After god knows how long, I have finally published the fifth Raike book – The Gentleman!
Obviously there were some major delays. These were life delays, not book delays. The whole Covid lockdown was not fun and it completely killed my energy. Plus I was renovating my house non-stop, so on my days off from that I was in recharge-mode and not writing-mode. Then I had other work stuff, I retreated from the book world for a bit, but now I’m back! So I hope you enjoy The Gentleman! It takes place in the same city as the first story, featuring some recurring characters, only Raike now has to deal with the fallout from leaving his mercenary group and becoming one of General Kasera’s heavy-hitters.
Keep your enemies close.
One year ago, Raike was forced to target the Captain of the City Watch. Now he’s forced to work alongside him.
With a supernatural killer on the loose, Raike comes to realize that his new partners are no longer investigating the deaths of their own members – they’re investigating Raike himself, and that maybe he’s the one the entire City Watch have been chasing for years.
Get it now!
I had to wonder when Sergi realized he was going to die. Was it at the start of the day when he questioned if he had just been poisoned? Was it when his superior officer walked him to his front door? Or did it come later, knowing if he delayed his killer any longer then his wife would come home and be murdered as well?
“Careful, careful!” snapped the city watch sergeant, as the seventeen year old watchman cut Sergi’s wrists free from the rafters. Sergi’s body collapsed into the three pairs of waiting arms, his weight toppling them to the ground and his head cracking on the edge of the stone window sill. “Shit, Lius!”
“S-sorry, sir. The rope snapped.”
“Did it? Or did you just cut a little too deep into the knot?”
Two of the watchmen squirmed, pulling their hands away from the back of Sergi’s head, their palms now streaked with blood. The third watchman peered up at me in the doorway. “Sergeant?”
The broad-shouldered, bruiser type looked like he was about to bark at me for being an interfering gawker. Then he registered the curved sword by my waist. Locked onto me as though I had just become Suspect Number One. “Who are you?”
I flashed him the bronze pin on my chest – a bear rearing back, set against a floral wreath. “I come from General Kasera. This is Sergi of Asar Plaza, yes?”
“It is. Was. Why? Did someone just confess to murdering him?”
“Not that I know of.” I stepped inside. Surveyed the single room under the glare of the sergeant and worry of the patrolmen. A couple lived here, that much was clear. Male clothes lay on one side of the thin mattress – a mix of city watch uniform and civilian trousers and tunics. Female clothes on the other – all civilian. Everything was left in neat piles, but there was a lot of miscellaneous junk as well. Mismatching pots, bits of old clothes stitched together, rusty knives and daggers … it looked like the kind of crap you would want to throw away.
Sergi was still in his uniform, the only pre-death injury on his body appeared to be a rawness on the corners of his mouth from a gag. His spear remained beside the door, held upright with a simple clasp, ready to be yanked free if he needed it in a hurry, but the clasp was strong enough to resist an accidental bump.
The sergeant gripped my shoulder tightly. “If you could wait outside, sir, I can be with you in a moment.”
“Who found him?”
The sergeant squinted, his temper on the rise. “How is this connected to the army?”
“Then how is this connected to the general?”
“Right, then this isn’t an invitation for you to stick around. It’s a request for you to leave before I bring you in for interfering with the watch.”
“Uh-huh. Who found Sergi?”
The sergeant’s bruiser personality shot straight to front and center. “Did you not hear me correctly?”
One of the youngsters whispered, “Uh, Sarge? Have you seen his sword?”
“Yeah. What the hell is a non-imperial weapon like that doing here anyway? And in the middle of the city?”
I asked again, “Who found him?”
One of the watchmen squeaked, “He was seen from the window.”
“Lius, what the hell?!”
“Sorry Sarge. It’s just … isn’t he …” Lius stepped in closer. “You know, Kasera’s bagman?”
The sergeant peered back at me. “How many weapons do you have on you right now?”
“Okay. Why is Kasera’s assassin interested in a dead watchman?”
“Closer. Not assassin. And my interest is mostly because of the other guy. Aldin.”
The sergeant stiffened. Chewed his lips as a go fuck yourself sneer settled in.
“Two watchmen dead within five days of each other, both tied up in their own home after being interrogated for hours, and no one around to hear them cry out. And since neither seems to have been stabbed or bludgeoned to death, would it be safe to say they were poisoned? Until a better theory comes along?”
“I’m aware of the similarities, Mr. …?”
“Raike. Who found Sergi?”
The sergeant grunted. “A passer-by down below saw him through the window. He brought the caretaker out to the street and pointed him out. The caretaker hurried upstairs and opened the door.”
“Was the door locked?”
“You know, you’ve already said this has nothing to do with the army.”
“I don’t work for the army. Was it locked?”
“If it doesn’t have anything to do with your lot then why are you here?”
“I’ll leave right now if you’ve already caught the killer.”
The sergeant mashed his lips together. “Will you?”
