"But he doesn't exist!"
Vito waited as a prisoner passed in the corridor. He could hear the man pleading desperately with his guards, evidently on his way to the rack. Vito let the sounds of the struggle fade into the distance before he replied, "If he doesn't exist, then there's no harm in letting me talk to him, is there? You'll be able to control whatever is said."
Continuing to stand in the corner of the cell, with his arms folded, Gurth scrutinized Vito with narrowed eyes. They had paused at the turn of the hour to allow Gurth to relieve himself into the chamber-pot. Vito had left the cell at that point, knowing better than to turn his back on this particular prisoner. He had found Mr. Crofford busy scribbling into the memorandum book that each guard carried at all times. Preparing a report for the High Seeker on the searching, no doubt. Surprisingly, Mr. Boyd had a flask of water ready for Vito.
Now, newly refreshed after the water and after a quick visit to use the pot in his own cell, Vito stood as he'd been trained at the patrol soldiers' academy: straight and tall, with his hands resting together behind his back. He waited.
"What's your game?" growled Gurth.
"You say you were asleep when the murder took place," Vito pointed out.
"Aye. Ambrewster had sent me a note saying he wanted to talk. I thought he was going to make me an offer for one of my businesses, so I set up the meeting. Warily."
Vito nodded. He had been present on the day, shortly after Edwin Orville Gurth's initial release from the Eternal Dungeon, when John Ambrewster had attempted to use Gurth's new bodyguard to assassinate his rival businessman.
"I arrived with half a dozen bodyguards, and Ambrewster and I went behind closed doors. After we'd talked of small matters for a bit, he offered me wine." Gurth shrugged. "Stupid of me to have accepted it; he must have drugged it. Next thing I know, I'm awake, with Ambrewster's men breaking down the door, and a bloody corpse beside me, with my own pocketknife sticking out of it. Ambrewster's men wanted to kill me; mine wanted to whisk me away to safety. After arguing it out, they compromised by calling the patrol soldiers."
"You suggested that solution, according to the patrol soldiers' report," pointed out Vito.
Gurth shrugged. "Ambrewster's men were baying for my blood. I figured that, once in custody, I'd at least be safe from them. Didn't count on being sent back here again."
Vito tamped down the impulse to respond to that remark. There were holes in this story – great, gaping holes – but Gurth was not the only man in this room who would be aware of that. One other man here might be able to supply the missing evidence.
"And you don't know who committed the murder," Vito prompted.
Gurth shrugged. "I told you – he was already dead when I woke up. I have a theory, though."
"Oh?" Vito prepared himself for a creative explanation. Edwin Orville Gurth was always creative.
"I think he jagged himself with my knife." Gurth offered this defense in the simplest of fashions, matter-of-fact in his presentation. "He's been raging to have me dead for the past two years, ever since I acquired half the brothels in the capital. He's tried three times and failed. I figure he knew that the only way to kill me was to frame me for his own self-murder."
Vito considered this possibility a moment before saying, "Ambrewster doesn't strike me as the sort of man to sacrifice himself to accomplish a goal, however coveted."
Yet again, Gurth shrugged nonchalantly, as though being quizzed on a trivial fact by a schoolmaster. "Best theory I got. The room was locked from the inside; I saw Ambrewster lock and bar it. It was like a stronghold. No windows, no trapdoors – nothing that would let in a murderer. His men were outside the only door the whole time; so were mine. I didn't kill him. It had to be his own hand that killed him. No one else was there."
Vito felt another gap loom before him. He kept his voice steady as he said, "I recall, from what he told me last year, that Or comes when you're asleep. He might have witnessed the murder."
Gurth shouted, "There's no such person as Or! I was the only one there!"
"So?" Vito responded mildly. "Last time Or tricked me in such a manner that the Eternal Dungeon was forced to release you. If he's simply you acting a role, why not do the same again?"
Gurth snorted, though his hands were still rolled into fists. "It was easy last time. You were in love with hi—"
He stopped abruptly. There was a pregnant pause. At the other end of the dungeon, where the rack rooms lay, screams had begun.
When it became clear that Gurth would not speak again, Vito said, "Mr. Gurth, I am here as a Seeker, to determine the truth of what occurred in that locked room. There are two living witnesses to what happened there. If I favored one witness over the other – if I sought to eliminate the testimony provided by one of the witnesses because I felt affection for the other witness – then my superiors would not be pleased."
Gurth laughed, a raw sound. "You mean the High Seeker would tear out your throat. Well, that has the ring of truth to it. But . . ."
This time Vito did not break the silence, though he dearly wished he could cover up the sound of the screamed pleas of the racked prisoner. Gurth seemed oblivious to the sound. He bit his thumb for several minutes before saying, "You fell in love with . . . me when I was that way. When I was acting the part of Or. And you believed him – me. Everyone believes Or."
Vito said quietly, with a touch of passion, "Mr. Gurth, of one thing I am absolutely sure: You were not alone in tricking me last time. Whatever happened this time, you were not alone either. I'm not going to make you the sole culprit of this crime, whatever Or says."
Gurth stared at the wall behind Vito. "He's— We're— I'm not that dumb. If Or says I did it, then we both hang. I mean . . ." He trailed off. Vito remained silent. After a moment more, Gurth said softly, "Will you want to talk to me, after?"
Vito suppressed a smile. It was the same fear Or had expressed, a year ago: that Vito would seek to eliminate the "intruder" who had taken over the real Edwin Orville Gurth. "You two are conjoined twins," Vito replied. "Two souls within the same body. You both hold the secret of what happened. You're both of value to me."
Gurth said nothing. He closed his eyes, appearing to consider the matter. Then he opened his eyes again.
Vito felt a jolt run through him, as though he were the prisoner being stretched on the table. He managed to keep his voice steady, though.
"Good evening, Or."