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Old 01-17-2012, 04:33 AM
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Arrow Wireburn & Quinn - A Prelude

Encounter at the Crested Kingfisher

The Crested Kingfisher was quite crowded due to the torrential downpour scouring the City of Towers. Hawksley Byron Quinn sat in his favourite booth towards the rear of the establishment, legs stretched beneath the heavy oak table, boots resting comfortably on the opposite bench. A mug of spiced wine sat untouched on the table before him. He was reading a rather careworn book he’d acquired from a vendor in Tavick’s Landing that afternoon. Cyran poetry was hard to come by since the Day of Mourning. It was a treasure to be guarded for its rarity, despite its author’s lack of originality. Quinn savoured every subtly clichéd turn of phrase and delicately hackneyed verse.

Sir Wireburn sat opposite, pointedly ignoring his companion’s feet as he surveyed the ebb and flow of patrons that were enjoying the lively atmosphere. His green-glowing eyes roved over the revellers while taking in the sights, his fine-tuned auditory channels taking in the sounds of the evening. In particular, he was listening to a musician across the room playing a rather moving ballad. One of Wireburn’s hands tapped along lightly to the rhythm. For a moment, all was calm and right with the world.

Quite unexpectedly, a massive figure lumbered into view, eclipsing the mise-en-scene; an immense body partially blocked both sights and sounds. Wireburn’s eyes flared yellow in irritation as he slid a hand towards one of his weapons. Quinn peaked nonchalantly over the top of the tatty leather binding in his grip, his curiosity piqued.

“Dah boss would like a word wit youse,” the bugbear rumbled. It was difficult to tell its disposition, as most bugbears had a rather dour expression on even the best of occasions. Though it was safe to say he looked rather uncomfortable in his expensive, though ill-fitted suit. It might’ve looked decent on someone with a smaller frame, Quinn thought to himself. Or less fur. At least there was a certain sense of style to the ensemble, if not proper proportion. Muscles rippled beneath the garment as the brutish messenger idly fingered the too-small black bowler held before him. The bugbear warily watched Wireburn as he addressed Hawksley. He had obviously been warned about the four-armed construct, and kept just out of arm’s reach.

As if suddenly remembering he was delivering a polite invitation, the bugbear self-consciously added, “If it pleases youse gentlemen."

Hawksley regarded the bugbear with a studious eye, the anxiety of being importuned by such a hulking creature offset by his confidence in Sir Wireburn’s violent competence. Wireburn’s fingers were no longer tapping to the rhythm of the music.

“It would please us gentlemen to perhaps know the identity of this boss of yours, good sir. Perhaps you could share this intelligence with us?”, replied Hawksley.

“My employer is the honourable Mr. Harkon Verducci,” the bugbear replied confidently. It was apparent from the practiced expression that he was used to seeing people tremble upon hearing the name. Indeed, the name Harkon Verducci made many people tremble at its mere utterance. The half-orc was a well-known businessman with a multitude of interests; insurance, protection, bookmaking, smuggling, trafficking, money laundering, money-lending, money-taking. If it was a crime in Sharn, Verducci had a way of organising it and turning a considerable profit on it.

The bugbear appeared confused after a moment. Neither Hawksley nor Wireburn were trembling.

“Um…” he began again, a bit flustered. “Dat is to say… Um…”

“You see what I have to work with?” said someone below table height. Quinn could just barely make out the top of the goblin’s head. Wireburn was silently calculating just how far he could throw the creature.

“Mr Verducci would like to meet with you, if you would be so inclined,” the goblin said patiently. Despite the trace of disdain in his tone, it was clear from his lexicon and near-courteous behaviour that the goblin had more brains in his tiny little noggin than the bugbear had rattling around in its massive skull. “He has a business proposition he would like to discuss with the esteemed Wireburn and Quinn. That is you two gentlemen, I presume?”

“He’s the gentleman,” said Wireburn, standing from his chair and motioning at Hawksley. His lower arms rotated into view, and his fingers flexed. “I’m the muscle.”

He stood exactly opposite the bugbear with the table between them. His lower set of hands each rested on a different weapon suited to the close quarters: longsword and handaxe. The exhalation vents at the base of his neck emitted small, controlled puffs of steam.

Hawksley quirked a half-smile at this as he rose as well.

“My esteemed colleague is entirely too modest. We are indeed Hawksely Byron Quinn and Sir Wireburn, consulting inquisitives, at your service.”

He did a step-and-bow; seemingly incidentally, the flourish cleared his rapier, as well as placing him at a slight angle, a half-stride away from the booth. Their ‘guests’ now stood in the middle of a potential enfilade.

“Whom do we have the honour of addressing, good sirs?”

“I am Glick, and this shaggy behemoth is my colleague, Reginald,” the goblin said almost cheerfully, his hand waving above table height to indicate his shaggy associate. “Say hello, Reginald. Thank you. That’s enough. Don’t hurt yourself.” He waved off the brute and stood on tip-toes to address the pair a little more visibly.

“Mr Verducci would like to discuss a case with you. If you’re interested, please come to The Gilded Harp in Tremaine Tower tonight at midnight. At the very least, he’ll buy you a round of drinks while you listen to his proposal. Or maybe a pint of oil for the warforged I suppose,” Glick muttered under his breath. “If you don’t show up, that means you aren’t interested. No strings attached. He’ll just have to hire some other inquisitives I suppose…”

“Clearly the good Mr. Verducci has an eye for talent, if you are representative of his hiring practices, my dear Glick.”, replied Hawksley, continuing: “Your cunning rhetorical gambit has set the hook firmly in my cheek; I am positively writhing, so tortured am I by my curiosity and, given the approval of my partner here, would not miss this meeting for all of the scrolls in Xen’Drik.”

“Right then, it was a pleasure meeting you gentlemen,” Glick said as he backed away from the table. The well-dressed goblin bowed politely before turning to Reginald, bullying the massive bugbear out of the pub.

Upon their departure, both Wireburn and Quinn realised just how quiet the room had become. A few patrons were staring off after the mismatched goblinoids, but all other eyes were fixed upon the human and warforged in their booth. Ever so slowly, conversation picked up again and everyone returned to their own business. But it was obvious from snippets of overheard conversation that many of the patrons had found interest in the odd meeting and were speculating on the exact nature of Wireburn and Quinn and Verducci’s relationship…

“Well, my friend... If nothing else comes of this, at least it seems to have given us a touch more notoriety. We’re going to need cases and soon. I don’t know how much longer I can put off the powers-that-be at Morgrave. At some point soon, they are going to insist on a decision one way or the other and if I don’t take the professorship, our lodgings there will no longer be available. I’ve tried to involve them, even if only in name, in the teaching project down in the Depths, but they don’t seem to appreciate the potential value of such charitable endeavours.”

