Bitter 259

“Dinner is ready,” said Frau Magda from out in the hall.

“Ah, excellent, excellent,” said the Mayor. “Shall we?”

Britta was too full of questions to know what to ask first, so she just nodded. The Mayor turned and walked out, head held high, sniffing at the air. Britta took one final look around the room—she was definitely missing something that was hidden here, she was sure of it—and then followed the Mayor out.

The Mayor had already disappeared, but Frau Magda was waiting to escort Britta to the dining room. Escort in much the same way an armed guard escorts a dangerous prisoner.

The dining room was very grand. A long mahogany table with seating for twenty people. Candelabras lit the room and gave it a warm glow, ably countered by Frau Magda’s icy glare.

The Mayor entered through a side door, his outfit changed into a robe that was practically a dressing gown and his hair waxed at a rakish new angle. The Mayor in relaxed mode. “Please, be seated.” He smiled unctuously.

He was a handsome man, and suave, but he was also very oily. The kind of man women steer clear of in nightclubs, and steer towards at a yacht club.

Britta sat down and found herself barely able to see over the table. The furniture was very rich and luxurious, but also very big.

“Frau Magda,” he said, “a cushion for our guest.”

Frau Magda glided away and returned with a thick cushion. She placed it on Britta’s chair and after Britta had managed to clamber on top, she was able to reach the cutlery.

The food arrived on a trolley, pushed along by Frau Magda. A large tureen of soup. No other servants had appeared. Britta suspected Frau Magda was also the cook.

The soup was red and cold. Intentionally, Britta assumed. It was ladled out and placed in front of her, with a side order of death-stare. Britta tried to avoid looking at Frau Magda, but she had angled herself so that the surface of the soup reflected her appalling grimace directly into Britta’s eyeline.

“The first course is served,” said Frau Magda, somewhat unnecessarily.

“Wonderful,” said the Mayor. He picked up his spoon and took a sip. “Wonderful.”

Britt did the same. She was still quite full, but she could handle a little soup. She hoped there weren’t too many courses. It tasted quite nice. Hard to place, though. She had expected tomato from the colour, but it wasn’t.

“Now,” said the Mayor, “I want to assure you there will be nothing improper about your friend’s trial.”

“But you’re the judge,” said Britta.

“Exactly. I will make sure it’s all done by the book.”

Britta wasn’t sure which book he was referring to. The Big Book of Legal Travesties?

“But you were there. Isn’t that a conflict of interests?”

“Why? I wasn’t involved. The altercation took place between the two young gentlemen.”

“That’s not what he says.”

“He’ll have ample opportunity to state his case,” said the Mayor.

“His case is that you did it. He’s hardly going to get a fair hearing if you’re the one who decides if he’s guilty or not.”

“Oh, no, no. I don’t decide if he’s guilty. That’s what the jury’s for.”

“You have a jury?” At least he couldn’t give himself that job, too. “Who gets to do that? Random people?”

“No, that would be too arbitrary. They’ll be handpicked. The most respected and trusted of our citizens.”

“Handpicked by who?” Britta asked, already suspecting the answer.

“That’s the job of the judge.”

“So you get to be the judge and choose the jury… that’s not even slightly fair. Does he at least get a lawyer?”

“Everyone has the right to a lawyer if they wish. Although, if you need a professional to convince people of your innocence, it does invariably suggest you have something to hide.”

Britta didn’t know what to say. Clearly the whole system was rigged.

“Can you appeal to a higher authority if you feel it’s an unfair verdict?”

“Certainly. There’s the judicial ombudsman. You can refer the case to him if you feel there’s been a miscarriage of justice.”

“And the ombudsman is…”

“I have the honour of holding that position.”

“Of course,” said Britta, not surprised in the least. Stan was going to be found guilty, there was no doubt about that. Britta put down her large silver spoon to take a rest. Even with her boosted strength stat, it was a strain on her tiny wrists.

Frau Magda, who had been standing by the trolley like it was artillery and she was awaiting orders, rushed forward and whisked the bowl away, then moved on to take the Mayor’s, which was empty.

“Now, tell me. You mentioned poor Alfredo having some kind of information about the Korlath Mines. Would you care to elaborate?” Suddenly his memory was very good and he remembered the details of their last conversation.

“I don’t know much,” said Britta. “Something about a grimoire.”

There was a crash as the soup bowls fell to the floor.

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