Arranging to spy on the conspirators at the Three Lanterns should be a simple matter. The proprietor, Miss Lamy, is the sort of merchant you liked to leave in silent debt through your career, as opportunity presented itself: prideful, but ultimately unable to make it up to you, at least four or five years back when she was just starting out. A strong person, and thus someone whose dependence silently bolstered your own self-esteem as you spread the largesse of your talents, willing to measure your strength against any challenge. Thinking back, such a debt of honor could turn into resentment, as wine left too long turns to vinegar.
Well, perhaps not resentment; if anything, Lamy seems eager to help you out. You haven’t seen her at all for a year at least, but she seems to be doing fine, presenting a distinguished lace bodice already at noon. The tavern is certainly furnished ever nicer as the time goes by.
— Yeah, we can make that work, she responds to your query. — Absolutely no violence on the premises, though. And we’ll deny all connection if you get caught at it. I’ll need to tell the porters to not mind you; they’re sharp-eyed boys.
She thinks upon it a bit, looking around the empty restaurant. — It’s a pretty big favour, but I know you’re an even-keeled fellow, Derak; more so than most bravos. Also, I like that you ask about it instead of just crawling up in my rafters. Somehow I could have seen you doing that, just so you could avoid having to ask.
You did dismiss the ceiling approach earlier, as the house has two floors and you wouldn’t know which room to reserve upstairs to prep a spyhole. Albin might not have the sharpest eyes, but somebody would presumably spot you if you just hung yourself on a booth ceiling like a gourd-shaped chandelier. If you could even predict which booth they’d pick.
— I was thinking that I could come scaramoucching tonight, do a bit of busking. An excuse to get in and out of the booths, and to tarry about.
Lamy turns from her table arrangements to look at you. — Busking, you? You would want to mask up as a clown, that face is highly recognizable. I guess I could see you doing prat-falls.
— I have fair talents, you know. I know for a fact that many people would pay to see some of the tricks of my trade.
— And the better the feats, the more curious and recognizable you are. I would think that counter-productive. Rather, you’ll want something to distract attention from your snooping. Can you play the gurdy?
The gurdy is a droning string instrument, favoured by the lazier sort of busker. The player would sit in a corner and finger out some slow melody for atmosphere’s sake, accompanied by the constant low drone. Even odds to get paid for the music or for ceasing the constant crank. It is a mechanically interesting instrument, admittedly, if far from favoured by the virtuous men.
— I might, you answer curiously. — I take it that you have some idea of what I should do? I am at your tender mercies, mistress.
It is, in fact, pretty nice to talk your plan out with somebody. For whatever reason, today you take it as a given that Lamy won’t sell you out. Might as well have her aware of your conceit in case something goes wrong, this being her place and all.
— I do have an idea, yes. Here, have a look at the second booth.
The Lantern booths are fancy affairs, dominating the public room. Each has sloping walls of thick green glass panes reaching the ceiling, obscuring the insides and giving the booths the resemblance of a lantern. You know that clever lamps up top inside the glass shed light such that both the inside and outside glow green. The color’s not be the most flattering for human complexion, but your eyes get used to it quickly when sitting inside, and it is a novelty. The booths are intimate while being in public, allowing you to peek out discreetly as you would, while outsiders see nothing but vague shadows cast on glass.
— The booth comes up to the wall here, see? It’s the only booth with only two glass sides, with wooden paneling and a sturdier corner sofa. Good for a bit more of a private feel.
— A private feel perhaps, but it is also the only booth where someone could be right on the other side of the wall without being seen from inside the booth.
— That it is, but there is more. See here, how the paneling detaches in the corner? A person sitting there has a fair chance to hear what is being said on the other side, as long as it is a quiet night in the public room.
— There is a weakness here, but it is acceptable, you muse, looking around at the room. — A musician can hardly play and listen at the same time. But then, nobody would blink at a gurdist not being at play.
— So what do you think? It is an out of the way corner, the sort where I would banish a mediocre noise-maker.
— It is good, Miss Lamy, but for one thing: it is of little use if the meeting I am to observe should happen anywhere but in this booth.
— It’s Albin Whitehair you’re after, right? He is not a difficult man to recognize, and he has a reservation for tonight, made two days ago. He will want a booth, and why not this one?
Albin himself? Not a surprise, perhaps. Maybe he is the “Longax representative” Plotkin mentioned. Or maybe he’s merely brokering the meet.
Lamy is indeed being very helpful. It never did occur to you to ask her on anything before, though. Maybe it’s because Daag would arrange so much for you, or maybe you really did like the idea of the debt more than anything she could give you. Thinking back, you did have a habit of leaving strays like Lamy around over the years. It is a regretful thought, how little the Puppet knew to make of friendship.
You will need to dress up for tonight, and scare up an instrument. A gurdy is a good pick all around, and it’s something you’ve dabbled with; the mechanical principles are similar to the specialized noise-makers you’ve constructed in the past. Uniquely among all instruments of music, the gurdy may be driven not by breath or dextrous plucking, but by simple mechanical rotation. It would be perfectly doable to make one play itself entirely without human participation.
The costume, though… unadorned frock, as soiled as Three Lanters will stand for. Cowl and pitch, obscure your features just in case the whitehairs decide to take a closer look at you tonight. Nothing will help if you attract their specific attention, Albin knows your face just as much as you know his, but if you do this right you might as well be part of the furniture for all they’ll care of a drunkard fiddler dozing off in the corner.
You turn towards the door, thinking about tuning the gurdy, really. Lamy draws your attention before you quite make it out:
— Hey Derak, it’s good to see you about. People asked after you some last year, but I had to tell them that you’re nothing like a regular. Just so you know, I don’t mind you coming in. The tavern wouldn’t be near as nice if not for your support.
Or be hers, anyway. Whatever.