Hawksley sighed and took a sip of his wine, producing his book again, seemingly from nowhere. Looking again upon the poem he’d been reading, he laid a silk bookmark on the page and then put the book back in his pocket.

Wireburn’s lower arms rotated back, and he sat. The chair was one of the largest in the room. It was built of stout oak. But it still sagged under his weight.

“Have you considered the possibility that this may be an effort by Duke Worcestire to repay you for sneaking into his castle to see Lorraine? The gossip rags are still clucking about that one.”

“You raise a depressingly salient point, Wireburn. I would like to go on record *again*, however, in pointing out that I merely read poetry to the young lady. Nothing untoward, improper or prurient occurred at all. I suppose I *should* have perhaps approached via the good Duke himself, however, instead of, er, circumventing the some of the formalities of courtship.”

Hawksley tossed back the last of his wine and then rose.

“It seems to me that a bit of intelligence-gathering would be apropos, would it not? I’m thinking we should shake a few trees and see what fruits of wisdom rain down as a result. I think that if there is the possibility of Wireburn & Quinn earning a proper fee and some notoriety to boot, we should pursue the matter on an at least preliminary basis, no?”

Wireburn nodded.

“It’s settled then. After you; large and invulnerable before small and squishy, that’s my motto.”

Hawksley grinned as he followed Sir Wireburn out of the Kingfisher and into the city.
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Last edited by Rhakir; 01-17-2012 at 04:50 AM.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:34 AM
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Default Rumours and peregrinations

Thorber Rhulk was very pleased to see Hawksley and his warforged companion. The dwarf ran a small convenience store in middle Dura, nestled between a bakery and a print shop, not far from the Crested Kingfisher. Thorber was a friendly sort for an immigrant from the Mror Holds, always chatting up his customers, making nice so they felt comfortable. It was good for return business.

It was also good for gathering information.

“Sure, I hear of Verducci,” Thorber said with his charmingly thick accent. “Am contracted with him. Nice arrangement. Much more affordable than with that halfling clan!” He spat to the side to emphasize his dislike of the Boromar Clan. “I am doing business! No hassles, no harm. His boys come in and make sure I am not being bothered by annoying halflings and their hired muscle. Is making good business sense, no?”

“T’would appear so, Master Rhulk, t’would appear so. A practical businessman knows when and where to apply the appropriate lubrication.”, replied Hawksley.

“One of his boys, a half-urrk with cleft chin, come in talking to his associate. I hear them speak about inquisitive types. Naturally, I mention your names to them. They very grateful! Must’ve told Verducci. I did good for you, no?”

“Ah, but you have done us a wonderful service, my friend! I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your kind words of endorsement.”

“Is my understanding Verducci is needing to replace old inquisitive. Someone got keeled last month. Terrible business. I hear his office in Central Plateau. Not sure what being done with.”

“I see, I see... Thorber, you have been a true friend. You know if you ever have need of our aid, you have but to ask.”

Hawksley smiled as he bowed and shook Thorber’s hand, taking the opportunity to cross his palm with silver.

“Of course, mine friends,” Thorber said, shaking Hawksley’s hand vigorously and palming the coin. “And I am always at your service!” The dwarf bowed several times to Wireburn as well, waving to the duo as they took their leave.

***

As rumour-mongers went, Jimmy Nine-Fingers was inexpensive and, more importantly, reliable. The last time the Nose had seen Wireburn and Quinn, he’d tracked down some information on a stolen piece of jewellery that the pair had been hired to locate. Not only did he find out who stole it, he also managed to figure out which shop was fencing it. He was all about the details.

But tonight, Jimmy Nine-Fingers was distracted.

“Word has it Verducci’s been asking for reliable Diggers the past few days,” he said as he glanced over his shoulder for the umpteenth time. “Your name might’ve been mentioned to him. You know, because you’re Diggers, of course, and you are reliable and all that.” Digger was street slang for an inquisitive. (As opposed to a Shovel, a specialist that happened to dig holes for a living - usually holes that are six feet deep.)

“Is that a fact... Interesting. Thanks for the head’s up, Jimmy. So, what’s on your mind? If you swivel your head like that one more time, you are likely to do yourself an injury.”, said Hawksley, noting Jimmy’s agitation.

“It’s been a bad week for me,” Jimmy explains nervously. “My old lady gave me the boot. I been stayin’ wit’ my cousin down in Nine Ways. Only, my cousin ain’t the most…discreet bloke. His old lady caught him with some young thing, and somehow, she thinks I’m a bad influence on ‘im. She’s hired a couple of Cutters to have a word wit’ me about it. Nothin’ I can’t handle on my own, but I hate waitin’ around for ‘em to show up, y’know?”

“How about we hire you for the evening, Jimmy? Just as a general look-out and, potentially, a distraction if needed. You’ll be with us for the evening and perhaps we might run into those cutters while we’re together. I’m certain that if I can’t make them see sweet reason, Sir Wireburn could muster up some rather persuasive arguments.”

Nine-Fingers looked Wireburn up and down, a sly smile spreading across his rather homely face.

Wireburn let out a particularly generous puff of steam from his neck vents to emphasize this, but otherwise remained still.

“You’d do me the solid? Heck, gents, I am at your service! To be honest, I was lookin’ for just such an opportunity!” The Nose made a show of dusting off his coat and shaking out his battered cloak. It didn’t take one of The Right Kind of People to notice he was signaling others of the Right Kind that were keeping an eye out for him. It was almost too obvious, what with the gesticulation of fingers whilst adjusting the cloak across his thin shoulders...

“So, where are we off to, good sirs? Jimmy is your man!”

“We’re hitting The Gilded Harp at midnight. Methinks that having the layout scouted ahead of time would be worth doing. I’d like you to go in about an hour ahead of us and have a few drinks in a quiet corner, scoping the place out and see if you can place where Verducci’s men are placed and whether or not we’re looking at a trap. If you’re able to leave, we’ll meet up around the corner at five to and you can brief us before we walk in. Otherwise, we can have a few signals arranged for when we walk in. Until then, we can take a stroll or, perhaps, go to an appropriate locale and see if we can’t settle his little misunderstanding of yours.”

“Well, what you want me to do is really easy, since I know the place you’re talkin’ about,” Jimmy beamed. “Verducci owns it. He took ownership last month. He’ll have a few Oaks on the doors, and a few Arms doin’ rounds inside. They’ll be dressed like waiters or servers, nice and neat like.” Oaks were seen but rarely heard, usually massive warriors that could easily intimidate most troublemakers. Arms were a step above the average Cutter, being much more proficient with various weapons and/or fighting styles. It seemed that Verducci took security very seriously at the Gilded Harp.

“I’ll be more than happy to scope things out regardless! It’s the least I could do for you gents.” Jimmy insisted. “And if we do happen to come across any ne’er do wells, I would most certainly appreciate the assistance! I’m sure that just the sight of Mr Wireburn here would be more than enough to straighten things out!”

