The Necromancer: Part Ten
The next morning the rain had stopped, and there was the faint suggestion of a sun peeking out from behind the purple clouds. Emma, of course, was not silly enough to let something like the weather affect her spirits, but she had to admit that there was something pleasant about it. The same, sadly, could not be said for the state of their investigation. For all the odds and ends they'd collected yesterday, they were no closer to knowing who had killed Lawson. In Emma's opinion, there was only one question that really mattered: Who was the 7:00 visitor? It was the only window of opportunity for the crime, and as the High Commissioner had pointed out, the 7:00 appointment would surely have reported the murder if he had not been the murderer himself. Erica Monahan and Conrad Jones could give them all the details they liked, but they had brought them nowhere closer to answering that vital question.
She spent approximately two hours going through Lawson's accounts again, which revealed nothing new, and at ten o'clock Nicholas showed up. "Good morning," he said jauntily, sitting on the corner of her desk and eating a doughnut. "I know, you don't have to tell me, you're busy today. Busier than all the rest of us put together and you can't understand why we all aren't working like ants from eight o'clock to ten at night. So what are you busy with? Any plans for the day?"
"I have a meeting with Director Assander at two."
"Really? That's it?"
Emma didn't care for his teasing tone. "I also have to go meet with Robert Shaw again, and see what he has to say about that document. I think I'll do that now."
"Excellent," said Nick, finishing his doughnut. "I'll come with you."
She would not descend to the level of a petty argument about whether he could come or not, so she simply accepted this and put on her coat, as well as - after a moment's thought - taking her briefcase again for safety. It was only a fifteen-minute walk to Internal Affairs, and the two of them set off right away.
"Want to hear something creepy?" Nick said suddenly as they walked out of the Enforcement building.
"I assume you'll tell me whether I want to hear it or not," she replied, dryly.
Nicholas ignored this. "Do you remember what Miss Monahan said yesterday about where Lawson was pressing a hand against his stomach?"
"Of course I do." Emma rather resented the suggestion that she might not remember such an obvious detail. She indicated a spot just below the ribcage, slightly off center to the left. "Here, more or less."
"That's what I remember too. Well, this is what's creepy. Do you know where Lawson was stabbed?"
"It was..." The words died in Emma's throat before she could automatically recite the sentence from the case file. "Approximately the same spot, I would say. What about it?"
"Don't you think that's a little strange?"
"Not particularly. What significance could it possibly have? Are you suggesting that Lawson was stabbed before Miss Monahan spoke to him at 6:50, and chose to die instead of telling her what had happened? That's simply ridiculous," she said flatly. "Why wouldn't he seek medical attention? How could he act so normally with a fatal stab wound?"
"All the same," Nicholas said, "it's a pretty strange coincidence."
"Yes, I suppose it is," she agreed. "It still means nothing at all. But you certainly have a good eye for irrelevant details."
"I don't believe in coincidences, Emma."
"How insipid," she said in a very chilly voice.
Nick was silent for a minute or two. Then, entirely out of the blue, he asked, "Don't you ever wonder what you're missing out on?"
Emma had so little idea what he meant that she couldn't even think of anything scathing to say. She stopped mid-stride, staring at him.
"Do you ever go out with friends on the weekend? Read a good book? Sit outside in the sun?"
"What sun?" she demanded. "This is the Darigan Citadel."
"There's more to you than this," he persisted, inexplicably. "I know it. Oh, Emma, what you don't understand is that you're missing all the best things in life. If you don't think about happiness and freedom and – and just joy – if you don't think about those things now, then someday it'll be too late. You're more than a living calculator, if only I could get you to realize it!"
This was so inappropriate, and so very unexpected, that she was not even sure how she felt - let alone what to say. She felt that she was hovering on the edge of a response that, somehow, impossibly, illogically, would be more important than almost anything else. And Emma Ward could not explain it.
It didn't matter, because she never had the chance to say anything at all. At that moment she felt her briefcase being snatched out of her hand, and a Darigan Techo leaped past her in a flash of purple and black before she could even understand what was happening.
