Kingsley walked into the Lakeshire Tavern and discovered Michael and Bradley seated at a table drinking ale - discussing the events that occurred over the past week.
"Kingsley," Bradley said, lifting an ale in welcome. "Have a seat. Michael, here, was tellin me all about y'alls little trip to Bogpaddle." He chuckled, took a swig and smiled. "Life in a Goblin jail ain't all it's cracked up ta be, is it?"
"No," Kingsley said, taking a seat. "No it is not." He looked at Michael who refused to meet his gaze. "Fortunately Mister Chaucer, I was able to bail our lumberman out, though it cost me a small fortune."
"So he told me," Bradley said, glancing at Michael. "Oh, come off it, will ya? We's all friends. I reckon once Kingsley hears what I gotta say, he'll see things a bit differently."
"Oh? Kingsley said, smiling his thanks at the bartender who brought his drink. A new lady, one he had not met before. "I take it you found something?"
"I did indeed, Kingsley," Bradley said, sliding the open notebook in front of the investigator. "Quite a few things, in fact - all starting with a downed tree."
Bradley explained the felled tree, where he found it and how it had been cut to drop across the road. Showing the diagram, he explained the purpose, as well as Gnash's reasoning around funneling prey. "They was sent that way, Kingsley," he said. "Just like rats in a trap. N'er had a chance, neither."
Kingsley made notes of his own, redrawing the diagram into a format he could understand. "So an ambush, eh?"
Bradley nodded, as did Michael. The man seemed to be softening, Kingsley noticed, now that Bradley was talking. "That's rat," Bradley said. "Pretty as peach in a basket. They had ta go that way or they'd been stuck on tha road."
"Why did they not turn back?" Kingsley asked, tapping his cheek with his pencil. "Ah," he said, answering his own question. "They could not. The ambush had someone in the rear as well, driving them down the Old Track."
"Yup," Bradley said, leaning back in his chair. "Like I said, pretty as a peach."Kingsley nodded.
"What else do you have?" he asked, eyes drifting toward the bag lying on the table. Bradley flipped the page, showing the diagram of the Orc's playground while he emptied the contents of the bag. Michael's eyes widened as he reached for the bottle.
"Is that what I think it is?" he said, eyeing the label. "Dayum, it's Funk! Where'd ya find it, Brad?"
"Found this, too," Bradley said, showing the pair the board. "Says BBB Co. They was all over the place up there, just 'fore ya get to Stonewatch Keep - where the bridge once was."
Kingsley was looking over the diagram, then shot a look toward Bradley. "You found a wagon?" he said, tapping the place on the diagram. "Right here?" Bradley nodded, his face glowing with excitement.
"Yup," he said. "I found our wagon, Kingsley. Rat where I marked it. Orcs used it fer target practice. Been usin' that place fer all sorta things - like a camp er somthin'."
"A wagon," Kingsley stated. "Let us not jump to conclusions, Mister Chaucer. We do not know it was OUR wagon just yet."
"Fel yea we do, Kingsley," Michael said. "What else could it be, man?" He slammed the bottle of funk on the table, rattling the plates and candlesticks. "There was funk up there, marked crates and it was on the Old Track."
Kingsley nodded and sighed. "Yes," he said. "Those things are all there. But it does not make it OUR wagon. Only A wagon." He looked at Bradley. "Tell me what you saw, please."
Bradley explained the scene, including the Orc outhouse, which made Michael laugh and Kingsley chuckle. He described the incident with the boulders, the tossed bottle - the expedition to the bridge head. Everything he could remember was laid out on the table.
Kingsley asked questions, Bradley answered them and made observations of his own. Three hours passed, as the trio discussed, rehashed and tried to account for all that had been experienced.
When they finished, Kingsley looked at the pair and leaned back in his chair. "You saw no other wagons along the way?" he asked, taking a sip of his ale. "Nothing else that might indicate a different route?"
Bradley shook his head. "Nu uh," he said. "Just the tree and the camp at the bridge head."
"Right," Kingsley said, then reached for his notebook. "Well, between what Mister Bradford and I discovered, along with your findings, Mister Chaucer, I think I can formulate a theory, if you care to hear."
