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The Necromancer: Part Four


by jokerhahaazzz

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It was long past midnight when the investigation finally produced a suspect, but in spite of their dark-circled eyes and their coffee cups, everybody seemed to be in a good mood. A piece of evidence initially thought to be valueless - a plain gray wool coat, draped over a chair back in Lawson's office - had turned up a hidden gem, and the general opinion of the department was that it might be conclusive. Further examination had revealed, on one sleeve and in several places on the front, an unmistakable crimson stain that turned out to be exactly what it looked like. More importantly still, a quick check of the coat's size had established beyond a doubt that it could not possibly have belonged to Lawson.

      With the kind of efficiency that Emma wholeheartedly approved, the team of detectives assigned to the case had made short work of finding the real owner. It was in fact none other than Conrad Jones, the deputy director who had met with Mr. Lawson at 6:15. All that remained, theoretically, was to find a motive and get a confession. If that could be done, she thought, the whole thing would be wrapped up in a very tidy way and she would be able to sign off on a perfect investigation. The cynic in her suspected that it would not be so easy.

      There was something about the case that bothered her. She knew Jones by reputation, and she had compiled a very thorough report on him during the past several hours. He was by all accounts an unremarkable, likable man who had been a clerk in the Public Relations department for ten years and was going nowhere fast. "Deputy director" was really a courtesy title; the department had a dozen of them, and most remained deputy directors for the rest of their careers. So far as she was aware, Jones had no ambition to do anything more, and Lawson was not the type to get to know his inferiors. The two of them had probably exchanged no more than a few sentences over the course of a decade. What could he possibly have against Lawson that was strong enough to warrant murder?

      "So," said a familiar voice by Emma's shoulder, "what do you think?" Nicholas Chase slid into the seat beside her, carefully setting down his steaming coffee mug before taking off his coat and throwing it over the chair.

      "I'm afraid you'll have to be more specific," she replied in a chilly tone.

      "Oh, of course. Please do forgive me, it wasn't at all completely obvious what I was talking about. What I naturally should have said the first time was, what do you think about Jones? Do you think he did it?"

      She frowned slightly. "I don't understand his motive. To begin with, what could he possibly have to gain from Lawson's death? Since the answer seems to be, nothing – then the only other explanations would be insanity or emotion. There's no reason to believe Jones is insane, and I can't imagine what he and Lawson would have had to argue about. Surely the details of some secondary accounts and pages of data aren't worth killing over. Even I don't think so."

      Nick burst out laughing at this summary, somewhat to her chagrin. (Perhaps she had intended a little humor, but it was hardly the time or place for jokes.) "All right, all right, I can't argue with you there. But that's not the point. Your logic isn't really sound."

      Emma, who was used to thinking of herself as rational above all things, looked at him rather coldly. "What is the problem with my logic?"

      "Oh, it's infallible – in a world of robots! You're not accounting for the fact that most of the things people do aren't rationally motivated."

      "I accounted for both emotion and insanity in what I said. What other explanation is there?"

      Nick shrugged, sipping his coffee. "I've been doing this for a while, Emma. One of the first things you learn is that you can always have your mind blown. Back when I was an absolute rookie, just a minor officer under Detective Wilson, there was this guy whose house was vandalized, and I mean vandalized. The place was completely ripped apart. Now, there wasn't much reason for anyone to hate him – he owned a little restaurant, paid his bills, got along with his neighbors. But he did have a feud going with his son, over some kind of money issue, I think. They'd had a few really vicious public fights, and at the last one, people had heard the son say that his dad was going to be 'sorry.' Who do you suppose did it?"

      "I don't know. I assume the point of the story is for me to be surprised."

      "Well, I'll tell you. It wasn't the son at all. In fact, we found out completely by chance that it was somehow he didn't even know – a man who'd been a customer at his restaurant once. And I'll tell you why he did it, too, because he gave us a nice clear statement. The restaurant owner had forgotten his order."

      "And...?"

      "And that was it. He said he felt insulted, and I quote, he 'just couldn't let that slide.'" Nick yawned, checking his watch. "My point is, people will surprise you."

      "The man was obviously insane," Emma argued. She was annoyed half with Nick for having drawn her into such an irrelevant conversation, and half with herself for letting herself be drawn in. "I already accounted for insanity as a way to explain an irrational motive."

