The Lies of Locke Lamora (5 page)

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“Calo, Galdo,” said Father Chains, “be good lads and see to the doors, will you?”

The two robed boys set down the copper kettle and moved to one of the tapestries. Working together, they swept it aside and pulled at a concealed device. Some great mechanism creaked in the sanctuary walls, and the twin doors leading out to the temple steps began to draw inward. When they finished sliding together with the scrape of stone against stone, the alchemical globe suddenly flared into brighter luminescence.

“Now,” said the Eyeless Priest as he knelt, letting a great deal of slack chain gather in little steel mounds about him, “come over here, Locke Lamora, and let’s see if you have any of the gifts necessary to become an initiate of this temple.”

With Father Chains on his knees, Locke and he were roughly forehead to forehead. In response to Chains’ beckoning hands, Locke stepped close and waited. The priest wrinkled his nose.

“I see that your former master remains less than fastidious about the pungency of his wards; no matter. That will soon be rectified. For now, simply give me your hands, like so.” Chains firmly but gently guided Locke’s small hands until the boy’s palms rested over Chains’ blindfold. “Now…merely close your eyes and concentrate…concentrate. Let whatever virtuous thoughts you have within you bubble to the surface, let the
warmth
of your generous spirit flow forth from your
innocent
hands. Ah, yes, like that…”

Locke was half-alarmed and half-amused, but the lines of Father Chains’ weathered face drew downward, and his mouth soon hung open in beatific anticipation.

“Ahhhhhhh,” the priest whispered, his voice thick with emotion. “Yes, yes, you do have some talent…some power…. I can feel it…. It might almost be…a
miracle
!”

At that, Chains jerked his head back, and Locke jumped in the opposite direction. His chains clanking, the priest lifted manacled hands to his blindfold and yanked it off with a flourish. Locke recoiled, unsure of what eyeless sockets might look like, but the priest’s eyes were quite normal. In fact, Chains squinted in pain and rubbed them several times, wincing at the glare of the alchemical globe.

“Ahhhh-ha-ha-ha!” he cried, finally holding out his hands toward Locke. “I’m healed! I can
see! once! more!

Locke stared, gaping like a slackwit for the second time that night, unsure of what to say. Behind him, the two hooded boys started to giggle, and Locke’s eyebrows bent inward in suspicion.

“You’re not…really
blind
,” he said.

“And you’re clearly not stupid!” Chains cried, leaping up with a glee that brought wet-sounding pops from his kneecaps. He waved his manacled hands like a bird trying to take flight. “Calo! Galdo! Get these damn things off my wrists so we can count our daily blessings.”

The two hooded boys hurried over and did something to the manacles that Locke couldn’t quite follow; they slid open and fell to the floor with a jarring clatter. Chains gingerly rubbed the skin that had been beneath them; it was as white as the meat of a fresh fish.

“You’re not…really a priest!” Locke added while the older man caressed some color back into his forearms.

“Oh no,” Chains said, “I am a priest. Just not a priest of, um, Perelandro. Nor are my initiates initiates of Perelandro. Nor will you be an initiate of Perelandro. Locke Lamora, say hello to Calo and Galdo Sanza.”

The white-robed boys swept back their hoods, and Locke saw that they were twins, perhaps a year or two older than himself and far sturdier-looking. They had the olive skin and black hair of the true Camorri. Their identical long, hook-ended noses, however, were something of an anomaly. Smiling, they joined hands and bowed in unison from the waist.

“Um, hi,” Locke said. “Which of you is which?”

“Today, I am Galdo,” said the one on Locke’s left.

“Tomorrow, I will probably be Galdo,” said the other one.

“Or perhaps we’ll both want to be Calo,” added the one who had first spoken.

“In time,” Father Chains interrupted, “you’ll learn to tell them apart by the number of dents I’ve kicked in their respective asses; one of them always manages to be ahead of the other, somehow.” He stood behind Locke and placed both of his wide, heavy hands on Locke’s shoulders. “Idiots, this is Locke Lamora. As you can see, I’ve just bought him from your old benefactor, the master of Shades’ Hill.”

“We remember you,” said presumed-Galdo.

“A Catchfire orphan,” said presumed-Calo.

