415: Stalled Discussions

on October 6, 2009 in Book 15

In Which A Character’s True Name Is Revealed

In addition to money, it seemed that my other reward for the performance was a night of restful, dreamless sleep. I had begun to fear I’d never be able to close my eyes without another visitation from the man who claimed to be looking out for me. Had he been bluffing about his ability to keep worming his way in? Could he not find me when I wasn’t in my room?

I had no way of knowing, but I felt an incredible sense of relief when the next thing I was aware of was being on the edge of a queen-sized bed, next to Ian.

Ian seemed confused to wake up between Amaranth and me. He looked sheepish when he realized he’d slept the night away.

“You should have got me up,” he said. “I didn’t mean to go to sleep, I just wanted to be, you know, rested for it.”

“Ian, honey, you were completely out,” Amaranth said. “Even if we had managed to rouse you, I don’t think we would have had much fun, collectively. We’ll do it another time, for sure… and more than once. There will be lots of opportunities, and I’ll make sure that some of them get taken.”

Any thoughts we might have had of making up for the missed opportunity with some early morning fun were quickly ditched when we realized we’d slept right through the early morning. It was about ten minutes before eleven, when we were due to check out. Ian and I dressed in a hurry while Amaranth checked around the room.

She was still looking when we finished. Ian sat down on the edge of the bed and turned on the TV. The local news was on. It was showing more provincial police on campus, setting up floating tape around the south end of the pent.. The headline at the front of the scene said “Carnage On Campus”.

More casualties of Veil-related stupidity, it seemed… I felt a nebulous sort of guilt at that. They had made their choices and paid for it, while I’d made mine and got a small fortune for it. It could have gone a lot worse for me, and it could have gone better for any of them. Doubtlessly there were a lot more students who’d risked the night than ones who hadn’t made it. That was what kept people taking risks.

“Oh, Ian, honey, turn that off,” Amaranth said. “It’s just gory coverage of the post-Veil clean-up, and we don’t need to see that.”

“Okay,” Ian said, and he changed it over to the weather, which showed we were in for a cold, gray day, with a strong chance of freezing rain overnight. Fun. “What are you looking for, anyway?”

“Anything we might otherwise forget,” she said.

“We didn’t really bring anything,” he said.

“Yes, well, it just seems like a good habit to have,” Amaranth said. “I’d like to travel more in the future, and so I’d like to figure these things out now.”

When Amaranth judged that we truly had left nothing behind, we headed downstairs to the front desk where she settled the bill out of the previous night’s earnings. Right before she handed over the scribed copy of the bill, the desk clerk looked at the number and said, “Oh, wait a second,” then reached under the counter and pulled out a big white envelope with a bulge in the center. “Don’t forget about this.”

“What’s this?” Amaranth asked, frowning at the package.

“I don’t know, Miss,” the clerk said. “It was left for your room this morning. The guy who left it said that you all would be looking for it?”

Amaranth slit the end of the envelope open and held it open, slowly sliding the contents out… my mirror. Her look of surprise became an even bigger frown for a moment, but then she shook it off and handed the mirror to me.

“Maybe you lost it without realizing it… and someone found it?” she said.

“Who’d know where we were staying?” Ian asked.

“A divination student?” Amaranth suggested.

“And brought it here?” I asked. I could understand the look of unease she was trying so obviously to dismiss. Things turning up in unexpected places could be disconcerting enough, especially after the ordeal with my pitchfork. The fact that this had been left in an envelope for me made it both better and worse… it made it unlikely that the mirror itself was following us around, but it also suggested that some person was.

“Well, unlikely as it is, it is here now,” Amaranth said. “Just try to keep better track of it in the future, maybe?”

“Yeah,” I said. I pocketed it. Mystery or not, there didn’t seem to be anything more to say about it.

“That’s more than a little weird, though,” Ian said.

“Who left it, exactly?” I asked.

“A younger guy, in a nice suit,” the desk clerk said.

“Somebody from the law firm?” Amaranth said to me.

