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Chapter no 46

Six of Crows

Pekka Rollins tucked a wad of jurda into his cheek and leaned back in his chair to survey the raggedy crew Doughty had brought to his office. Rollins lived above the Emerald Palace in a grand suite of rooms, every inch of them covered in gilt and green velvet. He loved flash – in his clothes, his friends, and his women.

The kids standing before him were the opposite of anything properly stylish. They wore the costumes of the Komedie Brute, but no one got access to his office without showing his face, so the masks had come off. He recognised some of them. He’d hoped to recruit the Heartrender Nina Zenik at some point, but now she looked as if she might not last out the month – all jutting bones, dark hollows, and trembling hands. Seemed he’d dodged a bad investment there. She leaned against a giant Fjerdan with a shaved head and grim blue eyes. He was huge, probably former military. Good muscle to have around. Where did Kaz Brekker find these people?

The boy next to them was Shu, but he looked far too young to be the scientist they’d all been so desperate to get their hands on. Besides, Brekker would never bring such a prize to the Emerald Palace. And then, of course, Rollins knew Jesper Fahey. The sharpshooter had run up an astonishing amount of debt at nearly every gambling den on East Stave. His loose talk had put Rollins wise to the knowledge that Brekker was sending a team to Fjerda. A little digging and a lot of bribes had yielded

the where and when of their departure – intelligence that had proved faulty. Brekker had been one step ahead of the him and the Dime Lions. The little canal rat had managed to make it to the Ice Court after all.

It was a good thing, too. If not for Kaz Brekker, Rollins would still be sitting in a cell in that damned Fjerdan prison waiting for another round of torture – or maybe looking down from a pike atop the ringwall.

When Brekker had picked the lock on his prison cell door, Rollins hadn’t known if he was about to be rescued or assassinated. He’d heard plenty about Kaz Brekker since he’d risen to prominence in the Dregs –that sorry outfit Per Haskell called a gang – and he’d seen him around the Barrel a few times. The boy had come from nowhere and been a slew of trouble since. But he was still just a lieutenant, not a general, a terrier nipping at Rollins’ ankles.

“Hello, Brekker,” Rollins had said. “Come to gloat?” “Not exactly. You know me?”

Rollins had shrugged. “Sure, you’re the little skiv who keeps stealing my customers.”

The look that passed over the boy’s face then had taken Rollins aback. It was hatred – pure, black, long simmering. What have I ever done to this little pissant? But in seconds the look was gone, and Rollins wondered if he’d imagined it altogether.

“What do you want, Brekker?”

The boy had stood there, something bleak and mad in his gaze. “I want to do you a favour.”

Rollins noted Brekker’s bare feet and prison clothes, the hands shorn of his legendary black gloves – a ridiculous affectation. “You don’t look like you’re in a position to do anyone favours, kid.”

“I’m going to leave this door unlocked. You’re not stupid enough to go after Bo Yul-Bayur without a crew to back you. Wait for your moment and get out.”

“Why the hell would you help me?” “You weren’t meant to die here.” Somehow it sounded like a curse.

“I owe you, Brekker,” Rollins had said as the boy exited his cell, hardly believing his luck.

Brekker had glanced back at him, his dark eyes like caverns. “Don’t worry, Rollins. You’ll pay.”

And apparently the boy had come to collect. He stood in the middle of Rollins’ opulent office looking like a dark blot of ink, his face grim, his hands resting on a crow-handled walking stick. Rollins wasn’t surprised to see him, exactly. Word had it that the exchange between Brekker and Van Eck had gone sour and that Van Eck had eyes on the Slat and the rest of Kaz Brekker’s haunts. But Van Eck wasn’t watching the Emerald Palace. He had no reason to. Rollins wasn’t even sure the merch knew he had made it back from Fjerda alive.

When Brekker finished explaining the bare bones of the situation, Rollins shrugged and said, “You got double-crossed. You want my advice, give Kuwei to Van Eck and be done with it.”

“I’m not here for advice.”

“The merchers like the taxes we pay. They let the occasional bank heist or housebreak slide, but they expect us to stay here in the Barrel and leave them to their business. You go to war with Van Eck, and all that changes.”

“Van Eck’s gone rogue. If the Merchant Council knew—”

“And who’s going to tell them? A canal rat from the worst slum in the Barrel? Don’t kid yourself, Brekker. Cut your losses and live to fight another day.”

“I fight every day. You’re telling me you’d just walk away?”

“Look, you want to shoot yourself in the foot – the good foot – I’m happy to watch you do it. But I’m not going to ally with you. Not against a merch. No one will. You’re not courting a little gang war, Brekker. You’ll have the stadwatch, the Kerch army and its navy arrayed against you. They’ll burn the Slat to the ground with the old man in it, and they’ll take Fifth Harbour back, too.”

