It took a while for Thigpen to find the correct undertaker, and when he did was relieved to find that Fenderlahn’s body was still there. They had sealed him into a coffin, and tomorrow a hearse was due to take the remains back to Middleswamp. The undertaker was very helpful, a kindly man with a creepily hospitable demeanor. Thigpen knew from what Queller had told him that this must be Perrick.
There was a little tavern across the street, and Thigpen settled in to wait. He told a passing constable to relay a message back to Captain Ordrander, and about three hours later, just as the sun was beginning to set, the captain arrived.
Ordrander sat down at Thigpen’s table, and ordered a beer. Thigpen smiled at him, then resumed watching across the street. Thigpen had had dinner and was now enjoying a delightful red wine. He had never felt so relaxed and peaceful. Ordrander found it amusing.
“What have we got?” he asked as the barmaid brought him his beer.
“Do you have reinforcements?” asked Thigpen as he sipped his wine.
“Monklar and Gwenda are right around the corner, as you suggested.” The captain answered. “What is this all about?”
“There is a hearse due here in the morning.” Said Thigpen. “But it is going to be here sooner than that. I suspect as soon as it is dark, I reckon we will see it pull up.” Thigpen pointed to the alley next to the undertaker. “Right in there, I wager.”
“Then what? Who are we after?” asked Ordrander. He wasn’t feeling as though he knew what was happening.
“It’ll make more sense when it is over.” Said Thigpen. “If my hunch is correct, we’ll catch our monster and then some.”
Ordrander didn’t find this particularly reassuring, but he drank his beer and watched the street with Thigpen. No sooner had the sun gone down but a plain black hearse pulled by two dark horses came down the boardwalk street, and just as Thigpen had predicted turned down the alley next to the undertaker. Thigpen finished his wine, and stood up. “This is it. Go get Monk and Gwenda, we need to arrest the hearse driver and the undertaker. I’ll take care of the widow.”
Ordrander walked briskly to the corner where Gwenda and Monklar were hidden. Thigpen slid his truncheon strap on his wrist and held it firmly. He kept an eye on the hearse. The side door of the undertaker was wide open, and the mortician and driver were hefting a coffin into the back of the wagon. The other three constables were right behind him. Gwenda had a shielded lantern. Thigpen called out to the two men with the casket.
“Evening, gentlemen.” He said loudly. The undertaker whirled around, dropping his end of the coffin. The driver swore, and began to climb inside the hearse.
“GET THE DRIVER, MONKLAR!” yelled Thigpen, as he raced forward. The orog leapt into the hearse with a crash, and the sound of the driver being pummeled quickly followed. Thigpen slammed into the undertaker with his shoulder, sending him sprawling against the leaning coffin, gasping for breath. Gwenda unshielded the lantern, and light flooded the alley. Ordrander ran up and handcuffed the undertaker’s hands behind his back, and then tossed him down on the ground face first.
Monklar emerged from the hearse with a disheveled driver, who he tossed out at Thigpen’s feet. Thigpen handcuffed him, and put his knee in the driver’s back. The driver let out a hoarse scream of pain. Thigpen just chuckled, and grabbed the man’s hat. He pulled it off along with the wig underneath.
“Hey I know him!” shouted Gwenda.
“We all do.” Said Thigpen. He roughly rolled the man over to reveal Trenvane, his disguise now in shambles.
“Where is the Red Widow?” asked Ordrander.
“She is sealed in that coffin, sir. I recommend driving several swords into it. I sure don’t suggest we open it up.” Thigpen said calmly. “We can get all the information we need out of these two.” He pointed at the two men laying in shackles on the ground. “She won’t give us anything, except one hell of a fight.”
Thigpen climbed up on the hearse, and found two swords under a blanket in the driver’s seat. He brought them down, and handed one to Ordrander. Here we go, sir. Have at it.”
