In Wylan’s opinion, any charity organisation that presented before the Merchant Council were due at least five thousand kruge in donations, simply for having the balls to do it.
It wasn’t very common; despite the alleged piety of the Council, and the fact that charity was supposedly an excellent way of honouring Ghezen, the Merchant Council were simply not very charitable people. So it wasn’t very surprising that the good people of the Holy Ghezen Health Institute looked especially pathetic in their huddle.
Their leader, a woman called Adelheid who looked firmly as if she did not want to be there, was doing a very weak delivery of their pitch;
“As you might know-- well, I’m sure you do know-- uh-- this year, it will have been 10 years since the Queen’s Lady Plague struck Ketterdam.”
Looking around the room, Wylan thought it was rather likely that the Merchant Council hadn’t known that, actually. There was a lot of too-hasty nodding and side-eyeing going on.
“Of course, of course,” blustered Natan Boreg. “Very sad. Very… tragic.”
Jesper and Wylan exchanged glances, then quickly looked away.
“Yes,” said Adelheid, looking relieved someone had said something at least vaguely receptive. She seemed to gain a little confidence; “It was a mass tragedy that should always remain in the forefront of the Kerch people’s conscience, to ensure that such a thing never happens again. Survivors of the Queen’s Lady were left permanently scarred from the firepox rash, and many had throats or voices damaged from the violent fever and cough. Some people were even left blind. People lost parents, children, brothers and sisters, friends, and partners.”
The Merchant Council seemed largely bored, besides Karl Dryden’s wife embroidering quietly at the back, who looked slightly stunned. Likely that her rich parents had hustled her off into the country and she’d never been told about the full extent of it. Jesper looked troubled, too; he’d certainly been in the Barrel long enough to have seen the longer-lasting effects of the plague. Wylan fiddled nervously with his tie. He could see this was not going to go down well. There was no profit to be made from a long-past tragedy, and the Council were miserly, even then.
“Precautions have been put in place over the years, thanks to the generosity of this council, but in light of the ten year mark, the Holy Ghezen Health Institute would like to propose an installation.”
A sceptical glance was thrown between Jellen Radmakker and Boreg. The Merchant Council were not artistically minded people. Adelheid must have noticed, because she rushed on;
“A, uh, memorial. For the people who died. As a permanent reminder of the tragedy. We propose it be placed around the southeast side of the Lid--”
A murmur passed through the Council; Fifth Harbour… proximity… Brekker… and Wylan grimaced. The Lid was horrifyingly close to Dregs territory, teetering on the edge, really. The Council would never agree to something so steeped in the shadow of Dirtyhands’ presence.
The Ghezen Health group looked rather startled at the objection.
“It’s appropriate!” jumped in one of the other members, a man with the scars Adelheid had described pitting his cheeks. “The Lid is a prominent spot for arriving tourists, and the people of the Barrel suffered hugely during the plague--”
Radmakker sighed, the picture of conscientious concern, even though he was clearly gleefully seizing onto the objection;
“My good people, it’s awfully close to Fifth Harbour. Do you think it’s wise to start a project so close to territory claimed by the depraved Kaz Brekker?"
Clearly the Holy Ghezen Health Institute had not factored in Kaz Brekker as a potential problem, and now looked firmly panicked.
"I don't think Kaz… uh, Kaz Brekker, will have a problem." jumped in Jesper hastily. "The Lid isn't anyone's territory, and even if it was, I don't see why he'd mind. It doesn't affect his profits."
It was a cynical take, but it was true. As long as it didn't lose Kaz money, Kaz did not generally care. The trouble was, he always saw potential issues in a way no one else did...
"Yes," said Radmakker, eyes boring pointedly into Jesper. "Done dealings with Brekker before, haven't you Mr Fahey?"
Jesper shrugged easily.
"In the past, yes. To keep my head on my shoulders and my thumbs on my hands. So trust me when I say that he won't pose a problem. I'll go to him personally about it if I have to."
The Council muttered unhappily, but Adelheid looked relieved.
"Well, if that's all sorted, and there are no other objections, would anyone be willing to… um…” her voice got steadily weaker as she continued; “...commit to a... donation?”
Silence. The Merchant Council looked at one another--
“I will.” said Wylan simply.
A ripple of amusement, hastily stifled, made its way around the room. Jesper frowned, but Wylan ignored them. He knew the other merchers thought he was simple, or else soft. Probably both. But they tolerated him because of his father’s immense fortune... and Jesper’s revolvers, conspicuously visible under his coat.
Adelheid beamed widely at him.
"Oh, Mister Van Eck, thank you so much! There’s no need to discuss specific amounts right at this moment, we can meet at a later date--”
“Perhaps tomorrow?” suggested Wylan. “I don’t see any reason to delay it.”
“Oh, tomorrow would be excellent, Ghezen bless you sir--”
Adelheid looked hopefully at the rest of the Council.
Despite some blustering and empty promises to consider their options on the older merchants’ part, the Holy Ghezen Health Institute still left with only Wylan committed to donating. Still, it was better than nothing, and Wylan was intending to donate a good chunk of kruge--
“Hello, Wylan.” said Marya Hendriks distractedly as he returned to the main sitting room in the Van Eck mansion. She wasn't really paying attention, meddling with her paintbox-- but there was someone in black sitting with her, slightly concealed in the winged armchair Jan Van Eck had used to occupy. Wylan, preoccupied by what he’d heard at the meeting, assumed some mercher's son come to bother him--
Until he spied the crow-headed cane leant against the tea-table, and the leg propped on one of the low stools.
Oh, for Ghezen’s sake...
Wylan moved get better locks up his priority list as Kaz Brekker leaned forwards out of the shadow of the armchair.
“What business, Wylan?”
Wylan slowly stepped inside, wondering what Kaz wanted. He always let himself in, but it had been a while since he had come for anything from the Van Ecks. Had he somehow gotten word of his mention at the Council already? Roeder was a decent spider, but he was nowhere near as good as Inej. Sometimes Wylan wondered if Kaz was just a little bit psychic.
“...Kaz.” he said, sensing an ill omen. “What are you doing here?”
“I came calling for some information and found you absent.” said Kaz, putting down his teacup carefully. Seeing his mother’s dainty tea set in Kaz’s black gloved hands would have been funny, if it hadn’t been… well, Kaz. “Your mother said you wouldn’t be long, so Mrs Van Eck and I were discussing art. It seems your father misplaced his original DeKappel. I have promised to see if I can find any leads on it.”
Wylan shot him a harried look as he shut the door. Based on the smugness lurking in Kaz’s expression, it was less misplaced and more I stole it from Jan Van Eck and I’m not sorry. By now, Wylan knew better than to hope Kaz would give it back for free. That would be a solid three thousand kruge at the very least, if Marya wanted it back that badly…
“How nice.” he said weakly. Kaz smiled his shark’s smile.
“It is. But I won’t intrude on your mother’s fine hospitality any longer. Is Jesper downstairs?”
“Yes.” sighed Wylan, sensing the expectation that he would come to join them, once he had seen to his mother. “He’s in the parlour.”
“Excellent.” Kaz stood and retrieved his hat and cane. “Ghezen bless you, madam,” he said politely to Marya. He tipped his hat to her and disappeared out into the corridor. Wylan stared helplessly after him, desperately hoping Kaz wasn’t wanting something from his mother. He didn’t put it past Kaz to exploit her, frankly.
“He’s a nice young man.” said Marya vaguely. Wylan swallowed a hysterical giggle at the idea of the label nice young man ever being attached to the Bastard of the Barrel. He was the scourge of nice young men everywhere. “Is he southern?”
“Um... no idea.” said Wylan weakly. As far as he knew, Kaz had been in Ketterdam his entire life. Nina liked to bandy around the theory that he was the manifestation of the Kerch people’s sins, given enough spite to finally come to life and run amok. (“He simply sprung to life in an alley one day and smacked the shit out of some poor bastard with his cane.” she’d said wisely , “And it’s all been downhill for Ketterdam since.”)
“Hm.” said Marya thoughtfully. “He sounds like he’s southern. In his consonants.” she turned back to her painting. “He is very knowledgeable about art. ”
I bet he is, thought Wylan sourly. Stolen art, anyway. Kaz had a soft spot for an art heist. Wylan had been in his office plenty of times; there were always stacks of expensive art lying around. He wasn’t even sure if Kaz sold it, or whether he just took it to prove he could.
“Yes, I... suppose he is.” he said, not really liking that Marya seemed to have taken a shine to Kaz Brekker, of all people . Why couldn’t it have been Inej? Not that Inej was currently in Ketterdam, but…
Wylan beat down his internal screaming and went to sit in the chair Kaz had just vacated.
Eventually, and with much reluctance, he went down to see Kaz and Jesper.
“Kaz,” he said, snapping the parlour door shut. “Forgive me, but I don’t find myself exactly jumping for joy about my mother having tea with Dirtyhands. I’m sensing ulterior motives.”
Jesper’s hands stilled on his revolvers.
“You were with Marya? I thought you were snooping around, or something!”
“She saw me in, and insisted we have tea.” said Kaz mildly. “She seems to think Wylan and I were schoolmates, and I didn’t see fit to correct her. She gave me a lovely chamomile blend.”
