Invito Rex – Chapter Five

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“The creature must not be visible. That is paramount. If it is to do it’s job, it must always — (unreadable) — hovering just out of sight, never revealed. I don’t care how you do it, but I must have it. The realm needs it.

There must be one who follows the king everywh — (unreadable) — cannot stress this enough. It should watch him in court, in negotiations, even in his sleep. This automaton advisor must be small and quick, so that it may not be detected. — (unreadable) — to record everything that happens around the king. It must be able to hear the plots, and see the weapons that the king cannot.

It is paramount that this creature answer to no — (unreadable) — even the king. It must be able to use its own judgment on when to help the king and when — (unreadable) — If the king is ever turned, this creature must be there to put him on the right track. It must be prepared to inform him of dangers, warn him against plots, and stand between him and a bullet, if the need — (unreadable) —

Most important of all, this creature should be a line of defense against a king’s madness. We can ill afford another purging like that of king Leo. — (unreadable) — must watch, yes, but it must also judge the king. And if it finds that the king has strayed from the good of the realm, this creature must have the ability-“
— Recovered section of a message sent by King Charles to his secretary of Defense. The remainder of this document was irretrievably burnt.

The child took Dizzy’s hand, and led him out of the throne room, down a corridor adorned with statues of granite, inlaid with gold and silver highlights. Dizzy asked the child, “Do you know where you’re taking me?”

The boy was small, and couldn’t have been more than eight years old. His skin was ebony, and his hair was a dark brown cascade of curls that ran down his back. He grinned at Dizzy, “I know this castle like my home. You are the new king, yes?”

His accent was thick and Dizzy only got some of the words from context, “Yes, I suppose so.”

“The doctor-lady says you will have a drink when you get to your room. Then you will sleep.” He turned down another corridor. This one appeared to be conference or dining hall, from the large table that ran down the length of the room.

Dizzy frowned, “You are absolutely sure you know where we’re going?”

The boy shook his head, “I live here two years now. I serve the king every day. I know where he is going always.” The boy stopped and faced him, “Have we heard the truth? Cadvan is dead?”

Dizzy nodded, “I’m sorry. You must have been very close to him, serving him for so long.”

The boy showed no expression as he turned back and continued down the hallway. There was an awkward silence as he led Dizzy through a boardroom. Beyond another hallway was a grand dual staircase, leading to a bedroom.

“Here we are.” Two stout men stood outside a pair of oaken doors, staring at them. One of them nodded at the boy, “Is this, ah -“

The boy jogged a thumb at Dizzy, “Yeah. He tha new King.”

The guards took their positions and snapped to attention. In a moment, they were ramrod straight, still as statues and looking just as solid. The one who had been silent before now said, “Thank you, sir. My name is Roger, this is Mike. If you need anything, one of us will always be standing outside.

Dizzy passed between them quietly, “Thank you Roger. I’ll let you know.”

As Dizzy stopped in the entrance, stunned by the opulence of the bedroom, if it could be called that. He thought a better description might well be “pleasure dome”. The central figure was a revolving globe that showed the Americas in bright golds and copper. Lush, soft seats wrapped around it like satellites. If the globe were the central circle of a key, the fountain beyond made up the shaft. It extended from the back of one seat and shot dancing spurts of water along a shallow rivulet that ran along a hallway to the pool. The pool was large enough for an indoor party, ringed in marble. Beyond the osmosis barrier at the wall, the pool continued to a garden veranda. Inside, the air was cool and still, but outside torches blazed in lights surrounding the veranda. To one side of the hallway rivulet was a wrap-around wardrobe, with mirrors at every angle and a large, open area for considering one’s clothing choice. To the other side was a bed large enough for six people, covered in pillows. Stretching above them was a glass dome that amplified the light of the stars.

