the separate elevated section and came forward to greet the constable. The other people at what must have been the executive table just watched.
“I am Strogg.” Said the jor. “What is it you need?”
“I need to speak to the boss about a series of murders.” Said Thigpen, his voice quiet and calm.
Everyone on the lower level of the club laughed. The jor grinned at Thigpen. “We wouldn’t know anything about that.” He said with a hint of sneer in his voice.
“The latest victim was a detective sergeant. This makes it more important than if it was just some random swamp orc.” Said Thigpen calmly and quietly.
There wasn’t any laughter this time. A tension settled on the room. Strogg held his hands out as if to ease the pressure everyone was feeling. “We don’t know anything about any murders.” He said.
“You answer pretty quickly for not knowing any details.” Said Thigpen. “Maybe I should just talk to the boss and make sure you are clueless.”
The sarcasm hadn’t escaped the jor, and he stepped towards Thigpen in a threatening manner, even though he didn’t have a weapon visible. “You need to go. If we hear anything, we’ll let you people know.”
Thigpen’s ears picked up the click of the spring mounted stiletto on Strogg’s right forearm, hidden up his shirt sleeve. The jor didn’t have a chance to take advantage of the secret weapon, as Thigpen’s reflexes sent the truncheon smashing into the jor’s hand at the exact moment the blade sprang out. This sent the needle-like dagger right through Strogg’s right hand, sending blood spraying across the room. Thigpen brought the truncheon across the jor’s jaw with a backhanded blow, breaking it mid-scream and knocking the swamp orc unconscious.
The goons in the room sprang into action as a melee broke out. Thigpen swung his truncheon with devastating effect, disarming the ogre behind him and swinging back to smash the skull of a goblin coming up to his right. Another swing of the truncheon broke the kneecap of the ogre guarding the door, sending him crashing to the floor. Thigpen wheeled around and caught an orc in the throat with his left fist, crushing his windpipe. The truncheon went up, blocking a sword strike from another jor, and then a sharp kick from Thigpen sent the jor flying backwards into a table.
Picking up a shortsword in his left hand, Thigpen stood his ground, stabbing and flailing at anyone fool enough to get close to him. He stabbed a hobgoblin in the chest, and used him to throw three more attackers off balance. The constable’s truncheon came down hard on a kobold, smashing the lizard-like creature into a small pile of broken flesh. Thigpen’s fury was becoming a dangerous weapon in itself. He was going through the assembled thugs like a hot knife through warm butter. Blood was making the floor slippery, but Thigpen’s boots were designed to not slip easily. He used this to his advantage too, holding his ground as he stabbed and bludgeoned all who came at him. The two guards that protected the executive table area didn’t budge, except to draw their weapons. It was just those on the lower level who tried to take Thigpen down, and they were failing miserably.
The last one to fall was another jor, and he went down with a short sword in his stomach, and a truncheon smashing his head in. Thigpen drew out the sword, and brought his truncheon back to a defensive position. “I just want to speak to the boss.” He growled. “If I need to fight my way up to that table, I will. If I need to bring help, I can do that too. I can even arrange to tear this place down stone by stone unless I get the information I am looking for.”
An older jor wearing a fez stood up from the table. “I am Hugo Torkezahn. I’m the boss.”
“You ready to answer my questions?” asked Thigpen.
The jor nodded his head. “You guys take a break, go find some whiskey or something while the copper here and I have a chat.”
The bodyguards backed away from Thigpen, and stood in opposing corners of the room well behind the cartel boss. The rest of the men at the table got up quickly, and with the few women in the room retreated through a door to the side of the room. The jor in the fez motioned for Thigpen to come up and have a seat.
Thigpen walked up the three steps to the dais, and took a seat halfway around the table from Hugo so he could keep an eye on anyone that regained consciousness. He set the bloody sword on the table with a clatter, but kept a tight grip on his truncheon. Hugo sat down.
“Would you like something to drink?” the boss asked the constable.
“No, thank you.” Replied Thigpen. “I just want some answers.”