“Of course. I’ll just head over to wherever he’s being held and question him directly. Has he been caught?”
The sergeant seethed but did not give me an answer.
“So was the door locked?”
One of the other watchmen squeaked, “Yes.”
“Gods damn it, Aymun,” muttered the sergeant.
I moved to the window. A crowd had formed outside, looking up to the first-floor apartment. Some seemed distraught that something like this could’ve happened in their neighborhood. Others were spreading gossip like it was the first exciting thing to happen in their lives.
“Did you all know Aldin and Sergi?”
“We all come from the same barracks.”
The sergeant grunted. “You don’t have a background in the watch.”
“Nor in the inquisition?”
“Nor the army. Yet you know your way around the scene of a murder, so I can only presume …”
“… That I work for General Kasera, and the murder of two watchmen has piqued my curiosity. I’m hoping we can avoid stomping on each other’s dicks right now, especially as it seems like a third dead watchman may be just around the corner.”
The three patrolmen glanced at each other. Lius asked, “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m saying there’s a pretty severe penalty for murdering a watchman, right? They’d be racked, hacked, and tortured over several days as a warning to everyone about what happens if they kill one of you guys. Yet whoever did this is convinced the reward from doing it twice outweighs the risk. So it’s either someone really pissed off with watchmen and they’re targeting you all at random, or it’s someone with a specific agenda who won’t stop until he gets what he wants. When did Sergi’s shift end?”
All heads turned to the sergeant. “He was supposed to be working from dawn until dusk, only he wasn’t feeling well. Complained of an upset stomach. So he went home.”
I checked the mattress, chest, and collection of pots and pans. “No sign of vomit or diarrhea.”
“He wouldn’t be the first guy to say he’s not feeling well so he can go home early.”
“True, but this time there happened to be someone who met Sergi before he could change. Was he expecting a mistress?”
“No. I mean – maybe. I don’t know. Either way he looked like he was about to throw up and shit himself, so I permitted him to go home.”
“You did, huh?”
“I’m his sergeant.”
I sniffed Sergi’s mouth. Had to pop open his jaw to get a better whiff. His body had begun to cool. Probably dead for three hours. Probably interrogated for several hours as well.
The sergeant leaned in, smelled, paused, and smelled again. “Vomit.”
“Without any signs of vomit in the room?”
“All right, fine. Sergi was strung up and in distress. He burped a sick burp because he knew he was about to be murdered and swallowed it back down.”
Lius pulled Sergi’s sleeve up past his shoulder. “There’s also this.”
“Lius, what the fuck? Go wait outside.”
There was a slight pinprick of blood on Sergi’s shoulder, with a corresponding dot of blood on his tunic. No obvious corruption surrounding the wound. “Did you send Aldin home as well?”
The sergeant seethed with righteous indignation. “He chose to go home while on patrol. I was told he hoped to sleep it off. If you are not here as part of an official investigation then I’m going to have to insist you leave.”
“Was Aldin also found in his uniform?”
“He was. Aymun? Please escort Mr. …” He trailed off. “… this gentleman outside.”
“Both went home before noon?”
“What of it?”
“Both found just before dusk?”
“Both hanging next to an open window?”
“And both were poisoned. Twice, by the sound of things. The first was at city watch to get them to go home where they could be interrogated for hours, the second to kill them.”
“Ohhh, fuck you if you think someone at the city watch poisoned them. Aldin’s breath smelled fine when we found him but there was discoloration in his arm. Sergi’s breath stinks but his arm is fine.”
“Then Sergi drank the poison, but Aldin was jabbed in the arm.”
“Aymun, for the love of the gods, escort this man out of here.”
“Were Aldin or Sergi involved in anything big? A crime they were trying to solve? Something they witnessed? Or was there something they should’ve solved and didn’t?”
The sergeant’s eyes nearly exploded out of their sockets. “How dare you! They were good men! They did their jobs better than most and now you’re coming in here and pissing all over their integrity? This whole thing reeks of an assassin’s job. Now, lo and behold, we’ve come face to face with an assassin who is sticking his dick into our investigation. Why are you here? To gloat? To sabotage our investigation? Or to make sure the job is done?”
I dropped one hand to the hilt of my new sword. “Do I understand correctly that you just accused a senior member of General Kasera’s security team and a citizen of Ispar of being involved in the murder of two city watchmen? Without any reasonable proof in front of several witnesses?”
The sergeant reared back, realizing just what kind of predicament he might be in. “No, no, I was just …”
“Because if I understand it correctly, the murder of a single watchman is such a heinous crime the accused faces torture until they confess to it, and now you’re accusing me?”
“No, sir …”
“It’s not ‘no, sir.’ Your word carries so much weight you can have me tortured and executed no matter what the truth is, so the only way I can prove my innocence against your accusations is by invoking the rights afforded to me and demanding a trial by combat against my accuser so the gods may clear my name. Is that what’s happening here?”