As Dizzy walked out on the Veranda, he passed the osmosis barrier and felt the oppressive heat of the early summer hit him. He looked out over miles of land, with streetlights lining the castle grounds, the businesses and houses of the capital beyond, and the dark silhouette of the mountains in the distance. The words “All he surveyed” floated through Dizzy’s mind, and another wave of belief hit him. He felt like he was about to throw up.

“My liege?” a deep, throaty alto called out to Dizzy. He turned to see a voluptuous blonde woman standing in the alcove of his bedchamber. She wore a long gown better suited for the party. She seemed a few years older than Dizzy, though almost a head shorter. She smiled up at him and said, “We were told you would like to retire for the night?”

Dizzy smiled at her and held out one restraining hand. There had been many confusing things this day, but he was absolutely certain he understood this one. He shook his head, “Miss, I don’t know what King Cadvan’s sleeping arrangements were, but I have no need of a bed warmer.”

The smile on the woman’s face widened as she turned away from him. She continued over to the bed, where two sets of nightwear were laid out. As Dizzy followed her, he saw two other young men, one standing next to the bed with his arms crossed over his chest, the other nearer to the door, wringing his hands.

The young man next to the bed glared at him and said, “Pig.” The other’s eyes were wide and unmoving.

The woman gestured to the sets of nightwear, “I only wished to get my liege’s preference, and then prepare him for sleep.”

The tall, thin young man bit at one thumbnail, “Cadvan was just like you. Both of you, pigs.”

The smaller, fatter boy’s eyes bounced from Dizzy to the other boy.

Dizzy held up one hand, “Now look, I meant no disrespect-”

“You see a woman and the first thing you think of is conquest. Oh, he played the innocent in public, but we all know better.”

Dizzy put his hands on his hips, “Sir, you have the better of me. I am doing my best-”

“Oh, I think we’ve seen the better of you already. Rutting animals, your whole family. How else could you have dug up a new heir so quickly?”

Dizzy stared at the floor for a moment, counting down. He didn’t like to act without knowing what was going on. But he was afraid that, if he didn’t stop this boy immediately, he could talk his way into treason. He turned to the door and shouted, “Guard!”

The door popped open and one of the two guards ran in, weapon at the ready. The short boy near the door scurried out of his way and ran behind a chair. Dizzy only smiled at the guard, “Mike, isn’t it?”

As the guard nodded, Dizzy pointed at the thin young man, “I am going to take a wild stab and guess that this boy has quarters somewhere in the palace?”

The guard looked over all of them, then nodded once. Dizzy said, “Very good. Please escort him to those quarters, and place a man on his door. He is not to leave there until dawn.”

The shorter boy yipped like a kicked dog, and his hand flew to cover his mouth.

The guard slowly put his weapon away and took a step toward the young man. When he spoke, his voice was low and cultured, “If you would, my lord.”

The boy glared at Dizzy, “I am expected at the party. I will be missed, and questions will be asked.”

The guard stopped and looked back at his king. Dizzy nodded and said, “Once you have escorted the young lord to his room, go to the main hall and tell them that he will not be joining them.” Dizzy looked the boy straight in the eyes, “Make sure everyone knows that the King has ordered him to remain in his room until morning.”

The boy blustered and sputtered, but the guard led him away by one arm. He looked over his shoulder and shouted at Dizzy, “You haven’t heard the last of this!”

As the door shut, Dizzy nodded sadly and faced the woman, “You know, I think he’s right.”

A shadow of a smile showed on her face, “You just made tomorrow a more interesting day, I guarantee that.”

The shorter boy popped out from behind the chair and ran over to Dizzy. As he got within an arm’s length, he dropped to one knee, “My liege. I am Andrew of house Brock. It is my great honor to prepare your bed.”

Dizzy blinked at the voluptuous woman. One side of her mouth quirked up in a smile, “House Brock has been given the honor this night.”

The boy kneeling before him nodded, his eyes averted to the floor, “By my father’s industry, my liege. Record profits this month have earned us this favor.”

