Author's Note: Hey, all! This story is what I like to call a palette cleanser... something I play with between the big updates to make them less tedious. Beyond that, it has a couple things worth mentioning.
First, it is kind of a present for DezoPenguin, who adores mysteries and whom I probably owe a present merely from the fact he writes reviews that are roughly a page long for everything I do.
Second, it does feature one of my OC's from Infinity, but only one, and by no means do you need to have read that story to understand this. And no, it is not remotely canon to that story, unless I change my mind on that later. It just... exists.
Third, I will be a bit worried if you fully understand this no matter what else you've read, unless you've found the Akashic Records and omniscience is at your grasp.
Fate T. Harlaown and the Case of the Murderous Murder
A Tale of Intrigue, Treachery, Passion, and Scandal
Part the First
Fate Testarossa Harlaown had been an Enforcer long enough to know when a day was going to turn out badly. It was nothing tangible; a vague sense of disaster in the air, a thought that would never quite leave the back of your mind. Just a knowledge that a case was going to be a bad one. Maybe complicated, maybe violent, maybe And that day, sitting alone in the starport in Taris IV's capital city, sipping cold coffee and waiting for her team to arrive, was going to be a bad one.
Trying to cheer herself up, she said that maybe it was the cold coffee. Cheap starport coffee bars never failed to depress her, and this one didn't even have green tea.
"Fate! Fate, over here!" came a familiar voice, and Fate smiled despite herself. She turned to see her long-time partner, Teana Lanster, approaching her through the crowd.
"Tia. I heard you were on this job too," Fate said with a grin. Maybe her bad feeling was nothing but that.
"Well, when a planetary governor gets murdered, they pull out the big guns," Tia said with a shrug. "Even on a small, out of the way world like this one. Since we were both in the region, it's not weird they put us together. I'm more concerned about the newbie."
"Someone new. Just passed the Enforcer exam on a probationary status, and they wanted us to show them the ropes. Unfortunately, the files I got were corrupted, so I didn't catch their name..."
Fate sighed. "Command needs to put less funding into the cushy chairs, and more into making sure we get our files properly. How are we supposed to find our third member if we don't know who to look f-"
"TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESS!" Screamed a voice that was, itself, like the very essence of shouting. Fate's stomach fell.
"Oh. Hello, Susa," Fate said, as a young-looking man with a giant grin and bright blue hair sprinted up to her. There was still a crowd, of course, he just didn't seem to notice them. More than one passing businessman was stepped on. "What are you doing here...?"
"Learning murder investigation from the best of the best!" the young combat program said with a grin.
"Please God, no," Teana said. She and Susanoo had met before. There was such a thing as 'Hate at First Sight.'
"It's kind of a formality, I guess. I just passed the exam for investigative missions, and apparently you're required to work a case with a senior operative before you can do it on your own!" Susanoo said cheerfully. "Silly TSAB. I know how to catch murderers. Just use a net!"
Fate tried to hide the wince. "Susa... what inspires you to get into this particular branch of the service, might I ask?"
He blinked, as if he didn't quite understand how she could even ask. "Fun."
"How did you pass?!" Teana whimpered. "This duty requires diplomacy with local authorities. Keen analysis of scant evidence. Subtlety. Things you lack so, so, so, so much. How could you have passed the test?!"
"Well, they gave me the exam paper," I said. "And I went down it, and answered 'C' for everything."
The starport seemed to go silent.
"I got the fifth-highest score in the history of the program!" He said proudly.
Fate failed to hide the wince this time. "A multiple choice exam was maybe not the best choice in the world for determining candidacy."
"I thought the same thing, but they gave it right over!" Susanoo said cheerfully.
"I... I studied for years for that exam... stayed up nights... alienated friends and neighbors to focus..." Tia muttered, abject despair filling her tone.
"You should have tried going with 'C,' Susa said cheerfully. "So, when do we catch the murderer? Oh, and who was murdered?"
Fate rubbed her temples to fight off the growing headache. It wasn't like Susanoo was bad, per se. In fact, most of the time she actually liked having him around. He brought a certain exuberance to social situations, ever since she'd met him during the Infinite Empire case all those years ago, and he had come to remain a friend ever since they had closed that case via a series of unlikely and amazing events, followed by even more events, many of them quite interesting and astonishing, that had enabled things to allow them to continue their socialization.
Sometimes, Fate thought it was odd how fuzzy her memories of that particular case and following events were. Perhaps she was getting old.
