“What have you done?” The General shouted, she had never heard him raise his voice like that before, for such a little man he sure could shout.
“Lieutenant, I have just been told that someone saw you dragging Sergeant Murphy away in handcuffs before his shift last night, please tell me that this is a misunderstanding.” He stopped just in front of where she sat at her desk, cup of tea paused halfway to her mouth, and stood there, breathing heavily, as he waited for her answer.
“It’s not a misunderstanding.” She mumbled, putting the tea down quickly and scrambling to stand up.
“No.” He put a hand to his face with a groan. “You did not do this, not after I specifically warned you not to get involved.”
She bent down to try talk directly to his face. “I did it, but you don’t understand…”
“Stop!” He put up a finger. “This is a serious violation. You went against my direct orders to enact your personal vendetta.”
“No! That’s not it.” She shouted, trying to talk fast enough that he wouldn’t have time to stop her again. “It’s not personal, I have evidence. I went and talked to some people…”
“You investigated as well? You don’t have the authority without a warrant, you know this!” He sounded so disappointed in her that it hurt her heart, it was twisting in her chest like it no longer wanted to be there. Her cheeks were burning with the shame.
“But, General, I had to. And I got something this time! He killed a thief, I know that much for sure.” She said desperately, resisting the urge to grab his hands in hers, that wouldn’t help make him believe her. No, she had to convince him with her evidence. She could do it, ginger would surely confirm what he had said if the General came to him himself.
“The thief? You mean Kier O’Breen? I’ve already looked into that. I had his body exhumed, much to the distaste of the priest I would add, and it seems some animal killed him, looked like it could have been dogs based on the bite marks on him.”
“No.” She shook her head fervently, even though she knew he couldn’t see. “It can’t be. Clancy told me himself.”
“Clancy? You’ve been bothering him about this too? Look, I get it that everyone’s scared about these murders at the moment, but I am dealing with it. This is not your problem Lieutenant. You’re only proving yourself incapable of having a position of authority, you’re only helping the arguments of those people who didn’t want you here.” His misty eyes found hers, strange how they could do that, and she could see the sadness in them.
“I can’t just let this go, General.” She wished she could, more than anything.
“You have no choice, Lieutenant. I’m putting you on probation.”
“What?” She spluttered.
“And, you must go and release Sergeant Murphy personally. I expect you to apologise as well.”
“But, General…” She pleaded.
He put his palm once again, silencing her immediately. “Lahel, they found another victim.”
“Well then he did it before I took him in.”
“No, he was killed last night, whilst you had the Sergeant in a cell, and I actually can prove it because his wife saw everything.”
“Derry O’Connor. The O’Connors are having a very unfortunate week.” He held his head down for a moment, closed his eyes as if this hurt him personally, even though she was certain he had never met the couple. “So, go Lahel. Release him and then turn in your belt. I don’t want to see you back here for at least a month. After that, I will review your position and decide whether to demote you.”
What could she say? As he turned and walked away, already being handed paperwork, written reports of the incident, and being briefed on what had happened, she knew he wasn’t going to change his mind about this. She would have to release him, even though every bone in her body was revolting against the idea.
She made her way over to the cell with gritted teeth, unlocking it without a word. She let the door swing open and stood in the doorway with her arms crossed, taking in the sight of him lying there, arms under his head as a sort of pillow where there was none. Somehow, he even managed to look over-comfortable in a jail cell.
Without opening his eyes, he spoke to her. “Back already?” He stretched his hands out and sat up straight. “I almost thought I was going to have to stay here all day too. Who did you get to do my shift? I do hope you didn’t make poor Clancy do it on his own…” He lowered his voice and whispered with a smile, “…he gets a bit scared in the dark, you know.”
“You’re free to go, Sergeant Murphy.” She said stiffly, turning to the side and gesturing for him to walk into the hallway. He for to his feet in one fluid movement and walked past her with that smirk still plastered to his face. She suppressed the urge to growl, this couldn’t get any more irritating. She had practically sacrificed her job and not got one moment where she felt she had gotten one up on him. He had been laughing the whole time as if he knew this was going to happen, that someone would get killed while he was behind bars and he would have to get released.
He paused next to her. She froze, not wanting to look up in case he was looking at her. Her hands were shaking slightly. Was she scared? The only way he would know what was going to happen was if he had planned it himself. And the only way he would have planned it is if he were the ‘monster’ himself. But how could she prove it. Nevan wasn’t working with her, all she had left to place her bets on was ginger, and she had as little faith in that gangly kid helping her out as she had in him being able to resist Murphy’s influence now he was out, and she was stuck at home. Still, she could feel his eyes on her, and an almost animal instinct was willing her to look up with building insistence.
She looked up, he was smiling down at her, holding his handcuffed arms towards her with expectance in his body language. She uncuffed him reluctantly, trying her hardest to avoid contact with his pale skin, face burning. She clipped the cuffs roughly back onto her belt and tucked the key back in her pocket.
“Thank you.” He said, rubbing the red marks on his wrists. “You have no idea how frustrating that was.” He turned on his heel and strolled away, whistling. She stood there for a minute more wondering exactly what was frustrating and then shaking her head as told herself this was none of her business any more. She needed to stop thinking about what he was doing, he was just playing with her, saying stuff he knew she would find curious just to mess around with her. There was no clue in his words, he didn’t leave clues.
As she walked out towards the doorway, she saw ginger approaching her, holding out an arm.
“Clancy!” She yelled. “Just who I wanted to see.” She tried to grab his arm, but he avoided her hands with a subtle movement to the right.