Dizzy nodded slowly, “Okay. Well, congratulations for you and your family. It is good to meet you, and I will remember your family’s efforts.”

Tears of gratitude glistened in his eyes as he looked back up at Dizzy, “Thank you, your majesty. I will wash your feet now.”

Dizzy stepped back suddenly, and shot a panicked look at the young woman. She covered her mouth with one hand and said, “Lord Brock. While I’m sure the king appreciates your family’s service, he is tired and must expedite his preparations. Your help will be remembered.”

The boy stepped back slowly, unsure. He looked back and forth between them, “If – Well, if my liege needs no other assistance.”

“Not tonight, no.” Dizzy made polite shooing motions to the young boy, who backed out of the room. He bowed slightly, ensuring that his head never rose above that of his kings. When he was gone, Dizzy shook his head and turned back to the lady.

Dizzy smiled and took a step forward, “I apologize my lady, if I insinuated anything earlier that may have seemed inappropriate-”

She laughed, a friendly, rumbling laugh, “Shut up.”

Dizzy blinked at her as she shook her head at him, “Don’t use that tone with me.” She mimicked him, “I apologize my lady… insinuated anything earlier…” She laughed again, “Your diction is flawless, and your grammar is close, but you’re not royal born. Anyone inside these walls can tell that.”

Dizzy thought a moment, then shrugged, “I’ll be the first to admit it. To be honest, I don’t know where I was born, but it certainly wasn’t here.”

She frowned, “Where have you been, this hidden brother of the King? Did Dunem keep you secreted away all these years for this very reason? A backup for his childless sovereign?” She took a step closer to him, “And where did he keep you? You wouldn’t be safe in any other country, and you would be discovered if you lived here.”

Dizzy frowned down at the floor, then said, “Honestly, miss, I don’t know how much I can tell you. I don’t even know you. So let me ask the same question of you. You clearly knew Cadvan well, and you know the young lord there. You are not afraid to tell a king to shut up, so I don’t believe you’re a serving maid.”

“Nor a bedwarmer.” She grinned.

Dizzy smiled and raised his hands in mock resignation, “I did apologize about that.”

The lady took a deep breath and said, “My name is Olivia Oldham. I am the youngest daughter of Lord Oscar Oldham.”

Dizzy’s eyes widened, “Please tell me you do not live here at the request of the throne.”

She shrugged, “It is a pleasure to serve the king in his palace, rather than from a distant holding.”

Dizzy recognized the phrase, “Do they tell all of you to say that?”

“We all live together. We are all trapped here under this roof. We eat together, talk together… and we all attend the king in our different ways.”

“So, what did your father do to upset Cadvan enough to take one of his children?”

She shook her head, “They never told me. It is my considered opinion that my father did nothing at all to upset the crown.” She took a deep breath, “It is possible that Cadvan simply saw the utility of having a member of each noble house, and made the request. Wendy has it the worst, of course. She’s an only child, and her father absolutely adores her.”

Dizzy nodded, “What about you? You said you were the youngest. Why would Cadvan have chosen you rather than one of your older siblings?”

Olivia’s face clouded, “I’m not altogether sure he did.” She looked out at the veranda, jaw clenching, “My family situation is rather unusual, as I’m sure you know.”

Dizzy didn’t, but he tried not to let it show. For a long moment, she scowled at the landscape, making it decidedly hard for Dizzy to feign understanding. For moments like these, pregnant pauses are your best friend. Dizzy knew that, if he just held an understanding silence long enough, she would crack.

Eventually, she shook her head to clear it and looked at a door past the bedchamber, “I’ll draw your bath while you decide what you’d like to sleep in.”

Dizzy looked at the two sets of light, silken finery as she headed for the bathroom. He raised his voice to be heard in the other room, “Do I come off as a pig if I say that I’d rather not wear either?”