The key thing was, Susanoo was a dear friend, and she was certainly glad to have him around. The issue was, he was also kiiiiiiind of a moron. Not a bad moron, she couldn't stress that enough. But he had all the subtlety of a brick to the face, and this job required subtlety. Running into a warehouse and punching a million drug dealers in the face was almost never the right option, and it was basically the only thing that Susa was qualified for.
"Susanoo, have you considered the possibility that perhaps going into a career that requires long work hours filled with inactivity, study, and almost no action whatsoever is not the best fit for someone of your... particular skill set?" Fate asked delicately.
"You're gonna ruin everything," Teana said, less delicately.
"Well, the way I see it," Susanoo said cheerfully, "you're never too old to learn some new tricks. I have over a thousand years experience in preventing murders from happening. That's easy. You just stand in front of whoever you don't want to die, and if someone tries to murder them, BAM! You stop it. But what about if you're not there? I can't stop everyone from being murdered, unless you gather up everyone in all of existence in one room so I can stand in front of them all, and you'd need a really big room for that. So I should figure out, I think, how to find murderers who murdered people I wasn't in front of. It seems like a useful skill to have."
Fate blinked. "Susa, that was almost like logic."
"I know, right?!" Susanoo said, smiling, against all logic, like a puppy. "I'm proud of myself lately! I have used my thinking-brain for mind-knowledge!"
Teana turned to her mentor, her eyes wide with horror. "Fate. Please tell me you aren't going to seriously... I mean, you've met him, right? The victim is a planetary governor. This is a matter of utmost sensitivity. We can't bring a sledgehammer!"
"I'm more of an axe," Susa said sagely. "A big axe, though."
"Well, we don't have much of a choice, Tia. He's our... assignment," Fate said, stopping herself just short of saying 'burden.' "Besides, we're both veterans. We have handled a dozen cases like this one. Surely he can't make things that much worse that we can't handle it together. Right?"
Susa smiled brilliantly, apparently pleased by this decision. "So, who died?"
"The victim's was Ronaldo Chryslus, aged 53. Governor of Taris IV and its extended colonies," Fate said, her voice in the clipped, precise, neutral tone she'd come to think of Enforcer Mode. The group were all capable of flight at this point, but Fate preferred rental cars for getting around; more subtle, less likely to horrify the locals, and no need to get in touch with air traffic control.
Plus, Fate liked driving. She had the casefiles memorized, as usual, so she could narrate and control the transport at the same time. She enjoyed the control.
"He was found approximately 0800 hours yesterday in his office at home. The door was locked, no signs of forced entry; he was found in the morning at his desk when his housekeeping staff unlocked to door to clean inside. Preliminary investigation from local coroner suggests blunt force trauma. No signs of a struggle, which indicates he was either taken by surprise, or the killer was someone he knew."
"Do we have any suspects?" Tia asked.
"Given the smoothness of entry, and the lack of obvious evidence, this was probably a premeditated attack," Fate said. "At the time of death, three members of the governor's family were on the grounds, along with four members of the housekeeping staff and a friend of the family who was staying in the guest wing."
Tia winced. "That's a lot of potential. We'll be at the interviews alone for hours."
"Hope the local investigators have good coffee," Fate agreed with a sad smile.
Susanoo raised a hand, and the girls held their breath.
It had been a mostly quiet ride, largely because Susa had been, against all odds, silent. Rather than his usual enthusiastic shouting, he had actually seemed to be keeping track of what Fate was saying, which was almost unheard of for him. But now he had a question, or worse, a suggestion. He wanted to talk. This couldn't end well.
"I think," he said, "I know who the killer is."
Well. At least he wasn't suggesting burning the house down with the killer inside to be 'sure they got him'. Yet. Fate tried her best to smile, and said, soothingly, "Susanoo, you do realize we haven't actually done any investigation. At all. We don't even have reliable personnel files on any of the suspects yet, this whole situation has been so hectic."
"Right, right," Susanoo said.
"I should have said I know the best way to find the killer!" Susa said, the light of discovery in his eyes. "It's pretty brilliant, actually. We get everyone together in one big room. And we look for the one who seems evil."
The silence came back to the car, but it wasn't a joy this time.
"The one who seems evil," Teana said, apparently just to get the words out of her brain before they caused it to melt.
"Right. He'll probably have some kind of scar, maybe an eyepatch," Susanoo suggested. "Oh, and the name. He'll have a name that seems dramatically evil sounding. Something like Falcone DeSlaughter, or Malevolus Sinistere."
"Fate," Teana said, "as senior officer, I'm going to leave you to deal with this while I hit my head against the window."
