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Murder In Shusoran

Part IV


To say that Nyla's announcement came as a bombshell was an understatement. Even Mieu looked startled, and Dayne was positively caught flatfooted. The whole point of murder was to drastically shorten life, so it made no sense that someone would kill a victim who was about to die anyway. Not unless they didn't know how sick he was.

"This disease--would it be obvious to anyone around him?" Dayne asked.

"Oh, certainly," the doctor told him. "If it had progressed to the stage where he was taking amestin, there would be signs. His hands would shake, his body occasionally tremble uncontrollably; he might even have minor seizures. Other times, though, especially under the medicine's influence, he'd be completely normal, so he'd be able to hide the truth from a casual acquaintance if he used some care."

That explained how he'd been able to write without showing any signs of the illness in the pen-strokes.

"What about someone keeping a close watch on him?" Dayne asked, already fairly sure of the answer.

"Absolutely. He could never hide it."

"All right, then. We've got to assume that Godley was involved in something important that was happening soon, something that made his killing urgent."

The women looked at him in surprise.

"I'm afraid that I don't follow your logic," Mieu observed.

"Well, we know that the killer had to keep a close watch on Abel. He or she knew his inn room, and saw that he was awake during the night. The killer would know that Godley was sick from watching him, but what ahead and committed the murder anyway. There has to be some compelling reason why, some reason that demanded Godley's death."

"What about a personal motive?" Nyla asked.

"A personal motive implies personal knowledge. Godley was going to die what I assume is a steady, debilitating, probably painful"--Nyla nodded her agreement.--"death anyway. Why forestall that?"

Mieu frowned.

"Sergeant, your entire line of reasoning is based upon the supposition that the killer could observe Godley's symptoms and make a medical diagnosis. I don't believe that the majority of people would know that he was dying. Sick, yes, obviously, but not necessarily with a fatal disease."

Nyla tugged at her braid, looking from one of them to the other.

"She's got a point, Dayne. You could easily assume that he was a drunkard or something similar. It's much more likely for the layman than assuming he was going to die from a rare disease."

The sergeant scowled angrily as he watched his theory go up in smoke.

"Yeah, maybe, but blast it, we have to start somewhere. If we don't ask the right questions, we're not going to get anywhere at all."

"What about witnesses?" Mieu asked. "Perhaps someone saw something around the time of the murder?"

He shook his head.

"No go. I sent a couple of guards to canvass the town for witnesses when I first found the body. If they'd have learned anything, they'd have reported in by now. I'll bet there's nothing to find. Whomever did this was careful. No tracks and no witnesses."

Dayne turned to Mieu.

"That reminds me. It's about time I took you up on your offer to have a look at the crime scene." He scratched at his chin. "Then, I think we'll give Terrence Ballard a rousting. If Godley was up to something--and I still think he was--he'll be the one to know."

* * * * *

Mieu's examination of the ground outside the window revealed nothing except to verify Dayne's own observations. The ground was hard, though, and the android had barely been able to make out the sergeant's tracks from that morning, let alone those of a killer who had been taking care not to leave traces. What she did find was tiny droplets of blood on the windowsill inside the room, which at least conclusively established that no one had been playing tricks with the site of the murder. The blood must have been a fine mist; the drops were so small that Dayne could only spot one of them without bringing a light over, that a small splotch next to a scratch in the paint that Mieu pointed out to him.

So, without any significant physical evidence to go on, Dayne and Mieu found themselves at Ballard's inn, the Southgate, where he and his fellow Orakian agitators had spent last night plotting their strategy for the first day of protests. The shouting and sign-waving appeared to be over for the evening, so they figured there was a good chance they could find Ballard in his room. The innkeeper, a swarthy, graybearded man, confirmed this impression.

"Are you here to arrest that swine?" he said eagerly, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. "I've put up with that Orakian filth long enough."

"So why haven't you thrown them out yourself?" Dayne asked, his voice casual.

"Why, Sergeant. It would be a violation of the law to evict a paying guest who'd done nothing to breach the peace of my inn," the innkeeper exclaimed innocently.

"The key word, no doubt, being paying. Their meseta spend just like anyone else's, and you couldn't resist it, regardless of how hateful they might be. Spare me the theatrics and tell us where Ballard is."

Sullenly, the graybeard said, "He's in Room Three, just at the top of the stairs."

"Thank you kindly."

The door to Room Three was locked. Dayne rapped on the wood.

"Ballard?"

He got no response.

"Ballard, open up! This is the Guard."

Again, no one answered. Dayne began to get a sickening feeling. This was too much like when he'd been called to investigate Godley's silence that morning and had ended up confronting murder. Without further ado, he raised his boot and hammered it into the lock. The second kick crashed the door open.

"What the--?"

The room was dim, the threadbare curtains drawn to shut out the setting sun. Ballard, clad only in his undergarments, sat upright in bed, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

"Only asleep," Dayne sighed.

"In Orakio's name, what is this?" Ballard repeated.

"Kind of an early bedtime, isn't it?" Dayne asked. "I guess you were busy last night."

"You. I should have known we would never be free of Layan persecution in this monster-ridden city."

The sergeant sighed again.

"Save your rhetoric for your pack of fanatics. I'm here to get an answer to one question and one question only, so listen carefully." He was already beginning to regret being worried for the idiot's life.

"Oh, and is this why you broke into my room?"

"That was a bit precipitate," Mieu observed, "but reasonable, given that we were afraid you might have become the killer's second victim."

So, she was thinking along the same lines.