The coffin was leaning up against the open rear of the hearse. Thigpen took his sword and drove it into the front of the coffin, right where a person’s heart would be. A blood curdling scream from inside the casket pierced the night air like a banshee. Thigpen was startled, even though he had been sure Josephyne was in there. Ordrander was startled too, and thrust his sword in to the casket as well, just below where Thigpen had driven his blade. There was a ruckus from inside that coffin, and blood was running out the holes along the sword blades.
Thigpen and Ordrander pulled the swords out, and thrust them in again in different locations. Ordrander put his where the head would be, and Thigpen drove his below and next to where the captain had placed his first blow. There was a gurgling sound, but no shrieking. The hobgoblin looked at the half-orc. “I don’t know if she’s dead yet.” Said the captain.
They both withdrew their swords, and then plunged them back into the casket. “No sense in taking a risk.” Said Thigpen with a smile. They repeated this until no more sounds came out. The flow of blood lessened. Thigpen tossed the ichor coated sword into the hearse, and Ordrander did the same. “Might as well commandeer this vehicle for constabulary use.” Thigpen said.
The constables shoved the punctured coffin into the hearse, and then tossed Trenvane and the undertaker in as well. They then climbed on to the hearse, and Monklar took the reins. The ride back to the precinct tower was mostly quiet, but Ordrander couldn’t help but ask how Thigpen has put all of the pieces of the mystery together.
“I have to admit to being stumped for most of the time.” Said Thigpen. “It wasn’t until this afternoon when everything fell into place. Had Josephyne not killed Queller in his own home, I doubt we would have caught them. Even as it is, we haven’t caught everyone involved, just the ones that had the most direct involvement.” He laughed. “The complexity of it all is what convinces me that we still don’t know the entire story. There was certainly an easier way to accomplish what had to be done.”
Ordrander and Gwenda looked at Thigpen quizzically. Gwenda was the first to ask what both of them were thinking. “What exactly did they set out to accomplish?”
“Originally?” asked Thigpen. “All they wanted to do in the beginning was get Trenvane out of town. He had been sent here by the Jordecayne family to infiltrate the Torkezahn organization. He was pretty successful, too. But somewhere along the line they became suspicious of him, and he decided to bail out and return to Middleswamp. The Torkezahn family would’ve pursued him to verify their suspicions, so he chose to fake his own death to throw them off his scent.” Thigpen smiled. “That part of the plan actually worked. The Torkezahns were satisfied that he had been killed while helping the constabulary set a trap for a monster. But how that all came about is a mystery to me.” Thigpen looked thoughtful and then continued. “All he really had to do was have Queller concoct a story about him resisting arrest or fleeing or something, and his body falling into the swamp and never recovered. But why they brought in Josephyne is something I do not understand.”
“So she was working with the Jordecayne family, and with Queller?” asked Ordrander.
“Yes. She came here from Middleswamp in the company of the first victim, Fenderlahn. It would seem that he was going to provide the excuse for why a coffin would be shipped back to Middleswamp.” Thigpen took off his kepi and scratched his head. “But again, I don’t understand why that would have been needed. Perhaps Trenvane was going to be shipped back alone, and Josephyne stay here in Slothenburg. I just don’t know why that level of complexity had to be added to the storyline.”
Gwenda looked confused. “If Queller was working for the Jordecaynes, then why did he try and kill Josephyne when we hunted her down?”
Thigpen smiled sadly. “Think back to that night, Gwenda. What did he do exactly? If you recall, the only attack on her that he made missed. He fired a crossbow at her, and missed from very short range.” He shook his head. “No, he did that deliberately. His attacks after that centered on the ettercap, and the spiders that swept over us. But Josephyne took it personally, probably because the rest of us did so much damage to her. She killed Queller, I believe, as revenge for how close we all came to killing her that night.”
Ordrander asked “And is that how she knew where he lived? Because Queller was on the payroll of the Jordecaynes?”
