An Applewood Gallows; Chapter 9

There wasn’t much more for the conspirators to discuss, so they bid each other good evening, and went their separate ways. Hilde, Trangdor, and Belynda headed back to their room at the inn. Rackerby walked his secretary to her home, and then headed for his own. Polk still had some work to do and wanted to see if he could keep track of Deckler’s movements, so he was going to be tied up at his office for a while. That left Oskar, who put up the collars of his greatcoat, and headed out of the building into the cold, damp streets.

He hadn’t even made two steps out of the doorway when he saw the unmistakable form of a woman standing next to a light pole on the other side of the street. His spirits fell a little, but he knew exactly who it was. He pulled his kepi down a little on his brow and took a deep breath before walking across the street. The woman just stood there, watching him. She was wearing a thick, hooded grey cloak. Oskar could see her eyes glowing softly in the dark, a golden yellow that sparkled like a dragon’s hoard. There was no trace of her hair or other facial features in the confines of the hood, but that didn’t prevent Oskar from greeting her with “Evening, Lieutenant Kinchler. Fancy meeting you here.”

The woman never took her eyes off of him, and said, “Fancy indeed, Colonel. I know now why you didn’t hand this over to our department to begin with. You are playing a very dangerous game.”

Oskar tried to not betray much in his facial features, and just shrugged. “I’m not sure what you are referring to, Lieutenant.” He didn’t think he was a bad bluffer, and he might even make a good liar if he put his heart into it, but he wasn’t sure that this shadow elf was going to buy it.

She chuckled with a sinister tone, and said, “You know exactly what I am talking about, von Vorkel. You suspect your father of murder and think that this Deckler fellow knows about it. And you brought in one of the best attorneys in the kingdom to help ease your father’s punishment in case it turns out that he did it. I don’t know who the orcish woman was with the dwarf and xvart, but I will find out, and you better have not pulled me into a quagmire.”

Oskar smiled, and looked around to make sure nobody else was standing nearby before he said in a whisper, “Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I have no intention of compromising myself, you, or anyone else. Our only goal is justice.”

“It isn’t your intentions that concern me, Colonel. It is what those who might want to protect themselves that bother me.” Cairn whispered hoarsely.

Oskar tried not to look puzzled, and whispered back, “My father has no political affiliations, and the man he killed was nobody of much consequence.”

Cairn sharply whispered back, “And nothing exists in a vacuum. Your father has made friends, and enemies, that he isn’t aware of.” Sensing Oskar’s disbelief, she added, “He was the Governor-General of Romilmark. Just because he wasn’t a schemer doesn’t mean he wasn’t, and isn’t, vital to somebody else’s plans.”

Oskar was digesting this information, when the cloaked woman said, “You should have thought this through, von Vorkel. I’ll be waiting to hear the time and place for your meeting with Deckler. Until then, consider carefully your own future.”

The woman turned and walked away into the night. Oskar watched her for a while, and then walked back to his house. He laid awake all night, his mind racing over what he could infer from the Lieutenants words. But, while her brother was restless in his bed, unable to find enough calm to allow him to sleep, Hilde slept soundly and awoke with renewed vigor and purpose. She had resigned herself to letting somebody else take charge of her father’s destiny vis-à-vis this investigation, but she wanted to speak with him first. She felt that she owed it to her father to ask him what he had done and give him a chance to explain himself to her. If Deckler knew anything, then Hilde would take that information, and seek the rationale from her father directly.

Polk didn’t get a lot of sleep that night, but only because he was trying desperately to get ahold of anyone in either Borostat or Kernschloss to keep a watch out for Major Sebastien Deckler. He had no luck at all establishing contact with his operative in Borostat, but the means by which they communicated was extremely primitive. As vast as Polk’s network was, he still had to rely on basic means of communication, such as dispatch riders, minor communication devices that depended on enchantments, or letters sent on stagecoaches. The magical device that was assigned to the fellow in Borostat wasn’t adequate to the task of effectively relaying anything useful to Borostat because it was too simple of a device. The sort of thing that glows once for yes, twice for no. Using that to signal somebody to watch for a specific person entering or leaving a city could take hours and would be handily ranked the worst parlor game of all time. However, the contact in Kernschloss had a cheat, and they simply used the city’s communication orb to contact Dellila, who carries a small orb with her at all times, so that she can better serve Rackerby von Slothjem’s clientele. She in turn got dressed and went to Polk’s office to tell him his Kernschloss contact was ready for instruction. Polk was delighted and told her what information to relay. When Deckler showed up, the Kernschloss office would take note of it, and through simple yes and no responses, convey what Polk needed to know.

