416: Honored Privileges

on October 13, 2009 in Book 15

In Which The Need For Privacy Is Reflected Upon

Amaranth looked at me. I looked at Ian. He shrugged.

“Yes?” Amaranth said, loudly and sweetly, in the direction of the door.

“Miss Amaranth? It’s Mike,” Inspector Gregory said from the other side of it. “Is there someone in there with you?”

“Yes, Inspector Gregory,” Amaranth said.

There was a pause where it was pretty clear that he was waiting to see if she’d volunteer the answer to the obviously implied question.

“Is Miss Mackenzie Blaise in there with you?” he prompted.

“How does he know that you’re you?” Ian whispered to me.

I shrugged.

“He said that you looked familiar, so I told him who you were,” Amaranth said. “It seemed harmless,” she added. “I didn’t know what he did… his wife told me that, afterwards. She was kind of chatty. They both seemed nice.”

“Why would Mackenzie look familiar to an imperial agent?” Ian asked her.

“Well, I have made the news a little,” I said.

“Yes, and they follow the news out of Prax because this is where his wife is from,” Amaranth said.

“Miss Amaranth?” Gregory said again, his tone polite but warning.

Amaranth looked at me. I started to shrug, and then nodded. I could refuse to talk to him without my lawyer present, but lying to or trying to evade him seemed like a dangerously stupid idea.

Ms. Mackenzie is with me, but she’s been instructed not to speak to imperial agents until her lawyer arrives,” Amaranth said towards the door. “We’re perfectly willing to wait here until then, though, and then fully cooperate. How are you?”

The last part sounded both automatic and a little apologetic, like she couldn’t bear being so brusque to him.

“How am… are you planning on staying in the ladies’ room?” Gregory asked.

“Oh, we just ducked in here to use the mirror,” Amaranth said. “I think we’ll be going to the restaurant now and get some breakfast, or lunch if that’s what they’re serving now.” She reached for my hand, and addressed me quietly. “There’s no sense staying here if he knows where we are… we might as well go somewhere more comfortable.”

“Yeah, I think I could use something to eat,” Ian said.

“Alright,” Gregory said through the door. “You’d be doing both of us a favor if you don’t wander off.”

“Of course we won’t,” Amaranth said. “We really want to help any way we can, Inspector.”

We headed out. The imperial agent had backed away, and was talking in quiet tones to the respectable-looking dwarf who’d been following him before, though he kept an eye on us. There were a couple of very obvious agents positioned near the entryway, though.

“Take a look at those swords,” Ian whispered sideways.

“What swords?” I asked, and then one of them shifted and I saw a silver pommel underneath his coat. There was no room for a blade… it was a concealed holding scabbard.

“At least the press hasn’t turned up,” Amaranth said.

“If that guy’s the owner, then we might be lucky there,” Ian said, nodding his head towards the dwarf. “The dwarven word for ‘reporter’ is ‘thief’.”

“That’s a bit of an exaggeration,” Amaranth said. “They use the same word for reporters that they use for thieves.”

In the dining room, we were offered a choice of booth or table. The booths along the walls were clearly designed with dwarven a sensibility in mind, having taller barriers between them that also wrapped around, screening the occupants from sight. Amaranth chewed on her lip for a while before settling on a table.

“It really wouldn’t do to have someone trigger a panic ward because they lost sight of us,” Amaranth said as we were being led to our seats. “And we do want Lee to be able to spot us. I assume he’ll reflect you when he gets here… you might just leave the mirror out on the table so we don’t miss him.”

“Not much chance of them losing sight of us,” Ian said. “Don’t look around, but there’s a lady by the door and a guy at a table that I’m pretty sure are with them. And I think they’re running a trace of some kind on us… I felt a tingle when we were coming out of the bathroom.”

“I don’t think imperial agents would use anything that you could feel to track us,” I said.

“Maybe they got sloppy,” Ian said. “Or maybe they want us to know they’ve got a line on us? It could be psychological warfare. They could be trying to make you paranoid and…”

“You’re making me paranoid,” I snapped, and then regretted it. I was starting to feel sick to my stomach, and the shot of anger was answered by a shot of stabbing pain in my lower abdomen. I wondered if it would be possible for me to give myself an ulcer. “I’m sorry, Ian.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I’m just running my mouth, really. I have no idea how these things work. I’m not even sure what’s going on. Do you know what happened?”

“We know a little, but not the details,” Amaranth said. I let her explain to Ian what we’d learned from Lee.

