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Chapter 12 - A Dead Man's Tale

Phineous stood over the body of the guardsman. The cot was left untouched since his discovery in the barracks early that morning. Despite the flies and smell, the man seemed oddly peaceful with the exception of the scrap of cloth protruding from his dried lips.

"I want this man's family compensated." Said the Chief of Guards, Florantine. The thin bald man kept what was left of his hair cut short to nearly nonexistent. Captain Thurl nodded and frowned at the man's corpse.

"So, Phineous, what do you plan on doing about this?"

Smirking more to himself than those around, he replied, "We'll file a formal report." He loved to throw processes and procedures in the face of Florantine; at least when it suited him. The flat baleful look that Florantine gave hit just the right spot to satisfy Phineous' lust for antagonizing his peer. "Of course we will investigate. I will want to speak with your men who were on duty last eve. Does anyone know why this man would have been murdered?"

"So you think he was... murdered sir?" asked Thurl. "Sergeant Faerek was not loved, but I doubt he made many hard enemies either. Not to that extreme." The barracks were all but deserted with guards stationed at the entrances to prevent onlookers despite the crowd that stood just out the doors.

Phineous knelt getting closer to the corpse's face. The man's skin was gray and blue veins showed through his thin flesh. Using a small silver knife, the Chief inspector pried open the man's lips and gingerly retrieved the cloth from between the roof of his mouth and swollen tongue.

"I would gather the man choked on this, and unless he had a habit of chewing on his neighbor's bedding," Phineous paused for dramatic effect as he motioned to the cot behind him, "I would say he was certainly murdered. Perhaps it was an accident, or perhaps not. That, my friend, is my department."

"He was my man..." Florantine was nearly to rage, and he had more to say to that corrupt inspector. But instead he turned and breathed deep, "You know your duty Phineous. I leave you to your business, but I want reports. Captain Thurl, come with me."

Phineous smiled as he watched them go then considered the cloth in his hand.

When finally they arrived at the guard towers, Florantine turned to address Captain Thurl. "I don't trust that pig. Mark me, Thurl, if he does not produce a villain in this matter, I'll have the magistrates wring him for every grain of evidence." Though standing in place, the Master Guard twitched his legs and flexed his hands as though he was pacing a tight circle. "Thurl, your station was here. Did the men see anything?"

"No sir. None have come forward with information."

"For the sake of the gods, it happened right there among them! How could no one have seen it?"

"All due respect, sir, but the physicians said he passed in the night. The men might well have been sound asleep."

"Fine, fine..." Florantine peered past Thurl as he watched the grounds. "I want you to gather your guardsmen and question them before Phineous has his way with them. Your men respect you and will be honest with you. If it was one of our men, they might tell you and no one else."

"Yes sir."

"And watch Phineous. He has been up to something. If your men submit to any interviews with his, keep a keen ear for what gets said. I doubt that swine's true intentions."

"Yes sir."

"Go on man. I will ask the magistrates for a thousand T'arg for compensation, though I'm sure they will resist. Do what you can to collect from the men. His widow will need what support we can give. Dismissed."

When Thurl had disappeared around the corner of the longhouse, Florantine stormed off up the ramp towards the great fortress. If Phineous had found out about Faerek's spying, there might yet be more deaths. He would need to work fast to calm the others' fears. But what tale to weave so the others would remain focused and not bolt? Or maybe he could turn this to his advantage. After all, Faerek was working both sides and collecting his fortune in the process. Though now he would be unable to spend it. Such is the way of treachery.

The others too worked a tenuous arrangement between the Chief of Guards and Phineous the Sleuth. If they thought that Phineous had arranged the murder, they might give up more of his secrets; particularly of the recent events and Phineous' hiring of thugs. With all the new inspectors in their wide array of bloodlines, the
inspector's office was beginning to look more like a circus than a reputable arm of government.

Shaking his head, he marched under the gatehouse of the fortress. "Fetch me a messenger," he called to the squires that stood at attention.




Phineous tired of staring at the slowly bloating corpse. With the heat of the noon sun beating on the wet roof and sweat pouring down his face, Phineous wrapped up his analysis. The sergeant had certainly been murdered, but it likely was not suffocation as he initially concluded. There was a small stain of moisture on the cloth that had been retrieved from the man's gaping maw and the faint smell of almonds lingered on it and in the man's mouth. There was only one way to be sure.

"Thomas," Phineous beckoned to his ever present aid.

"Yes sir?"

"Fetch me a rat catcher."


Chapter 13

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