Sunday, January 27, 2008

In the Dark, Part Five: Dealings with Authority

I went home and changed my blood-stained clothes. My hat I kept, but I discarded pretty much everything else for fresh clothing. That accomplished, I checked myself over in the mirror, adjusted my flechette gun, and tilted my hat to the appropriate angle. This wouldn't be the first time I'd dealt with a councilman, but it was rarely pleasant. Better to be prepared.

I ran into trouble at the gates. The guards at the gates gave me one look and began stonewalling. They refused to accept my credentials as an agent of the Tyrant, and forced me call her myself before they'd believe me. When they let me in, it was grudgingly, and with eyes constantly trained on my back. I kept my own hand quite near the flechette gun: I didn't like some of the looks I was getting.

After that, Councilman Adrianus's secretary kept me waiting for another good ten or fifteen minutes, claiming that they'd had no warning of my visit. (Quite false, of course, but as long as it wasn't too blatant, a Councilman could get away with any lie he wanted to.) I sat on a marble bench, in one of the largest waiting rooms I'd ever seen; furthermore, I'm almost certain that the walls were plated with gold. (Hard to tell with all the chandeliers and paintings and statues blocking the view.) When finally I was admitted, it was with a mood mixing irritation and intimidation.

The Councilman Adrianus, His Grace the Steward-Until-Impeached of the Fifth District of the Città del Profondità, had chambers quite as lavish as the waiting room, if not more so. He lay on a couch, eating grapes; as I approached, he indicated with a slight nod that I should take a nearby, slightly smaller couch. I did so, feeling (for all my efforts) quite underdressed.

"There is some misunderstanding?" Adrianus asked. "They say that I am accused of hiring thugs to ambush an agent of the Tyrant; quite silly, of course, I would do no such thing. But to clear it up, I agreed to meet with you on the matter."

I frowned. "You are accused of no such thing, Your Grace. The accusation is of something rather more serious: a plot to destroy the city."

"What?" he asked. "Why would I do such a thing?" He gestured to himself. "I live here, do I not?"

"That was one of the questions I hoped you could help me with," I told him. "Nonetheless, it seems clear."

"What?" Adrianus asked, surprised. "I'd think that you'd be investigating the Councilman with responsibility for the district, not me."

"We have evidence, your Grace," I explained.

"Evidence?" Adrianus asked. "What evidence?"

I picked a coin out of my pocket and laid it upon the table. "Thugs were guarding the bomb, the one that was in a position to destroy the city. Their purses were full of these; every one of which bear your head."

Adrianus picked one up, examining it closely. His eyes widened. "But - these aren't mine."

"What?" I asked.

He held a coin of his own in the air and laid it onto the table. Beside the other coin, the differences were immediately apparent. "The head is much cruder on your coin," Adrianus told me, "And the text is lumpy. This isn't from my mint - it's a forgery."

He was right. I picked up the forgery and pocketed it. "Well. I suppose that's all I had, your Grace. I'll be on my way now."

"Very well," he said. Frowning, he added, "If you don't have any more proof the next time you accuse a Councilman of high treason, I think you will find yourself in a rather nasty position yourself."

I nodded, wordlessly, and rose to leave. As I stood, I had a sudden thought and asked, "One last thing. What do you know about the Frankish ambassador?"

He frowned. "I don't know him personally. He mainly moves in different circles - with Rafiel, Leonardo, Mario, Edmondo, the ones who do the most trade with the Franks. I heard he left recently, in quite a hurry - a family emergency, or so they say."

I smiled, thinly, thanked his Grace, and left. I'd check with the Tyrant to see if they'd found anything yet, then I'd investigate the other suspects. Starting with the Councilman responsible for Oxy Street - who, I was pretty sure, was in the group Adrianus had just named.

As I walked down the street, away from Adrianus's gates, I heard gunshots. I turned to see his guards firing into the street.

They were firing at me.

I tried to do everything at once. I reached for my gun, shouted for help (the civilians filling the street were scattering from the first gunshots), dropped to the ground.

I woke up in the hospital.