“Kaz, you must have noticed that I have been deliberately keeping her away from you, and now she thinks you’re a nice young man.”
A slight smirk touched Kaz’s lips.
“Am I not?”
“You eat them for breakfast.” Jesper told him sternly. Wylan shook his head in exasperation.
“What did you spin her? Did you say you were a businessman?”
“I am a businessman.” said Kaz. Wylan raised his eyes heavenwards.
“Kaz, you had a man beaten to death in the Zelver District last Wednesday.”
Kaz ignored him. “Tell me what they said at the Council meeting.”
“Oh.” Wylan blew out a relieved breath and sat down in a heap next to Jesper. “That is what this is about. Thank Ghezen.” He had been dreading some sort of scheme with his mother as a linchpin. Kaz hadn’t seemed hugely interested in the Merchant Council for a while, now, but clearly the Holy Ghezen Health Institute had been unlucky enough to catch his notice. “Did you get an inkling that someone is daring to come shuffling into your criminal kingdom with their charitable project?”
“I heard about proposed planning permission for work at the Lid, and extra stone being taken from the quarries, and I want to know what’s going on.” snapped Kaz, tapping the bottom of his cane on the carpet. “What charitable project?”
“The Holy Ghezen Health Institute came in today,” Jesper said. “They were asking-- well, begging, really, poor sods-- for donations, so they can erect a memorial to the victims of the Queen’s Lady Plague. It’s been 10 years since it happened.”
Kaz’s tapping cane stopped abruptly. Wylan frowned at him, wondering how on earth he could have a problem with a charity plague memorial. Surely even Kaz’s shrivelled husk of a heart couldn’t protest to a memorial?
“They’ve been asking people to submit names of loved ones who died, so they can remember as many victims as possible.”
“...and the Merchant Council were willing?” said Kaz slowly. His mouth had pinched on one side, in some small expression of displeasure that Wylan didn’t really understand.
“Course not. They said they were, but they’ll donate pennies at most.”
“How much were they asking for?” said Kaz. Of course he wanted the numbers. Unfortunately for him, Wylan hadn’t got them yet.
“I said I’d donate a sizable amount, but I don’t know how much they need…” admitted Wylan. “It sounds like it’s a lot.”
“It would be.” said Kaz. “Need a lot of stone to fit that many names on.”
Wylan grimaced. “I might not be able to pay it all. They said they’d talk to benefactors individually, so I’m meeting with them tomorrow. I don’t think they have much, though. I overheard two at the end saying they were going to go collecting in the Barrel, tomorrow.”
“Good way to get their kruge pinched.”
“No, it’s not.” said Kaz softly. “It’s an excellent idea.”
Wylan and Jesper turned to stare at him. Kaz stood abruptly, and limped over to the window that overlooked the Geldcanal.
“Er… how?” said Jesper. Kaz leaned on the wall. He didn’t look at them.
“Wylan, do you remember the Queen’s Lady Plague?” he asked.
Wylan frowned uncomfortably.
“Not really,” he admitted. “I was only nine or ten. Father hustled us all out of the city immediately, and I wasn’t really sure what was happening. My maternal grandfather died, because he refused to leave, but I don’t remember him.”
“Naturally.” said Kaz, in his low rasp. He spoke slowly, deliberately. “The wealthy fled the second it hit. Whereas the people of the Barrel couldn’t. Pleasure house girls. Card dealers. Gamblers, bruisers, doormen, performers.” His gloves creaked on his cane. He paused. “...kids on the streets. Everyone. Caught in the Barrel like rats in a trap. Tens of thousands died. And those who survived? They all remember it.” He paused again. “You saw how they reacted when Nina and I fabricated an infection. Panic. Stampedes. Praying. Packed hospitals.”
He looked over his shoulder at them, made indistinct by the weak spring sun through the window.
“So, yes.” Kaz said. “It is a good idea to collect in the Barrel. Merchers don’t care about some puerile charity project, but the Barrel is built of survivors. It has a very long memory. Say some jumped-up kid pinches some kruge from them. When he comes back to his boss, who lost his girl and his Da and his best friend in the Queen’s Lady, and presents him with money that’s meant to be funding a memorial for them? Them, the people who never get a scrap of respect, who were left to die in the streets? That kid will be lucky if he escapes with both of his hands.”
“...I never thought about it like that.” mused Jesper. “You really think they won’t get any trouble?”
“Not once word gets around.” said Kaz.
But Wylan was staring at him. Something was nagging him. Something like…
“Kaz,” he said. “Have you always lived in Ketterdam?”
Kaz’s gaze darted across to him, and his face did what Jesper called The Kaz Thing. It shifted and sealed and went stony, inaccessible. Dirtyhands lurked in the distance, waiting to be beckoned forwards.
“Why?” he snapped.
Wylan, panicking, decided did you live through the Queen’s Lady was a bad question at this moment, and dove for another route;
“My mother said you sounded southern.” he said.
Kaz’s face twitched. Dirtyhands retreated a little.
“Was born in Lij.” he said gruffly.
“Lij?” repeated Jesper incredulously. “That’s farmland, mostly! You grew up on a farm? Like me?”
“What are you doing, writing my biography?” lashed Kaz. Jesper sagged, chastened.
“What happened to my mother is Ketterdam, she birthed me in the harbor?” said Wylan.
Kaz snatched up his cane and made for the door.
“Aren’t you both formally educated? Haven’t you ever heard of a metaphor? I’ve been in Ketterdam long enough.”
“How long?” asked Wylan. “Did your family mo-- ow!”
Jesper kicked him under the table, and, mercifully, Kaz either ignored him or didn’t hear him. He disappeared down the corridor, and, a moment later, they heard the front door shut. Clearly he’d gotten what he wanted.
Kaz was right. Word did get around.
The crows on the roof seemed unimpressed to see that it was, once again, not Inej opening the window to feed them. They stared at him with their beady black eyes, and skittered around on their talons, bumping into each other. They didn’t leave, of course, since food was food, but they looked distinctly disapproving to see the strange, severe boy again. Kaz, not willing to tolerate cheek from anyone today, corvid or human, tossed the handful of grain onto the roof with some rancour, and frowned at them as they fought for it. They were his symbol, on his gambling halls and his cane and even tattooed on his arm, but of course they liked Inej better. Well, tough. Inej wasn’t due back for another few weeks, so they were going to have to accept food from Dirtyhands for a while longer.
He leaned heavily on the windowsill for a while, ignoring the pangs in his bad leg and listening to the chatter rising from the lower levels of the Slat; almost all of the windows were open, since this weak, rather watery sunlight was what passed for tropical in Ketterdam.
Presently, his attention was drawn by an almost-hysterical proclamation from the floor below;
“There’s too many!”
Kaz’s eyes narrowed. He’d never known Anika to talk like that; she was usually dry and leering, tough to the point of hard-headedness. So what had her acting like this?
He leaned forwards slightly.
“--what’s this?” Pim had arrived on the scene.
“That memorial, the plague one.” said Anika. “You heard?”
“Yeah, of course. Donated the kruge I was gonna buy coffee with. Gave it to that weedy guy with the box.”
There was an assenting murmur from the surrounding Dregs;
“Yeah, I gave ‘em 10--”
“--only had 5, I’ll go back--”
Yes, Kaz had been right. The grim, unforgiving Barrel, the poorest people in the city, would stuff every last kruge note they could find into those boxes.
“Yeah, well.” Anika sniffed. “I went further, and talked to the woman near the Exchange, and she said that they were taking names from people, to make sure that they could remember as many victims as possible. But you have to pay a fee to get them on there, ‘cause it’s a real expensive thing, yeah?”
“Yeah.” said Pim. “Is it a lot?”
“Not really, but it’s a lot when your entire family save your Ma were wiped out.” said Anika glumly. She sniffed again. “Cousins, uncles and aunts, grandparents, my da. It’ll be hundreds, and we can’t afford that. We did the numbers. Not even as if I get paid bad, but she doesn’t work, and her rent is so much, plus her health ain’t good...”
There was a sympathetic murmur. Kaz didn’t move, staring at his gloves on the windowsill. The crows hopped towards him slightly, hoping for more grain.
“I must have looked really pathetic,” sighed Anika, “‘Cause the woman offered to see what she could do, so I wrote a list of them all--” the sound of wafting paper came floating up. “Look. There’s dozens. And I bet you all have people to pay for your own families to get on there, don’t you?”
Assent. Anika huffed.
“Well, fuck.” she said, clearly making a swipe to reclaim her dignity. “Guess we’re not getting all of them on there.” Her voice wobbled slightly as she continued; “Don’t suppose if I take all the shittiest jobs for a few weeks, Kaz might consider giving me a bonus?”
“Probably not.” said Rotty glumly. “Don’t think Kaz does charity, does he?”
A glum chorus of no followed.
“Not even if I asked real nice?”
“You ever seen asking real nice getting you anywhere with Dirtyhands?” said Pim.
“Wraith ain’t here.”
A miserable silence fell.
Kaz wasn’t surprised that his gang had such an opinion of him-- it was one had intentionally built, after all. And Rotty and Pim were right; asking nicely never did get you anywhere with him, and he certainly did not indulge in charity…
It seemed unlikely that not one of the Dregs had ever noticed the pitted scarring under Kaz’s eyes, on his cheeks and on his temples, or the damaged scrape of his voice. But then again, they would have had to keep eye contact with him for an extended amount of time, and basically no one managed that. Even Wylan didn’t always, and he would have been the only one out of his close circle to know what the scars meant.