“Go right ahead and ask.” Said Hugo as he poured himself another drink.
Thigpen cleared his throat. “There was a redhead working in your bordello. What do you know about her? Where did she come from?”
The jor smiled half-heartedly. “I didn’t know her, other than her name. Josephyne I believe.” He looked at Thigpen. “Heard she came from up north, maybe Middleswamp.”
Thigpen perked up at this response. “You sure it was Middleswamp?”
“Pretty sure, yeah. That’s why I didn’t know her. That is the territory of the Jordecayne family. I make it a point to keep anyone from their neck of the woods at arm’s length.” Hugo chuckled.
The reference to a rival cartel piqued Thigpen’s curiosity. “You been having trouble with the Jordecayne bunch?” he asked.
“Nothing we weren’t able to handle. Had rumors that we had a spy in our midst. We were going to check into it but then the fellow we were suspicious of got himself arrested. Now he isn’t a problem for us at all.” Hugo took a drink.
Thigpen looked at the boss. “Just because he is in jail, he isn’t a threat to you?” That seemed unlikely to the constable.
“No, he’s dead.” Said the boss. “Somebody in the constabulary got the bright idea to use him as bait to catch some monster and he got himself killed.”
Thigpen did his best to not give away his shock. “Who was the spy you were after?”
“What has that got to do with the redhead?” asked Hugo sharply. “We aren’t playing games here, constable. Are you looking for that redhead or not?”
“Alright.” Said Thigpen. “That redhead killed a detective sergeant. His name was Queller.” He paused, not sure if he wanted a straight answer to his question. “Was he working for you?”
Hugo poured another drink. “No. He wasn’t on my payroll.” The jor drank his whiskey, the looked at Thigpen. “I tried though. He couldn’t be bought. A stand-up fellow, that one.” His voice softened. “A good copper is always genuinely missed. They do good work.”
Thigpen narrowed his eyes. “Josephyne is a monster, you and your family need to be aware of this. She isn’t normal.” The constable tried his best to sound as though he was being deadly serious.
“How bad could it be?” Hugo scoffed.
“When a single constable comes into your headquarters and dispatches half a dozen of your goons to tell you somebody is a threat, maybe you can weigh that yourself.” Said Thigpen with disgust, as he stood up to leave. He left the sword on the table and walked towards the door. He turned and stared at Hugo, who was glaring back at him. “You want me to alert the constabulary to this mayhem, or you want to deal with it yourself?” he said, motioning to the mass of dead and injured in the main portion of the club.
“I’ll take care of this.” Said Hugo. “No reason for anyone in the constabulary to worry about what happened here today.”
Thigpen smiled. “Thank you sir. I appreciate it.”
“If you ever need a job, come see me.” Said Hugo. “You’re a fine warrior by any standard.”
Thigpen let himself out the front door, closing it solidly. He stepped away from the club and across the street. He felt like he needed a bath. He went down the street for a distance before finding a little staircase to the upper city. He went up and walked some more until he found a wooden bench to sit on.
He took off his kepi and sat down, unstrapping his truncheon and setting it across his lap. It still had fresh blood on it. He pulled a kerchief out of his pocket and wiped it off. And then he sat there and thought. He began with what he knew, and then to what he suspected. That left what he didn’t know.
Thigpen knew Josephyne was a Red Widow, and that she had killed Fenderlahn and Queller. He suspected she had also killed Trenvane. He wanted to say that was a known, but they hadn’t yet found his body. For now it was just a suspicion. Now he could add to the list of knowns by saying Trenvane was a suspected spy from one criminal cartel against another. That had been an unforeseen development. Now it seemed likely that Josephyne might be a member of the Jordecayne crime family. That would mean three of the principle participants in this story were from Middleswamp. Suspicious.
The unknowns were what perplexed Thigpen the most. How did Queller acquire extra money? How was it that the Red Widow knew where he lived? What happened to Trenvane exactly?
Thigpen’s jaw dropped. He solved the case. Now, he had to get to the undertaker and stop them from sending Fenderlahn’s body back to Middleswamp.