Chapter 4
Open Investigation

Vigau, Arielle, Bonaventure

Though there were hundreds of them even in mid-sized town like Vigau, each and every one of the ancient bronze statues was a priceless artifact of pre-Cataclysmic culture. Vandalism of these statues was a common but serious crime. That being said, it was not the business of the Witch-hunters to investigate, not unless a mage illegally using his powers were involved.
Inspector Wadley Andress ran his finger along the brick road and then licked his finger. It told him nothing, other than that licking the ground, even indirectly, was unpleasant. He spat into his handkerchief as spitting on the road would be a ten-livre fine and if none of his fellow officers gave him a ticket for it, he would write the ticket himself. That was how serious he was about following the law to the letter and he would show this town that its lax ways would no longer be tolerated.
"Did you find anything, sir?" Constable Leach asked.
Leach was young, eager and ambitious. Brought up properly, he could become a fine Witch-hunter. Now that Inspector Andress was the Chief Witch-hunter in town and not that incompetent Clemence, Constable Leach could get that proper upbringing.
"The evidence is gone," the Inspector said. "Whether it was deliberately erased by the perpetrator to cover his tracks or the work of an inattentive street cleaner unable to see that this was the scene of a crime, I cannot yet say. For now, all we have is the patrolman's account."
The patrolman in question, Sergeant Leider, had been brought to the scene so that his account could be double-checked. Sergeant Leider was a twenty-year man, whose rank and experience should have meant taking on more of a leadership role and yet he continued to work the beat like a probate.
Inspector Andress turned to the patrolman and said, "Sergeant Leider, tell me again what happened on the night in question."
Sergeant Leider was drowsy and irritable, being kept awake during his off-hours, but he responded promptly if for no other reason than to be done with his part all the sooner.
"It's like I told you, Inspector, it was about three or four in the morning when I last passed this way on my shift. The statue was there then."
"And the man you met here?"
"Giger Taus, local fruitcake. Supposed to be some sort of scholar. Fancies himself as an artist. He was going to be taking a picture of the statue at dawn. An art project, he called it."
"And did he have a permit?"
"He showed me his papers. They seemed to be in order."
Inspector Andress did not fail to notice Sergeant Leider's eyes stray for the briefest moment before he answered. Even a man of his experience could have such an elementary tell. Inspector Andress pulled out a 20-livre note and asked the Sergeant, "It wouldn't have happened to be this kind of paper, would it?"
It took a good bit of iron in the backbone to weather the glare Sergeant Leider gave Inspector Andress without buckling, but the Sergeant kept his voice level, save for a low growl, as he said, "I don't think I like what you're implying, Inspector."
Rather than pressing the Sergeant further, Inspector Andress tucked away the note and smiled.
"I'm just asking a question, Sergeant. I was warned these little towns are hotbeds for corruption before I was assigned here."
"No more corrupt than your big-city outfits."
"That's not much a defense, Sergeant," the Inspector sniffed.
"If you want to make an accusation, take it up with the Superintendent."
Sergeant Leider was raising the stakes in this dangerous game of chicken. If an investigation was launched against him and he was indeed found guilty of misconduct, the best he could hope for was the loss of both his job and his pension. However, even if the Superintendent agreed to the investigation, Inspector Andress would find himself with few allies in the department. His work would be made all but impossible. As much of a stickler as the Inspector was, he was not without a sense of perspective. There were other ways to go about rooting out corruption in the department without jeopardizing his primary mission.
"There's no need to get so worked up, Sergeant," he said in a conciliatory tone. "I'm just trying to get to the bottom of this case."
"Why don't you start by questioning that Taus instead of hassling me?" Sergeant Leider growled.
"Oh, I'll be getting to that soon enough," the Inspector assured him. But first, he had a few more questions. "How long does it take you to make a full circuit on your patrol?"
Sergeant Leider shrugged.
"An hour, hour and a half."
"You say you last passed by this location at three or four in the morning. Which was it?"
"I wasn't looking at my watch."
"Either way, you should have passed by here again before you were relieved at six."
Sergeant Leider scowled at him and said, "Sometimes I stop for coffee."