He looked at you very closely yesterday, though.
Kaz’s lips thinned, and he drummed his fingers on the sill--
“Speaking of Kaz,” came Roeder’s voice. “We need to be at the Crow Club soon. C’mon, Anika. I’ll buy you a beer, and we can trick some sorry sobs into gambling away all their kruge.”
Grumbling, the group departed, but Kaz remained at the window long after their voices had faded.
One of the crows squawked. Kaz glared at it. Instead of cowering, like people did, it simply lifted its beak in defiance, and fluffed its tail feathers. Kaz nearly snorted. Of course it did. He hadn’t kept them as his symbol for nothing.
The thud of feet on cobblestones echoed, and below his window trudged three weary charity collectors.
“...even with Mister Van Eck’s help, we’ll need at least thirty thousand more kruge , and none of the other merchers seem willing…”
“Who’s the richest Barrel boss, here?”
“Brekker, isn’t it?” sighed the woman. “Kaz Brekker.”
“That’s what I said, too.”
They disappeared down in the direction of the Exchange.
The crows stared at Kaz. The Dregs on duty at the Crow Club that night shouted their goodbyes from the lower floor and went marching off to do his bidding, loyal til the last.
Greed may do your bidding, but death serves no man.
Kaz dumped half the container of grain onto the roof and slammed the window shut.
“Anonymous benefactor?” spluttered Wylan, as Jesper flicked through the paper that morning. “Are you sure?”
“What it says.”
Kaz, who had, for once, deigned to attend breakfast with them, looked up from his calculations.
“Someone funded the rest of the memorial in secret.” said Jesper, as Kaz snatched the paper from him and wrenched it open. “30 thousand kruge. Who has that kind of money just lying around?”
“People like Wylan.” said Kaz, scanning the page.
“And people like you.” frowned Wylan. “Just from far less legal sources.”
Kaz did not respond, frowning at the article.
“Maybe a Council member got cold feet and donated, but didn’t want to break ranks,” suggested Jesper. “You’re known for decency, Wy, but the others won’t want to look that way.”
“I hadn’t thought of that…” Wylan considered this. “I suppose it’s possible. But as far as I could tell, they were all very reluctant.” he turned to Kaz. “They’re still pretending to be worried you’re going to mug and kill the builders.”
Kaz turned a page unblinkingly.
“Are they sending particularly wealthy builders? Do they have solid gold hammers? Kruge- lined coats?”
“Ghezen give me strength,” muttered Wylan. “Kaz--”
“As I told you the other week, no one in the Barrel is going to hassle people working on a plague memorial.” snapped Kaz. “As long as they’re not idiots, or get into debt they can’t pay in a gambling hall, what’s the issue?”
Wylan slumped, wearied.
“Well, yes. But the Council are just so resistant, and they’re clinging onto this excuse as a reason not to support it.”
“But they don’t need to. Not anymore.” said Kaz, laying down the paper. “It’s paid for. The Ghezen Health Association no longer needs Merch money.”
Wylan decided not to tell Kaz that they were actually called the Holy Ghezen Health Institute . If Kaz cared, he’d have gotten it right.
“I’m sure they’ll hate that.” grinned Jesper. “They love using their wealth to hold things above people’s heads. Whoever this anonymous benefactor is, they’ve majorly annoyed the Merchant Council, because they took that away from them.”
“In fairness, it’s very easy to annoy the Merchant Council.” said Wylan. “It’s Kaz’s Saturday job.”
Usually, Kaz would have said something arrogant, but today he didn’t, simply closing the paper and going back to stabbing holes in his untouched breakfast. He was in an odd mood, Wylan thought; distant. Literally, since he had left three chairs in between himself, Wylan and Jesper, but also emotionally. He hadn’t been particularly attentive, and Wylan found him to be even more surly than usual.
“Kaz,” he said. “Do you know who it was?”
Kaz barely spared him a glance.
“If I knew, I’d have told you,” he snapped. “Rather than having to listen to you two gossiping about it like mercher wives at church.”
Wylan wasn’t sure that was true. Though Kaz was many things, he was, at heart, a thief. He hoarded things; paintings, plans, information. Some of Kaz’s best plans relied upon keeping back information and dropping it like a bomb at opportune times. Wylan remembered hearing all about how Kaz had felled Geels at the Exchange, before the Ice Court job. How he’d waited to reveal he’d got the guards in pocket, and how he’d abruptly come out with the address of Geels’s girl. How he’d known about Bolliger’s betrayal for weeks before he left him to bleed out on the cobbles. The Dregs who had told Wylan about it had been eager, but they had also been a little too animated, bordering on nervous. Kaz simply always knew.
So, as Wylan returned to his breakfast, he was certain of two things.
One, that Kaz knew who the anonymous donor was.
And two; that he had something to gain from keeping it to himself.
There was a temporary Barrel truce on the day of the memorial’s unveiling.
Of course, there was still no guarantee that the merchers would all leave with their wallets, rather than a wadded up piece of paper, or that their pocket watch would still have all the gems in the back of it by the end of the day, or that each gang’s steerers wouldn’t try their hardest to direct the crowd into their gambling halls on the way home, but all of the gang bosses had agreed to stand down, on this particular day.
It was a huge turnout. The Merchant Council were largely absent, naturally, but most of the less affluent merchants had come, as had the lawyers, the professors, the university students and all the other respectable folk of Ketterdam, who looked massively out of place in somewhere like the Lid, especially without the Komedie Brute costumes to help.
Then again, Wylan thought, it was also very odd to see all the Barrel bosses standing in the same place for once, dressed in their very best gaudy fashion. No black-- clearly no one had wanted to look like a Mercher, or like Kaz-- but the brightly-coloured waistcoats were ironed and unstained, shirts fully buttoned up and ties pulled tight, shoes shined, hats held to chests in respect. No Rollins, but that was no surprise. The Dime Lions were practically dead now, an era long gone, and there was no way Rollins would have shown his face in Ketterdam while Kaz was still drawing breath. But the others-- Harley’s Pointers, the Liddies, the Razorgulls, the Black Tips, and every other gang you could name-- had all turned out. A little way off, Wylan could see a cluster of Kaz’s lieutenants; Anika, Pim, Rotty and Specht, surrounded by almost every other Dregs member.
Was Kaz himself here? Wylan wasn’t sure. The crowd was thick and he was almost at the front, just slightly behind a lone mercher and a few girls from the Blue Iris. It was hard to see. Not that Kaz had seemed thrilled by the concept, so he probably hadn’t deigned to attend. But the rest of the Dregs had, at least.
The ceremony was relatively formulaic. The monument was far too big to be unveiled with any kind of sheet or ribbon, so it simply loomed ominously behind the Holy Ghezen Health Institute as they made their speeches and thanked benefactors. It really was massive; a good ten feet high, crammed with names on both sides. Wylan had thought the official reading of the names was going to take a while, but this would take hours. There was a staggering number of names, a sobering amount.
And it did take hours. They stood there through the A’s, the B’s, and the C’s . To the M’s. N’s. It started to rain, that horrible misting rain that clung to fabric and hair and eyelashes, and a fog descended. Typical Ketterdam weather. The P’s. The merchers shuffled and scowled and put umbrellas up. The Barrel folk stood in silence in the rain. Even Jesper, usually constantly in motion, was still and solemn--
And then, buried in the R’s, they hit a name Wylan recognised.
“--Jordie Johannus Rietveld --”
Rietveld? Wasn’t Johannus Rietveld the name Colm had taken at the Geldrenner? The invented Jurda farmer Kaz had used to trap Wylan’s father? Wylan wouldn’t have thought it was a common name, especially not in Ketterdam. It had sounded rural at the time; that had been the whole point. It was a country name. It even came in the same order.
And Kaz had come up with it awfully quickly...
Confused, Wylan snuck a glance at Jesper, but he didn’t seem to have noticed, scanning the memorial soberly. Wylan turned back to the front, frowning. The merch standing in front of him shifted slightly, turned his head slightly right, towards Fifth Harbour--
With a start, Wylan realised it wasn’t a merch at all. He hadn’t been paying attention, had just seen the black coat and assumed, but it was Kaz, just close enough to his gang to mean he was in their line of sight, standing a good few paces away from the clump of the other Barrel bosses. Or perhaps they were staying away from him. But he was here, Wylan thought in fascination. Why? Dirtyhands did not have a reputation to upkeep. There was no decency to Kaz, at least none that most people would ever be party to. Surely he had nothing to gain from attending the unveiling of a plague memorial he’d not even seemed interested in. Even if it was perilously close to his territory, he had no real need to enforce his claim. Members of rival gangs practically ran through Dregs territory nowadays, to ensure they spent as little time in it as possible.
So why is he here? Wylan gazed at him, baffled. Kaz, still looking out towards the harbour, pushed the brim of his hat up very slightly, exposing his temple and cheekbone to more light, and making old scars more visible. Circular, pitted ones, like… like...
And it struck Wylan like a blow with a cudgel.
