10

Quaestorius surveyed the household of Governor Carcillius Boradan Lussus. They were all nervous and expectant. The Inquisitor had brought some of Gordius Clemens' friends with him to make an arrest on the understanding that they kept their own council and did not interrupt him.

"The identity of the murdered man has been discovered" he said "And this is the likeness of him" he drew a cloth from where it covered the reconstructed face.

Morilla Plina Lussa made an exclamation of disgust.

"Another of the parasites who wanted to use my poor boy!" she moaned softly. Quaestorius fixed her with a steely gaze.

"Actually Lady Morilla, I have independent witnesses to the fact that your son propositioned this young man, who turned him down, after seeking advice from a superior officer in how to do so without causing offence – because he preferred girls. Not a parasite at all. And with that comment you should be pleased that I ruled you out as a murderer for both lack of physical strength and lack of personality sufficient to enlist the aid of a strong servant to do your bidding. Had you taken a firmer line with your son at an earlier age, he might have had the moral fibre not to be the flirt he is and to attract a better class of lover than parasites."

"Inquisitor, do you count ME as a parasite?" Mirchellis Corlen Drussus spoke in a light, amused tone.

"Why, do you do an honest day's work and turn over some of your earnings to the household expenses?" asked Quaestorius. "No, I thought not" he added as Mitchellis gaped. Two angry spots of colour appeared on the young man's face.

"So you include that Astalliana in that do you?" snarled Mitchellis.

"Astalliana has given quite a lot back in return for her living" said Quaestorius "She has already given the Governor two daughters and is carrying his child. The situation is scarcely the same. She is also a companion to Lady Morilla and has the ordering of the kitchen staff, sharing the duties of the lady of the house with Lady Morilla. The ladies I quickly ruled out of this investigation on a number of factors. Not least being that this bold crime required that the body of Gordius Clemens had to be taken to the place where the dead heretics were laid out, and though the soldiers involved in this might have been shaken enough to fail to notice a man they did not know well, they would have assuredly noticed a woman. At which point speculation over whether Astalliana's muscles are strong enough and whether Lady Morilla had help become superfluous."

"So I should think" said the Governor.

Quaestorius turned his hooded gaze on him.

"You had opportunity yourself, Governor, to use the second door out of the office and therefore time to do it – and until I had the measure of the victim's personality enough pride in your family and love for your son to dispose of a possible blackmailer. That he was unlikely to be so tends to make you less likely as a murder suspect, as do other facts, though had you done it I would have thought the planning would have come from the fertile brain of your wife."

"Preposterous!" the Governor reddened. "The idea that I should murder a man I mean, or if I were so lost to shame that I should involve my wife! We might be estranged but I know what I owe her for giving me a son!"

"However unsatisfactory he might be" said Aitas Fornas Lussus with a superior smile.

"You keep your tongue off my son" flared the Governor. "The Inquisitor is right about one thing – I would protect him because I do love him, and he's hit on the only motive I might ever have. But I didn't do it because the fellow wasn't a blackmailer. Rotten sort of soldier but at least no trouble" he added.

Quaestorius hid a little smile. Throwing in contentious comments almost always brought out the truth in squabbling. There were few communities or families so close knit that adversity did not break them apart more than it drew them together – when that adversity was the threat of being accused.

"It was but a thought over possibilities" he murmured.

The Governor, unexpectedly, laughed.

"Actually, not a possibility" he said. "Have you ever seen anyone use the door out of my office, inquisitor? Because if not, perhaps you would go and do so."

"I'll go, My Lord" said Kiliana. "It is unseemly that you should leave the suspects."

Quaestorius nodded.

The office was at some distance to the big antechamber in which the household were assembled but the squeak of a little used door sticking as it slid back was audible.

Quaestorius nodded.

"A quite graphic demonstration" he said.

Kiliana bounced back in.

"I'm afraid it's stuck" she said. "But it howled all the way to sticking like a chaos noise marine with piles."

Loridas laughed in genuine amusement.

"A graphic description" murmured Quaestorius. "It was indeed audible in here; thank you, child."

"He is a pert brat" said Mitchellis, giving Kiliana a venomous look.

"Whom did you mean, Mitchellis Corlen Drusus?" asked Quaestorius.

"Why that red haired boy" growled the handsome young man. The look on his face robbed it of any good looks and the anger in his body robbed it of the languid elegance he normally affected.

"Boy? My apprentice is a girl. Are you so confused about gender that you cannot tell the difference? A trifle insulting to Loridas Carcillan Lussus" said Quaestorius. "Didn't I hear that you were angry with Gordius Clemens for NOT being attracted to other men?"

"Nonsense! He was too attractive not to be one of us!" stated Mitchellis too loudly.

"His looks don't hardly have anything to do with it do they?" said Kiliana "After all, Loridas is quite good looking, which most girls might consider an awful waste of a live one, but you're an ugly old…."

"Kiliana!" said Quaestorius.

