((another long one, sorry. I was inspired and had time on my hands. Enjoy!))
The men drank their ale and discussed Kingsley's trip, namely the characters he encountered during his interviews. Daniels finished scrubbing mugs and joined them at the table, as he normally did when times were slow. Brianna was out gathering supplies for the night time special of Westfall stew, while the rest of the staff went about their chores.
"She called herself Glory?" Bradley said, wiping his mouth after a deep draw of ale. Kingsley nodded, drinking from his mug as well. "Yes," Kingsley said after finishing. "And there was nothing glorious about the woman, I can assure you." Daniels roared in laughter and Michael smiled, shaking his head.
"Now, now, Constable," Michael said. "That ain't too kindly of ya. There's no tellin what sorta life that woman's lived." He looked at Bradley, then back to Kingsley. "Fel, she coulda been a bard for all you know." Bradley about spit his ale onto the table.
"Bard?!" he said, catching the dribbling drink with his sleeve. "Are you kiddin' me? That woman sounded down rat nasty!" He shook his head. "Bard. Yea," he snorted. "Sure she is. I can tell ya what she sang and it weren't no songs, neither!"
"And Mad Dog's mom thinks he's a knight?" Daniels said, ignoring Bradley's hook while resting his chin in the palm of his hand - leaning on the table. He wasn't drinking; Orders from the boss. "Don't that beat all." Kingsley nodded and sipped his ale once more.
"That is what Madam Morley told me," he replied. "And she believed him, which I find even more insane."
"Anyway," he said. "It is good to be back and have some sort of sense about where we are on this case. By learning that Wiggins is our missing fourth man, we can focus on him and his whereabouts."
"What about them guards," Michael said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. "I say Blackcroft and his old buddy Barnaby should be where we focus our attention." Kingsley gave the man an incredulous look.
"Have you been sleeping these past few days, Michael?" he said. "There were four teamsters and we have only found three.
"Yea, so?" Kingsley opened his mouth, pausing to gather his thoughts. Talk about overly suspicious, he thought, watching Bradley nod at his friend's words.
"Listen here, you two," Kingsley said, his voice growing stern and official. "Until we discover where Bill Wiggins is, you will leave those two guards alone." The men seemed taken aback at Kingsley's tone, initially, then pursed their lips and straightened up.
"Now just wait one damned minute," Michael started, pointing a finger at Kingsley. "If you think you can tell us..."
"I CAN tell you," Kingsley said, "Mister Bradford. I work for his Lordship and if you want your brother's killers found, you will do as I say. Exactly as I say and when I say it." He snapped his small notepad shut with thwap.
"Or I, and his Lordship, are OFF THE CASE." He opened his arms. "You can find him on your own, without the resources of the township or the Magistrate." He leaned back in his chair. "What will it be, Bradford?"
"Okay, okay," Bradley said, raising both hands to interject himself between Michael and Kingsley. "There ain't no need for hos-stile b'avior between us." He looked at Kingsley. "We just concerned's all. Right Mike?" Michael heaved a sigh, easing back from his aggressive posture.
"I reckon there ain't," he said, his voice growing softer. "I just get so riled up thinkin' about poor John layin' out there for them Gnolls to chew on's all. Ain't fair and it ain't right that those damn Guards knowed about it and didn't do a Light damned thing."
Kingsley nodded, reaching over to pat Michael's arm. "I know, Michael," he said, his voice becoming more consoling. "They knew about the shipment not coming, but we have no proof that they knew anything about John and his crew being killed."
"It is the reason you must trust me on this, Michael," he said, mocking his gaze between both men. "You, too, Bradley. I know what I am doing." Kingsley sighed as the men nodded, then moved his gaze to Daniels. "Could you get us another pitcher, Mister Daniels? I think we need another drink."
As the bartender left to refill the mugs, Kingsley leaned close to the others. "If they were, somehow, responsible, then it is imperative to discover the whereabouts of Bill Wiggins so we can have solid evidence." He leaned back, noting both men were listening.
"And if they are not," he continued. "It is even MORE important to find Wiggins, while remaining on good terms with the Guard. If Bill Wiggins killed the crew, we will need Stormwind's assistance in apprehending the villain."
"Shoot," Bradley said. "We could do it our ownselves, leave them outta it all together." Kingsley rolled his eyes. "And then you would end up in prison for murder." Bradley feigned innocence. "I never said we'd kill em, Kingsley," he said, giving Michael a knowing glance. "Just handle it ourselves, in a Redridge sorta way."
Kingsley nodded. "Yes," he said. "Which means roughing him up until he accidentally died, is that it?" Both men looked down, murmuring under their breaths. "What did I just ask?"
"PLEASE, do it my way? If not, then I can no longer help you." Daniels arrived with a refilled jug of ale and placed it on the table.
