An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 7

Oskar plotted his moves carefully for the morning as he drifted off to sleep. He would have to choose his words carefully, but he was his father’s son when it came to cautious wordplay. A lifetime of military service and total immersion in the politics of the army hierarchy had readied him for this. It was going to be fine, until it wasn’t. But for now, it was, and on that note, he slept soundly and peacefully. In the morning, he followed his morning routine as he always did. He had breakfast and strolled to work attired in his uniform beneath his greatcoat to ward off the fog that clung stubbornly to the city. He carried his now empty briefcase, the copies of the files he had taken how the day before safely stashed in his home. His cat had returned from his nightly prowling and was now in charge of keeping the apartment secure. Oskar didn’t put much faith in the feline’s ability to safeguard anything, but the cat certainly did.

Oskar set his kepi down on his desk and hung up his greatcoat. He hummed a mindless sort of tune as he went about digging in the files, finally pulling out the most recent inspection report for the 6th Army and their base of operations, the rambling castle of Vorkelburg. Still humming, he made his way through the corridors of the Army High Command until he reached the office of the Inspector General. He straightened his tunic, smiled at the young lady sitting at the reception desk, and asked her, “Is the Inspector in? I need to ask him something.”

The girl nodded and gave something of a wave over her shoulder as she smiled back at him. “Go ahead, Colonel. And good morning!”

He winked at her and made a sort of clicking sound out of the corner of his mouth. Walking down the row of desks outside of the Inspector General’s personal office, he waved at a few of the people he knew. The door to the Inspector General’s office was open, and Oskar knocked on the door to get the occupant’s attention.

An elderly half-orc looked up and smiled thinly as he peered through his spectacles at the orc in his doorway. This was Viscount Shr Delthur Peltermane, the Inspector General for the entire military. He was charged with keeping meticulous notes about unit readiness, maintaining discipline, and keeping law and order via the Judicial Corps. He had a number of officers designated to these various duties specifically, but everything ended up being signed off on by this one man.

“Yes, Colonel?” the half-orc asked, his face belying a quiet impatience.

Oskar cleared his throat, and said, “I was going over some reports from the 6th Army, and I encountered some irregularities. I would like permission to summon Major Deckler, their ranking officer in the Judicial Corps, to come and answer a few follow-up questions. There could be some violations of military legal code at stake, and with your permission, I’d like to invite the participation of the Judicial Corps assigned to this department.” Oskar smiled reassuringly and stood with his hands clasped behind his back.

The Inspector General stared at Oskar for a few moments, and then asked, “That was your father’s command, wasn’t it? The sixth?”

Oskar nodded his head. “Yes, sir. He has been retired for a while now.”

The old half-orc nodded his head and looked thoughtful. “They did a hell of a job at Garvin’s Gap.” Looking directly at Oskar, he then said, “Very well. Follow up as you see fit. Easier to have them come here, than to waste our time going there. Lieutenant Kinchler is not doing anything at present. Have her assist if anyone needs to be arrested.” With that, the old man returned his attention to the papers on his desk.

Oskar smiled, and backed out of the doorway. With a self-satisfied grin, he walked back past the desks, and waved to the pretty female corporal at the reception desk. Before he went to see Lieutenant Kinchler, he had to get a hold of somebody at Vorkelburg. He had done this dozens of times, if not hundreds. Sending missives via the communication orbs was how the military coordinated their activities while being scattered all over the map. There was always a posted guard at the room in which these transmissions were made, but they knew Oskar on sight. They saluted, and he returned the salutes as he strolled past them and into the fairly small, windowless room tucked deep in the center of the building.

The mage on duty was a male drow elven captain, and they looked up at Oskar as he entered. They motioned for him to have a seat at the table in the center of the room. In the center of the table was a large communication orb, looking something like a smoke-filled crystal ball that subtly hummed with magical energy. This was one of the most powerful of such devices to be found anywhere in the kingdom. Also on the table was a sheaf of blank parchments, and a pen and inkwell. Maintaining silence, Oskar winked to the mage, and picked up the pen. Dipping it in the ink, he carefully wrote out what he wanted the mage to say. His calligraphy was even better than his father’s, and it was a source of immense pride to him. With a flourish, he signed the note, and handed it to the dark elf. The dark elf read it, smiled approvingly, and then reached forward with both hands and pulled the orb towards him on its silver holding piece.

The dark elf’s voice was loud, but tempered with a soft edge, the mark of an accomplished public speaker. “Attention, 6th Army headquarters at Vorkelburg. Major Deckler is hereby summoned to appear at the Army High Command immediately. There is a matter of pressing concern that he must address in person. Please confirm that this message has been relayed within the hour.”

The captain then pushed the orb back to the center of the table and smiled at Oskar. He flipped over a card in front of him and handed it to Oskar. On it was written, “Would you care to stay for a reply, or have it relayed to you when it comes in?”

Oskar chuckled, and pointed with the pen at the word “stay” on the card. The dark elf nodded and flipped the card back over. The two of them sat in silence and waited. About twenty minutes passed, and the orb began to crackle with a sort of mystical static. From the orb a woman’s voice could be heard to say, “Your message has been relayed. Major Deckler will arrive in three days’ time. He asks if there is anything he needs to bring along to expedite matters?”

The dark elf looked at Oskar, who furrowed his brow, and shook his head. Drawing the orb back to himself, the dark elf replied, “Negative. Only his presence is requested. Thank you.” He then pushed the orb back to its place and smiled at Oskar.

