Henry and the Balance of Probability

XIV

By Michael Arram

'That you, Otto?'

'Morning, Henry. Anything I can help you with? I'm at your disposal, it being the school holidays and all. You're lucky I'm even up!'

'My briefcase?'

'What?'

'You had it on Saturday. Have you still got it?'

'Er... I did? Didn't I give it back to you? I'm sorry, Henry. It was chaos after the body was discovered. I must have put it down somewhere and left it. I'll go back to the palace and ask, the police must have left by now.'

Henry sighed. 'Don't bother, Otto. The palace is under media siege. You'll never get near the front gate. When I see Fritz later, I'll ask him... though whether in his current state he'll remember is another thing.'

'Bad, huh?'

'He's out of his mind with worry for Tommy. The first court hearing will be later this morning. Myself, I gotta get over to Eastnet, where I'm supposed to be fronting a feature on the Palace Murder, as they're calling it. It's the last thing I want to do, but I can't get out of it.'

'Sorry, Henry.'

'One thing, though. Answer me a question the police must already have asked you. You were one of the last people to talk to Jakob Olmusch. Don't deny it. You'd been at him in the loos next to the ballroom.'

'Er... yeah.'

'Thought so. What were you talking with him about? Brantesberh?'

'Couldn't resist it.'

'Otto, you had no business doing that!'

His friend sounded sheepish at the other end of the phone. 'I know that now. I'm sorry, Henry. I just wanted to puncture the bastard's smug superiority.'

'And did you?'

'Not really. We exchanged remote civilities before I imparted my little piece of gossip. He listened coolly, nodded and ignored me.'

'Did it go in at all, you think?'

'Difficult to say, but probably.'

'And did you see anything else?'

'Nothing really. Except that I bumped into his brother Karl later when I went down to the courtyard for a smoke.'

'I thought you'd given up.'

'I'm weak. Pity me.'

'So Karl was there. What was he doing?'

'Coming up the stairs. He must have just passed through security. Oh, right! That's where I left your case! I remember now, because Karl Olmusch had one just like it in his hands. I was thinking of that when I put it down by the stove before I went outside to cadge a light off one of the RSS guys. They all smoke too.'

'Well, well. Did you tell the police that?'

'No. Should I?'

'No doubt they'll be back to you. Tell them then.'

'Are you okay?'

'No. I'm furious at you. My natural niceness just gets in the way of my showing it.'

'Forgive me, Henry. I know it was stupid.'

'Yeah, well, you wait till I get you back under military discipline. There will be a reckoning.'

Henry rang off with a sigh. Noticing Lance drift past in the hall he called out, 'Hey baby!'

A glorious grin greeted him as the boy turned. 'Morning, dad.'

'You look happy.'

'Yup! I love being human.'

Henry laughed and held out his arms. Lance ran over and hugged him hard. 'Wow, baby, you're getting taller.'

'Really?'

'It's noticeable, me not being all that sizeable. Your hair's brushing my nose.'

'Great! I'm gonna dwarf ya soon!'

'Baby, if you can outgrow Ed I'll give you 10,000 krone.'

'What! You serious?'

'Damn right.'

Lance put on a face as if straining. 'Just watch me! I'll shoot up for 10,000 krone! Think of all the Warhammer figures.'

'So... er, last night.'

'Did Ed tell you?'

'Yes. He said you were very brave.'

Lance rolled his eyes. 'He was more embarrassed than I was.'

'No doubt. So you're gay then?'

'Dad! No more, right?'

'Okay, okay... just remember I love you.'

'I know that. I'm gonna have my swim and head off to Reggie's'

'Not Daimey's? Ed said you were going there.'

'No. He cancelled so he could be with Terry O'Brien. I want to do some painting this morning anyway. We're meeting at lunch after Tommy gets released.'

'See you for dinner this evening, then. Mrs Willerby will be back this afternoon.'

'A relief. I've OD'd on pizza.'

'Pizza! I'll kill your other dad. He was supposed to make an effort last night, not buy in a takeaway. Grrr!'

***

A rattle of keys woke Tommy from chaotic dreams. He had slept in his coveralls under the one thin blanket allowed him. His exhaustion had eventually overcome the noises of the cell block, the distant shouts, the clang of doors and the regular inspections of the suicide watch.

