room? But Glokta knew how. It’s hard to stay calm when you’re terrified, helpless, alone, at the mercy of men with no mercy at all. Who could know that better than me? He sighed, and using his most world-weary tone of voice asked, “Do you wish to confess?”

“No!” The defiance had returned to the prisoner’s piggy eyes now. He stared back, silent and watchful, and sucked. Surprising. Very surprising. But then we’re just getting started.

“Is that tooth bothering you, Rews?” There was nothing Glokta didn’t know about teeth. His own mouth had been worked on by the very best. Or the very worst, depending on how you look at it. “It seems that I must leave you now, but while I’m away, I’ll be thinking about that tooth. I’ll be considering very carefully what to do with it.” He took hold of his cane. “I want you to think about me, thinking about your tooth. And I also want you to think, very carefully, about signing your confession.”

Glokta got awkwardly to his feet, shaking out his aching leg. “I think you may respond well to a straightforward beating however, so I’m going to leave you in the company of Practical Frost for half an hour.” Rews’ mouth became a silent circle of surprise. The albino picked up the chair, fat man and all, and turned it slowly around. “He’s absolutely the best there is at this kind of thing.” Frost took out a pair of battered leather gloves and began to pull them carefully onto his big white hands, one finger at a time. “You always did like to have the very best of everything, eh, Rews?” Glokta made for the door.

“Wait! Glokta!” wailed Rews over his shoulder. “Wait I—”

Practical Frost clamped a gloved hand over the fat man’s mouth and held a finger to his mask. “Thhhhhhh,” he said. The door clicked shut.

Severard was leaning against the wall in the corridor, one foot propped on the plaster behind him, whistling tunelessly beneath his mask and running a hand through his long, lanky hair. As Glokta came through the door he straightened up and gave a little bow, and it was plain by his eyes that he was smiling. He’s always smiling.

“Superior Kalyne wants to see you,” he said in his broad, common accent, “and I’m of the opinion that I never saw him angrier.”

“Severard, you poor thing, you must be terrified. Do you have the box?”

“I do.”

“And you took something out for Frost?”

“I did.”

“And something for your wife too, I hope?”

“Oh yes,” said Severard, his eyes smiling more than ever, “My wife will be well taken care of. If I ever get one.”

“Good. I hasten to answer the call of the Superior. When I have been with him for five minutes, come in with the box.”

“Just barge into his office?”

“Barge in and stab him in the face for all I care.”

“I’d consider that done, Inquisitor.”

Glokta nodded, turned away, then turned back. “Don’t really stab him, eh, Severard?”

The Practical smiled with his eyes and sheathed his vicious-looking knife. Glokta rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, then limped off, his cane tapping on the tiles, his leg throbbing. Click, tap, pain. That was the rhythm of his walking.

The Superior’s office was a large and richly appointed room high up in the House of Questions, a room in which everything was too big and too fancy. A huge, intricate window dominated one wood-panelled wall, offering a view over the well-tended gardens in the courtyard below. An equally huge and ornate desk stood in the centre of a richly coloured carpet from somewhere warm and exotic. The head of a fierce animal from somewhere cold and exotic was mounted above a magnificent stone fireplace with a tiny, mean fire close to burning out inside.

Superior Kalyne himself made his office look small and drab. A vast, florid man in his late fifties, he had over-compensated for his thinning hair with magnificent white side whiskers. He was considered a daunting presence even within the Inquisition, but Glokta was past scaring, and they both knew it.

There was a big, fancy chair behind the desk, but the Superior was pacing up and down while he screamed, his arms waving. Glokta was seated on something which, while doubtless expensive, had clearly been designed to make its occupant as uncomfortable as possible. It doesn’t bother me much, though. Uncomfortable is as good as I ever get.

He amused himself with the thought of Kalyne’s head mounted above the fireplace instead of that fierce animal’s, while the Superior ranted at him. He’s every bit like his fireplace, the big dolt. Looks impressive, but there’s not much going on underneath. I wonder how he’d respond to an interrogation? I’d start with those ridiculous side whiskers. But Glokta’s face was a mask of attention and respect.

“Well you’ve outdone yourself this time, Glokta, you mad cripple! When the Mercers find out about this they’ll have you flayed!”

“I’ve tried flaying, it tickles.” Damn it, keep your mouth shut and smile. Where’s that whistling fool Severard? I’ll have him flayed when I get out of here.

“Oh yes, that’s good, that’s very good, Glokta, look at me laugh! And evasion of the King’s taxes?” The Superior glowered down, whiskers bristling. “The King’s taxes?” he screamed, spraying Glokta with spit. “They’re all at it! The Mercers, the Spicers, all of them! Every damn fool with a boat!”

“But this was so open, Superior. It was an insult to us. I felt we had to—”

“You felt?” Kalyne was red-faced and vibrating with rage. “You were explicitly told to keep away from the Mercers, away from the Spicers, away from all the big guilds!” He strode up and down with ever greater speed. You’ll wear your carpet out at this rate. The big guilds will have to buy you a new one.

“You felt, did you? Well he’ll have to go back! We’ll have to release him and you’ll have to feel your way to a grovelling apology! It’s a damn disgrace! You’ve made me look ridiculous! Where is he now?”

“I left him in the company of Practical Frost.”

“With that mumbling animal?” The Superior tore at his hair in desperation. “Well that’s it then, isn’t it? He’ll be a ruin now! We can’t send him back in that condition! You’re finished here, Glokta! Finished! I’m going straight to the Arch Lector! Straight to the Arch Lector!”

The huge door was kicked open and Severard sauntered in carrying a wooden box. And not a moment too soon. The Superior stared, speechless, open-mouthed with wrath, as Severard dropped it on the desk with a thump and a jingle.

“What the hell is the meaning of…” Severard pulled open the lid, and Kalyne saw the money. All that lovely money. He stopped in mid-rant, mouth stuck forming the next sound. He looked surprised, then he looked puzzled, then he looked cautious. He pursed his lips and slowly sat down.

“Thank you, Practical Severard,” said Glokta. “You may go.” The Superior was stroking thoughtfully at his side whiskers as Severard strolled out, his face returning gradually to its usual shade of pink. “Confiscated from Rews. The property of the Crown now, of course. I thought that I should give it to you, as my direct superior, so that you could pass it on to the Treasury.” Or buy a bigger desk, you leech.

Glokta leaned forward, hands on his knees. “You could say, perhaps, that Rews went too far, that questions had been asked, that an example had to be made. We can’t be seen to do nothing, after all. It’ll make the big guilds nervous, keep them in line.” It’ll make them nervous and you can screw more out of them. “Or you could always tell them that I’m a mad cripple, and blame me for it.”

The Superior was starting to like it now, Glokta could tell. He was trying not to show it, but his whiskers were quivering at the sight of all that money. “Alright, Glokta. Alright. Very well.” He reached out and carefully shut the lid of the box. “But if you ever think of doing something like this again… talk to me first, would you? I don’t like surprises.”

Glokta struggled to his feet, limped towards the door. “Oh, and one more thing!” He turned stiffly back. Kalyne was staring at him severely from beneath his big, fancy brows. “When I go to see the Mercers, I’ll need to take Rews’ confession.”

Glokta smiled broadly, showing the yawning gap in his front teeth. “That shouldn’t be a problem, Superior.”

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