421: Q & A

on December 2, 2009 in Book 15

In Which Gloves Come Off

The plaza in front of the admin building that had been packed with students during my ordeal in the labyrinth was now being used as a parking lot. There was a jumble of black coaches with the IBF crest on the doors, a few impressive-looking carriages of various designs, and a couple newswagons standing in front of the building.

A pair of imperial agents were stationed in front of the door. A few more were patrolling the area around the building with uniformed provincials. There were crossbowmen on the roof.

“This seems like a bit of overkill,” Ian said. “All this to secure an office building?”

“There are a lot of VIBs in residence right now,” Lee said as we approached the entryway. “The chief ambassador from the Sunward Lands is here. An imperial envoy, too. It’s a complex situation, and it’ll probably get more complicated as it goes along. No one wants to fight the Chaos Wars again.”

So saying, Lee stepped up to address the nearer of the agents by the door, who had stepped slightly forward and to the side to intercept our path. He jumped to the side as the door behind him swung out and Callahan pushed through.

“Speak for yourself,” she said to Lee. Her eyes flicked over our little group. “Are you their lawyer?”

“Uh, hello,” Lee said. “Yes. Are you a friend of…”

“Can I hire you to draft me a statement that can’t be legally construed as a threat?” she said.

“I’m sorry, young lady, but we’re a little busy just this moment,” Lee said. “Maybe you should catch up with your schoolmates back at the dorm?”

I braced myself for something ugly to happen. Callahan’s braying laughter was not much prettier than anything I might have expected.

“Uh, she’s actually the arena coach,” Ian said.

“Yeah, and I’m not used to being stood up,” Callahan said to him. “Not twice, anyway.”

“It won’t happen twice,” Ian said. “I promise. Something c…”

“If you say ‘something came up‘, I will kick your ass so hard your attorney will have to invent a new tort to seek redress,” Callahan said. “They will call it ‘megassault’. The law that defines it will be longer than the combined works of the living elven masters. It will take longer to perform the actions described therein than it will to read aloud. I will do it twice.”

“I left you an echo!” Ian said.

“Yes,” she said, and she smiled. Callahan’s smile held a lot of cheer in it. It didn’t have much warmth. “And I hope you meant what you said, because I’m going to hold you to it.”

“I’m sorry, but we really have to run,” Lee said. “We have a meeting. It was nice meeting you, Coach.”

“Yeah, same to you, buddy,” Callahan said. She gave Ian a slap on the shoulder and went on her way, whistling and skipping.

“I wonder what she was doing here,” Amaranth said. “I can’t imagine that faculty are just coming and going like that if security’s such a concern.”

“She was probably being questioned,” I said. “She seems to have a thing for dismembering students.”

“Baby!” Amaranth said.

“Um, they might have been asking her about students she knows particularly well, outside of class,” Ian said. I thought at first that he was talking about himself, but then he added, “You know, on the subject of people with a thing for dismemberment.”

Was Steff actually that strong a suspect? It seemed like her alibi was almost as good as mine. It seemed like a cursory examination should reveal that she wasn’t physically capable of much in the way of violence at the moment.

“You can ask her all about it at practice,” Lee said. He turned to the rather bemused looking guard. “Hi, Lee Jenkins. I’m bringing my clients Mackenzie Blaise, Ian Mason, and Amaranth to sit down with Inspector Gregory.”

“Uh, right,” the imperial said. “I just need some ID.”

Lee showed him his credentials and we handed him our student IDs. He tapped them with a wand and then held open the door for us.

“Go right through to main reception,” he said.

Inside it was clear that the building had been taken over. It was a hive of activity, people in white shirts scribbling on tablets and peering into mirrors. There probably weren’t so many people in the whole building on a typical Sunday as there were in the main foyer. I doubted many of them were school employees.

“You Blaise?” a blunt-nosed guy with a slouchy hat, very investigative-looking, said while barely glancing at iu.

“This is Ms. Mackenzie Blaise,” Lee said, putting his hands on my shoulders. “We’re here for Inspector Gregory.”

