(20) The Judge, the Seneschal, and the Bank

The Regency Campaign (268-1123 to 269-1123)

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268-1123 : Jewell / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    The Gravella, Kalida, Misha, Teri, and Lucas have headed out to dinner in the evening, somewhere upmarket but where they won't be too noticeable.  Teri is appropriately and discreetly armed -- Shark approves -- and of course Misha is wearing his zack, although leaving his sword behind.  Lucas might be armed, but no-one can tell either way.
    The restaurant is on the street level.  It's busy, classy but not too classy.  It's not somewhere a noble would go to be seen, but a noble might conduct routine business here.  The bulk of the clientele are probably executives and so on.
    Most are in smallish groups, generally around three or four at the tables, as high as six and some couples.  It appears to Kalida to be a mix of business and pleasure, probably somewhere business types would retire to after conducting their deals.  It looks like it's pretty much above board.
    The unobtrusive security seems a little tighter than Kalida would expect.  They are watching the diners, mostly watching the entire crowd although they seem to be a little more interested in one particular table of six.
    That table seems to be dominated by one person, a man in his mid fifties seems to be holding court.  Misha notices that the security is more concerned about risks to the people at that table than anything caused by them.
    Nobody seems to have recognized any of the crew.  They're just another table as far as the locals area concerned.
    Jewell is a little more crowded than many other high population worlds.  Comfortable personal space distance seems closer here, and while the tables are far enough apart for the staff to move easily between them, there is a sense of closeness.
    Tables are round or oval, and while seeming randomly distributed are obviously carefully arranged.  It's designed to look like it's a place of freedom from the order and restrictions that comprise life on Jewell, but at the same time very carefully orchestrated.  One could pretend that there was chaos here.
    The style of cuisine is a large number of quite small courses, what might be called tapas elsewhere but in sequential courses.  The food is good, but not with the slightly pretentious edge of higher class places.  The presentation is stylized and precise, but the emphasis is on the food not the presentation.
    The Gravella is certainly interested in this foreign food.  The wine is different in a way that everyone else calls "better", but to the Gravella it's all about being different.  Everything certainly is different, even to the way the wine sloshes in the glass at three times the gravity of Nakege.  Although he adapted quickly to the heavier world -- he is fitter than they might have guessed -- little things like how liquid moves attract his attention.

    Suddenly Teri shifts a little to make her weapon ready to hand.  There is a slight fuss at the door to the restaurant, where a person is being searched by three security people.  It's being handled discreetly and quietly so the diners would not notice.  Around the room, the rest of the security staff are a lot more on edge.  Everyone's staying at their post, however.  The business at the door has their attention, but they are still trying to cover the room as well.
    The security staff are taking a fairly sizeable gun from the person at the door.  It had to have been very well concealed for its size, professionally even as Shark might say.
    He seems to be alone, not working with anyone, and to the crew there doesn't seem to be anyone in the room who's ready to take advantage of the situation.
    Lucas focusses on whether there's anyone here who would be expecting this, and while most of the serving staff are keeping any eye on it, there is one waiter who is paying no attention at all to it.  He's about three or four tables away from the one that was being watched by security.  That table is about four away from them too, forming a triangle.  They are about as close to that table as he is.  To get to the door from where he is, he'd have to pass very close to them.
    Misha gets up and moves casually around the room, appearing to be headed to one of the bars while moving closer to the waiter but out of his line of sight.
    The waiter is moving around as if he's serving, with a cloth draped over one arm and carrying a bucket of wine.  He doesn't actually seem to be headed anywhere, just slowly working his way around and towards the big table.  Lucas thinks there's more weight on that arm than just a cloth.
    Teri is sitting where the person is in line with her shoulder; Lucas has a clear view of what is going on.  Kalida thinks the person seems a little familiar, although she can't quite place him -- perhaps some civil notable, definitely not a celebrity.
    Misha gets ready to knock the waiter down if he has a gun and looks like he's going to assassinate the bigwig at the table.  He'll make sure it looks accidental, which shouldn't be hard -- Misha already almost bumped into some old guy with a cane who was headed towards the door but having trouble threading his way through.
    Lucas thinks that wasn't deliberate on the old guy's part, but he's not sure.  He decides to keep a general eye on him too, although he's more focussed on the guy with the gun.
    Misha has now moved into position.
    Teri has noticed Lucas is keeping an eye on things, and keeps scanning the room too.

