The Necromancer: Part Eleven
Assander looked more or less as Emma remembered him from that night on the balcony, minus the brown coat. The Lenny wore a suit instead, and his office was modern, clean and utilitarian. Emma liked it much better than Lawson's. Not, of course, that this had any bearing on the investigation at hand.
"What can I help you with, Miss Ward?" he said briskly as she entered, not pausing in what he was doing. He appeared to be reading correspondence and giving it his signature. "I'm sorry I couldn't fit you in yesterday. We're always very busy here in Internal Affairs. I hope it isn't anything too urgent."
"It concerns Director's Lawson's death."
"Oh yes. Most tragic. But I already spoke to Commissioner Lockwood and told him everything I knew - which I have to admit is not much."
It was news to Emma that Lockwood had lifted a finger to assist the investigation, and he certainly had not said a word about this alleged conversation to her. She had to tread carefully here, however, in asking Assander to repeat himself. His obligation to answer her questions was tenuous at best. "As the High Commissioner has not seen fit to share any of those details with the rest of us, Director, I would very much appreciate it if you would answer a few questions regarding the incident."
The Lenny shrugged, putting down his papers. "Sure. I'll be happy to. Unfortunately, I don't think I can help you very much."
"You mentioned on the night of the murder that Director Lawson was a close friend of yours. I take it then that you knew him quite well. Can you think of any particular reason why somebody might want to kill him?"
Assander steepled his wing feathers together, looking at her over his desk almost as though he were summing her up - or perhaps seeing her for the first time. For all his unassuming and unremarkable appearance, there was an oddly magnetic quality to his speech when he gave it his full attention. "I got along very well with Lawson, Miss Ward. He was a practical man, and he could be brusque. Having worked for him, you'll understand that. You, yourself, may have felt that he disliked you."
There was no point in denying this. "Yes," she replied simply.
"On the contrary. We spoke occasionally about our employees. He thought very highly of you. He was sorry to see you go."
Emma was not sure whether to be surprised or suspicious. She was not at all certain that she believed Assander - it seemed very unlikely that Lawson had said any such thing about her. On the other hand, what reason did Assander have to lie about it? Either way, his red eyes gave nothing away. There was no hint to be had about his truthfulness from looking at his expression.
"Which is all water under the bridge, but it just goes to show you that Lawson was... often misunderstood. So you see, while I personally liked the man, he was quite widely disliked. As to anything more specific, I'm afraid I have no idea."
"Hmm." That wasn't very helpful. Emma pushed up her glasses, considering her next line of attack. While she was here, she might as well be direct - there was nothing to lose. "I understand if this is a matter of confidentiality, but I have to ask. What was the subject of your meeting with Director Lawson that day?"
"That is a matter of confidentiality," said Assander with a small smile, "but I don't mind telling you. We were discussing the quarterly reports that my department creates for every other department on the Citadel. The details are... well, they're really confidential."
"Did you notice anything unusual about Director Lawson during that meeting?"
"Lawson was always unusual," he said wryly. "Nothing out of the ordinary, though."
This was going nowhere fast, Emma could tell. There was only one more relevant detail that she could think to ask about."Have you ever run an Internal Affairs investigation on the Public Relations department?"
"We run routine reports on every department. But I never had any reason to go more in-depth with Public Relations, no."
That, it seemed, was all there was to be gotten out of Assander. He was obliging enough, but she couldn't expect him to sit here like Erica Monahan and answer several dozen questions about apparently irrelevant details. If Nicholas had been here, perhaps he could have done more. She had reached her limit.
"Just one more thing, Director Assander," she said. "Where were you between 7:00 and 8:00 on Thursday night?"
He smiled blandly. "I was at a dinner. A very important dinner, actually, with a number of other government officials including Lord Darigan himself. Does that answer your question?"
Nicholas's judgment and reasoning were flawed in many ways, Emma thought as she exited Assander's office, but he had been right about one thing. There were too many coincidences in this case. To begin with, there was the strange way in which everything seemed to lead back to Internal Affairs. The mysterious document had pointed her there, Lawson's secretary had been transferred there, Assander had had an appointment with Lawson on the day of his murder... She had a frustrating feeling that all of the pieces were in her possession: Lawson's accounts, the interview with Conrad Jones, Lawson's odd behavior before his death, the mystery thief who had wanted to steal her papers, the bloodstained coat in the office. But the big picture was eluding her.
Since she was here, she made her way to the eighth floor to hear what Robert Shaw had to say about the document. It piqued her interest now more than ever. Assander had explicitly stated that Internal Affairs hadn't run a special investigation on Public Relations - so then what was it, exactly? Robert surely would have recognized anything routine. In any case, her suspense should be short; he was a thoroughly efficient person and she had utter faith that he would, as promised, have looked over the document for her.
She was not disappointed. Robert looked not only as though he was prepared, but almost as though he'd been waiting for her. "Emma," he said unsmilingly, "I thought you would come earlier."
"There were... complications. The Enforcement Department was not at its best today."
He beckoned her to come closer. "Frankly," he said in an urgent undertone, "neither is Internal Affairs."
Emma blinked. She had seen no signs of trouble during her half hour here. "What do you mean?"
"This document you gave me. You said you found it on Director Lawson's desk?" He paused. "Do you have any idea what this is?"
"No," she said, rather nettled. "Neither did you, I recall, as of yesterday afternoon."
"Well, it's not standard. Not even remotely.. In fact, it's not an Internal Affairs document at all."
This was truly surprising. Knowing that it was not Public Relations paperwork, and seeing the words Internal Affairs throughout, it had never occurred to Emma to doubt the source of the papers. She was not pleased; Emma never liked being caught at a disadvantage. "Well?" she said in a somewhat chilly tone. "What is it?"