“Heh heh heh... He is most eloquently persuasive that way, isn’t he? In any event, it sounds like Verducci is going to be sitting in the middle of his web. It sounds to me like there likely won’t be a problem -- this sounds like an honest meeting for a business proposition. I suspect securing too much by the way of back-up might even be a touch provocative. What do you think? Should we round up some likely lads? Or do you think we’re fine as is?”

Jimmy looked at Wireburn, then back at Quinn.

“You’re kiddin’ me, right? You really think we need to round anyone else up?”

“I have every faith in our skills and capabilities, Jimmy. I’m just trying to consider all of the angles.”

“No worries,” Jimmy said with a shrug. It was apparent that he definitely had faith in the pair’s capabilities. Of course, he had a bit more knowledge on the subject than most, being a rumour-monger and all...
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:36 AM
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Default Taking in the night-life

The three men walked along a few of Jimmy’s normal haunts, and were somewhat obvious in their loitering. A few familiar faces went past and noted them, but made no effort to engage in conversation. It seemed that word had gotten around that Jimmy had some muscle of his own to back him up. Considering how late it was getting, this didn’t seem to be such a bad thing.

As they walked, Hawksley let Jimmy move ahead a bit so he could have a private word with his warforged companion.

“So, Wireburn -- it seems that this matter is genuine and not some scheme of the Duke’s devising. It would seem that this matter is related to the recent murder of that Keldoran fellow, the inquisitive who was retained to investigate the disappearance of those orphan children. This has the potential to significantly raise our profile, no?”

“Indeed. This definitely has the smell of professional matters.”

At almost half-past ten, they eventually found their way back to where they’d first encountered Jimmy, a few blocks away from the Kingfisher. Most of the vendors had packed up their carts and left hours ago, so the area was fairly quiet.

Except, footsteps could be heard just around the corner of the tower; someone was walking with a purpose through puddles left from the earlier downpour.

A pair of swaggering men in leather armour stepped from the shadows onto the narrow terrace. They stopped about ten feet away, side by side, shoulders squared. They both looked Wireburn and Quinn over, but seemed unimpressed and dismissed them without a second glance.

“Nine-Fingers,” the one to the right called. “We want a word with you. Alone.”

Hawksley sized up the pair quickly: both men appeared to be fairly young, maybe in their early to mid-twenties. The speaker was short and broad-chested, with shoulder-length reddish-blonde hair. He was apparently attempting (unsuccessfully) to cultivate a mustache. His armour was of decent make, but had gaps here and there where it stretched to fit his muscular frame. He carried a shortsword and daggers at his belt, but by the look of his misshapen knuckles, he preferred to use fists. He walked with a slight limp in his left leg, probably a recently pulled calf muscle. His boots were worn, but in good repair.

The taller of the two on the left looked lean and wiry, his face all angles and sharp cheek bones, his hair cropped close to his head. His bared arms bore an intricate pattern of tattoos from shoulder to wrist, identifying him as a member of The Knives, a small street gang local to Nine Ways. He carried a rapier that must’ve cost its original owner a small fortune, but seemed out of place on such a disreputable looking individual. His armour was newer than his companion’s, and much better fitted. However, with his arms exposed and no obvious scars or marks upon his arms other than ink, it seemed apparent that he was either very good with the purloined rapier, or he hadn’t been in a real fight yet.

Hawksley spoke up: “Wireburn & Quinn at your service, gentlemen. We have been retained to act on Mr. Nine-Fingers’ behalf. As such, you may address your negotiations to us. I assure you, we are eager to reach a swift and mutually beneficial resolution in this matter.”

“Heh. We’re not here to ‘negotiate’ anything with you. They are,” the short one said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

Several more figures stepped up behind the advancing pair. Four, five, six...

Of the new arrivals, one was incredibly short. All wore cloaks, with hoods drawn. But it was obvious by the sounds they made that they were armed and armoured as well. And then there was the smell wafting up from their direction... It was an odour of...wet dog?

“Going somewhere, are we?” said the short figure as he removed his hood. A halfling sneered at Wireburn and Quinn.

“Ogre’s eyes! That’s Damian Boromar!” Jimmy quailed from behind the implacable Wireburn. “I ain’t crossed the Boromar Clan! What’s he doin’ here?”

Plans and contingencies ran through Hawksley’s head: this situation had rapidly become far more complicated than expected. The presence of the Boromar was unexpected (although perhaps not; if Verducci saw a pie worth sticking his fingers into, there would be other like-minded and similar individuals and groups seeking the same advantage. Killing Damian would likely be a poor move to make; the enmity of the Boromar Clan was not something to be taken lightly. As he took a half-step forward, turning slightly to give himself a vantage to their rear as well, Hawksley engaged in a brief moment of concentration. The air around him rippled slightly, as if it were serene pond into which a single pebble had been thrown. Locking eyes on Damian Boromar, Hawksley’s lip curled slightly and he allowed a hint of menace to colour his voice:

“You are seeking to buy trouble you can ill-afford, gentlemen. Leave now, before you come to regret your course of action.”

Quinn’s words did not have quite the effect he was hoping for...

Damian Boromar simply chuckled. One of the hooded figures next to him began to laugh, an animalistic cackle. Then another of the hooded figures joined in. Then another. The hyena-like laughter positively identified the gnolls for what they were, though Hawksley had already figured it out...

With a gesture from Damian, the gnolls fell silent.

“I should think you would consider your own predicament, Mister Quinn,” the halfling sneered. “I suspect you can ill-afford the trouble you are already in.”

Both Wireburn and Quinn heard the faintest of noises behind them, something quite like the sound of a safety catch being released on a hand-held crossbow. Unfortunately, it sounded just behind Hawksley’s lower back...

Jimmy Nine-Fingers was holding a loaded hand crossbow pointed at the small of Quinn’s back.

“Sorry, gents,” Jimmy said with a vicious grin. “It’s nothing personal. Just business.”

Wireburn heard the crossbow click. He swept aside his cloak, and stepped forward. His lower arms turned out and rotated into view as he drew the nearly six-foot blade from its shoulder sheath.

“Well, look at you, halfling. Bringing a bunch of wet dogs to a sword fight. I’ve always liked you, Jimmy. So I’m going to kill you last. This is your last chance for any of you to walk away from this peacefully. My compatriot tends to be overly subtle. This is my negotiation.”

The sword came down into the guard position, and two additional hands clasped the enormous hilt.

Wireburn gripped his sword, and tightened his shield against his fourth arm. Although the gnolls were obviously rethinking the whole encounter, all of them gripped their weapons tightly and refused to flee. The halfling drew another dagger, and flipped it over in his palm to throw it. Jimmy Nine-Fingers wanted to get a shot in, so nobody could say he was as coward, but he eyed a section of the wall where he figured he could jump onto a low roof nearby, and make his escape if things went south. The tall man with the tattoos bellowed a challenge to steel his nerves.