"Alright," Michael said, then gave Bradley a shit-eating grin. "but it shore would be fun to rough up a villain er two, right Bradley?"
"Uh, huh," Bradley drawled, refilling his mug. "Redridge Style!" Kingsley chuckled, shook his head and refilled his mug. He figured it would be much better to let them have their fun talking about what they would do to said villain, then actually doing the deed.
Eventually, the conversation about the definition of Redridge Style died down, leaving all four men in tears from laughter. Kingsley admitted to himself that it WAS rather fun to imagine doing villainous things to criminals, even though he would never act out on them.
"Now," Kingsley said, wiping a laughter-induced tear from his eye. "How would you, two, prefer to go about finding Bill Wiggins? I am open for suggestions."
"Whelp," Bradley said. "We could head back out to the old track, maybe go a bit deeper into the woods - see what we turn up." Kingsley nodded, looking toward the ceiling as he thought. "That IS a possibility. Dangerous, but perhaps necessary." He faced the three men, as Daniels had joined them once more.
"If you were Wiggins and wanted to hijack a shipment of Funk," Kingsley said. "How would you do it? For instance, you are riding shotgun for a wagon-load of beverage. You and the driver are up front, both heavily armed with double barrel shotguns. The men in back are also armed - Mad Dog with dynamite, and Dagget with unknown weapons; Rifle or shotgun, probably."
"How would you pull it off?"
Bradley scratched his head, while Michael rubbed his beard. Daniels looked into his drink - all three men deep in thought; Kingsley too. "I'm doin it alone?" Bradley said, looking up and Kingsley. The constable nodded, but said nothing. "I see," Bradley replied, nodding.
"Whelp," he said, running his tongue along the inside of his lip. "I'd had plenty a time to plot, seein I been riding this route for some time, so, maybe..."
"Yea," he said, looking up. "I'd get myself sent to tha back, like I'm not feelin well er something like that. Maybe lay across tha crates so that folks are behind me and in front. Get Dagget to ride shotgun fer me."
"Who'd ya take out first," Michael said. "Mad Dog?"
"Yup," Daniels said, still staring into his drink. "Shoot Mad Dog in the back while the others are lookin forward." He looked up at the other three men. "The others'll think we're under attack and pick up the pace, maybe even duckin."
Michael nodded. "John always said you ride away from danger when shippin goods. The men in back's job is to handle the rear, and with Wiggins and his shotgun, ain't none gonna get too close."
"Then," Bradley added. "I'd pop Dagget with the other barrel, blow him clean in half, leavin John for last, seein he's tryin ta get us the fel outta trouble."
"He'd never know what hit him," Michael whispered, his face going pale. His eyes met Kingsley's, seeing awareness. "Fel, Wiggins coulda done it. Damn, but he coulda."
Kingsley nodded. "Yes," he said. "There is some sense in that." The other men fell silent, staring into their drinks.
"Okay," he continued, flipping his notepad open and standing, his face taking on an air of excitement. "Let us assume that this is how it went down." He motioned for the others to stand, then clear the table. "Let us pretend this table is the wagon. Daniels? You are Wiggins, since it is your plan."
"Where should we sit?"
"Mike," Daniels said. "You be John, seein how he's your brother an all." He pointed to a drivers position. "Sit there, your back to the rest of us." He pointed at Bradley. "You be Dagget and ride shotgun this trip; assume you have a shotgun as well."
The two men moved into position, with Michael holding pretend reigns and Brad holding his very real rifle; empty, of course. "Kingsley," Daniels said. "You be Mad Dog and sit on the end of the wagon. Dangle your legs of the end." The constable did as instructed, even took a hand full of forks to pretend they were sticks of dynamite.
"Dagget's wife said he liked to blow up rabbits while they were traveling," he said, seeing the odd looks in the men's eyes. "Maybe Mad Dog would do so as well."
"Ah," Daniels said. "Nice bastard, this Morley fellah. Knight?" Kingsley nodded.
"On a quest."
"I'll be Wiggins," Daniels said, climbing atop the table after grabbing his own shotgun from behind the counter. It, too, was empty. "If I wanted to do this, I would sit so I could blast ole Mad Dog, then turn as fast as possible to blow away Dagget."
Daniels pretened to shoot Kingsley in the back, making a loud BLAM! that filled the tavern - earning looks from the kitchen as the cook stuck his head out, concerned. Kingsley hopped from the table and turned, walking around the scene and nodding as he inspected.
"Yes," he said, leaning his head to the side. "Wiggins would need to be more behind John in order to turn on Dagget." Daniels moved to his right, earning a nod from Kingsley. "Right, and closer to Mad Dog's position, but just a bit." He held his chin in his hand, rubbing it between his fingers.