She stopped when the waiter came to take our order. It was after eleven by this point, and they had switched over to lunch service… not that it mattered to me, as my stomach was twisting around itself the way it had always used to when I felt nervous or guilty, which had been pretty much all the time. I had nothing to feel guilty about and therefore I shouldn’t have had anything to feel nervous about, but there it was, all the same.

One of my dormmates was dead… along with however many other late night monster mauling casualties there may have been, but this one victim meant that I was being watched by imperial agents while waiting for my lawyer to arrive. I was used to feeling uncomfortable with the thought of anyone looking at me… life with Puddy and then Amaranth had given me a crash course in getting over that, but this kind of “official” attention was bringing it all back to me.

Amaranth finished Lee’s rundown and her own explanation of what she knew of Leda as soon as we were alone again.

“Wow,” Ian said. “That’s… this might sound kind of horrible, but it’s kind of galling, to think that there’s going to be a huge investigation and all this interest because she was a princess from some magic kingdom. A lot of human students die every year. A lot of them this weekend.”

“Well… I don’t think race has that much to do with it,” Amaranth said. “It wouldn’t be an imperial matter if there wasn’t the foreign royal connection, but that isn’t necessarily racial… and without that, I think there’d be more of an uproar if a human student had been killed while inside the relative safety of the warded areas. It’s tragic that anyone dies violently, but we’re all given the same warnings about going out after dark and sticking to the lighted paths.”

Ian sort of half-nodded, and then the conversation lapsed. Nobody seemed to have anything to say.

We weren’t just sitting there in silence for long. Amaranth had ordered a salad and Ian had got a sandwich, so it didn’t take long for the food to come out, and then we were just sitting there eating in silence. At least, they were.

“You know what this makes me curious about?” Ian asked.

“What’s that?” Amaranth asked.

“Okay, well, it sounds as though… apart from the location… this doesn’t look any different than the average ‘monster attack’,” Ian said. “And it’s only because it happened in a protected place that they’re looking at students.”

“Or treating it as a homicide at all,” Amaranth said. “They don’t know that it’s a student, I don’t think. They’re just eliminating the more obvious possibilities first.”

“Right, right,” Ian said. “But… is anybody considering the possibilities that the killings that happened off the paths might also have been homicides? I mean, they’re looking at students because ghouls and stuff can’t come onto the paths, but students can go off of them.”

“Are you saying that everyone with teeth and claws should be questioned every time a human dies?” I asked. The implications of the hypothetical were enough to distract me from the actual reality I was trying and failing to deal with.

“No,” Ian said. “I just wonder how much of an investigation is done to see if people need to be questioned, when that happens.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Oh, Steff told me that they actually do some rudimentary divining… enough to figure an actual cause of death… when it’s possible,” Amaranth said. “But, you know, a rainstorm can muddle a lot of traces. Something like that wild downpour we had last weekend will wipe them out completely.”

“So, if Leda was killed in the fountain, what would that do?” Ian asked. “I mean, it’s not exactly running water… or would the circulation of the fountain be enough?”

“It really wouldn’t help,” I said. “Water doesn’t hold traces well, and if it’s flowing at all it’s just going to obliterate whatever’s there. If she was actually in the water, I’m sure they’ll be checking the edges of the fountain and the ground around it, but… well, lots of people sit on the fountain during the day and even more walk around it. If something violent or otherwise really distinctive happened outside the water, they might be able to get something.”

“It would be nice if they can,” Ian said. “A lot of people trust forensic evidence over anything else… the fact that you weren’t anywhere near campus won’t mean a thing to them unless a diviner can say that somebody else did it.”

“If somebody’s really bound and determined to blame me, they’ll think it’s a cover-up or a frame job,” I said.

“What, perpetrated by the massive pro-demon lobby?” Ian asked.

“Hey, there are people who can say with a straight face that humans are the last oppressed race in the empire,” I said. “Or that Khersians are a shrinking minority… or that gays and lesbians have special rights. To someone like that, the fact that I’m allowed to live and attend school could be proof that I’ve got some kind of power and influence behind me.”

“On the subject of power and influence… we really should ask Lee to clarify a few things about the payment arrangements,” Amaranth said. “I mean, he’s representing you… but does that mean he has to represent your interests? Are you his client, or is the person paying him his client, or both? He’s a nice person and he seems very honest and forthright, but… well… if he has obligations towards someone else, we kind of have to expect him to be as conscientious in discharging them as he has been towards you.”

“Yeah, let’s not talk about this here, though,” I said.

I wanted to share my theory about the man behind that, but not in the open air and not when we were being watched by imperial agents. Making deals with demons… true demons, full demons… was highly illegal.