      He only shook his head and smiled. "People will surprise you. And on that note... how are things with your new boss? Is he everything you ever hoped for? Raised any dead bodies yet?"

      "I don't know why you persist with that idiotic superstition," she replied irritably. "It's not my place to question the High Commissioner, and it certainly isn't yours."

      Nick almost choked on his coffee. "Not mine? Emma, that job was mine. If Mr. Lockwood thinks he's going to walk in here and take it without any questions, he's got another thing coming to him. Walking around with that swagger like he owns the place, making those nasty little comments he thinks are so funny... And let's not forget, he doesn't have a clue what he's doing."

      "On the contrary, he appears to me to know exactly what he's doing."

      "Well, thank goodness you're so sure," he said sarcastically. Then, evidently seeing that Emma did not intend to comment one way or another, he pressed his case more urgently. "Come on, don't you think it's just the least little bit strange? I'm lined up for High Commissioner after thirteen years of good service, everything's all arranged, and then suddenly a Meridellian with no ties to the department is appointed in my place. I've checked up on it – his clearance comes straight from the top. As far as I can tell, there is nobody, not one person under Lord Darigan himself who had anything to do with Lockwood's appointment."

      "Then there is absolutely nothing you can hope to accomplish by obsessing over it." Despite her outward attitude toward him, Emma did have a real regard for Detective Chase. It worried her to see him sabotaging his own career – which was what he would surely finish by doing, if he kept on the way he was going. She had a feeling that Lockwood would not stand being crossed.

      She was only trying to give him what she thought was sound advice, but there was an angry gleam in his eye as he answered her. "We'll see, Miss Ward. I look forward to it."

      Emma was considering how best to further her own case, without annoying him into even greater stubbornness, when she was interrupted by the entrance of the suspect himself, led in by two tall Draik guards. Nicholas stood up and stretched. "Well, I'm interrogating tonight." Some of the skepticism that she was feeling must have shown itself in her expression, because he gave a slight, half-annoyed laugh and shook his head. "This is my job, you know, Emma. I don't know how you think I've done so well in it if I'm not any good. But hey, what would you know about it. In fact - this is really your first interrogation, isn't it?" With that somewhat biting comment, he turned away - only to turn back with a more charitable smile and add: "Welcome to my world. This is what I do while you push papers."

      That was Nicholas all over, of course. The moment he had finally achieved any kind of victory against an opponent, he undid his work by changing his mind and becoming friendly again. Highly irrational and ineffective.

      She had to admit, however, that he was better at his job than she had given him credit for. He had a way of putting people at ease that worked to his advantage, and he was intelligent enough - in certain ways, at least. That much Emma was willing to concede. Of course, Conrad Jones did not strike her as a particularly difficult suspect to deal with. He was a Kyrii, Darigan of course, not very tall and with a distinctly bureaucratic look to him. It was quite clear that he was more used to a calm day spent reading through accounts than to being a suspect in a murder investigation.

      Emma could sympathize, but she hoped she had a little more steel in her spine. She would not have taken an accusation like this one lying down. The Citadel's system of justice was not as barbaric as Meridell's - there were procedures to be followed, and since Lord Darigan's return it was quite possible for an accused person to defend himself if he could come up with convincing enough reasons for his innocence. Of course, it was inevitable that some innocents would be found guilty, but most experts agreed that the number approached statistical insignificance.

      In any case, Conrad Jones was making a promising beginning. Emma had followed him into the interview rooms, as she was technically overseeing the investigation, with the other detectives observing through the large window that was clear on one side and reflective on the other - created and maintained by Lord Darigan's magic, no doubt, like so much of the rest of the Citadel. Nick introduced himself in a fairly amiable manner, explaining that Mr. Jones really had nothing to worry about. "You're only here to answer some questions. We have to resolve the discrepancies in the story - I'm sure you understand that."

      "Oh, yes, of course," Jones agreed hurriedly, clearly pleased to be able to agree with anything he could. "But I would like to state for the record that I am innocent. I'm sure you'll realize that in no time."

      Nicholas gave him a charming smile. "Believe me, Mr. Jones, if you're innocent then we'll figure it out. You have nothing to worry about. Now, let's get down to business. There's the little matter of some evidence left on the scene... this is your coat, am I right?" He held up the gray coat, simultaneously taking a sip of his coffee.

      "Y-yes, that would be correct," stammered Jones.