Once that part of the task was complete, Dellila went back to her home and resumed her sleep. Polk also called it a day and went to his small apartment. Everything was fully in motion now. Everyone was just waiting on Deckler to arrive. Everything else seemed to grind to a halt in anticipation. The Kernschloss contact indicated that Deckler arrived the following evening, and after some back and forth, it was revealed that he was travelling with a junior member of his detachment. Word was spread thereafter to Four Corners via a dispatch rider to keep a watch out, and another of Polk’s men was placed to watch incoming traffic on the outskirts of Slothenburg. At every point along the way, Deckler and his companion were right on schedule. Hilde’s wardrobe was completed and delivered. Oskar was distracted at work for the entire three days it took for the Judicial Corps officer to journey to the capital, but he managed to muddle through. Doctor Vir confirmed to Polk his readiness, and every time that Polk got word that Deckler had reached a milestone, Polk would give Vir an update. The illithid was perhaps the most looking forward to all of this coming to fruition, because it would be his digging around in this man’s mind that would pull back the veil on dark deeds. This was what any mind flayer craved, and it was like dangling the promise of a feast in front of a man starving to death.

When Deckler arrived on the outskirts of Slothenburg late in the afternoon of the third day, he took no notice of Polk’s operative, that watched him ride by. The shabbily dressed man with a beggar’s cup did, however, notice the major and his companion, and while holding a small pendant in his hand, he signaled Polk that their quarry was on the way. Polk sent a runner to Oskar’s office to alert him that in a couple of hours Deckler would be in the capitol, and he in turn strolled down to the offices of the Inspector General to tell Lieutenant Kinchler that it was almost time. Polk knocked on Rackerby’s door as he headed out and let the attorney’s receptionist know that it was time, then Polk went himself to fetch Doctor Vir, and together they headed to Selkirk’s Cellar to get themselves situated.

Hurriedly buttoning up his greatcoat, Oskar left Army High Command headquarters, and headed straight for Hilde’s inn to let her know that it was time. Hilde had been ready almost all day. She had most of her armor on, just in case there was going to be a fight, and while it was only a remote possibility, she fervently hoped there would be a fight. She had her shortswords and daggers, even her lucky stiletto, and she was ready for anything. Belynda would be right by her side, and Trangdor was going with an empty notebook and a pen to take notes.

There would be a lot of folks taking notes of this interview. Dellila was going to be transcribing the encounter for Rackerby, and the female orc that worked with Lieutenant Kinchler would be taking notes for use in any potential criminal prosecution. Everyone was in agreement that Oskar would do the questioning, but there were enough people on hand that if he didn’t think of something, surely somebody else would. The various interested parties began making their way to Selkirk’s Cellar, except for Oskar, who did his best to look casual as he loitered in the grand entryway to Army Headquarters. The huge reception desk sat squarely in the center of this round hall, and Oskar hung out there making idle conversation with whoever happened by while he watched the people entering the building.

Sebastien Deckler was as easy to spot as an elf on fire in a goblin pride parade. The major was trailed closely by a short orcish private, who had been tasked with carrying the officer’s briefcase. He was doing the best he could to look a proper assistant, but he had a tendency to waddle when he walked. Oskar suppressed a smile and waited for the duo to approach the desk.

Speaking to the officer at the desk, Major Deckler announced himself, reporting as requested, and inquired as to where he needed to go. Oskar stepped forward, and in his booming baritone voice, said, “Major Deckler! An honor, sir.” Oskar held out his hand, and reflexively, Deckler shook Oskar’s hand. “You must be famished after your journey. I was just heading out to get a bite to eat. Would you like to join me?”

Deckler was surprised by the handshake and the offer of dinner, but then he hadn’t been sure what to expect. He had no idea why he was being summoned to the capital, and all of this was out of the ordinary to begin with. “Did you send the summons?” the weasel-faced human asked, his whiskers seeming to twitch on his grizzled face.

“I did.” Answered Oskar. “We can talk about it over dinner. There is some paperwork to tidy up afterwards, but I reckon we can get most of this squared away in short order.” Flashing his most disarming smile, Oskar said, “I certainly appreciate your speedy arrival, Major. Are you staying here in town?”

“No.” replied Deckler. “I am staying with my family down in Slothenburg. They have a room for Jelber, so we are going to take them up on their hospitality.”

Oskar nodded to the waddling orc, and said, “And you must be Jelber. Nice to meet you, private. I don’t know about the two of you, but I am hungry enough to eat an ox. Shall we go eat?”

Jelber grinned, and probably would have given an enthusiastic verbal response had he not been well-trained in military etiquette. Deckler smiled, a sort of uncertain smile that suggested he wasn’t comfortable with any of this, but also that he was hungry, too. Oskar motioned with his hand towards the door, and said, “Follow me. I know a terrific place just a block away.”