Survivors of the Queen’s Lady were left permanently scarred from the firepox rash, and many had throats or voices damaged from the violent fever and cough.
Those weren’t from fights, or jobs gone wrong, or even some evidence of teenage acne, had Kaz ever stooped to being a normal teenager.
They were firepox scars.
Kaz knew who the anonymous donor was.
And now Wylan did, too.
“Kaz was the benefactor.” said Wylan, the second they were out of the Barrel and on their own. “It was Kaz. He paid for the memorial.”
Jesper’s head snapped around.
“Kaz? But Kaz is…” he shook his head incredulously. “No. Come on, Wy. Kaz is Mr. My Father Is Profit I Honour Him Daily. Kaz is a penny-pinching miser. Kaz pushed a guy with a collection box into a canal one time. I watched him do it. Never something for nothing. What would he gain from anonymously funding a plague memorial?”
But even as he said it, he looked nervous.
“...why do you think that?” he prodded.
“When Kaz confronted Pekka Rollins,” said Wylan. “In the Church of Barter, when he ran him out of the city. What did he say?”
Jesper looked even more uncomfortable.
“I don’t know, exactly.” he admitted. “I only got garbled hearsay from Barrel gossip, and it was more about Pekka going to his knees to beg Kaz than anything else. Something like you took our trust, then you took our money and you took everything? Pekka said he’d do anything, and Kaz told him to bring his brother back from the dead. He hounded Pekka to tell him his brother’s name. I don’t think he remembered it.”
“A brother? Definitely?” Wylan had heard such a rumour, but he’d not been sure how reliable it was.
“I think so.”
“That’s him, then.” said Wylan, immediately. “It must be.”
“That’s who?” pressed Jesper. “On the memorial?”
“When they read out all the names, they read out Jordie Johannus Rietveld.”
“Jordie?” repeated Jesper softly, but Wylan barely heard him, tracking his train of thought eagerly;
“Johannus Rietveld. Like the jurda farmer your father played, right? That’s where Kaz got the name from!” he started to pace. “His real surname is Rietveld, isn’t it? He has an R tattooed on his bicep, I saw it at the Ice Court. He must have paid for the memorial because of his brother, who died in the plague. Kaz was in Ketterdam for the plague! He had it! That’s why he sounds like that, that’s why he’s got those scars on his temples and under his eyes, I thought they were acne scars or something but they’re firepox scars--”
He stopped, because Jesper was staring at him, stricken.
“...Jes?” he said. “What’s the matter?”
“Jordie?” croaked Jesper, looking wretched. “You’re sure that was the name on the memorial? Positively?”
“Definitely, I heard them say it. Kaz looked away when they said it, too. Wh--”
Halfway through the question, he realised where he’d heard the name Jordie before.
The clock-tower fight. The words Kaz had spat out as he had hounded Jesper for his missteps;
What do you think my forgiveness looks like, Jordie?
Unsentimental Kaz, ruthless Kaz. Cold-hearted and hard eyed Kaz.
Kaz had called Jesper by his dead brother’s name.
They ran all the way back to the Lid.
Wylan hustled Jesper back up to the memorial, past a few confused tourists, and tried to look nonchalant as Jesper feverishly scanned the R names. It was almost completely dark now, and the square had mostly cleared out, besides a few stragglers--
One of them was Dregs.
Wylan tried not to look too panicked as Anika approached them with an oddly cheery countenance, given where they were.
“Hey, Jes, Merchling,” she said brightly. Wylan had never been impressed that Kaz and Jesper had managed to get the rest of the Dregs to call him that, too. “What’re you back for?”
“Oh, um, just checking a name for one of my cousins.” lied Wylan hastily. Anika nodded oddly enthusiastically.
“Did you get extra names on, too?”
Anika’s face pinched slightly.
“The fee for adding names... couldn’t afford to add all the names of all my family members onto the mural, because there were so damn many of them. I asked the woman at the Exchange about it and she said she’d see what she could do, and even though I knew she was full of shit, I gave her a list, right?”
“...right.” said Wylan.
“But someone lost the list,” said Anika sardonically. “Which they told me, very apologetically. I thought it was code for we can’t afford to add them on and thought I’d let it lie, but then today, they were all on there! Someone must have added them after all!”
“Oh-- that’s great!”
“Sure is! Clearly, whichever Saint still likes the Dregs must have heard me complaining about it in the Slat...” Anika shook her head incredulously. “My Ma’s so pleased. Cried for hours.”
Wylan smiled, but out of the corner of his eye, he could see Jesper staring at him pointedly, eyes wide--
Anika groaned, turning in the direction of the dark figure emerging from the side alley.
“Ghezen, Kaz, I’m going--”
Anika hopped down from the memorial and waved to them, before lolloping off to the group of Dregs loitering at the side of the square. From the other side came Kaz, frowning deeply. Wylan got the uncomfortable, horrifying impression he had been there the entire time.
The Dregs saluted their boss and went tumbling off down the streets, presumably to their respective roles in the clubs, and Kaz stopped at the base of the memorial. He leaned on his cane, his eyes largely shadowed by his hat. He didn’t look at them.
“Didn’t know Jesper had Kerch relatives.”
Clearly, whichever Saint still likes the Dregs must have heard me complaining about it in the Slat.
Kaz had always been a thief and a pickpocket, first. Lost. Hah. Perhaps the Holy Ghezen Health Institute thought that was what had happened, but Wylan thought stolen and the names paid for to ensure they were added, was more likely.
Wylan found himself, suddenly, very irritated. Kaz had done all this; funding the memorial, getting Anika’s family onto the inscription, but he was still acting… well, exactly like Kaz. Was he so allergic to decency? Was Inej the only person he would ever allow to extract virtue from him? Jesper had spent years as Kaz’s loyal second, and now Kaz was going to turn around and act like he didn’t owe him anything, least of all the smallest bit of transparency. Wylan knew Kaz’s reticence upset Jesper, and, frankly, it upset him too. Despite his despicable nature, Kaz had been the first person to treat Wylan as valuable. No matter how twisted his intentions, he had seen potential in Wylan and coddled it-- for his own uses, but they had come to benefit Wylan, too. He had written him into Jan Van Eck’s will, for Ghezen’s sake. He had set him firmly on the path to the life which had allowed him to retrieve his mother and take over his father’s legacy, like he’d always been supposed to. Maybe it meant nothing to Kaz, but it meant something to Wylan, and he wished he would do him the smallest courtesy of recognising that.
“Don’t play me, Kaz, we know you were the one who donated the last thirty thousand kruge.” snapped Wylan. “And you put the names of Anika’s family on. Didn’t you?
Jesper made a small noise of warning, but Kaz didn’t move. Wylan didn’t know what kind of reaction he’d expected, but Kaz simply didn’t seem to have one. He still remained looking away, standing nonchalantly before them.
“And how did you figure that one, little Merchling?” he said slowly, sounding almost bored. “Are you ascribing me a charitable action? Do you need to convince your Mercher associates that Dirtyhands is capable of serving Ghezen? Will you be converting the Slat into an orphanage for wailing brats, next?”
Wylan stepped down from the platform, scowling. Jesper tried to pull him back, but Wylan shook him off.
“I know you were in Ketterdam for the plague, Kaz. I never noticed the scars until now, but you had it. That’s why you were so sure the Barrel would fund the memorial. Because you were in the Barrel during the plague, and you saw it all firsthand.”
“Did I, now?” drawled Kaz, pulling out his watch. “Are we done with this, Wylan? I have business to attend to.”
Wylan knew he shouldn’t have done it. But burning with resentment at being brushed off, at being held at arm's length by Kaz one too many times, he did it anyway.
“Jordie Johannus Rietveld!” he blurted out as Kaz turned to leave. “That was the name on the memorial. He was your brother who died in the plague, wasn’t he? Your real surname is Rietveld. There’s an R on your bicep.”
“Wy, no--” hissed Jesper.
For a second, Wylan thought it wasn’t going to work; that Kaz would just ignore him.
But he had always been the one to push Kaz slightly too close to the edge, and this time, he shoved him right over.
Kaz whipped around and snatched him up by the lapels, slamming him against the side of the memorial.
“How many fucking times do I have to warn you two?” he shouted. He shook Wylan, hard, the head of his cane digging into Wylan’s cheek. “Don’t tell me my business! Why the fuck should you two care? Huh?”
“Kaz.” appealed Jesper desperately. “Of course we--”
Kaz flung Wylan unceremoniously away and wheeled furiously on Jesper, jabbing him in the chest with the tip of his cane.
“This is your fucking problem, Fahey, you know that? You don’t know when to stop. You can’t. You get an idea in your head and then you get stuck on it forever. You--”
Kaz should have known the use of Jesper’s surname in a wild attempt to distance them was never going to work.
“You called me Jordie.” interrupted Jesper. “At the Geldrenner, you--”
“Yeah, I called you Jordie.” spat Kaz, every muscle in his body trembling with rage. “And you wanna know what happened to Jordie? He ended his grand plans for life face-down in the fucking harbour. Because he was an arrogant little bastard who didn’t know how to stop and think.”
But Jesper had weathered Kaz’s temper for years, plodding through the lashing rains of his disapproval with his head down, a stoic and long-suffering pack donkey. And he simply wasn’t fazed. Not this time. Whatever front Kaz put up, he simply looked right through it.