"One that says them guards are behind it, I hope," Michael said, taking a deep swig of ale. "Way I see it, they's guilty." Bradley looked at Michael, but didn't add anything to the comment, while Kingsley merely ignored him.
"From our research," Kingsley said. "It is quite evident that Wiggins had few friends, if any at all. Sure, he had accomplices and crew mates, but no real friends. Other than John, that is."
"He also, allegedly, was brain damaged and could not have planned and executed this hijacking - one so brilliant, that we would be left stumped for months, with barely a hint of who did the deed."
Kingsley took the last swig of his ale. "But I have my doubts about that allegation, considering where the information came from."
Bradley raised his hand to summon the barmaid. "Two pitchers of ale, miss," he said. "Looks like we're gonna be here a lot longer." As she left, he turned back to Kingsley, who was drawing another diagram which featured the locations of the evidence.
"Now, let's start with the facts," Kingsley continued, flipping back to the beginning pages of his notebook. "Three sets of remains, identified as John Bradford and company, were discovered scattered along the Old Track by Bradley Chaucer."
"That's rat," Bradley said. "Just off the road an around a shallah grave."
"Yes," Kingsley said. "We also know, for a fact, that they were delivering a load of twelve cases of Funk to Lakeshire. The delivery did not make it." Michael and Bradley nodded, staring at the notebook as Kingsley talked.
"We also know that they were NEVER late and always arrived on the same day, at the same time - every week."
"Like clockwork," Michael said, earning a nod from Kingsley and Bradley.
"We know that they were employed by the Crimson Lotus, hired by the Bogpaddle Beverage Company to deliver said goods on a regular basis to Lakeshire."
"We know that there was NO moratorium in place at the time of their disappearance," Kingsley added, flipping another page just as the barmaid appeared with two, large crockery pitchers filled with ale.
"Here ya be, boys," she said. "I'll be keepin a tab at the bar. Can I get ya some stew while ya work?"
"Their murder," Michael said, after telling the woman he wanted stew. "They was kilt, not disappeared."
"Very well, Mister Bradford," Kingsley said. "Killed, if you would prefer."
Michael nodded. "I would."
"Anyone else for stew?" the barmaid asked, earning 'ayes' from Kingsley and Bradley.
"The same night," Kingsley said, continuing his fact explanation. "A pair of Stormwind City Guards entered this very tavern and started a riot by stating that the shipment was not coming. This after one of the same Guards, a Barnaby Grathier, threatened Foreman Oslo a few weeks earlier with banning the Funk, prompting Oslo to create the Guardians of the Funk."
Kingsley flipped a page. "Furthermore, the other Guard during the riot, a Verin Blackcroft, confirmed that they were, indeed, the pair that started the riots; though he was vague as to how they actually knew the shipment was not coming."
"Lied ya mean," Michael said. "They knew and he lied about knowin'."
"Speculation, Bradford," Kingsley said. "Please, let me continue." Michael snorted and took another drink, but nodded in agreement.
"Thank you," Kingsley said.
"Now," he said. "As mister Chaucer has deftly shown, it is quite evident that John Bradford's wagon was more than likely forced to go down the Old Track by a felled tree. Which, as we know, was where three of the members met their demise and were buried - leaving Bill Wiggins missing from the grave."
"We know a wagon was found, along with the remains of various crates, as well as full bottles of the Funk. We also know that Orcs have been using the location where the wagon was found as some sort of hunting camp, continually harassing Arlen Marsters at Everstill Landing."
Kingsley reached for his drink, took a long drink and looked at the pair of Lakeshiremen. "Have I missed something?"
"Dayum straight you have," Michael said. "You ain't said nothin' about all those things that Guard's done, nor how he's a fel-blasted crim'nal!"
"None of which has any relevance to this case, Mister Bradford," Kingsley stated, earning a glare from Michael. "I understand your desire to find resolution in your brother's death, but blaming a man for the crime when no evidence to his guilt exists borders on ciminality in it's own right."
"The fel it does!" Michael said, turning his gaze toward Bradley. "You agree with me, dontcha?"