“He wants you in Conference Room B,” the man said, gesturing with a half-eaten apple. “Says he’ll be there shortly.”

“Thank you very much,” Lee said, and he led the way through the throng of people. “This is more of a madhouse than I expected,” he said just loud enough that we could hear him over the general activity. “I guess someone decided to move the whole operation here instead of running it from the Enwich office.”

“Well, my dear boy,” a smooth and cultured voice said, “you do know that this is one of the best-protected offices in the plains.

The voice had a clear quality that cut through the din like a tiny chime. I turned at the sound to see a man who didn’t look at all like an imperial agent, but neither did he look much like a school official or another lawyer… of those possibilities, the last one was probably the best fit, but he’d have to be way more high-level than Lee. His hair was a silvery gray. His face was rather prominently boned, but unlined. He managed to radiate an aura of both age and vitality. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but wiry. I couldn’t claim to be any kind of an expert on fashion, but his suit looked sharp to me and seemed to be tailored to him. It was definitely of a higher quality than the ones worn by the imperial agents who were hanging around.

He could have been the imperial envoy Lee mentioned, or possibly an ambassador of some kind.

“What an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Jenkins,” he said. “Artie told me that you were otherwise engaged.”

“I’m afraid I am, Mr. Embries,” Lee said. The name clicked in my head as being familiar. He gestured towards us. “I’m representing some other clients… Mr. Pendragon said it wouldn’t impact our ability to serve your interests.”

The silver-haired man glanced at Amaranth and Ian, but his gaze settled on me. He was looking at my face, but there was little sense of connection in his eye contact. It was a one-way transaction. I felt like I was very small, and standing quivering before something immense.

“Oh,” Mr. Embries said. “How very… interesting.”

I didn’t know why, or what was so interesting about a lawyer representing some students, but the idea that he found anything about me interesting was itself terrifying. The very thought of his interest was like the baleful gaze of the mermaids in their predatory aspect, magnified a thousandfold.

“I would love to stay and chat, but I think the inspector is waiting for us,” Lee said.

“Well, I’ll let you get to that,” Embries said. He clasped Lee’s hand with both of his. “Always a pleasure.” He looked at me again, though it seemed he was still talking to Lee. “I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with your client.”

“That’s… not a good idea right now,” Lee said. “She’s involved in arbitration against your… patron.”

So he was a school official, it seemed, though Lee’s choice of wording seemed odd and deliberate. Then I remembered where I knew his name from. I’d seen it and heard it around the school. It showed up on school letterhead and other publications: Edmund Embries. He was the vice-chancellor of Magisterius University.

He seemed a lot more impressive in person than the actual chancellor… though she seemed a lot more like a school administrator.

“Who the fuck was that?” Ian asked in a hoarse whisper.

“Merciful Mother,” Amaranth breathed.

They both seemed to be a little… awestruck.

“Yes, he can have that effect if you’re not prepared,” Lee said. He put his hands on their backs and gave them a little push.

“But who was that?” Ian asked.

“The school’s vice-chancellor,” I said.

“Another client,” Lee said.

“Can you introduce me to him?” Amaranth said. “I think I’d like to get to know him better. Maybe meet him for dinner…”

“Let’s just keep walking,” Lee said, giving the pair of them a harder shove that actually got them moving. We followed a sign to the conference room, which was the size of a small office, made smaller by a large table. A woman in a dark blue suit was scribing a stack of papers in the corner.

Lee knocked on the door frame so as not to startle her.

“Hello,” he said. “We’re supposed to be meeting Mike Gregory?”

“Oh, right,” she said. “I was just looking for an open autoscribe. I’ll be out of here in a second.”

Lee gestured towards some chairs and the three of us sat down. He remained standing, watching the woman like a hawk until she left, then closed the door behind her.

“When we’re dealing with Gregory, remember to keep things business-like,” he said to Amaranth. “Don’t be overly familiar or friendly with him. Don’t get all cute or coy and act like you’ve never met him, but we don’t want him to be uncomfortable with handling you.”

