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Cold Case

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Byerly’s friend Alain, who worked in the records office at ImpSec, had come through with the documents as usual. They met at By’s flat, away from the grabby hands of Alain’s small daughters, and away from the curious glances they’d get in their usual hidden-in-plain-sight rendezvous points. The combination of a disreputable Vor gentleman, a very good-looking prole of the male sex, and a dive bar was unremarkable in itself, but it would look slightly odd if they started reviewing case files together.

“I see,” commented Alain, “that they asked him ‘Did you plot your cousin’s fiancée’s death?’ Which isn’t exactly the same as ‘Did you intend your cousin’s fiancée’s death?’”

“Yes. I noticed that, too. If one should happen to say ‘will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’ in the right company, that isn’t really plotting.”

“Priest?” said Alain, and then, after By had explained the reference, “Y’know, history in prole schools consists of twenty percent inspirational stories about the ingenuity of the Firsters and eighty percent How We Beat the Cetas.”

Byerly was never sure what to say when Alain talked like that. Apologies seemed out of order, but so did arguing that the history curriculum in prole schools wasn’t his fault.

“Well,” said Alain, turning back to the files, “they seem to have covered most of the plotting angles good and proper – did you tamper with the lightflyer, did you tell anybody else to tamper with the lightflyer, did you even know your cousin’s fiancée was going out in the lightflyer – but if we’re thinking your cousin Richars let someone else work out all the details, there’s still a little room for him to have given the person a push without ImpSec picking it up. But that someone else has to exist, and that means you might be able to find them.”

“Has to have existed,” said By, wondering if any of Richars’s other associates had met with mysterious deaths shortly after the accident. He couldn’t think of any, but then, he’d never spent much time hanging out with Richars until now.

“Any idea who?”

“No, except that it wasn’t Alexi Vormoncrief.” Alexi, who had some claim to be called Richars’s best friend, if only by default, was constitutionally incapable of keeping a secret once he’d had a few drinks, and Byerly had already sounded him out on the point.

“It’s a shame the Vorrutyer’s District guards did the initial investigation. They’d probably have asked him about his associates, and all that. You don’t have contacts there?”

“God, no, I’ve barely spent any time in the District since I was old enough to get away. And pulling the cousin-of-the-Count card doesn’t usually help with the guards. Particularly since there isn’t any Count at the moment.”

“D’you think you could talk your cousin into requesting his own records from the guards? He’s entitled, you know, under the Personal Information Act.”

“Doubt it. He’d pass out before I managed to get him that drunk.” Struck by a sudden, possibly-brilliant and possibly-deranged inspiration, Byerly began riffling through his wallet. “Oh, but have a look at this.”

“Lightflyer pilot’s license? I didn’t know you had one.”

“Out west,” said By, putting on a broad Vorrutyer’s District accent, “we larn t’fly afore we kin walk. But that isn’t the point. Note, it’s a legitimate government-issued holo-ID with all the proper biometric data, but it only shows your first name and middle initial.”

“A-ha,” said Alain, looking over the records again. The records showing the fast-penta interrogation of one Pierre Richars Vorrutyer. “How come you’re all named Pierre if only one of you actually gets to be called Pierre?”

“It’s a Vor thing. Firstborn sons almost always get stuck with the paternal grandfather’s name. And there’s no rule against more than one of us being called Pierre, it would just be confusing. Besides, in my family, it would make for the most unflattering nicknames. ‘No, I’m not Pierre the Sociopath or Pierre the Recluse, I’m just Pierre the Occasionally Decent Reprobate.’ ... I wonder if Le Sanguinaire had a cousin called Pierre the Anemic, or something.”

“Was he your grandda?” asked Alain, wide-eyed.

“Great-great. My grandfather was named after him, and we’re all named after my grandfather.”

“But if you ever have a kid, you won’t name him after your da.”

Fuck, no.”

While this conversation was going on, Byerly matched a flow pen to the background color of the license, and set about doctoring a B to something that could pass for an R. When he looked up, Alain was watching him with an expression that was somewhere between concern and alarm.

“What? It’s my license, it probably isn’t even illegal to deface it.”

“Not really my business, By, but – there’s a reason why they don’t usually send people to investigate cases where they know the principals. Let alone ones where they’re related to them.”

“Right, and I suppose cases where the principal spent several years addressing the investigator as ‘you little faggot’ and attempting to push him out of third-story windows are right out.”