“Father Chains bought us just after you arrived,” they said in unison, grinning.

“Knock that bullshit off,” Father Chains said, his voice somehow regal. “You two have just volunteered to cook dinner. Pears and sausage in oil, and a double portion for your new little brother. Get. Locke and I will deal with the kettle.”

Sneering and gesturing rudely as they went, the twins ran for the curtained door and vanished behind it. Locke could hear their footsteps trailing away down some sort of staircase; then Father Chains motioned for him to sit beside the copper money-kettle.

“Sit, boy. Let’s have a few words about what’s going on here.” Chains eased himself back down to the damp floor, crossing his legs and settling a thoughtful stare on Locke. “Your former master said you could do simple sums. Is this true?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Don’t call me ‘master.’ Makes my balls shrivel and my teeth crack. Just call me Father Chains. And while you’re sitting there, let’s see you tip that kettle and count all the money in there.”

Locke strained to pull the kettle over on one side, seeing now why Calo and Galdo preferred to share the burden. Chains gave the kettle a push on the base, and its contents finally spilled out on the floor beside Locke. “Makes it much harder to snatch, having it weigh that much,” Chains said.

“How can you…how can you pretend to be a priest?” Locke asked while he sorted full copper coins and clipped copper bits into little piles. “Don’t you fear the gods? The wrath of Perelandro?”

“Of course I do,” Chains replied, running his fingers through his round, ragged beard. “I fear them very much. Like I said, I’m a priest, just not a priest of Perelandro. I’m an initiated servant of the Nameless Thirteenth—the Thiefwatcher, the Crooked Warden, the Benefactor, Father of Necessary Pretexts.”

“But…there are only the Twelve.”

“It’s funny just how many people are sadly misinformed on that point, my dear boy. Imagine, if you will, that the Twelve
happen
to have something of a black-sheep younger brother, whose exclusive dominion
happens
to be thieves like you and I. Though the Twelve won’t allow his Name to be spoken or heard, they have some lingering affection for his merry brand of fuckery. Thus, crooked old posers such as myself aren’t blasted with lightning or pecked apart by crows for squatting in the temple of a more respectable god like Perelandro.”

“You’re a priest of this…Thirteenth?”

“Indeed. A priest of thieves, and a thieving priest. As Calo and Galdo will be, someday, and as you might be, provided you’re worth even the pittance I paid for you.”

“But…” Locke reached out and plucked the Thiefmaker’s purse (a pouch of rust-red leather) from the piles of copper and passed it to Chains. “If you paid for me, why did my old master leave an offering?”

“Ah. Rest assured that I
did
pay for you, and you
were
cheap, and this is
no
offering.” Chains untied the little pouch and let its contents—a single white shark’s tooth, as long as Locke’s thumb—drop into his hand. Chains waved it at the boy. “Have you ever seen one of these before?”

“No. What is it?”

“It’s a death-mark. The tooth of the wolf shark is the personal sigil of Capa Barsavi—your former master’s boss. My boss and your boss, for that matter. It means that you’re such a
sullen, thick-skulled little fuck-up
that your former master actually went to the capa and got permission to
kill you
.”

Chains grinned, as though he were imparting nothing more than a ribald joke. Locke shivered.

“Does that give you a moment of pause, my boy? Good. Stare at this thing, Locke. Take a good, hard look. It means your death is
paid
for. I bought this from your former master when I got you at a bargain price. It means that if Duke Nicovante himself adopted you tomorrow and proclaimed you his heir, I could still crack your skull open and nail you to a post, and nobody in the city would lift a
fucking
finger.”

Chains deftly shoved the tooth back into the red pouch, then hung it around Locke’s neck by its slender cord. “You’re going to wear that,” the older man said, “until I deem you worthy to remove it, or until I make use of the power it gives me and—so!” He slashed two fingers across the air in front of Locke’s throat. “Hide it under your clothes, and keep it next to your skin at all times to remind you just how close, how
very
close, you came to getting your throat slit tonight. If your former master were one shade less greedy than he is vindictive, I don’t doubt you’d be floating in the bay.”

“What did I do?”

Chains did something with his eyes that made Locke feel smaller just for having tried to protest. Locke squirmed and fiddled with the death-mark pouch.