“I think I can manage that,” Amaranth said.

“And all of you watch your tempers,” Lee said. “I don’t expect Mike Gregory to bait anyone, but even if he’s officially heading the investigation there are bound to be a lot of cooks eager for a chance to stir the pot. Don’t make it easy for anyone to make things difficult for you.”

“The way you keep giving us advice, it seems like it would be easier to just let you do the talking,” Ian said.

“That’s about the shape of it,” Lee said. “There’s a reason people call lawyers ‘mouthpieces’, and it’s not just because we do PR. We don’t have to go so far, because that would take a lot more prep work and would come off as more than a little obstructionist when we want to appear cooperative… but really, if there’s any doubt, let me do the talking. Best rule of thumb.”

There was a quick rap on the door a short time later. Lee jumped up and opened the door. The middle-aged man from the inn was there. Behind him was a tall, red-faced man in a tannish coat. He was unwinding a scarf and wearing gloves, so it looked like he’d just got there.

“Hi there,” Lee said to Gregory. “Lee Jenkins, Pendragon and Associates. We reflected briefly. Thank you for making time for us. My clients would like to get back to the comfort and support of their friends during this tragic time.”

“Yeah,” Gregory said, glancing over us. His eyes lingered uncomfortably on Amaranth. He shook his head. “It’s a damned tragedy alright.”

The ruddy-faced man stepped inside the room, and the inspector shut the door.

“I’m Inspector Michael Gregory. This is Del McAvoy,” Gregory said, holding his ID out to Lee in one hand while gesturing with the other to the other man who was pulling off his gloves. “He’s here from Law, in an advisory capacity.”

“Oh, it’s nice to know the empire’s sparing no resources in this investigation,” Lee said.

“Yeah, yeah,” Gregory said. He took a seat on the other side of the corner nearest us. McAvoy remained standing. “Here’s the deal: none of you are under arrest. I’d just like to ask you a few questions, primarily concerning your whereabouts last night and this morning. This conversation will be scried, autotranscribed, and echoed. This is an imperial investigation, so you do not have the privilege of remaining silent. You do have the privilege of having an attorney present during questioning. This privilege can be revoked. Do you understand?”

We nodded. Ian mumbled yes. Amaranth said, “Yes, we understand.”

“Good,” he said. “So… you folks enjoy your stay at the Palace?”

He said it really conversationally. He sounded weary, so the friendliness was a little forced, but it didn’t seem phoney. I looked at Lee, who nodded at me. It seemed like a neutral opening and it touched directly on the fact that we were nowhere near campus when the bad stuff happened.

I nodded at the inspector.

“Very much so,” Amaranth said. “Sir.”

“It’s kind of an unusual choice for students on a weekend getaway,” Gregory said. “I’d think the travelinns nearer to the gates would be more popular.”

“Well, this was special, for Veil,” Amaranth said. “We had a chance to splurge a little, and Mackenzie wanted to go to the Crystal Palace.”

“Why there in particular?” he asked me.

“I stayed there once before,” I said. “I liked it… the architecture, the ambience. I’m kind of a history buff. The pre-Republican architecture…”

I trailed off, not wanting to ramble. I also felt self-conscious, because of course the Crystal Palace inn wasn’t actually pre-Republican. It was built in imitation of that style. According to the cheesy kids’ mystery books I’d read when I was younger, claiming to be a history buff and then misidentifying faux pre-Republican architecture as the real thing would have been proof positive that I was secretly a murderer. Fortunately for me, it seemed that Inspector Gregory read a better class of mysteries.

“That prior visit, would that have been with Miss Hoshinotama?” McAvoy asked.

“I’d like to leave my clients’ personal lives out of this,” Lee said.

“Noted,” Gregory said. He held up a hand to forestall the Lawman. “You folks leave the inn last night?”

“We did,” I said. “Amaranth and I.”

“I was there the whole time,” Ian said. “All night, I mean.”

“Where’d you go?” Gregory asked.

“We had invitations to a private party at a club,” Amaranth said. “The Tomb of Horrors.”

