Murder In Shusoran
The Windward's red-haired innkeeper was as perceptive as Dayne had
assumed she was that morning. Sera remembered that Godley had eaten
dinner with someone else, provided a fairly accurate description of
Ballard without prompting, and then capped it all off by exclaiming,
"Oh! That was that rude man who pushed his way past me this morning,
"That's what he told us. It's good to have confirmation from a more
reliable source, though." He tapped his fingers on his belt. "That
gives rise to another test for your memory, though. I need to know who
was here while they were dining together, say between seven and quarter
She frowned, pondering the question.
"That's not easy. Myself and the servants, of course. I think most
of the guests ate around then, too. The merchant from Rysel, Ogin,
definitely didn't; he had an appointment at the castle, but the rest
were there. The cook starts serving at seven, you see. A couple of my
regulars came by, too. Lina Pelham did; she had her usual game of
cards with Mort Castledown. Weston Gale got thrown out of the house by
his wife again, so he ate here, but he didn't spend the night so he
must have wheedled his way back to her." Dayne almost laughed at the
rendition of inn life when Sera dropped the other shoe. "Oh, and Merak
Le Disan stopped by for a brandy."
He pounced on it immediately.
"When did he do that?"
"I can't be sure; around seven-thirty, I suppose."
"Thank you very much," Dayne said earnestly. "Could you write up a
list of the names? I may need them later."
"Certainly...but, you don't think that Merak would have
committed the murder, do you? Laya's Law is sacred to him. He wouldn't
hurt a fly."
"Yes, but it wasn't a fly that was killed. From Merak's point of
view it was a much more nauseating kind of vermin--an Orakian. Come
on, Mieu; it looks like we have another evening call to pay."
* * * * *
Merak's front door had a fancy brass knocker in the shape of a ring
hanging from a dragon's mouth. It also had a fancy butler wearing a
tunic and breeches that could only have been livery.
"We'd like to see Merak."
"The master is not receiving visitors. I suggest you return in the
morning, at a proper hour."
"Let me rephrase that: get out of the way. This is official
"My master's time is valuable. You cannot simply accost him to suit
Mieu stepped forward.
"Can I do it this time?"
"Be my guest."
With considerably more strength than her slight body suggested, Mieu
simply took the butler by the lapels, lifted him off the floor, and set
him down two feet to the right. While he was still trying to think up
an appropriately indignant response, Dayne and Mieu walked on by.
"Thank you. I don't get many opportunities to bully people; you
humans always seem to want to do it yourselves."
Dayne wondered if cyborgs were programmed for irony as they climbed
a grand, curving staircase to the second floor. They found the master
bedroom easily enough, and it turned out that, like Ballard, Merak had
gone to bed early. Unlike Ballard, though, Merak wasn't asleep. When
he answered the knock, clad in a long, belted robe, Dayne could see
past him to make out a woman clutching a sheet to cover herself in the
huge, four-poster bed. It was, predictably, Cara, the woman from the
rival group of Layan extremists.
"Political negotiations?" Dayne inquired politely.
Merak's eyes flashed with anger.
"This is intolerable, Sergeant Rathman!" he snapped. "You barge
into my home, enter my private rooms without my consent, disturb a
lady's modesty, and then make insulting remarks! Beyond these merely
personal affronts, you have the gall to bring this abomination
into my home!" He pointed dramatically at Mieu. "A product of Orakian
deviltry, not merely their usual slave-machines but an imitation of a
human being made by their hateful sciences. Mark my words, if we
continue as we are now those...things...will replace our
neighbors, our friends...yes, even our co-workers," he added slyly.
"You know, today was the first time I've ever spoken to a cyborg.
I've also talked to a couple of dozen people, and you know what? On
average, I'll take the cyborg. Especially compared to the present
company. Now, if you're finished asking me to justify myself, we'll
move on to another little question, namely, why didn't you mention that
you'd stopped off at the Windward Inn for a drink last night on your
way to the meeting?"
"What does that have to do with anything?" Merak challenged.
"Moreover, you still have not removed this devil's spawn from my home."
"I'll go," Mieu offered. "I'm certain you'll have a more productive
conversation without my presence."
"You'll stay." Dayne turned to Merak. "Mieu is an officer of the
guard by order of Prince Lyle himself. She has every right to be here
and you have no right to send her away. The only way you'll get rid of
both of us is to answer our questions fully and completely. Do you
There was no give in his voice; his tone was as inflexible as
laconia. He even managed to bank back most of his anger, aware that
firmness would get better results from a man like Merak than rage.
