Murder in Shusoran, part 6
In Dayne's ordinary Guard work, there was no need for a grand presentation to a gathered audience. He made his reports to his superior officers, arrested suspects if necessary, and occasionally testified at trial. What he didn't do was demonstrate his solution to a group of observers, with the need to convince him that he was right.
Then again, this case was nothing resembling ordinary.
Godley's inn room was packed with more people than it had any right to be, just twenty-six hours after the corpse had been found. Fortunately, the Windward's private rooms were spacious, owing to the relatively low level of mercantile traffic Shusoran had experienced prior to opening up trade with the Orakians. Present were Prince Lyle, King Rhys, Commander Brenton, and Wren, there to hear Dayne and Mieu's conclusions. Nyla was there to confirm the medical evidence. Merak, Cara, and Ballard were also there, in the hope that truth might bank some of their inflammatory rhetoric as well as due to their role as prime suspects. The latter two wore manacles, on account of an outbreak of opposing viewpoints that had turned into a brawl in the inn-yard. Two guards had remained, in the hope of warding off any further misbehavior. Finally, the innkeeper was there, flitting around the edges of the group, driven by simple human curiosity.
In short, it was practically a stage play.
"All right, I believe everyone relevant is here," Lyle announced. "Mieu, Sergeant, why don't you give us your report? Before you do, though, I would like to commend you on dealing with this matter so quickly." Glancing at the three chief troublemakers, he added, "The last thing we needed was to have this hanging over us for any length of time."
"Thank you," Mieu said, pleased. She turned to Dayne. "It was mostly your idea. Would you like to start?"
"Why not?" The sergeant hooked his thumbs in his belt and swept his gaze from face to face.
"We all know why we're here. The night before last, probably around eleven or twelve, Abel Godley was killed in this room. The cause of death was a knife thrust, received while he was standing at that window." He pointed to the murder site. "Nyle--that's Dr. Le Malisk, here--verified that it was a stabbing, that the weapon hadn't been thrown. Unfortunately, the killer didn't leave any footprints on the hard ground outside the window."
His boots clicked on the floor as he paced.
"Godley turned out to be a reactionary Orakian, one of those who wanted to go back to the good old days when Layans were Layans, Orakians were Orakians, and they met only on the battlefield. That pretty much pointed the finger in one of two directions. Either it was a Layan fanatic who killed him for his views, or an Orakian fanatic with whom he had some kind of a falling-out." He looked over to the bruised and bloodied Cara and Ballard. "You can see where I'm coming from about these groups and their use of violence."
"Layan cur, how dare--"
"Cyborg-loving oppressor, I'll--"
"Oh, spare me," Dayne snapped, cutting them both off. "If this case has taught me anything it's that Prince Lyle was right to play matchmaker for King Rhys and Queen Maia. You two are so clueless that if you told me the sky was blue I'd have to go outside and check."
"Well said," Rhys murmured to Lyle.
"We like him," his friend replied.
"Now, the weapon suggested an Orakian, but that wasn't conclusive," Dayne continued, "because Layans use knives too, though not as standard combat equipment. What was more annoying is that both sides were apparently at all-night planning meetings, deciding what insults to shout at the castle walls or whatever, and so the all had alibis."
"Although," Mieu noted, "we didn't necessarily trust those alibis, both because the killing might have been a group plot and because people do lie to protect friends or a cause to which they feel sufficiently devoted."
"The next discovery was the doctor's. We'd found a vial in Godley's bags, which Nyla tested. She found out that it contained a rare medicine used to treat a potentially fatal nerve disease. Is that basically right, Nyla?"
The doctor nodded.
"Yes, in essence. I also went back and checked the body after we'd talked yesterday. He did show signs of the disease, so you can be sure that the medicine was actually his."
"Thanks. That's good to verify. In other words, Godley had been as good as dead anyway, with a medical time bomb ticking away inside him."
He paused to let that sink in.
"The obvious question is, why kill someone who is going to die a slow and painful death anyway? That brings us to the night of the murder, when Godley told Ballard, there, that he had a big plan in store for us yesterday, something devastating to the Layans."
"I see; that means that he could have been killed last night to keep him from carrying out his plan," Rhys deduced.
"That was exactly my thought, your Majesty. It explained completely why someone would murder a dying man. If he had a grand plan that would have been carried out yesterday, then killing him might have been the only way to stop him.
"And who knew about this plan? Well, not only was Ballard the man he told it to, but by a shocking coincidence Merak there just happened to be in this in for a brandy while Abel was doing the telling. Now, while we can't prove what, if anything, he may actually have heard, it makes for interesting thinking--and it gives both the Orakians and the Layans both motive and opportunity."
"Unfortunately," Mieu said, "all that does so far is to provide a large number of suspects. It doesn't include hard evidence ruling any out or pointing to any as being guilty."
"I suppose," noted the prince, "that you have more to add?"
"Of course, your Highness," Dayne answered. He surveyed the faces of his audience; they were intrigued but impatient. The three fanatics for their part had hard, angry eyes, the defiant expressions of people who were ready to defend themselves against an expected attack.