Hawksley reached into his sleeve, and pulled out a small bag of sand. One of the gnolls cocked its head, expecting a throwing blade or a sling stone. He poured the sand into his palm, murmured a few words and blew it into the air.

The tallest gnoll immediately rolled its eyes back into its head and slumped to the ground. Wireburn turned his guard to meet a charge from another gnoll, just in time to see it curl up on the ground like a puppy and begin snoring lightly. Wireburn’s shoulders slumped. He made an impatient gesture. The next gnoll dropped. And the next. And the next. The tall, tattooed man managed to stumble a few steps before face-planting on the stones. His companion wasn’t far behind. The halfling stumbled back against the wall, eyes wide, with a dagger in either hand. Wireburn hesitated a moment, and then placed a single finger against the halfling’s forehead and pushed him gently. The halfling slid gently down the wall and began snoring, eyes wide open.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:37 AM
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Default Taking in the night-life (Continued)

“You always do this,” said Wireburn.

“What?” said Hawksley, with a smirk.

“Here I am, a knight girded for battle. And you just mumble a few words, and everything’s done. This is not how battles should go. How am I ever going to become a regular in the penny dreadfuls if you always do this?”

“Well, if you like, we can embellish the details a bit. Make it sound like a raucous, epic battle. Wizards casting mighty bolts about. Perhaps a dragon, or, at the very least, a two-headed ogre. After all, the only witness to the scene will be Jimmy, and he’ll be dead shortly.”

“Right. Forgot about him.”

Wireburn shifted his limbs. His arms rotated in sockets and his head turned 180 degrees until his entire body had turned. He flipped his cloak back over his shoulder as he strode to Jimmy Nine-Fingers and raised his sword. He called out to Jimmy as he strode towards him:

“Any last words, Jimmy? We’ve paid you good coin, and never done you a false turn. When those thugs asked to speak with you alone, this knight was ready to do battle on your behalf. I wouldn’t have blamed you for running. But turning on us? Even the lowest gutter trash wouldn’t do that.”

Jimmy, seeing that all of the gnolls and the two cutters fall to the ground without preamble, brandishing his crossbow at Quinn, knowing he didn’t have a hope at all of even scratching Wireburn’s armour plating with his bolts. With a shaking hand, he pulled the trigger, firing on Hawksley from almost point-blank range. The close range did not offset his fear and shock and the bolt sailed harmlessly past Quinn, nearly striking one of the snoring gnolls.

Jimmy didn’t get a chance to make a run for it: Sir Wireburn’s sword fell on him with vicious efficiency, neatly cutting the man in two. The look of horror was frozen in two parts as Jimmy Nine-Fingers dropped dead on the spot.

Or, at least, they thought it was Jimmy Nine-Fingers...

The body that lay on the ground began to change as the blood drained out. The flesh seemed to sag, then smoothed out and turned grey, his nose receding inward to become nothing more than a bump across his face. Jimmy’s greasy dirty-blonde hair turned completely white, tinted red where it lay in the pooling blood. His brown irises faded to white, staring at the great beyond. And a tenth finger seemed to slowly inflate back into place where the characteristic pinky-stump once was on his left hand. Sir Wireburn had just killed a Changeling wearing the guise of Jimmy nine-Fingers.

Wireburn looked at the body for a moment, and nodded.

“Okay, that makes a little more sense,” he said.

Both men were quiet and efficient as they saw to their downed opponents, quickly divesting them of weapons and valuables, using the gnolls’ cloaks to form separate bundles. “Jimmy’s” transformation left them somewhat pensive, but did not distract them from the task at hand. With smooth, wordless cooperation they sorted their fallen foes and their goods in scant minutes. As Hawksley finished his thorough and careful binding of Damian, he caught Sir Wireburn’s eye; a flicker of colour communicated volumes.

“Yes, we have to be careful with how we handle this one; there’s no percentage in provoking the Boromar Clan unless we have to. Hmmm...”

Hawksley took a quick look around, thinking about where they were. He grinned.

“I have an idea: there’s a store in there that sells luggage. Can you go and grab a halfling-sized steamer trunk? I need to write a note.”

Wireburn scooped up a handful of coin from their spoils and went to procure the trunk while Hawksley penned a quick note and finished bundling up the bound Damian Boromar. The naked, bound halfling was tightly wrapped in a cloak as Wireburn returned with the trunk. Hawksley handed him the note for review as he made a pillow with the remaining cloak and carefully packed Damian away. The note read as follows:

“To Messrs. Boromar:

It has come to our attention that you have some business that you wish to transact with us. We are, of course, quite eager to become acquainted with the proposition you have to put before us and we do intend to give it our most careful attention. However, likely due to the exhuberance of youth, your agent, in his zeal to present your arguments, seems to have pursued somewhat obstreperous means of negotiation and has, we regret to inform you, conducted himself in a rather rude and churlish manner. Some others, less charitable and tolerant than ourselves, might even have taken his tactics amiss and settled matters by blood, as a matter of honour. However, we understand the drive to succeed and impress. No doubt, he was motivated by his sense of filial responsibility to his esteemed uncle and was afraid of disappointing such an esteemed figure. We have no desire to compound his rash behaviour with coarse physical consequences. As such, we return him to you, somewhat inconvenienced but completely unharmed. We anticipate hearing from you again in the near future, in a more convivial manner. You may leave a calling card for us at The Crested Kingfisher.

Cordially yours,

Sir Wireburn & Hawksley Byron Quinn
Consulting Inquisitives”


Chuckling, the Warforged handed the note back to his partner, who neatly folded it and tucked into an envelope and laid it on top of their prisoner. The trunk was then closed and locked (with appropriate care taken to ensure breathability). Hawksley made a quick mental calculation -- maybe a minute left before the gnolls and thugs woke up.

“Let’s go -- we have one more stop to make before we head to The Gilded Harp.”

Wireburn hefted up the trunk and the pair lit off. After taking a few quick turns to make sure they were out of sight of their soon-to-wake foes, they made for the nearest courier’s depot. Clear, explicit instructions were followed by the appropriate coin and their transaction was complete. They paused at the nearest coffee-house, allowing Hawksley to refresh himself. A quick cup of tea later and they set off. By Hawksley’s reckoning, they had a half-hour to make their appointment at The Gilded Harp; they had enough to time to move at a comfortable amble. With luck, there would be no further interruptions or untoward incidents this evening.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:38 AM
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Default Taking in the night-life(Continued)

As the two inquisitives made their way to the Gilded Harp, Hawksley reflected upon the whole of the night’s events. Having been duped by a changeling was by far the most annoying aspect of the whole affair. Had Jimmy always been a changeling, and they just now realised it? No, that couldn’t be right. He was sure he would have realised it sooner.

