The Port Master was fast asleep on the bed, his slightly-too-rotund chest moving up and down with the steady beat of dreamlessness. Jil sat next to him, reading one of the books he had brought her by the light of the candle that provided the room’s only illumination. She glanced at the window and looked past her blonde reflection to the darkness beyond. The impounded ship was out on the end of the pier, and she could just imagine the stories that hull would tell if it could talk. She turned the page, half expecting to find an incantation promising to make such a miracle occur.
The bell in her closet rang, it’s muffled ting breaking the silence in two sharp blasts. After the first the book was safely slid into the space behind her bedside table; after the second she was on her feet and sliding a robe around herself as she strode toward the door. She already knew who would call her at this hour when she had a client, but she was still somewhat surprised that this client didn’t carry more favor. But then again part of this arrangement was the knowledge that every party held the other at a disadvantage, and it was necessary for that knowledge to be shown plainly at regular intervals. Still, she opened the door and slipped out, shutting it behind her loud enough that her guest would be sure to wake and, hopefully, find his clothes.
Dominic rounded the bannister just as she emerged, and his eyes narrowed as he pushed the key back into his pocket. He had wanted the joy of surprising them. “Up so late?” he said.
“My master has come to call; I did not want to be unprepared.” She motioned down the hall to the balcony, where they might have a discussion away from her guest, but she knew that she was just buying time. Sure enough, Dominic moved toward her and the door.
“Which of your neighbors have you paid to warn you, Jil?” he asked. Normally he went about these things with more tact; there must be something bothering him tonight.
Jil smiled and tried to absorb the blow herself; she didn’t want Dominic’s temper to visit those doing her favors. “My master has taught me to expect him at any hour, and I endeavor to be prepared.”
Dominic’s large form brushed her aside as he flung open the door with a clatter. “I haven’t time for these games tonight.” He strode in and found the Port Master sliding on his pants. “Azario, it has been a pleasure doing business with you tonight, but I am afraid I must ask you to leave.” Dominic grabbed a shirt from the floor and held it out, and both of the others in the room recognized the old habits of an enforcer rising to the surface. Azario could have acted indignant but chose instead to just get out of the way. He pulled his belt around his belly, snatched up his long boots, and took his shirt from Dominic. He nodded at Jil as he left, and she whispered an apology.
The door shut, and no one spoke for a beat. Dominic moved himself to the far end of the room, with the bed in between them. He looked straight at Jil, and not for the first time was grateful she was in someone else’s skin; hurting people he didn’t know came naturally and was ever-so-slightly easier. “Gioia is dead.”
Jil didn’t manage to look unperturbed, though she tried. Dominic didn’t manage to hide the smile, though he didn’t try.
“What happened?” Jil asked, turning away and toward the bar. She fetched two glasses and a bottle of Dominic’s favorite red wine, using her turned back to hide the sadness on her face.
“It seems she was doing a little business of her own on the side,” Dominic said, his gaze fixed on Jil’s back. “And without my protection she got herself into trouble, and then trouble got a knife into her back.”
Jil heard the threat for what it was, but had to play this game a little longer. Did Dominic know that Gioia was operating under Jil’s auspices, or was this merely a warning that Dominic’s valuable girls not follow in the footsteps of the cheaper ones? Jil blinked hard, then turned to face her owner, outstretched wine glass an offering of peace. “She may have been operating outside your aegis, but it was no secret that she was in your service. Do you plan on pursuing the perpatrator who has cost you a slave?”
Dominic took the drink and raised it to his lips. He sat at the little table and pretended that he hadn’t already played this out in his head. “Gioia was a steady earner, but she is a small loss in the scheme of things. She’s probably more useful as a warning to those who choose to forgo proper insurance.”
Jil nodded, “I would agree, but under my tutelage– which you were right to suggest, she was a clever girl– she was becoming quite popular on the Cliffs, and they like seeing familiar faces. She had promise of greater returns in the future.”
Dominic jabbed his wine glass forward, splashing a bit onto the tablecloth. “She did, but the whore got ahead of herself. She forgot that she belonged to someone, and that futures are paid for in the present. Thinking you’re more than you are will only get you cut down by people who can see through your tricks, and sometimes a cutting down leaves naught but a bloody mess behind.”
The spilled wine seeped into the tablecloth, the stain spreading as slowly as the silence.