Con & conjure, p.29
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       Con & Conjure, p.29

         Part #5 of Raine Benares series by Lisa Shearin
Page 29


  I didn’t want to see that, either.

  “Damn. ”

  Mago nodded in agreement. “And then some. ”

  The watch would be here soon, and while Symon Wiggs wasn’t wanted by the watch, they’d wonder what an elven banker was doing snooping around a newly dead goblin, because that was exactly what I was about to do. Obviously, Chatar had escaped the hotel fire, and what was equally obvious was that he’d decided he needed some consolation afterward.

  Or maybe his motives weren’t so obvious.

  We were here to hide out, get news, and kill some time before a clandestine meeting. Perhaps Chatar had been here for similar reasons. We drank brandy and smoked cigars to pass the time; Chatar decided to get naked and do something else. A matter of preference, nothing more. Besides, the goblin mage didn’t strike me as the desolate type. He’d said he wasn’t guilty and he’d stuck to it. I wasn’t buying the “overcome with guilt and hanged himself” story that was sure to come. There was more here than met Symon’s beady eyes, and I’d better find it before the watchers got here.

  Mago knew what I was about to do and gave me a quick nod.

  He put an arm around the girl’s shoulders that were now shaking with barely contained sobs. “My dear, come sit down. ” He guided her to a settee at the end of the hall, and away from seeing what I was about to do.

  I had two minutes at the most and I took full advantage.

  Windows were locked from the inside. There was no sign of forced entry on the door. The girl had probably only been gone for a few minutes at the most, but I could confirm that by asking her some questions, though Mago was probably taking care of that right now. I studied the body, but was careful not to touch anything. The city watch had seekers, too. I’d rather not be added to their list of suspects, though it wouldn’t be me, it would be Symon.

  Chatar’s fingernails were clean, the knuckles unscuffed. No sign of defensive wounds anywhere on his body, and I do mean anywhere.

  No sign of an assailant, either.

  I heard the sound of voices coming up the stairs. I looked at the goblin’s neck. The noose was red silken rope. I glanced at the bedposts. Matching rope was tied around three of the four bedposts. Kinky. Someone had put the fourth rope to another use. I said someone, because there was no way Chatar had died by hanging. He was killed and then strung up to look like he’d done it himself. I’d only seen a few hangings, but I’d been given a tutorial at a crime scene by my old friend Chief Watcher Janek Tawl back home in Mermeia.

  Chatar’s feet were only about a foot off the floor, not far enough for the weight of his body to break his neck when the chair was kicked out from beneath him. There was a reason why gallows had a trap door and a long drop. Weight and velocity broke necks. When suicides tried to hang themselves using the chair and rope method, they often died from slow suffocation, probably not the quick death they’d planned on. If Chatar had strung himself up, he’d have strangled, and his face and neck would have been dark red and congested with blood.

  Neither body part was in either condition.

  It was murder, dressed up to look like not-murder.

  I got out into the hall before Madam Camille and her bouncers cleared the last few stairs. I went to Mago and the girl.

  “She was downstairs for ten minutes at the most,” Mago told me. “Came back upstairs and found him like that. ”

  “Did he lock the door behind you?” I asked the girl.

  She looked up at me with wide blue eyes, the scent of wild roses wafting from her pale, spun-silk hair, her full young breasts pressing firm and taut against the gauzy fabric of her—

  I shook my head to clear it of the flood of images that followed. How the hell did men get anything done when everything made them think of sex?

  “I . . . I don’t know,” the girl stammered.

  I blinked. “Excuse me?”

  “Your question. Did he lock the door behind me?”

  I cleared my throat. “Oh, yes. That question. ”

  “I guess he could have left it unlocked,” she said.

  And a murderer had let himself in, killed Chatar, made a half-assed effort to make it look like a suicide, and made his escape.

  “No one was in the hall while I was here,” Mago said. “And if anyone had gone down the stairs, he’d have been seen. ”

  I looked down to the other end of the hall, more specifically at a blank wall that I knew wasn’t so blank. I stepped away from the girl and motioned to Mago to follow me.

  “Not if he didn’t go down those stairs,” I told him.

  “There aren’t any others. ”

  “Oh, yes, there are. ”

  I told him about the hidden staircase on the other side of the wall that emptied out into the street behind the bordello next to a perfectly respectable bakery.