"Injuring an officer is against protocol, Tia. Even if that officer is yourself," Fate said. She had to admit, that was better than she'd expected. It was more like taking care of a precocious and not-terribly-bright child than the outright disaster she'd been hoping for. "Susa, we have to do things like talk to all the witnesses, examine the crime scene, and read over the coroner's reports. But I promise that we will consider your idea as... let's call it Plan F."
She was thought that was a fair letter. It seemed pretty likely that she could come up with at least an A through E before she needed to resort to hunting for people with black mustaches.
The butler of the Chryslus estate was named Evan Ferrio, and he did have black hair. He was not, however, in possession of an eyepatch or sinister goatee, and so Susa didn't seem terribly interested in him.
"Mr. Ferrio. I understand that you are the one who found the body and first contacted the authorities, at 0800 yesterday?" Fate asked, putting on her best 'sympathetic authority' voice. She was good at it after all these years; she had to be, considering how quickly she had learned the lesson that even the most traumatized, weeping widow could very well have been the one who put that poison in her husband's morning coffee. Faking convincing sadness was not effortless, but it was not nearly so hard as many thought it to be.
"Um, I already answered so many questions for the local precinct. Is this really...?" the butler began.
Fate held up a hand. "I prefer to get my own findings, before comparing notes with the local authorities. I cleared it all with Inspector Siouxport, don't worry. Just answer my questions as best you can, and we'll see how it all goes from there."
"Very well," the man said, adjusting his tie. His suit, while well-made, was wrinkled, indicating he probably hadn't had opportunity to change clothes in the last day. "As you said, I found the governor slumped over at his desk, around 8 o'clock local time, yesterday morning. I was bringing him his breakfast, which he often liked to eat in his office while he caught up on any events that took place overnight. I at first thought he had merely fallen asleep... the governor kept truly horrific hours, I'm afraid. Something of a workaholic. But upon looking closer I found... I found..."
Fate nodded in mostly-sympathy. "It's okay, Mr. Ferrio. Just take it slowly."
The man took a deep breath. "Yes. Of course. I found that... that his head had been badly bruised, just above the right temple, and a line of blood..." he shuddered. "Needless to say, it was a shock. I fear I could do little but panic for... for far too long. It took me nearly fifteen minutes to get the frame of mind to call for help."
Teana nodded sympathetically, taking a sip from her water and pouring a cup for the butler. Coffee and jittery witnesses didn't mix well, sadly. "Don't worry. If the coroner's report was accurate, his time of death was close to midnight. By the time you found him, it was already far too late."
"And everything you've said matches up with the report we got from the inspector," Fate said in satisfaction, especially pleased that the man had noted and explained the fifteen-minute time gap. It gave her two data points: one, that he had taken longer than he should have to report the crime. Two, that he was aware of this fact and had a passable, if not airtight, alibi for it. These may or may not have been significant facts, but she couldn't do her job properly without as many as she could get her hands on. "Now, before we dismiss you, I was wondering if you could tell us about the others staying at the governor's mansion?"
"Oh, of course. There is, of course, Mrs. Chryslus, the governor's wife. She is his first wife, and they have been together nearly twenty-five years. Met in college, if I recall correctly, though lately the mistress has been away more and more often. And the other family members; their only daughter, Scarlet, and her fiance, Darius. Then of course, there was the in-house workers in the staff wing; the chef, Mr. DuClar, two maids, Louise and Collette. And myself, of course."
Fate nodded, ready to go in-depth with questions about each, and conduct a careful, studied investigation in all the skeletons in the closet that all such households had. She hoped it was one of them and not a hired killer; personal crimes were so much simpler than politically motivated ones. Still, she was feeling good about this case for the first time since taking it. "All right, let's start with the family, th-"
"Oh, and Dr. Von Murder in the guest room, of course," The butler finished.
Tia gagged and spit out a mouthful of water. "Von Murder?" she squeaked after she had finished choking.
Susa's eyes lit up. "Called it!" he said.
Fate's jaw dropped, and she felt the world slipping away for several long seconds before she finally managed to croak out, "Excuse me?"
"Dr. Heinrich von Murder," the butler said cheerfully. "He is an old friend of the governor's family, and a respected pillar of the community here on Taris IV. Why, as the CEO and lead designer of MurderCorp., he provides countless local jobs in his KillBot factories."
"His what factories?!" Tia shrieked.
Fate placed a calming hand on her shoulder, guiding the panicking girl back into her seat soothingly. She took a deep breath, composed herself, and said, with the dignity of a veteran enforcer, "His what factories?!"
