Home > Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)(11)

Six of Crows (Six of Crows #1)(11)
Leigh Bardugo

Damn it, Kaz thought, am I under arrest? If so, this merch was in for a surprise. Thanks to Inej, he had information on every judge, bailiff, and high councilman in Kerch. He’d be out of his cell before sunrise. Except he wasn’t in a cell, he was chained to a chair, so what the hell was going on?

The man was in his forties with a gaunt but handsome face and a hairline making a determined retreat from his forehead. When Kaz met his gaze, the man cleared his throat and pressed his fingers together.

“Mister Brekker, I hope you’re not feeling too poorly.”

“Get this old canker away from me. I feel fine.”

The merch gave a nod to the medik. “You may go. Please send me your bill. And I would, of course, appreciate your discretion in this matter.”

The medik secured his bag and exited the room. As he did, the mercher rose and picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. He wore the perfectly cut frock coat and vest of all Kerch merchants – dark, refined, deliberately staid. But the pocket watch and tie pin told Kaz all he needed to know: Heavy links of laurel leaves made up the watch’s gold fob, and the pin was a massive, perfect ruby.

I’m going to pry that fat jewel from its setting and jab the pin right through your mercher neck for chaining me to a chair, Kaz thought. But all he said was, “Van Eck.”

The man nodded. No bow, of course. Merchants didn’t bow to scum from the Barrel. “You know

me, then?”

Kaz knew the symbols and jewels of all the Kerch merchant houses. Van Eck’s crest was the red laurel. It didn’t take a professor to make the connection.

“I know you,” he said. “You’re one of those merch crusaders always trying to clean up the Barrel.”

Van Eck gave another small nod. “I try to find men honest work.”

Kaz laughed. “What’s the difference between wagering at the Crow Club and speculating on the floor of the Exchange?”

“One is theft and the other is commerce.”

“When a man loses his money, he may have trouble telling them apart.”

“The Barrel is a den of filth, vice, violence—”

“How many of the ships you send sailing out of the Ketterdam harbours never return?”

“That doesn’t—”

“One out of five, Van Eck. One out of every five vessels you send seeking coffee and jurda and bolts of silk sinks to the bottom of the sea, crashes on the rocks, falls prey to pirates. One out of five crews dead, their bodies lost to foreign waters, food for deep sea fishes. Let’s not speak of violence.”

“I won’t argue ethics with a stripling from the Barrel.”

Kaz didn’t really expect him to. He was just stalling for time as he tested the tightness of the cuffs around his wrists. He let his fingers feel along the length of chain as far as they were able, still puzzling over where Van Eck had brought him. Though Kaz had never met the man himself, he’d had cause to learn the layout of Van Eck’s house inside and out. Wherever they were, it wasn’t the mercher ’s mansion.

“Since you didn’t bring me here to philosophise, what business?” It was the question spoken at the opening of any meeting. A greeting from a peer, not a plea from a prisoner.

“I have a proposition for you. Rather, the Council does.”

Kaz hid his surprise. “Does the Merchant Council begin all negotiations with a beating?”

“Consider it a warning. And a demonstration.”

Kaz remembered the shape from the alley, the way it had appeared and disappeared like a ghost.

Jordie.

He gave himself an internal shake. Not Jordie, you podge. Focus. They’d nabbed him because he’d been flush off a victory and distracted. This was his punishment, and it wasn’t a mistake he’d make again. That doesn’t explain the phantom. For now, he pushed the thought aside.

“What possible use would the Merchant Council have for me?”

Van Eck thumbed through the papers in his hand. “You were first arrested at ten,” he said, scanning the page.

“Everyone remembers his first time.”

“Twice again that year, twice at eleven. You were picked up when the stadwatch rousted a gambling hall when you were fourteen, but you haven’t served any time since.”

It was true. No one had managed a pinch on Kaz in three years. “I cleaned up,” Kaz said. “Found honest work, live a life of industry and prayer.”

“Don’t blaspheme,” Van Eck said mildly, but his eyes flashed briefly with anger.

A man of faith, Kaz noted, as his mind sorted through everything he knew about Van Eck –

prosperous, pious, a widower recently remarried to a bride not much older than Kaz himself. And, of course, there was the mystery of Van Eck’s son.

Van Eck continued paging through the file. “You run book on prize fights, horses, and your own games of chance. You’ve been floor boss at the Crow Club for more than two years. You’re the youngest to ever run a betting shop, and you’ve doubled its profits in that time. You’re a blackmailer

—”

“I broker information.”

“A con artist—”

“I create opportunity.”

“A bawd and a murderer—”

“I don’t run whores, and I kill for a cause.”

“And what cause is that?”

“Same as yours, merch. Profit.”

“How do you get your information, Mister Brekker?”

“You might say I’m a lockpick.”

“You must be a very gifted one.”

“I am indeed.” Kaz leaned back slightly. “You see, every man is a safe, a vault of secrets and longings. Now, there are those who take the brute’s way, but I prefer a gentler approach – the right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing.”

“Do you always speak in metaphors, Mister Brekker?”

Kaz smiled. “It’s not a metaphor.”

He was out of his chair before his chains hit the ground. He leaped the desk, snatching a letter opener from its surface in one hand, and catching hold of the front of Van Eck’s shirt with the other.

The fine fabric bunched as he pressed the blade to Van Eck’s throat. Kaz was dizzy, and his limbs felt creaky from being trapped in the chair, but everything seemed sunnier with a weapon in his hand.

Van Eck’s guards were facing him, all with guns and swords drawn. He could feel the merch’s heart pounding beneath the wool of his suit.

“I don’t think I need to waste breath on threats,” Kaz said. “Tell me how to get to the door or I’m taking you through the window with me.”

“I think I can change your mind.”

Kaz gave him a little jostle. “I don’t care who you are or how big that ruby is. You don’t take me from my own streets. And you don’t try to make a deal with me while I’m in chains.”

“Mikka,” Van Eck called.

And then it happened again. A boy walked through the library wall. He was pale as a corpse and wore an embroidered blue Grisha Tidemaker ’s coat with a red-and-gold ribbon at the lapel indicating his association with Van Eck’s house. But not even Grisha could just stroll through a wall.

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