“Please, boy. Let’s not start out with either of us insulting the other’s intelligence. There are only three people in life you can never fool—pawnbrokers, whores, and your mother. Since your mother’s dead, I’ve taken her place. Hence, I’m bullshit-proof.” Chains’ voice grew serious. “You know perfectly well why your former master would have cause to be displeased with you.”

“He said I wasn’t…circumspect.”

“Circumspect,” Chains repeated. “That’s a good word. And no, you’re not. He told me everything.”

Locke looked up from his little piles of coins, his eyes wide and near watering. “Everything?”

“Quite everything.” Chains stared the boy down for a long, difficult moment, then sighed. “So what did the good citizens of Camorr give to the cause of Perelandro today?”

“Twenty-seven copper barons, I think.”

“Hmmm. Just over four silver solons, then. A slow day. But it beats every other form of theft I ever met.”

“You steal this money from Perelandro, too?”

“Of course I do, boy. I mentioned that I was a thief, didn’t I? But not the sort of thief you’re used to. Better. The entire city of Camorr is full of idiots running around and getting hung, all because they think that stealing is something you do with your
hands
.” Father Chains spat.

“Um…what do you steal with, Father Chains?”

The bearded priest tapped two fingers against the side of his head, then grinned widely. “Brains and a big mouth, my boy, brains and a big mouth. I planted my ass here thirteen years ago, and the pious suckers of Camorr have been feeding me coins ever since. Plus I’m famous from Emberlain to Tal Verrar, which is pleasant, though mostly I like the cold coinage.”

“Isn’t it uncomfortable?” Locke asked, looking around at the sad innards of the temple. “Living here, never going out?”

Chains chuckled. “This shabby little backstage is no more the full extent of my temple than your old home was really a graveyard. We’re a different sort of thief here, Lamora. Deception and misdirection are our tools. We don’t believe in hard work when a false face and a good line of bullshit can do so much more.”

“Then…you’re like…teasers.”

“Perhaps, in the sense that a barrel of fire-oil is akin to a pinch of red pepper. And that’s why I paid for you, my boy, though you lack the good sense the gods gave a carrot. You lie like a floor tapestry. You’re more crooked than an acrobat’s spine. I could really make something of you, if I decided I could trust you.”

His searching eyes rested once more on Locke, and the boy guessed that he was supposed to say something.

“I’d like that,” he whispered. “What do I do?”

“You can start by talking. I want to hear about what you did at Shades’ Hill; the shit you pulled to get your former master angry at you.”

“But…you said you already knew everything.”

“I do. But I want to hear it from you, plain and clear, and I want it right the first time, with no backtracking or parts left out. If you try to conceal anything that I know you should be mentioning, I’ll have no choice but to consider you a worthless waste of my trust—and you’re already wearing my response around your neck.”

“Then where,” said Locke with only a slight catch in his voice, “do I start?”

“We can begin with your most recent transgressions. There’s one law that the brothers and sisters of Shades’ Hill must never break, but your former master told me that you broke it twice and thought you were clever enough to get away with it.”

Locke’s cheeks turned bright red, and he stared down at his fingers.

“Tell me, Locke. The Thiefmaker said you arranged the murders of two other Shades’ Hill boys, and that he didn’t pick up on your involvement until the second was already done.” Chains steepled his fingers before his face and gazed calmly at the boy with the death-mark around his neck. “I want to know why you killed them, and I want to know how you killed them, and I want to hear it from your own lips.
Right now.

Part I

Ambition

“Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile

And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,

And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,

And frame my face to all occasions.”

 

King Henry VI, Part III

Chapter One

The Don Salvara Game

1

LOCKE LAMORA’S RULE of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.

Locke was on his knees, and Calo, standing behind him, had a hemp rope coiled three times around his neck. The rough stuff
looked
impressive, and it would leave Locke’s throat a very credible shade of red. No genuine Camorri assassin old enough to waddle in a straight line would garrote with anything but silk or wire, of course (the better to crease the victim’s windpipe). Yet if Don Lorenzo Salvara could tell a fake strangling from the real thing in the blink of an eye at thirty paces, they’d badly misjudged the man they planned to rob and the whole game would be shot anyway.

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