The scholar let Wireburn guide him, moving along in an almost automatic state as he focused his attention on examining the memories he had of the rumour-monger. Hawksley looked back on their past meetings, closely studying each reference like pictures in a book. The details were there to be seen, but he had to concentrate and find just where each memory was hidden within his mind.

Their first meeting was by chance, introduced by a mutual acquaintance; Jimmy presented himself as an entrepreneur in the acquisition of valuable information. That was some number of months ago when the scholar and his warforged companion had first arrived in Sharn. Jimmy’s rosy cheeks and slightly watery eyes told Hawksley that the man enjoyed a pint now and again. There was the faint aroma of pipe weed and lager that lingered about the man and the creases in the line of his trousers brought to mind an image of Jimmy sat comfortably in a tavern for long periods of time. He wore an old coat and worn black bowler, and had worn boots that seemed to be just this side of irreparable. But there was a twinkle in Jimmy’s eye, and he was open and sincere. It left a lasting impression on the young inquisitive.

The next time they met, Jimmy had provided some information on an unfaithful spouse they were investigating. Their client, the philanderer’s aggrieved wife, paid handsomely to find out who her husband had been seeing behind her back. Jimmy had spotted the man in The Golden Goose in Lower Menthis, a small tavern that had bawdy shows and watered down ale. Jimmy had treated Hawksley to a few drinks while they watched one of the awful routines on stage, waiting for the man to appear. They eventually spied the man enjoying the company of two of the actresses from the stage show, which helped close the case. Jimmy drank happily that night, but was definitely not a drunk. He was wearing the familiar old coat and tired bowler that night too. And his old shoes.

Ah yes, their last encounter. Jimmy had told them about the thief that had stolen the jewels that he and Wireburn had been hired to retrieve. Good old Nine-Fingers was in good spirits that night, pleased to be doing business, sharing a roll-up, smelling of alcohol, a nut brown ale to be precise from the smell upon his breath. His clothing was in its usual state of repair, needing a wash, but still relatively presentable. His shoes were brand new, just purchased from the proceeds of another bit of work he’d done for another client that week. Jimmy was talking with a bit of a slur that night, initially attributed to the aforementioned alcohol. But now that Hawksley studied the memory, he realised that Jimmy had a chipped tooth, which was probably sensitive and causing the slight mispronunciations from time to time.

Flash forward to earlier that very evening. Hawksley examined the details of the man they thought was Jimmy Nine-Fingers. The old coat was the same style, and quite possibly the very same coat, judging by the various stains that had accumulated over time, and the odour of pipe weed and wood smoke. But there was no smell of alcohol. No beer, ale, or wine whatsoever. And Jimmy was too distracted, as if to throw off suspicion as to his true identity. The changeling was a master of disguise, and knew how to use subterfuge to hide his identity. He didn’t smile at all either, which made it difficult to determine if he had a chipped tooth still. The shoes were newer, but not the exact same as the last pair that Jimmy had just purchased. Of course, many people owned more than one pair of shoes or boots. But it was actually unlikely that Jimmy Nine-Fingers did. No, there were clues, but Hawksley was too distracted by the ruse of a nervous and anxious Jimmy, constantly looking over his shoulder. It was truly an excellent guise…

Hawksley came back to the present as they neared Tremaine Tower. Wireburn seemed not to notice that his friend had been visiting his memories while they walked. Or if he had, the warforged gave no indication of such. Not that it mattered. That was the wonderful thing about their partnership; complete mutual trust and reliability without too many questions.
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:44 AM
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Default In the house that Verducci built

Wireburn and Quinn arrived at their destination unmolested by halflings, or anything else for that matter, with a few minutes to spare.

The Gilded Harp was situated at the top of Tremaine Tower in the upper reaches of the Menthis Plateau. It commanded an excellent view of Sharn; its massive windows spanned half the tower circumference, offering up the city as a backdrop to the luxurious interior. The restaurant was tiered, thus allowing guests to enjoy the scenery without having to look around other patrons at the next table. An enormous globe of Eberron dominated the lowest tier; a masterpiece of artwork and cartography. Exotic palms and flowers grew from cleverly designed planters that were strategically placed to afford a bit of privacy and colourful distraction. Somewhere out of sight, a small orchestra was playing as couples danced beneath the tall windows.

The guests were dressed in some of the finest fashions available. Many a gentleman was outfitted in a dark tailored jacket with tails, starched shirt, and a matching cravat or tie. The ladies were a showcase of elegant dresses from all over Khorvaire; plunging Aundarian necklines mingled with Thranian laced collars and Karrnathi fur trims. Long Cyran evening gloves covered many a wrist, as the fashion had clearly lent well to the formal atmosphere.

Wireburn and Quinn stood in the foyer taking in the sights, sounds, and delicious smells that surrounded them. They weren’t overly surprised that they were pencilled in on the guest list; though a few impatient customers were more than a little put out that the two had jumped the queue. Just as Jimmy, or rather the Changeling disguised as Jimmy, had told them, there were two Oaks at the door, dressed in tailored formal attire, obviously there to impress and intimidate. Either one would be more than a match for Wireburn in a fair arm-wrestling contest.

The host waited at a small podium just inside the door. Upon presenting their names and a card, Wireburn and Quinn were immediately escorted to the uppermost tier.

“Mr Verducci is expecting you,” the gentleman informed them cordially. He did make note of their less than formal appearance, but thought better than to address the issue in front of the other guests. Hawksley’s weathered coat did have a certain charm to it, but he did stand out just a little bit in the sea of high-fashion gentlemen guests. Once they were on the stairs, he instructed a passing serving lady to bring him a properly sized dinner jacket for Mr Quinn on the double. She scuttled off in a hurry before anyone could stop her.

At the top of the grand stair, their guide bade them wait while he introduced them. Wireburn and Quinn could see that the entire fourth tier was set up as a private dining area for Verducci alone. The table was large enough to accommodate a dozen guests, and there was room to bring up more tables if necessary, but at the moment, there was only one man seated before a dazzling array of food.

Harkon Verducci hid his muscular frame beneath an exquisitely tailored suit of white linen. A blood red silk shirt stretched across pecs that rippled with every gesture. A gold cravat was tied neatly beneath his clean-shaved chin, a diamond gleamed at the tip of a pin holding it in place. His dark hair was slicked back wetly, another recent fashion import, this one from Thrane, and his fingernails were expertly manicured. Hawksley silently bet that the half-orc was wearing a pair of rather expensive imported shoes to accompany the outfit, even though Verducci’s feet were hidden from view.

Behind Verducci, two men dressed in fashionably tailored black suits waited a few paces away. Though they did not appear to be armed, tell-tale bulges under the jackets said otherwise. Wireburn and Quinn both guessed they had an assortment of close-quarter weaponry concealed in their evening attire.