Lieutenant Czerescovicz and another officer entered. The lieutenant held a suit-bag while his companion roused Tommy. 'We have clothes for court, sent from Tarlenheim palace. You self dress, quick!'

'I need to wash and shave.'

'Hurry shave.'

'I have no razor or toothbrush.'

'Tough shit. Here bowl. You use.'

The two officers stood and watched as Tommy washed in the cracked and discoloured sink. There was only cold water and a small sliver of dried-up soap. He pushed his coveralls down to his waist and splashed grey, soapy water under his armpits. The rest would have to wait till he was released. He tried to tidy his lank hair, without much success.

He unzipped the suit-bag, which contained a full set of clothes. Stripping quickly, he gratefully swarmed into underpants, a crisp white shirt and his grey suit. Shoes, socks and a choice of ties were also within. When he caught his reflection in the cracked mirror over the sink, for the first time in a long time he was happy to be in male attire.

Tommy was escorted out of the cellblock into the courtyard, where a green police van was awaiting him. He was directed to take a seat on a bench within, an officer on either side. With police cars leading the way, the van pulled out through the barrack gate into Herrengasse. Cameras flared at the windows as desperate photographers tried to snatch a picture of him in transit to the ministry.

The drive took only ten minutes. The van delivered its prisoner to the underground car park so he could make a secure exit away from the cameras. He was cuffed to an officer and taken to a holding cell, where he waited, bored and apprehensive, until a buzzer went at the door.

It was Willem Graznic, whose ready smile lifted Tommy. The police officer removed the cuffs and left the room.

'Now you are in my custody, Mr Enn-vissel! So you be good, yes?'

'I'll try. What's happening? Can I call you Willem?'

'That is good, and I will call you Thomas. What is happening is that our hearing is fixed for half an hour's time. We will go before Mr Jerzovicz, who is chief examining magistrate for city of Strelzen. There will also be Mr von Wessel, who is state prosecutor. It is not trial. Mr Jerzovicz will ask questions. He has seen police file. He will then decide whether there is case to answer. You will realise that things do not always happen in Rothenian justice system so speedily. But you are... notorious, yes?

'Notorious? Apparently I am.'

'We have full team here today, including barrister from England for which Mr Peacher-White sent. He fly in on private jet. Most impressive. One day I hope to be such man.' Graznic gave an infectious laugh, to which Tommy found he could respond. 'Now, Thomas, can we go through evidence?'

The young advocate began to coach Tommy through the police case. 'And Prinz Franz has given his statement that you held sword in your hand some days ago when he was showing you his house. If Mr Jerzovicz accepts prince's statement, much of police case is dead.'

'Much? There's more?'

'You were last person seen going up to gallery.'

'But there was no one else up there!'

'That is what you say, of course. They may doubt it, however. Excuse I play devil's lawyer.'

'Devil's advocate,' Tommy sighed.

'Is so? Thank you. Also police science tests on your clothes are problem.'

'What!'

'Your Saturday clothing was recovered from palace laundry chute by police and – this has not yet been told to media – in chute also was a... cloth... which had been used to wipe blood. The blood was that of the late Olmusch.'

'What!!'

'I sorry to tell this. It may cause complications, I fear.'

'I had nothing to do with any blood-stained rag!'

'Of course. We shall argue just that. But you see difficulty, of course.'

Tommy was shattered. He couldn't believe this was happening to him.

A hand gripped his shoulder and he looked up into kindly eyes. 'Do not give up, friend Thomas. We have great team. I rather complimented to be part of it. Wife very pleased... especially at size of fee Corporation Peacher pay.'

***

A phalanx of suits was ranked behind Tommy's table, which did something for his morale. One after another they got up and shook his hand as Willem introduced the Rothenian members of the team.

The English barrister introduced himself. He was wearing a pair of linen bands at his neck with a wing collar. Tommy was seated next to him. He seemed friendly.

'Now, Mr Entwhistle, this isn't like an English court hearing... well, not since the days of grand juries. You won't take the stand, and indeed you'll just have to sit here and be patient. Young Mr Graznic will do most of the talking, though I regret to say it will be in Rothenian, which I don't speak. He may refer to you for information but there is no evidence to be given under oath.'

Tommy looked across at the state prosecutor's table, which was much less populated than theirs. Prosecutor von Wessel was evidently the saturnine man sitting in front of a pad, while a younger assistant prosecutor was presiding over the files next to him. Captain Mannstejne, on his other side flicking through a notebook, did not catch Tommy's eye. Other than that the room was empty. The media were not admitted to preliminary hearings.