Kiliana subsided.

"He ain't very bright is he?" said Burdock looking at Mitchellis as if he were some strange specimen on display.

Being called stupid by an Ogryn had Mitchellis almost gibbering in outrage.

Loridas had been listening to the Inquisitor carefully.

He moved over to his father and placed a hand on his arm.

"I am glad to know that my father would have defended me even with murder" he said "And I am equally glad that it was not necessary. But you say that Gordius Clemens preferred women?"

"'Course he did young master!" one of the soldiers spoke up. "Sent all his pay back to his best girl he did and used all his energy on writing to her. Cor, I bet those letters smoked!"

"I did ask for no interruptions" said Quaestorius.

"I know, My Lord; but I can't apologise, because I must set the young master straight about my friend" said the soldier.

Quaestorius gave a curt nod.

"There you have confirmation of my word, Loridas Carcillan Lussus since you appear to doubt it" he said.

Loridas flushed.

"It is not that I doubt your word, but that Mitchellis had said over and over that Gordius was gazing on me with lust" he said.

"I fear that jealousy placed that falsehood into his own mind" said Quaestorius. "That and fear of being supplanted by a younger, better looking lover so he would lose his soft living. For all his proud name I suspect his family to be impoverished. And it is now time to reveal that there are seething undercurrents of jealousy in this unhappy household that could have led to the savage spoiling of the handsome face of a youth whose only crime was to be too attractive and to attract the wrong sort of attention from either one of the two who ended up as serious suspects. You should all pray to the Blessed Emperor to rid your hearts of jealousy. Jealousy marked this young man's face with vicious slashes that were covered with burns in an amateurish attempt to make it look as though he had been tortured. The perpetrator" said Quaestorius with some smugness "Did not realise that I am so good that, with specialised aid, I had no need of torture to gain information."

"By involving one of those treacherous Blood Marines" snapped Torquilan.

Quaestorius rounded on him.

"THOSE MARINES SAVED YOUR SORRY HIDE AND THE WORTHLESS BACKSIDES OF EVERY LAST HOPLESS SOUL ON THIS WORTHLESS FACILITY FROM CHAOS, YOU UNGRATEFUL HERETIC!" he used the full volume his voice could reach, which was considerable. Quaestorius had opted for voice control lessons during his training as an Inquisitor.

Torquilan fell back.

"My Lord!" he actually squeaked "I am no heretic!"

"You certainly flirt with heresy in listening to the poison whispers of one who wanted a group of bodies to hide an extra one amongst" said Quaestorius coldly "And in failing to take into account that the Left Hand of the Emperor would not permit the continuation of the Adeptus Astartes were there ANY question of their loyalty and faith. You question the Inquisition as well – and I do not want to hear any more from you. I held you as a serious suspect for a long time, knowing how fragile some ecclesiastical vows can be, and having come across, not too long ago, an ecclesiast who liked to use the common soldiery to whom he was confessor and fill their simple minds with guilt so they would not speak of his outrages on their persons – as any forced coupling is always an outrage. It seemed too long a time to take two hours to purify yourself, but as I know you were indulging in your heretical ravings against the Space Marines for a part of that time I can – regretfully – exonerate you from murder and merely consider what to do about your heresy. No, I said I do not want to hear from you" as Torquilan opened his mouth. The ecclesiast shut it again and subsided in terror.

"Can I throw him out now sah?" asked Burdock, hopefully.

"By all means, Burdock" said Quaestorius "He is not truly of this household and he is now superfluous to requirement."

"C'mon you" said Burdock, manhandling Torquilan none too gently. He reminded the giant Ogryn too much of Eliezer Cringe. "De Inquisitor said he don't want you no more. I don't want you no more neither" he added.

Torquilan had little choice but to go.

"Masterly, er, Burdock" said Loridas. His voice was tight though he tried to sound light in tone.

"And now" said Quaestorius "To the two jealous parties. Aitas Fornas Lussus! You are jealous of your cousin Loridas for being born to Governor Lussus and you only to a cousin; and you have done all in your power to try to replace him in his father's affections. And perhaps you were coming close to succeeding, until all the family were under threat of accusation of murder and Carcillius Boradan Lussus began reflecting on whom he did not want to turn out to be guilty. And discovered how much his son meant to him. And indeed how he reflected that your regimen of exercise was needed to bring you to a level of fitness that most recruits would surpass. And at that point he began wondering, I suspect, how much of your apparent good points were but lies. And I wonder whether, like me, he has wondered if your protestations of disgust over your cousin's predilections hid a secret preference for other men yourself."

"I hadn't got that far Inquisitor but I wouldn't say you're wrong" said Lussus.

Aitas paled.

"It isn't true!" he cried. "And what motive would I have for killing this man anyway?"

