Chief Milkman strode into don Illuminatus's office showing none of the hesitancy he felt. "By your leave, my don... I have for you a list," which he held out to her, and which she promptly took, "of those of your people of whose loyalty to you personally we can so far be completely assured. More, I should hope, shall follow."
"Thank you, chief Milkman. Your efforts in this matter are greatly appreciated." She skimmed down the list; it was shorter than she'd hoped, but then, Milkman had only been working on it for a little over a day. More names, as he said, would come. In the meantime, she was most glad to see that a few of the names on this early list included some of her best spies and Sorreters. A couple of Adults, some dealers and thieves... It quickly became apparent that most of the current members of the gang who had already been in her employ when she first merged with InterGang, when the inter-village gang had formed in 899, were among those her chief spy listed as loyal to her, except, "I see no enforcers on this list," she said.
He allowed just a hint of his nervousness to come through in his body language. "I am afraid there is an impression among them that you used their chief rather badly, the other night."
"Did I not get him out of jail immediately? Is he not on two weeks paid vacation, earning double time while he relaxes? Have I not apologized profusely?"
"Per the capo's orders, yes, ma'am. You have."
Illuminatus narrowed her eyes. "I see. That is their take, is it?"
"It is, my don. And they feel, moreover, that it wouldn't make much difference if you were sincere. They still think you shouldn't have done what you did."
She wanted to say, I have people I pay to think, and it isn't them. But she didn't. "Do they truly believe I intentionally set him up to start that fight?"
"Some of them believe there's a strong possibility. Others don't know and don't care; they simply feel it was wrong of you to put him on duty when he was supposed to be on leave in the first place. As far as I can tell, no one, whether among the enforcers or any other branch of the organization, believes you actually forgot about the leave."
"This is a hot topic of gossip, is it?"
"It could hardly fail to be otherwise, don. It is fortuitous, as it helps me in my current assignment."
That assignment had changed dramatically in the time it took Milkman to get to Illuminatus's office two days ago, after she summoned him. When she called, she had only intended for him to discover which of the people in her employ was or were also working secretly for capo Mysshroudedtery, and to keep tabs on them thereafter, and keep her informed of their actions. But in the few centhours she spent waiting for him, a much greater scheme had come to mind. He would still find those double agents, but he would also find out who could be trusted completely. And she'd take those people with her when she started her own, new gang.
Now that she thought about it, it was hard to believe the thought had never occurred to her before. Her own gang! Well, her own inter-village gang; of course she'd run her own gang in Tonad, before helping form InterGang, thirteen years ago. The idea was thrilling; her mind raced with possibilities. Oh, she became quite sure her gang would thrive, would be the best, would grow until it was easily as large and as powerful as InterGang or LandOrder, and then would surpass them.
Milkman, of course, was concerned about many things, when she told her most trusted spy of her new plan upon his arrival. He questioned both her seriousness and her sanity, but certainly never her capability. He did, however, ask her how she knew she could trust him. How she could be sure he wasn't spying on her for the capo, himself. Of course she was right to trust him, and she gave him several good reasons why she knew that. And of course he'd already known those reasons; still, the very fact that he was loyal was what made it necessary that he ask.
Snapping out of her latest reverie, Illuminatus recalled Milkman's last words on this occasion, about the gossip helping in his present assignment. "I suppose that it would," replied Illuminatus, thinking that there could be no better time to find both traitors and loyalists in their midst than when everyone was upset with her. "Well, back to work! We've much to do." Milkman left, and the don began calling in the people on the list to talk to her, one by one....
"I've just gotten off the bubble with InterVil," said chief Masonjar as he walked into the office of detectives Levitn and Clueseek. "As I expected, this latest nugget doesn't mean much to them. As Turner said, there's no proof at all that Piper is that Cam kid, although they do seem to be about the same age. Even if he was, it wouldn't make him a Sorreter. And even if he was, there's nothing illegal about that. There isn't even anything illegal about pretending not to be one. And yet again, simply not offering the information isn't the same as hiding it. Although, he probably is hiding it, if he lied to you about the wagon, so you wouldn't know he was translocating his stuff out of the inn."