Pendragon and Associates were covering themselves on that score as much as they were required to, I was sure… demons weren’t so commonplace that every transaction had to be screened for infernal machinations. But “covering themselves” could extend to getting as far away from me as they could if there was a hint of such impropriety… and the apparent connection between the particular demon and me probably wouldn’t help my case any.

“Khersis, this is fucking surreal,” Ian said. “The whole being watched thing. By government agents, I mean. It’s not like scrutiny is new. For you more than me, but for any of us… one of my instructors asked me if I was sleeping with you or if we were just friends.”

“Seriously?” I asked. That idea was almost as surreal as everything else that was going on.

“Yeah,” Ian said.

“Didn’t that seem a little… intrusive… to you?” I said.

“I don’t know, it was a little shocking but also a little funny,” Ian said. “I think there may have been a wager involved.”

“Oh, that’s loads better,” I said.

“Baby, it’s not like it’s a big secret,” Amaranth said. “And whether you like it or not, you’re sort of a figure of public interest.”

“Yeah, I feel real interesting to the public right now,” I said.

“Oh, baby… you have to admit, it’s better to have people take a friendly interest in your love life than for them to be looking at you with suspicion,” Amaranth said.

“Hey, I think it was actually my love life under discussion,” Ian said.

“It’s the same life, just viewed from different perspectives,” Amaranth said.

“Yeah, I guess,” Ian said. “And I guess that was sort of my point: that kind of scrutiny’s not so bad, comparatively. This puts things in perspective.”

I started to nod in agreement, but a twinge in my stomach brought my mind back around to what exactly “this” was. Leda was dead, and we were waiting for my lawyer to get there because I was under suspicion in an imperial investigation.

“Are you okay, baby?” Amaranth asked.

“Yeah… I just can’t believe we’re sitting here bantering like this,” I said.

“Well… it’s either that or sit in silence, or keep rehashing the same few things that we know,” Amaranth said. “I think this is better, honestly.”

My mirror went off, and I grabbed for it, eager for word from Lee. It was him, of course.

“Mackenzie, where are you now?” he asked. No greeting, straight to business.

“In the restaurant at the Crystal Palace,” I said. “The inspector figured out where we were, Amaranth told him we were waiting for you, and we decided to have lunch.”

“That’s fine,” he said. “The IBF didn’t try to question you, or bother you at all?”

“No,” I said. “They’ve been keeping an eye on us, I think, but they backed off once they knew we were going to stick around.”

“Okay. Good. Enjoy your lunch, Mackenzie… I’m almost to the Crystal Palace. I’m sorry, temple services are getting out and some of the streets are just clogged. Anyway, I’m going to try to meet with the lead investigator and establish some ground rules, and then I’ll join you,” he said. “Now, this is attorney-client communication, which means it’s privileged and they can’t be listening in.”

That sounded important, especially in the slightly authoritative way that he said it, and so I waited to see what he was going to say after it, but he just sat there kind of stony-faced.

“Lee?” I said, a little worried that I might have missed something.

“Sorry,” he said. “I was just waiting a few seconds to give them time to dissolve any surveillance spells. Imperial agents have a fairly broad writ for such things to begin with, and being in a place of public accommodation is apt to make them bolder about how they use them.”

“Should we have stayed in the bathroom?” I asked.

“No, a public restroom is still public,” he said. “Once you were discovered, there wouldn’t be much point… it’s probably better that you’re eating something.”

“I’m not, actually,” I said. “My stomach’s kind of… lodging a formal complaint. It’s okay, though. I’m not going to get dizzy from lack of food.”

“Oh, right,” Lee said. “I’m sorry, I forget. Anyway, I’m going to suggest to Gregory that he talk to you back on campus. They already have a base of operations set up there waiting for him. The only reason that he’s not there already is the fact that you aren’t there. This benefits everybody. He’s going to have to wait to question you anyway, and this way he can be productive instead of hanging around here and chomping at the bit.”

“Champing,” Amaranth said, leaning into me slightly to be visible. “The expression is ‘champing at the bit’.”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Lee said. “Anyway, if he gets to go there, see and hear firsthand what information and leads the investigators on scene have already turned up, then he might already have other, more likely possibilities in mind by the time he can turn his attention to you. That’s good. Innocence is a tremendous advantage to have on your side, but it’s also helpful if someone else is guilty.”

“If they’re not actually arresting me, do they have a choice?” I asked. “I mean, do you have to ask them if I can just go back to campus and do it later, or can you just tell them?”