Deckler walked alongside Oskar as the orc led him down the street to an unremarkable three-storied building. Motioning with his head down the side alley next to the building, Oskar took them to a staircase that descended down to a basement. A small wooden sign hung over the steps, and on it was carved the words Selkirk’s Cellar. Near the top of the stairs was an orcish couple, a man and a woman who were holding hands and gave every appearance of being in love. But they were also in uniform, and while Oskar bemusedly recognized them as being two of Lieutenant Kinchler’s underlings. Oskar led the way down the stairs, followed by Deckler and Jelber. Playing the roles of a romantic couple to perfection, the orc couple followed them down the stairs to the quirky little restaurant.

Quirky was an understatement. The dining room was interrupted sporadically by columns supporting the floor above, but the ceiling was lower than one might have expected. A dark elven minstrel played a pan flute near the bar, and there was very little ambient noise to be heard. There were a goodly number of people in here, but most of them were people that Oskar knew and expected to be here. Oskar did his best to not acknowledge any of them and took a seat. Deckler sat down across from him, unaware that mere feet away, Doctor Vir sat behind the major. The tentacles around his mouth wriggled with delight, as the illithid began to commence his intrusion into Deckler’s mind. The man had no idea what was happening, not at first. The mind flayer began to probe the Major’s intellectual defenses and found them very weak. Delving deeper, Vir closed their eyes, and focused on what he was looking for.

Deckler was distracted by the drow elven waitress taking their dinner orders, and Jelber wasn’t paying any attention to anything at all. Behind Deckler’s orcish aide, the two “lovebirds” from the Judicial Corps positioned themselves so that they could restrain Jelber if necessary. Deckler looked around casually, and Lieutenant Kinchler gave him a knowing nod. Dellila did the same, sitting with Rackerby who had his back towards Oskar’s table, but could hear everything. Polk was at the bar along the other wall, and when Oskar smiled at him, he let the bartender know that it was time for silence in the room. He taped the minstrel on the shoulder, and the music faded out.

Beads of sweat were forming on Deckler’s brow, and in his stubbly mustache. He felt a bit feverish, as if the room had gotten warmer. He wiped his forehead with his hand, and Oskar asked, “Are you alright, Major? You don’t look well.”

“Feeling a bit warm, is all.” Deckler said, unbuttoning the top two buttons of his tunic. “Does it feel hot in here to you?” he asked, his voice trailing off a bit.

Vir opened their eyes and looked directly at Oskar. The illithid’s mind spoke directly to Oskar, and while it was not audible to anyone else, the message to Oskar was clear as a bell. Vir had found what they were looking for, and any question posed by Oskar would be honestly answered by Deckler. There was no way that Deckler could resist.

Their waitress brought their drinks, and then hastily retreated. Everyone involved in the conspiracy stopped eating and listened intently. Notebooks and blank papers rustled, as those entrusted with documenting Deckler’s words began to get ready for action. Oskar took a sip of his black wine and turned his attention fully to the man across the table from him. “Are you curious as to why you are here?” he asked Deckler.

Deckler could hear the words escaping his mouth, but he had no control over their content. He felt drunk, or sick, or a combination of the two. “Yes, I am.” He said. He looked at Oskar with a look of confusion on his face.

“You used to work with my father, General von Vorkel.” Said Oskar. “You are here as part of an inquiry into the death of a Major Hossler from the Inspector General’s office. Do you know of whom I speak?”

“Yes, I knew him in passing.” Answered Deckler, sweat pouring off of his face.

“How did Major Hossler die?” asked Oskar, his hands folded on the table in front of him. Jelber looked at his boss and took another drink of beer. He was going to ask what was going on, but thought better of it, and just looked around the room instead.

“I do not know for certain.” Deckler said, his mouth trembling as he spoke.

Polk caught Oskar’s eye, and mouthed voicelessly to the Lieutenant Colonel the words “Was he murdered?”

Oskar looked back at Deckler, and asked, “Was Hossler murdered?”

Jelber turned to look at his boss, a mixture of shock and concern on his face.

Deckler replied, “Yes, he was.”

Jelber was about to say something this time, but one of Lieutenant Kinchler’s orcs placed a hand on his shoulder, and whispered into his ear “Don’t say anything, mate. Sit there silent, and don’t make any sudden moves.”

“Who murdered Major Hossler?” Oskar asked. Everyone within earshot seemed to stop breathing.

“Baron General Shr Grundoon von Vorkel.” Replied Deckler, his voice firm and yet with a detectable tremor. The major was confounded by his inability to resist answering these questions. He felt nauseous and tried to close his eyes to gather his thoughts, but memories were flooding forward as if being pumped by an unseen mechanism.