    Suddenly there is a scuffle at the door.  Teri's hand is on her weapon.
    As that happens, the waiter drops the bottle and reaches under his cloth.
    Misha moves into action, bumping into him hard but as if by accident, knocking him to the floor with a clank as his arm hit the ground.
    Whatever was under the cloth is still under there, in the waiter's other hand.  Misha reaches down as if to help, and pulls the cloth away.  It's not a gun, but a heavy saucepan handle.  The waiter looks annoyed and tries to get up.  Misha apologizes for bumping into him.
    The security staff are watching the scene with the waiter, except for the few at the door who are apprehending the man there very thoroughly.  Some of them are starting to move slowly towards the table.
    There is a dull thud from the important table, and the bigwig falls forward.
    The security guards have sprung into action, running to cover all the exits as well as approaching the table.
    The crew looks around quickly for a third attacker.  There are a couple of people who could have passed close by the table -- a man in a well-tailored nondescript suit, and the old guy with the cane.  The latter is headed generally for the door, but then so are quite a few others.
    People are screaming and leaping up from the table, blood spilling out across the tablecloth.
    Security are closing down the exits.  At one of the bars, an employee is clearly making an emergency call.
    Misha heads back to their table and goes back to being a normal part of the diners.
    Now there is a loud explosion from the guy on the table.  His head has blown up.
    Fortunately Misha was headed away, not going over to look.  It's become very chaotic there, but it's easy to see that there are secondary injuries.
    The Gravella is no longer pleasantly observing.  He looks shocked, but trusting of the his escort.
    Lucas has been checking to see who makes it out of the doors before security closes them off.  The man in the suit has been stopped trying to take a back exit; the old guy with the cane has just walked straight by security on the way out the front door.
    Most of the diners are surprisingly acting much like the crew.  Some are ignoring the drama, some discussing it, and in generally remaining calm and continuing with their meal.  It's only those in a position where they can't ignore it are actually reacting obviously, although it's clear that it could easily change to a mass exodus.  The crew are the closest who seem to be taking it in stride.
    The explosion has injured several people at the table, and one security person who made it to the table is on the floor, seriously hurt.
    Kalida gets up and goes to see if she can help.  She's stopped by security, who tells her they have it all under control when she offers to help.  That's clearly not true, it's not under control, but his tone of voice and attitude indicate she should go back and sit down like a good citizen and let the authorities handle it.  He assures her that medical staff are on the way.
    No-one aside from the security guard seems to be seriously injured --aside from the man with the exploded head -- although several at that table are quietly hysterical.  Crowd control is not doing well.  A number of people are now headed for the exit, and security are losing their ability to control it.
    Kalida introduces herself to the head security guy as Brigadier General Siena and says he needs to get his security forces to get this place under better control.  He respectfully says that they will do that, and they will all have it under control.
    The medical team arrives and the crowd parts to let them pass.  As soon as they are by, though, people fill in behind them and are starting to get out the door.
    Kalida, with Teri standing quietly by her, tells the security man that people are getting out, and they need to lock this place down immediately.  He again replies respectfully but doesn't do anything much about it.
    A few more people are leaving into the street now, although security have the other doors closed and are now holding the waiter Misha knocked over, who tried to leave through the back.
    Finally, Kalida goes to the front door and orders the guards to the right places and tells them to stop people going out.  They do, and it's closed down with perhaps only half a dozen people got out.  The guards at the door area are now taking their orders directly from her.
    With Misha working with the maitre d' to organize the staff to get the customers calmed down, sat down, and served whatever they want, the room is now under control.  A makeshift curtain is being set up around the incident, and cleaning up is under way.