“What sort of club is that?” McAvoy asked.

“It’s a fetish nightclub,” Gregory said. McAvoy made a surprised sound and Gregory looked over his shoulder at him. “My wife has family here,” he explained.

“My clients’ whereabouts at various points during the evening, and in particular during the time of the alleged murder, can be verified with little difficulty,” Lee said. “It’s unquestionable that they were in the Crystal Palace, under the exact same roof as you, between the hours of one and three in the morning. You shouldn’t even have to fight the proprietors for access to the lobby security images. I’ve already sent a release. Further corroboration can be had from the nightclub and the livery company. If it aids the investigation, I’d be happy to put in a bit of legwork myself there.”

“I don’t think that’ll be necessary,” Gregory said.

“You know, it’s the ‘under the same roof’ part that bothers me,” McAvoy said. “It’s awfully convenient.”

“I’d call it foresight on the part of my clients to find safer activities that keep them far away from campus on a notoriously dangerous night,” Lee said. “There are only so many inns in the city center, and as Ms. Blaise stated, she has stayed at the Crystal Palace before.”

“Your clients’ whereabouts aren’t really in question, Mr. Jenkins,” Gregory said. “It’s damned hard for a half-demon to get in and out of town without being noticed. We’re checking on that. If you’re not being truthful with us, we’ll find out of course.”

“I can assure you, we are being perfectly truthful,” Lee said. “My clients have no reason to lie and nothig to hide.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gregory said again. He seemed to be tired of the whole thing. “We just have a few other questions.”

“My clients will be happy to answer anything that helps move the investigation forward,” Lee said.

“Great,” the inspector said. “Were you acquainted with the deceased?”

“Only in passing,” Amaranth said. “We lived on the same floor. She seemed nice enough, if a little quiet and kind of aloof, and kind of snide.”

“How was she nice?” Gregory asked.

Amaranth shrugged.

“I always just had the feeling that if I got to know her, I’d find out she was nice,” Amaranth said.

“Did you have any conflict with her?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” Amaranth said.

He looked at me. I shifted uncomfortably. I had shared a bit of an angry confrontation with Leda once. I didn’t want to make it out to be more than it was, but I also didn’t want to seem like I was covering it up. The gossipmongers on the floor would be sure to spread it around. I looked at Lee.

“We’ve established that Ms. Mackenzie was elsewhere at the time of death,” he said.

“It’s a simple question,” McAvoy said.

“‘Conflict’ is perhaps an overly broad term,” Lee said.

“Well, narrow it down for us a bit, then,” Gregory said to me. “Tell me what you’re thinking of that’s making you so uncomfortable.”

It was during the student elections,” I said. “We… sort of disagreed about the polite way to refer to a transgendered person. I was offended, but it wasn’t like a violent fight or anything.”

“So, Leda had a problem with Steffain Johnson,” McAvoy said.

“My clients barely knew the deceased,” Lee said. “I don’t think they could answer questions about her opinions of others.”

“It wasn’t a question,” McAvoy said with a shrug.

“I think if you check on Steff, you’ll find that she wasn’t in a position to do much this weekend,” I said.

“You have firsthand knowledge of that, even though you were in town?” McAvoy asked.

“Are you going to invoke the right to compel in order to get my clients to speculate about the mindset of the deceased and what other people may or may not have done while they themselves were out of town?” Lee asked.

“No,” Gregory said. “We’re not.”

“Not yet,” McAvoy said. “Not right now. But I know your clients there are intimately familiar with Steff Johnson, who was intimate with our dead princess. I know there was bad blood between the two. I know Johnson is a sick puppy. I don’t doubt that your clients were out of town when it all went down. My question is, did they have some kind of foreknowledge? A warning? An inkling that something bad was going to happen?”

Lee looked at us. Amaranth very calmly shook her head.

“No,” Lee said. “The answer to that is a very simple no. As they have said, they had invitations to a party.”

“Or two of them did,” McAvoy said. He looked at Ian. “Why’d you go along? Nothing better to do on Veil Night?”