"We could always get him on obstruction," said Levitn. "Lying to police in a criminal investigation."
Masonjar nodded. "True, but it wouldn't be worth much. Lots of people lie about things without believing there's any harm to anyone in the deception. Lots of people have things to hide for their own safety. If, for example, the Council of Magicks were to discover that he was a Protestant Sorreter, he could be in great danger, whether he's done anything illegal or not. Wherever the ex-Sorreters are, they're not really fugitives. No action could legally be taken against them now. It's over eight years since the end of the war; the government has proclaimed amnesty for anyone who fought on the other side, so long as they don't make any trouble now. Surely the Protestant Sorreters are aware of that. Especially if they've sent out spies, such as Piper would likely be. ...But of course, that wouldn't necessarily stop people like Turner, if they got ahold of them. And of course, at this point we'd have to let Turner know, and probably hand Piper over, too."
"Damn fair reason to lie to us, without specifically intending to hinder our present investigation," agreed Clueseek. "Still all just supposition, of course. And nothing illegal."
"As I said. Which is why it means nothing much to InterVil, except that perhaps the police should be careful. Meanwhile, have you any idea where Piper and his companions might be?"
"Not as yet," said Levitn. "But we have been in contact with detectives in other villages, who've been instructed by their own superiors, through InterVil, to keep an eye open for Lonewander and the others. No one's seen them, yet."
"Okay. Well, keep me informed, of course."
After he left, Levitn turned to Clueseek and sighed. "Well, c'mon, Lou. We can't do much of anything about this, now. We've got other cases that need our attention, that we actually can do something about." They headed out.
"Thank you for your assistance in dealing with those anti-scrying spells, Noson. You've been most helpful."
"They were a piece of cake, Father. Typical bureaucratic inefficiency; they were so weak, they must have been at least a month past their expiration date."
"Nevertheless, I could not have punched through them without alerting the police Sorreters that I was doing so, and scried on those detectives, without your help."
"I suppose not; but almost any apprentice could have done as much as I did, just to free you up to do your part, which was the greater of our efforts. And still, the news doesn't seem to have been what you were hoping for."
"It was much as I expected, though. And as for most apprentices, well, I don't think they'd understand our actions, do you?"
Noson grinned conspiratorially. "No, I don't suppose they would. ...Since you were expecting to hear what you did, and don't seem much disturbed by it, I trust you have plans to deal with matters yourself?"
"Indeed. I shouldn't think it would take more than a call or two to First Village- and perhaps Monab."
"Okay. Well, if there's anything further I can do to be of assistance..."
"I won't hesitate to call on you, my boy. Now, I suppose you have matters of your own to attend to, Councillor. You wouldn't want unfinished tasks at work making you late for your mother's birthday party tomorrow."
"Of course not. Don't worry, I'll be there. Well, good luck, Father," said Noson as he left the office to head for his own.
When Noson was gone, his father activated a dark, indigo t-mail bubble. "Durell Turner for..." he stopped a moment to consider how high a contact he should call first. Finally, he decided to consult "...Mallory Secundus."
She replied within a centhour, and Turner's bubble expanded to show her face. "Durell, how nice to hear from you. It hasn't been since... last Pilgrimage, I think? And only a couple months now till this year's. I trust we'll be seeing you then."
"Of course. I look forward to it. But just now, I wanted to talk to you about something. A possible chance to locate the Protestant Sorreters."
Her face suddenly got very serious. "Really?"
"There are certain adventurers who have recently fallen under police suspicion of involvement with LandOrder and InterGang. No one seems to be quite sure what they're up to, but I believe one of them to be a Sorreter himself, the brother of Lorraine."
"There is no certain evidence of that, nor even of any wrongdoing, for that matter. Therefore the police will not take direct action against them, merely observe them- if they happen to get the chance. I want to make sure they are found and brought into our custody for questioning, especially the one called Cameron Piper. I plan on calling a certain magistrate in my influence, but I thought I'd run it by you, first. Just so you and your people aren't caught unawares by all this. Do you think we should let Talak know?"
