"So we sat here telling people that, no, they couldn't clear yet, and I even had to go lock the servant's door."
Vlad looked back in the room. No door.
"It's the panel between the seascape and the horse." One of the other boys pointed.
"Yeah. There's a bolt down low, you can lock it from this side, but not the other."
Vlad eyed his underaged . . . assistants. Pointed at the girl. "Right, so . . . You're Nastasya." Pointed at the stutterer.
"P-p-pauli. That's D-dimitri, and Va-va-va-va . . ."
"Varfolomey." The so far silent boy grinned. "Everyone calls me Barf."
Vlad winced. "How about I call you Var. Now . . . I never did get the Lords straightened out. Exactly how is Lord Axel related to the others?"
Var jumped in to answer. "Their fathers were brothers. Lord Axel's father was the older and His Lordship the younger. Lord Axel's Father died, umm, fifteen years ago? Something like that, his mother had died a few months before that."
"So . . . why is, was, Lord Vladimir the one who owns the house?"
Pauli snorted. "The H-house is owned by a Historic T-trust. Only the Descendants of Lord Ivan Mikhail Vinogradov c-can live in it, and only the T-trust can throw one of th-them out. The Trust p-pays all expenses. So while H-his L-lordship could give Lord Axel the s-smallest office and smallest s-suite, he can't, c-couldn't, l-legally, throw h-him out."
And a smart one, stutter and low class accent or not.
"So, the older brother lived here? Lord Axel's father?"
The girl fielded that one. "They had rooms in the East Wing, third floor but mostly lived up by the Research Center. When his father died, His Lordship moved Lord Axel to a room near Andre and Nikoli's suites."
"I . . . see." Interesting legal situation. But how could Lord Vladimir not know that Lord Axel was older that his sons?
Then the lab boys arrived and he turned them loose on the dining room The kids stayed to watch the actions of the experts at collecting physical evidence. And running a few fast field tests.
Vlad sought out the twin sons.
He found them in Lord Vladimir's office swearing at either the computer or the gray haired man with the Executive Plate in his head. Very different from either the Servant implants or what everyone calls Cyborgs—they're all cyborgs whether they like to be called that or not—but the Executive Plates don't mangle intelligence or block mentalist powers.
They do have onboard data bases, and are valued, and valuable . . . possessions.
I wonder who owns this fellow, now?
"I can't! It's blocked, the passcodes have all been changed." The exec cringed under the looming glares of the twins, then flicked a glance toward Vlad, standing in the doorway.
The twins whipped around, and Vlad walked in. "Frustrating, isn't it, to be so close to freedom."
Unless you've got a dad who's proud of your independence and hard work, like mine.
"Trying to find out about those trusts before your cousin gets his hands on them?" He shook his head. "Tell me about him? What's up with the misunderstanding about his actual age?"
Nikoli snorted. "Our parents weren't on speaking terms for a long while. I guess we were seven or eight before an uncle we'd never heard of dropped by. 'What have you been up to, says Father. 'Got married and had a son,' says this stranger. 'Well, same here, two sons, bring your wife and son by, sometime.' And he did."
"Scrawny, funny-looking kid. Sort of darkish skinned, but that red hair! Heh. His mother was half-experimental. And looked it. Almost as dark as an African, but that flaming red hair. And claiming to be a scientist!" Andre leaned forward. "A woman! And she didn't have a chip! She was . . . Axel von Richter's youngest son was an explorer. He'd spend a couple of years on a World accessing it for annexation. And one time he brought back with him this baby girl he said was his daughter, and that she was from a Medieval level World where some of the Natives had Mentalist abilities."
Nikoli broke in. "And he got permission to not chip her, so the labs could study her for Mentalist abilities! Can you believe that!"
Andre snorted. "And our uncle married her!"
"And she was old! She claimed to be sixty-something when Axel was born. Utterly ridiculous!"
Vlad forced himself to look alarmed. "Well, I'll have to look into this!" Tall Tale. He shook his head. "Right now, however . . . Is there somewhere I can interview each of you privately?"