From the other room, he heard her call, “A pig’s response would be a sad attempt at wit by asking ‘whom’ the king would like to sleep in.”

Dizzy blinked at the bathroom doorway for a moment, deciding this was probably another good time for silence.

The sound of water filled the small room as she re-emerged, “However, a gentleman’s response would have been to simply not mention any choice and wait until the lady had left before exposing himself.”

As she walked past him, she punched him lightly on the shoulder, “Don’t worry. We’ll make a king of you yet.”

She continued to the front door and called over her shoulder, “Don’t give it more than a minute, or the humidity will scald you.”

Dizzy faced her, “You know-”

She turned, smiling, “Yes, my liege?”

“I’ve met a lot of new people today. Most of them wanted something from me, and I fear several of them would like to see me dead. But out of all of them, you were the only one who treated me like a person. I think I like you.”

She looked at him for a long moment, then walked slowly over to him. Her hips swayed in counterpoint to her shoulders as she approached, but her eyes never left his. She held his gaze with an easy smile as she stopped, a breath away from him. She looked up into his face with smiling eyes, and whispered, “Don’t.”

As she stepped back, still facing him, she said, “The doc had something sent up for you. A milkshake or something. It’s on the bed stand.”

She turned and wished him good evening on the way out.

Dizzy picked up the milkshake and wandered into the bathroom, expecting it to be opulent. He was still surprised by the grandeur of the room. It shone with white marble and gold. The room was huge and round, with a sink to the left and toilet to the right. The tub dominated the room, though. It was not so much a bathtub as a small pool, deep enough to stand submerged in, and wide enough for four or more people. Steam hissed from above and spun flywheels that ran the jets in the tub. Beyond the tub was a wall of one-way glass, that arched overhead and let the night sky shine through.

Dizzy sipped on the cool drink in his hand, and started to walk over to the tub, then stopped as he saw something in the mirror. The entire left wall was made of polished gold and silver, doubling the size of the bathroom with its reflection. Dizzy saw himself for the first time that day, still wearing the dark outfit he had visited the Dowager Queen in. It was worn around the knees and elbows, showing some gray in the cloth, but it had weathered the evening well.

The most striking thing about his image, though, was the crown. It fit so well on his head, he’d almost forgotten it. Dizzy walked over to the mirrored wall and turned his head one way, then the other. To him, it looked gaudy, flashy, and ridiculous. At the same time, he could see something of what everyone else was seeing. There was a nobility just in wearing a crown. The decoration carried so much symbolism, it made his whole face seem stronger, the lines deeper. It was a good look for him.

Then, just as suddenly as the moment of pride hit him, doubt struck, nearly doubling him over. He put the glass down next to the sink as his legs threatened to give out. He was in the palace. They were all treating him like a king. He was wearing a damned crown! He was so far past the point of safe escape, he couldn’t even see the way out anymore. If they figured him out, if they came for him as a despotic poseur, he very simply couldn’t talk his way out of it. He had enemies already, and no real friends. He saw the hollow, sunken look in his eyes, and could feel his breath coming fast.

He put one hand out flat on the mirror to steady himself, and looked hard in the mirror. He said softly, “I am not alone. There are people I love, and people who love me. If it comes down to it, I know they’ll be here. Sully, Barris, Cliffy, and me. They are all behind me, and they’re ready to help me do something amazing. I’m not alone.”

He stood straighter and removed the crown with both hands. Dunem might find he had the wrong man; Atherton may prove that he wasn’t a legitimate leader. They may find the Institute, or just hang him on the trumped-up charge of killing his brother. But whatever happened, Dizzy knew he had a safe place to go.

Dizzy sat on the edge of the tub and looked down at the crown in his hands, still not completely believing it.

The disembodied voice said flatly, “Now we are alone. It should be quite safe for us to talk.”

Dizzy jumped. He stood up and called out calmly, “I don’t believe in ghosts. Show yourself.”