“I don’t know why they’d be keeping tabs on me like that,” I said.

“Looking out for you, maybe?”

“We’re not even paying them,” I said. I had my own suspicion about the “younger guy in a nice suit”, but I didn’t want to say it, didn’t want to give voice to it.

Any further discussion was cut off by a commotion coming towards us. The middle-aged man whom Amaranth had entertained before was striding down the hall with a mirror up by his face, an elderly-looking dwarf wearing spectacles following at his heels.

“Mr. Gregory,” the silver-bearded dwarf was saying, “I really must insist…”

“Insist all you want, but I can’t stay here… my vacation’s over,” the man said to the dwarf. He stopped at the edge of the lobby. To the mirror in his hand, he started rattling off instructions. “Yeah, if you can get the whole floor roster to me in the next minute, do it, otherwise have it waiting when I get there. If we can’t figure out who her friends were, we’ll start with her neighbors. I want the golem isolated, for a start. I want a forensic diviner from Blackwater, up from the fens. I want our bite team…”

“Mackenzie,” Amaranth said very quietly. Her hand bumped into my arm and then followed it down to my hand. She started pulling me towards the women’s restroom off the lobby. “Let’s get Lee in the mirror.”

“Lee?” I repeated. “Why?”

“Call it a hunch,” Amaranth said.

“Wait… did you bang a cop?” Ian asked her, looking at the guy talking on the mirror.

“I did not,” Amaranth said quietly, gesturing for him to lower his voice. “Mike Gregory is an imperial agent, and to be perfectly technical, I pleasured his wife while he watched. He wasn’t on duty last night, but it sounds like something’s changed… something involving a floor full of people that includes a golem.”

“Oh, shit… Two!” I said.

“Right now, I’m more worried about you,” Amaranth said. “It sounds as though someone has been… attacked. You need your lawyer.”

“Probably, but Lee’s representing me against the school… I don’t exactly have him on retainer,” I said.

“You need a lawyer and we know him,” Amaranth said. “If he can’t help you, he ought to be able to refer us to someone who can. We have some room to talk about fees now.”

“But we’re saving that money for…”

“Emergencies,” Amaranth said. “For love’s sake, Mackenzie, don’t argue with me right now.”

The realization that she’d said my full name twice stunned me enough that I let her pull me into the ladies’ room, where I flipped open my mirror. It started to go off as I was doing so… Lee was already reflecting to me. I accepted it without hesitation.

“Ms. Mackenzie! Khersis, woman, what are you doing, not answering your mirror at a time like this?” he said.

“I’m sorry… I sort of lost track of it for a while,” I said.

“Lost track… where are you?” he asked.

“The Crystal Palace,” I said. “In town.”

“You didn’t flee campus, did you?”

“What? No, I’ve been here… in town, I mean… all night,” I said.

“Is that the honest truth?” he asked. “You’re not trying to create an alibi, are you?”

“Lee, I don’t even know what I’d be creating an alibi for,” I said. “I don’t know what’s going on back on campus, I’m just… sort of celebrating Veil with Amaranth. We kind of caught wind of something, though, and she wanted me to see if you could help…”

“Wait,” he said. “Did you authorize someone to engage us on your behalf this morning?”

“What? No, Lee, I didn’t even know I had a behalf to engage on,” I said. “What’s going on?”

“Well… first of all, you apparently have a benefactor,” he said. “A sealed pouch arrived this morning, with gold and instructions… I was assisting Mr. Pendragon with another client, but owing to our existing relationship he released me. If they want to detain you or charge you with anything, we’ll get you an experienced criminal attorney, but if you haven’t even been on campus then it shouldn’t come to that.”

“What shouldn’t?” I asked.

“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for forty minutes, in between raising hell with law enforcement. I had thought you’d be expecting my reflection. When I couldn’t get you, I thought they might have been doing something improper.”

“What exactly’s going on?” I asked.

“Haven’t you even turned on a television?” he asked.

“Just for a minute,” I said.