“I don’t expect you to fight beside me, Rollins.” “Then what do you want? It’s yours. Within reason.” “I need to get a message to the Ravkan capital. Fast.” Rollins shrugged. “Easy enough.”

“And I need money.” “Shocking. How much?”

“Two hundred thousand kruge.”

Rollins nearly choked on his laughter. “Anything else, Brekker? The Lantsov Emerald? A dragon who craps rainbows?”

“You have the money to spare, Rollins. And I saved your life.”

“Then you should have negotiated back in that cell. I’m not a bank, Brekker. And even if I were, given your current situation, I’d say you’re a pretty poor credit risk.”

“I don’t want a loan.”

“You want me to give you two hundred thousand kruge? And what do I get for this generous gesture?”

Brekker’s jaw set. “My shares in the Crow Club and Fifth Harbour.” Rollins sat up straighter. “You’d sell your stake?”

“Yes. And for another hundred thousand I’ll throw in an original DeKappel.”

Rollins leaned back and pressed his fingers together. “It’s not enough, you know. Not to go to war with the Merchant Council.”

“It is for this crew.”

“This crew?” Rollins said with a snort. “I can’t believe you sorry lot were the ones to successfully raid the Ice Court.”

“Believe it.”

“Van Eck is going to put you in the ground.”

“Others have tried. Somehow I keep coming back from the dead.”

“I respect your drive, kid. And I understand. You want your money; you want the Wraith back; you want a bit of Van Eck’s hide—”

“No,” said Brekker, his voice part rasp, part growl. “When I come for Van Eck, I won’t just take what’s mine. I’ll carve his life hollow. I’ll burn his name from the ledger. There will be nothing left.”

Pekka Rollins couldn’t count the threats he’d heard, the men he’d killed, or the men he’d seen die, but the look in Brekker’s eye still sent a chill slithering up his spine. Some wrathful thing in this boy was begging to get loose, and Rollins didn’t want to be around when it slipped its leash.

“Open the safe, Doughty.”

Rollins doled out the cash to Brekker, then had him write out a transfer order for his shares in the Crow Club and the goldmine that was Fifth Harbour. When he held out his hand to shake on the deal, Brekker’s grip was knuckle-crushing.

“You don’t remember me at all, do you?” the boy asked. “Should I?”

“Not just yet.” That black thing flickered behind Brekker’s eyes.

“The deal is the deal,” said Rollins, eager to be done with this strange lot.

“The deal is the deal.”

When they’d gone, Rollins peered through the big glass window that overlooked the gambling floor of the Emerald Palace.

“An unexpectedly profitable end to the day, Doughty.”

Doughty grunted agreement, surveying the action taking place at the tables below – dice, cards, Makker’s Wheel, fortunes won and lost, and a delicious slice of all of it came to Rollins.

“What’s with those gloves he wears?” the bruiser asked. “A bit of theatre, I suspect. Who knows? Who cares?”

Rollins watched Brekker and his crew moving through the crowded gambling hall. They opened the doors to the street, and for a brief moment, they were silhouetted against the lamplight in their masks and capes – a cripple trailed by a bunch of kids in costumes. Some gang. Brekker was a wily thief and tough enough, Pekka supposed, inventive, too. But unlike those poor stooges at the Ice Court, Van Eck would be ready for Brekker. The boy was going into a real battle. He didn’t stand a chance.

Rollins reached for his watch. It had to be about time for the dealers to change shifts, and he liked to supervise them himself.

“Son of a bitch,” he exclaimed a second later. “What is it, boss?”

Rollins held up his watch chain. A turnip was hanging from the fob where his diamond-studded timepiece should have been. “That little bastard—” Then a thought came to him. He reached for his wallet. It was gone. So was his tie pin, the Kaelish coin pendant he wore for luck, and the gold buckles on his shoes. Rollins wondered if he should check the fillings in his teeth.

“He picked your pocket?” Doughty asked incredulously.

No one got one over on Pekka Rollins. No one dared. But Brekker had, and Rollins wondered if that was just the beginning.

“Doughty,” he said, “I think we’d best say a prayer for Jan Van Eck.” “You think Brekker can best him?”

“It’s a long shot, but if he’s not careful, I think that merch might walk himself right onto the gallows and let Brekker tighten the noose.” Rollins sighed. “We better hope Van Eck kills that boy.”

“Why?”

“Because otherwise I’ll have to.”

Rollins straightened the knot of his pinless tie and headed down to the casino floor. The problem of Kaz Brekker could wait to be solved another day. Right now there was money to be made.

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