“As a general rule, yeah. Is that why you don’t like heights?”

“Yes. And I take your point, but, you know, I think I might have some insight into character that the official investigators didn’t.”

In the back of his mind, he heard his own eight-year-old voice, insistent and ignored: But Richars does things to animals, Da, I’ve seen him. No one had listened, even after By had made his most important point: But if he says he wasn’t there, how can he be so sure Donna was playing too rough with the puppy?

“Fair point,” said Alain, still not looking wholly satisfied.

“Character matters. People who knew Richars even better than I do were pretty well convinced it was murder.”

“Was one of those people your cousin the late Count? Because I didn’t know him, of course, but I always understood he was a little, um ...”

“Paranoid? Round the twist? Hard to see the belfry for the bats?”

“I was going to say eccentric. But yes.”

“He was, especially after Mila died. But he had his lucid moments. And there’s someone else, someone whose judgment I trust.”

Armsman Szabo believed it hadn’t been an accident. And Armsman Szabo had been the only adult who believed Byerly, once upon a time, when he insisted that Richars was trying to kill him.

“If I think I’ve found anything, I’ll run it by you before I give it to anyone. I would, anyway.” Alain was the methodical one, always quick to counter By’s flashes of runaway intuition with skeptical questions. “And – I need to do this. For several reasons.”

“I know,” said Alain, although Alain didn’t, in fact, know about one of the reasons. Finding enough evidence to bring Richars to justice for the lightflyer crash was a last-ditch alternative to the other plan that had taken shape in By’s mind, the one he hadn’t confided to anybody – not even Alain, because he knew exactly what Alain would say about it. The other plan was starting to terrify him.

Alain laid a hand on his shoulder. “Good luck, By. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

* * *

Less than twenty-four hours later, Byerly walked into the Vorrutyer’s District guards’ office, presented his only-slightly-fake ID to the sleepy-looking corporal manning the front desk, and walked out with Richars’s complete record, including the initial investigation into the deaths of Mila Vorkovich and Anatole Martin. Almost no one here knew him by sight: a refreshing change from Vorbarr Sultana, where everyone did. There was a slight risk that they might know Richars by sight, but apparently this particular guard didn’t.

He had one other piece of business in the District, since the lightflyer had not been a complete write-off. It still existed, although the driver and passenger did not. Most people would have disposed of the vehicle as quickly as possible, but the late Count Pierre had simply had it repaired and passed it off to a notoriously cheap relative who didn’t care in the least about the ghoulishness of the thing.

Byerly checked into the best hotel in Vorrutyer’s District (“best,” in this case, being a relative term), and tapped out a wristcom message, which was more discreet than calling. Meet me for dinner Admiral Hotel at 7? Wear something pretty and frivolous.

How about cocktails at 4 he usually naps before dinner easier to get away without explaining.

All right but don’t forget the frivolous part.

* * *

The cotton sundress she was wearing was obviously a mass-manufactured one bought off the rack, but she looked good in it. She gave him a peck on the cheek, and said, in one breath, “Oh, it’s so good to see you but what are you doing here, you never come here, you hardly ever even visit me on South Continent...”

This was true. It was easier to keep in touch through long, witty, and entertaining letters, and ignore any questions that would be awkward to answer. “I’m sorry. It’s hard to get away, most of the time. And I’m afraid I’ve come to ask a favor, but first, what are we drinking?”

“Something fruity and fizzy. And frivolous, like you said.” She studied the cocktails list. “Pomegranate mimosa?”

“Two pomegranate mimosas,” he said to the waiter.

Not necessarily what he would have chosen on his own, but they were pleasantly tart, and the bar at the Admiral had its charms, with its high windows, even higher ceilings, and molding in the style of a century before. It was especially pleasant in present company.

“Cheers.”

“Cheers,” she said, looking around the room. “This is nice, I don’t get to do this very often.”

“You could make a habit of it, you know. Naptime for him, cocktail hour for you. Why not?”

She smiled vaguely, shook her head, and took another sip of her drink. She’d always been the conventional one, if only by comparison with the rest of the family. “Now that you’ve got me all mellow, tell me about this favor you’re going to ask.”

“Do you have access to your father’s lightflyer?”