"One of several" said Quaestorius. "If he turned you down, and you believed the jealous maunderings of Mitchellis that he was trying to interest Loridas in his, er, sexual charms you might kill him in a jealous rage, the frenzy made the more by wanting to be hurting and cutting Loridas but not daring to go that far. Or if your feelings do not run that way, you might have done so to hurt Loridas, and again to attack with a rage you would like to vent on Loridas for being the son of his father. And because you are basically a sycophantic cringing little man you would dare to do to a nameless soldier what you could not do to a patrician – either your cousin or his lover who has a proud family name even if he does choose to betray it in being a parasite. And variations on those themes. But you spoke the truth about being sickened by the executions and were impolite enough to let your sickness explode from your body without taking due care and attention to hit the pan. Which, with the testimonies of the Governor and Torquilan probably give you an alibi and clear you in other ways, because the cool hand that burned the body of the already mutilated young man needed a stronger stomach than you possess. Only a truly cold-hearted and unpleasant person could have inflicted such wounds."

"You are loathsome, Mitchellis; I just want to tell you that before they take you away" said Loridas in a low, controlled voice. "I would not have discarded you as a lover, even though I have behaved badly in flirting too much. And I would not have tried to flirt with Gordius if you had not told me he was hot for me. It was your own fault! I thought I loved you; but if you can kill a lovely and harmless young man like that, and look with undisguised hatred on the Inquisitor's assistant who has done you no harm, then you have only yourself to blame that my love has died and become a thing of ashes. The Inquisitor is right; you are a parasite, and I pray that one day I will find true love with a good man who will accept that I must marry for my line's sake, even as I pray I will find a wife who will accept me for what I am."

"I am proud of my son" said Carcillius Boradan Lussus "He's not physically strong but he has the cast iron ones to stand by what he is and still be prepared to do his duty for the family."

Mitchellis drew a knife and launched himself on Loridas.

The guardsmen were on him before he got very far. Quaestorius winced as he heard a rather horrible crunch. Lady Morilla was having hysterics and Astalliana was comforting her. The younger woman caught Quaestorius' eye and made a little querying gesture. Quaestorius nodded assent. Let her take Morilla away and calm her down. This was not a scene for a delicate woman. Astalliana on the other hand seemed quite satisfied. She would be able to tell her daughters that the bad man was dead.

"Did you have to kill him?" asked Quaestorius.

"Accident, Me Lud" said the soldier who had broken Mitchellis' neck. "He was struggling and it sort of just happened."

"Very well. Make sure when you write up your reports they all tally" said Quaestorius. "I don't want to hang around here investigating whether or not it really was an accident."

"Thank you sir" said one of the others.

"Well get rid of that and we won't say anything more about it" said Quaestorius before one of the young fools said anything effusive about Clemens being their friend. He waved a hand of dismissal and they hurried out with the corpse.

"I'm glad" said Loridas. "If he'd been tried there would have been elements of heresy in what he did. And up until I started to add things up for myself, I did love him."

"You will have more experience now and will choose more wisely another time" said Quaestorius. "And I know you will look for the sort of harmony in your household that your mother and Astalliana manage. Now go to your father you young fool and get on with some reconciliations; and let him be the one to suggest a change of secretary."

Loridas managed a watery grin.

"Yes Uncle Inquisitor" he said.

"Hmph!" grunted Quaestorius.

Epilogue

The interview with the Prior went as satisfactorily as might be expected; which is to say, Quaestorius used every bit of gentle intimidation he knew. He made the Prior himself go through an itemised list of the threats against the population of Tigris and the way the Space Marines had dealt with it – with, Quaestorius took a grim satisfaction in pointing out, losses to their number from the chaos horde – all without losing their faith. Quaestorius asked the Prior how many ecclesiasts in the colony had suggested withdrawing to safer places, abandoning their flocks on the casuistry of preserving the faith. By the time he had finished enumerating the number of ways the Prior and his underlings might find themselves under purge for heretical teachings the ecclesiast was in tears and begging for clemency.

The ecclesiasts of Tigris would be praying for forgiveness of the Eternal Emperor and performing penances under the Prior's watchful eye for long enough to keep their thoughts away from causing any more trouble.

Kiliana had imparted to Astalliana the information that the Inquisitor's given name was Leonidas so that this might be given as a name to her baby if he were a boy, or made into Leona if she were a girl, as the Inquisitor had dealt with the matter expeditiously and in a way that improved relations in the family and Astalliana wanted to celebrate that. As Aitas Fornus Lussus turned out to have lusts for women and had been trying to seduce Astalliana, threatening to tell the Governor that she had tried to seduce him, she was also delighted that the man had been dismissed as Lussus' secretary and an ageing military man taken on instead. The little girls were delighted that the bad man could not hurt anyone else and Quaestorius was talked into telling them stories while he and his staff waited for a transport off Tigris.

The transport came with orders for Quaestorius to get on the trail of some murders that hinted at a rogue Eversore Assassin and Quaestorius stifled a groan.

This was what came of having a reputation for solving mysteries.

Well, the Emperor's will be done.

Finis