There was a short pause, then the voice said again, “I’m sorry, my liege. I thought you were waiting to speak to me. Perhaps I can explain things better if you would put me down.”

Dizzy frowned at that, looking around himself. He realized he was still holding the crown in his hands, and blinked at it. The voice came again, “If you would, please.”

Dizzy slowly placed the crown on the edge of the tub. Among the intricate metalwork and folds of gold, there were grooves and hinges. They began to fold in on themselves, rotating slowly into position until the crown had flattened itself down to the size of a brooch.

From the back of the decoration, two arms unfolded, and levered the mechanical crown up. From there, two pistons sprouted from the spine of the crown, making legs for the thing. In the center of the brooch was one unblinking red eye.

The creature stood on it’s awkward legs and turned to face him. The body arched backwards for the eye to look up at him, “My liege. My name is Sceptre, and I swear my allegiance to you.”

Dizzy took a couple steps back, leaning abruptly against the edge of the sink, “Ah. You were the one I heard earlier?”

The body angled forward and back in a parody of a nod, “Yes, my liege. I fear that my nature has unnerved you.”

Dizzy suddenly felt silly for his reaction. He picked up the milkshake and took a drink, trying to look like this was all very normal, “Am I the only one who can hear you?”

“Yes sir. Focused audio is a well-known science.”

“Oh, well, yes, but I had no idea. Rather, I was not informed that my crown was an automaton.”

“Very few people know, my liege. I am the only one of my kind, built with one particular secret purpose.”

“And what’s that?”

“I record absolutely everything that happens to the king, and retrieve it for him at request. I did so for King Cadvan, and I will do so for you.”

Dizzy took another drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, “Everything? That sounds a little invasive.”

The automaton stood still for a moment, then said, “My liege, if you were to write down your most secret thoughts, then place them in a box which, if anyone opened it, would destroy its contents, would you consider it invasive?”

“No. In fact, it sounds like a good security measure.”

“Just so, sir. I am that box. I am keyed only to respond to you. To any other person, I am an inanimate symbol of national power.”

“Even so, you’re a huge security risk. If anyone should get hold of you and pry open your databanks-”

“Forgive my interruption, sir, but there are multiple safeguards in place to ensure that does not happen. First of all, in the past two hundred years, only fifteen people have known of my existence, and ten of them were kings, who wanted to keep the secret. Security through obscurity is a deceptive security measure, but it is only one facet of my security.

Even if you should let it slip that I am more than a decoration, I am physically locked and welded. My casing is made of a material more durable than titanium. I can be frozen and thawed without damage, I can withstand temperatures of greater than 5500 degrees Celsius, which means I could survive for some time near the surface of the sun. More than that, I am hardened programmatically. I have multiple safeguards in place for every action I take or input I receive. I have self awareness, and would know if I were being stolen or manipulated.”

“Then you would call for assistance.”

“No sir. I would engage internal thermite detonators to melt down my databanks.”

Dizzy blinked, “But you’ve stored data from ten different kings. All that knowledge, all that history. You’re a national treasure!”

“I am a tool, sir. And if I am discovered, I am a liability.”

Dizzy put the milkshake down, and touched one finger to his lips, “So, you know all the dirty secrets about all the kings that came before me as well.”

The automaton replied, “I know many things, sir.”

“Could you tell me about the court?”

“Yes sir.”

“Who has proven faithful to the crown?”

“Yes sir.”

“And what plans Cadvan had in motion before his death?”

“No sir.”

“I – what?”

“I am here to record your memories and provide what reference I can. But your secrets will die with me. I can provide historical background only.”

Dizzy started to feel the effects of the milkshake, “You can’t tell me anything about what Cadvan was doing before he died?”

“I can tell you of many things he was doing. I cannot, however, tell you his secrets.”

Dizzy nodded, “I suppose that will have to do.”

