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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

The man nodded. No bow, of course. Merchants didn’t bow to scum from the Barrel. “You know me, then?”

Kaz knew the symbols and jewels of all the Kerch merchant houses. Van Eck’s crest was the red laurel. It didn’t take a professor to make the connection.

“I know you,” he said. “You’re one of those merch crusaders always trying to clean up the Barrel.”

Van Eck gave another small nod. “I try to find men honest work.”

Kaz laughed. “What’s the difference between wagering at the Crow Club and speculating on the floor of the Exchange?”

“One is theft and the other is commerce.”

“When a man loses his money, he may have trouble telling them apart.”

“The Barrel is a den of filth, vice, violence—”

“How many of the ships you send sailing out of the Ketterdam harbors never return?”

“That doesn’t—”

“One out of five, Van Eck. One out of every five vessels you send seeking coffee and jurda and bolts of silk sinks to the bottom of the sea, crashes on the rocks, falls prey to pirates. One out of five crews dead, their bodies lost to foreign waters, food for deep sea fishes. Let’s not speak of violence.”

“I won’t argue ethics with a stripling from the Barrel.”

Kaz didn’t really expect him to. He was just stalling for time as he tested the tightness of the cuffs around his wrists. He let his fingers feel along the length of chain as far as they were able, still puzzling over where Van Eck had brought him. Though Kaz had never met the man himself, he’d had cause to learn the layout of Van Eck’s house inside and out. Wherever they were, it wasn’t the mercher’s mansion.

“Since you didn’t bring me here to philosophize, what business?” It was the question spoken at the opening of any meeting. A greeting from a peer, not a plea from a prisoner.

“I have a proposition for you. Rather, the Council does.”

Kaz hid his surprise. “Does the Merchant Council begin all negotiations with a beating?”

“Consider it a warning. And a demonstration.”

Kaz remembered the shape from the alley, the way it had appeared and disappeared like a ghost. Jordie.

He gave himself an internal shake. Not Jordie, you podge. Focus. They’d nabbed him because he’d been flush off a victory and distracted. This was his punishment, and it wasn’t a mistake he’d make again. That doesn’t explain the phantom. For now, he pushed the thought aside.

“What possible use would the Merchant Council have for me?”

Van Eck thumbed through the papers in his hand. “You were first arrested at ten,” he said, scanning the page.

“Everyone remembers his first time.”

“Twice again that year, twice at eleven. You were picked up when the stadwatch rousted a gambling hall when you were fourteen, but you haven’t served any time since.”

It was true. No one had managed a pinch on Kaz in three years. “I cleaned up,” Kaz said. “Found honest work, live a life of industry and prayer.”