Nick's reaction was far quicker and more decisive. He lunged after the Techo, missed its tail by an inch, caught himself from a near-stumble and ran off in hot pursuit. The two of them made it to the end of the alleyway where the Kougra somehow managed to leap onto the Techo, momentarily knocking the breath out of the unknown thief. Emma, running over, saw Nick slap on a pair of handcuffs. He had a look of grim satisfaction when she finally arrived. "Well, that didn't work out so well for you," he told the Techo, prising the briefcase out of the Techo's claws and holding it out to Emma. "I think this is yours."
The thief appeared unimpressed. He looked from Nick to Emma and back, and said nothing at all.
"Come on," Nick said, hauling him up roughly. "You're coming back to the department with us, and you're going to tell us who you are and what you're doing."
The Techo only smiled.
Emma took her briefcase back, feeling just a little bit shaky. Nothing she couldn't master, of course. She hoped she had more self control than to be upset by an unsuccessful attempted robbery. Neither of them had ever been in any danger at all - clearly, whoever it was had only been after the papers.
"Are you all right?" Nick asked in a low voice, leaning toward Emma.
"Of course," she said, somewhat more snappishly than she'd been intending. Then in a more level tone, "We'd better get back to the department. I believe we should inform Commissioner Lockwood of what just happened."
The High Commissioner, for a wonder, was in his office despite its being before noon. He was loaning at his desk and chatting with the Usul secretary, looking, in his lazily debonair way, as though he was having the time of his life. But Emma was not so sure. The more she knew of him, the more she was convinced that Lockwood – whatever else he might be – was not happy. His was a sort of controlled misery. He was arrogant, vindictive, and utterly cold, but he was miserable.
He did not appear in the least surprised to see Nicholas Chase, who was disheveled and covered with dirt, or Miss Ward, who was a degree less put together than usual. "Miss Ward," he said in greeting, "and Detective Chase. How excessively delightful to see you both. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
It was highly unfortunate that something about his demeanor, at that particular moment, finally got on Nick's last nerve. "This is escalating," he began angrily, before Emma, with her more measured way of speaking, could get a word in. "Your assistant was just robbed in the streets, and her office was searched yesterday. We need to do something about departmental security, for starters."
"I am so very shocked to hear it," Lockwood replied, turning his light eyes on Nick with an expression that could have been amusement, apathy, or something else altogether. "That is most unfortunate."
"And you know what else?" said Nick, who - Emma recognized, with a sinking feeling - was just getting warmed up. "Maybe if you organized an investigation instead of lounging around here all day, we'd have some leads by now. Or hey, maybe you could even stay at home and sleep if you let us investigate without restricting access at every turn. None of this is even Emma's job, but she's been put in the crosshairs because we can't do anything without her!"
"My personal safety is not at issue," said Emma, fixing him with her most meaningful glare. Surely he would regain his senses and stop there. Surely. He had to. But it seemed that Nicholas's various frustrations had finally reached the boiling point, and she knew quite well that there was no holding him back when he was in a temper.
Lockwood, in contrast, remained perfectly calm and collected. He showed not the slightest sign of being offended by Nick's rudeness. "I observe, however, that Miss Ward is perfectly unharmed. For which we are all of course so very thankful."
"That's right," Nick snarled. "You skate around the issue. You're good at that, aren't you? Can you give any kind of justification for the way you've been preventing anybody from investigating? You took our prime suspect and hid him away in a cell without a single word of explanation, for Fyora's sake!"
"I placed every aspect of the investigation in Miss Ward's extremely capable hands, and as I understand it you have gained access to every person of interest whom it pleased you to question."
But Nick never backed down once he'd started. "What's your game, Lockwood? Why are you even here? Enlighten us all, how does one go from Meridellian sorcerer to Darigan High Commissioner?"
Perhaps it was Emma's imagination, but she thought that the High Commissioner suddenly looked distinctly less amused. "Nicholas!" she said sharply. He took no notice.
"I am so sorry," Lockwood said softly, and as coldly as ice, "but I fear I may be experiencing a lapse in comprehension. What does this have to do with the investigation at hand?"
"Well, I'm just trying to figure out why you felt a calling to come here and mess it up. You're so inept, you're going to get someone killed." He paused, with a goading smile, and Emma realized that he must have done his research and found the ace he'd been looking for. She dreaded whatever he was going to say next. "Or wasn't your sister enough for you?"
