The shadows were long by the time they left the meeting. At the end of the block, a lamplighter was finishing up his job on the street. It was going to be another warm late spring night.
As Tomas made his way to the bank, he passed few people on the streets. Most were home, eating dinner, cleaning away the day or getting ready for the next. A guard patrol went past in the other direction, four guards with spears and a sergeant, obviously not expecting any trouble in this district. Tomas’ military instincts grumbled nonetheless.
The bank was a plain stone building, single story, with a weathered sign showing a few stacks of gold coins. The windows had metal bars on them, and the door was thick hard wood with metal bands. One obvious guard in Vittorini colors leaned against the wall next to the door, seeming relaxed to a casual observer, but alert to a trained eye. The guard watched Tomas curiously as he moved up the street.
Tomas walked up to the guard directly. “Excuse me, but by chance is Mistress Vittorini still here? The bank is clearly closed, so I guess not, but I thought I might ask.” Tomas was polite, but he noted the casual stance of the guard.
It occurred to him that appearances might be deceiving, but generally guard duty was one of the least desirable tasks for a soldier. Particularly when whatever was being guarded had a low likelihood of being targeted. It was generally just that sort of lax attitude and assumption that made it possible for clever thieves to take advantage. He recalled the fate of the Falcan soldiers that had displayed this sort of ennui, in the woods. In made his face tighten with disgust and anger, but outwardly it was little more than small frown. It was certainly not his place to dress this man down.
The guard took quick glances up and down the street as Tomas approached him, then stood upright, arms loose. At Tomas’ question, he shook his head, “Naw, she’s home for the night. Be back hour or so after sunrise.”
Tomas nodded, and thanked the man, then walked off toward the nearest tavern. His belly was rumbling, and he needed to think about what he would do tomorrow.
The nearest tavern had a simple sign with a picture of a tankard on it. Inside, smoke from a fire and several pipes hung lazily in the air. Several long table and short tables crowded the floor and a long bar with stools by it sat against the right wall. Many of the tables had game boards on them – Stones, Draughts, Chess. The place was barely half-full, and few eyes turned towards Tomas as he entered, but went back to their own business after a moment.
From behind the bar, a rail thin man offered, “Welcome to Flat Tankard. Take a seat anywhere.”
The streets were busier in the morning, with people going about their business. A wagon carrying bolts of wool trundled slowly past Tomas as he made his way back to the moneylender’s. Striding pompously up a cross street and making everyone get out of their way went a popinjay from House Azocar and his cloud of puffers. The doorway to a seamstress shop had a boy and his dog watching passersby curiously.
At the bank, there was a different guard from the night before outside. Stationed inside the doorway was another. There were three offices off the main room, and a door to the back and a set of stairs. Two people were in line in front a desk, behind which sat a middle-aged woman.
Tomas approached the desk looking at the woman to decide if she showed the traits of the Vittorini family. he was not sure, but he doubted she would be sitting in a place so accessible. He smiled, but it was rather business-like, more polite, than friendly. “I am here to see Isabel Vittorini, can you point me to her office?” He kept his tone civil, trying to avoid speaking to the woman like a recruit. He ascertained that women often found that tone irritating, or at least off putting.
The woman looked up, a polite smile on her face, but she paused and blinked when she saw Tomas. “Let me check with her, Signore,” she said, getting to her feet and heading out the door to the back area. It was only a few moments before she came back and gestured for him to follow her.
She led him down a short hallway with a closed door on each side, and through another door into a well appointed office. A nice desk, a long table not unlike the one from the meeting the night before with several comfortable chairs around it took up most of the room. Standing before the table was a willowy woman in a plain green gown.
“Hello, Signore. I am Isabel Vittorini. What can I do for you?” she said pleasantly.
Tomas gave her a slight bow, and waited for the secretary to leave before speaking. He then stepped forward motioning to indicate that they should perhaps sit down. “Thank you for seeing me Mistress Vittorini. I have a matter of some delicacy to discuss with you.” He paused for a moment. “I spoke yesterday evening. with your cousin, and he told myself a two others about the counterfeit coins that were passed through your establishment. We have been tasked with the investigation, and asked to exercise as much discretion as possible. I was hoping that you could relate to me how you came to discover the deception, and perhaps enlighten me as to the processes at play. We will have to approach the businesses in question, and the more information we have…well as they say, information is power.” His tone was soft, yet business-like. He did not wish to intimidate the woman, although he suspected it might require more than a few stern words. Still, politeness would seem to be the more appropriate tactic at this stage.
Isabel slid into a chair at the table gracefully. “The discovery was quite simple, actually,” she began. “At the end of the day, someone who didn’t receive the coins from the client counts the coins we took in once more and compares that to what was written in the ledgers. As it happens, I was one of those counting that day, and I noticed a scratch in a gold coin that showed lead underneath. We went through all the coins received that day and checked them and found out how many there were. The books said that only three clients paid that many or more nobles that day on their loans.” She turned his hands up and spread her fingers, “That’s it.”
Tomas listened politely. “I see, so it seems it was rather fortunate that you noticed the scratch, otherwise they might have been distributed further. Forgive me, but were the coins from each client kept separate, or were they mixed together?” He was curious, and hopefully learn something about how the system worked.