"Don't believe a word that little weasel says. He's clever with his lies, and he's hiding things. He goes off for days, sometimes weeks. Says he was with some woman, and laughs and says, "I guess you missed having someone around to run your little errands. Have you considered a servant?' He says. 'Or one of the kids. Or are you afraid you'll discover they're smarter than you are?' Stupid little bastard . . . hey! Now there's an idea. I'll bet his parents weren't really married! I'll find out. And find out when he was really born!"
Vlad leaned back and let Lord Andre babble.
Finally steered him into a description of the dinner. It involved Lord Axel "watching Father like a snake." "Making incendiary comments." and "Obviously expecting exactly what happened." Otherwise his description of the dinner was similar enough to the girl's occasional glimpses.
And then his recollection of the events at the hospital.
"Axel got there a few seconds before us. He was walking toward the door when we pulled up, and didn't even wait for us. He was talking to a receptionist and she told us where to find father." He heaved a deep breath. "Father was . . . well, you saw him, maybe half an hour later. The doctor recommended taking him off life support, and Axel objected, said we needed an official Council Observer and started tapping away on his phone."
Andre barred his teeth. "He didn't even have to look up the number. He had it all planned out and ready. We stood around until all those observers showed up. The Official one first, the Intel fellow, then that Records guy."
Andre frowned. "Why Intel? Why did they need an Observer? They could have talked to you police later. Look into that."
Ordering me around? Fat chance . . . but an interesting thought.
"By then I'd started putting it all together and realized that Axel had murdered Father, to get his hands on the Family Trust accounts. They need to all be locked up so he can't steal it all."
"So, you accused him?"
"Nikoli spoke first. We both talked. Demanded an investigation. Tests for poisons, and so forth. Axel called us idiots. And asked what sorts of stupid mystery novels we'd been reading . . . That's about the time you walked in."
Vlad thanked him, and hunted down Lord Nikoli.
Who turned stubborn, and refused to speak without a lawyer.
Heh. A sign of intelligence.
Vlad suggested he call his lawyer (blank look) later in the morning, and he'd talk to him then.
The lab was finishing up, orange keep-out tape across both doors.
And the Housekeeper was back fussing. " . . . the food will spoil and smell! It's unhealthy!"
Poor Forty-one was blocking her physically.
"Anya, is it?" Vlad strolled up, gathering a bit of power and reaching for command. "I know it's horribly inconvenient, and a bit nasty, but Lord Vladimir was such an important man. We must be sure there are no irregularities. You will not enter this room until I give you permission. You will not send others to this room until I give you permission."
He released his mental grip and shooed her away. She ran. In tears.
"She's got a horrible compulsion on her, to clean or have cleaned, every bit of disorder she sees. We need to clear out fairly quickly." Vlad looked at the lab chief.
Who shook his head. "Nothing on the fast tests, we'll get on the sensitive array as soon as we're back in the lab."
"Good." He looked around and spotted one of his very unofficial assistants. "Where would I find Lord Axel?"
"In h-his r-rooms." Pauli pointed at the left side stairs. "I'll sh-show you."
The family living quarters never showed up in films. They were interesting. The sheer size of the building meant that there were interior rooms with no windows. So the hallways running the length of this wing were set back about forty feet from the exterior walls to create long rooms with the windows at the far end. The first room, a sitting room with the door open, had modern furnishings without any personal touches.
Giving away nothing.
"The open d-door means Lady Veronika is h-home to v-visitors. Th-these are all Nikoli's along this s-side, to the halfway point. Th-then Andre's. Being the older s-son he bagged the c-corner room."
That door was closed. Apparently Lady Anastasiya was not welcoming visitors.
The corridor, rather than looping around to meet the front cross-corridor as he'd expected, ended three more doors down.
"The Old C-council Hall, the upper p-parts get up here." Pauli tapped at the second door.
Pauli opened the door and walked in.