An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 5

The sinister quartet arrived at Oskar’s apartment, and were grateful to be out of the cloud-induced chill that was settling in across Jordrakenschloss. Oskar had left his windows closed, and his cat was eager to escape into the night to engage in feline festivities. After meowling plaintively for a few minutes and getting at least one friendly hello scratch behind his ears from each of the party, he strolled happily out the door and down the hallway. Cinder had sniffed at him as he walked past, but the cat was oblivious to the rodent perched on Belynda’s shoulder. He had other things on his mind, and places he had to be.

Once the cat had exited the apartment, Oskar closed the door, and bolted it. He showed Trangdor to the kitchen and gave him the grand tour of the pantry. The dwarf was delighted and set about preparing a stew. Oskar rejoined his sister and her squire in the living room and sat wearily in one of his heavily decorated chairs facing the couch, where Hilde and Belynda were sitting. Cinder set about exploring the apartment, curious now that she knew a cat lived here.

Hilde opened the briefcase and began rifling through the contents. She pulled out a cluster of papers, bound with a cloth strap. “Which is this, then?” she asked Oskar.

He took a deep breath, and replied, “That is the report filed by Major Hossler. His death notice is the single, folded paper in there.” Oskar pointed at the briefcase as Belynda took it from Hilde’s lap to do her own rummaging. While Hilde skimmed over the inspection notes, Belynda drew out and unfolded the death notice.

In her tiny, high-pitched voice she read aloud from the paper in her hand. “Accidental death by method unknown.” Belynda looked quizzically at Oskar. “What does that mean? They don’t know how he died exactly?”

Oskar smiled thinly. “That is the precise passage that has now been deemed deceptive. Whoever wrote it did know how he died, or at least suspected the true cause, but they wrote down that nonspecific description instead.”

Belynda looked at the bottom of the page she was holding, and read, “Major Deckler. That is who lied on this?”

Oskar nodded his head.

“Major Sebastien Deckler. That is his full name, according to this. Is he still in the same job?” asked Belynda.

Oskar nodded his head again. “He recently signed off on the annual inspection for this year. It has been filed by the Inspector General’s office.”

Belynda shrugged, and said somewhat cheerfully, “At least we know where to find him.”

A knock on the door startled the three of them, and Oskar hurriedly went to answer it. Before he slid back the bolt, he called out, “Who is there?”

A loud voice, not as deep as Oskar’s but still brimming with authority, called back, “Polk. Your sister told me to meet you here.”

Oskar unbolted the door and opened it. He was greeted by a smiling orog, dressed in something resembling a priest’s cassock, and holding a bottle of wine. On his head was a wide-brimmed black hat, again lending itself to being viewed as clerical attire. “Good evening, Colonel.” Polk said as he handed his host the wine. “I hope you like red. This has long been one of my favorite vineyards, and I wanted to share it with you.”

Taken aback, Oskar smiled, and gladly accepted the gift. Motioning for Polk to come in, he said, “You are generous, indeed, sir! Please come in and make yourself at home. Dinner should be ready in a bit.”

Polk took off his hat and sat in one of the other ornate chairs facing the couch. He smiled at Belynda and nodded at Hilde with a grin. Oskar looked both ways down the hallway before closing the door and securing the bolt, and then went to the kitchen to open the newly acquired bottle.

Returning with glasses, he handed one to each of his guests, and poured the wine for them. “Not sure if this pairs well with the stew that Master Goldenhelm is preparing for us, but I do know that a fine wine always goes with good friends.” He looked at Polk, and added, “I trust that you and my sister are good friends, yes?”

Polk chuckled, and answered, “I am fond of her, to that I will concur. She can hold her own in battle and has a humble honor that one can’t help but find enchanting.”

Hilde could feel herself blushing, and she did her best to avoid looking towards Belynda. She just knew that the xvart was looking at her, and probably making a funny face. Oskar chuckled in response and sat down in his chair.

“Our Hilde has always been the loudest at any gathering, and the quietest in contemplation. It is difficult to know what she is thinking, if her thoughts drift from delight and anger.” Oskar took a drink of the wine, smacked his lips, and with raised eyebrows declared, “Polk, this is a magnificent wine. I believe I’d trust you with my life.”

The two men laughed, and for a time the weariness that had plagued Oskar earlier in the evening was set aside. Trangdor finished the stew, and everyone gathered about Oskar’s small yet expensive table to eat. For the most part they talked of Hilde and Belynda’s adventure in the Peklender Mine, and their journey from the drow city to the surface with Polk. The orog answered every question that Oskar posed, covering his training as a chaplain, his work with the constabulary, and his decision to become a private investigator. Belynda was shocked that he revealed as much as he did, when her own inquiries had been largely rebuffed.

Polk’s work with Rackerby von Slothjem had made the orog a strong reputation for investigative work. He maintained a role in the clergy, more now as a layman, but he actively engaged his faith and his beliefs when working to solve whatever mystery was at hand. At times, Polk had to get tough. And when those times came around, they would find the huge man was more than up to the task. If any of the dozens of operatives he had at his disposal were insufficient to a task, he wasn’t above seeking help from other sources, especially the constabulary, with whom he had exceptionally strong ties. Belynda wondered aloud as to why he had never answered her questions so plainly and simply, but she was ignored. Hilde grinned at her, and the two women laughed as the men continued talking.

After the meal, Hilde got the papers and spread them out on the table. Trangdor cleared the dishes and returned to look over what was being presented as well. Polk watched intently as Hilde and Oskar laid out their theory as to what might have happened, and then gave careful consideration to his thoughts as they asked him how they should proceed in finding out the truth. Oskar had even gone so far as to ask whether or not they should pursue the truth at all, given their father’s reputation and his legacy in the empire.

The last of the wine was dispensed, and Polk sipped on his before rendering his opinions. When he at last spoke, everyone listened carefully to what he said. Trangdor even took notes.

“To begin with,” Polk said, setting down his glass in front of him, “we must address the question as to the merit of this inquiry. One of the most prominent men of recent time is being accused of murdering a man, and thus far he has gotten away with it. Troubling, but hardly remarkable. These things happen all of the time. Bringing this man to justice will prevent further bloodshed on his part, certainly, but what is done is done. It is unlikely that a man in his position can ever be truly held to account for his actions, but perhaps taking him down a peg or two will give some sort of solace to the widow of the man he killed.”

Polk looked at Hilde and Oskar, and then continued. “More to the point is the issue that the murderer’s accusers are two of his own children. Their concern is not for their own guilt or even hatred for their father, but rather, a dedicated and reverent respect for the rule of law that their father until recently seemed to embody and demand. It is because of his insistence that we are a nation of laws, that Master Goldenhelm here even came to know this man as well as he does. We must then consider that this man’s hypocrisy is therefore worthy of reproach. Had he not been as highly esteemed as he was, would his transgressions not be the as grievous?”

Trangdor quietly nodded his head in agreement, and perhaps reluctantly, Oskar and Hilde nodded their acceptance as well.

Polk cleared his throat and continued talking. “It is my counsel that you set aside fears that justice will not be done. Set aside familial affection, and do not dwell on the shortcomings of your father. If he is the murderer you suspect him to be, then he must be brought to justice, as far as you are able to accomplish.”

Silence settled around the table, interrupted only occasionally by the shuffling of papers. Hilde broke the calm by quietly asking, “So, where do we start?”

Oskar answered her by stating in a low growling voice, “Deckler.”

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