      "Well, now, you say you left Director Lawson's office at 6:25, and his secretary seems to agree."

      He nodded mutely.

      "And after that you never returned, am I right? The last time you saw Lawson, he was alive." Seeing hesitation on the part of the Kyrii, he pushed on. "It says right here in your previous statement that you left the office at 6:25, you never returned, and that when you left Lawson he was alive and well. Now you aren't going to tell me you were lying, are you? You wouldn't have done that?"

      "I wouldn't lie!" he said indignantly. "Just ask anyone who knows me. I consider myself a very honest man."

      "Well, that's very admirable. So now tell me, how did your coat end up in his office during the murder?"

      "That's - that's easy, of course. I just left it there when I left his office. I forgot all about it."

      Nick leaned back in his chair, tilting his head to one side and looking utterly puzzled. "So let me get this straight, Mr. Jones. I want to give you a fair chance like everyone else. We're not here to lock people up, you know, or anything like that – we just try to find out how a crime happened, and make sure justice is done. I'll see if I can summarize your version of events. You went to Lawson's office for the meeting. You talked to him, and when you left, you left your coat. You never came back, he was alive the last time you saw him. The blood got on the coat during the murder because it was in the office, but you had nothing to do with it." He paused significantly. "Does that sound about right?"

      "Yes, that's it!" Jones cried in obvious relief. "That's exactly how it happened."

      Nicholas only smiled thinly. "Really, Jones, I expected better of you. There's a hole in your story a mile wide, and it's staring you in the face."

      He gave the Kyrii a moment to reply, but Jones only swallowed, clearly too frightened to speak.

      "Come now, haven't you thought about it at all? Worked the details over in your head even once?" Presumably he could see as well as Emma could that the suspect was not going to venture an answer, so instead, after a short pause, he continued himself. "Your story would be completely credible – if the murder had taken place in the office. Or didn't you know? Lawson was quite definitely killed on the balcony."

      Conrad Jones clearly had no idea what to say.

      "Well, I have a theory, Mr. Jones. It's a simple one, but then I'm a simple person. Me, I'd say you were angry with how the interview went, you came back, and you killed him. Whether it was planned or just on the spur of the moment, I have no idea."

      "But I...I wasn't angry. We didn't argue!" he said desperately. "What would I have to argue with Lawson about?"

      Nick tapped his pen against his notepad, obviously thinking. He evidently came to the same conclusion that Emma did: there was no information to be had here. "Okay then. Let's backtrack. Why did Lawson want to see you in his office in the first place?"

      "Oh, he... well, he wanted to talk to me about some of the numbers. There were discrepancies, apparently. They weren't coming out the way they should. I couldn't help him - I just work with what comes to me, I don't know why or where they come from."

      Nick frowned. "Why you? As you say, you couldn't help him with anything."

      Jones took the chance to agree again like a drowning man catching a lifebelt. "Well, I was surprised, too! It wasn't any of my business whether the numbers were adding up or not. I'm just an accounting liaison with other departments, what do I care what any of them do?"

      For the briefest of moments, Nicholas caught Emma's eye, and this time she was quite sure that they were thinking the same thing. Why would Lawson want to speak with Conrad Jones about discrepancies in the accounts, when he apparently knew nothing about them? Somewhere in here, perhaps, was the truth of what had happened. Nick leaned forward.

      But he didn't get the chance to ask his question, because at that moment the door opened. Even before Emma turned around, she recognized the voice - and Nicholas's expression, which was livid.

      "Thank you, Detective Chase. What a truly excellent interrogation! I confess I have a great fancy to try it myself - perhaps you would be so kind as to allow me a chance?"

      "Of course, Commissioner," Nick said through his teeth, with thinly veiled insolence. "Anything to make sure you stay amused." With a very significant look at Emma, he stood abruptly and walked quickly out of the room, as though he didn't trust himself to stay.

      The High Commissioner seemed not at all perturbed by his subordinate's annoyance. "Ah, Miss Ward. How delightful that you are always wherever I want you."

      Emma gazed back at him unblinkingly, not deigning to speculate what he meant by that comment. If he thought that she was going to reply to a remark like that, he was mistaken.

      "Perhaps," he went on almost encouragingly, "I might induce you to move the suspect to Room Six next door."