He was, if you wanted to get technical about it, their father, not just her father, but Julia knew better than to comment on the odd turn of phrase. “Sure. He doesn’t actually believe women can fly, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, but he doesn’t lock up the keys or anything. What do you want me to do with it once I’ve got access to it?”

He’d consulted a school friend of Alain’s who was a mechanic, and had a list of things for her to check. Before she was halfway through reading it, she looked up and frowned. “The guards would have checked it out. Long ago.”

“I know. I’ve just been reading their report. But – negligence happens, and sometimes people say they’ve looked into things they haven’t. I’d like you to have another look.”

Luckily, Julia didn’t ask him how he’d gotten a copy of the guards’ report. “Will do. Believe me, I don’t want Richars to be Count either. It’s just – I think it’s a long shot. That sort of thing, amateur investigators finding some clue the guards missed – well, it only happens on drama vids, doesn’t it?”

Ah, but you don’t know your prodigal brother is not an amateur. “The scriptwriters have to get their ideas from somewhere, don’t they?”

Julia still looked skeptical, but didn’t press the point. “How long are you staying?”

“I’m not sure. Not very long.” Now that he’d offered his double-agent services to Dono, he was working the equivalent of three jobs in Vorbarr Sultana; he couldn’t really afford to take even a day or two away. “But I’ve got a room for the night, anyway. Lunch here tomorrow?”

“If I can get away. He’ll want to know where I’m going.”

“You’re thirty-three, Julia. You don’t have to be at his beck and call.”

“He’s just had heart transplant surgery,” said Julia, “and he needs someone to stay with him and look after him, and – and not upset him. And there isn’t anyone to do it but me.”

He was tempted to argue – that doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it – but didn’t. His sister was right that there wasn’t anyone else. All of the pious filial offices, big and little, had always fallen on Julia, because Byerly wouldn’t or couldn’t do them. And Julia, apparently, wouldn’t or couldn’t refuse.

“Are you all right, by the way?” Julia asked, looking at him critically. “Feeling well?”

“Fine. No noticeable symptoms, plenty of energy. Don’t worry about me.”

“Are you taking your meds regularly? Do you need help paying for them?”

Good God, was that why she’d suggested cocktails instead of dinner? Because she’d been sitting there in her cheap sundress worrying about what he could afford?

He wanted to give her the world. He settled for another round of pomegranate mimosas, assurance that he didn’t need financial assistance, and a few amusing stories from town.

“Can I see what that report says,” Julia asked suddenly, “about the route they were flying?”

“Thinking of flying it yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Be careful. Don’t try it after you’ve had anything to drink.”

“I was thinking first thing tomorrow morning. I can usually manage not to start drinking at dawn, you know. Even though I’m related to you.”

“I’ll have you know that I have never started drinking at dawn. Continued, maybe.”

“I stand corrected,” said Julia, her eyes bright with amusement. “Anything else I can help with?”

“I’ve been looking over the part of the report where they interviewed Richars about his companions and associates over the weeks before the accident. Most of them I’ve met at one time or another, but there’s one I don’t know. Someone called Lieutenant Paul Menard. He lived here in the District, do you know anything about him?”

(A prole name; unusual for a crony of Richars’s. Improper influence of some sort? And Richars had been spending a lot of time with him around the time of the crash, and had evidently dropped him shortly afterward. The dropping, he thought, was suggestive. They love not poison that do poison need, nor do I thee...)

And Menard had been questioned, but not under fast-penta.

“Oh yes,” said Julia. “He’s Captain Menard, now. He still lives around here. He’s not married. You might try the officers’ bars if you wanted to catch up with him.”

“Which ones are those?”

Julia suggested a few venues, and then commented, “Funny, I never heard he was friends with Richars. He doesn’t seem Richars’s usual type.”

“In what way?”

“Well, for one thing, you can talk to him for quite a while without getting the urge to stuff something in your ears and hum.”

* * *

He caught up with Menard at the third bar he tried, and pretended they’d met at Richars’s house.

“Oh yes, I remember now,” said Menard, although of course he didn’t, because he’d never set eyes on Byerly in his life. “So sorry ... it’s been such a long time ... a lot of water under the bridge and all that. And you don’t look very much like him, except a little about the eyes.”

The eyes were always what people noticed, for good or for ill.

He could not quite gauge how Menard felt about Richars, which was interesting, because most people had strong feelings about Richars. Strong, but complicated, perhaps? There was definitely a deep well of reserve there.