Tommy stared around him. The magistrate would doubtless occupy the raised dais in front of him. The room was modern, light and airy, furnished in pale wood. Above the magistrate's seat was an impressive, carved rendering of the Rothenian royal arms, topped by the Crown of Tassilo and surrounded by the collar of the Rose. Large oil portraits of King Rudolf VI and Queen Harriet flanked the arms. In his current circumstances, Tommy found it decidedly odd to be stared down at by such familiar faces. It was in the name of his friend King Rudolf that he would be prosecuted for murder.

The door opened and Mr Jerzovicz, the magistrate, entered. Tommy saw a stooped grey man who looked rather like an academic, with narrow spectacles perched on his large nose. He laid a folder in front of him, gazing round the room mildly. No one stood or was expected to stand at his entry. He cleared his throat and began his introductory remarks in Rothenian.

Von Wessel then had his turn. Throughout his presentation, the defence team was busy scribbling in pads or typing into notebooks. A screen was angled towards Tommy so he was able to see English notes of the prosecutor's words scrolling down.

Tommy found it hard to concentrate on them. Willem muttered into his ear from time to time, ending with the remark, 'No surprises. It is as I said.'

Notes had been passed to Willem Graznic throughout von Wessel's presentation. When the magistrate looked in his direction, Willem launched into a refutation of the prosecutor's case. The fingerprints had been accounted for by the statement of Prinz Franz. Mr Enn-vissel might have been seen going up the stairs to the upper gallery, but no one was clear as to when that had been. By his own statement he could have left well before the argument heard by the two children, who saw or heard no sign of Mr Enn-vissel.

Mr Jerzovicz looked up at that point and asked a question. Tommy glanced over at the screen, which translated it as, 'The children heard an English voice from upstairs?'

Willem replied that the word they heard was in English. They had said nothing about the accent in which it was spoken.

The big question followed. How did the defence account for the presence of a rag soaked in Jakob Olmusch's blood in the same laundry chute as Mr Entwhistle's clothes?

Tommy watched the screen carefully. It began scrolling. 'We ask you to note that only one such chute serves the upper floors. The rag was underneath not just Mr Entwhistle's clothes but also some of those belonging to the prince. This was a strange way of concealing incriminating evidence. The housekeeping staff would be bound to find it. Surely, if Mr Entwhistle had been the murderer, he would have been more careful, especially as the blood traces were bound to impregnate his clothing. Note also that the laundry chute came down from the second floor, so the rag clearly could have been introduced higher up. Had the police checked this possibility?'

The magistrate looked over his glasses at Captain Mannstejne, who offered some observations along the lines that the police had considered thisidea. But they had also had to entertain the possibility that Tommy had deliberately used the rag to obscure the issue, and contaminate the evidence of his own clothing. Any blood smears on it might now be put down to the real murderer's fault. Tommy might have deliberately piled his clothes and some of the prince's on the rag just to give the impression that they were deposited by different hands and at different times. Prince Franz had admitted he had not himself cleared up his clothes, but had left it to Tommy.

The magistrate then made a sharp remark that caused the prosecutor's table to look shifty. Willem leaned over to Tommy. 'He ask if police had looked for traces of blood on second floor part of laundry chute. They fail to do this! They embarrassed.'

Suddenly Tommy began to hope that his nightmare was ending. The magistrate shuffled his notes and began to make his summation. His defence team were leaning forward and concentrating.

He was relatively brief, too brief for Tommy to make out the notes on the screen. Willem turned to him, and Tommy's heart lurched at the look of disappointment there. 'He say his job to decide not guilt but if case to answer. He say that evidence needs to be answered before judges. Too many facts tie you to scene of crime.'

'What! No!'

'I sorry, Thomas.'

The English barrister hissed urgently at Willem, who asked Mr Jerzovicz, the magistrate, whether they might approach the dais. The two men went up and talked to him, with some head-shaking and a lot of hand gestures.

By this time Lieutenant Czerescovicz and two officers had appeared. A heavy hand fell on Tommy's shoulder. He was lifted by a tight grip on his biceps. Willem Graznic joined him as he was being marched out. The officers stopped.