"The second--? You had best hope not, because if I die I can guarantee you that there will be Layan blood running in the streets of Shusoran!"

That'll teach me to care, Dayne thought.

"I told you to listen, not run off at the mouth. Here's what I want to know: what did Godley have planned for today?"

"What?"

The guardsman glanced at his new partner.

"Mieu, was I clear?"

"Very clear."

"I thought so. It's an easy question, Ballard. Abel Godley had something planned, something to really tear into the Layans, only he was killed. What was he going to do?"

"I...I don't know what you're talking about."

Mieu shook her head sadly.

"You're a bad liar," she said. "You held your breath for a fraction of a second, your heart rate elevated, and the hesitation when you spoke was very obvious. I don't think that would have successfully fooled your own followers, let alone Layan guard."

"I would think you'd want to help us find out who killed your friend," Dayne added.

Ballard sneered at them again. It was getting to be very tiresome.

"Don't make me laugh. You Layan scum haven't got the courage to arrest one of your own. I don't even know why you're going through this farce."

Dayne's left fist knotted in the front of Ballard's undertunic, unceremoniously hauling the Orakian out of bed and shoving him up against the wall.

"You know, Ballard," he snarled between clenched teeth, his face about an inch from the fanatic's, "I've had about all of you that my stomach can take. I don't like Orakians; I never have. When I read the bile Godley wrote there was a part of me that was glad he was dead. The more I hear from you and your Layan opposites, though, the more I realize how damned stupid that is. I listen to you spew your bile and it tells me that I'd better hurry up and realize that Orakians are good and decent people because if I don't I'll be just like you and that is something I don't even want to think about. Now, you're going to tell me exactly what Godley had planned or so help me I'll drag you off to a cell and let you rot until you do answer!"

He spun the Orakian around and pitched him back into bed.

"Now," he roared, "talk!"

Ballard looked over at Mieu for support. She folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot. No help there for you, Dayne thought.

"All...all right. Yeah, Godley did have something planned. I just don't know what it was. You see, he wasn't really one of us. On our side, certainly--he was a believer in Orakio's way with all his heart--but he was a loner, even more so after he got sick. He gave some of the finest speeches I've ever heard and his pamphlets drove home our views better than I ever could, but he didn't like to get involved in organized demonstrations or other activities. Like I said, he liked to go on his own."

"You knew he was sick?"

"Of course. He tried to hide it, but it was obvious if you spent enough time around him."

"So what did you know about his plans?" Mieu brought the interrogation back on point.

"Like I said, he didn't tell--"

"He obviously told you something, or you wouldn't know about it at all," Dayne snapped.

"Nothing specific! All he said was that he had something special planned, something that would put you Layans in your place for once and for all. He told me that it wouldn't interfere with what we're doing, so my group should go ahead with its plans, but what he would do would destroy any chance of the conference's success."

"Did you believe him?"

"Well...yes and no."

Dayne's gaze narrowed.

"Can you be any less clear?"

"Godley talked big, but sometimes he got...carried away by his own rhetoric. I believed he had something planned, but wasn't sure that it was anywhere near as effective as he hoped it would. He had too much faith in the power of words. I assumed that he meant he had a new manifesto to spread that he believed would change people's minds."

That tallied, thought the sergeant. The papers in Abel's room certainly looked like a fresh appeal to Orakian bigotry.

"Where did you tell you this?" Mieu asked.

"We had dinner together last night at his inn?"

"When?"

"We ate around seven. I left at quarter-to, leaving Godley to linger over his last drink. I had to get back to the Sons of Orakio."

"Thank you," Mieu said politely. She glanced at Dayne. "Did you have any more questions?"

He shook his head curtly.

"No, that'll do for now."

He spun on his heel and strode out, with the cyborg on his heels.

"The times agree," he told Mieu. "The innkeeper said Godley finished dinner at eight and went up to his room. Why were you so interested in where it happened?"

"I was wondering if one of our Layan suspects might have overheard them talking, since your theory about the victim having an urgent plan turned out to be correct."

They brushed past the innkeeper, whose face fell as he realized they weren't going to share any news with him, and went out into the street. The night air was fresh, thanks to Shusoran's spacious layout and well-maintained program of sanitation. It was a nice town, a good place to live, and the sergeant ached to think of the blot on its honor.

"That's a good idea." He sighed heavily. "You know what this means, Mieu? We'll have to talk to the innkeeper, get a list of everyone Sera can remember who was there last night, and check on all their alibis too. It doesn't have to be one of the zealots, after all. It might have been anyone who heard Godley and Ballard talking hate and got scared of what he had planned. Looks like it's back to the Windward."

More walking, Dayne groaned inwardly. He was wearing new boots for the conference and they were starting to rub.

On the way back they passed a large house. Dayne scowled as he saw it, almost involuntarily.

"Is something wrong?"

"Huh? Oh, sorry, Mieu. That's the house of that guy Merak, head of the Crusaders of Laya."

"Oh? He's just down the street from the Windward Inn?"

"Convenient, isn't it? Too bad his followers all claim they were together over at Selmo's Supply Shoppe from eight to three..." His voice trailed off.

"Dayne, what is it?"

"The Supply Shoppe is at the end of this street. The very other end, nowhere near the inn, which is why I didn't think of it before, but the most direct route from here to the Crusaders' meeting is right past the Windward. If Merak just happened to stop in for a drink, and happened to overhear Godley talking to Ballard, well, there might have been a new crusade last night."

Excited, he started off down the cobbled road at a fast clip, heedless of the boots.

"If we can place him at the inn at the right time, we've got him!"

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