“Well, there was a killing on campus last night.”

I felt a sick, sinking feeling in my stomach… but then cold reason took over.

“It’s Veil,” I said. “A whole bunch of people died the night before. It seems like it’s a dangerous time of year, around here. They’re not using that as an excuse to lock down Harlowe, are they?”

“Mackenzie, this situation is a little different,” he said. “Because the victim was a foreign royal and because it happened in a strongly protected ‘safe’ spot, it’s being investigated as a possible homicide.”

“Who?” I asked. The description of foreign royal was most likely to apply to a Harlowe resident to begin with, and if it was someone from my floor… well, there was only one person I could think of who that would actually fit. Unless he meant Sooni… her family seemed important enough. “Who was it?”

He picked up a piece of paper, evidently from the desk in front of him that was just out of frame.

“Let’s see if I can even say this right… Miss Lidiya Pyotrovna Lebedeva,” he said.

It took me a few seconds to take it in… I’d never heard that name before, but it was a pretty decent fit for the person I was thinking of.

Leda?” I said. Not Sooni after all. That was actually sort of a relief… though I didn’t feel great about it being anyone.

“Did you know her?” Lee asked.

“Well, she was on my floor,” I said. “She wasn’t really… we weren’t in the same circle.”

“Any hostility? Either way?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think she liked me, but… aloof. She was, I mean.” I was stumbling over my words, but then, I was talking about a dead person… a murder victim… that I knew. Had known. “She… she might have had some kind of thing with my friend Steff, but I never found out for sure.”

“Thing?”

“Altercation?” I said, groping for a word. “But Steff couldn’t have done anything!” I added quickly, realizing I was potentially implicating her. “She was, well… bed-ridden all weekend.”

“Mackenzie, clearing each and every one of your friends is not going to be our job here,” he said. “Seeing that you’re treated fairly is. There are going to be a lot of eyes on this case, which is generally a good thing, but there’s also going to be a lot of pressure to come up with suspects. The earliest news report just called it a horrific monster attack , but it was in the middle of a safe area… if the school’s wards were holding, then the only ‘monsters’ who could have reached it, if you’ll pardon the term, are students. You’re going to be one of the more attractive possibilities on the list of potential suspects. The best case scenario is that they rule you out quickly and methodically.”

“Why am I the most attractive possibility?” I asked. My horror at the thought that someone I knew was dead was changing into another sort of horror. This was exactly the sort of thing that I’d been afraid of, the thing that had helped keep me meek and mild all through high school… aside from the fear that I might hurt others, there was the fear of what others might do to me, if they thought they had reason. “Aside form the obvious, I mean… yeah, I know I’m a walking scapegoat, but Leda’s not human. Wasn’t human.”

“Listen, Mackenzie, I spent most of the morning helping Mr. Pendragon on another client’s behalf, so I already know the situation pretty well,” Lee said. “The victim was a Shifter… excuse me, I mean a resident of the Khazarus. If she had been human, things might be worse for you, but it’s a tough call whether non-human royalty from the other side of the world is going to be better or worse, on the balance. Her family had an alarm ward on her… they knew she was deceased before the university did, and they’ve been putting pressure on the imps for eight hours already. The Shift is supposed to be pretty lousy with demons… current thought is that there may be more full demons hiding in the Shift than anywhere else in the world… so they may be a little prejudiced, especially as her stepfather is human. In a case like this, doing justice to the family’s satisfaction might take precedence over doing justice.”

“But they’re not going to be directing the investigation, are they?” I asked.

“Hopefully not,” he said. “But they can exert pressure. The media and public opinion can increase that, once there’s a little blood in the water. Add that to whatever personal biases any of the investigators on the ground have… Mackenzie, I know this can’t be pleasant to hear, but your demon blood changes things. It’s going to be safest to assume that everyone has it in for you, that proper safeguards for your legal rights will not be observed unless we’re vigilant and rigorously insist upon it.”

