Episode 41 - Is It Murder?
by Camille LaGuire
By the time they circled the town and turned back toward the inn, Rozinshura had told as much as he could tell -- except for the names, which he would not tell if he didn't know what they meant. High Commissar Vshtin was thoughtful, and only asked cautious questions. Rozinshura wondered if he knew more than Rozinshura did.
They came over the hill which gave them a view of the town, and from there they could see the river. The angle of the road was such that everyone, even those in the back seat, had a clear view.
Just ahead, on a small dock, a figure stood. It was a small figure, seen in silhouette, but he looked like the old drunk, Professor Thornton. The hair, the slight pot-belly.
Another figure lurched at him with a sword, and Thornton fell into the river.
Tralkulo slammed on the breaks and looked back, eyes wide.
"Did he kill him?"
No one was sure, and Rozinshura felt a tight knot in his gut. He didn't even stop to think that he had the High Commissar of Awarshawa in his car.
"Go!" he said. "Hurry."
No one argued, the car careened down the hill, and came up the river road. Several security men ran down the road, toward the spot where the steps led down to the river.
At the top of those steps stood Sochir. He ran to greet them as the car pulled to a halt.
"Colonel Pookiterin has killed one of the Imprish diplomats," he said breathlessly, as everyone got out of the car. By this time two of Sochir's men had joined them.
Rozinshura went to the top of the steps and looked down toward the dock. Pookiterin was halfway up, dressed like an ordinary soldier. He carried a Cussar ceremonial sword. An odd juxtaposition, especially with the blood on the blade.
The blood of a harmless old man.
Sochir continued his excited report to Vshtin, and his voice rose as he made the accusation: "He murdered Winston Argoss. I saw it. He is in disguise ... and look at that sword! I think he was trying to silence the man and frame the Cussars for the incident...."
Rozinshura could see Pookiterin's face as Sochir spoke these damning words. Pookiterin was surprised to hear them. Shocked, betrayed. The look gave Rozinshura pause.
Pookiterin was a lapdog. He only did such things for two reasons; to make himself look good, or to please his superiors. This did not make him look good, and clearly he expected something more positive from Sochir, therefore....
Rozinshura turned to look at Sochir, who continued his accusations with a self-satisfied air, telling of how Pookiterin was known to be following Argoss, and was spotted meeting with bandits only two days ago. A polished story, all ready for the telling.
"That was not Winston Argoss," Rozinshura said sharply. "That was a harmless old man. Argoss died in the train wreck this morning. He was shot by the bandits."
Sochir stopped, mid-sentence. He scowled at the interruption, but he could not ignore what was just said, and now everyone was looking at him.
"You must be mistaken," said Sochir after a moment.
"No," said Rozinshira.
"He must be Winston Argoss!"
Pookiterin saw his opportunity, and he strode forward, head high, his life in his teeth.
"Rozinshura is correct!" he declared. "That was not Winston Argoss, that was the murderer of Winston Argoss!"
Sochir stammered, and everyone else looked at one another. Pookiterin warmed to his tale.
"I have been tracking them for... for weeks! They are foreign agents attempting to assassinate their own ambassador. I nearly had them, but they waylaid me. They took my uniform in hopes of infiltrating the train ... and they had this sword. They were planning to frame Cussar rebels for the crime. I escaped and took this sword. I fought them. I injured the younger one, and the old one tried to shoot me. He missed, and I swung my sword at him, but he jumped in the river. I tell you he jumped!"
Sochir looked quickly to Vshtin to see whether he believed the story.
The High Commissar was very still, his icy silver-blue eyes on Pookiterin. Pookiterin looked like he might crack under that gaze, but he managed not to, and presently Vshtin turned to Sochir.
"You will debrief him on his activities," he said, and he turned back to the car.
"We should track these so-called agents," said Sochir. "If that's what they are!"
"Leave that to the local authorities," said Vshtin. "They know the territory."
And since he gave no orders to Rozinshura, he took it that Vshtin did not care whether the fugitives were found or not.
Pookiterin stepped forward eagerly. Perhaps he would get away with murder, but probably not. He was unlikely to stand up to interrogation. He'd tell everything he knew of the plot and more.
And for that he got a ride in the car, with Vshtin and the bodyguards, while Rozinshura and Tralkulo were left on the road. Sochir and his security men went trotting back on foot.
Rozinshura sent Tralkulo down to the dock to look around. She returned and reported that there was some blood on the gravel, but none on the dock. Also a body would be floating in the still water around the boats, but there wasn't one.
"Then perhaps they escaped," said Rozinshura. He felt much better at that prospect.
"Should I fetch a troop to track them?"
"In the morning," said Rozinshura. "It's too dark to track."
"They might take a boat in the night and escape."
"That would be wise of them," agreed Rozinshura.
He sighed and turned away and started to limp toward home. Whoever was injured, he hoped it was not serious. The old man clearly needed some watching, and Rozinshura had no desire to find them, dead or alive.
Stay Tuned for the final episode: Forty-Two: "Alex Finds a Mentor"
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