“He was just a kid, Kaz.” said Jesper quietly.
Kaz’s hands clenched and unclenched madly on his cane, and he tugged aggressively on his gloves. His gaze was wild and unfocused. Wylan thought he looked as if he desperately wanted to hit one-- or both-- of them, but for whatever reason, he simply couldn’t.
“Listen,” Wylan said quickly. “We’re sorry that we pried, Kaz, we didn’t--I just thought you should take the credit for-- we won’t bring it up again. We won’t mention it, or tell anyone--”
“No, you won’t.” snarled Kaz. “Or you can go and ask Jordie exactly what happened, yourselves.”
He turned and limped furiously away over the cobbles, his cane slamming the entire way.
Slowly, Jesper went over and helped Wylan to his feet. They stared at each other.
“Well,” said Wylan weakly, probing the forming bruise on his cheek where the beak of the crow’s head had rested. “...we were right.”
Kaz stalked back to the Slat alone and aching.
A kinder man might have felt gratified by the day’s events, even relieved, but no one could call Kaz a kind man; and that had been before he’d run into Wylan and Jesper, and then it had been nothing but a black, blind rage. Now, though, all Kaz felt was a hollow weariness. Had it been worth it? Now they knew. They fucking knew. How could he have been so careless? This had been a ridiculous idea, he’d known it from the start, and yet he’d still persevered with it. His remaining speck of conscience had pricked him hard, and like a fool, he’d yielded to it. Possibly the mention of Inej had wormed its way into his subconscious. Or the constant discussion of the plague had chipped away at him. Or a combination of them both. But it didn’t matter. What mattered now was that Wylan and Jesper stared at him with big, worried eyes and were seconds away from assuming a fucking bedside manner with him.
And Jesper knew who Jordie was.
Perhaps it wasn’t fair of Kaz to turn on them in the way he had, but fairness was not a luxury that had been afforded to him, or Jordie. And it had been the last thing on his mind when Wylan had started fucking yapping, about the benefactor and the thirty thousand kruge, about we know it was you, Kaz, and Jordie Johannus Rietveld-- and then he’d had the audacity to look surprised when Kaz had grabbed him.
It wasn’t terribly shocking that they’d put the dots together. One day, he had assumed, someone would; Inej would confer with Nina, then Jesper would be informed, and then he would tell Wylan, and then they would all know. But Kaz had not wanted it to be like this. He wasn’t sure how he had wanted it; it wasn’t something he’d been willing to entertain beyond a vague concept. But this? Wylan’s scarily assured piecing together of assumptions, a sudden and aggressive stab in the dark that hit a painfully accurate mark, was horribly familiar.
Because he had probably learned the method from Kaz himself.
Kaz flexed his hands inside his gloves, and he pulled his collar up. He gripped his cane tighter than necessary and slammed it into the cobbles with unwarranted force. He skirted the canals and tried his best to tune out the slap of water against the stone walls.
They hadn’t guessed everything. They couldn’t, and it would stay that way. There was no memorial to what had happened at Reaper’s Barge, save his gloves. And how could they ever fathom it? Wylan and Jesper had seen their fair share of Barrel suffering, but neither of them would ever be able to conjure up a horror like the tangle of corpses and the bloated skin--
Partially because of the fog, partially because of the dark, and partially because he was so damn distracted, Kaz didn’t notice the boys until he drew level with them, and clearly they hadn’t noticed him either, because there was a sudden pathetic rattle, and an abrupt appeal, too loud for such an hour;
“Spare a few kruge, mister?”
Kaz cast them the briefest of glances, then looked away abruptly. Brothers. Typical.
The boy holding the cup was clearly the older one, half out of a crouch, clutching the smaller kid to his side.
“Please, sir, we ain’t eaten for a week-- our Pa hasn’t come back for us yet--”
They didn’t recognise him, that much was clear, and they had the odd vowels that marked them out as from Belendt.
Kaz’s jaw worked. He had done enough goddamn charity this week, and it had worked out very poorly indeed. To indulge this…
Kaz stalked on, eyes fixed firmly ahead of him, until the brothers were swallowed by the fog and he was, too. Then he ducked around the corner and leaned against the wall, exhausted beyond belief--
So it meant he was still within earshot when there were more footsteps from the way he’d come, and the older brother spoke again.
“What are you doing back?” he asked. His voice wobbled slightly, but he fought to control it. “We don’t have anything else. You took all our money.”
A smug, over-loud voice responded.
“Yeah, well, you’re on Liddies’ territory now.” Kaz recognised the voice; Timo, one of the Liddies’ dealers, only a few years older than Kaz himself. He’d frequently cheated at the Crow Club, until Kaz had made Pim break one of his wrists and throw him in the canal. He’d only managed to get out because a passing gang member had saved him. Kaz had considered it a lesson well taught, but apparently Timo still had more to learn, because he was on Dregs territory, and he damn well knew it. But he must have known the two brothers wouldn’t.
“What’s that mean?” demanded the older boy.
The Liddies laughed.
“Means you gotta move out.” Sem, one of the Liddies’ bouncers. Sixteen and built like a brick wall. About as clever as one, too.
“We’re not causing any trouble.” said the younger brother, in an oddly soft voice. “We already asked if we could work in your gambling halls, and you said no--”
“Don’t care how fast you can do your sums, or how charming your brother thinks he is. Don’t need anyone. Get your asses off our territory--” there was the sound of a knife being flicked open. “--or we’ll make you. Ja?”
Soft, taunted Jordie’s voice as Kaz stood upright.
Practical, Kaz argued.
But either way, he still turned back.
Timo came towards the brothers, who backed against the wall--
Sem made a squeaking sound and pawed at Timo’s shoulder.
His eyes bugged.
“Funny,” said Kaz softly, emerging from the fog. “Could have sworn this was my turf. Liddies making a claim?”
The two brothers just looked confused, but the Liddies backed desperately away, bumping into each other. Kaz advanced slowly.
“Brekker-- these kids,” spluttered Timo, immediately scrabbling for an out. “They’re on your territory.”
“So are the two of you, Timo.” said Kaz. “And I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a bigger problem, since you run with the Liddies, and just claimed it was theirs, even though you know damn well it’s not. These brats, on the other hand, don’t know what’s what in this city.” he eyed their sweaty faces disdainfully. “You want both wrists broken this time, Timo? You still owe me one hundred and twenty kruge, plus assorted change, you know that? I’ve been very lenient so far. I could add much more for what you skimmed off my tables.”
Timo made a pathetic attempt to rally.
“You’re rich as sin nowadays, Brekker. What’s one hundred and twenty kruge to you? Miserly git.”
“It’s about the principle, Timo.” sneered Kaz, hounding them towards the canal. “If everyone tries to skim only one hundred and twenty kruge, suddenly it’s a lot more than that, and then it matters rather a lot, doesn’t it?”
“But no one skims from Dregs gambling halls.” said Sem.
“Damn right they don’t.” said Kaz. “Not anymore. Because when they do, I take a finger, or break a wrist, or pull out a few nails. A lesson, I call it. Thought that Timo here learned his, but guess he wasn’t as good a student as I thought, because here he is, throwing his weight around on Dregs territory where anyone could hear him.”
Kaz leaned forward, hands planted firmly on his cane.
“So, here’s the deal. You get your sorry asses off Dregs territory, and if you show your faces around here again, I’ll get my bruisers to give you the beating of a lifetime.”
“Sem can take them.” blustered Timo.
“I’ll take my chances.” said Kaz, unimpressed. “But just in case you do get any ideas about besting my bruisers, just know that the second you get brave again, I’ll send a runner to your boss to tell him all about how Timo’s little skimming habit extends into Liddies’ clubs, too. We’ll see how tough you are with a missing thumb or two. Ja?”
Timo shook his head miserably.
“How do you do it, Brekker?” he moaned. “You always know.”
“It’s called paying attention, Timo, and I trust you’ll give it a try next time you don’t know whose territory you’ve wandered onto.” snapped Kaz. “Get out of my sight.”
They did, scrambling off into the fog. Kaz listened to their feet pound away, turning to leave--
“Thank you, thank you--”
The older brother rushed towards him, but Kaz put his cane out to stop him, feeling his nerves fraying. He didn’t particularly want to clout a child, but if the kid touched him, he would be sorely tempted.
“I’m not giving you kruge just because I happened to stop you getting a knife between the shoulderblades. What’s your deal?”
“Are we on your turf?” asked the younger brother abruptly. “You said this was yours, not… theirs. Do you want us to leave?”
Kaz glanced at him.
“Half the city is my territory. You’d be hard pressed to find somewhere that wasn’t Dregs.”
The kid frowned, seemingly in recollection. Kaz turned impatiently back to the older boy.
“What’s this about your father?”
The boy’s chin jutted.
“He left us at the Exchange and said he’d be back by the evening, he was going to the Barrel to do business. We were to wait for him. But he didn’t come back for two days, so we came to look for him. It’s been…” he struggled briefly.
“Eight days.” said the younger boy promptly. “So we want to try and make some money, so he’ll be proud when he comes back, but nowhere will take us.”
Your Pa’s in trouble with a gang, thought Kaz grimly, or, probably better, he’s already dead.