"KillBot ," Mr. Ferrio said cheerfully, seemingly unaware of the reactions of the enforcers he spoke to. "Only the most widely used and beloved home-security robots on Taris! Why, I daresay that any home that wishes their children to sleep safely contains a KillBot or two."
"... Are you sure you're pronouncing that right?" Fate asked, finally.
"Maybe it means something different in the local language," Tia ventured.
Mr. Ferrio blinked, looking back and forth between the two horrified women and the smiling young man. "It's just a brand name. And a very respected one indeed! Why, Dr. von Murder has been a close friend of the governor for years, and contributed very generously to his campaign. He is a pillar of the community. Is something wrong with this?"
"You don't know? You really don't know?" Tia asked. "Von Murder? Really?!"
"You're just angry because I called it. I totally called it," Susanoo said, the aura of smugness radiating off him like a tiny sun of annoying. "My first case, and I already caught the killer. I was clearly born for this job."
"Susa," Fate said severely. "We've barely started the investigation, so..."
"Tess. Please. There is a man named Dr. Heinrich von Murder in this house. He runs a company called MurderCorp. He makes KillBots for a living. It really doesn't get much better than that," Susanoo said. "Clearly he stole away into the manor under a mask of friendship, and when he got here, reprogrammed one of the robots that he himself designed, in order to do his dark work."
"Just because... just because a man has an unfortunate name and a somewhat questionable grasp of giving his products a marketable brand name, does not make him a killer. I hope," Fate said, somewhat desperately.
"It probably means something different in the local language!" Tia claimed again, grasping on to any port in a storm. "I bet if this were Midchilda, he'd be Dr. von Butterfly of HappyBunnyCorp., making Fluffbots. See? No way he can be the killer!"
Fate sighed. "No going too far in the opposite direction, Tia. He is still a suspect. As much as I hate to admit that."
"Only a suspect?" Susanoo asked incredulously, looking through the case files. "Ah-ha! See, look, the mansion has a security KillBot model. The Murderator 2000, special KillDeath edition with gold plating. That gives Dr. von Murder means, opportunity, and a highly suspicious name. If he has an eyepatch, I don't care what you girls say: I'm arresting him."
Teana sighed, looked at her mentor with sad, tired eyes. "He can't be the killer, Fate. He just can't. If he is... I don't know. I just feel like the world loses so much light and joy."
"Shhhhhhh," Fate said gently, the tone of a mother soothing her crying child. "We had to interrogate him anyway, didn't we? It will be okay, I'm sure. Why, he probably has less motive than anyone else in the house."
Teana sniffed, brushing a tear from her eye. "Y-you promise?"
As it turned out, Dr. Heinrich von Murder did not, in point of fact, have an eyepatch. Though he did have glasses, which were at least eye-related.
The man's name did not match his appearance, to say the least. For starters, he was clearly at least in his seventies, and judging by his skeletal frame, very possibly had fewer kilos on his body than he had years in his life. His hair was little more than wispy white fuzz lining the sides of his head, and he wore a pair of thick bifocals over foggy gray eyes.
Oh, and he was in a wheelchair.
Teana couldn't have looked more smug if she tried, her smirk nearly leaping off her face to smack Susanoo in the back of the head.
"Dr. von Murder," she practically purred. "Would you be so kind as to tell us where you were between the hours of midnight and two AM, yesterday?"
Dr. von Murder smiled warmly, the image of a loving grandfather. "Well, I'm afraid it's been some time since I could pull an all-nighter like that one, young lady. I was quite snugly asleep, and I believe the electric lock on my room will show I was inside and did not leave until the next morning at breakfast, when I found out about..." his smile faded. "Ah. Poor Ronaldo. I've known him since he was a bright-eyed young man, you know. He was running for the city council at around the same time I made my first million in robotics sales, and well... he was so full of potential, even then. I knew right then, he would rise high, and he did. And now this. So sad..."
Susanoo tilted his head to one side. "So, doc. Let's say you wanted to bludgeon someone to death. Given your physical condition, I'm sure you'd want to program one of your robots to do it?"
"Susa!" Fate screeched. "Not proper interrogation form!"
"Oh, it's no problem, miss," Dr. von Murder said warmly. "You see, what with my arthritis, I'm afraid I could never manage to reprogram a KillBot manually. I'm afraid my hands just shake too much to handle the wires, and of course my fingers could never pry the access plate open. I fear I am merely a figurehead to my own company at this point. Age makes nothing of us all, in time..."
Susanoo looked like a kicked puppy. "Are you sure you couldn't? Maybe you had one robot reprogram another robot?"