'I afraid that magistrate will not accept a bond for release except only for five million euros... is ridiculous. Your friends in Corporation Peacher cannot release such money and Prince Franz cannot raise such sum.'

'What'll happen now?'

'They take to old prison in Arsenal. Not good. I argue but they not listen. We go now make case for bond review in Supreme Court. I see you later. Be careful.'

'Be careful?'

'Arsenal not nice place.'

Tommy was hustled back into the waiting room, where a hateful green coverall was waiting for him, draped over a chair. With his heart heavy as a stone he undid his tie and began stripping.

***

Henry swore under his breath when the news of Tommy's committal appeared on the laptop on his news desk. He was a professional, however, and slotted the latest development into the next bulletin. He could see in the corner of the laptop screen the current Eastnet broadcast. Underneath it appeared, 'BREAKING NEWS : Tarlenheim Palace Murder : Suspect Thomas Entwhistle committed for trial.' The picture was rotating between Tommy's prison van leaving the Justice Ministry; pictures of Jakob Olmusch; Tommy's defence team denouncing the magistrate on the ministry steps, and the media circus outside the palace.

Henry was impatient to wind up his spot and get to his lunchtime appointment with Justin and Terry O'Brien. Pinned behind his news desk, he felt powerless and cut off from the action.

Tomas Weissman seemed to realise this. 'Not long now, Henry ,' came through his earpiece mic. 'Just do this last interview for me. It should be fun .'

A law professor from the Strelzener Technische Universität was ushered into the seat next to Henry's while his co-presenter was fronting a feature on anti-Semitism in Slovakia. Henry scanned the briefing notes on his screen and made some affable remarks to his guest. The man had clearly been on-camera before, and perhaps was a little too blasé about the business.

Henry caught the floor-manager's eye, and an instant later was giving his award-winning smile as the transmit light came on. After introducing his guest he began, 'Now, Professor Enghien, can you run us through the latest development in the Tarlenheim Palace Murder?'

'Thank you. The English transsexual Enn-vissel...'

'I believe the man is a transvestite, professor. There is a difference.'

The professor waved a hand airily. 'Only in the dark, Herr At-vood.'

Henry's brow clouded. 'We'll come back to your ignorance later. For now, could you just stick to the story, professor?'

A little rattled, the professor stumbled on. 'The man Enn-vissel has been committed to trial this morning. Not really a surprise decision.'

'Why so?'

'The balance of evidence indicated to the magistrate that there was a case to answer. No alternative suspect has been suggested to the police. He was right to proceed as he did.'

Henry snarled, 'It seems to some commentators that the police are either not looking for other suspects, or are playing to the media gallery in this case.'

'It's easy to criticise. The police have all the evidence and the state prosecutor – a man of considerable experience – has forwarded their case against Enn-vissel. It's not a matter of incompetence or a witch hunt.' He looked directly at Henry. 'Besides, there is a competing theory that Enn-vissel is being protected by a hyper-liberal, monarchist faction surrounding the king.'

'Could you be more specific?'

'It's no secret that Enn-vissel was a hanger-on to the Peacher-Elphberg clique that runs our country.'

'You're suggesting a political motive to the murder?'

'You hear rumours.'

Henry gave the professor a look of distaste. 'Or invent them. Tell me, professor, has this bizarre allegation anything to do with the launch of your book on politics and the law in Rothenia since the May Rising?'

'Great stuff, Henry. Sic the bastard! ' Tomas's voice came through the earpiece.

'I beg your pardon?'

'It's full of conspiracy theories: the Tarlenheim clique putting the king in power; the attempted takeover of the national media by Willem Vincent; the colonisation of the Rothenian military by the CIA and PeacherCorp. If these secret cliques are so powerful, how come young Mr Entwhistle is still in prison?'

'Woo hoo! ' came down the earpiece.

The professor rallied. 'You're well known as a member of the Elphberg-Peacher circle yourself, Herr At-vood!'

'So your conspiracies embrace every aspect of the world. What would you say to the view that in such neatness lies madness?'

The red-faced professor sputtered at Henry, who beamed brightly back at him. 'Can I thank you for your insights? Now, over to Marco with the weather across Central Europe for the next three days.' As Henry rose from his seat, his offered handshake was angrily rejected. He shrugged, and left for the dressing room.

Tomas Weissman was waiting for him in the corridor outside. 'Naughty, Henry, but damned good television. That'll be shown for the rest of the day. He didn't expect you to have read his book.'