"That's when I had an idea," Dayne said. He drew the two staffs from his belt, holding them up. "A lot of people use a two-weapon fighting style. We guards often use two staffs or two slicers. Mieu, here, uses two claws. I've seen Orakians who fight with two needlers...or two knives."
He glanced back and forth again, seeing if anyone had gotten his point.
"I could explain what I mean, but I think a demonstration would be in order. Mieu?"
The android nodded. She held up a sheathed knife.
"Sergeant Rathman found this knife in this room. It obviously belonged to Godley, and it is almost exactly like the weapon which killed him." She drew the blade and went over to the window. "Can everyone see?"
After receiving a few murmurs of agreement, Mieu braced the hilt of the knife against the windowsill and the point against her abdomen. She then released the handle, grabbed the edge of the sill, and thrust herself forward, plunging the knife into her own body.
There were more than a few gasps--from the Commander, the other Layans, even the fanatics. Dayne's stomach churned, even though he'd discussed this with Mieu the night before when she'd suggested the demonstration. He knew that she felt no pain because she had not been programmed for that sensation, it being useless to impair a combat cyborg's functions with pain beyond the actual physical damage. She'd also told him that her self-repair systems could easily cope with what would be, to her, a minor injury. It still disturbed him, though, to see a friend suffer an apparently serious wound.
A friend, he thought. I wonder when that happened.
Mieu knelt next to the window, and Dayne's heart lurched as he thought for an instant that she'd collapsed from the injury, but she quickly set that worry aside.
"It's the same!" she caroled happily. "It made the same kind of chip in the paint as this one here."
Dayne went over to see. The android was absolutely right; next to the chip he'd noticed earlier was a second, nearly identical one. He grinned wolfishly as he saw the evidence.
"Wait a minute, Sergeant," Lyle said. "Are you telling us that Godley committed suicide?"
"That's right," Mieu answered for him, getting back to her feet and pulling out the knife.
"I'd ruled it out at first," Dayne said, "because we found one knife that was obviously his. The fact is, though, he had two of them."
"Preposterous!" Ballard exclaimed. "This is just one of your tricks to let a Layan get away with murdering an Orakian!"
Oh, like we couldn't see that coming.
"Godley was dying anyway," Dayne explained, "an unpleasant and painful death from a disease he could stave off for a while but not cure. So, he decided to end his own pain in a way that simultaneously would strike a blow against Layan-Orakian peace. He didn't just forget to leave a suicide note; he actually set everything up to make it look as if he'd been murdered. The window was open to throw a knife through--he probably didn't guess Nyla could tell it was a stab wound."
"Why go through all that rigamarole with the knife and the windowsill?" the Commander asked. "Why not just stab himself?"
"He didn't want to accidentally leave his hand on the knife," Mieu suggested. "Godley was intelligent enough to know that after the stabbing, he might not be able to think clearly and let go."
"Godley's plan," Dayne continued, "was to stir up hatred and discontent among the Layans and Orakians. A Layan would be the obvious suspect, yet there would be no proof of guilt. As you, King Rhys and Queen Maia, were saying before, the people of Agoe might suspect that Prince Lyle was shielding a Layan murderer. The Layans would be incensed at the unjust accusation. Perhaps, he even felt little enough of you to believe that you actually would frame an Orakian, your Highness, which would fan the flames tenfold. Ultimately, the fact of his death would become a central point to raise tensions and destroy the peace you've been working so hard for."
Lyle shook his head.
"What drives a man to do something like this?"
"The same thing that kept the war going for one thousand years," Mieu said. "Fear."
"So what do you think?" Lyle asked his friend later, once the fanatics had been taken on their way and everyone else had gone from the inn room.
"I believe him," Rhys answered.
"I do, too," Lyle agreed. "Rathman is a good criminal investigator and Mieu, well, we both know how reliable she is. That's not what I meant, though."
"What I'm wondering is, will anyone else believe it? I remember some of the things a certain hotheaded Orakian prince had to say about Layans during our quest--and some of the things I thought about you."
Rhys ran his hand through his bright blue hair.
"I did have a temper in the old days, didn't I?"
"The old days? That was barely a year ago."
Rhys grinned back at his friend.
"It was before I wed Maia. That makes it the distant past."
Lyle chuckled. He himself had recently become engaged to a Cillean noblewoman, a political marriage, but not one without affection. He wondered if it would mean as much to him someday as Rhys and Maia's marriage had to them.
"As for your question," Rhys went on, "I think that yes, for the most part, the truth will be believed. The king of Agoe is a reasonable man. He knows that you are honorable. He also knows, I may add, that Shusoran was all but tearing down his walls in the last war, so he won't be inclined to start a new one. As for the common people, I doubt they like crazies like Godley any more than your folk like the Layan fanatics. Ballard probably won't ever believe it, and he and his type will probably mutter about the 'murder conspiracy' for years to come whenever they don't have anything better to complain about, but then, you never expected to win them over anyway."
He clapped his Layan friend on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, Lyle. That's one of the things about truth. It may take a long time, but it can't be hidden forever."
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