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
"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
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
"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."
"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."
"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.
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
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.
"Fetch me a rat catcher."