There was a brief whirring inside the golem as it considered something. As the whirring stopped, it looked back up at him. “There is one something I need to impress upon you, sir.”

Dizzy ran a hand over his face, “What’s that?”

“Before Cadvan’s fateful game, he removed me.” The automaton paused, “The king never takes me off, sir. I am a symbol of his leadership. More than that, I am a powerful tool for retaining memory and evidence. Many times, he has availed himself of my strategy and perception.”

Dizzy nodded. His head was starting to feel fuzzy, “So, he took you off this morning.”

“Yes sir, then he died. I am not convinced that the two are coincidental.”

Dizzy nodded, his vision blurring a bit, “Wait, so you’re saying there was something he didn’t want you to see?”

“No. I am saying that he removed me prior to his game. I would not guess as to his intentions.”

“He could have been planning to meet with someone. Someone he couldn’t even tell you about.” Dizzy squinted at the squat, golden eye.

“Sir, I would recommend you shut off the water to the bathtub now.”

Dizzy nodded slowly, “Yes, right. The steam seems to be getting to me.” He switched off the water and began pawing at his shirt jacket.

“Sir, I would recommend you get into bed.”

“Me? Why? I’ve this, ah,” he waved vaguely at the tub.

There was a sudden, powerful blaring noise in Dizzy’s head, and he jumped back. Adrenaline coursed through his head as he dropped into a defensive crouch and cast about for danger. His mind and vision cleared instantly, as the back of his mind looked for exits and weapons. After a moment of silence, he turned back to Sceptre.

“Sir, while you are still alert, please return to bed. You have taken a powerful sedative, and I believe it is beginning to affect you.”

Dizzy blinked at the tiny metal man angrily, but trudged back into the bedroom. He muttered, “That really hurt, you know.”

The automaton skittered along behind him, “My deepest apologies, my liege. I was afraid you might injure yourself in the bathtub, and be unable to recover. I have no wish to lose two sovereigns in one day.”

Dizzy fell into bed. Face down in the covers, he slurred, “Still… coulda…”

The golden decoration jumped up onto the bed, walked over Dizzy’s body, and unwrapped itself into the form of a bracelet, attached to the king’s wrist.

There was a muted vidfeed mounted behind nanomesh on the ceiling of the precinct waiting room. People shoved and shouted as arresting officers brought in new suspects, family members tried to bail out their loved ones, and injured parties waited for their chance to press charges. As Capt. Trumble stormed into the place, he saw himself on the feed, holding the faux nobleman, and wetting himself, a look of stark panic on his face. The text crawler at the bottom of the screen read, “Tank vs. SWAT – Police in military standoff – Officers attempt to arrest the king.”

He grabbed a paperweight and threw it at the screen, where it bounced harmlessly off. He shouted, “Turn that off! Change the channel!”

One of the sergeants behind the bulletproof glass scrambled for the remote, and switched it to a different feed, which was showing the Captain holding the Earl of Viborg, a tank platoon in the background. The text crawler on that channel read, “No charges were filed – No evidence was brought forth – Suspicious arrest – Police investigation underway”.

He pushed through to the main office, “Where did they get that? Who’s giving the newsies those kinds of lies?”

Behind him, sergeant Samson said, “Knee-deep in calls, sir All wanting to know what we’s bringin’ him for.”

The captain stopped in his tracks and turned, “What we were – He was impersonating nobility! That’s a capital offense!”

“The king.”

“What?”

“The king, sir. Impersonating nobility.” He held up his open palms, “I mean, that’s the sound of it to me.”

“But he wasn’t impersonating the king. He was impersonating an Earl!”

“Dunno that’s a charge, sir. I mean, nobility impersonatin’ yer lessors.”

“He wasn’t king then! He wasn’t king, and he wasn’t an Earl. I can’t believe we’re even having this discussion.”

