Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 172

"I still have a question," Wenisk said, "Claude, why are you so certain you would have made Sir Fux lose the election? As far as I know, he's been Whitestag's councillor for five terms. I mean, this town's his strongest support base. He practically owns the entire town as well."

Aueras held elections every five years and only dignitarians had the franchise.

Claude glanced at the viscount calmly, his reason returning.

"Since you know that, why did you argue with him over the base's development?"

"Haha... uhh... Actually, before I was appointed here, someone in the royal capital warned me to cooperate with him so there wouldn't be any complications. I asked Lady Maria and she explained things to me. She said he was usually very arrogant. She told me to ignore him and give him a slap or two if I had to. I had all the power between the two of us. As a military officer, I am beholden only to the king, not the lower council.

"I didn't initially want to bother with him. The construction of the naval base is a decree of the kingdom and has nothing to do with him. But he was far too greedy and kept on appropriating land within the planned area of the base after the announcement was made without the slightest care and only gave a little compensation for the folk of the slums he forcefully evicted. He didn't think I'd be involved in this matter after he caused such a huge scandal, so I drove out his real estate development company from the slums in a fit of rage.

"One time, he didn't learn his lesson and even sought me out, demanding to be given the tender to construct the naval base completely. He wanted me to raise the price to discourage others from taking it. He'd make a killing and offered me a cut. I was affronted that he'd suggest I might lack money, so I kicked him out."

"Get me some alcohol. My throat's dry," he said, his excitement building, "Well, after that, he even tried to get the mayor, who was a baron, I believe, to force the farms nearby to not sell us any fresh fruits and vegetables. He wanted to force me to cave with that. But he didn't think that the mayor would fail the audits and get arrested, putting an end to that scheme of his.

"After that, he even sought me out thick-skinnedly during the banquet hosted by Mayor Felidos and offered to construct the naval base according to market price with standard quality and processes. I turned to leave right away without bothering with him and humiliated him publicly. I was both shocked and a little delighted myself to find that he was killed today. He totally deserved what was coming to him!"

Claude took out a bottle of whiskey from the carton beside his desk and two shot glasses. He opened the bottle and poured both Wenisk and Joseph half shots each.

Joseph looked at the carton.

"Three bottles already gone?."

Claude pointed at the corner of the room.

"Two are over there. They work wonders on mosquitos. Lieutenant Nuit asked for one last night. I forgot to tell him to bring it back once he's finished. Even just the bottles are expensive."

Joseph squatted and looked at the two bottles. A couple mosquitos drifted inside.

"A good idea indeed. Far better than the dizzying smell those damn incenses leave," Joseph said, "Why give such an expensive whiskey to the lieutenant though?"

"It wasn't really a gift. He was helping me finish it. I didn't like it much. I prefer blueberry wine. It had been sitting on my desk for a week when I gave it to him."

Wenisk put down his cup and refilled it.

"You're just 18, boy, you don't know the wonders of women or good liquor. Let's hear it. What ploy did you have to make the councillor fall from grace."

Claude smiled bitterly.

"What's the point of talking about it now? He's dead. My arrangements are nothing now."

"I just wanna hear how you were planning to do it," the viscount pushed.

"Actually, the reason that old thing got elected in the first place was my father and Uncle Thomas. They propped him up all this time. He needed 270 votes to get elected, and my father had enough clout to get him them.

"When Whitestag was still under Baromiss' jurisdiction, that old thing served 24 years as a councillor and formed a large net of connections in the prefectural capital. If the town hall needed anything, he would bring the request up to the prefectural capital. That was how my father and the others gradually lost their hold and became mere puppets he controlled from behind the scenes.

"For instance, he was the one who directed the search for a new trade route to Nubissia. He hid behind the scenes while my father and the others did most of the work and investment into the risky venture. After the route was discovered, he stopped them from reporting it to the kingdom because he wanted to make a profitable trade voyage first. That was how my father got scammed by him and helped him find ships and cargo and even signed a promissory note with him..."

Claude slammed his fist harshly on the desk, greatly startling Wenisk and Joseph.

"I won't deny that I hate that old thing. He ruined my family. But I won't kill him that easily. What I want is for him to lose everything. If Whitestag had remained the same, perhaps it would've taken me a long time to get an opportunity for revenge. But since the kingdom decided to construct a naval base here and make this a city under the jurisdiction of the royal capital, I discovered a great chance."