"Don't worry, I'll take care of that. He needn't be informed immediately, of course; he has far more important things to worry about. Well, at any rate, far more certain things. I'll talk to him when he's free. Meanwhile, you just provide me with the details, and I'll contact some of my people for you. Unless you want to handle it yourself...?"
"I don't mind doing it. But if you want to, that's okay, too. I'll clear a little space in my schedule later today- say, Second Eight or Third One?- and translocate over there with copies of the pertinent files. Maybe afterward we could go out for supper together, unless you have other plans."
She shook her head. "Nothing important. Always nice to see you, Durell. Why don't you stop in at Third One and Fifty, we'll review the case, then hit the Hanging Spidervines for coffee. Maybe discuss new O'Gas entries..."
"If you like, although as you say, Pilgrimage is coming up anyway.... Perhaps you could tell me about that new beau of yours. Virtiana would love to meet him..."
"Perhaps. Well, I'll see you then. Bye, now. Close."
As the bubble vanished, Turner sat back in his chair and grinned. He was looking forward to setting things in motion. He was looking forward to questioning Piper. He was looking forward to eventually taking a secret force to wipe out the Protestant Sorreters, once located. But more than anything, he was looking forward to personally ending the life of ex-Grand Sorreter Drag.
At Third One and Fifty, Chief Councillor Durell Turner of Sorret translocated to the office of Chief Councillor Mallory Secundus of Monab. He informed her that he had contacted Hamm Listener, Sorret's magistrate in the High Court, as he'd said he would, and that Listener had assured him it would be no trouble at all to issue a warrant for the arrests of Cameron Piper and his companions. However, when the magistrate got back to him not ten centhours ago, he'd apologized to Durell, saying that Chief Magistrate Thomas Justicar had blocked the issuing of any such warrants. Apparently, Justicar had already had a conversation with Commissioner Mufasa Gothic of InterVil about the very people who Listener was now planning on having arrested. The two of them agreed that it would be best to just keep watching the adventurers until they clearly committed any crimes.
"That fool Listener," grumbled Durell. "Oh yes, he apologized most profusely, saying he should have taken more care to be secretive about what he was doing; it's not like he needed Justicar's approval, or anything. But because he was so careless, his plans were overheard by the Chief Magistrate, who then expressly forbade him to take any action, and leave things up to InterVil for the time being."
"Maybe you should talk to Gothic directly," suggested Secundus.
"Well, of course I thought of that, but I'll tell you what, he may be far more competent than some of our puppets like Listener, but he has a mind of his own. The man definitely doesn't like me."
At this, Secundus grinned. "Well, you know I love you, old friend, but at the same time, I can hardly blame people like Gothic for feeling otherwise."
Durell scowled at her for a few moments, before allowing a lop-sided grin to tug at his lips. "Oh, do shut up," he said playfully.
She pouted and wagged her finger. "Really! And here I was about to offer my help. The Commissioner doesn't hate me, you know."
Durell held up his palms and replied, "Fine, I'm sorry. I'd greatly appreciate any help you could possibly offer. By the way, have you talked to the Arch-bishop regarding this matter, as yet?"
"He's been busy, as I mentioned. But I left him a message requesting an audience, and he promised to make time for me in the morning. Anyway... if you care to wait outside for a few centhours, I'll place the call to Gothic, and see if I can persuade him to our cause."
"I thank you, old friend," Durell said with a smile and a slight bow.
The moment the door closed behind him, Secundus activated a t-mail bubble...
Her call was soon answered by the Police Commissioner himself. "Ah, Chief Councillor. Always a pleasure. How may I help you?"
She smiled warmly and replied, "Mufasa, always a pleasure to speak with you, as well. I'm sure we're both very busy, so as much as I wish there was time to chat, I suppose I should get straight to the point. I expect you're acquainted with my old friend Durell Turner?"