“I suspect so, yes.” Answered Thigpen. “They may even have worked together in the past, I don’t know. He had been sickened by the venom delivered by the swarm of spiders the night of our attack, and was weak. She very easily finished him off.”
They rode along in silence for a while longer, and then Ordrander asked “We found a body she had been feeding on in her web. I would guess that whoever that victim was had to have been killed shortly after we found Fenderlahn’s corpse, because the monster probably needs to feed a little every day. If that is true, then why was she seen trying to coerce that kid from the warehouse? Wouldn’t that have just drawn suspicion to her?” Gwenda nodded in agreement to this hypothesis.
“Yes, and I can only surmise that this was done exactly to draw suspicion to her.” Answered Thigpen. “Queller may have suggested it to her so that we would narrow our search. The same is true with her supposed seduction of Trenvane. She didn’t need to feed. But she put on a show to direct us towards her.” Thigpen shook his head. “But why the complexity? I just don’t have the answer to that yet.”
The hearse pulled up in front of the precinct tower, and Ordrander blew his whistle. Constables flooded out, taking Trenvane and Perrick the undertaker into custody. The captain shouted “Make sure those two are restrained and well-guarded until we can get somebody here to interrogate them!” The two prisoners were dragged into the tower.
Four constables took hold of the punctured coffin, and carried it into the building as well. Placed in one of the holding cells, just in case, the casket was unsealed and opened, revealing Josephyne’s mutilated corpse, a horror-filled mix of human and spider. Everyone present gasped at the sight, and even some of the jaded veterans of the precinct, who had seen more than their share of nightmare-instilling crime scenes, were turned pale and nauseous. Thigpen quipped “And that, dear friends, is why I didn’t open the box.”
The Interior Investigators who had been assigned to the case once Queller turned up dead were very eager to interrogate the two prisoners. The senior investigator was a flind, something of a shorter, and more cunning gnoll. His name was Proctor, and was a snarling, zealous crusader with a reputation for being impatient with the speed of most inquiries. His companion was a tall, rubbery illithid. These were few and far between on the surface world, most often encountered in the depths of the underdark realms if they were encountered at all. Their ability to invade the minds of their prey made them ideal for the types of work the Interior Investigators were assigned. This particular illithid, with slimy mottled purple skin and the milky white eyes with no pupil, was terrifying to behold, even if one didn’t take an aversion to the squirming tentacles around its mouth. Illithids had no spoken language, but used telepathy to communicate. The entire experience was, at best, troubling. There was no pronouncing the illithid’s name, and Proctor introduced it simply as “Dr. Vir.”
They started with Trenvane. He was taken into an interrogation room where he could be shackled to a chair that was bolted securely to the floor in the middle of the chamber. This allowed the questioners free rein to move around while they talked. Trenvane never took his eyes off of the illithid, and Thigpen, who was allowed to help in the questioning, could see with great delight that the half-shadow elf was scared, almost to death, by the presence of this creature.
Proctor began by laying out all of Trenvane’s options. “Your first, and arguably best, option is to tell us exactly what we want to know. I am partial to this idea, of course. It is less messy than your other option, which is to let my mauve friend here use those tentacles to bore directly into your skull and suck out your brain, along with the information we seek.” The flind grinned, or at least grinned as best he could with his hyena-like features. “You will not be surprised to learn that Dr. Vir would prefer you choose this option. It has been awhile since it had a good meal.”
“Ask me anything. I’m open to discussing a wide range of topics.” Said Trenvane, his voice cracking in fear. Dr. Vir hissed, and the tentacles on its face squirmed angrily.
Proctor was amused by all of this, and Thigpen had no doubts but that the two of them had played this game many times before. The flind looked at Thigpen, and motioned with his hand towards Trenvane, inviting him to begin the questioning.
Thigpen cleared his throat, and focused his thoughts and attention on the prisoner. “Who killed Queller, and why?”