"That'd have to be a long coffee break," the Inspector noted.
Sergeant Leider then began to lose his patience again.
"Look, Inspector, not a lot goes on in this town. We don't get a lot of crime here."
Inspector Andress pointed to the empty pedestal.
"But we have a crime here right now and if you had been more diligent about your job, maybe this wouldn't have happened."
Again, Sergeant Leider went on the offensive. It was a rather common deflection tactic, but it took a man with strong nerves to pull it off.
"Listen here, Inspector, I don't give a damn about these tenpenny statues. None of this adds up. There are no marks on the damn pedestal, no signs of the damn statue being dragged around. No one else around here saw a damn thing. About the only way that damn statue could've gotten out of here is if it up and walked off."
A sly grin crossed the Inspector's lips. He was not expecting Sergeant Leider to put it so perfectly.
"And that, Sergeant, is precisely why I'm here," he said. "I would very much like to hear more about this Giger Taus before I pay him a visit."

* * *

For two blocks along the Rue Caravel, cramped little cottages were packed wall to wall. Though they were all two or three stories high, they had a short, squattish look to them. Birds of a feather flock together, they say, and usually there are common traits that unite the people of a neighborhood, be it class, ethnicity, creed, what have you. These two blocks of Rue Caravel, however, had no such points of commonality. Inspector Andress could not help but wonder if this was not by design. After all, what better place for someone to blend in than somewhere without any distinguishing features?
Inspector Andress approached the door to the cottage where Giger Taus lived. A single widowed landlady owned most of the houses in the neighborhood and she easily gave him a complete list of her tenants. He would be talking to the neighbors later but first he wanted to speak to the primary suspect himself.
The door was painted red, though that paint was chipped and fading. The ring for the lion's head knocker was missing, so the Inspector had to simply rap on the door with his knuckles. It took three tries before someone opened the door.
It was a young man, late twenties to early thirties, with unruly green hair and spectacles perched on his nose. He wore high-collared robes in outrageous colors. He was certainly a mage, but perhaps he thought that being so obvious was some sort of camouflage.
"Yes?" Mr. Taus asked.
The Inspector noted that the door was only opened partway. Mr. Taus was partially shielding himself with the door. He was a cautious one, but what was the reason for his caution?
"Are you Mr. Giger Taus?" the Inspector asked.
"Who wants to know?"
A response that practically screamed guilt. Of course, a man is guilty of many things and first the Inspector needed to find out if the case at hand was one of them. He pulled out his badge from the inner pocket of his coat and showed to Mr. Taus.
"Inspector Wadley Andress of the Municipal Police. May I come in?"
"Do you have a warrant?"
Even more of a guilty thing to say. The Inspector found himself fingering the detector in his trouser pocket. How might it sing if he crossed the threshold?
Strictly speaking, the Inspector was within his rights to search the house of a suspected violator of the Mage Ban, but by not observing all the forms of due process, all but the worst violators had a way of escaping with lighter sentences when uncovered by overzealous Witch-hunters. It was easy to tire of the dance, but by dancing it well, violators would receive their just desserts in full.
"No, I don't have a warrant," the Inspector said.
"Then no," Mr. Taus replied tersely.
When he first became a Witch-hunter, Inspector Andress would have pounced on someone like Mr. Taus. It would have ended poorly, just as many of his early arrests did. There were a number of scars he kept as mementos from those encounters that no licensed mage of the agency could heal. His experiences taught him to be patient, to treat a rogue mage like a fish. Give him enough line and then hook him when the time is right.
He would start simply. It was never a good idea to start out with the big guns.
"Do you have something to hide, Mr. Taus?" the Inspector asked.
"No, Inspector," Mr. Taus replied. "I just believe in the letter of the law."
Criminals always did have the greatest respect for the law when it could be bent to their purposes. He was clever enough, this Giger Taus, but they always made a mistake in the end. How long would he last until he made the fatal error?
"Then would you be willing to at least answer some questions? Or do I need to go to the courthouse and speak to the judge?"
Mr. Taus did not flinch at the threat.
"Sounds like a lot of trouble unless you've got a good reason for it."