The sergeant fell quiet. Needed a moment to gather himself. “Sir, I … I apologize for what I said. I did not know you’re a citizen.”
“So you’re happy to let everyone who isn’t a citizen be tortured because you can’t control your temper?”
A vein practically burst in his forehead. “Forgive me. I have just found another one of my colleagues has been murdered; emotions are running high.”
I gave the sergeant to the count of five in stone-cold silence. Then, finally, I released my grip on my sword. The sergeant exhaled with a deep, grateful sigh. “Aldin was jabbed in the arm, so was Sergi, but Sergi seems to have drunk his. The delivery methods were different. Why?”
“I don’t know,” muttered the sergeant. “We tend to deal with stabbings and beatings, not poison. And definitely not when they’ve been strung up like this.”
I searched the rest of the watchmen. No one had an answer.
The sergeant spun towards the door. “Hey! No more spectators or intruders!”
A heavily pregnant woman stood in the doorway. “He’s dead?”
“Out! Lius! Make sure no one else comes in here!”
I went to the door. A small gathering of neighbors had amassed on the walkway outside Sergi’s place. “Folks? Did anyone see Sergi today?”
“I did,” said the pregnant woman.
The sergeant sprung forward. “Whoa, whoa, whoa … No, please … I’ll get to you in a moment.”
I asked her, “You live in this building?”
“I do, yes.”
The sergeant looked at me. “What the hell did I just say?”
“‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, no, please, I’ll get to you in a moment.’” I returned to the woman. “What did you see?”
She cast her eyes quickly between the uniformed sergeant and me, then glanced at my pin from the Kaseras. “I was at home – just over there – setting the pots to dry outside and hanging some clothes. Sergi and another watchman came through the courtyard and went into the apartment together. That was the last time I saw him.”
“A male watchman? Or female?”
“Did you see him leave?”
“Any idea know who he was?”
“No. I didn’t spend too long looking at them to be honest. I just remember it happening.”
“What did he look like?”
“Kinda like my husband.” She recoiled immediately. “It wasn’t him. I know my husband – it wasn’t him.”
“What did this other watchman look like?”
“Dark curly hair and a thin beard. More tanned than usual, like he had a hint of bronze in his skin.”
The sergeant hesitated. Squinted at the woman. “What was he wearing?”
“A city watch uniform. White tunic with a belt, sandals … that was pretty much it.”
“Did he carry a spear?”
“No. A sword, I think.”
I looked to the sergeant and his sword. “Who is he?”
The sergeant sniffed like it helped him to reset his sense of authority. “Could be anyone.”
“Of course. It’s just … the three watchmen in there are armed with spears instead of swords. You have a sword and not a spear. Unless I’m mistaken, the lower ranks carry spears and the higher ones are armed with swords, isn’t that right?”
The sergeant shrugged. “Like I said, could’ve been anyone. She even said it looked like her husband.”
The woman said, “I meant in his complexion. And hair and beard, I suppose.”
“Except my husband is six and a half feet tall. The watchman escorting Sergi home was about Sergi’s size.”
I asked her, “How tall would you say I am?”
She looked at my boots. “Five foot ten?”
I pointed to a guy in the street. “And him?”
“A little shorter.”
So far so good. “Did either Sergi or his friend need to duck to get into Sergi’s home?”
“It wasn’t my husband. Those two were definitely the same height – more or less.”
I returned to the sergeant. “A colleague of yours, maybe?”
“Could’ve been anyone in a uniform. Maybe not even an actual watchman.”
“But it was someone Sergi recognized.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Someone with dark, curly hair, a thin beard, and bronze skin, of a rank equal to at least a sergeant and maybe higher, was invited into Sergi’s home. Is there any chance the three watchmen over there will know who I’m talking about? Or are you keeping quiet because you know of a frequent secret rendezvous Sergi’s wife is not supposed to know about?”
The sergeant squinted back at the neighbor. “When did you see this?”
“Middle of the morning.”
“You didn’t see anyone else come or go?”
“How long were you hanging clothes and putting pots out?”
“A few minutes.”
“And that was the only time you went outside?”
The neighbor squirmed. “I’m not saying he did it, just that he was here.”
The sergeant looked back at me. “Could be anyone. She saw him at a glance and that was that. Either way, thank you …”
“I’ve already given you my name.”
The sergeant hesitated, wracking his brains to remember what I had said.
“Raike. … for your interest here but this is a city watch matter that doesn’t concern the army or General Kasera. If our investigation leads to the Kaseras I will be happy to keep you informed, but for now it is not wise to interfere with our investigation. Good day.”
Another watchman breezed into the courtyard below. White tunic. Sword. No spear. Dark curly hair and a thin beard. Bronze skin. Calculating eyes. I locked onto the pregnant woman. “That’s him.”
The sergeant dropped his head to his chest. “For fuck’s sake.”
Comments are closed.