Bradley shrugged and shook his head. "I don't know what ta believe, Mike," he said. "I might not like Stormwind tellin us what we can er can't do, but Kingsley's rat, man. There just ain't no proof them Guard's done it."
He took a swig of ale. "An after I seen that camp an all," he continued, looking toward Kingsley. "I think I see where Kingsley's headin' and I tend to believe it."
Michael's mouth dropped open and he shook his head in exasperation. "For tha love of...!" he exclaimed. "You all's blind as deaf bats. Tha truth's starin right atcha and ya can't see it." He slumped into his chair, chewing his lip and shaking his head, just as the stew arrived.
"Westfall stew, pipin' hot from the cook pot." the waitress said, her accent lilting and melodious. Kingsley and Bradley accepted theirs with a warm thank you and a smile, while Michael stared at the bowl - his arms crossed, as he scowled at the table.
"Can I be gettin' ya anythin' else?" she asked, looking at the other two men, yet saving a concerned glance for Michael.
"No thank you," Kingsley said. "This is quite enough for now."
"Enjoy!" she said, bouncing back toward the kitchen. Bradley dug into his, dipping the accompanying bread into the bowl and swirling it around.
"Whats that theory of yores, Kingsley?" he asked, shoving the bread into his mouth and chewing it down. The rest of his words came out garbled, but Kingsley understood.
"I think it was Orcs that took the shipment," Kingsley said, dipping his round spoon into the bowl and sipping up the contents. He nodded and smiled as he swallowed. "They set the ambush and attacked the wagon, killing the three teamsters before being fought off."
Michael snorted. "Orcs," he said. "Why not Ogres?" Kingsley ignored him, gathering another spoonful of stew and slurping it down.
"Wiggins survived," Kingsley said, then took a sip of his ale, washing the stew down before continuing. "Since the Orcs had been run off, he hastily buried his companions, including his best friend Bradford. Seeing how shallow the grave was, he accomplished it as fast as he could, knowing the Orcs might come back."
"Or Gnolls," Bradley said, swigging a swallow of ale. "They probably heard tha shots and woulda come to have a look-see."
"Right," Kingsley said, dipping his bread into the stew. "Regardless, Wiggins would know his time was limited and he must move if he were to live." He ate the bread and glanced at Michael, who was still glaring at the two, though not as harsh as before.
"Because of the Guardians," Kingsley continued. "Wiggins would know that Foreman Oslo was planning to use Everstill Landing to deliver future shipments of Funk, once the Goblin transporter was in place. From what I gathered in Bogpaddle, it was nearing completion and the route through Duskwood would no longer be used."
"So," Bradley said, jumping into the conversation. "Wiggins high tailed it outta there and made fer Everstill. No way ta go back, cause that chopped tree." Kingsley nodded, taking another sip of his stew.
"Go on," Kingsley said.
"Therefore," Bradley said. "Tha only way he could get outta there and deliver the funk was across tha lake." He took a swig of ale, swirling his tongue around his cheek to get stuck stew from between his teeth. "But them Orcs were waitin fer him, kilt him and took tha wagon fer themselves up to that damned playground uh theirs."
"Very good, Mister Chaucer," Kingsley said. "Whether they killed Wiggins before they made it to their camp, after they arrived, or made him a slave - does not really matter at this point. Either way, based upon the known evidence, I think you are exactly correct."
"It was Orcs that were behind this entire tragedy," Kingsley said, leaning back in his chair with ale in hand.
Both men turned toward Michael. "What do ya think, Mister Bradford, Kingsley asked.
"Man," Bradley added. "I can't see no other way this went down."
Michael sighed, the lifted his spoon to eat the cooling stew. "Still don't explain how them Guards knew it weren't comin." Michael said, taking a sip of stew before continuing. "How'd they know if they didn't do it?"
"Perhaps they saw what happened," Kingsley said, sipping his ale. "But were unable to help. Two Guards against a hunting party of Orcs would not go well for the Guards."
Michael shook his head. "Dayum, Kingsley," he said. "Guards is 'sposed to protect us, not run away like cowards. They was four men on that wagon. Two Guards and four teamsters woulda handled them Orcs like they was kittens."