"Okay, Daniels," he said. "That looks about right. Let us try again, this time going at full speed."
The men performed the scene again, with Kingsley/Mad Dog jumping and turning as Daniels turned on Bradley/Dagget. Another BLAM! and Bradley/Dagget jumped from the table. Kingsley looked at Daniels. "Now, what?"
"If I'm John," Michael said, "I've ducked low and popped the reigns on the horses, tryin to get away as fast as possible. The second shot might throw WIggins off balance, he might miss."
"With a shotgun?" Daniels exclaimed. "From this close?" He shook his head. "Not on yer life, pal. It might not blow him in half, but it'd sure as fel knock a chunk outta him."
Kingsley bobbed his head as he considered the situation. Based upon what Michael said, as well as his own experience watching wagons being delivered, John would not look back nor stop. His job was to get the goods to town, while his men were there to see that the load made it in one piece.
"It works," Kingsley finally said, looking up at Michael, who was now excited about the prospect of discovering the killer. "Nice work, gentlemen. It is quite apparent to me that Bill Wiggins could have hijacked this shipment using a technique very similar to what we simulated."
As the men began re-setting the table, discussing how it could have happened and what to do about it, Kingsley flipped open his notebook to one very important page: Glorfindle Wiggins interview.
"However," Kingsley said, capturing their attention. "There is one fact we must not discount: Bill and John were best friends. Why would Bill Wiggins murder his best friend, kill the crew and hijack the shipment?" The men went silent, frowning as they considered the contsable's words.
"Also," he continued. "There is the matter of the shipment itself. Where did he take it? If, indeed, he was the hijacker, there is large delivery of Funk floating around; twelve cases to be precise - missing and unaccounted for." I wonder if Bogpaddle Beverage numbered and dated their cases or bottles? Kingsley thought, quickly capturing the idea. I'll need to look into that.
"Well, damn, Kingsley," Bradley said. "You got us all worked up about Wiggins and now ya sayin' he didn't do it?" Michael nodded, giving Bradley a knowing look. Daniels seemed concerned as well.
"No," Kingsley said. "I am not saying one way or another. I am merely pointing out that there are still many, many unanswered questions before we point a finger."
"What we have done is prove that Wiggins could have hijacked this shipment by himself," Kingsley said. "Quite easily, I might add, if our simulation is any clue. What we do NOT know is the motive. Why do this? Why murder your best friend over a single load of Funk? Where is the shipment itself? Where is Wiggins?"
"And why would he bury 'em?" Bradley added, rubbing his chin. "Shotgun blasts carry, especially in them woods. Gnolls woulda been on him like bees on honey."
"Yet he carefully buried and concealed the grave," Kingsley said, nodding thoughtfully. all before a scavenging party could arrive."
"Good point, Bradley. I had put aside the grave from my current thought process."
"What do we do now?" Michael said, his excitement faded now into disappointment. "Seems we're rat back where we started."
"Indeed we are not!" Kingsley said. "We have learned plenty, and not only that, we have clear directions to follow up with."
"First," Kingsley said, ticking off his fingers. "We need to find friends of Bill Wiggins. I imagine there are some in Bogpaddle. We can also have a visit with the Crimson Lotus, the company who hired him. They should be willing to share information; for a price, anyway."
"The point is to find out if there were grudges between Wiggins and Bradford, anything at all, that might lead him to do something like hijacking and killing his friends and crew."
"Second," he said, lifting another finger. "We need to scour the entire old track for signs of Wiggins. That was not on their typical route, therefore, the wagon was forced to go that way. Perhaps it played out like we acted, perhaps not."
"Either way, we will need to search the entire area for clues." He shrugged. "For all we know, the wagon is torn to pieces inside a Gnoll camp just over the hill."
"Three: we should follow a line of reasoning that Bill Wiggins successfully hijacked the load and took it somewhere." He looked at Michael and Bradley. "We need to find that 'somewhere'. Funk is a banned substance in Stormwind held lands. If the crates still exist, we must find it."
"Finally," he said, lifting his fourth finger. "We must find Bill Wiggins. Without him, or his body, we will never know what truly happened to John Bradford and his crew."
"Say," Daniels said, taking up his normal position behind the bar as the men decided on who was doing what. "You could always get yerself a troll to resurrect ole John, have him tell ya who killed him."
The idea was so shocking, the men simply stared at Daniels for what seemed like a very long time. He laughed. "I was just teasin," he said. "Read it in a book somewhere bout hoodoo, or something like that."
"Ain't funny," Michael snorted, gathering his things. Kingsley shook his head and scowled at Daniels.
"Not one bit," Kingsley stated. "Good day to you, Daniels. Thank you for your assistance."
Thomas Jarington & Co.