The young woman that went off in search of a dinner jacket appeared, offering the garment to Quinn, smiling coyly as she admired his good looks.

Hawksley smiled and bobbed his head, tipping his hat at the young lady before doffing it entirely and running a quick hand through his hair.

“I’m fine with my own, my dear. I do appreciate the offer, however.”

“Perhaps you can take up my...offer on another occasion,” she said with a wicked grin before returning to her duties.

The guide gestured for both men to join Mr Verducci after a brief conversation with the owner of the Gilded Harp. As they approached, the guards looked over Wireburn and Quinn and reacted with critical efficiency. One moved to stand immediately next to Verducci while the other moved to place himself between the weapon-bearing pair and his employer.

“Nah. It’s okay, boys. They’re fine,” Verducci said quietly. Both guards resumed their original positions, but kept a wary eye on Wireburn and Quinn regardless.

“Mr Wireburn,” Verducci stood and offered a meaty hand to shake, “Mr Quinn, I am so glad youse gentlemen could make it. Please, please join me.” His voice was warm, but a bit rough and gravelly, giving him a somewhat authoritative sound. The underlying Lower-Sharn accent was noticeable, but he was far from ill-mannered.

Hawksley returned the handshake warmly, still smiling, and took a seat, admiring their surroundings.
“Oh, we wouldn’t have missed it for anything, Mr. Verducci. We are eager to hear your proposition.”

Wireburn remained standing, as was often the case with Warforged, since they neither grew tired nor required sustenance.

Hawksley noticed that Verducci’s hand was not only muscular, but callused as well. This was a man that still worked with his hands, quite probably with weapons of various kinds by the feel and placement of said calluses, despite being an enterprising businessman.

“Gentlemen, please allow my staff to bring you a drink, perhaps a bite to eat. ‘Me Kazak is Sue’s Kazak’, or however that gnomish phrase goes.” Verducci gestured to chairs on either side of him. “I would highly recommend the Midnight Cellars ’07. Aundarians certainly know their wines. And the Mostaccioli Rustica is simply to die for…” The half-orc kissed his fingertips in appreciation. He apparently had a habit of gesturing with his hands to emphasise his words.

“Your taste is impeccable, sir. I would love to sample the Rustica, if you don’t mind.” , replied Hawksley.

After the exchange of pleasantries, Verducci gestured for a waiter to take away his plates and ordered another glass of wine for himself and his guests.

“Gentlemen, I am very pleased you chose to accept my invitation to discuss a business opportunity. It is my understanding that the two of you operate an Inquisitive Service of sorts. I am very much interested in retaining your services, as I currently find myself in need of someone to replace my last inquisitive.” The half-orc made the eight pointed signum crucis over his heart, three fingers moving down, then one across from left to right, a silent prayer to the Sovereign Host, muttering, “Gods rest his soul,” under his breath.

“As you probably know, I am a businessman with many interests. As such, I am often the target of unwanted attentions by, shall we say, jealous business rivals. I had secured the services of Mr Antos Keldoran to look into some troubles I was having. Unfortunately, Mr Keldoran met with a rather untimely demise.” Verducci studied Wireburn and Quinn’s reactions carefully.

Hawksley spoke up:

“We are acquainted with the news of Mr. Keldoran’s unfortunate passing. I was unaware that he also represented your interests. Was he doing so in the course of his investigations of the missing children, or was that a separate matter?”

“Missing children?” Verducci seemed surprised. “No, no, he was looking into some private matters for me. Dis has nothing to do wit those missing children I read about in the broadsheets. Poor kids.” The half-orc sipped his wine thoughtfully before continuing.

Hawksley sensed that Verducci was truly surprised by the mention of the missing children. The catch in his voice, the way he glanced up instead of away, the lack of pupil dilation all indicated that the half-orc was not intentionally misleading the pair about the subject, and he seemed genuinely saddened by their plight. The scholar could feel it with his gifts. But of course, Verducci seemed to be all about business at the moment.

“I wish to retain your services, so youse can find the bast— Pardon me. Find the person, or persons, responsible for killing Mr Keldoran, and bring dem to justice,” Verducci explained as he tugged at his cravat. “My honour has been besmirched, and I take it as a great personal affront that someone in my employ, even though he was a private contractor, has been dusted. I am most concerned about what this will say about my image. You do understand, don’t youse?”

“But of course, Mr. Verducci. A man of your stature and influence needs to be seen to be effective in his endeavours, particularly in terms of how he stands behind his people.”

“I’m glad youse gents seem to understand my predicament,” the half-orc said.

“My sources tells me that Keldoran’s business is to change hands tomorrow at the reading of his will. I am told dat his niece is to inherit the Inquisitive Service. I know nothing of dis niece, but I fear she may be in danger as well,” Verducci admitted. “I would send some of my boys to look after things, but that may be seen as a bit…intimidatin’, if you follow my meaning. If another inquisitive service were to approach her, it would probably be more appropriate. Especially since you have a reputation of bein’ quite charming, Mr Quinn. And you, Mr Wireburn, have a reputation of being quite effective with dat sword you are carrying…”
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Old 01-17-2012, 04:47 AM
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Default In the House that Verducci Built (Continued)

Hawksley looked pensive for a moment, then responded:

“I see. Well then, perhaps it is time for those brass tacks that practically-minded folk are always wanting to get down to. If I take your offer correctly, you wish the following:
1) You want to retain our services to determine who it was that did in the esteemed Mr. Keldoran.
2) You wish to further retain our services to protect those that Mr. Keldoran left behind him, in particular his niece, at least until it can be determined that those that played foul with Mr. Keldoran have been dealt with and no longer present a potential threat to this young lady Keldoran.
If that is correct, then please allow me to ask a few clarifying questions. To wit:

1) Was Mr. Keldoran on retainer to you or was he working on a specific project for you as a contractor? And do you wish to retain us on an ongoing, indefinite basis, or are you engaging us for the sole purposes of this specific contract?

2) If you had ongoing business with Mr. Keldoran, do you wish us to acquire his files on the matter? Or do you wish to see how the business is disposed of first?

3) I imagine that Mr. Keldoran’s heirs may also be interested in seeking justice. Do you wish us to exclude them from our investigations or do you object to our potentially deciding to include them?

Further, we will need to be briefed on the entirety of your business with Mr. Keldoran, as it is likely to be extremely relevant to our investigation. I am moved to ask, Mr. Verducci -- you are not without competitors. There are many who would seek to thwart you, as they may seek the same advantages you do; do you have any immediate candidates for us to consider in this matter? Was Mr. Keldoran working on something of just such a competitive nature?”


Verducci sat quietly, listening very carefully to what the young scholar was saying. He didn’t interrupt at all, which was a little unnerving at first.

“That is a good grasp of the situation, and I will address each point in turn,” Verducci said after Hawksley finished. He studied the scholar and the warrior for a moment before continuing.

