A Dance With Death – Part 1
Afnan River Junction took a little getting used to, much more complicated than Cardy Vale. It was split up into four distinct districts; the Elven territory, the Maerelian Army stronghold, the Alliance, and the international zone. It was split up after the Great War as part of a treaty and each zone came with its own rules and regulations. It was a mess to navigate but not too bad if you knew the rules and, I hated to admit it, but as a human male with decent looks, navigating Afnan River Junction was easy enough for me. Just had to keep my head down and stay out of trouble.
Kethend, my client that led to me fleeing Cardy Vale, set me up nicely in Afnan. I tried to turn her down but I have always had trouble saying no to rich, pretty women. She rented a beautiful new office for me, complete with a furnished apartment right above it. It was quiet, roomy, and smelled of fresh paint. I hated it. It was far too nice and I never felt comfortable in it, but it was somewhere to stay and so far there were no mobs with a hit out on me, so that was a nice change.
My gaudy little office was on the outskirts of the international zone, near the Maerelian stronghold. The location was nice because it was right in the middle of the city, if you wanted to get anywhere in “The Junction,” you had to pass by my office. Also, being so close to the army base meant that there were plenty of soldiers to play dice against. For some reason, soldiers and policemen are awful gamblers.
I had ventured into the Alliance District a couple times and found it very hospitable, although strange. An impressive synthesis of every culture within the continent, but with the notable exclusion of elves, gnomes, and other races deemed “unsuitable.” I was not a fan of the policy but I did not make the rules. Work was work. The Elven territory was run by delegates from the Rear Woods. The whole place was just too gaudy and clean for me. I stayed away.
I had to work hard to afford the new lifestyle that was forced upon me. Luckily, the Junction, as the locals called it, was full of problems. The constant tension of the districts meant an endless supply of work for me. Anything from missing daughters, cheating spouses, stolen property, kidnapping; I was up to my neck in work. I had even saved up enough coin to fix the dental work that Big Brylk’s men had done to me.
While getting established I had made a couple working relationships that benefited me well. I met Detective Gavin Woodleaf at the liar’s dice tables. He was a skinny elvish man with a round face that was incapable of lying. I made a lot of coin off of him. We went out for drinks after a game and became friends. When the international zone police have their hands full, he will send some of the work my way. Nice friend to have.
After a night of dice throwing and being on the receiving end of one of Gavin’s famous unstoppable lucky streaks, he took me to the Rusty Wrench Tavern for drinks. He paid for our whiskey, mostly with the money he had won off of me. I think he felt bad. I had been on a losing streak and was stiffed by a client earlier that week. They had the nerve to get stabbed to death when they mouthed off to some large orcs in a dark alley. I had not been in the best of moods.
“You son of a bitch,” I grimaced and took a shot of whiskey.
Gavin laughed, “If I had the choice between being lucky or good, I will take luck any day.”
I grumbled. To be honest I wasn’t really that mad, I just really liked to make Gavin feel bad for winning. “Smart. Luck is all you got. Definitely no skill to speak of.”
He raised his glass, “I can drink to that.”
I rolled two cigarettes, handed one to my friend and leaned back in my chair. “Alright, take my mind off of that stupid game. How’s work?”
I must have reminded him of something because he excitedly turned to me and said, “Oh, have I got a good one for you. I would actually like your input if you could. Have you heard anything about the murder on Tourmaline Avenue?”
“There was a woman that was found near a dumpster, right?”
“Yeah, it was Cristiana Montague. She was an organizer for the Chancellor, well connected and quite popular. Very good at her job. Anyway, she started not showing up for work for a couple of days ago and then is found dead. Turns out she spent the entire time in an opium den, whacked out of her mind. One of the strangest things I had ever heard of. We talked to friends, family, coworkers and none of them had even seen her have a drink, let alone go on an opium bender.”
“But,” he held up a finger to emphasize, “here is the kicker. We found her missing her eyes, ears, and tongue. How sick is that? Some sick fuck took her body parts. What do you make of that?”
I shook my head. “Looks like someone took the evil out of her.”
Detective Gavin nodded his head and blew out some smoke. “Wow, that is poetic. I like that. You have a way with words.”
I narrowed my eyes. “No, not like … as in the ancient proverb. I believe it comes from some old carvings of Luciben. ‘To be a good person you must hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.’ Sounds like someone is playing on that.”
Gavin’s eyes looked like they were about to pop out of his head. “Oh! Oh wow. That … that has to be it!” He pulled out a pencil and his policeman’s pad and made a quick note to himself. “And you said this was a quote from Luciben?”
I shrugged. “I just know it is some kind of ancient proverb. I am surprised you haven’t heard of it before.”
He scribbled more notes and got up to leave. “Thanks bud. I gotta go.” He paid the bartender and left in a hurry.
It had been a pretty boring two days since the dice game. I had been hired to find a woman’s missing diamond ring. I walked to the nearest pawn shop from where it went missing and bought it from the display case. I returned it to her later that day, after a quick drink at the bar. Kethend came and visited me the next day. She tried to convince me to come to a swanky dance that the city was putting on as a fundraiser for dying kids or out of work farmers or something, I can’t remember. I told her I wasn’t interested. She pouted and whined but eventually gave up when she saw I wouldn’t budge. New office or not, I was not about to be elbow to elbow with socialites and the upper class. It was a bad idea; especially for Kethend’s sake. I did not mix well with high society.
I was practicing throwing my hat across the room when I heard a knock at my door. The door announced, “Detective Gavin requests your audience.” The magic secretary door came with the office and there was apparently no way to turn it off, no matter how hard I tried. “Let him in.” I flicked my wand and cast an invisible hand to retrieve my hat from the other side of the room before the door opened.
