One Stone, Chapter 24

Kivis stood over the edge of the river and rocked one foot back and forth against the stone. It gave her body some casual rhythm, which helped her in what she was doing, making sure she didn’t get bored maintaining a single position for such a long time.

“Did you knock him out?” Brother Fratarelli asked, leaning down and looking at the man hanging over the edge of the support wall by his ankles. Fratarelli really didn’t appreciate what was involved in a fight, not a proper fight. You couldn’t knock a man unconscious with one blow easily, not unless you had something like a mallet to bring down on his head. If you wanted to put someone under you had to choke them, or something. Really, if this sort of thing was going to happen again, she’d have to teach the Brother how to defend himself. “I mean, I understand-“ He was cut off by the groan.

Kivis gripped, and rolled her shoulders and repeated the question again. “What interest does your boss have with Brother Fratarelli?”

“Hngh, I… ugh. Let… let me think!”

“No.” Kivis said, and shook the man, from the ankles down, like he was an old rug, thudding him into the side of the wall with an almighty whack. The coins last left in his pockets tumbled out and jangled down into the water, which was black and sludgey around here, thanks to the bend upstream.

Letting them think was bad; they’d try to come up with lies. Of course, she couldn’t do this sort of violence long if she wanted an answer; he’d just say anything to get out of her clutches, and at that point there was no point listening to him. The point of it wasn’t information – it was terror. She couldn’t fight every person who might want to strike at the church, but she could make them all fear what happened if they were caught. “One more time. What interest does your boss-“

“I don’t know,” he howled, trying to brace himself against the wall, arms behind him, flailing for balance. “We was told to come pick up the Brother! Boss doesn’t like givin’ us orders we can screw up!”

“Um, who is your boss?” Brother Fratarelli asked, still crouching near to the man’s head, like raising his voice would be rude in the circumstances.

“Um, can-“

WHACK.

“Luke the Sinner! Luke the Sinner, guv! Christ on my words, it’s Luke the Sinner! Me back, I swear, I’m gunna be crippled, lady, you-“

Kivis let go of one of the man’s ankles and put the hand on her hip as she looked at Brother Fratarelli. Not a woman prone to exhibiting such joys in her life, she did love that her helmet always looked unimpressed. It was a useful expression to always present the world; the hawklike stylised image that told whoever she was talking to that she was not having any of this.

“Oh dear.” The Brother said, nursing his chin, folding a finger and gnawing on the knuckle. “Oh dear oh dear. Oh dear.”

“Uhm, mam, can I-“

Kivis dragged the fellow over the lip of the wall and dropped him in the street. “I was kind,” she said, her words echoing in her helm, and she didn’t spare him a glance as he hoisted himself up into a stand and hobbled away as fast as he could.

“Alright, Fratarelli. What did you do?”

Fratarelli drew himself up and rubbed his hand on the little bit of hair he still had at his sides. “Um, well, um. I think this may be about ah, I… I think I may have to explain myself on this one…”

“It’d be nice of you to start explaining yourself.”

“You never asked.”

“I did, actually. Several times. You can’t play that card, Brother. It’s your guilt, not mine.”

“Ugh.” Fratarelli lurched, crossing his arm over his paunch and grabbing his elbow nervously. It was like he was trying to screw himself up into a ball like an old piece of paper. “Yes! I did confession for Father Reighland over at Connaught some months ago,”

“Brother?”

“It meant I-”

Kivis just put her hand over the priest’s mouth. “Not here. Not in the street. Hm?”

Silenced, the Brother took a moment, gathered his wits, and nodded. Then Kivis set him down, gently, and gestured to the church.

“What happened to the other boy?” Fratarelli asked.

“Let him go. Mercy to the ignorant.”

“How very… faithful.”

“No point kicking a dog that doesn’t know what it’s done.”

“… You know, Kivis, I don’t imagine you the sort to kick dogs.”