Ian looked at Amaranth and me.

“Than stay in an inn room with two hot girls?” he said.

Gregory stood up and turned around to have a quick whispered conversation with McAvoy. McAvoy was a loud whisperer, but I still couldn’t understand what he was saying… the only parts that were really intelligible were a few odd exclamations of “you can’t be serious” and similar things.

Lee leaned in and whispered to me, “I think we’re going to be done here soon. Probably not done-done, unfortunately… this guy’s got an axe to grind and that’s going to complicate things… but I think we’ll be out of here while they hash out what they’re actually doing.”

I nodded.

Gregory seemed to have cowed McAvoy a bit. He took his seat again.

“We have a staff diabolist,” he said to me. “He’s a little busy at the moment but he’s going to want to talk to you.” He looked at Lee. “Your client going to be available for that, Mr. Jenkins?”

“What’s the nature of this discussion going to be?” Lee asked.

“Well, it’s not so much a conversation,” Gregory said. “He needs direct contact with her aura, so he can screen for her presence at the scene and in the impressions kept by the wall wards in Enwich.”

I went stiff in my chair, remembering when Dee had probed my aura.

“How ‘direct’ are we talking?” Lee asked.

“Visual,” Gregory said. “Completely hands-off, from what I understand.” He looked at me. “If you’re magic sensitive, you might feel a tingle.”

“If it helps to positively establish that my client remained in Enwich and was nowhere near the fountain, then I think we’d rather do it sooner than later,” Lee said. “On a related subject, I understand that a paladin has already screened the site for demonic activity and declared it clean.”

“Your client’s grandmother,” McAvoy said. “The coincidences abound.”

“Believe me, no one was more surprised by her presnece than my client,” Lee said. “And while I hope that the investigation isn’t going to hinge on her unsolicited testimony, I don’t think it can be discounted out of hand, under the circumstances.”

“We’re not discounting it,” Gregory said. “We’re taking every lead seriously… and that means verifying the credible ones.”

“One thing,” McAvoy said. “Do your clients know that Steffain Johnson keeps notebooks filled with gruesome pictures depicting grisly murders, including their own?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. I shrugged uncomfortably. “Sort of. I mean, I know she likes to doodle me… and I know how her imagination runs, but… well, it’s not like she’s actually going to do those things.”

“I actually have copies of some of Steff’s drawings of me,” Amaranth said. “She’s making a whole set of them by my request, from a sort of script I wrote.”

“Again, Mr. McAvoy, my clients will be happy to answer anything that furthers the investigation,” Lee said. “But trying to draw them into speculation about their fellow students isn’t going to benefit anyone.”

“It could benefit them if it removes a danger to their own safety,” McAvoy said. “I’m sorry, I thought they might feel a little differently about protecting their ‘friend’ if they knew… I guess I was wrong.”

“Steff’s not my friend,” Ian said. “She creeps the fuck out of me, actually, but that doesn’t somehow translate into knowledge that she’s a murder.”

“If you don’t have any further questions about my clients’ whereabouts or anything else similarly relevant, I think they’d like to return to their dorms,” Lee said.

“I’ll tell you what, how about I see if I can get the diabolist to look your client over before she goes, just so we don’t have to bother you again today?” Gregory said.

“That would be great,” Lee said.

“You folks can just wait right here,” Gregory said. He took McAvoy by the sleeve and started guiding him towards the door.

I looked at Lee, thinking that… despite the unsettling focus on Steff, this was all far too easy. My mind didn’t like the whole “wait right here, we’ll be right back and then you can leave” thing. Lee seemed to be fairly at ease with it, though.

“I told you this would over soon,” Lee said when the imperial agents had left.

“Lee… that Steff Johnson they keep talking about is our best friend,” Amaranth said. “It seems like Mr. McAvoy’s out to get her.”