Detective Gavin entered and the door automatically closed behind him. He sat down and leaned forward in the chair opposite my desk. He was slightly out of breath and looked very excited.
“Hey bud, are you busy?” He continued before I could answer. “Do you remember the dead woman I told you about, Cristiana Montague?”
“The one missing body parts?”
“Exactly! You will never guess what showed up today. We got a call about a murdered woman in the White Dove Hotel, the one across from the casino. She was found missing her eyes, ears, and tongue! I think there is a serial killer on the loose!”
“Yeah, sounds like it. Congratulations. Could be a big case for you.”
“It sure is but I don’t really know where to go from here. I was hoping I could pick your brain a little bit, if that is alright with you.”
I pulled my planner from my drawer. “Well, I have a meeting with a client in … three days. I think I can spare a moment or two.”
Gavin gave me a big smile. “Great. Alright, so I did the usual due process and talked to everyone that I could at the hotel. The casino is located on the Alliance side so that was unfortunately unaccessible.”
I nodded. I had been to that casino many times. I motioned for him to continue.
“Anyway, some interesting things came up. The victim was a young dwarven woman named Durgat Tuskhorn.”
I scratched my chin. “Why does that name sound so familiar?”
“Have you heard of the Tuskhorn mines from the Wintermoss mountains? Or Tuskhorn diamonds? Her family owns that mine.”
“Oh yeah, I had to find a missing Tuskhorn diamond ring the other day. Anyway, continue.”
“Yeah, her family is extremely wealthy. She came to The Junction with her … driver or … chaperone I guess you could call him. His name is Duli. A very stout mountain dwarf. We have him in custody right now.”
“Have you questioned him yet?”
“Briefly. He said that they arrived about a week ago. She mostly kept to herself. He said that she was typically a shy, nice girl. That is, until three days ago. Duli told me that she met a man at the market that took her to the casino.”
“Did you get a description?”
“He didn’t give me a name but said he was slender man; pale, a little taller than average, and had long black hair. Not a whole lot to go on though without being able to question anyone from the casino. Apparently they had been spending a lot of time in the VIP area, dropping large amounts of coin all night. Duli said that she would come back to the hotel completely wasted and leave to meet her friend as soon as she woke up later that afternoon. Completely out of her character.”
“Strange. Yeah, this sounds just like what happened to the other woman who was murdered. This guy must be tied to the serial killer. Have you put up any wanted posters?”
“The chief doesn’t want to cause hysteria. He also doesn’t want to alert the killer that we are onto him. He is currently trying to talk to an Alliance guard he knows to see if I can talk with some of the casino employees, but we both know how that will go. There is no way that they will want to work with law enforcement from this side of the city.”
“Was the first vic, um … Cristiana, was she wealthy?”
“I thought of that as well. She was not. Well connected for sure but still a city worker. Nothing too fancy.”
“Did they look alike?”
“Cristiana was an average looking half-elvish woman with green eyes and long black hair. Uh, Durgat was a short, well, dwarvish woman with light brown eyes and shorter hair.”
I took off my hat and rubbed my head. There had to be a connection there. “They had higher than average social standing. One was rich, the other had connections. I mean, that is not a whole lot to go on but it’s something.”
“Maybe he is just attacking women at random?”
I shook my head and stuck a cigarette in my mouth. “No. Killer’s usually have a reason for choosing their victims. It is pretty rare to see a murder that happens at random. The murderer almost always knows the victim, or at least chooses them for a reason. We just have to figure out what that is. Why he chose them.”
“What could he want from them?”
“Well He definitely wants to corrupt these women.”
Gavin looked surprised. “What do you mean?”
“Like you said, both Cristiana and Durgat were acting strange before they were murdered. The killer seems to find these unassuming women and somehow corrupts them to turn to seedier lifestyles you could say. Cristiana was doing opium and Durgat was drinking and gambling. Neither of them were known to have a proclivity for those kinds of activities. My guess is that this man is casting some sort of spell to make these women go bad and then he takes their corrupted organs as some kind of sick prize, maybe? A kind of trophy.”
Detective Gavin’s head pulled back and he looked at me sideways, uncomfortably.
He shook his head. “I mean, I guess that makes sense but, fuck. That is twisted.”
I blew out a smoke ring and thought hard. Why is someone targeting high class, unassuming women? They both were, I guess what would be called good girls. They actually reminded me a lot of my friend Kethend. Now that I thought about it, Kethend might have known Durgat. They were both daughters of affluent families, they had probably crossed paths. In fact, she probably knew Cristiana as well. She was the one that put on these fancy functions that Kethend attended.
Then a frightening thought occured to me. “Have you heard about this fundraiser … dance-thing that the city is putting on?”
Gavin chimed in, “Oh, The Afnan River Junction Charity Soirée for the Disadvantaged and Impoverished?”
“Yeah, that thing. Do you know if either of these women were going to attend this … party?”
“Well, I don’t know if you would call it a party, exactly. It is more of a-”
I cut him off, “were they going to attend?”
“Well, yeah, actually. Cristiana helped put it together.” He sat upright, “Oh, that’s right! I found Durgat’s ticket to the fundraiser when I searched her things. Yeah, she was definitely going.”
I let out a groan. “Well shit.” I pulled out my flask and took a long pull from it, felt it burn on the way into my stomach. “Looks like I am going to have to get a new suit. I got a party to attend.”
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you like it and please comment if you have any suggestions, edits, or just to tell me what you thought about it. I am going to have part 2 up next Tuesday, stay tuned for that. Also, I am headed to Cincinnati next week with my wife so look for updates on our travels to the Midwest!