“Hi, Lee?” Amaranth said. “Mackenzie, baby, let me come around so we don’t have to spin him,” she said, taking the mirror from me and pushing me sideways. “I don’t know if this helps or hurts or what, but… the man who seems to be in charge of the investigation, Mike Gregory? He was staying at the same inn as us. That’s how we found out that something had happened. So, he knows that we were off-campus… he can actually vouch for our whereabouts himself, for at least part of the time.”

“Was he actually aware of your presence?”

“Oh, yes. Definitely. I ate a peach out of his wife’s vaginal cavity as an anniversary present,” she said.

“Say that ag… no, on second thought, never say that again,” he said. “You had sexual contact with Inspector Gregory?”

“With his wife… he just watched,” Amaranth said, nodding eagerly. “But it was with his consent, and mutually pleasurable.”

There was silence from the mirror. I tried to imagine Lee’s expression, but couldn’t conjure anything.

“Did you have any acquaintance with either of them?” he asked.

“No, sir,” Amaranth said. “They approached me.”

“Well… if things go poorly, that might be useful in throwing up some procedural objections,” he said. “My instinct is that this is not going to be nearly as cut and dried as it would be if you weren’t a nymph. I’m going to have to research if there’s any precedent… I don’t think it would be to our advantage to get Inspector Gregory off the case. His reputation is for being thorough, fair, and sensitive.”

“Listen,” I said, leaning back into the frame, “I know you said we can’t clear everyone, but… we heard him telling his people to ‘isolate the golem’, and that’s my roommate, Two. Why would they isolate her? Is there some reason she’d be a suspect?”

“Golems are the best witnesses and the worst ones,” Lee said. “They’re very easy to tamper with. It gets especially messy with a freed golem that still has obedient tendencies, since legally they are their own persons.”

“So it probably doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that she’s my roommate?” I asked.

“Not as such, no, but you can bet she’ll be questioned about you,” Lee said. “Aside from Amaranth’s encounter with Mrs. Gregory, is there anyone else who can corroborate your whereabouts? Especially around two, three in the morning?”

I looked at Amaranth. We’d left the club long before then.

“We were at a private club, Lee, earlier in the night,” Amaranth said. “The Tomb of Horrors. The two of us were actually up on stage in front of the crowd for a bit, and the entire building is scried. We took a private carriage back to the inn. I have a feeling the driver and dispatcher will probably both remember us… I had a little conversation with the dispatcher, her name was Ceridwen. The night auditor here, too, might remember seeing us coming back.”

“You do have the advantage of being memorable,” Lee said. “This is all very good. The fact that you weren’t on campus is a very lucky stroke, but if they’re looking for you then the fact that you aren’t there is probably weighing against you moment by moment. You should come in to the office, and then we’ll contact the authorities and let them know the situation, and that you’re making yourself available for questions about your whereabouts, in the presence of your attorney. You’re at the Crystal Palace, you said?” Amaranth nodded. “I’ll send a coach to pick the two of you up.”

“We’re actually three,” Amaranth said. “Our boyfriend, Ian, is with us. Though he could probably just take the regular coach back to school if that’s simpler…”

“The coaches are actually suspended for the moment, as the campus is locked down,” Lee said. “Try to get him to come with you, if he will. Was he with you all night?”

“Except when we were at the club,” Amaranth said. “Though, to be perfectly honest, he was asleep when we got back.”

“Be perfectly honest,” Lee said. “Dishonesty rarely helps accomplish justice, and never when you’re lying to your own attorney. Is Gregory still at the inn?”

“He was right before we came in here to talk to you,” Amaranth said. “But it sounded like he was leaving in a minute.”

“Where are you now, your inn room?”

“The ladies’ room in the lobby,” Amaranth said. “We’d just checked out when we overheard Mr. Gregory talking about the investigation, then we kind of ducked in here so he wouldn’t see us before we had a chance to talk to you.”

“So the last time you saw Gregory?”

“He was heading for the lobby,” Amaranth said. “We came in here to be out of sight while we tried to get you.”