Oskar thought a bit before asking his next question, and the tension in this part of the café was almost unbearable. “How do you know that the General had killed Major Hossler?” He finally asked.

Deckler opened his eyes again, and said, “He admitted it to me when I asked.”

“When did you suspect the General of committing this crime?” Oskar asked.

“When he told me that the Major had a most unfortunate encounter, and that I should form a detail to retrieve his body from the base of the watchtower.” Answered Deckler obediently.

“Did he admit his crime at that time?” asked Oskar.

Deckler shook his head. “No, he did not.”

Oskar wanted more information, and these responses were not as detailed as he would have liked. “When did you ask about his involvement in the murder of Major Hossler?”

“On the way home from the Battle of Garvin’s Gap.” Said Deckler.

“Did he say why he had killed Major Hossler?” asked Oskar, his hands clenched tightly together.

Deckler struggled to keep his mouth shut, but the words tumbled out all the same. “He was angry that the Major suggested it was time for him to retire.”

All pretenses of not appearing interested in this interrogation vanished for the people in the room. Rackerby had turned in his chair, his mouth fallen open in surprise. Polk was leaning over the table behind Deckler, and Cairn and her investigators were staring, wide-eyed, at Deckler. Hilde began to cry softly, and Trangdor stopped his own transcribing to close his eyes and say a quick prayer. Belynda was stunned, but then, she had never met Hilde’s father. Those who did know him, were far more disturbed. And that included, of course, his son Oskar.

“Did you report this crime to anyone?” Oskar asked, his own anger seething, and anguish for what his father had done trying to break free.

“I did not.” Replied Deckler.

“Why did you not report this crime, when that is your specific duty?” asked Oskar.

Deckler might not have had an answer to this under normal circumstances, but under the influence of Doctor Vir, his rational mind had no power to stop him from contriving a response. “Because I felt an obligation to the man to let him make this right on his own.”

Oskar clenched his teeth and stifled a chuckle. “And did he make it right all on his own?”

“I don’t know.” Answered Deckler.

“But you couldn’t have known, could you? You had a chance to do your job, and you didn’t. You left it up to a murderer to make it right.” Said Oskar bitterly.

Doctor Vir nodded his head, indicating that Oskar had gotten all of the information there was to be had from Deckler’s memories. Covered in his own sweat, Deckler just sat there. A small trail of blood ran from his right ear, the only physical evidence of Doctor Vir’s psionic attacks. Cairn Kinchler stood behind Major Deckler and placed her hand on his shoulder.

“You are under arrest for helping to cover up the murder of an officer in the service of Her Majesty the Queen, falsification of a death notice, and failure to report the commission of a crime directly under your jurisdiction.” The two male orcs under her charge shackled Deckler, and disarmed him, taking his sword and dagger. They then helped him to his feet, and half dragged him out of the restaurant. Turning to Oskar, she said quietly, “I am sorry this turned out this way, sir. We’ll see if there is anything else useful he can add, but for now, he is going to prison. I’ll keep you informed.” The woman in her detail gathered up her notes from the interrogation and followed Cairn out of the establishment.

Doctor Vir walked up to Polk, and a mental conversation took place between the two. Polk nodded his head, and the illithid put on the hood to his cloak and left the restaurant as well. Polk walked over and sat down where Deckler had been sitting. Jelber was still sitting at the table and didn’t know what to do. Polk looked at him, and said, “Looks like you can go on back home, now. Your boss is in some deep trouble.”

Hilde wearily came over to sit next to her brother. Trangdor closed his notes, and Belynda went to buy a bottle of black wine. Hilde was done crying, but she still had tear stains on her cheeks. “That proves that.” Hilde said softly. “Now what do we do?”

Rackerby stood up and stood next to Hilde. “Now we get to work on a defense for your father.” Looking at Oskar, Rackerby said, “Colonel, if you and your sister want to know your father’s side of this, I suggest you leave immediately for his estate and ask him. The Judicial Corps won’t be far behind, and he will likely be placed in custody. I am going to leave for Vorkelvale tonight, in order to speak with him myself. You are welcome to join me.”

Oskar nodded his head. “Let me go grab a few things. I’ll meet you at your office.”

Hilde nodded her head, as well. “I am basically already ready. Belynda, you coming with?”

The xvart smiled, and said, “Yup. I got some wine for the road.”

Hilde looked over at Trangdor. “And you?”

The dwarf shook his head. “No. I’ll wait here. I don’t think I will find answers, only more questions.” He said quietly.

Polk called for the waitress. “I’m going to have dinner. But this was good.” With a sad smile he added, “Now we wait for justice to take its course.”

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