Bounder Ch. 03byStultus©
I ended up spending the night in a guest room upstairs at the club, not due to any excessive wear of drink, but because I didn't feel safe going home and couldn't yet decide where else to go next. Being obsessed one might say with privacy and security, I owned several other buildings scattered around the city to be used as a safe houses during an emergency. This sort of fit the definition, but I couldn't decided which one to use. Each had certain advantages and disadvantages, and I didn't want to hole up like a cornered rat without at least one of my pistols!
Upon leaving, I discovered that Sir Adrian had covered all of my expenses for my overnight stay and he had also left for me with the Club Manager a rather stout package. The parcel was all wrapped up in sturdy brown butcher paper and then extremely securely tied on all sides with the twine sealed with red wax, ensuring that the package had not been opened since wrapping. I nodded with approval as I accepted the sealed package. It's nice to see someone else taking basic security measures.
The package contents consisted of three sets of folders. The pair of thinner document folders contained all of the information the vigiles possessed about each of the sister's murders, which wasn't much. The official report on Danelle's accident from yesterday was the slimmest, containing only several pieces of paper. The lengthiest document was the complete and entirely factual report on the incident by the local Silver Avenue evening watchman Wergan. His report made particular note of my interest in this incident and he commented upon my apparent obvious shock and uncharacteristic dismay at her death.
Why did everyone seem to believe that I was a soulless reptile with no more human decency than a common swamp thrasher? On second thought, the question wasn't worth asking... I might get more answers that I wouldn't like. Sure I don't like people. Most people; nearly all people in fact, and I enjoy cheating, robbing them and corrupting women into mindless and obedient pets without hesitation or regret. I admit it, but I didn't realize that I wore this attitude of genuine disdain like a public mask upon my face for everyone to see.
Sure, I'm an asshole and mostly unapologetic about it. I'm rich and getting richer almost every day and I'll find some way to enjoy it all - every ha'penny and clipped silver mark of it. Most importantly I have my gift, and what else is there that's worth using it for other than to corrupt, beguile and seduce? Justice alone certainly isn't! There's no profit to be had in that! Whatever justice really is... other than just a more civilized handling of revenge. Now on the other hand, just like Sir Adrian said, revenge is a concept that I can understand and allow to motive me!
The second investigation folder held a few more documents and seemed to be reasonably comprehensive concerning the first reported disappearance of Rochelle, considering the Blackguards took immediate control over the investigation almost from the very moment her body was discovered in the river. Fortunately, the local vigiles had done a complete missing persons search for the young woman within a few hours of her reported disappearance several days earlier.
The facts of that case were still rather speculative, but significant enough to be slightly suggestive when read under the proper context.
By all witness accounts, Rochelle was happy about her forthcoming wedding with the dairy farmer Svein and they were both looking forward to their consortment together. On nearly every Sunday morning Rochelle had the custom of making the two hour trip to visit his dairy farm, which was about a league and half in distance along the eastern river road outside of the city. She usually then stayed for several hours but always leaft by mid-afternoon so that she could return to the family home and clothing business off of Glitter Alley in time to help prepare dinner, and she was always home before darkness. There was bad weather on the day of her disappearance and she almost decided not to make the usual visit and to stay home and work on an embroidery project instead, but at length she did decide to go as was customary. When she left home the rain at this time in the morning was not yet overly heavy and the southern river road was well-laid with stone and tended to drain well in all but the worst of storms.
When it was time for her return home from the dairy farm, the rainfall became harder and increasingly severe. Svein encouraged her to remain at his farm overnight but the young lady declined, wishing that no rumors of any immoral behavior be muttered about them before their nuptials. This fear was probably without merit as the couple were both highly regarded by their neighbors. Seeing that his intended had made up her mind firmly to return home despite the weather, her fiancée provided her with a heavy dark brown oilskin coat with a hood and wraps for her feet so that she could remain as dry as possible and thus equipped, she started her journey home.
It is from this stage that the next events become less certain, except that the rain storm which had been merely moderate quickly became a deluge, enough that visibility along the roadway could be measured in just a few yards by all local accounts.
In his initial report concerning her disappearance, one local resident reported seeing a young lady wrapped up a brown oilskin cloak quite near the Ormsbridge, which crossed the Orm River about halfway home in distance from Svein's farm at the great bend in the river just as it turns south. Another traveler staying at the Weirhold Inn, just on the north side of the Ormsbridge suggested that he might have seen a pretty but damp young lady come in from the driving rainstorm to take a short respite, but he did not remember her wearing the great brown oilskin coat and hood, thus could not be certain that this was the same young lady that inquiries were being made about. For their part, the host and staff of the inn, all members of the Weir family, recalled no young lady visiting at all, even briefly that evening, but admitted that while dealing with certain leaks in their thatched roof that they were all considerably busy during that point in the rainstorm and a visitor could have briefly arrived and then departed, seeing no one and thus thinking that the inn was closed.