Trenvane watched the illithid as he spoke, his voice shaky in delivery but sure in tone. He knew what he was saying, and wanted there to be no misunderstanding. “Josephyne was angry that Queller had brought so many constables to attack her. Her understanding was they would just make like she had been interrupted trying to kill me, and run off. But she nearly died. She said that Queller had tried to betray her to rob her of her share of the bounty that was offered to get me safely to Middleswamp. So she killed him, and planned to take his share instead.”
Thigpen looked at Proctor. The flind just nodded for him to continue.
“Why the complexity? Why didn’t you and Queller just fake your death and leave it at that?” asked Thigpen.
Still staring at Dr. Vir, Trenvane said “Queller thought that having more constables present to witness my disappearance would make it more believable. He was concerned that the Torkezahns might suspect him being corrupt if he was the only witness. So, he and I did a fake arrest instead, enough to get me sent to the main jail where the Torkezahns couldn’t get at me easily. We figured if he got me out of there quickly enough, they wouldn’t be able to send somebody in there after me. Josephyne came down here with some guy from Middleswamp. She killed him for food, and then she and Queller figured out a way to get a lot of witnesses so I could slip away pretending to be just another victim.”
“I’m not buying it.” Said Proctor. “This was still ridiculously complicated just to get you and her out of town unnoticed by some second-rate criminal cartel.” He nodded at the illithid, and Dr. Vir began to step behind Trenvane.
The prisoner began to panic. “No!” he shouted, pulling at his shackles. “I swear to you that is what happened! Josephyne wasn’t going to leave with me. She was going to move in here in the city and take over where I left off. She had a plan to get in to the Torkezahn organization through her gig at the bordello. She thought she could even get at the boss if she played her cards right. I swear that was her plan! It only got complicated after she killed Queller! That changed her goals, she knew she had to get out of the city once he was found dead!”
Dr. Vir settled his three-fingered hands on Trenvane’s shoulders as he loomed behind him. The prisoner froze in terror of what might come next.
Thigpen had been right, the conspirators had to change their original plan. He stepped forward and asked Trenvane “So why the bit with Lukas? What was that all about?”
“Queller wanted to make sure you were on the right track!” shouted Trenvane, desperation rising in his voice as the illithid stood silently behind him. “He didn’t know you would find out so fast about there being a red widow, or that such a thing even existed. You were making fast progress and he was scared you would go after the wrong redhead.” Fear etched his face, and he was almost screaming when he said “Please you have to believe me! Tell this thing to stay away from me!”
Thigpen smiled at Proctor. “That finishes off my investigation, and probably yours as well. Anything beyond what I know already would land outside of my jurisdiction.” He looked back at Trenvane. “Thank you for the information.” Thigpen looked at Dr. Vir and added “And thank you for your assistance.”
The illithid nodded its head and a calm, fearful voice inside Thigpen’s mind said clearly “You are most welcome, constable. Nice work on your part.” Thigpen tried his best to suppress a shudder as he left the room and closed the door behind him.
Thigpen saw Ordrander in the hallway, and the half-orc saluted as he walked past him to finish the paperwork for the case. There wasn’t much left to do, most of it had already been done by the detectives. He just filled in some of the gaps, and signed off on it. It had been a good case, and even though he had lost the man that was probably his best friend, there was now one less corrupt constable on the force, and that was a good thing.
Ordrander came by the desk, and said to Thigpen “Tomorrow was your scheduled day off. Take two more for good measure, and rest up. You did a great job on all of this.” He patted Thigpen’s shoulder and added “You definitely made your mark on the Precinct Commander’s board, and I reckon that will ripple even further up.”
Thigpen smiled, and nodded his head tiredly. “I think I will enjoy some time off. Been meaning to do some reading. Perhaps some drow poetry.”
Captain Ordrander laughed. Thigpen gave him the file, saluted, and headed out of the tower to go home. He was going to sleep for a good half a day at least. And after that, he’d walk over to Frazzer’s and buy a book.