“Yessir.” Gallant fumed at him, red-faced. He wanted to get in the sergeant’s face, wanted to shout at him some more, but he couldn’t do anything with someone who just agreed with him. Then he noticed that the precinct had got very quiet.

He spun around to face all the detectives staring at him, “What? Get to work!” As the men turned back to their consoles and interviews, Captain Trumble stormed back to his office. The sergeant followed quietly, and shut the door behind him.

“We’re not done with this, you understand?” Trumble jabbed a finger at him. “I don’t care what they say, that was a good cop, and we nearly had him. I’m not going to let some up-jumped guttersnipe slip out of my clutches.”

The sergeant said in a soft voice, “May be it’s a bit hard to bring charges against the king, sir. I mean, dunno if it’s ever been done before.”

“No. No. He wasn’t king then. He wasn’t king, and he wasn’t earl, and I’m going to have him for that.”

The sergeant rubbed the back of his neck, “Well, even when we brought nobs in before, they sang the same. No charges filed. Don’t see as it’s gonna get easier pryin’ it out of them, now he’s king.” He shrugged, “A lotta them’ll see it like treason.”

Trumble thumped his fist on the vidsheet from earlier in the night, showing a loop of the Westin Inn security video, “We have proof. We have him entering a building with invalid identification.”

“Aye, sir, but without a crime, that’s still thin.”

“Impersonating an Earl is a crime!”

“Yes sir. But when a body wants to bring up the king on charges, he wants a bit more to go on than a fake ID.”

Captain Trumble put both fists down on his desk and pushed hard, “You don’t understand. I had him. I had him in my grasp. All I needed was a few minutes with him in the interrogation room, and I could have…” Gallant’s eyes unfocussed as he imagined it, then snapped back, “I don’t care who he is, I’m going to find out who he was. I’m going to -”

His phone started buzzing an angry red. Gallant blinked at it. He’d never seen it do that before. As he reached for it, a lieutenant popped his head in, “Commissioner calling for you, cap!” The lieutenant ducked out as fast as he could after delivering the message.

Sergeant Samson began backing out of the room, but Trumble held him there, “We’re not done here.”

He grabbed the phone and put it up to his ear, “Police Captain Trumble here.” He listened for a moment, “Yes sir. Well, I know, sir. I was there. I saw… yes sir, I understand. Of course. Well, sir, I’m not convinced that the perpetrator was… yes sir. We were there to apprehend a noble impostor. – No sir, I don’t mean a nobleman impersonating another… Yes sir, I know who he is now… Well, sir, at the time, he had not been crowned and was traveling under false… Yes sir. Brother to the king. But you see, sir, he was using -” There was a long pause as Trumble listened, growing redder by the second, “No, sir, I don’t believe that an apology would be appropriate given… You are, sir… Of course… Your desk, tomorrow morning. Yes sir.”

Captain Trumble put the phone down as it dimmed to a neutral black. He whispered to himself, staring at the phone, “Oh, I’m not done with this boy. No. Not by a long shot.”

Sergeant Samson tried again, “Ol’ mam used to say that a fella who jumps in a river to fetch a coin loses more than his cents.”

Trumble glared at him, “So I’ve lost my sense now?”

“What? Not a jot, sir. Only meanin’ there’s a backlog out there long enough without huntin’ any white whales.”

The door to his office flew open as the lieutenant bustled in, standing at attention the whole time. He actually saluted as a large fur balloon flounced into the room. “Gallant! What have you done to me?”

Captain Trumble had, in his youth, married above his station. In a desperate attempt to climb the social ladder, he married a Agatha Prone-Filings, a porky young debutante that he thought was descended from riches and nobility. It was only after marrying into the family that he found out how badly leveraged they were. His dreams of using his wife as a stepping stone to nobility were crushed when her family told him that they shared a name with a noble house, and that name recognition was the only way they could sneak into any parties with people of quality. For more than twenty years, he had regretted that decision.