He considered them. Worked back through the conversation.
“You good with your sums?” he asked, pointing his cane at the smaller boy, who nodded madly.
“Yeah, I can write too, really well-- and Ruben can convince people to do anything, it’s like magic…”
“Really.” said Kaz flatly, making a mental note to find out if Ruben was an untrained Heartrender. Could be useful. He hadn’t had a Heartrender since Nina, and he wanted another one. If he could ensure his loyalty from the start… “Well. I imagine if you come to the Slat tomorrow, and ask for Specht, you might be able to find a job. If your father comes back, you’ll have something to show for it.”
“When.” said the younger boy.
Kaz turned his gaze fully onto him.
“If.” he said.
Better terrible truths than kind lies.
There was a pause.
“Take it or leave it.” said Kaz, starting to walk away, and they leapt at it;
“Yes, yes, we’ll do it--” said the older boy, Ruben, frantically. “Um-- where’s… where’s the Slat?”
“I’m not your goddamn guidebook.” snapped Kaz, disappearing round the corner. “Ask someone else.”
But he was just close enough to hear the younger boy turn on his brother;
“Brekker. He’s Kaz Brekker. At home, they say he crawled out of hell.” he whispered urgently.
The kids in Belendt weren’t half wrong. But apparently even demons like him had a damned charitable streak.
Inej, Kaz thought sourly, had better be very pleased with him indeed.
He turned his collar up and limped on.
He was so nearly back to the Slat, when he met one last diversion.
Kaz slipped behind a parked cart as Natan Boreg emerged from an alley that led to West Stave, talking drunkenly and emphatically to a companion;
“Fucking ridiculous, he made us all look like absolute fools, sitting bolt upright like a schoolboy and saying that he would donate… Jan’s squalling brat. Ghezen, if I could get rid of him and make it look like an accident, I would. No wonder Jan tried getting rid of him. . Everyone knows he’s still in with Brekker. Practically worships him. Can’t prove it, obviously, but I’m sure that Brekker was behind him inheriting Jan’s fortune, Jan never would have written him into the will. You see him when they bring up Brekker, he and Fahey both. His face lights up. Fahey perks up like a dog waiting for a treat. I passed them earlier,still by that forsaken memorial. Frankly, I told him he was a joke. He doesn’t deserve the Van Eck name. He and his crazy mother are making a mockery of a good line. Maybe he can make a second trip to Belendt…”
They laughed, disappearing down the street.
Kaz stared after them unseeingly.
Wylan’s unshakeable decency was usually the subject of plenty of mockery from him-- and, today, it had landed him in the path of Kaz’s fury. But much as Kaz liked to dress like a Mercher, he had no delusions of his own respectability. He had funded the memorial because he wanted a permanent remembrance for his brother. He had added Anika’s family’s names so she would continue to work effectively, rather than moping about it. He fed the crows so that they would frequent the Slat and his clubs, and further drive home the image of the gang. If he had felt a flicker of conscience in the act, if the choices could be interpreted morally, so what? There were layers to everything. Kaz could fund a thousand plague memorials and feed a million crows, but it would not change the fact that he was a crook and a conman and a murderer. In the same way, Boreg could wear mercher black and praise Ghezen and only eat meat on Wednesdays, but he had spent his evening at a brothel, then walked home loudly denouncing someone so far above him that it was laughable. Wylan had spent his evening scouring the plague memorial for Kaz’s dead brother, and then trying to extract the tiniest bit of decency from Kaz’s callous heart. Boreg was a sad mockery of the sort of respectability Wylan exuded.
And not only that, but Boreg knew that Jan Van Eck had tried to kill Wylan. And he hadn’t lifted a finger to stop it.
Dirtyhands stirred. Kaz touched his fingers to his lockpicks.
He made sure Boreg saw him, as he overtook them on the street. And by the time Kaz was back in his office, he had a plan.
Fahey perks up like a dog waiting for a treat.
For everyone involved.
Three days later, Wylan walked into the Merchant Council meeting to lots of shouting.
Natan Boreg was bellowing, pounding the table with his fists;
“--IT WAS BREKKER, I KNOW IT WAS BREKKER--”
“You can’t prove it was Kaz Brekker.” said Jellen Radmakker wearily. “The stadwatch have already said there were no eyewitnesses, and there’s no real evidence. Dozens of eyewitnesses claim Brekker was in his office all night.”
“WHICH MEANS IT WAS BREKKER!” howled Boreg.
Wylan thought that was pretty solid logic, but he still had no idea what was going on.
“What happened?” he asked Karl Dryden, who was watching the argument gormlessly.
“Natan had his house robbed last night.” said Dryden nervously. “While he and Mrs Boreg were at the opera. They, uh, took almost everything of value. Including the curtain hooks. There were some very old art pieces--
“THERE WAS A DEKAPPEL IN THAT COLLECTION--!”
“--there was a DeKappel.” said Dryden.
“IT WAS BREKKER.”
“He thinks it was Kaz Brekker.”
“I think I gathered that, Mr Dryden.” said Wylan. “Um--”
“YOU PUT HIM UP TO THIS!” shouted Boreg, spittle flying in Wylan’s vague direction.
Wylan had plenty of reasons to dislike Boreg, not least the fact that he had mocked him to his face, but it would be a cold day in hell when Wylan ever managed to convince Kaz to extend such effort on his behalf.
Plus, the Merchant Council didn’t know what Boreg had said to Wylan.
“Mister Boreg,” said Wylan in what he hoped was a convincingly aghast manner, praying the spirit of Nina Zenik would grant him sufficient acting prowess. “Why in Ghezen’s name would I ask Kaz Brekker to rob your house? I don’t know why you would accuse me of such a dreadful thing.”
Wylan decided he was lucky that Jesper hadn’t come with him that day, because if he had, he knew he would have laughed, and then it would have all gone to pieces. As it was, he was struggling.
Boreg seemed to flail for an argument.
“Well-- I saw--”
“Natan, that’s a... very serious accusation...” managed Karl Dryden weakly, but Radmakker was nodding furiously.
“What’s your evidence for this, Natan?”
“I… well, I think I saw Brekker the other night in the street--”
“In the Financial District?” said Wylan, pretending to be shocked.
“Well… no, in the Barrel, but--”
“Did he say something to threaten you?” asked Wylan urgently.
“No, he… I was talking to a friend…” he shot Wylan a shifty look, and Wylan thought he suddenly had a very good idea of what-- or rather, who-- he’d been talking about. No doubt this was the same night as when he’d goaded Wylan in front of the memorial. And if Kaz had overheard him on a similar rant...
“So you saw Kaz Brekker in the Barrel, and didn’t speak to him, and that’s your evidence for Mr Van Eck putting him up to robbing your house.” said Radmakker dryly. “Or do you have another explanation?”
“Well-- no--” Boreg seemed to give up entirely. “Well, maybe Van Eck didn’t put him up to it but it was still Brekker!”
There was a chorus of weary agreement.
“Can’t prove it, though.” said Dryden.
No, thought Wylan, pleased. You can’t.
He knew, then, that in Kaz’s stiff, unemotional way, this was meant to be a peace offering. Better men might have offered flowers, or a card, or heartfelt apologies, but what use was that to Kaz? This was spiteful and completely ridiculous, but Wylan couldn’t help but feel pleased, anyway. It was possible, he supposed, that Kaz had an unrelated reason to rob Boreg…
But he didn’t think that was the case.
Not after the note Jesper had gotten this morning.
Wylan sat back and listened to the Merchant Council argue, and tried his damndest not to laugh.
Maybe Kaz had, somehow, managed to dredge up a speck of affection for Wylan from somewhere in the murky depths of his conscience.
He wasn’t sure the thought was supposed to be as gratifying as it was.
“Ooh, Kaz.” said Jesper. “Is this a date? I’m flattered, but I’m already seeing this guy, you might know hi--” Kaz looked up at him, and Jesper went trailing off; “Oka-aay. Yeah. Sorry.”
“Sit down.” growled Kaz.
Jesper sat down.
“Did you order yet?”
“Yes.” Kaz drummed his fingers on the coffee mug he was holding. Jesper frowned at it.
“Doesn’t look like hutspot to me. Aren’t you eating?”
Kaz did not grace him with a response, but Jesper had known him long enough to understand the no, and I haven’t eaten for several hours even though I should, signs. Kaz liked to forgo basic human needs when he was in a bad mood. Which was often.
Jesper shrugged, and turned to flag down the waitress, who didn’t bat an eye at her bizarre customers. The Kooperom was on Dregs’ territory, owned by Specht’s girl. They were discreet and had no quarrel with the dubious dealings that their patrons conducted, so long as the Dregs paid them properly, talked nice to the waitresses, and took their hats off when they were inside.
“Hi, Maud-- can I get, uh, a brandy, two hutspots with karbonade-- yeah, that one-- and a portion of those eggs you do? The large dish?”
Kaz frowned. Maud didn’t question it, as usual; she wrote it all down, smiled at Jesper, and veritably twinkled at Kaz. Kaz merely blinked unaffectedly at her, and she seemed to come to herself, smiling awkwardly and hurrying off. Jesper sighed.
“Why do all the barmaids carry a torch for you? They can’t all have the same lapse of judgement as Inej.”