They locked eyes for a long moment, then Le Disan sighed.
"All right. At least let's step out into the hall so we don't
Dayne assented, and Merak closed the bedroom door behind them.
"Now, to answer your question, I did not mention it because you
asked me where I was at the time of the murder...though perhaps
'extermination' would be a better word for it. I told you where I was
and gave you the hours of the meeting, which according to you began
well before the crime. It would have been a waste of my time and yours
to expand on my activities for the entire day. What could possibly be
significant about having a drink? I stop at the Windward often; Sera
serves good food and has an excellent cellar.
"What's significant is that you happened to be there just when Abel
Godley was announcing to his fellow Orakian hate-monger, Terence
Ballard, that he had something in store for us today, something big
that would put we Layans 'in our place.' Is this starting to make
sense to you?"
Merak's eyebrows snapped upward.
"Are you accusing me of this murder?"
"Accusing? Not yet. Let's just say that it raises some interesting
questions. You knew that Godley was up to no good. You didn't know
what he planned, but you did know that you needed to act fast. Last
night, somebody did act. Today, Godley is dead, and whether his plan
was a real danger or only a twisted mind's dream, it didn't happen."
There was still no fear in the man's eyes, only the cold arrogance
of a powerful man affronted by the presence of gnats.
"As you may remember, I have an alibi for most of the night,
including the time when you said the murder was committed."
"An alibi backed up only by your fellow Crusaders of Laya.
Let's face facts, Merak. You were at the Windward, and then at a
meeting with your fellows, who like you had a good reason to act on
"Knowledge I didn't have. I overheard nothing whatsoever at the
inn, either interesting or not, that Godley may have said. Moreover,
we of the Crusaders of Laya believe in following Laya's Law, her direct
commandment to her people. We would not break it, particularly not
over scum like Godley. You have no evidence against me, only
supposition, inference, and guesswork tainted by personal dislike and,
no doubt, the corrupting influence of this Orakian abomination. I, on
the other hand, have the testimony of nine virtuous Layans that I have
done nothing illegal last night, especially an act as fiendish
as murder. Therefore, I request that you leave my home and stop
bothering me unless you have something meaningful to accomplish."
It was galling, but he had a point. Dayne had no evidence to tie
him to the killing, only deductions that might be based on mist and
moonlight instead of facts.
The door was suddenly flung open and Cara stormed out of the bedroom
fully dressed, her fists clenched.
"I couldn't wait any longer, Merak. I couldn't bear to let you face
this Orakian pawn alone."
"It's quite all right, Cara," the suspect replied. "They've all but
finished with me by now, as you can see, and were at last preparing to
"We decide when an interview is over, Merak, not you."
"Further questioning would be pointless. I have nothing more to
"That's too bad, because I have plenty more to ask." Hammering away
at Merak's cool facade would be slow going at best, but it would be the
only way to work an admission out of him or his followers. If he had
to confront all nine of them, Dayne thought, this could end up being a
very long night.
Cara stepped forward at once.
"You stupid, pampered tool of the enemy!" she barked. "It's just
like I thought; you're nothing but Prince Lyle's weapon to destroy a
decent man fighting for the true Layan way of life! I won't let you do
it! I won't let you treat Merak like a common criminal!"
She all but flew at him, fists upraised, and reflexively Dayne's
hands dropped to his fighting staffs. There was no need to use them,
though; Merak caught the his lover by the shoulder and pulled her back,
aware of the potential consequences for herself and the movement if she
physically attacked a guard.
Dayne didn't take his hands from the leather-wrapped grips of the
two steel weapons at once, though. They rested there for a moment,
until he lifted them slowly, looking from one hand to the other.
"It could be..."
He shook off the effects of the brainstorm and stared hard at the
"We're going now," he told them firmly. "Don't get too complacent.
If we need to question you again, be available."
He spun on his heel and stalked off towards the grand staircase,
Mieu trailing along behind. Once they were outside the house, though,
he turned to the android.
"Mieu, I've got an idea. I want to try it out on you, first,
because if I'm right this could explain everything."
"I saw you looking oddly at your hands. Was that what made you
think of it?"
"That's what got it started, but the chain of thought has gotten
fairly long. That's why I need your opinion, to see if any of the
links are suspect."
"You do tend to be somewhat enthusiastic about your ideas," Mieu
When Dayne was finished, though, even Mieu had to admit that he had
a good reason to be enthusiastic this time.