It took several more drinks to break it down, and induce Menard to a confession of sorts. “We ... did some things together. And after that, he didn’t really want anything more to do with me.”

Byerly wondered if some things encompassed arranging a double murder. Menard looked almost furtive and guilty enough, but ... he rather thought the more obvious sort of things were the ones uppermost in his companion’s mind.

“Bisexuality runs in the family,” he said. “It makes everything much easier if you just own up to it, but Richars never did like to.”

It was always interesting seeing the way people responded when you talked about it openly. Menard’s reaction, he thought, was one part scandalized to two parts liberated.

He decided, on the spur of the moment, to take the option of seducing Menard, which was one thing he was pretty sure he could do and the District guards couldn’t. Sex had always been one of the more useful tools in his professional kit, and he was long past the point of having ethical qualms about using it.

At least in theory. When you were face to face with an actual person – in this case, Menard with his slightly flushed cheeks and his trick of looking down at the table before he spoke – everything became more complicated.

* * *

“Am I better at that than my cousin?”

“I don’t know,” said Menard – no, Paul – no, better make that Menard. “Richars and I didn’t – I mean, I did. He didn’t.”

“Ah. No, I don’t think reciprocity was ever Richars’s strong suit.”

“Would you like me to, um...”

“I would,” said Byerly, “but not right away. Right now I’d like to talk. And, as I’m sure your mother told you at one time or another, you mustn’t talk with your mouth full, dear.”

Menard let out a choke of laughter, and then seemed surprised. He clearly didn’t know it could be like this between two men, By thought, he didn’t know there could be laughter and conversation and a complete absence of shame. I’ve just given him that, and I’m about to snatch it away and betray him. He tried to calculate whether there was any way to get at Richars without also offering Menard up as a sacrifice. Imperial Witness, maybe? But that was hard to swing in this era of fast-penta, particularly if the witness wasn’t Vor-caste and had no particular connections. And, even if he could get Menard immunity from prosecution, that wouldn’t save his career...

He could just not ask, he thought, as this was a wholly private and unauthorized investigation. But that would defeat the purpose, wouldn’t it? He had to ask.

He rubbed Menard’s shoulders, and Menard relaxed and seemed to expand; if he’d been a cat, he would have been purring. Not much used to tenderness, are you? “Did Richars – ever try to blackmail you into doing something you didn’t want to do?” he asked very gently.

Menard tensed again, and nodded. In spite of himself, By felt the quickening of the pulse and the rush of excitement he always got when a lead began to pan out.

“Yes, I thought he might. He does that. Tell me.”

Menard told him. Haltingly, at first, and then in more and more detail. Every now and again, By managed to get a word in: “Yes, that sounds painful, I don’t think I’d enjoy that at all,” or, occasionally, “That can be fun, but only between consenting partners.”

“But,” he said, when Menard had finally stopped talking, and was lying rather limply beside him with an expression that was equal parts exhausted, ashamed, and relieved, “did he ever try to get you to do anything for him outside of the bedroom?

Menard – Paul – shook his head no, obviously puzzled by the question. It didn’t occur to Byerly to doubt him; he was so clearly a man who had just spilled what he thought was the worst. Truth, he had often thought, was a terrible god to worship; but sometimes it did set people free.

Byerly brushed a bit of hair out of Paul’s eyes and said, honestly, “I’m sorry he did that to you. He’s a bullying little shit. Always has been.”

“I know. I didn’t see it – not at the time.”

“He’s plausible. For a while, anyway. To people who don’t know him well.”

“Did you ... were you still interested in, um, reciprocity?”

Byerly leaned back against the pillows. “Yes, I think I would enjoy that very much.”

* *

After Paul had gone (departing with By’s wristcom code, and a promise to call if he ever happened to be in Vorbarr Sultana), By considered the implications. Paul’s story established that Richars was a bully, a blackmailer, and a sexual predator; but he had known those things already. It brought him no closer to proving that Richars was a murderer, which was a problem. If he’d been in Richars’s position, Paul Menard would have been the instrument he would have chosen. The man was obviously vulnerable, ashamed enough that his discretion was guaranteed, and By thought that he’d been at least a little in love with Richars, once. And he seemed intelligent, and competent, and as a military man he’d have the technical knowledge to pull off a bit of sabotage. And yet ... apparently Richars hadn’t even sounded him out. That puzzlement had been genuine.