“Firstly, I wish you to determine Keldoran’s killer or killers, yes. ” The half-orc counted off on his fingers as he spoke. “Secondly, I feel it would be good business sense to afford protection to Mr Keldoran’s niece, yes. I do not believe he had any other family, but said protection should likewise be afforded to dem as well if they exist. Thirdly, Mr Keldoran was being retained by me on an ongoing basis, and I will address and clarify your specific roles in a moment. Fourthly, if it would be practical to acquire Keldoran’s files regarding my affairs, I would certainly compensate you appropriately for the service. Fifthly, I will leave it to you to determine what is the best course of action with regards to the niece being a part of your investigation. I do not wish to presume to tell you how to run your own business…”

Hawksley nodded appreciatively.

Wireburn, who has never thought very highly of half-orcs, was nevertheless impressed by Verducci’s keen business mind, and also nodded to show his recognition of this.

Verducci took a sip of wine to gather his thoughts.

“As for my business with Mr Keldoran, and what I wish you gents to do, let’s look at it like dis. I wish to hire youse to investigate the death of Mr Keldoran. Dis is a one-time engagement. If youse prove your worth in those investigations to my satisfaction, I will negotiate a full retainership, so you can look into the other tings dat Mr Keldoran was working on for me.

“Now, I understand dat these things may be very relevant to your initial investigation, so I will be more than happy to explain what Keldoran was looking onto for me. It is true that I have competition, and I fear that there are dose that wish to thwart me at every opportunity. Dat is the nature of business,” Verducci explained. “What I don’t appreciate is how it is being done.”

Verducci began ticking his fingers off again.

“About two months ago, my cousin had a birthday. I gave him a fine rapier as a gift. Turns out, dat rapier I purchased was stolen goods. How was I to know it was an ir’Tannak family heirloom? I picked that sword out myself, myself, from a vendor in Tavick’s Landing. The Watch showed up with a warrant, in my family’s home, and embarrassed me in front of my family. And the vendor was long gone and never seen again.” Colour flushed the half-orc’s face as his blood pressure rose at the memory.

“A few days after dat, at the Grand Re-opening Under New Management of dis very establishment, Royal Health Inspectors discover several sides of beef in cold storage here are from a shipment dat was hijacked the night before in Terminus. I saw to the purchase of that beef personally, from a trusted vendor who has suddenly up and disappeared. You can imagine my discomfort at the situation.” The half-orc tugged at his cravat again, obviously growing stressed at the thought of what had been done to him.

“Then there was the vandalism done to Tarquin’s Art Gallery a few weeks ago. I get blamed because I had an argument with the owner over the authenticity of a piece he sold me for the Harp. Naturally, the Watch considered me the top suspect.

“And there was the fire at A Tinge of Vellum, a paper and book seller in Tradefair. Witnesses say dey saw me arguing with the proprietress the day before the place burned down. She was robbing me blind with her prices, so I had a disagreement with her, sure. But I ain’t no arsonist.” He slammed his fist on the table to emphasise the point.

“Kared Wake, a carpenter I contracted to build an extension onto my home, turns up dead after he and I have a public disagreement over the design of the extension. Guess who da Watch looks at for their top suspect…

“Old Fosdik Shortstone, the wine vendor in Middle Menthis, is poisoned to death the day after he sells me a very bad batch of wine for the restaurant. I says to my head chef, ‘What’s he trying to do, poison my customers?’” Verducci shook his head in dismay. “I was upset at the wine, not old Fosdik. It’s just not right…”

Verducci stopped counting and rubbed his temples with his large fingers, taking a moment to compose himself.

“So, I hired Mr Keldoran to look into these matters for me. I suspected a rival is trying to ruin my good name. These things affect me, they affect my family, and they affect my legitimate business endeavours. You know how hard it is to get a decent bottle of wine in this city now? You know how many butchers want to sell me goods? They’re all afraid they’ll end up dead or lose their businesses! I’m paying through the nose to get goods in because my reputation has been tarnished.

“Normally, in situations like these, I’d send some of my own to look into things and fix ‘em, y’know? But I have a feeling dat my trust has been breached. So I hired an outsider to look at the whole picture. Maybe he could find the rat in my organization that’s leaking info. Maybe he could put an end to this harassment. Before I run my businesses into the ground.”

Verducci called for another glass of wine, finished it in one long draught, and called for another.

“So, it comes down to who would want to see me out of business, don’t it. If you can think of a rival that I might have, they’re a candidate. Dat’s a lot of competition…” When he finally finished his tirade, he looked worn and exhausted. It seemed to take some vitality out of him to recount all the slights he’s endured.

Hawksley nodded in response.

“Interesting. This seems like a reasonably subtle strategy being deployed against you. And, it seems to me, fairly screaming of changeling. Mistaken identity strikes me as a key part of this campaign against your good name. If I may, Mr. Verducci, what is your relationship with the Boromar Clan like these days?”

“Let us say that we are on each others’ respective shit-lists,” Verducci said succinctly. “I’ve been dealing with the typical territory disputes and ‘who took what from whom’ games. To be honest, I wouldn’t put it past them to try something like this, but I’m not sure they have the wherewithal to pull it off.

“As for changelings, we have ways of identifying them.” Verducci pulled out a pair of spectacles and placed them on his flat nose. They were simple wire-framed glasses that had a slight mauve tint to them. They did little to improve Verducci’s expression. “A few of my boys have similar pairs, so we can see through their little games. Besides, the situations I described were targeting my own personal actions. I admit to having words wit these people before harm befell dem. But I did not cause them grief by burning down their businesses or making them dustmans. Dat’s not my style.”

“I find it interesting that they seemed to have been complicit in setting you up, then disappeared. A number of possibilities present themselves; perhaps they were all suborned in some way. However, I find it unlikely that this many different people, simple merchants all, were able to do what they did without betraying themselves. However, they could have been kidnapped and replaced by changelings, so that the last person you spoke with was in fact an impostor. Do you make it a habit to verify the true nature of everyone you interact with, on a routine basis? If not, for the time being, I urge you to engage in increased precautions in this direction.”

“I like the way this man thinks,” Verducci said over his shoulder to the two men in black. “As a matter of fact, I do occasionally check, but I cannot recall if I have with dese specific people at the time. But the arguments and grievances were real, I can assure you of that, Mr Quinn.”
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Default In the House that Verducci Built (Continued)

“I believe that the grievances were real. Where my curiosity is piqued is that it makes little sense, on the surface at least, for these men to betray you in such a clumsy fashion. You are a man of no small reputation -- for them to do what they did implies certain retributive measures on your part, no? At the very least, they would lose a lucrative economic partner. Any one of these events in isolation might be an expected anomaly. Several such misfortunes and mis-steps plaguing you all at once? At the very least these men’s efforts were being sabotaged, the conflicts engineered to produce the seeming of a motive for you to do them harm. Their subsequent disappearances then take on a decidedly sinister cast and your reputation is, as you say, besmirched. It is not necessary for the men to have been replaced, to be sure. However, if I may, allow me to relate to you the events of this evening.”