    Misha calls Nightshade and asks them to take a shot at finding the man with the cane.  They have a picture of him from Teri's sunglasses, of course, and they can use that to help locate him.  The guy tackled has been apprended, and the man who caused the fuss at the door has gone along with three of the guards there.
    Robert gets to work, hacking into local security and closed circuit cameras to fill out the picture.
    The man with the cane went half a block down the street got into a limo which then drove off.  Robert looks up the serial number of the limo and finds it is from the Smith Rental Agency.  It went three blocks and turned into a parking garage.  Two men in dark suits emerged and opened the door for the guy with the cane, who seemed to be moving very easily now.  All of them walked into a door in a building.  Robert tells Shark the address of the building, and that it's the offices of the Smith Rental Agency.  There are no cameras inside.  The more Robert pokes in, the more he feels that something is not right about it.  He's being fed a line by someone on the other end.  This has the feel of a serious professional outfit with someone good on their computer side.
    The man at the door had been taken away by the three security guards.  He was bundled into a police car along with two of the guards; the third went into a bar.
    Meanwhile Shark has been looking into Mr. No Head.  He's a judge who has just recently received a promotion to the highest court in the city.  He has no family.  Shark feeds the picture and information to those on the ground.
    Lucas has been watching the head security guy.  He suspects that he could be in on it -- he has been letting his staff fail to control the situation -- and tells Misha who has returned to the table.  Things are now starting to return to normal.  There has been no sign of an owner or manager during this entire event.
    The guy with the nice suit who had been stopped while trying to leave is now back at a table with two other people similarly dressed.  They are talking animatedly.
    Misha points out that there's been time for the actual authorities to turn up.  There has been no sign of them, even though surely some of the diners would have made calls too.  He calls Robert and asks why no authorities have arrived here.
    That's a hard task to hack into the police system, but it's not beyond Robert.  He confirms that there was an alert, and a team has been dispatched to the restaurant.  It's a team of two inspectors and two uniforms.  They were dispatched immediately the fuss started.  He identifies the vehicle they were assigned, and finds it taking the scenic route.  The station was three blocks from the restaurant, and right now the car is about 10km away, heading in this general direction but not in any hurry.  They aren't changing the traffic controls in their favor, so Robert does that for them and tells Misha.
    Misha tells Kalida about the police being on the way and coming deliberately slowly, and thinks that maybe they should just leave.  He is afraid that when they finally get here they will be looking for scapegoats and choose them.
    Shark directs their limo to pick them up one block south.  Misha leads them out confidently.  The man who had stopped Kalida watches them leave, but does not take any action.  Robert monitors communications to make sure any call from there about them would be stopped or delated.
    One block south, they get into their limo.  It's a different driver from before, but the same company they used.  Misha tells the driver to go to the starport, which much to their relief the driver does.  Robert assists with the traffic control, and it's a remarkably direct and smooth journey.
    Misha has thought of everything, and has directed Robert to check if starport security were waiting for them.  They're in the clear, and return safely to Nightshade.

    Back on board, Kalida researches the guy whose head exploded, from what she can remember and what she can find.  There's not a lot -- his recent promotion is in line with his career, but quite fast.  He has had no controversial cases and no current caseload.  Two others were in contention for the promotion, but everyone seems genuinely pleased he got the job.  He has no family, and no real social life.  He came to this world from Regina about 15 years ago.  There's no mention of why he moved here.  He was a new judge when Kalida had remembered him here.  There have been no signs of recent money, no sign of gambling debts, no sign of anything out of line.
    Misha asks for research into similar assassinations or attempts, and anything they can find out about the Smith company.  Shark can't find any report of exploding heads, but the two of them then look into any senior public official deaths, unexplained or otherwise.  The Deputy Minister for Agriculture died of a heart attack three weeks ago in his late 40s, rather a surprise at that age.  A police Captain of one of the other towns died also of a heart attack in his late 40s recently.
    Robert has checked on the person at the door of the restaurant -- Shark doesn't expect him to have showed up at the station.  Robert tells him that an unnamed citizen was apprehended and released.

    Misha is concerned that this is all a big setup to get them arrested, or at least to prevent them walking around this planet.  They can test this somewhat by doing their visit to the Bank of Jewell.  They'll take the gcarrier -- if they're being watched, they're being watched, and no amount of anonymous transport will hide them.
    Lucas says he'll stay on board this time in case they need a pilot.  Robert will drive the gcarrier, and take Kalida, Teri, and Misha.
    Misha is also concerned about the delivery they have due tomorrow.  If necessary they can cancel it -- while it would raise red flags everywhere to do so, it would be better than either not being here, or being here to get caught up in the trouble.  The Gravella's requirements have been satisfied, so at least their main purpose here would be accomplished.