Where, he wondered, had Richars managed to find a better instrument?

The only one that came to mind was Anatole Martin himself. There was an image of him in the ImpSec file, a frank-faced, cheerful-looking boy who looked oddly familiar, though By had no recollection of ever having met him. Images could deceive: perhaps the young man had been suicidal? He hadn’t been wearing his safety harness. Nor had Mila. (He’d asked Julia to pay particular attention to the condition of the harnesses, because short of tampering with them, it was hard to see how Richars could have made certain of that.)

But – he double-checked the transcripts of the interrogation, and yes, there it was – Richars had stated under fast-penta that he had never met or spoken to his cousin’s young armsman. So even if Martin had crashed the lightflyer on purpose, there must have been an intermediary. He read through both the ImpSec report and the District guards’ records once again, looking for other names he couldn’t place, details that didn’t seem to fit, angles they hadn’t pursued. Nothing leapt out at him.

Character mattered, he thought stubbornly; but evidence also mattered, and that was where he was coming up short.

He fell asleep, still wondering, and woke up just in time for lunch with Julia.

* * *

“Negative on everything you told me to look for,” said Julia. “The throttle sticks a little. But that wasn’t sabotage, it’s always done that. I remember, because Donna warned me about it when she was first teaching me how.”

“You would have been what, about sixteen? Years before poor Mila came along.”

“Yes. So that’s out, but when I flew it I found one tricky bit, where you come up by the cliffs and the air currents shift, and that’s where the accident happened. I didn’t have any trouble with it, and neither would you, and Donna could probably do it with her eyes closed. His eyes closed, I mean. But if you didn’t know the currents and the landscape around here, and you also didn’t know about the throttle in that lightflyer ... it could get ugly. I was just thinking, that Martin boy who was flying it, he wasn’t from around here, was he?”

“The report listed his mother as next of kin. She lived in Vorbarr Sultana. I wonder where Pierre picked him up?”

“A city boy, then.” Julia looked thoughtful. “And an easterner. And Mila wasn’t from around here either, so she wouldn’t have been able to warn him. It sounds to me like a genuine accident. Which doesn’t, of course, wash out the possibility that Richars suggested that route to them.”

But the ImpSec report did. They’d asked.

Somebody else could have suggested it, but that brought him back to where he was before: why hadn’t Richars used Paul Menard, and who had he used? Perhaps he knew Paul wouldn’t have done it. Too decent a man. But would Richars even recognize decent? Several weeks in the man’s company had taught Byerly that he measured other people by himself ...

Wait. Hadn’t they all – he, and Alain, and Armsman Szabo – been measuring Richars by themselves? They’d been working on the assumption that he was clever.

Reluctantly, he began to consider the possibility that Richars, instead, might be innocent.

“There was a freak storm that evening,” Julia mused. “I remember that, the way it seemed to strike out of nowhere. No one predicted it.”

Of course there had been. The storm had been in the report, a detail he’d glossed over, since Richars couldn’t control the wind and the rain. It became much more significant if you assumed the fucking son of a bitch had just gotten lucky.

* * *

Back in Vorbarr Sultana, he asked Dono about Anatole Martin.

“Nice boy. I didn’t know him very well, he hadn’t been in Pierre’s service for long. Armsman Szabo introduced him to Pierre. He said he was his nephew.”

The turn of phrase struck Byerly as peculiar. “He said?”

“Yes, because Pierre said something about how much he looked like Szabo, when they first met.”

That was why Martin’s image had looked familiar. “Yes, but ... do you have some reason to think he wasn’t his nephew?”

“Szabo doesn’t have a sister, By. He said something to me, once, about how if he'd had a sister, he would have liked her to be as devoted as I was to Pierre.”

Right. That didn’t, of course, make it impossible for Szabo to have a nephew. But it did make it rather ... odd that he would have a nephew who resembled him closely, but didn’t share his name.

“How long has Szabo been married?”

“Since long before the Martin boy was born.”

“I see.”

“Yes. So I didn’t like to ask too many questions.”

It was easier to believe things happened for a reason. That your fiancée hadn’t just had the bad luck, or the low-level stupidity, to pick an inexperienced pilot on the one night of the summer when it would have mattered. That your son hadn’t been an ordinary, naive kid who took an ordinary risk and died for it.