      Emma stared at him for another several seconds and then, deciding that no further remarks were forthcoming and that this must be intended as an order rather than a mere statement of possibility, she rose rather stiffly and straightened her immaculate white blouse. "Please follow me, Mr. Jones." Her very brief tour of the department, carried on earlier that day - had it really been that same day? - had been perfectly sufficient to acquaint her with the layout of the interview rooms. Room Six was remarkable for one reason only: its privacy. Unlike the other eleven rooms, it had no two-way mirrors and there was no way for anyone outside to know what was going on within. She could only imagine that this feature was the reason for Lockwood's decision to move.

      Why he wanted to be unobserved, Miss Ward neither knew nor cared. It was certainly a High Commissioner's right to do whatever he wanted. Questioning without being observed was a privilege reserved only for high officials, and one which, Emma had already heard, Lockwood made frequent use of. There were, she gathered, certain rumors about his style of interrogation, but she couldn't help thinking that if he meant to do anything illicit or illegal he surely would not invite her in.

      She led Conrad Jones into Room Six. It was in the old style of interrogation room: metal table and chairs in the center, a single dim light hanging from the ceiling, and nothing else but dust and chipped white paint. Emma couldn't help thinking that somebody should clean and re-paint it, but she supposed that was hardly a priority with the budget in its current state. Since she had received no order to vacate the room, she stood to the side of the table against the wall, case files at the ready. Lockwood barely glanced at her as he entered and took his seat across the table from Conrad Jones.

      The suspect stared wildly from Emma to Lockwood and back, until his eyes finally rested on Lockwood. He was, quite obviously, even more nervous of the High Commissioner than he had been of Detective Chase. Emma was not especially sensitive to atmosphere, but as Lockwood slowly adjusted his cravat and cuffs, the silence became oppressive even to her.

      After what seemed like ages, Lockwood slid something across the table to Jones, who tremblingly took it, staring at it as though not understanding what he saw. Emma realized it was a picture. "Such charming people," Lockwood remarked. "What lovely children."

      Jones slowly raised his eyes. "Y-yes, Commissioner. Yes sir they are."

      Maybe it was only a trick of the dim light on his handsome features, and the ugly scar running down the side of his face, but there was something chillingly cruel in Lockwood's expression. Emma could understand dedication, the willingness to go that extra mile in order to solve a case. She could accept that sometimes the end justified the means. But this was something more. Unless she was very much mistaken – he was threatening Jones, and he was enjoying it.

      "I am... so glad you agree." His voice was very soft now, and Jones leaned forward almost unconsciously to catch his words. "I have a great fancy to meet them all, you know. Your wife Jessie, and your two sons, and your little daughter. I have been reading all about them."

      Suddenly and quickly he reached out a hand to take the picture back. Jones flinched visibly at the movement, and Lockwood smiled. It did not, somehow, make him look any friendlier.

      "How strange the world is! – that the fate of these three lovely children should rest on what you tell me now, about a man named Warren Lawson."

      "What are you saying?" cried Jones, his horror at last flaring into anger, somewhat to Emma's surprise. "Leave them out of this!"

      "What happened this evening in Lawson's office?" Lockwood said, coldly and deliberately, leaning back in his chair and interlocking his gloved fingers.

      "I've told you everything, I – I don't know what you want! You're the High Commissioner," he gasped, looking frantically around him as though this was all a nightmare and he was hoping to wake up. "I'm an educated citizen, I'll have you know. You can't just do... things like..."

      The Gelert's smile became a malevolent sneer. "I think perhaps you do not yet understand." He leaned forward again. "I can and will do anything to get the truth out of you. Anything."

      It had never been Emma's policy to interfere in her superiors' affairs. Nevertheless, she was beginning to think it might be advisable to remind her superior that he was in fact bound by the law. She had no wish to be implicated in any kind of internal investigation. "Commissioner Lockwood," she said in warning, but it came out more hesitantly than she would have liked.

      "You may leave us now, Miss Ward," he told her without turning around. And she did.

      It was now that Jones began to be really afraid, though he had not yet lost all faith in receiving fair treatment. "How can you do this? You can't do this! What about – what about Lord Darigan, the codes...."

      Lockwood slammed the iron door shut behind Emma Ward, and turned back to his suspect. "What Lord Darigan doesn't know won't hurt him."

To be continued...

 
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Other Episodes


» The Necromancer: Part One
» The Necromancer: Part Two
» The Necromancer: Part Three



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