"Oh, but I do," the Inspector replied. "Are you familiar with the bronze status on the corner of Rue Meredy and Passage Martinique?"
"The one by the bridge, you mean?"
"Yes, that's the one. It went missing yesterday."
"Missing? How does that happen?"
"I thought you might be able to tell me. The patrolmen saw you by the statue early that morning."
"I was doing an art project."
"Yes, so I heard. Would you mind showing me the permit you showed him?"
"Give me a minute."
Mr. Taus closed the door. Inspector Andress already had Constable Leach waiting around back in case he tried to make a run for it. However, after a few minutes, Mr. Taus returned with permit in hand.
"Here you are," Mr. Taus said.
The Inspector took a moment to review the permit. It certainly looked authentic, but he had not yet been in town long enough to uncover the local forgers. If it was a forgery, it was an expert one, far better than you would expect for a small town like Vigau.
The Inspector returned the permit and then asked, "May I see your passport?"
"Sure," Mr. Taus replied.
He was a canny one. Though he resisted the Inspector's entry into his cottage, he readily produced the permit and his passport because he knew he had no legal basis to refuse. The passport also looked genuine enough, but the Inspector had his suspicions. He took out his notepad and pencil and scribbled down the details. He would cross-check the information later.
As he was writing, the Inspector said, "So, Mr. Taus, it says here that you were born in Armand, D'Assas, correct?"
"That's right."
Inspector Andress glanced up from his notepad and said, "I can't help but notice your hair, but you don't have your restriction notice in your passport."
"I was never trained as a mage," Mr. Taus replied. "My folks couldn't afford to send me to the Academy."
That was possible but not likely. Before the Mage Ban, the government had a vested interest in discovering any children with magical potential and sending them to the guild, going so far as to subsidize the entirety of their education. A trained mage was worth every denier from the taxpayer and even one rogue mage outside the guilds' knowledge or control could be devastating. Like as not, this Giger Taus was an outlaw ducking the Mage Ban, but Inspector Andress needed more evidence before he could secure an airtight conviction.
"And yet you find yourself here, the home of the Phoenix Mages' Guild," the Inspector said, hoping to open up some holes in Mr. Taus' story.
"Former home of the Phoenix Mages' Guild, you mean," Mr. Taus corrected him. "I moved here after the Mage Ban. Missed the party, I'm afraid."
"Yes, pity that," the Inspector replied. "Perhaps you're better off. It seems that when people get a taste for magic, they can't resist the temptation. If they could, we wouldn't need people like me."
After all their dancing around, Mr. Taus got to the heart of the matter.
"And why is a Witch-hunter investigating a missing statue?"
"I never said it was missing, Mr. Taus."
"Yes, you did," Mr. Taus replied without skipping a beat. "That was one of the first things you said."
"I see there's no fault in your memory, Mr. Taus," Inspector Andress said.
He was genuinely impressed. He thought he might trip Mr. Taus, but he did not waver, did not slip. Actually, he may not have realized it, but he was actually too good for his own good. The average person would have been nervous and stammering, making all sort of mistakes and inconsistencies. He was too collected and well-practiced. By going so far to avoid self-incrimination, he was practically screaming his guilt. It would make it all the more satisfying when the case was finally set against him.
"I've heard there was a new Chief Witch-hunter in town," Mr. Taus said. "I'm sure you'd like to raise your reputation by making some quick arrests, but you're not going to do it by entrapping an innocent man, at least not this one."
"Such an injustice would offend me far more, let me assure you."
Mr. Taus did not looked convinced in the slightest.
"Will that be all?" he asked.
"For the nonce, Mr. Taus," Inspector Andress replied with a smile. "For the nonce." He tipped his hat. "Good day."
Mr. Taus did not return the valediction and promptly shut the door. Rather than trying to squeeze through the narrow space between houses, the Inspector walked around to fetch Constable Leach. He was leaning against the wall of the adjoining building but promptly stood up straight when he saw the Inspector.
"Well, sir, how did it go?" Constable Leach asked.
"I believe we've found our fish, Constable," the Inspector replied. "Now we just have to find the right bait to hook him."
The fun had only just begun.