'It was part of my reading while I was on leave. Bollocks, all of it, but still it's a sign of the times. As democracy embeds itself in our country, Rothenians are getting interested in the process of government, in which conspiracy theory is always gripping to a certain sort of mind.'

While Henry walked down through the tourists crowding the medieval alleys to climb the Domshorja, the hill of Strelzen's picturesque Altstadt, he was wondering if the professor's conspiracy theories might have any link with what was going on with the RA and Willemin's project out at Maresku. Then he wondered if maybe he too was trapped in the conspiracy mindset, a thought he found uncomfortable.

Approaching his reserved table at the Flavienerhof, he smiled happily to see two familiar figures already sitting there. The taller of them came over and hugged him hard. 'Missed yer, me favourite little tyke. How's Henry?'

'Great. I just had a studio bitch-fight with a lawyer. You gotta see it on the news when you get back to your hotel, Terry. It'll make you laugh.'

Terry O'Brien returned to his seat next to Justin, and Henry sat opposite them. It gave him a lift to be with such friends, capable, resourceful and a bit dangerous to know. They were on Henry's favourite table, below the famous portrait of Queen Flavia in the main room of the restaurant. Henry liked, as he said, to be all queens together.

'You've got a fresh bruise on your cheek, Terry,' he observed.

Justin sniggered. 'Damien, needless to say.'

'I'm training the kid too well.' Terry laughed ruefully. 'He tried a drop kick against me when I was on the floor, and I must be slowing down. How's your Lance?'

'Different sort of problems, Terry. But we're hanging in there with him. He's worth the effort, growing into a really great kid. Who'd have believed it? An archangel came to earth and landed in our laps.'

'Whereas I got a demon.' Justin threw up his hands in mock despair.

'They're devoted friends all the same. Maybe opposites really do attract.'

The waiter came and the three men ordered lunch. As drinks arrived, Terry stretched and looked round appreciatively. 'God, I miss this place. It's always like being on holiday here, and it's never boring.'

'Did Justy brief you?'

'Thoroughly, sweet babe. Now, the way I see it is that we three need to start doing some proper digging. You two are convinced there's something behind this murder, aren't you, so let's go for it. You've never been wrong before.'

'Time to do illegal things... awesome!' Justin was grinning fit to bust. 'God, I've missed my life of crime. Where do we start?'

'Let's begin at Maresku. Willemin's always up to no good. Why should he change?'

Henry agreed. 'I'll ring Walther, then.'

'Walther?'

'My source there. Nice boy. You'll like him, Terry.'

***

'So you and Daimey are okay now?'

'Yeah. We're good. It was that Olga Massenovic, horrible cow. She made it all up and told her lies to Daimey.'

Lance noticed that Reggie had coloured unusually red for him. Reggie hesitated. 'And... er... there's nothing between you and Helen? I mean... you, er, don't fancy her at all?'

'What? Where'd ya get that idea?'

Reggie was nearly incandescent. This was a first. He stammered something inarticulate.

Lance took his friend by a bony shoulder. 'I never liked her that much, Reggie. Why did you think I did?'

At moments of emotional crisis, Reggie got hiccups – or else nosebleeds – and suddenly began to suffer the most alarming spasms. It took some minutes of back-thumping and a glass of water drunk slowly to return him to his normal, nervous self.

Lance sat next to Reggie and put his arm round the boy.

Reggie nestled up to him, surreptitiously drinking in his friend's remarkable scent. He had mentioned it to Mattie and Damien, but neither of them said they noticed it. Reggie did, however, for its effect on him was like being on a windswept beach with an aromatic bonfire burning close by. It unsettled and excited him in ways beyond his capacity to describe.

Needing to get a grip on himself, he sought to change the subject. 'So tell me about what happened at the palace.'

Lance went quiet. Strangely, his argument and reconciliation with Damien remained his dominant memories of that Saturday. Of those, it was the feel of Damien's lips and the warmth of his body that caused Lance's heart to quicken. He still had it bad for Damien, even though his secret was out. His secret... oh yes. Not such a secret now, was it?

'Reggie?'

'Huh?'

'Y'know girls?'

'Uh huh.'

'I don't really like them the way Daimey does.'

'Me neither.'

'But I don't like them that way cos I'm gay.'

'Fuck... nosebleed!'

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