Oskar rose from his chair and bowed to the mage before taking his leave. As he headed back to his desk, he started humming again. Everything was excellent. Now he had to go see Kinchler, and without telling her anything of note, enlist her assistance. Up to this point things had gone swimmingly, and for any investigation to stay legitimate, he would need the Judicial Corps and their authority. He would have to be ready for questions, of course, so he went dug around on the pile of papers he had on his desk until he found the original death notice that Major Deckler had signed off on. With it in hand, he headed over to the Judicial Corps annex.

There were several hundred people assigned to this office, and for a moment, Oskar was impressed that the Inspector General had known that one of these was free from any currently pressing tasks. A huge chalkboard was mounted to one of the walls, centered in the room. On it were listed all of the various investigative teams, and the cases that they were currently enmeshed with. Oskar looked at the list of names, and fourth from the top was the first of three teams that were unassigned; Lt. Kinchler. Oskar looked thoughtfully at the board. There were not a lot of clues to determine what these cases all were. Names and numbers, probably some sort of code that made sense to the Judicial Corps and to nobody else.

His thoughts were interrupted by a sergeant clearing his throat. Oskar turned, and the hobgoblin asked, “Is there something I can do for you, sir?”

Oskar smiled a little, and replied, “I am looking for a Lieutenant Kinchler.”

The hobgoblin sergeant, still rigidly, and presumably, eternally at attention, said, “Her work area is right this way, sir.”

A round-about way of telling him that visitors are discouraged from standing and gazing wistfully at the job assignment board, Oskar smiled again and followed the hobgoblin across the room. There were no proper partitions to segregate the various work groups, which consisted of an officer and a handful of lesser ranks to do the footwork. The area that the hobgoblin led Oskar to was a large, roll-top desk, flanked on either side by tables. At the tables sat four orcs, three men and a woman. They did not stand as the sergeant and von Vorkel approached. At the desk sat a woman, her back to the rest of the room, writing in a ledger of some sort.

Clearing his throat once again, the sergeant waited for the woman to turn around on the stool she was perched upon. “Lieutenant Kinchler, this gentleman is looking for you.” With that he saluted and took his leave.

The woman stood up and smiled at Oskar. She was a shadow elf, her hair as white as snow. Pale as she was, she contrasted dramatically with the orcs in her squad. The orcs stood as well, and the four of them proved to be a motley crew; and that was a generous appraisal. Her voice was soft, but her golden yellow-colored eyes betrayed more than a hint of strength. “Good morning, sir. How may we be of assistance?” she asked.

Oskar turned to see that the hobgoblin was safely beyond earshot and glanced around at the other work areas. Sensing his unwillingness to speak openly, the shadow elf said quietly, “Pay them no mind, sir. We are all of us sworn to secrecy for anything that is said regarding a case.”

Smiling, Oskar lowered the volume of his voice as far as he could, but his words still boomed loudly in his own ears. “I have an inquiry coming up in three days or so, with an officer who may have broken one or two laws of the military code. I’m making arrangements to interview him, but I would like to have you on hand to keep everything above board.”

The shadow elf cocked her head and narrowed her gaze. “An unusual request, sir. Generally speaking, we handle such things from start to finish. I am going to require more information as to how far along your inquiry has progressed, and what it is that you are trying to uncover.”

Oskar handed her Major Hossler’s death notice, and said, “This has been deemed suspicious by a divination carried out in my department. The part that notates the cause of death. Information has been brought to my attention that suggests there might have been a coverup for foul play.”

Still staring intently at Oskar, the lieutenant asked, “Who are you sir, and what is your department?”

Doing his best to be disarming, Oskar replied, “I am Lieutenant Colonel Oskar von Vorkel, assigned to the Quartermaster General’s logistics office.”

The shadow elf read the paper that Oskar had handed her. “And how is the death of an officer in the Inspector General’s department relevant to army logistics?” she turned her gaze back to Oskar, and he knew instantly that her skepticism was well-placed, and disturbing. “Were the remains shipped incorrectly to the wrong address?”

The four orcs snickered, doubtlessly accustomed to their commander’s sarcasm. Oskar chuckled, and even though he knew he was in over his head, he hadn’t gotten to this place in life without knowing how to push a bluff. He never stopped smiling, and answered the shadow elf with, “I’ll admit it is complicated. At this point, considering the issues being juggled, I am going to have to ask for your patience. Once I have interviewed Major Deckler, you will know everything there is to know, if there is anything to know.” He shrugged, suggesting his request was more innocent than conniving. “Who knows, we might all be barking up the wrong tree. We’ll know soon enough. Mull it over, if you feel as though this isn’t your forte, I will have the Inspector General assign somebody else to this matter. Just let me know by tomorrow.”

The lieutenant pursed her lips and thought for a moment. “Is it okay if we hold on to this?” she asked, holding up the death notice.

“Of course.” Replied Oskar.

“And has Major Deckler already been summoned to the capital?” the shadow elf asked.

Oskar nodded his head. “About an hour ago. Confirmation has already been received.”

The shadow elf handed the death notice to one of the orcs, and said, “Count us in. You have done something that few men have ever managed to do, Colonel von Vorkel.”

“What is that, Lieutenant?” asked Oskar, a quizzical look on his face.

“You’ve intrigued me.” She replied.

Oskar laughed, and asked, “What is your first name, lieutenant?”

“Cairn.” The shadow elf answered. “Cairn Kinchler. I’ll tell the Inspector General to add us to this assignment, and I will be in contact with you before Major Deckler arrives.”

Oskar bowed slightly, and said, “Thank you, Lieutenant. Hopefully this turns out to be nothing. Thank you for your time.”

The shadow elf saluted, and all of the orcs in her group did the same. Oskar returned their salutes and strolled back towards his own desk on the other side of the building. As he walked, he hummed.

Previous Chapter  –  Next Chapter