Kaz didn’t seem to hear him.
“What are you doing?” he hissed, instead. Jesper, who knew he really meant stop coddling me, decided to feign mild innocence. When he had read Kaz’s note this morning-- which had contained the name of the hutspot place, the time, and nothing else-- he had known full well what the intention had been. Kaz was going to sit and nurse his coffee and give him one word answers, and Jesper was going to eat, and Kaz would pay for it and pretend to be a sour git about it, and then that was going to be it, and they would go back to normal.
Jesper did not want that to be it. Not this time.
He twiddled his thumbs and smiled.
“Can’t continue your ascent to the dizzying heights of criminal notoriety if you keel over from malnutrition, Kaz.”
Kaz shot him a dark look and went back to staring at his mug. Jesper waited, bouncing his knees and checking the catch on his revolvers. He waited some more. Kaz did not broach the topic. Or any topic. He said nothing.
Their food came. Jesper had thought Kaz might refuse to eat, but to his relief, he didn’t. They both knew Jesper had ordered Kaz’s favourites, not his own. They ate in silence, for the most part. Kaz looked tired. He always did, but even more so than usual. Drained, really.
The longer they went without talking, the more Jesper’s heart sank. Somehow, he had thought this interaction might be different, but it wasn’t. Of course, Kaz had known all along that he had called Jesper by the wrong name, but now he knew that Jesper knew, too...
Jesper looked at him, sat severe and cruelly-cut in his black suit, gloves on, hat in his lap. He felt a little as if the elephant in the room was standing on his chest. There was a weight begging to be lifted--
“Kaz,” he blurted. “I’m sorry.”
It had never worked before, and he hadn’t truly expected it to work now. So when Kaz’s gaze lifted imperceptibly, Jesper rushed on;
“We shouldn’t have pried, we just-- I don’t know, I thought...”
He trailed off. What had he thought? That the knowledge would somehow knock down the wall Kaz maintained in-between them? That it was a magic password that would provide him access to Kaz’s high-security heart? No. That wasn’t how Kaz worked. Like all of their best heists, Inej had snuck in first, scaled the fences and slipped inside like it was nothing. But this time, Jesper had been left outside indefinitely. Kaz had not picked the lock from the inside to let him in. Inej had not given him the all-clear.
It wasn’t as if he was jealous of Inej; not like he’d used to be, not in the same way. Not now he had Wylan. But it stung to know he was still waiting for any sort of admittance, no matter how grudging, when she had seemingly gained it so easily.
The weight hadn’t lifted. Jesper knew what he wanted to ask, but how could he?
So, instead, he changed tracks. He said;
“...was it a farm?”
“Where you grew up. In Lij.”
The question Kaz had declined to answer the other week. Jesper had hoped it might be a good entry point, but he felt he was about to be disappointed, because Kaz’s expression hadn’t changed, besides a very slight twitch to his jaw. He drew breath to take it back--
“Yes.” said Kaz.
Jesper was so surprised he’d gotten an answer that he failed to come up with another question, and he panicked--
“Did you have cows?”
Kaz shot him a very strange look, but for better or worse, he seemed to have committed himself to this odd interrogation.
“So when you said that thing to my Da, about the cow pasture--”
“It’s just a saying, Jesper.” muttered Kaz, picking at the remaining eggs.
“Not a Ketterdam one.”
Kaz made a vaguely affirmative noise. Jesper tried for something else;
“What happened to it? Do any of your family still live there?”
He couldn’t imagine they did, but he hadn’t been able to think of anything else to ask. Kaz confirmed his doubts;
“No one lives there.” he said.
“Who owns it, then?”
“I do.” said Kaz.
“I purchased it years ago.”
Jesper’s brow furrowed.
“Under your name?” Surely any farmer with sense, even in Lij, would have run away screaming if Kaz Brekker had announced an intent to buy their property.
Kaz spun his cane slowly, staring at the crow’s head.
“Under Johannus Rietveld’s.”
“Oh. Oh.” Jesper realised, then, how Kaz had so easily created Colm’s farmer persona. “You already had a paper trail for that name, didn’t you?
Kaz inclined his head slowly.
“Clever.” said Jesper. He knew Kaz didn’t need to be told that-- his arrogance rivalled his fortune, these days-- but sometimes he felt like it should be said.
Kaz didn’t acknowledge the compliment. He didn’t say anything else. Jesper knew he should be shocked, maybe even grateful, that Kaz had given him any new information at all, but it was too late. The impulse, the itch that kept him alert in a fight, or sitting Makkers Wheel, had ignited. He lived for dangerous situations, and surely this fraught pseudo-interview was one of the biggest ones he’d been in for quite some time...
“Why did you come to Ketterdam?” he asked quietly, as if saying it any louder would somehow make Kaz less likely to answer.
Kaz blinked slowly. Jesper fidgeted, wondering if he was skimming too close to one of those shadowy patches, the pieces of Kaz’s past that were still, despite their best efforts, unanswered.
“Da died.” he said. “Had to sell the farm.”
With a pang, Jesper realised they’d called their fathers the same thing. Farm boys, Jesper Fahey and Kaz… Kaz Rietveld. There had not been a Kaz Brekker, then. Not yet.
Kaz had always been slightly too crisp with Colm, had always held an odd, terse look around him. Jesper had thought it was his father’s wholesomeness, how much of an easy mark he appeared, and perhaps it had been partially that, but maybe there was more to it. How similar was Colm to the lost Mr Rietveld? How much was Kaz reminded of his robbed childhood?
Kaz’s face scrunched slightly.
“Never knew her. Died when I was very young. Consumption.”
Saints, Kaz was stalked with tragedy. Jesper pressed his lips together.
“Ah,” he said. “So it was just you and… Jordie?”
Kaz ran a black-gloved finger down the wood-grain of the table. Jesper felt like Inej, precarious on the high wire. Lean too far either way, and he would simply fall off. Would Kaz do him the courtesy of a net?
Inej never fell. As she had so firmly said, she didn’t need a net.
But Kaz had given her one anyway, hadn’t he?
Jesper swallowed hard.
“Listen, Kaz, you don’t… have to tell me anything.” he said. He forced the words out. He desperately wanted to know, to be sure he was deemed worthy of Kaz’s trust, once and for all. But Kaz looked odd, off-kilter, and it was making Jesper wobble, too. “Not that you don’t want to. But just… one thing?”
Kaz looked at him. He waited.
“Does he have a grave?” asked Jesper. “I thought… I thought I ought to go.”
It was a mistake.
Something dark crawled into Kaz’s gaze, a glimmer of Dirtyhands where he ought not to be at all. Kaz’s fingers curled in his gloves. The leather creaked. A chill slithered through Jesper.
What happened to Jordie? What happened in the Queen’s Lady Plague?
There was more to it. There was something they weren’t getting.
Slowly, as if it was being dragged out of him, Kaz said;
“...no. He… his body was taken to Reaper’s Barge.” rasped Kaz, mouth pinched. It looked to Jesper as if he was making some great effort, a huge attempt to… to do what? He didn’t know. “The memorial is all there is.”
“That’s why you funded it.” said Jesper. “So there’d be something to remember him.”
No mourners, bar one. No funeral. But Jordie could have this, a name permanently set in stone.
Kaz’s jaw worked.
“Partially.” he said.
“It was a good thing to do.” said Jesper. Kaz shot him a wry look, and Jesper risked a slight smile.
“Oh, come on.” he said. “Doesn’t matter if your reasoning was selfish. All those people got some closure.” he paused. “Bet Inej will be pleased.”
Kaz didn’t smile, but the black thing in his gaze receded, a little, and his expression relaxed the smallest bit.
Jesper made one last attempt.
“...will you tell me about him?” he tried. “Just… I don’t know. One thing. So I can try and remember him, too.”
Someone I trusted, Kaz had told Jesper, when he’d first asked. Someone I didn’t want to lose. Or, as Kaz had more unkindly put it the other night; an arrogant little bastard who didn’t know how to stop and think.
Jesper was pushing his luck immensely, he knew that. But Kaz seemed to have afforded him several lines of credit for this gamble.
Kaz stared at the table.
“He was thirteen and I was nine.” he said.
Nine, thought Jesper glumly. Of course, that figured; Kaz was nearly twenty, now. But he hadn’t stopped to think about it, beyond the vague concept that they both would have been children. Nine was miserably young. Thirteen was not much better.
“He thought he’d be a runner at the Exchange, then a clerk, then a stockholder, then a merch. Like every other pigeon on the streets here, he thought he’d make his fortune just like that. Told me I’d go to school, but he wouldn’t. That he was too smart for it.”
“So he was looking for work when Pekka got you?”
Kaz’s face pinched.
“Yes.” he didn’t specify. He picked at a chip on the rim of his mug. “He was arrogant and easy to lead on. He was reckless, and put all our money into Pekka’s scam without so much as questioning it. He was too quick to trust and too ambitious to wait.”
Jesper thought that the lost Jordie sounded like a horrible amalgamation of Kaz and Jesper himself. No wonder Kaz constantly berated Jesper for his recklessness and his impulsiveness.
“He was meant to look after me, and he failed me.” said Kaz thinly. “And he failed himself, too.” he paused, and for the first time since they’d been sitting there, he looked up and met Jesper’s gaze. “But I’d have given him another chance, if I could. Every time.”