No further sightings were made of Rochelle, despite lengthy searches along both banks of the river, until her body (or at least her upper torso) was found four days later some miles downstream. A local vigiles patrolman happened to be nearby patrolling the road when the body was discovered by a pair of local fishermen and he (the local vigiles watchman by the name of Auguste) was the one to pull the body upon the shore and he made the initial preliminary investigation of her death. Within an hour the Blackguards had been notified and took control of the corpse, and the investigation halted at this point. Auguste was unlettered, unable to read or write, but he later the following day dictated an 'unofficial' report of the incident, of what he had seen and done, to the local vigiles HQ clerk, to which he applied his 'X' mark, attested to by two witnesses. A smart young man whom I was sure that Sir Adrian would mark for future promotion.
The report was terse but factually, appropriate to the observations of a young man of no education or particular training, but possessing of keen skills of observation and a strong sense of proper duty, and his account was useful to me in several ways. The first was that the patrolman had several years of continued experience along the river road and was familiar with the appearance of 'normal' downing victims, and he strongly disputed the suggestion that her death was such an accidental event. Her body had been found quite cut in half (her bottom waist and legs were never recovered) and distinct marks on the flesh at the bottom of the torn torso suggested strongly to him that this damage had been done by the wheels of a wagon or cart. Auguste had seen a body with similar such wheel markings on the torso before, a lad who had been run over (quite genuinely accidentally) by a wagon. Thus he was certain, absolutely that Rochelle had died from a similar mishap, and had definitely not lost her way in the storm and fallen into the river to drown, as the responding Blackguard officers suggested. There was also a great many bruises noted upon her arms, throat and chest that the patroller felt had occurred before the time of her death, which the investigating Blackguards had instead attributed to post-mortem injuries that had occurred while in the river. The vigiles patrolman had examined the throat injuries carefully but had determined that this bruise was not deep or significant enough to have caused her death, such as by strangulation first, but perhaps she had been choked to some lesser degree prior to being run over, and thusly killed.
The second peculiar fact of Auguste's statement was an addendum, a rather plain memo for the record attached several weeks later, describing how a pair of local young lovers discovered a cache of torn clothing in a copse of trees near the Weirhold Inn. The items were mostly undergarments, some torn and ripped hose, a petticoat and linen shift that each had been cut away with something sharp like a knife, and some ripped smallclothes with what appeared to be smeared blood upon them, but not of any sufficient quantity for the bleeding to have been life threatening.
None of these clothing items could be conclusively proven to have come from Rochelle, as all three articles of clothing were of common manufacture and of rather new condition, without any familiar signs of repair, but both her mother Gwenyr and sister Danelle insisted that the items had been hers. Without a body available now at this later date to compare the bloodstains on the small clothes with, no magical remedy was possible to positively determine who the blood belonged to. Again, nearly immediately, two members of the Blackguards arrived at the Ormsbridge Vigiles station to claim this new evidence and the articles have not been seen since.
In the final notation of interest, Auguste volunteers an answer to a question that apparently no one had ever in fact asked of him, namely how the blood came to be upon the smallclothes. He comments, with obvious innuendo, that by every account Rochelle had been a virgin, and that a similarly bloodstained pair of underwear was noted at the scene of a probable rape of another local young lady several months earlier. A young woman from a neighboring farm had allegedly been receiving unwanted advances from the second son of the Weir family, a troublesome lad named Edwin. The young lady made initial claim and oath that Edwin, along with his older brother Edward had both raped her (taking her virginity) one late spring evening, almost exactly a year ago. She made no secret of her disgrace and her father appeared willing to make further civil charges with the local vigiles against the Weir family, the owners of the local crossroads inn by the Ormsbridge. Soon however the matter was quickly and quietly settled and all charges soon dropped. Local rumor was that the Weir family had made certain threats of retaliation and that some coins had been paid to the young woman to resolve the matter, enough for the offended daughter to purchase an apprenticeship in another town several days travel away. Fortunately it was reported that the incident had 'not afterwards left her with child'. The hint there being that she had suffered no permanent harm, so no criminal act could be proven!
The inference that the Weir family, especially the two elder sons of the innkeeper, had perhaps been involved in her disappearance did not surprise me in the least. Auguste's initial report on her disappearance before her body was discovered noted difficulties obtaining statements from the Weir brothers, not to mention the apparent uncertainty their father had as to whether or not Rochelle had indeed stopped at the nearby inn, even briefly during the worst of the storm. Even after crossing the bridge, a traveler in distress would find the inn and small town on the north side of the river the closest place of refuge, assuming that the witness report that had spotted Rochelle on the southern road near the bridge had been accurate. The southern road near the Ormsbridge tended to be low-lying and marshy ground and flooded easily even during minor rain showers. No businesses, homes or structures were to be found there to provide a traveler with shelter until at least a mile further on, closer to the east city gates.
A final statement at the bottom of the addendum added (most peculiarly) that Auguste had been further specifically instructed by several soldiers of the Blackguards not to discuss any details of the investigation to anyone, under pain of law! Or rather in mostly likelihood, the law of pain instead. In theory, officers and watchmen of the Vigiles were immune by both civil and criminal law from the requirement that all witnesses in an imperial investigation must be put to the question via mechanical interrogation before their evidence could be established as valid in an imperial trial. Or in other words, normally the testimony of vigiles could be accepted (like that of nobles) under oath, instead of verified by the usual methods under torture. Under Imperial edict (i.e., an easily obtained or forged signature from the Governor), I had no doubts that the Blackguard could torture anyone for any reason, including officers and common patrolling vigiles, and obtain in the end the precise final results that they desired, and suppress everything else to the contrary.