“Well, we want to be cooperative,” Lee said. “They don’t have to arrest you to detain you for questioning, and that’s the last thing that we want. Because as soon as word gets out… and it will get out… the headline will be ‘Suspect Detained In Murder’. And you’ll be ‘Notorious Half-Demon Mackenzie Jo Blaise’, or maybe ‘Mackenzie “Mack” Blaise’, depending on whether the person writing the copy decides a masculine nickname or a triple name is more threatening.”

“I’m notorious?”

“You will be,” Lee said. “There are many paths to notoriety, but the shortest one is to have a newspaper say you are. If they detain you, that becomes the story, and they keep the story alive by asking ‘hard questions’ about why you’re walking around. The bureau becomes that more invested in treating you as a suspect. It makes my job harder and your life worse. So, instead we make nice. We get what we want, but we do it nicely. Are you with me, Mackenzie?”

“Yeah, okay,” I said, nodding.

“Good,” he said. “I suggest we put the word out ourselves… once you’re in the coach with me and on the way back to the school… that you’re cooperating with the investigation and heading back to campus, cutting short a weekend in town for… was it a Veil party?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Um… does it matter that it was at a sort of a… fetish club?”

“Mackenzie, everything matters if somebody makes it matter,” Lee said. “We’ll leave that out of our statement. We won’t try to hide it from the investigators, because it’s in our interest for them to be able to corroborate your whereabouts. It’ll probably get out. It’ll be a little embarrassing. Don’t sweat it. I suspect the best alibis are slightly embarrassing.”

“Um, listen,” I said. “My… our boyfriend is still with us. I know you said Amaranth is okay because she can’t be compelled to testify…”

“And he was with you for part of the night last night?”

“I was asleep in bed with him during the important part of it,” I said.

“Well, then, let’s keep him close,” Lee said. “He’s hardly going to be considered an impartial witness, but then, we can’t expect someone to be spending the night with you who would be impartial. Does he have an attorney?”

I looked across the table at Ian.

“No,” he said. “Wait… I’m sure my family does.”

“Did you hear that Lee?” I asked.

“He can ride back to campus with us,” Lee said. “We’ll talk more about the circumstances surrounding… well, we’ll talk more then. The fetish club thing is too airtight and also too early in the evening for anyone to bother trying to poke holes in it. If anybody comes at you hard, Mackenzie… imperial or media… they’re going to do it by coming through your lovers. The fact that you were sleeping in a bed with your partners when the crime was committed is the best and worst thing you’ve got going for you.”

Amaranth’s hand closed in around mine and gave it a squeeze. I swallowed and looked up at Ian, expecting to see him looking worried or nervous, but he just gave me a tiny nod. His face was resolute. My stomach settled a little bit, and I smiled in spite of everything.

“Okay, looks like we’re here,” Lee said. “I’ll be with you shortly, Mackenzie. Will you be alright where you are until I join you?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, and I meant it.

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5 Responses to “416: Honored Privileges”

  1. pedestrian says:

    I just was thinking, Mackenzie’s older brother, the one who was adopted out. I suspect that he will be a very interesting plot twist. I would suppose that Daddy Dearest has kept tabs on him?
    I doubt that Mack knows of his existence.

    Hey, Mercy wants to do some breeding of her stock. Well, she would have no scruples against encouraging incest to get the breed standards she wants. That attitude is why hundreds of new breeds of dogs and cats and cattle have been developed the last couple of hundred years.

    Unless the UnHoly Father decides that Mercy is interfering in His plans.

    Current score: 3
  2. Cedjuct MacMan says:

    How do you know that the unholy father of Mack isn’t the one who came up with the idea for Mercy?

    Current score: 1
    • zeel says:

      Because of if they worked together it would be way easier. Illegal, but easy. The Man could produce hundreds of half demons easily, he just needs mothers (Mercy would have plenty of female slaves). Would the prospect of them working together be scarry as all hell? Yes. Would it fot with what we know? Not at all.

      Current score: 7
  3. WsntHere says:

    Mr. Anti-Kh has been telling MacKenzie how much much better she is than humans. He seems to be trying to get a wedge between her and her friends. I’d think he has plans for her since he purposely knocked up a powerful TP/PK. Mercy doesn’t seem the type to build up MacKenzie, tear her down and/or get her killed more likely. Where would that leave any plans for total global domination using her?

    Current score: 0
  4. BlackWizard says:

    The thing that caught MY attention was how her phone was ‘oh so conveniently’ brought to her hotel. If it was me I’d have that thing THOROUGHLY checked for any kind of infernal interference.

    Current score: 5