“I see where you are coming from about me possibly being deceived. It is an intriguing notion, in its own way,” Verducci commented, gesturing for the scholar to continue at his own pace. “Please, do go on.”

Hawksley paused for a sip of wine to soothe his throat.

“Understand, Mr. Verducci, that as professional consulting inquisitives, information and knowledge, as well as both the acquisition and sequestration thereof, are our stock in trade. It is our good and our service; it is our livelihood. As such, I am generally loathe to pass on information for free. However, it seems to me that we are, in fact, undertaking this assignment?”

Hawksley glanced at Sir Wireburn. Wireburn nodded. This was definitely relevant to the discussion at hand.

“Very well then; in a moment, we can establish the financial parameters of our agreement. Let me return to my tale.”

Another quick sip.

“Truly, Mr. Verducci, an excellent, excellent bottle. I cannot express my appreciation enough for your sharing it with us. In any event, your esteemed representatives relayed your invitation to us for this very meeting some hours ago. Now, as you can imagine, we did not wile away the intervening time idly. While you are a figure of some renown, we felt it prudent to engage in a little preliminary investigation, a bit of reconnaissance, if you will. Among the various contacts that we reached out to, was a fellow you may or may not know of, a certain Jimmy Nine-Fingers. Jimmy shared with us certain intelligence as to the specifics of this establishment and your habits in terms of staffing. Please understand that no offence is intended here, Mr. Verducci -- rather, we were engaged in the sort of preparation that any investigator would engage in.”

“Of course,” Verducci said accommodatingly. “I take no offense at you performing a bit of digging on me. I would expect nothing less of you fine sirs.”

Hawksley took another sip of wine and looked about for an ashtray.

“Mr. Verducci, I don’t suppose you enjoy the occasional cigar? And, if it isn’t an imposition, as wonderful as this wine is, I think a nice brandy would be apropos.”

“But of course, Mr Quinn.” Verducci, being the fine host that he was, called for a servant to bring a box of Karrnathi cigars and a fine Zilargo brandy. He poured for his guest before pouring himself a snifter, and selected one of the cigars, lighting Hawksley’s before his own.

Hawksley took a sip of brandy, holding it in his mouth as he took a puff of the fine cigar, allowing the smoke and the spirits to mingle.

“Mm. Lovely. Where were we? Oh yes, Jimmy Nine-Fingers; well, the good Mr. Nine-Fingers was most helpful in terms of what we took to be responsible precautions, but there was definitely something on his mind. His consternation was written on his face, as obvious as a headline on the front page of the Sharn Inquisitive. We are much like you, Mr. Verducci, in that we hold loyalty as a cardinal virtue and, in particular, we take an active interest in the health and welfare of our contacts and colleagues. So when Jimmy shared with us his predicament, we found a way to accommodate him. Jimmy was expecting a thrashing at the hands of some thugs hired by his sister-in-law. Rather than leave him to the dubious mercies of such ruffians, we hired Jimmy for the evening as a guide and look-out, with the intention of finding these thugs and dissuading them from their intended course of action.”

Another mingled puff and taste of the exquisite brandy; Verducci watched and listened very intently.

“Our strategem bore fruit, or so we thought: we were accosted by a pair of men who made their uncivil intentions clear. Just as Sir Wireburn and I moved to interpose ourselves and assume negotiations on Jimmy’s behalf, additional players made their presence known: none other than Damian Boromar, along with with a cadre of five gnolls to back his act. I will not lie, good sir, this was cause for some small concern to my colleague and I, but we nevertheless put Jimmy at our backs and prepared ourselves for a session of brisk debate. Which is when the last of the trap snapped closed: behind us, where we had put him for his safety, Jimmy drew on us, leaving us in the pincers of a sharp dilemma. It was clear that we had been betrayed, delivered into ambuscade by one we had foolishly trusted.”

Hawksley paused to refresh himself again, blowing a couple of smoke rings. Verducci raised an eyebrow, but made no comment yet, waiting for Hawksley to continue. He drew on his own cigar, his brandy warming in one hand.

“Our arguments proved most persuasive, but unfortunately, of all those arrayed against us, Jimmy Nine-Fingers alone proved intractably intransigent and some incivility was called for by that most civil of gentlemen, the good Sir Wireburn. The laconic Sir Wireburn never uses two words when one will do and it was in this distinctively parsimonious fashion that he dealt with the traitor. You can imagine our surprise, then, when the two Jimmy’s (for I assure you, where there had been one Jimmy, after Sir Wireburn’s rebuke there were now two) melted into the remains of a changeling.”

A quick sip and then he resumed:

“It seems to me that your intention to engage us in this matter is perhaps not privileged information, and, moreover, that this evening’s frivolities were, in fact, not aimed at us, but rather essayed with a view to in some way cause you inconvenience.”

Hawksley looked at Verducci.

“What do you think, sir?”

“A most compelling tale, with a terrible lesson to be learned. I see where it is you are coming from. Thank you, good sir,” Verducci said thoughtfully.

“Dis is, in fact the very reasoning I had used when consulting with Mr Keldoran. I chose someone outside of my business interests as to reduce the risk of, shall we say, security breaches. I wanted someone to look into why dese things were happening all at once to me, and in such public ways. I suspected a plot; I hired an inquisitive. That man was killed, though I am not sure it was because of what he was looking into for me, or if it related to another case he may have been pursuing. Thus, I am in need of your services now.

“Shall we, how did you say it, ‘establish the financial parameters of our agreement?’” Verducci picked up the card that Wireburn and Quinn had presented upon arriving at the Gilded Harp. “‘Turgid negotiation extra,’” he commented, amused at the choice of words. “I won’t lie to youse gents. I hate negotiating. I prefer to make solid offers that guarantee loyalty. I pay top sovereigns for quality, you understand.”

He reached into his jacket and withdrew a small notepad and pen. After scribbling something down, he tore out the page, folded it over, and passed it to Quinn, who seemed to be the one most interested in discussing numbers.

“I believe you will find my offer for initial services to be very generous,” the businessman said confidently.

Hawksley opened the paper and looked at what was written within:
“10,000 gold”
“I want youse to find Keldoran’s killer, and I want justice served. The niece is to be looked after as well. I believe that to be a fair price. What do you think?” Verducci studied Hawksley’s reaction with interest, his fingers steepled before him.

Hawksley conferred with Sir Wireburn.

“The figure is acceptable. We presume that half will be paid up front, with the balance being tendered upon completion? Additionally, some provision should be made for expenses.”
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Pessimism is just an ugly word for pattern recognition...

Necessity is the mother of moral reletivism...
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