    The trip to the Bank of Jewell is surprisingly uneventful.  While Robert waits in the getaway-carrier, the other three go into the bank.
    It's fairly quiet in the bank.  The customer service desk is polite and helpful, asking for Kalida's ID and enthusiastic to help as soon as it's clear the Marchioness of Nakege is their client.  But the request for the account balance is met with apologies -- to his surprise, the clerk does not have the authority to access the details on that account, so she'll need to speak to the manager.
    Kalida and her entourage are escorted back to an office, where there is indeed a manager.  The manager too is keen to help her, and the Marchioness says she simply needs an activity report on a certain account.
    The manager then asks if she has the appropriate countersignature.
    Kalida for a moment is speechless.
    The manager helps her out -- for access to this account it is required to be countersigned by her Seneschal.
    Kalida of course doesn't have a Seneschal.   She says she did not know that, but will come back with that, and thanks him.
    Misha assumes she'll appoint him as Seneschal, since she can presumably appoint one, and was hoping she'd do it right then on the spot.

    On the gcarrier on the way back, Kalida's knowledge of bureaucracy, however, suggests she might want to do something more formal.  She just needs a name attached to a hand that can sign it, and asks Shark if he'd like the post.  All that has to happen is for Robert to insert Shark's name in as Seneschal and backdate it a bit.
    The computer system of the Office of the Marquisate of Nakege are not back up yet after it crashed the last time.  Robert checks the public records, and apparently the Marchioness has a Seneschal: Beatrice Drakenfoll.
    That sounds oddly familiar.  Apparently she has only been Seneschal since earlier today, and when Robert pulls up a picture it's the same Beatrice that was Shark's contact in Imperial Intelligence.  He considers that a sharp move by her to get a piece of the action that is Nakege.
    Shark puts out an ad for contact again.

    Ten minutes later, a man calls Shark from the agency.
    Shark says he needs to speak with Beatrice.
    "I'm afraid she is no longer with this agency," he replies.  He agrees to meet Shark at the usual place.

    Shark takes a cab into town.  Misha wants him to go alone, but with him, Kalida, and Teri available as armed backup in the gcarrier.

    Once in the office face to face with the new contact, Shark says he met with Beatrice Drakenfoll earlier today.  Why is she no longer with the organization?
    "She retired to take up a civilian post," he replies.
    "I see," says Shark.  After a pause, he says that is a little concerning.  "I had left some requests for information," he continues, "Do you have those requests still on file?"
    "No, I believe we don't, actually.  No, none of those requests are on file, I'm afraid."
    "That's not good," says Shark slowly and firmly.
    "I'm sure it will be fine."
    "Do you know what position she took up?"
    "Yes.  She's the Seneschal to the Marchioness of Nakege."
    "When did she get that appointment?"
    "Just this afternoon.  Late this afternoon."
    "The Marchioness came herself?"
    "Oh, no.  This was all handled through the Noble Commission like all the appointments to the Marquisate of Nakege."
    "I see," says Shark again.  "And where is the Noble Commission on Jewell?"
    "That would be at the City Hall."
    "Is there a public roster for the commission?"
    "Yes, of course.  Right here," he says, showing it to Shark.  It seems to consist of minor nobles, mostly Barons, no-one he recognizes.  He reads it aloud, as if to himself, so the crew can hear it over the one-way communication device.  "Do you know if any of these are related to Aramis?"
    "No, they're all under the jurisdiction of the Duke of Regina."
    "If you still have contact with Beatrice..."
    "Well, no, not since she's retired from the service."
    "If you do, please let her know that the Marchioness wishes to see her at her earliest convenience."
    "I'm afraid that might be a while."
    "She's gone off planet?"
    "Yes.  About six hours ago, on a courier being run under the auspices of the Noble Commission.  She's on her way to take up her appointment."
    "OK.  Thank you."

    Shark returns to the starport, time calculations whirling in his head.  They have a minimum of 18 hours to guarantee they can tie the courier's arrival at Nakege, or an average of 30 hours... plus the difference in reaching jump point, of course.

