Chapter 27: The Justice of Beasts
Ghost flung open the doors of the Fox Den and gripped the hilt of his sword as he strode to where Alex, Darwin, and a group of thugs sat in tense silence around a table.
“I told you to get rid of the body,” Ghost growled as he slammed his fists into the table with enough force to knock a wooden goblet over the edge. It clattered onto the floor as the thugs shifted uneasily beneath the gaze of the blue ghoul mask. “What the hell are the knights doing here?”
“Yeah, so about that—” Alex turned a sharp gaze on Darwin. “Someone got a little carried away.”
“Hey!” Darwin held up his hands quickly. “I misunderstood, I’m sorry, but this is probably the same creep that’s been targeting the prostitutes over at Lark and Lollis. Figured I owed it to the ladies to send a message to any other noble twat that thought he could come down here and muck about with our women.”
“What’s he saying?” Ghost demanded. “Were other women attacked by that bastard?”
“Why don’t you worry about your grand schemes for Lafeara, and we’ll handle slums business,” Alex retorted with a faint growl. “And the next time you ask for our help, don’t leave out such important details. Darwin might have been a bit less dramatic if he’d known he was covering up a witch’s kill.”
“Damn right! I wouldn’t have touched that stiff with a fishing hook if I’d known he had a witch curse on him,” Darwin replied with a shudder. “Now, I’ll have to taint my reputation with a visit to the chapel and pay good coin for holy water to purify my soul.”
Ghost choked back a snarl as he dragged a hand over his mask. “My apologies. I thought foxes were supposed to be clever. Even so, my instructions were quite simple.” His steady tone held a glint of danger that wiped the smirk from Darwin’s face. “I asked you to get rid of the body. You could have buried it, burned it, fed it to the pigs, tossed it in the Serpentine River. Your options were endless, but no—you had to hang him from the rafters and stuff a rat in his mouth.”
“I thought it was poetic,” Darwin muttered as he crossed his arms. “No one appreciates good theater these days.”
“Perhaps you should write your own play about the Blind Fool who had his tongue cut out?”
Darwin growled and reached for his blade.
“Enough!” Alex snapped as he held up his hand and shot them both a glare. “So, now what? The church is going to send their best hounds to sniff out her trail.”
“Not if I can help it.” Ghost grabbed a chair, reversed it, and draped his arms over the back crown-rail as he sat down. “You said there were other women in the slums who were attacked. Did any of them survive?”
Alex looked at Darwin, who squinted thoughtfully.
“Oh, yeah, there was one a few days back,” he replied.
“Got a name?” Ghost asked quickly.
“Raven? Rosey?” Darwin shrugged. “Something beginning with an R.”
“Rachael,” Alex supplied with an impatient sigh.
“Yea! That’s the one! Only she wasn’t a prostitute but a fisherman’s wife. Said some noble grabbed her when she was coming home from the markets after selling the days catch. He tied her hands and made her drink some sort of rich-piss alcohol. She doesn’t remember much after that, but when she woke up—she had a bruise around her neck like the bastard tried to strangle her—only he messed up cause she didn’t die.”
“Prostitutes getting strangled around here doesn’t happen often enough to raise any flags,” Alex replied. “Some of them create their own kind of trouble while others—” he shrugged and shook his head, “—don’t get out of the business before they meet the wrong sort of customer.
“But when the fisherman came to request our aid, I did increase our eyes on the streets. It seemed to scare the blighter off as we haven’t had any similar attacks in nearly a week—until last night.”
Ghost nodded slowly. “Well, if we push that story, this will appear like another random attack only this time the rapist stumbled upon a witch and met his untimely end.” He scratched his neck beneath the mask and sighed. “As long as nothing leads the church to Lady Aconitum, there shouldn’t be any problems.”
“Ah, about that—” Darwin shifted uncomfortably.
Ghost turned and fixed his ghoul eyes on the thug. “What else did you fuck up?”