Auguste had undoubtedly reported everything he knew of significance to his superiors in these documents, but he was certainly worthy of a follow up interview. If for no other reason, I wanted to learn more about the activities, rumored and otherwise, of the entire Weir family. They were going to be my next focal point of inquiry.
The last and final collection of papers was in fact a large sealed envelope, considerably thicker than both of the Vigiles investigation folders on the sisters combined. The contents of this package were solely about me, and my known associates back in Mirabelle. All were copies of copies, and marked as such, of other older official and unofficial documents from various Imperial archives. None of the material was current, compiled since my arrival in Ormsford.
Sir Adrian had apparently shown an interest in me early, soon after my arrival here and he in turn had contacted old friends at both the Imperial Vigiles and Guardia Imperia offices in the capitol. As my name had unfortunately appeared in conjunction with several on-going criminal investigations there, there was indeed some dirt found to be reported about me. Nearly all of it was rumor, innuendo and hearsay (I apparently had done a decent job of covering my tracks prior to my somewhat hasty departure). The evidence was nearly entirely all circumstantial and at worse, nothing in any of reports and copies of the witness statements could be proven against me, but while there was no fire... there was indeed a great deal of smoke.
A few petty criminals, mostly street trash, had given faintly damning statements against me, not to mention one unlucky underling that had been nabbed on something else quite unrelated but had turned Emperor's Evidence anyway on me in hopes of a lighter sentence. He knew rather too much than was healthy for him and he sang like a songbird, until one of his former pals from the local thieves' guild rather permanently shut his mouth for the mortal crime of grassing out other guild mates as well. Again, nothing that could be proven, but he could provide a rather clear overview of what sorts of naughtiness I'd been up to, naming several clients I had blackmailed in the past, and described in unhealthy detail the events of several robberies of noble families that I had been an indirect party to. All true, but fortunately my victims desired to maintain their privacies more than any inclination to help track down the primary culprit.
This is why blackmail is such a secure and profitable business, even after the final monies have been paid, the blackmailed party will forever remain desperate to keep their secrets safe and secure... and no one has bigger mouths than the police! Even outraged beyond endurance, none of them will risk involving any outsiders or any danger of exposing their dirty secrets to the wider world. Their fear of exposure is always too great, even for the chance to avenge themselves upon their blackmailer!
The end result of their quiet investigation of me was lots of damning little pieces of a big embarrassing puzzle that couldn't be connected together, but it was still enough to provide the authorities with the murky hint of a portrait of me as a rising crime lord. Not enough for a friendly trip to the dungeons, or even a really uncomfortable private interrogation (the benefit of having a noble family name), but unfortunate enough in its conclusions that I could tell that Mirabelle wouldn't be a safe place for me to return to for some years still yet to come. Most unfortunate. My business affairs here in Ormsford have been reasonably profitable, but I had been making a real fortune back at the capitol!
I had also been reckless, badly over-confident and significantly over-ambitious, with too many henchmen, too many wagging tongues and a long trail of too many rather annoyed victims, not to mention the constant acquisition and turnover of pets. I was young, fearless and brash then. I'm still young, not yet even twenty-eight, but I'm starting to learn patience. I'm still too arrogant, but maybe I can grow out of that too some day, or at least learn to better disguise it.
If there was any cause for relief while reading these imperial reports on my various rumored crimes, my habit of seizing and corrupting young women had largely gone unnoticed. It was remarked that I enjoyed the taste of 'low and unruly women' and that my sexual tastes were 'exotic', but this same could be said about most noblemen. My 'gift for gab' and sexual prowess was accredited to congeniality and clever wit, rather than magical influences. Reading even between the lines (twice), no one apparently suspected me yet of having mental powers of mind control. If otherwise, I'm sure that I'd never have made it out of the capitol alive. The Imperial Vigiles and Guardia Imperia both suspected me of considerable amounts of evil and dishonest wrongdoing, and that I had little if any remorse, but my crimes were unproven... and my talents for wickedness were entirely natural, and not extraordinary of origin.
Bad enough... but I suppose it could have been worse. Sir Adrian was clever enough to know now exactly with whom he was dealing with, and waiting for the moment to spring his trap. I had no choice but to work for him and be his shadow lurking in the corner darkness... and likely would continue to do so for some time. I didn't think that we were going to be quits or even remotely close to even with each other for a long time.
I could pack up and move again, but to where? A waste of more time, expense and effort... and probably little to my benefit. Sir Adrian had friends everywhere... I didn't. I couldn't either run or hide. That left just fight, which wasn't an acceptable option at this moment. Or the alternative of recognizing this bundle of past history for what it was, history... and a polite little reminder of where our relationship now stood. The originals he'd received were all undoubtedly stored somewhere safe, but likely to be released upon his death. I'd need to locate that cache first, then deal with the overly clever general later when the timing was more suitable. Later...