He looked up at Wenisk and said, "Lord Viscount, how many council members will Whitestag have after being raised to city status?"

Wenisk started with realization at the question. "Three, three council members."

The boy nodded. "Back then, nobody was willing to compete with the old thing. Since he already had deep connections in the prefectural capital, even if another council member was elected, the prefectural capital would find all sorts of excuses to delegitimize the vote. But now that Whitestag is under royal capital control, Lady Maria promised me that the Council of Dignitarians would accept new council member nominations.

"Additionally, how he caused my father to commit suicide with his scheme is widely known in town. Uncle Thomas and the others would've been running for the next election, and the old thing forgot that he's actually nothing to be contended with, having reigned uncontested for so long. What could he do to get more votes? Buy them with money? How much could he pay for each vote?

"I prepared five thousand crowns this time around for that express purpose. No matter how much he pays, I would double my offer. I was waiting for next year's election and I wanted to see the look on his face after he failed to get elected. When Uncle Thomas and the others assume office, they could submit an inquiry into the public projects being carried out in the past few years when the town expanded eastward.

"My father said that the old thing had lots of under-table earnings from faking suppliers, raising prices, suppressing wages and all sorts of bribery in those projects. Not a single one of them could withstand the slightest scrutiny. If an investigation was to be launched, he wouldn't be able to distance himself from them at all. It wasn't impossible for him to be jailed or sent to the labor camps.

"That is the ideal revenge scenario for me," Claude said with a crestfallen look, "But he had it easy. He died a swift death. I don't even have a chance to pay him back for what he did. I really wish it turned out differently."

After a pause, he looked up. "By the way, Lord Viscount, can you tell me how he died? I hope it's as painful as possible. Perhaps that might make up for my disappointment the slightest bit."

Wenisk looked at Joseph, saw that he didn't object, and recounted the whole circumstance behind Sir Fux and his butler's death as well as the details of the autopsy and how they were going to approach the investigation.

Claude looked at Joseph surprisingly and thought, I didn't think that fella was that capable. Thank the gods my performance was perfect.

"What do you think about it?" Wenisk asked. Claude might have a different view that could help them in the matter. His revenge plot was incredibly intricate and detailed after all.

He mulled it over and said hesitantly, "I think you're approaching the investigation wrong."

Joseph stared at Claude even more intensely.

"Lord Viscount, you told me that the detective here thinks that the killer might be an assassin or a contract killer, and I'm inclined to agree. But if that's the case, the killer might've left Whitestag long ago instead of staying here and waiting for you to find him.

"Additionally, we still don't know the motive of the killer. It is indeed suspicious that he disguised himself as a naval officer to ask to meet the old thing by saying he had an urgent letter that needed delivery. If I were the killer, I would simply sneak into his manor, find the old thing and give him a few stabs. Quick and simple. I wouldn't have to knock at his front door and cause such a huge commotion at all and risk alerting the butler and the other servants.

"That's why I suspect that the killer doesn't even know the old thing at all. That's why he disguised himself and requested to be shown inside to make sure he wouldn't get the wrong target. Since he didn't pilfer any money or documents after the kill, I believe that the killer could be trying to silence the old thing or to vent.

"If I were in charge of this case, I wouldn't look for the killer at all. Instead, I would focus on finding any possible motive for the murder in his manor itself. I would search his documents and journals and so on. Maybe there's a lead somewhere among the people he offended, or maybe he reneged someone in his dark dealings. The killer could also have been hired by people over there..."

Claude pointed at the south in the direction of the prefectural capital.

"Why would you think so?" Wenisk asked.

"Whitestag will come under royal capital jurisdiction soon. The old thing would no longer have to rely on the folks in the prefectural capital."

Wenisk was genuinely surprised at the revelation. Joseph explored that train of thought with a keen interest.

"But if that is discovered, a lot of people will be involved..." muttered Wenisk.

Claude shrugged. "At least Mayor Felidos and you wouldn't be."

Joseph turned to leave Wenisk followed along. Claude hurried to send them off. Their carriages and men were waiting outside the office building.

Joseph approached Beed and Cerna and whispered, "Look at the young man that followed us out. Does he look like First Lieutenant Abraham?"

Beed shook his head, "Not at all."

Cerna on the other hand propped out her bust. "That little pervert keeps on looking in my direction and even blushes... An interesting little kid indeed..."

Joseph entered the carriage immediately. "Come, you two, let's go back to the manor."

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