Darwin scowled but shook his head. “It wasn’t us, the knights called in their corpse reader. He followed the bloody trail back to that mattress we didn’t have time to dispose of, but—” he pulled a black mask from his jacket and tossed it to Ghost, “—we did make sure to remove any trace of your witch from the scene.”
“The problem isn’t the physical evidence left behind. It’s the fact there was a witness,” Alex interjected quickly. “The coachman who brought her here last night said the dead man approached him and claimed Mau—Lady Aconitum was his sister.”
Ghost tensed. “Is that true?”
“It seems to be,” Alex replied with a shrug. “She does—or did have a half-brother. And the watch Darwin left in the alleyway had a name and address.”
“Wait? The dead prick was her brother?” Darwin snorted with disgust. “Well done, then Ghost, witch or not, I’m glad you slit his throat.”
“Shut up!” Ghost snarled as he rose and flung his chair aside. “Don’t you get it, birdbrain? You all but brought the church right to her very doorstep.”
“I didn’t bloody know now, did I?” Darwin shot back as he kicked back his chair.
“Enough!” Alex reached over to restrain Darwin and pulled the man back down. ” Lady Aconitum will be entering the palace any day now. We need to use what time we have to build a different narrative and throw the church off her scent.”
“How are you going to fool a witch hunter?” Darwin demanded.
“Birdbrain has a point,” Ghost muttered. “You can’t fool a witch hunter.”
“We can if we’re smart. It will take a few days for one to arrive. My plan is to take advantage of these previous attacks and convince the knights this witch fled Lafeara,” Alex explained patiently.
“How will you—” Ghost straightened and crossed his arms. “You plan to use the other victim who survived?”
“I may need some funds to convince Rachael and her husband to take on this risk,” Alex added cautiously.
“Use whatever you need from the check Lady Aconitum gave you,” Ghost replied. “If we can get the church to believe the witch in question has left Lafeara, then Lady Aconitum can focus on her role inside the palace.”
“Yea, two problems with that,” Darwin cut in with a disgruntled scowl. “One, how do we know your little witch won’t blow up again? Two what about the corpse reader—that man’s half-witch himself.”
“That’s just a rumor,” Alex replied with a dismissive snort.
“Yeah, well—you didn’t see him sniffing his way from where we posed the body to the mattress we buried under a pile of trash and crates. Either he’s part-witch or part-bloodhound.”
“If he continues to be a problem, I’ll take care of it,” Ghost snapped.
“Shouldn’t you be focused on your other agenda?” Alex asked pointedly.
Ghost tilted his head and stared back at the Master of the Fox Den.
“Lady Aconitum’s agenda and mine happen to align,” Ghost replied cryptically before he turned and headed towards the door. “Get the fisherman and his wife to agree. Oh, and don’t let Darwin fuck this up any more than he already has.”
The bar door swung closed behind the assassin as the thugs around the table let out a tense sigh.
Darwin spat on the floor. “I don’t like that one. Smells and talks like a noble,” he muttered darkly. “He seemed to get attached to that witch pretty quickly.”
“Yea, about that,” interjected Troy, Darwin’s younger brother. “Are we sure about this, Alex? Mucking about with witches is shady business even for us.”
“I’m doing this for Ghost, and you’re doing this for me,” Alex replied as he studied the men around the table. “Witches haven’t been a problem in Lafeara for years.”
“And now one’s entering the palace as a lady-in-waiting,” observed Stitcher quietly. “Seems like we’re taking on a lot of risk for your favorite client.”
Alex glanced at his usually quiet lieutenant and nodded. “I’m aware of the risk, but protecting our small corner of the world won’t do us any good if the rest of Lafeara goes up in flames.”
The thugs exchanged glances and then nodded their agreement.
“That’s settled then.” Alex rose from his chair and adjusted the pistol at his waist. “Darwin, help me track down Rachael. I’d like to speak to her myself about our dangerous but lucrative offer.”
“More like spin her head with your silver tongue,” Darwin muttered. “You really think Rachael will agree to pretend to be a witch?”
“I think money motivates a lot of people—and Racheal could probably do with a fresh start somewhere far from here.”