"Oh, I'm afraid my luggage manifest will show I brought no KillBot with me to the manor for my holiday. Worked with the blasted things so long I can't stand to have them around if I can help it," Dr. von Murder said chipperly. "Marvelously useful little buggers, of course, but after awhile I'm afraid you just get tired of them. Would any of you like a hard candy? I believe I have some hard candies."
Teana didn't laugh. Out loud.
Susanoo sighed. "I was so sure. His name! And the KillBots!"
"Oh, that's just a brand name. Means something different in the local language, I hear," Dr. von Murder said helpfully.
Teana did laugh. Out loud.
"I don't suppose that any of the maids have last names like... Malicia, or something?" Susanoo asked hopefully. "Because otherwise, I got nothin'."
Fate smiled warmly at the kindly old man, and said, "Thank you, doctor. I'm terribly sorry for the inconvenience."
"Oh, no need to apologize," the old man said with a grandfatherly smile of good cheer. "I know you fine young ladies and gentleman need to examine all the details of the case. I fear I was sound asleep at the time of the murder, but any other questions I can answer, well, I would be more than happy to."
"So, tell me, Dr. von Murder," Teana said, "What with your name that is totally normal around here, and your physical inability to be the killer. Would you say that any of the other normally named people in the mansion might have had some reason to kill the governor? Because you couldn't have? At all?"
"Teana, please stop lowering yourself to the level of the other small child on the team?" Fate asked. "Doctor, while my colleague's tone is quite silly, her question is shockingly, valid. As the governor's close friend, can you think of any reason someone might want to harm him?"
The doctor sighed. "Well, my friends, I fear that as with any man of power, my old friend had many enemies. Many of them in this very house. Rumors that his marriage was troubled abound, I fear. And he may have taken this frustration out on the remainder of his family, for it was well-known he did not approve of his daughter's marriage; he and her fiance, Darius, have come just short of exchanging blows in public in their mutual disdain for each other. Only the fact they both genuinely love Scarlet have kept them from all-out war. And of course, the household staff cannot be trusted... more than one political assassin has worked out that the best way to approach a man under security is through his chef or maid. Particularly that butler."
"Mr. Ferrio?" Tia asked, her tone indicating discomfort with the idea (likely because she recognized that 'the butler did it' was only slightly less pitiful than 'clearly it was the man with the highly suspicious name').
Dr. von Murder sighed. "Well... there's no proof. And I cannot say that I have ever personally seen any indication that he is anything less than a loyal employee. But there have been... rumors about him, for many years. Talk of shady dealings. Past acquaintances that were not, perhaps, entirely savory. I cannot confirm anything specifically, but... I suggest you look into the story of the governor's former great rival, during the early days of his career, and for any connection he might have to Mr. Ferrio, should one actually exist. His name was... Joseph Treachario."
Teana's fragile good mood shattered like glass.
Susa lit up. "Called it!"
Fate rubbed her temples to fight off the growing migraine. "So, this is going to be one of those cases I can't tell people about, then."
"Okay, new theory," Susanoo said to Teana as Fate dug into the local police database and tried desperately to tune them out. "Mr. Ferrio is actually the long-lost son of Joseph Treachario, who was known for, of course, treachery. He passed on his love of treachery to his son, whom he probably had with a young lady who wore a lot of leather and had a cobra tattoo. Her name may have been Evillia, mistress of darkness."
"Fate, can I shoot him?" Teana asked.
"Then, after being raised in the traditions of evil treachery, Mr. Ferrio took on this job as a butler, preparing... sinisterly... to strike down his father's old foe. It is the perfect evil plot! And my unraveling of it is, of course, brilliant, if I do say so myself."
"It's childish goofiness cribbed from a bad spy serial for teenagers," Teana said flatly.
"It... isn't impossible," Fate said. "Per planetary records, Joseph Treachario actually did exist. He passed away of an apparent narcotic overdose around ten years ago, but during his life he was fairly well-renowned for his romantic liaisons. The scandal is what sunk his political career... helped, of course, by agents of governor Chryslus's campaigns bringing the extent of them to light, most particularly his fondness for very illegal brothels. He could well have had a son Mr. Ferrio's age."
"Caaaaaaaaalled iiiiiiiiiiiit!" Susanoo crowed, as Teana went over to engage in her new favored stress-relief technique: smacking her head into a wall.
Author's Note :As always, check my profile for additional works, both fanfiction and published. Hope you enjoy! And if those of you who have the ability would be willing to, sharing the links to my publishing on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like would be a tremendous help, even if you don't buy a thing. Thank you!