“Well, now you discover what could be the harder part of this,” she answered with a tired smile. “All the payments we receive are placed into one or more coffers as they are taken in. If it isn’t one of those who paid at least the amount of coins, you will have a much longer investigation. It still may come to that for you, but the fact that the amount was a round number tends to point to one person passing them along.”
Tomas nodded, “So the possibility exists, but given your experience you think it less likely? Since the coins were mixed, we cannot be sure, but might we eliminate any based on which coffer they were found in? Or perhaps another means by which we can narrow the field?” It was a long shot, but it could not hurt to ask.
“I’m afraid not,” Isabel Vittorini replied. “The nobles were all in one coffer. I mean, all the nobles we took in that day. The next set of clients would be those who paid any nobles, which include the three who paid the seven hundred or more.”
“I see, so it would be silly to say, these coins were at the bottom of the coffer so it might have been someone who came in the morning for example?” He was not sure if the question was relevant, but anything that would narrow the field would of course be a help.
She shook her head slowly. “Even if that were possible at the beginning, we were more interested in finding all the counterfeit nobles than in knowing whether the coins were on the bottom or the top.”
Tomas pursed his lips, but was not surprised by her response. “Can you tell me a bit about what would go into the forging of these coins? What sort of equipment and resources would be needed?” He knew that a blacksmith was on their list, and suspected that the man might have the means and opportunity, but it was by no means proof. There was still a matter of motive. He would get to that.
Isabel thought for a moment. “Fastest way would be to use molds. Pour in the liquid metal and let it cool, then pop it out. That’s how the Mint does it. The forger would then just have to paint the gold on or dip them into a small amount. I imagine a forger who was desperate enough could just carve the coins one at a time, but that seems unlikely.”
She shook her head. “I know there are plenty of thieves and grifters in this city. Most people say the Houses are among them,” she gave Tomas an apologetic look, despite including her own house in the statement. “But if Darven’s coins become viewed as untrustworthy, it won’t just be Darven that has problems. Even the real nobles the forger gets from this would become suspect.”
Tomas had mixed feelings on the matter, as it seemed that discovering the forgery was simple enough, and awareness would allow folks to take the appropriate measures. It was the fear and uncertainty, that was the tricky element. Rumors and propaganda could do more damage than facts in many cases.
“So they would either require the actual molds, make their own, or carve the coins individually. In addition they would need lead and gold paint, the means to melt the metals, and store and cool them. It sounds like quite an operation. Are all these materials readily available? Or would one have to seek out specific merchants to acquire them?” It occurred to him that the skill to carve the molds or the coins was not insignificant either. Either the forger was quite skilled himself, or as he was beginning to suspect, had accomplices.
“The molds would have to be made, obviously. The lead is not a special material. For the gold, they could melt down jewelry or even other nobles. If you can get 10 counterfeits out of one noble, most would take that deal.”
Tomas cocked his head to one side, “Well the molds, they would have to be made, unless existing ones were used. Do we know who owns a set now? I would think that they would report them stolen unless they were unaware.” His tone was slightly suggestive, as he guessed that coins were not minted everyday.
“Existing ones?” she seemed genuinely perplexed as to how that could happen. “The only set I know of gets used at the Mint. I don’t think it could be hidden if those went missing.”
Tomas smiled somewhat wryly, “Okay then perhaps this is a stupid question, but has anyone checked?” He was speaking from complete ignorance, but he suspected that using the originals would be significantly easier than carving one’s own. That of course depended on how difficult they were to steal. “Perhaps if it were possible to check, that maybe they had been borrowed? I am not sure that checking such a thing is even possible.”
“As far as I know, they check on those everyday,” Isabel answered. “But I am not an expert on the security measures taken at the Mint.” Gesturing to the building around them, she added with a small smile, “I am far more interested in what comes out of the Mint than in what happens inside it.”
Tomas smiled, “Well, I hope that you are right, but as you can imagine I would feel as though I did not do my due diligence if I did not ask.” He cleared his throat and continued. “So I believe that I have a good idea of what would be involved in creating the forgeries, so my next questions have more to do with the vendors who we believe might be the source of them. I would the bank has had a long-standing relationship with them, unless they are relatively new. Assuming that, do you have any insight into the state of their businesses? For example, was it surprising that any had suddenly come up with the coin to pay their loans? Are any known to associate with less than savory company?”
Vittorini rose gracefully and moved to her desk and picked up some papers, reading through them quickly. “Well, the blacksmith, Savelli, said he had a commission from the Church of Togus, and he wanted the best tools for doing the work. I can only assume that’s where he got his coin.” She shuffled some papers in her hands, then added, "There is nothing here about whether the other two were planning on coming into money, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have commissions of their own come due.
“There were no complaints against them with the Guilds and no records of any of them being involved in any crimes.”
That was truly disappointing, but it was not completely unexpected. “I see, well my associates and I can look into that a bit further, as needed. To be honest that is all the questions that I have for today. Unless you have something you think relevant, I thank you for taking the time from your schedule to speak with me. I hope that if something news comes up I can consult with you again.” Tomas sat for a moment in case the woman had something to add, but if not rose, gave her a slight bow and departed.
After bidding him luck in his search for the counterfeiter, Isabel walked him back to the front of the bank and to her next appointment.
Tomas left the bank, and made his way to the meeting place, he had first met Piers and Magali. Hopefully, they had found something out and they could get this investigation moving forward.