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The Sorceress of Karres: Chapter Twenty

       Last updated: Friday, December 11, 2009 21:40 EST



    The lawyer that Pausert’s mother had been seeing was oily polite. He held her chair for her, and smiled in a way that made Goth feel faintly uneasy.

    She was not used to the way men treated her, light-shifted to appear to be Hulik do Eldel. It was a little bit creepy, really.

    “What can I do for you, Ms. Dolkan? A matter of a will… ”

    Goth produced a very authentic-looking ID card and showed it to him, obscuring the name, but showing a photograph of Hulik. The card was the real thing, and the agent at the embassy was going to be very worried if Goth didn’t ‘port it back. The picture was a mere light-shift.

    “Imperial Security Service. We are not part of the Empire, Ms.” He spoke cautiously, but without any of the fear that might have crept into the voice of a citizen of the Empire.

    “I am actually aware of that,” she said. “I’m clearing up some unfinished business of ours. Your co-operation would be appreciated.”

    “Ah. Well. I’d be happy to help, where I can, for a fee.”

    Goth smiled falsely back at him. “I have an appropriate fee for you in this envelope. Now, I believe you have a client, Lina, the niece of one Captain Threbus.”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “She is trying to get her uncle’s will settled.”

    The lawyer pulled a face. “Look, to be frank with you, ma’am, if Captain Threbus’s niece hadn’t been so insistent, I wouldn’t be pursuing this matter. I can’t really discuss a client’s affairs with you.” He rubbed his fingers together suggestively, an expression of greed on his face.

    Goth spilled the copies of the contents of his secret safe onto the table. “Look at those. I think you’ll find you can discuss anything I want to talk about.”

    The lawyer looked at the papers and stuck his finger in his collar as if it had suddenly decided to choke him. “Where did you get those papers?” he said in a frightened whisper.

    “They’re copies. We have more. Now I suggest that you assist me, properly. I need to know just what the problem is, regarding that inheritance.”

    “These…?” he pointed to copies.

    “Will be destroyed just as soon as that matter is dealt with,” said Goth smoothly. She was proud of herself, even if she suspected that the captain would call it blackmail.

    The lawyer tugged at his goatee. “I have investigated the matter. Really. I’ve got connections inside the Central Records Office. The file is security locked. The evidence says that he’s probably dead. He’s certainly never returned, and it is over the legal time to declare a missing person dead. But they suspect some foul play. Collusion.” He raised an eyebrow. Looked at the lightshift of Hulik do Eldel “It’s true, then?”

    “It’s true that he died in our service. It’s also true that we don’t want the heir to know about that area of his work. There is, however, a certain prominent person in the Empire who was extremely upset to find that the matter had been left hanging. I suggest that you actually go through with the steps to have the will finalized. There has been some fresh input from our side. Talk to your contacts inside the Central Records Office.”

    “It’ll take a few months to get onto the court roll.”


    He nodded. “It’s not a process you can speed up. And it’s quite expensive.”

    Goth picked up the papers she’d spilled onto the desk, and put them back in the envelope.

    “Um. I am sure this time I’ll be doing this pro bono.”

    Goth wasn’t too sure what that meant, but she was pretty sure an Imperial Agent would. So she smiled in the way that she’d seen Hulik do, while dealing with something nasty. “I hope I won’t be seeing you again, sir. It’s a hope you should share.”

    “Could… couldn’t you leave those with me?” asked the lawyer.

    “No,” said Goth. “And it wouldn’t help you if I did. There are further copies sitting in the embassy. I think it’s time you changed your ways. Goodbye.”

    “Uh, can I see you out? Look, it was just a temporary loan.”

    “I am sure it is. And the inheritance and the will should therefore be sorted out very soon, won’t they? I have an escort waiting to drive me. Stay here.” Goth slipped the appearance of a gray cloak around her, much as Sunnat had once done. She walked out, into the corridor, which was conveniently empty, and disappeared.

    He stuck his head out of the office like a snapping wilfer a few moments later, peering up and down the passage, and using language that would have made even the Leewit blush.

    Goth followed him back into his office, and was nearly hit by the slamming door. Moments later he was on the communicator. “We’re in trouble deep, Voks.”

    Goth could only hear one side of the conversation. But Imperial Security Service was mentioned, rather a lot, along with some very bad words. Goth didn’t mind the fact that some Nikkeldepain politico would be campaigning hard to get the Imperial embassy — a nest of spies — under close surveillance. Her work there was done. She waited while the nervous lawyer paced and then called his contact in the Central Records Office, and asked him to pull a copy of Captain Threbus’s file. Goth waited, irritated at wasting her afternoon.

    The lawyer decided that the sort of day he was having called for strong drink, and took a bottle out of the cupboard. Goth ‘ported the glass to her apartment, before his fumbling hand reached it. He blinked. “Sure I had a glass here.” He went out to secretary’s office, and returned a little later with a coffee mug — having sent his assistant home for the day. It must, belatedly, have occurred to him that he’d been shouting at his friend Voks. Goth waited until he had returned to his office, before calling him on his own secretary’s phone.

    “I forgot to mention,” she said, when he picked up the call, “That we’re watching you and your friend Councilor Voks. Listening to your calls too. You should wash your mouth out with soap.”