“At the risk of sounding callous, that’s something for her lawyer to worry about,” Lee said. “If it goes any further than one Law Department’s pet theories, she will have a lawyer, and if it comes to that, I’ll make sure he or she is apprised of the fact that Mr. McAvoy had a prejudicial attitude towards her and may have been skewing the investigation. There’s not much more that we can do. Be her friend. Be supportive. But don’t try to fight her battle. You don’t even want to fight your own battle. When dealing with the law, fighting is the last resort of trained professionals.”

“You’re right, I know,” Amaranth said. She sighed. “It just… it really sucks.”

“That’s the law for you,” Lee said. “When mortals are forced to encounter it, the best thing to hope for is that it’s over quickly, and we’re getting that.”

It was a good twenty minutes before the diabolist, a gray-robed man whose name (first or last, I wasn’t sure) was given as Malcolm, was shown in. He didn’t say more than two words, and they weren’t to me in particular… he just looked at me, said, “Got it,” and then turned around and walked out.

“Thank you all for your time,” Gregory said. “I’ll be in touch with you if we need anything else from them,” he said to Lee.

“Thanks,” Lee said, shaking his hand. “If there’s anything we can do to help move the investigation forward, please don’t hesitate.” He stepped past Gregory out of the room, then turned around as if to shepherd us safely through the portal.

“Say ‘hi’ to your wife for me!” Amaranth said cheerfully as we filed past.

“Er, yeah,” Gregory said, turning red. He coughed into his hand and then looked at me. “You know, some interesting folks have got your back.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just… interesting.”

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “421: Q & A”

  1. Steffen says:

    ‘“You Blaise?” a blunt-nosed guy with a slouchy hat, very investigative-looking, said while barely glancing at is.’

    Another typo; I don’t mean to be pedantic, it’s just that I was told this was appreciated.

    Current score: 0
    • Athena says:

      Amusingly, now it says iu. So it got even worse 😛

      Current score: 2
  2. Steffen says:

    “And all of you watch your tempers,” Lee said. “I don’t expect Mike Gregory to bait anyone, but even if he’s officially heading the investigation there are bound to be a lot of cooks eager for a chance to stir the *spot*. Don’t make it easy for anyone to make things difficult for you.”

    “*Then* stay in an inn room with two hot girls?” he said.

    “Believe me, no one was more surprised by her *presnece* than my client,” Lee said. “And while I hope that the investigation isn’t going to hinge on her unsolicited testimony, I don’t think it can be discounted out of hand, under the circumstances.”

    Current score: 0
  3. pedestrian says:

    There are advantages for Our Mack, if Mr. Embries finds her “fascinating”. As in the Heinlein stories, The Star Beast and Between Planets, with the dragons raising the heroes as their pets.

    He would certainly have way more benign intentions then Miss Mercy.

    Current score: 3
    • Taleshunter says:

      unless he wants to eat her. You know, female halfdemon + predator…

      Current score: 2
  4. pedestrian says:

    “Can you introduce me to him?” Amaranth said. “I think I’d like to get to know him better. Maybe meet him for dinner…”

    Amy, Amy, Amy. Careful you don’t wind up on the menu. Wait, she would find it an interesting experience, would she not!

    Current score: 2
    • Arakano says:

      I am pretty sure she is subconsciously drawn to be eaten by him, hence that statement…

      Current score: 4
  5. Elaborate says:

    she’s a murder -> murderer

    Current score: 0
  6. Halbyrd says:

    “You Blaise?” a blunt-nosed guy with a slouchy hat, very investigative-looking, said while barely glancing at iu.

    Not sure, but it looks like that last word got disemvoweled by a grue, who then proceeded to eat the rest of it.

    Current score: 0
  7. MackSffrs says:

    ““My clients have no reason to lie and nothig to hide.””
    ““She creeps the fuck out of me, actually, but that doesn’t somehow translate into knowledge that she’s a murder.””

    Current score: 1
  8. Anthony says:

    “Artie” Pendragon? Heh…

    Current score: 3
    • Daezed says:

      Ha, I never thought of Uther and Arthur… Nice catch!

      Current score: 1
    • NekoLeila says:

      How do I keep missing these?…

      Current score: 0