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Lord Braden Polz looked around the room. Some faces met his gaze with interest, others with fear, others with defiance. Still others seemed bored, while yet others refused to meet his gaze altogether.
Since there were only three people in the room other than himself, Braden felt a bit confused by the reaction, but taking a quaff of the Rondemel '47, he pressed on.
"All three of you had a motive. Duchess Welstead, you and your IOFCP were embarrassed by the failure of your program to research the negative moral effects of the Xpletive field, which binds all humanity (and, to be fair, other races) into improper utterances of a prurient and/or scatological nature."
"To think such a thing of me is, itself, most highly improper, Lord Polz. When my husband hears of this ..."
"Yes, we'll see then, won't we. Though nobody's seen your husband for quite some time, have they. He isn't -- ah, reluctant to make an appearance in full public scrutiny, is he?"
The Duchess quickly quiesced.
Braden took another sip of the wine. "Then there's you, Mister ..." He glanced at his notes. "Bee."
"Call me Subject, please, Lord Braden." He flashed a charming smile at the noble, to no apparent effect.
"You've been dabbling in things unknown, Mr. Bee, my sources tell me, and things better left unknown, at least according to the law. The Xpletive currents might well be harnessed to power a Profanity Drive, but, then, there are certain organizations, like Duchess Welstead's here, who might not be terribly happy with that sort of sexual harnessment. Fear of discovery of your little ... well, let's call it a 'zeppelin,' shall we? ... might be enough to make you take more direct action to protect your interests."
"I assure you, I've no idea what you mean."
"And finally," Braden said, swigging a bit more of the fine vintage. It was annoying that his monocle took that inopportune moment to drop into his glass, but he fished it out without too much trouble. "We come to Egobard Leadfoot. The Gelts have motive, means, and opportunity, and, being rather crude for higher society, would make a very useful scapegoat. But, to be quite honest, their connection to the Xpletive is metaphorical at best, so I will simply keep you here because having a final drawing room scene with only two potential criminals is far too amateurish to make good literature."
Egobard grunted, but made no other motion, his impassive face hiding a sea of insecurities and, to be fair (his having skipped breakfast) not a little hunger.
"So the fact is," Duchess Welstead piped up, her neck wattles vibrating furiously, "you've no idea who's responsible for the surcease, nay, the elimination of the Xpletive eminations."
"That, of course, is where you are wrong, milady," Braden said, gulping delicately from the fine vintage in his goblet. "I happen to have transcripts of the interviews that each of you gave with the police when this particular crime against meta-nature occured. Granted, the effect is likely to be only temporary, if my sources are to be trusted, and the Xpletive will soon be back at full strength, but that matters little to how the courts will decide this."
"I'm not concerned about the chat I had with the police," Bee said. "They were all dolts, and were hardly in a position to trip me up."
The Gelt said nothing.
"Nor I," said the Duchess. "Granted, they tried my patience sorely with their impertinence, but I gave them a severe tongue-lashing, as they deserved, and they withdrew their scurillous intimations immediately."
"Yes, you were rather cross, weren't you?" Braden asked, wetting his whistle with a refilled glass. "That came through rather clearly in the interview. And that is where you made your mistake."
"What? You dare --?"
"I fear your coarsness of character outweighed your polite breeding, Duchess," Braden said. taking another gulp. "We were looking for someone who might have used whatever influence she was able to exert to obliterate the Xpletive, in accordance with your own organization's greatest wishes. And what do you think we found as you let your tongue slip into indelicate language and sailor-like utterances? What damning confession, from your own lips, is repeated over and over in the transcript?"
The Duchess had grown pale, but she shook her head slightly. "What? What?"
Lord Braden took one last pull, directly from the bottle, and smiled whimsically. "Xpletive deleted!"