    Kalida wants this verified.  Can Robert find real records of her leaving?
    There was indeed a courier that left for Nakege, with Beatrice Drakenfoll, Seneschal of the Marquisate of Nakege, as the only passenger.  The security pictures match -- it really was her, and she really has left.
    Kalida asks Shark what his assessment of her would be.
    Shark says she's after information definitely.  Whether she's after the installations for personal use, or...?  If she has deep meson sites, and she can blow the heck out of the Tukera fleet, she then has some reasonable chance of controlling a multi-billion credit industry.
    Robert suggests the possibility that she is actually working with Tukera.
    Misha points out that there hasn't been a Seneschal because the Seneschal is supposed to live at the official residence, and since no-one can live at the residence, there isn't a Seneschal.
    Shark assumes she got herself appointed through Imperial Intelligence, presenting the appropriate documents to the Noble Commission.  Either they did it, or she hacked the data base, it doesn't matter.  But they can give her the position, and if they don't like her they can just drop her off at her mansion.
    Kalida laughs that she isn't sure Beatrice might make a pact with all the centipedes and take over.
    Beatrice did act surprised about all the information Shark gave her, he says.  He admits he probably gave her more than he should have about the military installation, the Baron who put it in, the hand-drawn pictures of the meson guns, about the centipedes.  She acted like all of that surprised her, and she'd have to dig into it carefully and that it was going to take a while.  He was hoping that there was an inkling of something, but he wasn't surprised that there was no information at all.  She didn't seem to have a plan of doing anything before he came in.
    It's about the meson guns that Kalida most wishes Beatrice had not been told.  She asks Shark if she is likely to have come up with the plan on her own or if someone ordered it.
    That's something Shark can't tell.  They have the names of the Noble Commission, of course, who are all on planet.
    Misha asks about any messages between Beatrice and the commission.  If she contacted them first, that's a hint that she did this.  If they contacted her, that's a hint it came from somewhere else.
    That's going to be very hard indeed, even for Robert, but he does get into the comm logs and tells them that there were no calls between her and the commission.
    So that means, Shark says, that they appointed her, or she went to them physically.  The latter is certainly possible -- they're all in town.  Or someone else contacted them and told them what to do.

    They've now been wandering back and forth for a couple of hours, and Kalida wonders if anything has shown up about the incident.
    There is a news item about the death: it says that the judge died of complications resulting from a stroke.  There is no mention of anybody else in connection with it.
    Kalida says that if they were actually after her, there would be a big stink by now.
    Misha disagrees.  He thinks it's a good sign, but they're not out of the woods yet.
    Kalida idly wonders aloud if perhaps her signature could be forged.
    Shark is sure that could be done, especially as there probably isn't a copy of her signature on file anyway, except perhaps with the Noble Commission.
    That's a matter of public record.  Her signature is on not file, and Robert is sure he can come up with something convincing enough.  All the bank manager wanted was the signature, and pulling down the form from the bank and filling it in and notarizing it is a simple matter for their Computer Officer.  It'll take about an hour.
    Shark is a little concerned that Beatrice took off before Kalida's visit to the bank.

269-1123 : Jewell / Jewell / Spinward Marches

    With the fresh document in hand, they repeat the visit to the Bank of Jewell.
    It's a different manager this time, and he gladly accepts the appropriately countersigned form from the Marchioness.  He does ask when the Seneschal signed it, and Kalida tells him she did it right before she left.  It seems to be in order -- he says they have to be very careful with accounts like these -- and he hands over the information requested, full records of the account.

    The account has 1,134,000 MCr.  It's been compounding at 2%, starting around 100 MCr, with each year adding another 40 MCr over 350 years, with several withdrawals and deductions.
    Of course that is well over the amount owed by THC.  It's enough to finance a substantial naval fleet.  Kalida can certainly afford that golf course.  It's not enough to buy Tukera, though.  That could at least secure a substantial loan even if it's hard to get the money out of the account.
    The last person to request the balance was the head accountant at the Offices of the Marquisate of Nakege.  This is first time it's been done successfully, however, since it requires both the noble and the Seneschal to get it.
    Shark is sure that as easily as they came up with the Seneschal's signature, Beatrice and her Intelligence office could easily come up with Kalida's signature.  It is interesting that they didn't.
    The last withdrawal was at the completion of the palace, not nearly enough to have paid for meson gun installation.

    Even if they wait for Mich's materials to be delivered, they will beat the courier unless they managed a six-day jump.  At this point they can't beat a six-day jump anyway, so they'd just as well wait.

    The materials all arrive by 11:00, and with all the necessary signatures in place everything is loaded on board smoothly.

    There is still nothing unusual in the news, and at this point Shark doesn't think he's going to get any information from his contacts.  Kalida has already arranged a flight plan, and Lucas flies up and heads out to a jump point.
    Lucas deviates a little from the flight plan, enough to attract the attention of the System Navy which demands they maintain course and prepare to be boarded.
    Being boarded is the last thing they want, of course.  Kalida gets on the comm and pulls rank successfully -- military and nobility -- while in the background audibly cursing out her pilot as Lucas gets them back on track.
    At 15:00 Nightshade jumps for Nakege, due to arrive at 03:00 on 275-1123.