"The reason I couldn't figure it out at first is that it's written in a very strange way - almost like a code, clearly intended to throw off anybody who tries to read it. But this isn't an Internal Affairs investigation." He took a deep breath. "This is an investigation of Internal Affairs. This department has been siphoning off funds... on a scale I've never even heard of before."
She felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as the implications of this statement settled in. They had been looking in all the wrong places, all this time. There had been no motive, no rhyme or reason, no coherent story to hold on to. Suddenly it all made sense. Assander, she thought.
No wonder he'd been Lawson's final appointment that day. No wonder Conrad Jones, liaison with other Citadel departments, had been silenced. And no wonder Emma had found inexplicable discrepancies in all the accounts. It wasn't, as she had naturally assumed, that Public Relations was corrupt. The missing money had been going to Internal Affairs, most likely straight into Assander's pocket, and Lawson had realized it. And now he was dead.
"How is this being done?" she said, almost automatically.
"It would take a long time to explain in detail. It's very cleverly executed - genius, actually." Robert clearly could not hide his admiration for such good handiwork, no matter how illicit. "But it's being done through the quarterly reports. You see, our department has access to every department's accounts and papers through the routine investigations. The money disappears, someone leaves a false trail that suggests simple corruption within the department, and the cycle repeats four times a year. Genius," he repeated. "Who would really think anything special about corruption on the Citadel?"
"And Lawson worked all of this out."
"Yes. It must have taken him a long time."
"Thank you, Robert," Emma said. "I believe that solves my investigation."
He handed the document back to her, slowly, looking her straight in the eyes. "Don't ask me to repeat any of this, Emma. I won't be involved. My career would be over if I denounced the Director. If anybody asks me, I'll deny it all."
She nodded curtly. It was fair enough. She would have done the same thing, in his position. "Understood. But since my career will be greatly advanced by exposing this, don't expect me to suppress it, either."
"That's up to you," he replied.
There were still some details that she couldn't fit in, but the big picture was finally clear to her. The most obvious problem was Assander's rock-solid alibi during the time of the murder, which Emma had no doubt would hold up to scrutiny. She wasn't going to waste her time trying to think of a way that Assander could have done it himself - the actual crime had obviously been committed by someone else, most likely a hired assassin. Now that they knew what to look for, it might well be possible to trace that person and officially close the investigation.
But what she now had, tucked safely into a pocket of her briefcase, was far more important than the particular identity of some hired criminal. She couldn't blame Assander for being willing to murder over it. It would bring Internal Affairs down like a house of cards; it would ruin the Director; and when you topped it all off with Lawson's murder, it would probably be the biggest scandal in Darigan history. No wonder Assander had been so desperate to get Lawson's accounts back. Lawson had probably told him about it, in confidence, and threatened to expose him. He must have known there would be a record of it somewhere in Lawson's office, and that the detectives would have found it. There was no doubt in Emma's mind that the mysterious thief, however vehemently he might claim to be nothing but a common pickpocket, was under Assander's orders.
There was only one thing to be done with a bombshell like this. Nicholas would no doubt have sailed out like a crusading knight to arrest Assander and make all the information public; Emma was far more cautious. She would have to consider, very carefully, the effect that something like this would have on her career. Overall she believed that it would be positive. Still, there was no point in being rash, and in a case like this her duty was very clear: the High Commissioner had to be informed. However she might feel about him personally, the investigation had finally reached a point at which her borrowed authority would carry her no further.
As she walked down the hall to his office, Detective Colburn stopped her, calling out her name. "Miss Ward! Wait just a minute - I have a message for you."
"Oh?" Emma said impatiently, half-turning to face her. She did not have time for Colburn's concerns, whatever they might be.
"Nick told me to tell you that you should come find him immediately, whenever I saw you. He's been looking for you. He said it's very important."
"Not as important as this," she replied rather coldly, turning on her heel.
Lockwood, astonishingly, was once again in his office, looking none the worse for wear from his earlier fistfight. He was not doing any work (Emma would have been very surprised by that) but instead was looking out the window at the rain, which had started again and was falling thick and fast. "Miss Ward," he said, in a charming tone that was also peculiarly hollow. "How prodigiously delighted I am to see you."
"I've uncovered something that changes the entire investigation," she said, ignoring his insincerity.
"Oh! - Is that so? I am positively overcome with curiosity. Would you care for a glass of lemonade?" He poured himself one out of a sparkling pitcher, apparently not so overcome with curiosity that he was in a hurry to hear what came next.
"Thank you," she replied shortly, deciding that in this case it might be quicker to accept. In any case, she was thirsty. "I've had another look through Lawson's accounts. It turns out that he was, in fact, running a covert investigation of Internal Affairs." She took out the document, sliding it across the desk to him.
He poured her glass and handed it to her. "How astonishing! Whyever would he do such a thing? I confess that my knowledge of Darigan government is hazy at best, but I was unaware that investigating other departments came under the province of Public Relations."
"It doesn't. However, Lawson had a reason to be concerned, as Internal Affairs was actually taking large quantities of money from Public Relations during the quarterly investigations. Which means, Commissioner, that we have a new suspect."
"It seems, as ever, that great minds think alike... I am entirely in agreement with you."
Lockwood showed not the slightest sign of surprise. And he could say what he wanted about curiosity and astonishment, but it was clear to Emma that he wasn't even pretending to be surprised. "You already knew," she said slowly.
"Well, yes, I must confess that I did. I have been meaning to tell you for some time now that we do have a new suspect - a very convincing one at that." The corners of his mouth turned up in the hint of a smile that didn't match his cold eyes. "You, Miss Ward."
She dropped the glass.
To be continued...