They sat quietly for a moment. Jesper did not drop his gaze, and Kaz did not drop his.
“I’ll take some flowers to the memorial.” said Jesper. “I won’t say who for.”
Kaz’s gaze flickered, and dropped.
“...he liked marigolds.” he said.
He stacked up their plates and hunched over for a moment, face taut. Then he straightened, and settled his usual apathy back in place.
“Kaz?” said Jesper.
“What now?” said Kaz gruffly.
Kaz afforded him a brief glance. He nodded, once, then looked away again.
Feeling oddly relieved, but also distinctly gloomy, Jesper looked away too--
And out of the window, he caught sight of a new ship just docking, in the berth at the end of Fifth Harbour. A schooner. Called--
He leapt to his feet.
“Kaz, the berth!”
“She’s early.” muttered Kaz, standing abruptly and nearly dropping his hat.
“Yes!” Jesper rifled eagerly in his pockets to pay the bill--
Kaz caught his wrist with the head of his cane. Jesper frowned.
“C’mon, Kaz. I actually have money nowadays. I ate like half your hutspot and made you answer all my questions. I owe you.”
“I’m paying.” said Kaz. It was not a question.
Jesper thought about arguing, and decided it was not worth it. Not right now.
He sighed, and dropped his hands.
“Well, you can certainly afford it, with all those new paintings you found last night.”
The ghost of a smile crossed Kaz’s face. They both knew Jesper held no delusions about who had broken into Boreg’s house.
“Yes,” said Kaz dryly, putting the money down and settling his hat onto his head. “That I found.”
They said their goodbyes to Maud and left at a brisk clip for Fifth Harbour. Jesper confessed himself surprised that Kaz was accompanying him. Usually, he did not come to greet Inej at the harbour.
Maybe Kaz was intending to make this whole being mildly benevolent thing a trend.
Inej looked just as surprised to see Kaz with Jesper as Jesper had been to be accompanied by him. But she didn’t question it; she allowed Jesper to crush her in a hug, and she smiled at Kaz, clearly trying to work him out;
“What business, Kaz?” she demanded, as they parted from her crew and turned to head towards East Stave, taking a rambling route down to the Van Eck Mansion. “You want something, else you wouldn’t have bothered to come down.”
Jesper thought the thing that Kaz wanted was simply Inej’s good favour, but decided not to say so. He had pushed Kaz far enough today, and it was barely noon.
Kaz lifted a shoulder slightly.
“We have things to discuss.”
“Don’t we always?” sighed Inej, but there wasn’t so much as a hint of irritation in her expression. Jesper, who had been aware he was third-wheeling long before either Kaz or Inej themselves knew, sighed and resigned himself to acquiring gossip that he could include in his next letter to Nina.
As they passed through the Lid, Inej slowed.
“What’s this?” she asked, deviating from their path and wandering towards the towering stone memorial. “It’s new.”
Kaz didn’t reply. He leaned on his cane and watched her from under his hat, eyes tracking her movements hungrily. Jesper wasn’t sure if he was even really listening.
Inej stepped up to the inscription, graceful as ever. Jesper watched her read it, watched her cast a glance skywards and mumble a prayer to her Saints, presumably for the souls of the dead. Did she know she was asking for Jordie Rietveld’s deliverance? Jesper wasn’t sure.
He waited for Kaz to give her some suggestion of his involvement, to tell her that, for once, he had played at being the good man that people wanted for her, the one she deserved...
Kaz did not tell her. He watched her quietly.
Saints, Jesper never would fully understand Kaz. His mad obsession with not allowing himself to be absolved would have been noble, if it hadn’t been so misguided...
So Jesper took it upon himself to tell Inej.
“It’s new.” he confirmed, as Inej returned to them. “It’s been ten years since the plague struck, so a charity group asked for donations to erect a memorial.”
“Must have been expensive,” Inej said, looking back at it as they moved on. “Did the Merchant Council fund it?”
Even as she posed the question, she looked like she doubted it. Jesper snorted.
“Did they hell. Wy donated, but the rest of the old misers didn’t. Mostly, it was carried by Barrel donations, but they were still thousands of kruge short, even after all that.”
“So where did they get the rest?”
Exactly what he’d wanted her to ask. Grinning, Jesper stopped walking, and turned pointedly on his heel.
“Well, I would tell you… but I think you should ask Kaz.”
Kaz, a few paces behind them, shot him a poisonous look, but it was a snake defanged the second his gaze shifted to Inej.
“Kaz,” said Inej slowly, hope gleaming in her expression, “...where did the rest of the money come from?”
Kaz’s gaze dropped, and that was answer enough. But Jesper waited smugly, wondering how Kaz was going to get out of this one...
“An anonymous benefactor saw fit, for one reason or another, to provide the rest of the funds.” he rasped, shifting his weight to and from his bad leg.
“It was thirty thousand kruge.” whispered Jesper theatrically.
Inej kept her eyes on Kaz. The corners of her mouth lifted slightly.
“That was very generous.” she said softly. “Of the anonymous benefactor, I mean.”
“Charity is an excellent way to serve Ghezen.” said Kaz neutrally. Inej rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling.
“I don’t think the anonymous benefactor thinks much of Ghezen.” said Jesper cheerily. “I’ve heard his gods are more like a pantheon. I think their names are Cold Hard Kruge, Expensive Coats, and Incredible Violence.”
Kaz scowled at him and went stalking off in front, whatever spell Inej had put on him broken by his irritation. Jesper laughed, watching his dark silhouette ahead of them. Inej fell into step beside him.
“He’s been practicing being nice, you know,” Jesper told her. “In his own horrible way.”
Inej’s eyebrows lifted.
Jesper shrugged. “In fits and starts. He had tea with Wylan's mother."
Inej stared warily at him.
"Never found out." shrugged Jesper. "Apparently he didn't see fit to tell her he wasn't one of Wylan's schoolmates. To be honest, I think he just thinks it's funny to scare Wylan, but he was polite enough to her. But there’s definitely room for improvement-- he could have just said sorry for being a git, Wylan, rather than robbing Natan Boreg’s house to the wallpaper while he was at the opera as revenge for Boreg making fun of Wylan. But I suppose that’s just how Dirtyhands operates.”
Inej sighed, but she didn’t look particularly disapproving.
“Of course he did.”
Jesper nodded solemnly.
“Yes, of course. He also recruited some random starving kids off the street-- I saw them at the Slat-- put a bunch of extra names on the memorial, and we went for hutspot and had a nice heart to heart.”
“Alright, you’re just exaggerating, now.”
“No, I’m serious.”
Jesper’s mirth faded slightly.
“Well,” he said. “I’m exaggerating, but… only a bit.” he paused. “Maybe I should let him tell you about that.”
Inej blinked, then looked ahead to Kaz.
“Alright,” she said softly. She paused. “...will he tell me about that?”
“He tells you everything.” said Jesper, trying not to make it sound bitter. Inej cast him an odd look.
“Not everything.” she said.
Ahead, where Kaz was waiting for them to catch up at the base of the bridge, a crow had landed, staring hopefully at him. Kaz only spared it a brief glance, but Jesper groaned.
“They’re following him now. I swear he’s doing it on purpose, to scare people-- what?”
For something of a realisation had come across Inej’s face, and she was gone from his side in a second, crossing to Kaz’s side in a few graceful strides.
“You fed them,” she said. She looked up at Kaz, then at the crow, and smiled. “I didn’t think you would.”
“Wouldn’t leave me alone until I did it.” muttered Kaz, still looking at her. “But they like you better.”
“They don’t follow me.” said Inej, putting her hand out to the great black bird. The crow considered it oddly delicately.
Jesper decided not to make a joke about the birds thinking Kaz was their mother crow in his black coat and hat, and opted for hovering at a distance, watching as Kaz and Inej set off again.
But maybe Inej wasn’t the only one who was in good favour with Kaz, today.
It occurred to Jesper to wonder if, maybe, he wasn’t quite as locked out of Kaz’s cruel, greedy heart as he’d thought.
Kaz had wanted a perfect brother, and neither Jesper nor Jordie had been able to be that. Jordie, Kaz Rietveld’s brother, was dead-- preserved forever both in his innocence and his childish arrogance. Jesper was madly flawed and fallible, a brother that the new Kaz, Kaz Brekker, hadn’t wanted, but probably deserved.
And the one he needed? piped a rather naive voice inside him. Jesper grimaced. He wasn’t sure Kaz needed anyone.
Then Kaz paused, and turned to look for him.
“Hurry up, Jes.” he snapped. “Is the Mercher life getting to you? Are you ashamed to be seen with me in public?”
Jesper spluttered an incredulous laugh. Kaz was dedicated to proving him wrong, it seemed.
“Never, Kaz.” he went sauntering over and wedged himself firmly in between Kaz and Inej. “But if you’re so desperate for me to interrupt your lover’s promenade, I will do so.”
Kaz scowled, and Inej laughed, but Kaz didn’t shunt him away, and they squabbled all the way back to the Van Eck mansion.
What do you think my forgiveness looks like, Jordie?
Jesper, the accidentally-admitted brother, thought it perhaps looked a little like this.