“Okay, you stay there, then, if you’re not sure that he’s gone,” he said. “I’ll be coming over to get you. I’ll see if I can get through to Gregory on my way over, to minimize any sudden surprises. You just sit tight.”

“In the bathroom?” I said.

“It seems like the easiest way of lessening the chance that you have to deal with an IBF agent without your attorney present,” Lee said. “If it does happen, you just tell him that your attorney is on the way, that they can contact Pendragon and Associates for details, and nothing more. We already have an official liaison for this matter, but I’d rather keep you separate from all of that if I can.”

“Since we know he’s here and we know he’ll want to talk to Mack, wouldn’t it look more cooperative if she went out and said ‘Hi, Mr. Gregory, I’m still here from the night before, and if you’d like to talk to me, I’m just waiting for my attorney.’?” Amaranth asked. “I mean, if he’s been given my name or a description of Mack, it can’t have slipped his mind that we were here.”

“Listen, Amaranth, that wouldn’t be the worst way to handle it, but if my choice is between having my client saying that much to an imperial investigator by herself or waiting for me, I’d rather that she wait,” Lee said. “It’s your call, Ms. Mackenzie, but I’m being paid to advise and to represent you. In that spirit, I advise that you let me represent you.”

“Yeah, okay, okay,” I said, shaking my head and then realizing that meant no and nodding instead. I felt dizzy. We’d done alright taking care of our own problems the night before, but trying to handle this by ourselves was not a good idea. “Whatever you say, Lee.”

“Good,” he said. “I’d better get going if I’m going to ride to the rescue. See you soon, and sit tight.”

“Yeah, bye,” I said. “Thanks!”

“He didn’t seem very curious about the pouch of gold,” Amaranth said when the image faded. She was frowning slightly, the way she did when she was thinking hard. “I suppose… priorities, right? He seems like a genuinely helpful person. If we’re not questioning the gift horse, he’s not going to, either… and it’s too fortuitous to question, really.”

“It sounds like there’s a ‘but’ there,” I said.

“Not really,” she said. She looked down at the mirror that she was still holding. “Though it seems like he’s not the only helpful person. Mercy?”

“Yeah, I don’t think so,” I said. “She wouldn’t hide her involvement from us. You can’t be in someone’s debt if you don’t even know what they did for you.”

Amaranth looked like she was going to ask me a question, but then we heard someone shouting a stream of curses, muffled by the bathroom door. A few moments later, Ian came scooting inside.

“Uh, I think you guys are about to have company,” he said. “That imperial guy just got a list, a copy of your floor roster, I think… he started swearing as soon as he saw it, and the last I saw him he was describing you to the desk girl,” he said, looking at Amaranth.

“Do you think we should just go out?” Amaranth asked.

“You heard what Lee said,” I said.

“Yes, but I think there’s going to be less chance for an unfortunate misunderstanding if we go out there and let him know where we are instead of waiting to see if…”

There was a set of three knocks on the door, sharp and authoritative.


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7 Responses to “415: Stalled Discussions”

  1. AmPahn says:

    Hello! I’m new here. Just wanted to say hi

    Current score: 1
  2. pedestrian says:

    the plot thickens…like drying blood

    Current score: 2
  3. BlackWizard says:

    Duh, duh DUUUUM! Cheese its!! It’s DA FUZZ!!

    Current score: 3
    • Kalamorda says:

      She ate some fuzz, and got cheesed as a thank you.

      Current score: 3
  4. JerK says:

    So ummm the swan chick was killed probably in her fountain. Well you don’t have to be a detective to figure this one out.

    Current score: 0
  5. Kalamorda says:

    Two reasons you should always consider invitations from couples, alibis and free cheese wheels. Second, I think Daddy is just be protective, I mean……mabey hoping to bond with her?

    Current score: 0
  6. zeel says:

    Something I feel I hadn’t fully thought about in the past: The Man paid her lawyer, and he brought her the mirror. This is in intersting demonstraition of his prtectiveness toward her.

    Also, he could have done something too it…

    Current score: 0