Sometimes there weren’t reasons. Then again, sometimes there were, and he thought he’d stumbled upon the reason why Armsman Szabo, so clear-headed and rational in most things, might be irrational in this.

“Have you ... had luck? In the District?” asked Dono.

“No. Nothing like proof. It was a foolish idea, really, thinking that there might be some proof that the guards and ImpSec had somehow missed.” He decided to leave it at that. No reason to tell Dono that Richars was starting to look less and less guilty. Not after his cousin had sacrificed so much to keep him from the Countship.

“Well – you tried, anyway. Thank you for that.”

* * *

He nodded to Szabo on the way out. He’d been about eleven when Szabo had entered the service of the last Count Vorrutyer but one, his uncle Charles. Byerly’s father had a habit of billeting himself on his brother for months at a time, so he and Julia had learned quickly that the new armsman was kind to children. He’d been almost the only adult in their world who had time for them, and was trustworthy.

Far away in Vorbarr Sultana, Anatole Martin had been growing up, fatherless.

He didn’t say anything to Szabo, except a casual “See you tomorrow.” What was there to say? Besides, the man had clearly wanted to keep his private life to himself; Byerly respected that.

* * *

“Back already?” said Alain. “Did you have ... anything you wanted to run by me?”

“No. Nothing. That is, nothing that contradicts the results of the official investigation, and personally ... I’ve come round to thinking they made the right call.”

“Right, as in there’s no evidence?”

“Right, as in he didn’t do it.”

“Yeah. I thought he probably hadn’t, reading the transcript. Because our ideas about how he could have done it were all right, but he really didn’t strike me as having the right sort of mind to pull it off.”

“... And you let me run off to the District on a wild goose chase? Without saying anything?”

“I didn’t know. I could have been wrong. Besides – you seemed like you needed to check it out for yourself, and I trusted that you wouldn’t come back and start making allegations if there was nothing there. No matter how much you wanted it to be there.”

“No. You’re right, I wouldn’t. Although I’m damned if I know why not. I mean, the rest of the world does it all the time.”

“But you’re not the rest of the world,” said Alain.

* * *

Richars had been drinking; he was in the middle of a rambling monologue about how Donna was trying to cheat him out of what was rightfully his, and how half the Council of Counts were in collusion with her, but they’d get what was coming to them when their daughters started trying to become sons, and their sons became daughters and left them heirless, and their wives became hermaphrodites and started pleasuring themselves, and all of this somehow caused men to become obsolete. Byerly tried to wrap his mind around this remarkable sequence of predictions, and found that it made him dizzy. Alain was right: Richars – even a sober Richars – wasn’t bright enough to pull off a perfect murder. How had he never seen it before?

He nodded at the right moments, refilled their glasses, restrained himself from demolishing Richars’s ramblings with logic, and thought: I made a bigger monster of you than you were. We all did. And that means we gave you power. You don’t know it, but you don’t have it any more. Not over me.

But still, something about it seemed damnably, infuriatingly unjust. The injustice didn’t lie in the fact that Richars had turned out to be innocent, exactly; he’d been investigated and cleared, which was exactly what ought to happen to people who were innocent, however unpleasant they might be in other respects. Byerly sipped at his drink and tried to work it out.

Richars was innocent, and people thought he was guilty. Ever since the lightflyer crash there had been rumors, whispers, aspersions; the sort of quiet scandal that would have haunted a better man and made his life a living hell. And Richars just walked through it all, untouchable, insensitive, utterly convinced that it didn’t matter what other people said about him because they were all beneath contempt anyway. The sort of person By had been pretending to be for the last seventeen years, not always successfully, and always with a heavy cost. For Richars – dumb, blind, lucky bastard – it seemed to come naturally.

And – by this time, Richars had reached the bottom of the second bottle of wine, and had started spinning wild theories about the death of Etienne Vorsoisson – he didn’t seem to have the slightest scruple about inflicting that kind of hell on another man.

Byerly thought, on the whole, that he would have liked Richars better if he had turned out to be a murderer. There were laws against murder. There weren’t any laws against being a sadistic bully with a taste for sexual domination and a massive and reckless sense of entitlement. But sometimes, if you gave someone with those qualities a little push in the right direction ... that person might be tempted to do something stupid. That, he decided, was the real beauty of the other plan: it was designed to expose the man for what he was.

Richars was innocent. This time.