“Lady Filings.” He always called her that, hoping that others would pick up the hint and start treating her like royalty. Thus far, he had had no success. Trumble stood respectfully as his wife spun around, glaring at the squalor of the room in general, and at him specifically. Her face was red, though from exertion or rage, he could not tell.

She glared at the two officers in the room. From the look on her face, Captain Trumble could see that it was only the presence of these peasants that kept from venting her full fury, “Gallant, you disappoint me.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what-“

“I was at the club!” she shouted. “I was at a dinner party, if you can believe it. A fundraiser to benefit the indigent and provide better relations between the forgotten man, and we, the upper classes.” For years, his wife had been working on her accent. While he knew how hard she worked to sound as important and regal as possible, when she pronounced it “clah-ses”, Captain Trumble always thought of the pompous woman from a Marx brothers movie.

The captain, having realized where this was going, decided to head it off with a bit of his own bombastic importance, “Now listen, my dear. This is a police matter, and I’m not about to-“

She shrugged out of fifty pounds of furs, which she dropped on Sergeant Sampson, “Don’t interrupt me, Gallant. Not now of all times. I honestly cannot believe – The forgotten man, Gallant! And just as Daisy was standing up to talk about how she had volunteered three of her own workers to a soup kitchen, the whole room goes abuzz with news.”

Captain Trumble thought he saw his men smirking, so he pointed an accusing finger at his wife, “Now look here! I won’t have people just barging into -“

“On the news, Gallant! On the news!” She looked stricken and pale as she raised a hand to her forehead, “I could forgive anything, but not the news.”

Captain Trumble opened his mouth again, but she gave him no chance, “Don’t interrupt. Right between the second course and desert, just as the servants were laying out a lovely creme brûlée, everyone starts digging out their personal comms, and I get an eyeful of you, threatening the common man, and defiling yourself on the news.”

“Agatha! I am trying to deal with that situation now.”

She walked up to him and slapped his accusing finger out of the way, “That’s why I’m here, Gallant. To deal with the situation. As soon as I saw this, of course, I was forced to denounce you and say that you must have gone mad.”

Gallant’s eyes widened, “You… you denounced ME?”

“Yes. And I said I’d have a stern word with you…” She took a deep breath and looked around the room, “Which I have now done. We shall continue this later when you get home. For now, understand that you are no longer welcome at the club, and I will insist upon a full apology to my parents.”

Gallant was so angry, he couldn’t speak. Every time he opened his mouth, his wife’s eyes narrowed and her frown deepened. After a long minute, Captain Trumble muttered, “Yes, dear.”

She nodded and walked over to Sergeant Sampson. She faced away from him and spread her arms in a kind of dumpy crucifixion. He blinked at her for a moment, then draped the furs over her arms.

“We shall continue this in private, Gallant.” The lieutenant disappeared after her, closing the door quickly.

Trumble stood in the center of the room, hands balled into fists by his sides. The sergeant moved further into a corner, waiting for the Captain to explode. Once Trumble got his breathing under control, he looked at the sergeant with cold, dead eyes.

“My wife denounces me, the commissioner demands an apology, my own men are giggling at me even now-“

The sergeant held out his palms, “Now, sir. I’m sure that’s not -“

Trumble ran to the windows and flicked open the opacity on the windows. As the booking office flooded into view he said, “I know they are! I can hear it! Even when they hide it from me, I know…”

He turned back to face the sergeant. “That boy. He mocked me, Jones. He walked away scott free. There’s video of me… disgracing myself because of him, and he got away. Now they tell me he’s untouchable.” He shook his head slowly, “No. I will shake every one of those noblemen until the truth comes loose. I will question every bookie and whore from here to California if that’s what it takes. No one moves without a trail, and I will find his. I will find it, I will follow it back, and I will get him.”

“Sir. He’s the king. He got armies protecting him. I mean like literal armies.”

Trumble just shook his head, “Not from me. He’ll have no protection from me.”

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