“The General told me to get your belt before you left.” He said with a tired gesture at the belt at her waist.
She looked down and took it off reluctantly, dropping it into his waiting arms but keeping one hand on it regardless. She looked down at the floor and then spoke after a deep breath. “Clancy, did you tell the General what you told me about Murphy killing that thief?”
“No.” He said, apparently surprised that she had even asked.
“You could get me out of this if you just tell him.” He tried to shake her hand off the belt with a confused look on his face.
“I can’t say that.”
“Why not?” She asked, gripping it harder, feeling the anger rise in her.
“Because I can’t help you anymore. I’m not even meant to be talking to you now, Nevan’s orders.” He yanked the belt away from her. “Besides, I told you last night, he’s on the right side after all.” He looked up at her with those blue eyes, looking simultaneously scared and assured. “You shouldn’t have arrested him, Lahel. You shouldn’t get in his way anymore.”
What the hell? Was he fooling himself? Getting in the way of a murderer was what they were meant to do, they were in the Guard, it was their job. And Nevan had stopped him from talking to her? What did he know. She hadn’t given it much thought yet, but it was true that the Hughes’ and Norah O’Connor were the ones who accused him of being the ‘monster’, and it was Mr O’Connor who had been killed last night. Was he helping him? Was he the one who killed Derry O’Connor to get Murphy out of jail?
She thought about it as she walked out the entrance of the Guard house, out into the cold morning light. If he really was in on it, there wasn’t much she could do. She placed her hands deep in her pockets, feeling the little key cold on her fingertips. That may be true, for sure, but she wasn’t going to give up here. She couldn’t, she had given up too much already.
The General sighed as he walked back into his office, closing the door behind him and standing there for a moment in the silence just leaning against it and trying to think. Lahel had really messed up this time. She had backed him against quite the corner. He was so distracted that it took him a full five minutes to sense that there was someone else in the room with him, sitting on the chair on the other side of his desk, facing him. He didn’t give any indication that he had just realised that they were they, he didn’t like giving people any indication that he was disabled in any way. They all seemed to think his senses were completely omnipotent and he wasn’t going to let them know that it was any other way.
He waited a few more moments in the silence, waiting to see if the unidentified person would speak first. They said nothing. Where they testing him? Perhaps they waiting to see if he could sense them with sinister motive, maybe to attack him. He released a breath and turned. No, he was being foolish. Lahel’s paranoid behaviour had put him on edge. He was beginning to think that everyone was out to get him. It was probably just someone from the Guard coming to talk to him about something or other. Then again, a Guard member would usually greet him when he walked in the room, not out of courtesy to his blindness but just out of respect of the formalities. There wasn’t many Guardsmen here who would dare not to greet him, and only one with the rank to do it so flagrantly. “Major?” He asked, hesitant but trying to project confidence. Blackwood Murphy was his friend, he was usually quite tuned to his presence but the person sitting there felt a bit different than usual, though close enough that it could be him.
“Nevan.” No title. He usually only did that when he was being informal, maybe when they were talking about something outside of work, but he didn’t get the sense that closeness was what he was wanting to achieve with his choice today. His voice was gruff, tired maybe, but there was also a hint of anger there. He’d heard already?
Nevan made his way towards his desk chair with a little more uncertainty than usual. “If this is about your son, Murphy, I’ve already sorted it out.”
“She has gone too far this time, General.” Yes, there was definitely anger there. Nevan tapped the polished wood of his desk with a nervous finger, this was the last thing he needed right now.
“I told you, I have dealt with it. She won’t interfere anymore, she’ll be too worried about the demotion I threatened her with to risk it.”
“She better not. He’s been through enough already.”
“I know that, but it’s fine, I’ve dealt with it, and you are going to be fine as well. After a bit of a break.”
“I don’t need a break.”
“Murphy, you need to lay low for a while. You’re not doing well, I can tell. It’s the stress, clearly.”
“I can’t just leave.” From the way his voice trembled, Nevan could tell he was shaking his head.
“My friend, it will be better for all of us. All you need is some rest to get it back together and then you can come back. We’re starting to lose control over here, we can’t show any more weakness, or we’ll have an uprising on our hands: from both the Guard and the villagers.”
“I just…” He said, sounding muffled like his hands were at his mouth. “…don’t know what’s happening to me at the moment. I keep forgetting things and these murders keep happening, and I can’t help but feel like this is all my fault.” He tailed off to a whisper at the end.
“You haven’t done anything wrong. This isn’t your fault, I’m going to fix this.”
“Can you?” He knew he would be looking at him, pleading.
“Yes.” He said, feeling a bit bad as he did. “It’ll all be over soon.” He soothed.
With that he got up out of his chair and went to put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. Unexpectedly, as he did, he felt him wince away from his touch. Strange. He always comforted him like this, and been comforted the same way by him. They had known each other a long time, he had never seen Murphy act so out of character. He would draw attention to himself like this. “Well…” He breathed, withdrawing his hand. “You better be going. Get some rest.” He said, in a rather below par emulation of cheerfulness. He gestured to the door and listened as the man stood up with a disparaging groan and practically limped his way out of the room, closing the door with a click behind him.
He really wasn’t well. Not one bit. He knew he had made the right decision getting him out of here for the meantime, people were starting to notice things.
Oh well, he was going to have a lot of work to do from now on. He’d better get on with it. He walked to the door, reaching for the handle but found that it was open instead. Bizarre. He was sure he had heard it close.