  Mago raised an eyebrow. “There’s a story there. ”

  “There is, but not now. ”

  Madam Camille looked in the room and had much the same reaction as Mago and me. One distinct word that summed up her feelings perfectly. Prostitution was legal in the city. Murder was not. Suicide was bad for business—so was murder. Either one meant the law would soon be crawling all over this place. And if Camille didn’t notify them now, she’d be sorry for it later. An investigation into a death meant losing business for a night; covering up a crime meant losing business permanently.

  She half turned to one of her bouncers. “Notify the watch. ”

  Camille was smart.

  Mago spoke up. “And the goblin embassy. ”

  “What?” Camille and I asked at the same time.

  “The victim was one of Prince Chigaru Mal’Salin’s mages. Whether suicide or foul play, he’s a subject of the goblin crown and has diplomatic privileges. The prince’s chancellor and the acting goblin ambassador must be notified. ”

  That would be Tam and Imala.

  I bit my lip against a smile.

  My cousin was smart, too.

  The goblins would know a murder when they saw one; the watch may or may not. I could find out exactly what happened in that room, but only if I dropped my glamour. But if I dropped it, it would take who knew how long to get it up again. No pun intended. As I’d experienced before, frayed nerves equaled no glamour. It’d happened before, and I couldn’t risk it happening again with watchers on the way—watchers who had been told to arrest Raine Benares. I was stuck as a short, woefully unendowed, mild-mannered banker until we could get out of here. In the meantime, Symon Wiggs’s identity was the only protection I had.

  A pair of watchers arrived first. That made sense considering that next to the entertainment district, the red-light district was one of the heaviest patrolled in the city. They did little more than secure the room and wait for their superiors. This was the Satyr’s Grove, the most exclusive bordello in the city. A crime here would have repercussions up the watcher chain of command and the Conclave. Prostitution may be legal, but that didn’t mean that certain high-ranking officials wanted their names on a police report as possible witnesses to a murder or suicide of another high-ranking official. I imagine Camille had conveniently neglected to ask her clients to stay for police questioning. In five more minutes, we’d be the only people in the house.

  The murderer could possibly be one of the horde of high-class clients pulling up their trousers or pulling down their robes and hightailing it out of here, and there was nothing I could do to stop them—or identify them—as long as I was wearing a banker glamour. I’d give every coin of Symon Wiggs’s ill-gotten gains for one spark of magic right now.

  Mago and I were doing what people who were the first on the scene of a murder do—stand around, then stand around some more waiting to be questioned. The girl had already told them that the hall was empty and that when she screamed, Mago came out of one room and I came out of another, but seeing that said murderer was in the Saty
r’s Grove, these two watchers weren’t about to potentially put their badges on the line by letting anyone leave who’d seen that body. At least not until their superior told them they could. And that the victim was a goblin made it even more of a career-risking move. The watchers weren’t just playing it safe, they were playing it paranoid. I didn’t blame them, but I didn’t like it.

  Mago leaned his head in close. “You could track him?”

  I nodded once.

  Mago knew the source of my frustration. Unglamour and I could find a murderer. Unglamoured would also get me a pair of magic-sapping manacles and a trip to watcher headquarters—until I could be transferred to either a citadel containment room or Taltek Balmorlan’s specially built cell.

  I glanced down the hall to Rache’s room and stifled a growl. He was gone and I had nothing to show for finally cornering the bastard except a denial and a now-empty room.

  I stopped and thought. Maybe that room wasn’t so empty. Rache said he was a jack-of-one-trade. That trade wasn’t dressing in the dark and climbing out a window. I’d be willing to bet he’d left something behind. Something he’d worn, something with his essence that I could use to track him.

  I had to get into that room.

  There was a ring of fancy golden keys hanging on Madam Camille’s belt. It was the only practical thing about her entire outfit.

  “Mago,” I said on the barest breath.

  “Um-hmm,” Mago responded without moving his lips.

  “I have to get in Rache’s room. Keys are on her belt. Charm your way in?”

  The look my cousin gave me said that question wasn’t worth dignifying with an answer.

  Mago sauntered over to Camille, and bent his head close to her ear. A question, a nuzzle, and a discreet grope later, Mago walked back over and gave me the keys. I pressed my lips together against a smile. Not everyone in the family used cannons to get what they wanted.

  Most of the clothes on the floor in Rache’s room were the girl’s. I guess she figured she could get them later. Rache just wanted to get out; he wasn’t worried about leaving anything behind.

  He should have been. I found just what I needed.
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