He pointed his spoon at Kingsley. "You talk about loose threads, Kingsley," he said. "Well, this is a long un. Common sense tells me it was them and Orcs had nothin ta do with it."
"Evidence says it was not,' Kingsley stated. "All signs point to the Orcs, Mister Bradford. So much so, that I am near convinced it was them. If Mister Chaucer had found the remains of Bill Wiggins at the camp, I would be completely convinced."
"I gotta say, Mike," Bradley said. "I am too, pal. I'm gonna go with them Orcs as the ones that done it." He held up a hand to stop Michael's protest. "Yea, I know there's still a few of them threads hangin out there, but the signs point to Orcs."
Bradley shrugged. "I'm sorry about yer brother, man," Bradley said. "I really am. Sorry fer all them poor souls that got slaughtered out there just doin their jobs."
"I feel the same, Mister Bradford," Kingsley said. "It is a damn shame that they were killed the way they were. While most were not Azeroth's finest, they were still people; People who had families, stories and lives of their own. To die in such a manner is a tragedy." Bradley nodded as Kingsley spoke, carefully watching Micael, who's eyes were tearing up.
"However, Michael," Kingsley said. "I think the time has come to put this horror to rest. We have spent months looking for the villains who did this deed, and now?" He nodded. "I think we have a logical conclusion, supported by the evidence at hand, that holds up to scrutiny."
Michael continued to eat his stew, not saying a word - only staring at the table as if lost in memory. Bradley watched the lumberman, then turned toward Kingsley as the investigator pushed his chair back from the table.
"Right," Kingsley said, then stood and extended his hand toward the Hunter as Bradley stood as well. "Thank you for your invaluable assistance, Mister Chaucer. Had you not found John Bradford's Belt to begin with, we would have never known what happened to those four men."
Bradley shook Kingsley's hand. "It were a pleasure, Kingsley," Bradley said. "I ain't never been an investigator before. Was kinda fun lookin fer evidence, though not regardin a friend an all. Ifn ya ever need another hand, give me a holler. I'd be glad to help."
Kingsley nodded. "I'll do that, Mister Chaucer," Kingsley said. "You helped bring closure to difficult situation, and that makes it worth the effort." Bradley nodded, but remained quiet as Kingsley turned toward the sullen Michael Bradford.
"Michael," Kingsley said. "I know it was not the outcome you had expected, Mister Bradford, but I am glad w were able to discover a logical conclusion to this tragic moment in your life. I wish you well."
Michael looked up at Kingsley and nodded, but did not smile. "Thanks, Kingsley," he said. "I'll come round tomorrow and thank ya proper-like, but at the moment? I just wanna be alone with this an let it sink in. Lot to digest, ya know?"
Kingsley nodded. "I understand, Mister Bradford." He tipped his brown, wide-brimmed hat to the man. "Then I will take my leave."
"Good day to you both," Kingsley said, turning away from the table and leaving the tavern - putting an end to his most daunting case to date. With every step taken toward the door, came reflections:the challenges, the assumptions he tried to avoid - the disparity between fact and common sense reasoning.
In the end, he felt he had done his best to leave opinion out of the mix. So much of the case had been circumstantial, leaving them with few facts to go on. However, the ones they had uncovered proved useful, allowing them the opportunity to reach a logical conclusion.
One that he could live with and be proud of.
Orcs had killed the doomed teamsters, having set an ambush to capture the ill-fated delivery. There was no conspiracy by the Stormwind City Guard. No cover-up, no personal vendettas - only an interesting little thread around how the Guards knew that the delivery was not coming.
In that, Michael Bradford was correct: it was long enough to still niggle in the back of Kingsley's mind, though more from curiosity than concern; something to make note of and move on, as he liked to say.
As Geoff Kingsley walked through the Lakeshire Tavern's door, satisfied at the outcome - he heard emotion burst forth from John Bradford's brother, as Michael finally broke down and burst into tears.
Micahel had found closure, and that made Kingsley smile.
Thomas Jarington & Co.