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There was a carriage waiting for Ressa at the steps of the Licensing Office, and the monitor held the door for her and then ducked in beside her. He hadn't cuffed her in front of the office staff, at least, she realized, as they pulled away from the entrance, and she was painfully grateful for that shred of dignity, though her escort through the halls with the uniformed monitor had garnered many stares and no small amount of whispering.
She collected more curious glances at the Monitors Office, though they were too professional to whisper or stare. Clearly, she was a person of some interest to the office, and Ressa had to wonder at the pity and curiosity that she caught in their faces. Surely a serial murderess would be subject to more revulsion and fear. She squelched the tiny flicker of hope that rose in her chest as the monitor led her to an inner office with a desk spread with items both familiar and not: an open red-bound journal, a scatter of paperwork, her formal gloves, and three neatly coiled railcar bellpulls. Her heart pounded in her throat as she was waved to a seat, and she was grateful that she could get off her legs before they started shaking.
"I believe you... knew... Monitor Urti,"
"Yes," Ressa was able to say with all of her breath.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you that he's dead." Monitor Tublai watched her face as she spoke, and Ressa could only imagine, detached, what it must look like. Did she look relieved? Shocked, certainly, and probably dismayed. Urti was dead. There was so much confusion in her head that she had to close her eyes a moment.
"How?" she managed. She opened her eyes to find that Tublai was offering her a glass of water, and she took it with shaking hands.
"His body was found this morning under the south bridge. We... suspect it was a suicide."
"Suicide," Ressa repeated, feeling stupid and slow. She didn't drink from her glass, only clutched it and watched the surface ripple as she shook.
"Ressa, moses, we know what happened."
Ressa looked up at him with dread. "What do you know?" she whispered.
"We know everything." Tublai picked up the red-bound journal and tapped the cover thoughtfully before handing it to Ressa. "He wrote extensively about you, about what he did, how he framed you and was blackmailing you sexually. The cultural science master on staff says that his type of mental dysfunction often lends itself to self-documenting. I've marked the most relevant pages."
Ressa felt hot embarrassment flood through her, followed by cold fear. She opened the journal and forced herself to focus on the words. It looked a little like Urti's handwriting - the same bold scrawl - but a little different, too. She frowned at it, and made herself read the words.
It was odd and disconcerting to read about herself, and the picture it painted of Urti's state of mind was alarming and uncomfortable.
After a few pages, she put it down in confusion and looked up at Tublai. "This... I..." To her shame, tears welled up in her eyes, and she choked. Tublai handed her a handkerchief and took the glass she nearly dropped as she rubbed the cloth across her cheeks fiercely and tried to still her sobs.
"We've verified several of the accounts with other parties," Tublai said gently. "We have many witnesses who saw you together at the play opening, and at Alikara's party. Urti has been under suspicion for some time - we think that realizing we were closing in on him precipitated his suicide. There are references at the end about growing suspicion, and his mental health was clearly slipping."
Unable to stop her tears, Ressa listened as Tublai explained, "Urti wrote that the first murder was an accident - a crime of rage. The second was just opportunistic. The third was jealousy, after his obsession with you began to bloom. And when he realized what he'd done, he found a way to frame you for it, and to get what he wanted from you at the same time. Dramanar's death was accidental, but he used it as additional leverage." He passed her gloves to her. "Alikara found these after you left and gave them to Urti to return to you."
Ressa's fingernails punched little crescents into her palm as she took the gloves and mangled them in her hand.
"No one blames you for acquiescing," Tublai was quick to add. "You have no fault in this affair and will receive no marks on your licenses. Urti was a sick but clever man, and he made very sure to give you no escape route. We've already got character references collected from the people who work with you at the Licensing Office and at the guild, and don't need any further witness from you if you don't feel up to making it."
Ressa's head lifted at the reference to the guild. "Taleffi..." she said with dread.
"Madam Taleffi was justifiably angered by the forgery that Urti used to put pressure on you. She sends her condolences and has already made arrangements for guild counseling, as well as whatever resources you require." Tublai opened one of the folders to reveal the witness form against Ressa. She reached for it numbly, and paused when her fingers closed on it.
"This... this isn't the form," she said haltingly, sniffling ungracefully. "This is a forgery."
Tublai nodded and patted her hand as if she were a very slow first former. "Yes, moses."
"This isn't the form Urti showed me," Ressa explained, slightly stung. "The paper is all wrong." It was an obvious forgery - a few of the letters weren't justified correctly, and the printing was just a little off center on the page. The paper itself was not quite the right shade of white, and was a tiny bit thicker than it ought to be.
"Are you sure?"
Ressa tried to identify the undertone to Tublai's voice. Was it annoyance? He probably wanted the Railrage murders tied up neatly - he wouldn't want to cast further doubt or complication on what he obviously considered a finished case. Ressa skimmed the form - the words sounded all the same as what she'd read before, and she tried to push aside her emotional turmoil and consider all the pieces to this puzzle. She thought about the old man who wasn't old from Alikara's party, about Urti's mysterious, powerful benefactor... and wondered about Urti's easy access to confidential monitor records. He might not have been the only one in the office who worked for the man. It occurred to Ressa that Tublai could be the person in question, and she shivered. She couldn't trust anyone, and she was suddenly grateful for the tears she hadn't been able to stop that had prevented her from fully explaining the extra details she knew. "It was dark in the sensitive files room," she conceded. "I... couldn't be sure."
Urti hadn't killed himself, Ressa was sure. But his death, and this desk of evidence, neatly tied up all the loose ends from the perspective of the law and left the trail to the real mastermind cold and dusty. She frowned at the red cover of the journal. Could someone have forged an entire journal, mimicking Urti's handwriting? Would they have replaced a good forgery - or even a truly valid form - with a clearly false one containing all the same information? She looked at the form number on the forgery and committed it to memory. She wasn't willing to underestimate this mastermind.
"The License Master..." she said hesitantly, not quite sure how to figure out what role they suspected he had in all of this. It could not be unknown that Bai and Urti were friends.
"We will see that he grants you whatever free time you require," Tublai said kindly. "And nothing that comes of this tragedy will reflect poorly on your work record. You have defined protections, as a victim in this."
Ressa almost smiled, and ducked her head instead. A victim. She couldn't help but think of Yeff - poor sweet Yeff had been even more of a puppet in this than she had. She scrubbed ungracefully at her face with the soggy handkerchief.
Tublai murmured at her, "It's all right, Citizen. It's over now. It's all right."
Ressa wanted to laugh, but made the inappropriate chuckle sound like a sob, which is clearly what the monitor was expecting. It wasn't over - she had as many unanswered questions as she'd started out with, maybe more. But she recognized that it was shuttered up at the moment; whomever was behind this had blown out the lanterns they were following through the dark and bricked up the doorways. They'd gotten just close enough to scare the mastermind into going to ground, but they hadn't caught him yet. No, it wasn't over, not like Tublai seemed to think. But it might be over for now.