The faint smile Commissioner Gothic had allowed himself immediate fell away when he heard that name. He sighed and thought to himself, I should have expected this. To Secundus, he said, "Of course. How is the bishop?"
"Oh, well enough. Though he and I have a certain matter we wish to resolve, and we could use your help."
"Yes, I think I know the matter to which you refer. A certain group of adventurers has recently caught the attention of the police in Tonad, and earlier today, Durell contacted the Tonad PD with information he thought might prove useful to them, in response to a request they had submitted to the SMA the other day. Certainly, we appreciated his help, but I find it troubling that he seems to think we're moving too slowly. Though how he could possibly have any knowledge of our specific plans to pursue this matter is, frankly, beyond me, I'm sure." In fact, he was pretty sure how Durell might have come by such knowledge, and that Secundus would know exactly what he suspected. But of course he couldn't possibly voice his suspicions. "More to the point, it hasn't even been a full day, which I hardly think is fair." Clearing his throat, he continued, "Now, I've been talking with Chief Magistrate Justicar, of the High Court, who informed me that one of his magistrates was planning on issuing a warrant for the arrest of these adventurers. Neither of us can imagine how such a thought even would have entered his head, nor how the matter even came to his attention. Thus far, the matter is purely... well, it's a police matter. No need to involve the courts as yet, at any level, let alone the High Court."
Secundus's own smile still had not waned, though it had a forced look about it. "I'm sure I don't know how the matter came to the magistrate's attention, either. However, given that it did, I mean if he's in possession of the same information that Durell provided to the police, one can hardly fail to understand how any official of the Second Order" (she stressed the first word, clearly wanting to avoid confusion with the First Order) "would be most eager indeed to do whatever one could to expedite efforts to follow up a possible lead to the whereabouts of the Protestant Sorreters."
Leaning back in his chair, Gothic steepled his fingers and said, "A certain curiosity as to their whereabouts is only natural, I'll admit. But they've been gone nine years, I think solving that mystery could wait a few more days, weeks, even months if necessary. In fact, if we never learn where they disappeared to, it doesn't really matter. After all, everyone who took part in the losing side of the war was granted amnesty, even if they were already gone when that was proclaimed. They could return any time they so choose, and not you, nor Durell, nor Justicar, nor I, nor Demos Royal himself would have any power to touch them. It might be nice to know where they are, aside from mere curiosity, so that we could let them know they're free to return, but otherwise..." he separated his hands and held his palms face up, and shrugged.
Secundus finally allowed her own smile to fade. "My dear Mufasa, I certainly hope you're not implying that either Durell or myself had anything else in mind."
Cocking his head to one side and grinning, Gothic replied, "Well, it just seems to me that arresting someone you suspected of being one of them might not be the ideal way of convincing them they'd be welcomed back with open arms."
After a brief pause, she said, "Of course, you're right. Still, if this Cameron Piper is one of them, he's had ample time to learn of the amnesty, and to inform his friends of it. One can't help but wonder why they'd choose to remain in hiding."
"It isn't necessarily hiding, they may just be happy wherever they've gone."
"Must be lonely, though, being separated from the rest of society. Besides which, it is hiding if they've covered themselves with anti-scrying spells."
"Not that the Sorreters have any reason to scry for them."
Once again, Secundus paused before replying, "In any event, as I indicated earlier, neither my good friend Chief Councillor Durell nor I have any knowledge of what prompted this magistrate to issue a warrant. The reason I'm calling is merely to ask your help in contacting Piper for questioning. We'd like to have him pass on a message, if he can, that, as you say, the Protestant Sorreters would be welcomed back with open arms."
"Interestingly enough, by the way, it wasn't just an arrest warrant which the magistrate was planning to issue; he also intended to have these adventurers' bank accounts frozen."