“Of course not. Dogs are nice.” She said, pulling the church doors closed behind her.

*

Rafe’s path out of the Dims wasn’t a direct one. There was a surly walk to it, a slouch that spoke of dragged feet, and curling streets. He didn’t know why he was doing it, but some part of him didn’t want to slink back to the little flat dock down by the riverside where Aderyn was going to, inevitably ask him more questions. Surely she should recognise by now that he didn’t want to answer. Hell, she sort of did – but that just made her more interested in finding out why he didn’t want to answer. Ugh, curious people.

“What’s that?”

Worse, when she asked a question, there was always that faintly flat edge to it. Most people asked questions like they were expected to have an answer already. Aderyn asked questions like she knew the answer, but was trying to make conversation. Stopping and looking down her arm, he squinted at the storefront.

“It’s a hock shop.”

“A hock shop?”

“Uh, pawnbrokers? It’s a fence.”

“Oh! How interesting. I was talking about the dress in the front window.”

Rafe squinted at it, turning in his walk to head towards the window, with its circular pattern of Clean and brown grimy edges of Not Clean, and looked in at one of the pinkest things he’d ever seen in his life.

It was a dress sitting on a dressmaker’s dummy, which stood somewhat apart from the repurposed bookshelf that sat in the window. While the cells of the bookshelf were filled with things like cigar cases and lighters and, of course, at least one knife that was almost certainly an object of interest to the barneys, the dress had none of that workday filth on it. It didn’t look as much like a dress to Rafe as it looked like some sort of construction project. Starting at the throat, there was a sort of frilly ring that connected to high sleeves that belled at the top and tapered down to the elbow like a pair of very lazy lilies, all decorated about in pink. There was a white panel over the chest, which was edged with pastel pink. Down the front, there were three piped lines of the same pink that looked, for want of a better word, flexible. It was cinched about the middle with a pink belt, and then, just as Rafe was getting to grips with how a human was meant to wear it, it exploded outwards in a bell shape of the same pink. It was pink without demand, pink without mercy; the pink expanded outwards and sat in an inexorable shape that refused to be reasoned with. The shape of it hinted at layers upon layers of skirts underneath, and it hovered above the counter top on which the dressmaker’s stand rested with careful precision.

“It’s a dress, Aderyn,” Rafe said, when he realised he’d spent a good two minutes just gawping at the festival of pink behind the glass of brown in a shop window of green.

“Yes, it is a dress. I’m just surprised to see it here.”

Tilting his head Rafe considered it. It was a pretty scabby hock shop. Chances are there was a story for why a dress like that wound up here, but he wasn’t likely to hunt it out. When you saw something that pretty in the Dims it usually meant someone had a sad tale that ended with a life once with sunshine in it, where maybe a thing was bought or given as part of a promise, a promise that ended with the handover of a few small coins in a grubby little corner of the Dims, because promises couldn’t buy oil or food or worse. He shrugged and tried to find a thread to keep the conversation going. As he opened his mouth, Aderyn interrupted him.

“Of course nobody’s going to buy it.”

“Well, y- wait, why do you think?”

“You see there? The brooch at the bodice, the one on each hip?” Aderyn pointed on the dress, at the little silvered cameos. Oh, so the front of the thing was its bodice? “Those are royal seals, Rafe. This is a Princess’ dress; wearing it if you’re not a princess is a dreadfully disrespectful thing.” Aderyn drew an outline of the shape, something like a crown, on the glass. “Of course, a duchess could wear it, though there are not many of those in the city at the moment, and it would be seen as quite gauche with the throne empty. Why did you think nobody would buy it?”

Rafe shrugged and tried to hide between his shoulders, glaring up the street. “Because this is the Dims and it’s worth five pounds. Are you kidding me? A princess’ dress, here? My arse.”

“I don’t really see what your backside and a princess dress have in common at all, Rafe.”