There was a moment of silence so thick that it felt physically oppressive.
Then Lockwood flew at Nick, slamming him against the wall with such unbridled ferocity that Nick had no time at all to react.
The fight only lasted a minute or two. More accurately, the fight only lasted about ten seconds, since after that point Nick had been in no state to put up any kind of defense. He was experienced, tenacious, and seriously annoyed, but Lockwood's savagery and the sheer surprise of the assault had left him completely outclassed.
Emma, who could have listed dozens of reasons why jumping into the middle of that particular altercation was not logically sound, had instead done the rational thing and called for assistance. By the time several other detectives rushed in, Lockwood had evidently come to his senses. With one last contemptuous glance at Nick, who was slumped down against the wall, he stepped back and straightened his snow white cravat. He looked significantly more disheveled that Emma had ever seen him, but there was not a scratch on him. Nick had hardly even managed to throw a punch.
Nicholas was walked off down the hall to the medics leaning heavily on Detective Halston's shoulder; the High Commissioner was taken to an interview room by Master Vex (who had been informed of the incident with almost supernatural speed) and instructed to wait for Lord Darigan; and Emma, feeling somewhat lower than she had felt in a while, was left to do whatever she wanted.
As it was nearing one-thirty, she decided to go and keep her appointment with Director Assander.
In Interview Room Two, meanwhile, Lord Darigan was busy reprimanding his High Commissioner for one of the most embarrassing and inexplicable incidents in recent Citadel history.
"What was that, Lockwood?" he exclaimed, sweeping into the room and slamming the door behind him.
"Lapse of judgment?" Lockwood suggested with cold humor.
"I assume you had a good reason for your 'lapse'? Something good enough to justify this?" demanded Darigan.
Lockwood looked nowhere close to losing his composure; indeed, it was difficult to believe that he had so thoroughly lost his temper not twenty minutes before. "I apologize – and concede that it is undesirable to have your High Commissioner in a fight with a detective."
"That wasn't a fight, Lockwood, that was a beating!"
"Perhaps our detectives need better training," he replied. "I will take it under serious consideration."
Darigan was not amused. "Aside from the ethical problems with your actions, which, may I tell you, are immense, do you realize how difficult this is going to be to explain? I made you the High Commissioner. Can you do no better than this?"
"I assure you I did nothing in a professional capacity," said Lockwood. "It was entirely personal."
Lord Darigan stood abruptly. "I can see you've held on to your sense of humor. But I am beginning to wonder what other aspects of your personality might not have remained intact."
Lockwood only stared back at him, a strange smile playing around the corner of his mouth, as he exited the room.
Outside Master Vex was waiting, gazing intently through the glass; he turned as he heard the click of the door. "Well, you wouldn't make it very far as a detective," the warden remarked dryly.
Darigan sighed. "Never to High Commissioner, no doubt." After a moment's reflection, he turned sharply toward Vex. "Tell me, my friend – tell me honestly – was I wrong? Was I so wrong in that appointment?"
The Mynci rubbed a finger along his jawline. "The consequences of an action... can never make it wrong."
"You are being obscure."
"I am being honest. If you believed at the time that you were right, then you were not wrong. Do I think that you were wrong? Of course; you know that already. But... not for this." He turned back to the glass; Lockwood was adjusting his cufflinks.
"Not for this?"
"Not for this little outburst, no. I admit that violence is unattractive, but it is a fact of life. A bad temper is hardly the worst sin in the world. In fact, of all the things Lockwood has done, this disturbs me least. I was previously unaware that he had any emotions at all."
Darigan frowned. "I cannot consider violence as natural as you seem to."
"Nicholas Chase is perfectly alive. As it stands, therefore, we have two young men who disagreed – violently, yes. But what could be more natural than two young men having a fight? Much more worrying is the fact that..."
Vex shook his head. "I may be imagining things, but it seemed to me almost as though he was not bothering to defend himself in there. It's almost as though... he doesn't care. Or he already knows what will happen."
"Dangerous, either one."
"Oh, yes, Lockwood is dangerous; that was clear from the start... but which is it, I wonder?" mused Master Vex.
And for this, Lord Darigan had no answer.
To be continued...