    She put the communicator down and listened with some glee to the faint sound of a coffee mug smashing in the next room. It was time to go.

    So she did.



    The hearing did not attract much attention. Pausert’s mother. A few of the estate’s creditors. The lawyer. The judge. Goth had expected it to be an open and shut affair. It turned out more complex than she’d imagined. But on the other hand, it appeared that the right way, here on Nikkeldepain, to get the legal profession to earn their keep was to have them very afraid.

    “I appreciate, Mr. Shand, that the latest information in the file held by the Central Records Office does point to the unfortunate death of Captain Threbus on Thambar’s world. None-the-less owing to previous suspicions, and the fact that no body has been produced — we can’t rely on these Imperials, you know — that I cannot reach a decision and order that Captain Threbus be declared dead.”

    Goth, reclining bonelessly on a seat near the back, relaxed in no-shape, uncoiled and nearly forgot to maintain her invisibility. After all the work she’d done! There was a judge in severe trouble…

    The lawyer coughed. “Your Honor.”

    “Yes, Mr. Shand.”

    “Your Honor, there is the matter of the debts against the estate.”

    “The law is quite clear on that, Mr. Shand. Creditors will not suffer, and the rights of property must be respected. Heirs are held responsible for first settling those.”

    “Yes, Your Honor. Except in this case, the heir cannot fulfill the sum of the obligation completely until probate is granted. Hitherto they had agreed to terms in the expectation of an early settlement. But given that an order will not be given, they will have to sue the state, and appeal to a higher court.”

    “Then they must do that, Mr. Shand.”

    The lawyer coughed. “You would be a substantiate part of such a case, Your Honor. And, as you know, the law is clear, a member of the bench who is a substantiate part of case, may not serve whilst the process is ongoing.” He paused. “I will be acting for several of them. I assure you that we will pursue it with as much haste as the court allows. Of course there is one other possibility which could avoid this inconvenience for the creditors.”

    The judge scowled at him. “I notice you are choosing your words very carefully to avoid anything that could be construed as a threat. You avoided, for example, stating the fact that such cases can take years, or that such suspension is without pay. What are you suggesting?”

    “Your Honor, I wouldn’t dream of threatening any member of the judiciary. I was merely wanting to remind you of a possible way out of this dilemma. The case of Madelwud versus Board of Estates.”

    “Jog my memory, Mr. Shand.”

    “Madelwud could not be established as dead, Your Honor. He simply vanished one day. He had substantial properties, and was heavily insured — but was also considerably in debt. His widow and principal heir was, de facto, bankrupt and penniless. The creditors could institute civil proceedings against her, but not reasonably expect to recover anything at all. They petitioned the court to order the granting of a provisional certificate of death, with full liability to the heirs, should Madelwud be found to be alive. The insurer pleaded for some form of surety. They were granted leave to merely pay Mrs. Madelwud the interest accrued and the properties were sold off to provide payment for creditors.”

    “A good solution. Yes, Madelwud versus Board of Estates. Very well. I rule that a provisional death certificate should be issued, allowing sufficient property of Captain Threbus to be sold to pay off any creditors. If there is any income derived from the rest, it may be divided among the heirs, although properties themselves may not be sold.”

    Shand smiled, and Goth saw that Lina was smiling and crying with relief. Goth felt quite choked up herself. It wasn’t what she had hoped for, but she hoped it would do.

    She had Pausert bouncing into her apartment tell her that it was good enough for them, a little later. “Vala! Come! We’re going for cake!”

    “What’s the celebration, Pausert?” asked Goth, grinning at his pleasure.

    “Oh, my great-uncle. He’s semi-dead. And that means we don’t have to pay any more of his debts. We didn’t even have to pay the lawyer. He was very apologetic about it, Mum said. She insisted on paying him anyway.”

    Goth, whose own exchequer was running a little low, resolved to relieve him of that fee. A little later, Lina, for once prepared to talk about their personal affairs, filled in the gaps. Pausert had gone to fetch more tall glasses of caram, so it was just the two of them. “The Threbus Institute can’t be sold, as it has various shareholders and wasn’t a sole possession of my Uncle’s. But he owned several other businesses and some land. Even after the debts have been settled, I’ll get a dividend. Not a fortune, but we don’t need that. Pausert can go to the Space Naval Academy. I have a job until then.”

    “And then?”

    “I’ll be going back to the South-western border Zone of the Empire. The Duchy of Galm. To see if I can find some trace of what happened to Pausert’s father.” A flicker of sadness crossed her face. “We couldn’t stay there, you know. Moreteen was a garrison town. Not a place needing a specialist like me. But I’ll have a small income from the estate, and just myself to look after.”

    “He’ll miss you,” said Goth.

    She shook her head. “He’ll be too busy with a young lady of his own dreams to even notice. And what are your plans?”

    That was a bit too close to the bone for comfort. Goth felt herself color. “My family is leaving at the end of the year. I… uh, they have done what they set out to do here.”

    “I’m sorry. You’ve done a lot for my boy.”

    “I won’t forget him,” said Goth gruffly.

    Pausert’s mother smiled, but sadly. “Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.”

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