Rafe shook his head as he picked up his pace moving away from the shopfront window. This was bollocks.

*

The kettle sat on the stove-top, slowly heating but refusing to heat quickly. Kivis sat, with her arms folded, next to it, on one of the bench seats tucked under the table, and waited. Brother Fratarelli had been her friend for some time now, but throughout all the time she’d known him, she’d never seen him this nervous.

“It’s…” he finally said, then hesitated, as if he was hoping the kettle would whistle and interrupt him. “It’s complicated.”

“Brother,” Kivis said with the same deliberate pause. “Yes?”

The rebuke made him squirm. “You understand that confession is not the same thing under the Church of Tiber’s religious strictures as it is under the Athlan faith where the tradition came from, right?”

Thank god for the helmet. It meant she didn’t have to give him a flat look. It was just implied.

“Alright, well… you see…” Brother Fratarelli wrung his hands and rested them on the table top. “About… a month and a half ago, a priest couldn’t handle his services, so I was asked to fill in for him. I’m in the area, you see…”

“Brother, this is Timoritia. Everyone’s in the area.”

“Yes, but I’m within walking distance, and-“

“And your congregation isn’t important.”

He sagged. “Yes… yes, basically. If my flock go a week without anything it doesn’t matter. But the other congregation… it’s the Cathedral at Connaught.”

“And?”

Brother shifted a little. “See, I… I did the service and listened to confessional there, which was the better part of a day… and while I was there, I heard stories from the congregation there. Confessions… confessions to violent acts… confessions to ah… criminal acts… it wasn’t like doing confession here. Here, they’re looking for someone to soothe their consciences for their little misdeeds. Scuffles on Saturday night, forgiven on Sunday morning, you know? Nobody’s that…”

“Bad.” Kivis finished.

“… Yes. Nobody’s that bad.”

She shook her head, and reached over to slide the kettle slightly off the flame.

“… Anyway. That’s how I heard about… what Cameo Tully was doing.”

“He confessed.”

“… He bragged. He was sitting in the booth next to me and called me the other priest’s name, though he had to know that I was someone else. I’d just given a sermon! And… and he … he wanted praise for it? He wanted praise for stopping these… poor women, and- and I just mean poor women, women without money – from having access to something that meant they could have some, some control over their lives.” The priest wasn’t crying, but there was the sound of it to him. “And he was… he was so proud of himself for it. It was…”

She shook her head. “Your guilt, Father, not mine. I’d probably have duelled him on the spot.”

“Well, yes, you have that luxury.”

“Not really. He’d have refused. He’s not crazy.”

“He wasn’t. But Aderyn-“

“Aderyn’s not crazy either.” Kivis said, pushing herself to stand. “She’s just different. And you’re telling me that this is how you found out about Cameo’s work. How does this relate to Luke Cornell?”

“Well, I was the big difference. I… I mean, Cameo Tully confesses to me, turns up dead later?”

“… A month and a half later, Brother.” She shook her head. “If this is why they want to talk to you, they’re geniuses. How many other things in Cameo Tully’s life changed in those days? Praefoco?”

“Praefoco’s been his associate for… for nine months, I think.”

Kivis stopped. “… Do you think that this is the sort of thing Praefoco might have noticed?”

“… Because he’d have taken notes…” Brother Fratarelli said, eyes open. “You think he would have?”

“I don’t know. I never dealt with the man. But if that’s what Luke Cornell has, that’s evidence.”

“… Oh dear.” Fratarelli stood up again, stepping over the bench. “We… we should do something about this.”

“You think? Come on. We need to find Rafe and Aderyn.”

“You think, you’d uh, you’d rather they handle it?”

“I’d rather set a thief, thank you.” Kivis said, leading Brother Fratarelli with her, out into the main hall, through the small side door, and out onto the street that faced the river and…

Which now hosted, sitting squat, and low, and sour in the river, a two-storey houseboat, decorated about with barbed wire and brass bells.

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