Secundus looked thoughtful for a few moments before saying, "Hmm. Actually, that's not a bad thought. I suppose it might sound bad, but at the same time, it could help lead us to them. I do feel that they may be trying to avoid detection... which is understandable, of course, even if they're perfectly innocent. Clearly they've gotten caught up in the rivalry between LandOrder and InterGang, quite possibly through no fault of their own. That kind of thing would make anyone wary. It would be a shame to take any action which might seem to confirm any paranoia they might be feeling that the police may be suspicious of them, but if we were to use frozen accounts as a tool to help us find them, it would be a simple enough matter to explain it to them once we managed to sit them down and talk to them, and to revoke the freeze right away."
"And yet, without probable cause, it would be illegal to take such an action... despite the best of intentions."
"Commissioner... I daresay we have cause to at least question them about the incident in which they were involved. Clearly you don't have a problem with watching them, and I can't imagine the police are in the habit of surveilling citizens without recognizing some degree of probable cause."
"They... it is my understanding that Tonad PD did question at least Piper, however briefly, immediately following the incident." He sighed, and continued, "However, you're correct in saying... the fact that we're watching them at all does have certain implications...." He trailed off, and began to wonder if the Chief Councillor was implying that the police themselves might come under government scrutiny. It would indeed be hard to claim they had enough cause to investigate Piper and his friends but not enough cause to make every attempt at questioning them more thoroughly. The entire matter of Protestant Sorreters could well be played off as irrelevant, if certain people wanted to concentrate on the possible gang ties, instead. And of course he knew that Durell had influence over more than one magistrate; the Chief Councillor surely had any number of puppets in the police, the lower courts, possibly even InterVil itself, to say nothing of Congress. In fact, Durell was rumored to have ties to even the King. Of course it would be impossible to accuse him of violating the law of Separation of Church and State; being friends with politicians was hardly a crime, especially given the background role everyone knew the First Order had played in establishing the government. That was old news, and didn't prove anything in the present. But not being able to prove any wrongdoing certainly didn't prevent Durell from using every resource at his disposal, both legitimate and illegitimate, to make trouble for Gothic, and anyone else who stood in the way of his goals.
Secundus was smiling again as she gently probed, "Mufasa? Lost in thought, are we?"
He shook his head to clear his thoughts, and said, "Yes, well, you've given me a bit to think about. Tell you what, I'll get in touch with Justicar again, and... well, I'll get back to you. Naturally, it would be impossible under present circumstances to even think of issuing an arrest warrant, but we'll take the asset-freezing idea under advisement. And if we decide to proceed with that, and it leads us to Piper and the others... I could have an agent in whatever village they're found in approach them, and ask very politely if they'd be willing to come in for questioning. And at that point, as was already promised to Durell, he would be apprised of the situation."
Secundus's smile widened. "Excellent! I'm so glad you could see that of course you and I, as well as Durell, and ultimately even these adventurers, in all likelihood, want the same thing. Perhaps we can clear up the matter of supposed gang ties once and for all, and the police can be satisfied that there's no need to continue watching them at all, let alone arresting them."
"Let's hope so. Good day. Close." As his bubble vanished, Mufasa Gothic thought, God, I hope we really can put the entire matter to rest. ...On the other hand, if it turns out they do have ties to one or both gangs, at least I wouldn't have to feel guilty about all this. But hell, even if they are guilty of... something... I almost hope they'll evade the law, just because it would piss Turner off. Either way, I just hope they're not found in Tanq. If anyone in InterVil is in Durell Turner's pocket, it's probably that smug ass Monogwrangle....
Meanwhile, Secundus left her office and apologized to Durell for keeping him so long, saying surely he must be as hungry as she was. As they walked out of the council-hall together, she told him all about her conversation with Gothic, concluding by saying, "...Though I'm afraid after this he must dislike me as much as he does you."
"Excellent," said Durell with a smile. With a quick shake of his head he explained, "Sorry, I didn't mean about that last bit. I'm just ever so eager to be reunited with my old friend Drag. I'm most grateful for all your help, you really are a lifesaver. Now, this is your village... where shall we eat? The Hanging Spidervines, did you say? It'll be my treat."
back to main index
All contents of this site © David A. Ward