Plico sat down without invitation and pulled a folder out of his briefcase – a red one.
Red files usually contained a maximum of half a dozen sheets, often only one. Each sheet had a unique log number. The penalty for copying anything from a red file was a minimum of two years’ imprisonment.
‘I thought long and hard about showing you this,’ he said, ‘but it does affect you directly. I’ll sit here while you read it,’ he prompted. Not a sign of any emotion on his face. He crossed his pinstripe-suited legs, unbuttoned his creased suit jacket and waited.
I didn’t want to open it, although I’d handled two similar cases over the past five years. It always meant deep trouble. But Plico wouldn’t have brought it to me without cause, so I took a long breath, and flipped open the cover.
Two sheets of double-spaced typescript on the right-hand side and a photocopied form in Germanic were held at the top left corner by a stationery tag with a page at the left containing a scrawled note with yesterday’s date. Unusual that it had been originated on a Sunday. More unusual that it was signed ‘Severina Apulia Imperatrix’. I was cleared to red level, so that wasn’t the problem. I froze when I read the name typed above the first line.
Just over twenty minutes later, I set the file back on the table and breathed out. The three sheets of paper, so pristine with the neat black typing, looked innocent but the memory of my desperate escape from being terminated that evening thirteen years ago in Berlin slammed into my mind. Even now I could recall the pain shooting through my bleeding and broken foot as I hobbled away, attempting to run from two killers. I smelt the stale prison air again, the despair of the courtroom where I was being framed for murder and the fear of losing my daughter’s childhood. A sour taste rose up through my throat; it was all because of the man whose name was on this file. I swallowed hard.
‘See what I mean?’ Plico interrupted.
‘I thought the Prussians weren’t due to let Caius Tellus out of prison for another two years,’ I said, pulling my wits out of my emotions. ‘But according to this file he’s out in two weeks. Why?’
‘Apparently, he’s been a model prisoner.’
‘He would be.’ I snorted. ‘I never understood why the sentence wasn’t longer. Here, he’d be in Truscium for twenty-five years – if he survived that long.’
‘Bit too soft, the Prussians,’ Plico said. ‘They’re into rehabilitation and re-education up there. They say Caius is quite the reformed character; their psychologist reports conclude he’s genuinely contrite about killing Grosschenk and trying to frame you for it. He’s followed several educational and self-development courses.’
‘This stinks. In my bones, I know he’s a danger, but we have nothing here to put him away for – not even his part in the silver smuggling.’
‘Why can’t you arrest him for that?’
‘We’ll detain him, of course. He’s being deported from Prussia, so that’s automatic. The accusatrix’s department is not optimistic. There’s a strong case that he’s already served his sentence for it. After all, the Prussian sentence for smuggling ran alongside the murder one.’
‘Surely that doesn’t count here?’
‘No, not strictly, but he’ll get some fancy lawyer to plead it out.’
‘Give me strength. You know something? We need some serious legal reform in this country.’
I flicked over to the second page. My fingers trembled, but it was anger now. ‘I accept the threat to me and my daughter is real. In a funny way, I’m pleased to have it recognised officially. But what can we do about it?’
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